Town in the Świętokrzyskie province on the Vistula River, and one of the oldest Jewish communities in Little Poland. In the period of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sandomierz (Yid., Tsuzmir) played an important role as a trade center on a river route to Gdańsk and on a trade route from Kraków to Vilna. The town lost its importance after the partitions of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century.
It is likely that Jews first arrived in Sandomierz in the thirteenth century. The town was then mentioned in an undated privilege for Jews in Little Poland issued by King Kazimierz Wielki (1333–1370). Tax records from 1507 confirm that it was one of the largest Jewish communities in Poland.
In response to the presence of Jewish merchants and craftsmen in 1521, Sandomierz and other large towns unsuccessfully demanded that the Polish Diet (Sejm) limit the economic freedoms of Jews; subsequently, in 1559 a royal privilege forbade Jews to engage in retail trade. In the mid-sixteenth century, Jews owned 8 to 10 houses, a number that increased to 16 at the beginning of the next century. Jews lived not only on the Jewish street but also on the market square.
In 1600, the Jewish community numbered 200–300 people out of a total population of 3,000. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Sandomierz’s Jews were mostly involved in commerce, both local and long distance (traveling, for example, to Frankfurt an der Oder), and in crafts (working as tailors and capmakers). Some were also involved in moneylending, customs, tolls, and mills.
Painting depicting blood libels in Sandomierz, still on display in town’s cathedral as of 2005. Photograph by Roman Chyła. (Courtesy Magda Teter)
Sandomierz was seriously damaged in the Swedish wars of 1655–1660, when both Polish and Swedish armies attacked the Jewish community. Continuing tensions between Christians and Jews resulted in four blood libel cases between 1605 and 1710, and an accusation of a Host profanation in 1639. Three of these accusations led to trials and death sentences. The last blood libel case led King Augustus II to order Jews to leave in 1712. The accusations were publicized throughout Poland in two anti-Jewish booklets written by a local priest, Stefan Żuchowski. A painting showing the alleged blood libels was exhibited in a collegiate church (today a cathedral) and was portrayed in a cycle of seven paintings in Saint Paul’s church. These images continued to be exhibited without explanation in 2005.
The royal order of expulsion was likely unenforced, and in 1764 the Jewish population numbered about 800. In 1778 Jews lived in 46 houses. After Poland was partitioned, Sandomierz was annexed by Austria; the town then became part of the Kingdom of Poland after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In 1857, there were 980 Jews in Sandomierz (29% of the total population). By the beginning of the twentieth century, this number had grown to 3,890 (54%). Jews tended to live in the city’s center around the market square and Żydowska (Jewish) Street (currently Basztowa Street). Their main source of income came from trading in farm produce and crafts (tailoring, shoemaking).
The town’s character did not change much in the interwar period, although the percentage of the Jewish population decreased due to emigration. A 1938 census listed 7,879 Catholics and 2,437 Jews as residents. Jews owned nearly 75 percent of the town’s retail stores and 50 percent of its craft workshops. Several Jewish political parties were active, especially Agudas Yisroel; prominent among its leaders was Rabbi Mendel Neu, who served on the town council along with representatives of other Jewish parties. Many economic and cultural organizations existed, as well as an amateur theater, a library, and a local branch of the Maccabi sports organization.
The Nazis seized Sandomierz in September 1939 and established a ghetto in June 1942; Jews from neighboring towns were resettled there as well. The ghetto initially contained some 5,200 people and was partially liquidated in late October 1942 when 1,000 people were shot and 3,229 others were deported to Bełżec. Of the 7,000–9,000 Jews from the Sandomierz area and those deported from the Third Reich who still remained in the ghetto, most were sent to Treblinka in January 1943, though several hundred of those still able to work were transferred to a labor camp in Skarżysko-Kamienna.
After the war, several dozen Jews returned to Sandomierz; all, however, left after the Kielce pogrom of July 1946. A synagogue from 1758 with a richly painted decoration is preserved in Sandomierz; currently it houses the city archives. A Holocaust memorial was built out of fragments of tombstones from various cemeteries in the region at the Jewish cemetery on Sucha Street.
Zenon Guldon and Karol Krzystanek, Ludność żydowska w miastach lewobrzeżnej części województwa sandomierskiego XVI–XVIII wieku: Studium osadniczo-demograficzne (Kielce, Pol., 1990); Adam Penkalla, “Poles and Jews in the Kielce Region and Radom, April 1945–February 1946,” Polin 13 (2000): 236–252; Magdalena Prokopowicz, “Społeczność żydowska Sandomierza okresu międzywojennego: Historia Zagłady Żydów w powiecie sandomierskim” (M.A. thesis, Warsaw University, 2003); Henryk Samsonowicz, ed., Dzieje Sandomierza, vols. 1–5 (Warsaw, 1993–1994).
Translated from Polish by Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov