Częstochowa Jews Under Communist Rule

- an extract from "Częstochowa - Everyday and Criminal Life During the Polish People's Republic"

The following is an extract (pp. 72-75) from

“Częstochowa – Życie codzienne i kryminalne w czasach PRL (1970-1989)”,
by Jarosław Kapsa.

It was published in 2023
by Towarzystwo Galeria Literacka, Częstochowa.

This extract  is published here with the author’s kind permission.

It has been translated into English by Andrew Rajcher.

People from national minorities were treated as suspicious. March 1968 showed that being a Jew, in the Polish People’s Republic, meant being suspected of being hostile towards the state. Sad testimony to this was the marginalisation of Częstochowa Jews.

After 1956, there was a revival of activity of the Częstochowa [branch of the] Cultural-Social Association of Jews [TSKŻ], with its headquarters in its building at ul. Jasnogórska 36. The Jewish Religious Congregation was also recreated in the building, which also held the ritual bath (mikvah), on ul. Garibaldiego.

The TSKŻ had 168 registered members, with Waksman as its chairman. It distributed 5,000-15,000 zł annually in aid to war victims. It organised cultural presentations. Excursions and summer camps were organised for the children, with social care provided by Dr. Bronisław Rozenowicz. The most active within the TSKŻ were Maurycy Baum, deputy director of “Papierni”, his wife Ewa, the Horończyk couple, Szymon Jesionowicz, Szymon Grunbaum (the famous furrier), the Prokurowski family and Tadeusz Altman (FJN activist).

The Jewish Religious Congregation had 23 members, including Helena Baum, Seweryn Dresler, the Kromołowski family and the Landman family.

This TSKŻ branch was one of the most active in the Katowice Province. In 1964, a youth congress was organised at the TSKŻ premises. Young people came from Katowice, Gliwice Myszków and Bielsko-Biala. It was accompanied by a music competition for bands and soloists. First place went to Alfred Pacanowski from Częstochowa.

In 1964, Stefan Laufer became the new chairman, vice-chairman Horończyk, secretary Leon Frank and treasurer Samuel Ajon. Those elected to the board of management were Dawid Albert, Henryk Grunbaum, Maria Klajn, Leon Hercberg, Chaim Segal, Ewa Baum and Liliana Romanczuk. Cultural, social and cemetery committees were established. There were 151 members and assistance was provided to 98 families (262 people).

A general meeting of the TSKŻ branch was held on 23rd January 1966, with the participation of 51 members, in the presence of the representative of the Municipal Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party [KM PZPR] Zygmunt Sobczyk and the head of the Department of Internal Affairs Zygmunt Marszałek. Motions were passed regarding the punishment of the ghetto executioner Degenhardt, the erection of a monument honouring the victims of the ghetto and the naming of a street in honour of Józef Lewartowski (pre-war Zionist left and KPP activist, co-founder of the Polish Workers’ Party and an organiser of the Warsaw ghetto resistance movement. He was killed in the April 1943 uprising.).

The board’s decision to hand over, to the city authorities, the property containing the ruins of the [New] Synagogue, for the construction of the Philharmonic Hall, was silently accepted.

In 1967, following the reaction of the USSR authorities to the war in Israel, the Częstochowa SB [Służba Bezpieczeństwa – Security Service] received, from the Ministry of the Interior, instructions on Zionism, background studies and an order to search for people who were hostile to the government or who had contacts with foreign countries.

Saturnin Limbach and Alfred Czarnota were identified as being among those maintaining contact with Israel. According to the SB, hostile views were expressed by Samuel Ajon – at a meeting of the KM PZPR, he criticised Laufer and distributed a book about the Jews in Częstochowa. It was noted that Warsaw University student, Ignacy Pacanowski, had submitted an application to go to Israel. Henryk Grynbaum had distributed texts in Hebrew. Alfred Kromołowski, a lawyer, had defended an injured Jewish woman and Zomersztajn, a rich man, had been convicted of currency trading.

In total, fifteen people left Częstochowa in 1968. In 1969, five families left, as did one individual, Helena, the daughter of Alfred Kromołowski. At the end of 1969, 182 people, who were identified as Jews by the SB, remained in Częstochowa. Of this group, twenty-eight tried to leave.

