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November 29, 2015 / 17 Kislev, 5776
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The Old Shtetl Kurzelow

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Kurzelow is mentioned first in the 12th century, in a pastoral dispatch of the pope of that time, who fixed in it a new ecclesiastical district. In 1285 the privileges of a town were granted along with permission to hold a weekly market day. In 1540 there were 85 houses, and in the beginning of the 17th century there was a flour mill, smithy and a factory of iron products. Around that time, guilds of tailors, blacksmiths and furriers were farmed. In the middle of the 17th century, Swedish invaders conquered Kurzelow and spread destruction and ruin. After that Kurzelow declined and its position deteriorated. Only in the 19th century was there economical and demographic growth again.

Jewish inhabitants of Kurzelow are first mentioned in the beginning of the 19th century. They were very few in number. And even during World War I, when the Jewish settlement reached its climax, it numbered no more than 50 families.

In the period between the two world wars, there was a study house (Beth Midrash) which was large enough to accept all the praying Jews from the surrounding villages. The mother community of Kurzelow was Wloszczowa. We don’t have information about the public life of the Jews of Kurzelow. It is possible that due to the small number and lack of sources of livelihood, the number of Jewish citizens had decreased. Another reason for the Jews to leave were symptoms of anti-Semitism, which had increased in the 1930’s

Kurzelow was conquered by the Germans in early September 1939. There were then 119 Jews living in Kurzelow. Since it was a small and remote place, the Germans didn’t settle in it and left local rule to the Poles. For that reason, life in this community continued calmly. The local Jews were under the Judenrat of Wloszczowa. In February 1940, the Judenrat of Wloszczowa transferred to Kurzelow 275 Jewish refugees deported from Wloclawek. The refugees arrived exhausted, sick and hungry, and the welfare committee in Kurzelow helped them as much as they could. On March 10, 1940, a public kitchen was opened and it served about 300 hot meals daily to the hungry refugees. Other aid included beds, clothes and medicines.

During July of 1940, a ghetto was erected in Wloszczowa, and the ability of the Judenrat to aid the Jews of Kurzelow decreased. The refugees remained in Kurzelow until mid-September 1942, when an aktion took place in Kurzelow. In the beginning, 13 Jews were murdered on the spot. The rest of the ghetto, local residents and refugees, were deported to Wloszczowa. Two days before Yom Kippur 1942, everyone was deported to the death camp at Treblinka. In 1942, after the Jews were expelled, three Gestapo men arrived in Kurzelow and murdered seven Jews – five men and two women – who had been in hiding and were handed over to the Germans.

At Treblinka there is an impressive monument to the three quarters of a million Jews who were murdered there, with engraved stones representing all the communities from which the victims came. For some reason there is no stone in memory of the Jews of Kurzelow. A campaign has been launched by survivors of Kurzelow to correct this oversight, led by Ada Holtzman of Tel Aviv.

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

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