Siedlce is a city in Eastern Poland with a Jewish history that dates back to the middle of the 16th century.
In 1794, a Jewish school and the rabbi's house were built in Siedlce; the Jewish cemetery was enlarged in 1798. In the 18th century there was a small Jewish hospital; a larger one was erected in 1890. The most noted rabbis of Siedlce in the middle of the 18th century were Rabbi Meir, author of Netiv Meir, and Israel Meisels, son of Dov Berush Meisels . In the second part of the 18th century the rabbis of Siedlce visited Warsaw where they carried out religious functions for Jews living there illegally. A group for the study of the Torah and Talmud was founded in Siedlce in 1839, and at the end of the 19th century a Bikur Cholim society was established.
During World War I a Jewish high school was opened. Yiddish periodicals published in Siedlce included the Shedletser Vokhnblat, which Abraham Gilbert began to produce in 1911. Jacob Tenenboim, who between the two world wars edited the weekly Dos Shedletser Lebn with Joshua Goldberg, also collaborated with Gilbert.
The Bund started activities in Siedlce around 1900. At first the Polish Socialist Party also had a great influence among the Jews in Siedlce, but Zionism won the greatest adherence, though all shades of Jewish political parties were active.
In 1906, the czarist Okhrana (secret police) organized a pogrom against the Jews of Siedlce in which 26 Jews were killed and many injured. In 1920, Siedlce was occupied by the Red Army, and after its recapture by the Poles anti-Semitic excesses occurred. The Jewish population numbered 3,727 (71.5% of the total) in 1839; 4,359 (65%) in 1841; 5,153 (67.5%) in 1858:8,156 (64%) in 1878; and 14,685 (47.9%) in 1921.
Before the outbreak of World War II there were 15,000 Jews living in Siedlce. The German army entered the town on September 11, 1939, and began to take measures against the Jews. In November 1939, the Jewish population was forced to pay a "contribution" fine of 100,000 zlotys. On December 24, 1939, the synagogue was burned down. During 1940, about 1,000 Jews from Lodz, Kalisz, and Pabianice (cities incorporated into the Third Reich) were forced to move to Siedlce. In March 1941, German soldiers organized a three-day Aktion in which many Jews were killed.
In August 1941, a ghetto was set up and it was closed off on October 1. The plight of the Jews in Siedlce then drastically deteriorated. In January 1942, another fine of 100,000 zlotys was imposed. On August 22, 1942, about 10,000 Jews were deported to Treblinka death camp where they were murdered. Only 500 Jews were allowed to remain in the diminished ghetto, though a further 1,500 stayed there illegally. On November 25, 1942, the so-called small ghetto was liquidated and its 2,000 Jewish inmates deported to Gesiborki. The Germans concentrated all the survivors from Siedlce province in the town. Hundreds of them were shot on the way there or murdered in Gesiborki. All the others were deported within a few days to Treblinka and murdered. A few hundred remained in a forced labor camp near Siedlce until April 14, 1943, when they were executed.
During the deportations, hundreds of Jews succeeded in escaping to the forests. They formed small groups which tried to bring in arms and resist the German units searching the woods. The majority of them were killed during the winter of 1942–43. In January 1943, the Germans reported the capture and execution of 150 Jews in different parts of Siedlce province. Some Jewish groups continued to offer armed resistance until the fall of 1943.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved; Sefer Yizkor li-Kehillat Siedlce li-Shenat Arba Esreh le-Ḥurbanah (Yid., 1956).