THE CITY OF PRZEDECZ

Przedecz is today situated west of Central Poland midway between Chodecz and Klodawa. It is about 75 kms north-west of Lodz, 150 kms west of Warsaw and 130 kms east of Posen. Its co-ordinates on the map are: latitude - 520 20’ N., longitude - 180 54’ E. The south west side of Przedecz borders on Lake Przedecz.

In Yiddish the city was known as Pshaytsh.

The earliest mention of Przedecz is in the 12th century and at that period it was in the possession of Archbishops. In the second half of the 14th century the king purchased Przedecz and the surrounding lands from the Archbishops. About that period it was a transit station for traders travelling from south to north and from east to west and was a centre for trade for the surrounding farms.

Przedecz was granted the right to be known as a city before the end of the 14th century. Although in today’s usage, Przedecz would be regarded as a “village”, we shall use its official status and refer to it as a “city”.

During the period when Przedecz was in the possession of the Archbishops, Jews were forbidden to live there and the beginning of Jewish settlement seems to have begun towards the end of the 14th century. The Jewish cemetery is about 600 years old.

In 1538, there was a big fire in Przedecz and most of the houses were destroyed. Ten years later, the king gave the right to produce and market liqueurs without paying taxes and to have a market day each week.

In the middle of the 17th century, during the war with the Swedes, the city was destroyed and only 40 houses remained. The financial situation of Przedecz flourished at the beginning of the 18th century when the king gave permission to have two market days each week and a fair six times a year.

In a census taken in 1793 the population consisted of 355 persons, 139 of whom were Jews. By 1827 it had grown to 1935 persons, 346 of whom were Jews. During the following 30 years the total population in Przedecz increased by only 20, whereas the Jewish population increased to 606. In other words, during these 30 years the percentage of Jews in this city radically increased. This occurred because Jews from the neighbouring villages moved to Przedecz. By 1921, the total population had increased to 3040, of whom 840 were Jews.

Przedecz had only a few streets, but it had all the elements of a Jewish Community: Synagogue, Bet Hamedrash, Mikva, Jewish Schools, Yeshivah, Jewish Library, Jewish Cemetery, Eruv, welfare and cultural organisations. Przedecz had its own City Rabbi and it also had its own Shochet and Mohel. At first the Shechitah of animals took place in the courtyard of each butcher and the Shechitah of fowl in the courtyard of the Shochet, However, before the Second World War, a large abattoir was built under the auspices of the Local Council. In this new abattoir, the sanitary conditions were better and there was also a regular veterinary inspection by the Polish authorities.

Many of the Jews were artisans - tailors, hatmakers, cobblers etc. They usually worked from their homes assisted by their children and other employees, and would then travel from city to city to sell their wares, in general, to the non-Jews. Some of the Jews were small traders.

Every place had its market day and for Przedecz it was Monday. On Mondays the non-Jews would come from the farms in the area and sell butter, eggs and chickens to the Jews and in turn these non-Jews would buy products such as salt, sugar and tobacco from the grocery shops and clothes, shoes, hats etc. from the market. From morning to evening on Mondays, the market was crowded with people.

Apart from the big Synagogue of Przedecz, there was a “Chevrat Tehillim”. This “Chevrat Tehillim” served as a Synagogue for the artisans of the city. Services were also held in the Bet Hamedrash. The Bet Hamedrash had its own library and on Fridays two boys aged 13-14 went around the houses collecting money to buy new books and to pay for the rebinding of the old ones.

The Mikvah was situated very near to the lake and quite near to the “Chevrat Tehillim”. The city also had its own Eruv. which enabled the Jewish residents to carry in the streets on Shabbat. On occasions when this Eruv was broken, and this happened quite often, the children would carry the Siddurim and Tallitot to the Synagogue and would also bring the Cholent to the houses from the bakery.

The religious affairs of the community were controlled by a Committee (Parnasai Ha’ir). Every year members of the Community would meet in the Bet Hamedrash and elect 8 members to this Committee. The function of this Committee was to fix the salary of the Rabbi and other religious officials, the price for Shechitah, the charge for the Mikvah, etc. A tax was levied on the families in order to pay for these services.

In Przedecz, there was a State Elementary School. There was no High School and thus pupils who wished to study in a High School had to go to neighbouring cities. The Elementary School was attended by both Jewish and non-Jewish children of the city. The usual secular subjects taught in schools were taught here. At first it was situated in the same building as the Town-Hall, the school being upstairs and the Town-Hall downstairs, but later a new large building was built for the school in Stoldona Street. For their religious instruction there was a “Bet Sefer Ivri”, which would meet after regular school hours. Subjects such as Tenach (Bible) and Dinim (Jewish Law) were taught in this “Bet Sefer Ivri”. In the religious education of the children, particularly of the boys, a love for Eretz-Israel was prominent. In addition there was a “Bet Ya’acov” school for the more religious girls, although in fact the overwhelming number of Jews in Przedecz were observant In the courtyard of the Bet Hamedrash there was another more religiously orientated school. There was also a Yeshivah, whose Principal was Rabbi Yoseph Alexander Zemelman, the Rabbi of Przedecz. For those who wanted to learn a trade such as tailoring, hatmaking or cobblering, there were evening classes.

The city had a Jewish Library but it was more than just a library. It functioned as a cultural centre. People would meet there in the evenings and read books, dance, listen to lectures, have theatre performances, etc. The more religiously observant, instead of going to the Jewish Library would use the Agudah or the Mizrachi facilities instead.

There were also welfare organisations in Przedecz. A “Bikur Cholim” society would look after the poor sick. There was also a “Benevolent Fund” which would give loans without interest to needy Jews and this saved them from starvation.

In 1926, with the assistance of the “Joint” a Jewish Bank was set up in Przedecz. The main purpose of this Bank was the granting of loans. These loans were made according to usual banking procedures and required two guarantors who were acceptable to the Bank. This Bank closed in 1936 as a result of the difficult financial situation of the Jews at that period.

During the 20th century, various Zionist groups were established in Przedecz, including branches of the General Zionists, Poale Zion Yemin, Hashomer Hazair, the Mizrachi and the Revisionists. Money was collected in Przedecz for the J.N.F. There were also a few Bundists In 1937 there were seventy people who had voting rights for delegates to the 20th Zionist Congress held in Zurich that year, of whom all but three utilised their rights. The establishment of these groups caused friction between those of the right and those of the left. As a result those of the left stopped coming to the Jewish Library. For the younger people there was the Young Mizrachi and Betar. The programmes of these youth groups included activities on Shabbat afternoons.

Agudat Yisrael also had a branch in Przedecz, most of its members being Gerer Hassidim. One of the people active in this branch was the Rabbi of Przedecz, Rabbi Zemelman.

There was even “Hachsharah” (preparing people for Aliyah to Eretz-Israel).in Przedecz. This group had some fields in which young people planted and grew vegetables which they then sold in Przedecz.

The houses in Przedecz were mostly just one story high. Some were owned by the Jewish residents and others were rented from non-Jews. There was no running water in the houses. In the centre of Przedecz was a pump. Electricity was only installed in 1928 - until then people used gas lights. There were very few telephones in Przedecz and radio was a luxury found in very few houses.

In September 1939, Germany entered Poland and the Second World War began. A few weeks later on the night of the Festival of Shemini Atzeret, 4 October 1939, the Germans set fire to the Przedecz Synagogue. On the day after the Festival, the Germans summoned the Rabbi of the City together with some of the leaders of the Community and they were forced to sign a statement that the Jews themselves had burnt down the Synagogue and in addition they had to pay a fine for so doing!

The Germans changed the name of the city to Moosburg.

In 1940 there were 769 Jews in Przedecz and nearly half of them were sent to forced labour camps. The majority of them died there from hunger and disease. The Germans set up a ghetto in Przedecz which was situated in the Old Market. In early 1942, the Germans packed the remaining Jews into the local church, where they were left with no food or water for three days. Many of them died from lack of air. On 24 April 1942 - 7 Iyar 5702, the remaining Jews were sent to the Chelmno extermination camp and the Jewish community of Przedecz was thus finally liquidated. The 7 Iyar has become the Memorial Day for this Community.

