Jewish and non-Jewish soldiers at a soup kitchen, Suwałki, Poland, 1918. (YIVO)

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Town in northeastern Poland. Jewish residence apparently began in the nineteenth century when Suwałki experienced a period of substantial development. In 1808, there were 44 Jews living in the town, a number that had risen to 1,209 by 1827. In 1856, the community had grown to 6,407, and in 1897 to 7,165 (representing 40% of the total population). From the 1890s through the first decade of the twentieth century, the Jewish population increased again, reaching 13,002 in 1908 (56%). From 1897 to 1914, the town was the site of a substantial Russian garrison of some 10,000 soldiers.

Aside from the provisioning of Russian troops, the livelihoods of Jews in Suwałki were characteristic of the region: Jews were involved in wholesale and retail commerce, transport, artisan jobs, as well as manufacturing. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Suwałki was an important center for the production of prayer shawls. Some outstanding rabbis led the community, including Yitsḥak (Eisik) Wildmann (known as Ḥaver; 1789–1853). He was the author of works on halakhah and Kabbalah, and served the town from 1850 to 1853, founding a school and a yeshiva. Shemu’el Mohilewer (1824–1898) was rabbi from 1860 to 1868 and called on the Jews of the community to remain neutral in the Polish uprising against Russian rule in 1863. Despite this, a number of Suwałki’s Jews supported the Polish insurgents; Russian authorities later hanged two of them. David Tevel Katzenellenbogen (1850–1930) served there in the 1890s before becoming the rabbi of Saint Petersburg.

Children in a Yiddish-language school performing a scene from Dovid Eynhorn's play “Hent” (Hands), Suwałki, Poland, 1935. Photograph by J. Bernsztejn. (YIVO)

During World War I, Suwałki was occupied by German troops and was seriously damaged in the Russian retreat. The town was the scene of fighting once again between Poland and Lithuania and ended in 1920 as part of Poland. In 1921, the Jewish population numbered 5,747 (34 %). Schools associated with both the TSYSHO and the Tarbut systems functioned, in addition to the more traditional Talmud Torah and yeshiva. In the period of pogroms in Przytyk and elsewhere in 1936, Jewish self-defense prevented a similar outbreak in Suwałki.

After the Nazi invasion of September 1939, Suwałki was incorporated into the province of East Prussia and its name was changed to Sudauen. Many Jews fled to Lithuania and the Soviet Union, and the Nazis drove some 3,000 additional Jews across the Lithuanian border. The remainder were rounded up and shipped to the Lublin region, mainly to Biała Podlaska, Luków, Międzyrzec-Podlaski, and Kock, for execution. The Soviet Red Army liberated the town in October 1944. Though the community was not reestablished, its cemetery was restored in the 1980s. The last Jewish burial there was in 1986.

Suggested Reading

Yehudah Alro’i and Yosef Khrust, eds., Sefer Kehilat Suvalk u-venoteha (Tel Aviv, 1989); Berl Kagan, ed., Yizker-bukh Suvalk (New York, 1961); Jonas Totoraitis, Sudovos Suvalkijos Istorija (Kaunas, 1938).