In 1969, the Jewish Religious Congregation had fifty members. Its chairman, Jakub Laderman left, as did his successor Leon Stawik. The [Czestochowa branch of the] TSKŻ had seventy members, but almost no one came to the meetings – its activists “sat on their suitcases”. As part of its surveillance, the SB established four evidentiary files and planned another four against “enemies”, including Zdzisław Skorupski, Dorota Hasenfeld and Tadeusz Unglik.

After 1970, the TSKŻ resumed its activities, with seventy people confirming their membership. Amongst them, the SB identified enemies and people who supported Israel – among them being Alfred Kromołowski, Ignacy Wajman, Bolesław Piętos and Jacek Zomersztejn. By a decision, on 31st December 1969, of the Department of Internal Affairs (WRN), the TSKŻ’s premises at ul. Jasnogórska 36 (now Help Centre for Disabled Children and Their Families) was expropriated, while allowing them to occupy another premises temporarily.

The Congregation found itself in an even more difficult situation. Fulfilling its religious function required having rooms for a synagogue and a ritual bath (mikvah). Following the expansion of its plant, the Steelworks [Huta] became located in the immediate vicinity of the Jewish cemetery.

In 1970, a development plan for the Steelworks was adopted, which included the cemetery within the Steelworks’ terrain. New burials were formally banned and it was decided to liquidate the burial site, allowing those interested to exhume and move the bodies of their loved ones.

This evoked a protest from amongst Jews, not only from Częstochowa. The Częstochowa cemetery was one of the largest [Jewish cemeteries] in Poland. In the Jewish faith, these places are sacred. They contained the graves of tzaddikim, which were visited by their followers from all over the world. The activity of the Częstochowa Congregation resulted in the wife of the Satmar chief rabbi, Faige Teitelbaum, becoming involved in the defence of the cemetery. The Chief Rabbi of Poland protested as did Jewish families from Kraków and other cities.

Despite the level of international protests, the authorities remained adamant. Some of the families concerned accepted the fate [of the cemetery]. According to the publication “Rzemieślnik” [“The Craftsman”], dated 21st April 1971, at the cemetery, the body of the tzaddik, the Gaon, was exhumed by the Szapiro family and the remains were transported to the USA. Other exhumations were also sporadically carried out. After the Holocaust, most of those buried there had no living family members and so there was no one to care for their final resting place.

Under pressure from the Jewish Congregation, the management of the Steelworks agreed to a compromise solution. The cemetery was incorporated into the Steelworks’ terrain. Only the part intended for the construction of a railway line was to be liquidated. The oldest graves and memorial sites, located in the cemetery, would be fenced off and protected.

Information sent from Częstochowa, to the Ministry of the Interior on 23rd September 1970, conveyed information about the mood of the Częstochowa Jews, that they fear for their Congregation’s building at ul. Garibaldiego 18. Indeed, the municipal authorities, without regard to any ownership right, had taken over occupancy decisions, introducing new tenants to occupy the building, without the knowledge or consent of the Congregation.

A note from the SB, dated 26th March 1971, advised that Jews, Majewska and S. Laufer, took part in a meeting of the KM PZPR, together with workers’ activists. This should not be surprising as Laufer was one of the founding fathers of the communist movement and, together with Majewska, was a member of the party’s authority. The SB’s information specifically highlighted his national origins {Jewish], when Laufer “aggressively attacked Feliks Kupniewicz, arrogantly attacking him of irregularities in the operation of a clinic, on ul. Kopernika, which treated party activists”.

Another SB note contains information about a teacher from Przybynów, a Jew, who criticised the party. People, who were applying for emigration, continued to be checked. Another note states that Janusz Archan, a Jew from Huta Stara, had bought a Fiat 125, had criticised the party and maintained contacts with the USA.

In 1973, only thirty-three families lived in Częstochowa whom the SB identified as Jewish. They continued to be treated as potential enemies of the Polish People’s Republic. Two separate cases were investigated.

