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Virtual Jewish World: Czestochowa, Poland

Czestochowa (Pol. Częstochowa), is a city in Poland, approximately 125 miles (205 km.) southwest of Warsaw; the shrine of the Jasna Góra Madonna in Czestochowa was celebrated as a center of Catholic pilgrimage. Seventy-five Jewish residents are recorded in Czestochowa in 1765 and 495 in 1808, when an organized community was established. Although Jewish residence was prohibited in certain districts, the Jewish population in Czestochowa grew from 1,141 in 1827 (18.5% of the total) to 2,976 in 1858 (34.5%), and in 1862, with the abolition of the Jewish quarter, to 3,360 (37.3%). By 1900 it numbered 11,764 out of a total population of 39,863 (29.5%), in 1921, 22,663 and in 1939, 28,486. From the early 19th century, Jews played an important role in the development of industry and commerce in Czestochowa, and a number of Jewish social, educational and charitable institutions were established.

The German army entered the city on Sept. 3, 1939. The next day, later called "Bloody Monday," a pogrom was organized in which a few hundred Jews were murdered. On September 16, a Judenrat was established, chaired by Leon Kopinski. On December 25, a second pogrom took place and the Great Synagogue was set on fire. In August 1940 about 1,000 young men between the ages of 18–25 were sent to the forced labor camp in Cieszanow (Lublin Province), where almost none survived. Thousands more were sent to forced labor locally and the Judenrat managed to arrange licenses for 2,000 Jewish artisans as well as providing a wide range of community services, including the inoculation of 17,000 Jews against typhus under the auspices of the TOZ organization. When a greater number of Jews from other parts of western Poland came to Czestochowa in 1940–41, the city's Jewish population grew by several thousands. On April 9, 1941, a ghetto was established. When it was sealed off (Aug. 23) the population suffered severe overcrowding, hunger, and epidemics. On Sept. 23, 1942 (the day after the Day of Atonement), the first of six large-scale Aktionen began. By October 5, about 39,000 people had been deported to Treblinka and exterminated, while about 2,000 were executed on the spot. The ghetto, by now largely diminished and within new borders (now called the "small ghetto") had about 6,500 people, of whom about 1,000 were "illegal."

Various Jewish underground organizations arose during the first months of German occupation, first engaging in sabotage and mutual aid activities. In December 1942, a unified Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) was set up. It had about 300 fighters and established contact with the Warsaw Ghetto Fighting Organization. On Jan. 4, 1943, a group of fighters under Mendel Fiszlewicz offered the first armed resistance. Twenty-five fighters fell, while 300 nonfighting men were deported to Radomsko. The next day the Nazis shot 250 children and old people who had been living in the ghetto "illegally." On March 20, 1943, 127 of the city's Jewish intelligentsia were executed. The Jewish Fighting Organization tried to organize guerilla units in the nearby forests. Two large groups were dispatched to the forests of Zloty Potok and Koniecpol, but before they could begin partisan activities, they were murdered by Polish terrorists of the National Armed Forces (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne). A few smaller groups succeeded in contacting the Polish left-wing People's Guard and they conducted guerilla activities in its ranks. On June 26, 1943, the Germans began liquidating the "small ghetto." The Jewish Fighting Organization offered armed resistance, but they could not cope with the situation. About 1,000 people were deported and the ghetto was closed down. The remaining 4,000 Jews were transferred to two slave labor camps organized at the city's HASAG factories. On July 20, 1943, about 500 prisoners from these camps were executed at the Jewish cemetery. In 1944 the HASAG slave labor camps were enlarged, when a few thousand Jewish prisoners from Płaszów concentration camp, Lodz Ghetto, and the slave labor camp of Skarzysko-Kamienna were moved there. Before leaving the city on Jan. 17, 1945, the Germans managed to deport almost 6,000 prisoners from the HASAG camps to the concentration camps of Buchenwald, Gross-Rosen and Ravensbrueck in Germany. The 5,200 prisoners who succeeded in hiding were saved by the Soviet army. The Jewish survivors tried to rebuild their community. In June 1946, 2,167 Jews lived in Czestochowa. Some kibbutzim to prepare Jewish youth for settlement in Palestine were active until 1948, a Jewish school existed until March 1946, and a Jewish Religious Society was active. After 1948 only the official communist Jewish Social-Cultural Society continued to function until the antisemitic campaign in 1968. Jews left Czestochowa and settled mainly in Israel in 1949 and 1957. After 1968 almost all those who remained left Poland. Organizations of Czestochowa Jews are active in Israel, the United States, Canada, Argentina, and France.

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

J. Tenenbaum, Underground (1952), 184–208; W. Glicksman, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 6 (1967), 331–57; B. Orenstein, Khurbn Tshenstokhov (1948); Tschenstokhover Yidn, 2 vols. (1944–58); S. Waga, Khurbn Tshenstokhov (1949); L. Brener, Vidershtand un Umkum in Tshenstokhover Ghetto (1950); Sefer Tshestokhov, 2 vols. (1967–68). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Mahler (ed.), Czenstochower Yiden (1947); S. Krakowski, The War of the Doomed. Jewish Armed Resistance in Poland, 1942–1944 (1984), 218–23; PK.