The Rabbi of Przedecz managed to escape to Warsaw, where he took an active part in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

In the mid-1960s, some former residents of Przedecz went to revisit the place. Where the Synagogue had formerly stood, the Poles were building houses. All that remained in what had been the Jewish cemetery was a solitary tree. All the tombstones had disappeared. The Beth Hamedrash and the adjoining house of the Rabbi had been demolished.

In March 1998, my eldest daughter Ayelet went on a “Holocaust Study Trip” to Poland. On 30 March she made a brief trip to Przedecz, where she visited the site of the Jewish cemetery. There she saw that the Buks family, who originated from Przedecz had erected a memorial stone in the cemetery. The inscription reads, “We honor the blessed memory of our Jewish ancestors from the town of Przedecz lovingly remembered by the Buks family - 1993.” She lit a candle by this memorial stone. The Polish authorities have planted a forest over the site of the cemetery, presumably to preserve and beautify the area.

In addition to photographing the cemetery, she photographed the houses which had been built over the site of the former Synagogue. Lack of time prevented her from viewing the tombstones which it was reported had been put in the museum/conservation laboratory and in the garden by the Municipality Office. I now understand that these tombstones have disappeared.

Today there are no Jews in Przedecz, nor even signs of a former Jewish community. However, a number of Przedecz survivors from the Holocaust rebuilt their lives in Eretz Israel, where today they and their descendants live.

Appendix

From the AJGS Cemetery Project by the AJGS and Arline Sachs 1996-7
( taken from the Internet)

PRZEDECZ


US Comm. no. POCE00697

Przedecz is located in the voiev. of Konin, about 10 km from Klodawa. The Jewish cemetery is located on Rybacka Street. The present town population is 1,000 - 5,000; currently there are no Jews living there.

The town official in Przedecz is Burmistrz [Mayor] Remigiusz Zasada, Urzad Miasta [City Council], Plac Wolnosa 1, Przedecz, tel. 38 467. The name of the regional authority responsible for this site is Irena Sobierajska, PS02. Another institution that may have interest in this site is Jan Stelmasiak, Plac sw. Wawrzynca 6, Przedecz.

The date of the earliest known Jewish community in Przedecz was in the 14th Century. The Jewish population in 1938/39 was 1000 people, about 22.3% of the total town. The Jewish cemetery was used by Orthodox Jews, and the date of the last known Jewish burial was 1939.

The cemetery is located in a suburban area on flat land; it is isolated and there is no sign or marker. It is surrounded by no wall or fence (although there was a wooden fence before the war) and has no gate. It can be reached by turning directly off a public road, and access is open to all.

The size of the cemetery before W.W.II was around 0.5 hectares; it is the same size now. There are no tombstones visible. Some of the tombstones removed from the cemetery are in a museum/conservation laboratory (5 pieces), and some are in the garden by the Municipality Office (3 pieces). Tombstones are datable from the 20th Century, and are inscribed in Hebrew. They are made of sandstone and are finely smoothed and inscribed stones. Some tombstones have traces of painting on their surfaces.

The cemetery is currently owned by the municipality, anced is used for recreational purposes - a forest was planted from 1960-1965. The properties adjacent to it are residential - there is a house at the synagogueþs site (the pre-burial house?). The cemetery is occasionally visited by private Jewish visitors and local residents.

The cemetery was vandalized during W.W.II. There is now no maintenance done There are slight security, weather erosion, pollution, vegetation and vandalism threats facing this cemetery. There is also a slight threat from an incompatible nearby development.

This survey was completed by Lucja Pawlicka-Nowak, 62510 Vonin, ul ????? 15/76, tel. 434356, (see Konin) who visited the site on September 10, 1992. Literature and interviews were used to complete the survey - Jan Stelmasiak of Przedecz was interviewed on September 10, 1992 at the cemetery site. The questionnaire was completed on September 10, 1992 by Lucja Pawlicka-Nowak.

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