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The Old Shtetl Gostynin

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The town of Gostynin was founded in the 13th century. It is located on the Skrwa Lewa River, approximately 60 miles northwest of Warsaw and 14 miles southwest of the city of Plock.


The official Jewish community of Gostynin dates from about 1765, though there are reports of Jews owning the town brewery and a malt factory in 1626. In 1765 the community had about 157 members. In 1779 a wooden synagogue was built near the marketplace. The structure burned down in 1899. By the end of the 18th century, Jews formed 26 percent of the population of Gostynin. They were involved in trade, innkeeping, tailoring, the fur business and as butchers.


Between 1823 and 1862 there were special residential quarters for the Jewish population. Yehiel Meir Lipschuetz, a local Chasidic 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 almost 4,000 Jews lived in Gostynin on the eve of the Holocaust, though a more reliable number is 2,269. Jews lived, primarily, in the center of town. The synagogue and beit hamidrash were situated north of the market, near where the train station now stands.


The Jewish community of Gostynin suffered the same fate as thousands of other Jewish communities during the Holocaust. When the German army entered the town in September 1939, there were mass arrests of Jews, and Jewish property was looted and destroyed. The synagogue, which had been rebuilt in 1899, was ordered 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. 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 laundries and tailor shops. In August 1941, transports of Jewish men and women to the Konin Concentration Camp and other camps began. The ghetto was liquidated during June and August of 1942, with most ghetto inhabitants being deported to the Chelmno extermination center near the village of Chelmno-nad-Ner, 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.


Gostynin once had two Jewish cemeteries, the “old” and the “new.” The old Jewish cemetery was located in the northeastern 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 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 1942.


There are no Jewish residents in Gostynin today. In existence are a number of memorials to the former Jewish community of Gostynin. One large marble plaque is in the Chamber of the Holocaust Memorial Museum on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Gostynin is included 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 landsmann groups. Only the Israeli Gostynin landsmann group exists 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; some records from ca. 1917 to 1938 are still found in the town’s Civil Records Office.


Former residents of Gostynin are living today in the New York City area and in various parts of Israel. Those with ancestral connections to the town can be found in North America, South America, Israel and England.


Shmuel Ben Eliezer can be contacted at jpolin2@aol.com 




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