History Of Plock
City in Warszawa province, central Poland
As Jews settled in Plock before 1237, when the city was the capital of Masovia, the Plock Jewish community is one of the oldest in Poland. In the first 200 years of their residence there, the Jews usually engaged in moneylending, sometimes accepting landed estates and other immovable property as security. Before the 16th century, however, they began to earn their living from trade and crafts.
At the beginning of the 16th century legal and municipal documents record the names of 28 Plock Jews who traded in wool, leather, spices, horses, and grain. About the middle of the century the burghers made a stubborn attempt to limit Jewish trade, but in 1555 King Sigismund II Augustus grandted the Jews economic rights equal to those of the other citizens, and in 1576 King Stephen Bathory forbade the city authorities to hinder the Jews in their business pursuits. However, at the beginning of the 17th century the burghers succeeded in limiting the activities of the Jewish traders and artisans for some time.
From the middle of the 17th century many Plock Jews engaged in weaving, glasswork, arms manufacture, and tailoring and some were accepted in the local Christian guilds, but the struggle of the Christian bakers, butchers, and harness makers against Jewish artisans continued. In the 16th century there were six Jewish physicians in Plock.
The Jewish quarter was first mentioned in 1532; in 1616 there were 25 houses in the town owned by Jews in which probably around 400 members of the Jewish community lived. The synagogue was opened in 1534, and a cemetery was consecrated in a suburb in 1570. In 1577 the parnasim of Plock – the physician Lewek and “Black Jacob” – appeared as prosecutors in the trial of the men who had hastily passed sentence in the Sochaczew blood libel.
In riots against the Jews in 1534, 1570, 1579, 1590, and 1656, the men of the Plock community took up arms in self-defense. After the depredations of the great northern war in 1705, the Jewish community suffered further economic loss through the hostile attitude of the nobility and the Church. In 1754 their situation deteriorated even further when a blood libel caused an uproar in the city. About the middle of the 18th century the Jewish tailors organized their own guild in order to protect their livelihood.
The spiritual leaders of Plock Jewry in the 17th century included Rabbi Tzevi Hirsch Munk (in the 1680’s), Rabbi Menahem Nahum ben Israel (d. 1691), and Zelig Isaac Margolioth, author of “Kesef Nivchar” (Amsterdam, 1712). Rabbis in the 18th century included Samuel ben Israel, Chayyim Ginzburg, and Judah Loeb Margolioth (1747-1811), one of the supporters of moderate haskalah.
In the first years of the 19th century, under Prussian rule, the Jewish population of Plock grew from 731 in 1800 to 1,932 in 1808 (49% of the total population). As a result of the great fire in 1810, the synagogue and a considerable part of the Jewish quarter were destroyed. A year later the government of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw confined the Jews to a separate quarter which contained only eight streets. A restriction which remained in force until 1862.
In the middle of the 19th century the Jews of Plock earned their living from trade and transportation and Jewish entrepreneurs established textile factories in the city. In 1827 there were 3,412 Jews in Plock (35% of the total population). In 1841-1844, on the initiative of the industrialist Solomon Zalman Posner, farming villages (Kuchary Ickowiec) were founded near Plock in which 170 Jewish families had settled by 1850. In 1897 the Jewish population of the city numbered 1,480 (33% of the total).
At the beginning of the 20th century, about 5% of the Jews of Plock were engaged in commerce, 31% in crafts and industry (clothing, food, metals, printing), and about 12% earned their living as hired laborers. From 1865 to 1871 the town contained a government school where Jewish children were taught in Hebrew and Russian. In 1888, on the initiative of the writer Abraham Jacob Paperna, a Jewish school sponsored by the government was founded; in the Talmud Torah, founded in 1868 secular studies were introduced at the end of the 1880’s on the initiative of the noted educator Aharon Kahnstam. In 1872 the first Jewish hospital was built.
At the beginning of the 20th century, branches of the Bund, the Zionist Socialists, and Po’alei Zion began to operate in Plock. A yeshivah was opened in 1912 under the direction of Mic hael Runin stein and Mendel Mendelson; in 1916 a Jewish high school was founded. In 1921, 7,352 Jews (29% of the total population) lived in Plock. In the period between the two world wars there were three Jewish cooperative banks and Jewish trade unions for the garment industry, transport workers, clerks, and salesmaen. In the 1930’s a Tarbut school was founded and in 1938 an Ort school. During this period the monthly “Dos Plotsker Vort” was published.
The authors Jakier Warszawski and Sholem Asch, the painters Nathan Korzen, Fishl Zilberberg (1909-1942), and Jehiel Meir (Max) Eljowicz, the Miniatu-Rist David Tyszinski livied in the city, as did the Zionist leaders Nahum Sokolow and Yitzchak Gruenbaum.
The Holocaust period:
At the outbreak of World War II, Plock had nearly 10,000 Jews, around one-third of the total population. When the Germans entered on September 9, 1939, the majority of Jews had fled to nearby Gabin, but they gradually returned.
Immediately, men were hunted down for forced labor. In December 1939 a Judenrat was established. It created an Arbeitsamt (“Labor Bureau”) to supply the Germans with manpower. It also maintained a clinic, and old-age home, and a soup kitchen subsidized by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and by 10% of the wages Jews received from the Germans.
In November 1939 a ghetto was created. Jews could not leave the ghetto without permission, but Poles entered without difficulty and supplied food at high prices.
Although private workshops and stores were liquidated, some of the cooperatives, such as those of cobblers and tailors, continued.
The German police carried out night raids involving searches and plundering, accompanied by beating and sometimes killing. Before the establishment of the ghetto the authorities requested that the Judenrat supply a list of the elderly invalids and chronically ill. Some days later all the inmates of the old-age home and all the others on this list were rounded up and deported. After one of the night raids some Jews lodged a complaint before the German authorities. In retaliation, the Germans arrested and executed 180 Jews.
The Plock community was liquidated in two deportations on February 20 and 28, 1941.
About 100 survivors (most of whom returned from the U.S.S.R. and a few of whom were saved on the “Aryan” side of the city) reconstituted the community and reestablished public and mutual-welfare institutions. In October 1949 the community erected a monument in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Organizations of the former residents of Plock exist in many countries.