CHMIELNIK


CHMIELNIK, small town in southeast Poland. In the 17th century Chmielnik was a center of the anti-Trinitarians, who were expelled from the town after 1661; some think that remnants of their influence in Chmielnik and the vicinity led to a better attitude toward Jews among the local population to the end of the 18th century. Jews are first mentioned in Chmielnik in 1565, when there was a Jewish quarter and cemetery. In 1638 a magnificent synagogue was built. Within the framework of the *Councils of the Lands, the community of Chmielnik was included in the province of *Lesser Poland. In 1655 the army of Stefan *Czarniecki massacred many of its Jews, who were accused of helping the invading Swedes; about 150 Jews were murdered. The community of Chmielnik was gradually reconstructed in the last part of the 17th and during the 18th centuries, though at the end of the period the community was in severe financial straits and owed debts amounting to thousands of zlotys. A number of noted rabbis held office in Chmielnik in this period, among them Isaac Jair Fraenkel Teomim, and, toward the close of the 18th century, Joseph ha-Levi Ettinger. The Jews then mainly engaged in the grain, livestock, and timber trades; some traded at the fairs of Poland, especially in textiles. There were 1,445 Jews living in Chmielnik in 1764, among them 33 craftsmen and 10 merchants.

At the end of the 18th century *Ḥasidism penetrated the community. Abraham David Orbach, the av bet din, was among its propagators. Some of the first ḥasidic settlers in *Safed were from Chmielnik. From the middle of the 19th century *Lublin Ḥasidism was the dominant element in the community, though it was bitterly contested by adherents of other ḥasidic "dynasties." A yeshivah was founded in Chmielnik in the second half of the 19th century. Much damage was done to Jewish property by a fire which broke out in Chmielnik in 1876, but by the 1880s the economic situation had returned to normal. Several Jews established textile factories there and developed the market for village woven products. The Jewish population numbered 5,560 in 1897 (out of a total of 6,880); among them 554 were engaged in trade and finance, four were physicians, and 40 lived on charity. There were 6,452 Jews in 1910 (out of 8,073). During World War I many Jews fled from Chmielnik. By 1921 the Jewish population numbered 5,908.

Holocaust Period

Prior to World War II Chmielnik had nearly 10,000 Jews, comprising 80% of the town's population. During the first months of the war several hundred Jews, mostly young men and women, fled to the Soviet-held territories. At the beginning of 1940 contact was made with the Warsaw underground leaders and Chmielnik was twice visited by Mordecai *Anielewicz, who came to help in the preparations for armed resistance. Because of the lack of arms, the underground could only show passive resistance, for which many were executed, among them the chairman of the Judenrat, Shmuel Zalcman. During 1940 and the winter of 1940–41 about 2,000 Jews who had been expelled from the smaller nearby towns and villages and from more distant regions of *Plock and *Ciechanow arrived in Chmielnik. The establishment of the ghetto in April 1941 drastically worsened the plight of the Jewish population which was greatly reduced by hunger and epidemics. From December 12, 1941, when a death decree was issued against anyone caught leaving the ghetto, many Jews were shot for smuggling food into it. On October 1, 1942, about 1,000 young men and women were deported to the forced labor camp in *Skarzysko-Kamienna. Many succumbed to the inhuman conditions there, while others were deported to the forced labor camp in *Czestochowa (Hasag) and to camps in Germany. Only a handful survived.

On October 3, 1942, about 1,000 Jews from Szydlow and 270 from Drugnia (in the vicinity of Chmielnik) were taken to Chmielnik. Three days later (on October 6, 1942) a special German and Ukrainian police force from Kielce conducted the Aktion in which about 8,000 Jews were deported to the *Treblinka death camp. On November 5, 1942, a second deportation took place. This time the remaining Jews, aware of the fate of the deportees, fled into the forests or went into hiding within the ghetto. Only a score of them survived in hiding until the liberation in January 1945. Those who left at the beginning of the war for the Soviet Union mostly joined the Soviet or the Polish army. Some of them rose to officer ranks and won the highest battle decorations, e.g., Capt. Moshe Kwaśniewski, who parachuted into his native Chmielnik region to engage in guerilla activities and Nahum Mali who commanded a tank unit. A handful of Jewish survivors tried to resettle in Chmielnik after the war, but gave up the idea because of the hostility shown by the local Polish population. The last 14 Jews left in July 1946, after the *Kielce pogrom in which four Jews from Chmielnik were also killed. Organizations of Chmielnik Jews exist in Israel, the United States, Canada, Argentina, France, Brazil, and England. A memorial book, Pinkas Chmielnik (Yid. and partly Heb.), was published in 1960.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Halpern, Pinkas, 281–92; Pinkas Chmielnik (1960), 57–70 (Heb.), 73–90 (Yid.); M. Balaban, Historya żydów w Kradowie i na Kazimierzu, 2 (1936), 267–8; Rutkowski, in: BŻIH, no. 15–16 (1955).

[Stefan Krakowski]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.