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November 30, 2015 / 18 Kislev, 5776
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The Old Shtetl Zakroczym

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Jews had always been permitted to settle in Zakroczym without restriction. As early as the 15th century there was a small Jewish community there, but only in the 18th century did the Jewish population actually increase. At that time there were about 100 Jewish families, most of them with their own houses. Many Jews had workshops in various trades (tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, etc.). Under Congress Poland (an unofficial term for the Kingdom of Poland, 1815-1831, which was under Russian rule) the Jews were subjected to restrictions with regard to housing and employment. In 1827 a Jewish quarter was promulgated, but the transfer of Jews to this quarter was postponed from year to year.

The number of Jews in Zakroczym increased constantly, and the scope of their economic activity was extended. In the second half of the 19th century there were already some industrial plants under Jewish ownership, such as flour mills, weaving mills, breweries and tanneries. The Jews were the principal distributors of local industrial products, as well as purchasers of agricultural produce from the surrounding villages.

An organized community was established in Zakroczym in the 20’s of the 19th century, when a synagogue was built and a cemetery consecrated. The synagogue, which was of wood, went up in flames in 1852. Some ten years later the foundations were laid for a new synagogue, including rooms for religious study. Construction of this synagogue was completed in 1868. It was a fine building and was considered one of the largest and most noteworthy in the whole area.

From 1840 to 1879 the rabbi was Zvi Hirsch Ravitz. In the 1890’s the community was led by Rabbi Yona Mordechai Zlotnik, author of Kanfei Yona, who was later rabbi of Plock. At the beginning of the 20th century, the rabbi of Zakroczym was Efraim Fischl Mordechai Horowitz.

In 1899 a Gemilut Chasadim fund was set up, and in 1911 the Hospice for the Poor. The first Zionist group was organized in 1898. Branches of the Bund and of Poalei Zion were established in the early 20th century. In 1907 the first public library was opened.

Between the two world wars, the majority of the Jews of Zakroczym were engaged in crafts and small trading. A few found employment in the summer season in nearby holiday areas. Some factories were owned by Jews. The economic situation of the majority was difficult. To enable them to weather the economic depression of the times and to stand up against anti-Semitic activity a provident fund was established in 1926 (in addition to the one existing before the war). The Jewish community continued as usual with social welfare activities, and also looked after the Jewish soldiers serving in the garrison at Zakroczym. The traditional institutions and activities, such as care of the sick, the hostel, and the hospice for the poor also continued.

Branches of almost all the Jewish parties in Poland were active in Zakroczym. Amongst the Zionists the strongest faction was that of the General Zionists, who usually secured the majority of votes in the elections to the Zionist Congress. Hamizrachi contained the movements Torah veAvoda (“Torah and Work”) and Hashomer Hadati (The Religious Watchman). There were also branches of Poalei Zion and the Revisionists. The youth movements included Hechalutz (The Pioneer), started in 1926, Hanoar Hazioni (Zionist Youth) and the religious Beitar. Agudat Israel too started activities in Zakroczym in the early 20’s, and was a close competitor to the Zionists in efforts to influence the community and its social welfare institutions.

The rabbi during the war period was Yitzchak Serbe. The community ran a Talmud Torah for the sons of the poor. Immediately after the World War I, Agudat Israel opened a school for girls, Bet Yaakov, and the Zionists established their school, Tarbut, and attached to it evening classes in Hebrew, Bible, and Jewish history.

Due to its proximity to the fortifications of Modlin, Zakroczym was badly damaged during the battles of September 1939. Many of its inhabitants, including scores of Jews, were killed or wounded; and 70 percent of its houses were destroyed. In that month most of the Jews fled from Zakroczym, mostly to Warsaw, but also to nearby towns such as Plonsk. After hostilities some 280-300 Jews returned to Zakroczym, and to them were soon added Jews from elsewhere.

From the first day of the occupation Jews were sent out to forced labor, after which representatives of the Jewish community took upon themselves to supply the Germans and the municipality with the workers they required. Jewish artisans were permitted to ply their trade, especially for the Germans, until the Jewish community ceased to exist.

On a Sunday at the end of June or the beginning of July 1941, the town was surrounded by German gendarmes and armed local Germans. The Jews were herded into the market place. Those who did not possess residence permits in Zakroczym, together with the old, were put onto trucks and taken off to the camp at Pomiechówek. For these deportees, who were literally dying of hunger, the Jews of Zakroczym took food and soup to the camp.

In the middle of November 1941 the Germans removed all the Jews of Zakroczym to the ghetto of Nowy Dwór, where they shared the fate of the local Jews.

After the war some Jews returned to Zakroczym, but left again and immigrated, mainly to Israel, where in the 1960s there were 50-70 former residents of Zakroczym.

In Zakroczym itself there remain no trace of the Jewish community that had once numbered thousands of people. The synagogue and the cemetery were totally obliterated during the Nazi occupation.

For more information, go the website, www.zchor.org/zakroczym/zakroczym.thm

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

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