The town of Gostynin is located 14 miles southwest of the city of Plock and approximately 60 miles northwest of Warsaw. The official Jewish community of Gostynin dates to about 1765, when it was noted that there were 157 Jews living in its environs.
There are some reports that in the year 1626, Jews owned the town brewery and a malt factory. In 1779 a wooden synagogue was built just north of the Rynek, the town’s central square and marketplace. By the end of the 18th century, Jews comprised about 26 percent of the population of Gostynin. They were involved in trade, innkeeping, tailoring, the fur business and butchering.
Between 1823 and 1862 a Jewish quarter was designated in Gostynin; the Jewish population then numbered about 600. Yehiel Meir Lipschuetz, a local Chassidic leader and rabbi, lived in Gostynin in the 19th century. By 1921, 1,831 Jews formed 27 percent of the population. There are some estimates that on the eve of the Holocaust, almost 4,000 Jews lived in Gostynin, though a more reliable number is 2,269.
Jews lived, primarily, in the center of town. The synagogue and beit ha’midrash were situated north of the Rynek.
The Jewish community of Gostynin suffered the same fate as thousands of other Jewish communities during the Holocaust. There were mass arrests of Jews, and Jewish property was looted and destroyed when the German army occupied the town in September 1939. The synagogue, which had been rebuilt in 1899, was dismantled so that the wood could be used for fuel for the houses of new German inhabitants of the town. Exorbitant fines were levied by the Nazis against the Jewish community. They were ordered to pay two “contributions” (fines) in succession. When the president of the community was unable to collect the second sum in time, he sent a delegation to the Warsaw Jewish community and received the required amount. In January, 1941, a ghetto was set up in the town. It occupied the area of Plocka, Buczka, Wojska Polskiego and Bagnista Streets and was an open ghetto at first. It was later enclosed with barbed wire.
Approximately 3,500 Jews from Gostynin and the nearby town of Gabin (Gombin) lived in the Gostynin Ghetto and were employed in laundering and tailoring workshops. In August, 1941, transports of Jewish men and women to the Konin concentration camp and others began. The ghetto was liquidated during June and August of 1942, with most ghetto residents being deported to the Chelmno extermination center and the rest being taken to the Lodz Ghetto and the Konin concentration camp. Other sources report that the ghetto was liquidated on April 16-17, 1942 with 2,000 Jews being taken to the Chelmno death camp.
There had been two Jewish cemeteries in Gostynin, the “old” and the “new.” The old Jewish cemetery was located in the northeast part of the town on a side street that was called “the lane of the dead.” The new Jewish cemetery was located on Goscinna Street. No traces of either cemetery exist today; the Nazis in their zeal to erase all traces of Jewish life destroyed the cemeteries. The site of the new Jewish cemetery on Goscinna Street is now owned by the Gostynin municipality and is occasionally cleared of grass and tree saplings. Adjacent properties are recreational and residential. No burials have taken place in the cemetery since between 1939 and 1945. There are no Jewish residents in Gostynin today. It is not known whether any of the former Jewish sites in Gostynin have markers, though there are a number of war-related markers in the town and in the town cemetery. As was common during the Communist era, the wording of the various monuments does not specifically refer to Jewish residents of the town. A very well-done promotional booklet for the town of Gostynin written in Polish, German and English does refer to Jewish residents of the town and to the murder of most of these Jews by the Nazis during World War II. This booklet was published in recent years. Most of the Jewish vital records of Gostynin were destroyed during the war, although some records from circa 1917 to 1938 are still found in the town’s Civil Records Office.
There are a few memorials to the former Jewish community of Gostynin. One large marble plaque is part of the Chamber of the Holocaust Memorial Museum on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Another memorial is located in the “Valley of Communities” memorial at Yad Vashem, also in Jerusalem. A Yizkor book for Gostynin, “Pinkas Gostynin,” was published in 1961 as a joint publication of the New York and Israel Gostynin landsman groups. Only the Israeli Gostynin landsman group exists today. See www.zchor.org/gosthist.htm
Shmuel Ben Eliezer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org