Operation “Visitors” was regarding Leon Frank, born in 1899 in Częstochowa. He was retired. According to the SB, in 1975, Frank, as secretary of the TSKŻ, had received money from the TW. There is also information about personal conflicts in the Society’s board of management. The information about the dispute at the board meeting, on 16th August 1976, devoted to the preparation of the ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the “liberation of the ghetto”, is strange but, at the same time, it reflects the atmosphere of the times. Perhaps the official confused it with commemorating the “liberation of Częstochowa by the Soviet Army”. However, the effect was macabre – the liberation of the ghetto by the German army.

However, the dispute at the meeting was not about “liberation”. It was about the composition of the delegation that went to discuss, with the city authorities, the renovation of graves – places of national memory – at the cemetery. Ultimately, the delegation consisted of L. Frank, L. Stawik and S.Laufer.

In November 1976, a meeting of the Cultural Society of Częstochowa Jews was organised in Paris, according to the SB, at the initiative of Zionists. As Frank’s departure was blocked, Halina Wasilewicz, the TSKŻ’s new secretary, became the delegate. Unfortunately, she was also refused a passport. Ultimately, the SB’s efforts led to the elimination of Frank from the TSKŻ. He then submitted an application to go to Australia, Again, he was refused and, being ill, withdrew from public activity. He only asked authorities to allow his daughter Helena, a graduate of the University of Technology, to travel.

The second case was operation “Prezes”. It concerned TSKŻ branch president L. Stawik, who was born in 1911 in Warsaw and lived at ul. Garibaldiego 10. He was described as being uncompromising regarding the matter of moving the cemetery. Together with Leon Gongol from the USA, he visited the Town Hall in 1977, protesting against further plans to liquidate the remains of the cemetery.

It was noted that he had a son in the USA, Andrzej, and that he maintained contact with Zionists, obtained information and then disseminated it with the help of secret collaborators. Also that, while undergoing treatment in a sanitorium in Świnoujście and being influenced by his wife, he was baptised as a Catholic, which resulted in an atmosphere of distrust within the Jewish community and in Stawik’s social isolation.

The destruction of the few Częstochowa Jews, who remained after the Holocaust and the March [1968] riots, is a terrifying and, at the same time, shamefully hidden episode from the 1970s.  If it were not for documents preserved in the archives of the IPN [Institute of National Remembrance], no one would have suspected that such a liberalising system was committing actions with such a nationalist tradition.

Perhaps it was a rational explanation for counteracting ideological enemies – clerics, supporters of national ideals, Social Democrats whose origins lay in the PPS and, even, disappointed Communists. In this case, however, the only criterion being considered was nationality. The enemy was both the traditionally religious Frank and the communist activist Laufer.

Even people, who gave up their Jewishness and were fully assimilated into the Polish environment, such as A. Czarnota or the Hasenfeld couple, were included amongst the ranks of enemies. No amount of working for the benefit of the city protected anyone if they had “bad” origins. Surveillance and the destruction of the community was carried out by the SB on behalf of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MSW]. This does not mean, however, that such actions did not have public support.

A symptom of the antisemitism of the 1970s was the careful erasure of Jews from the space of collective memory. The cemetery, within the terrain of the Steelworks, was not the only one to be damaged. As recorded within the SB records, the Religious Congregation demanded the preservation of the cemetery in Olsztyn near Częstochowa. Even today, we do not know where it was.

About the author:

Jarosław Kapsa (born 11th May 1958, Kraków) – writer, journalist, politician and local government official, former member of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland, opposition democracy activist.

He matriculated from the Mikołaj Kopernik High School in Częstochowa and graduated in history at the Śląsk University in Katowice (2010).

Under martial law, he was interned from 31st December 1981 until 13th December 1982. Following his release, he continued to be active within underground structures and worked with independent magazines, for which, in December 1985, he was again arrested – this time for a period of three months.

In 1989, he was elected to the Sejm. As a member of parliament, he was a member of the commission which investigated officers of the Security Service [SB] and also within the military secret services.

After withdrawing from political life in 1992, he took up journalism, working in “Zycie Warszawy”, “Życie Częstochowska” (deputy editor-in-chief), “Dziennik Częstochowski 24 Hours” and “Gazeta Częstochowska”. Since 2004, he has been a regular columnist in the regional weekly “7 Dni” and has worked with the Częstochowa Literary Magazine “Galeria”. Since 2002, he has been employed at the Częstochowa Town Hall.

In 1986, his radio play won an award in a Radio Free Europe competition and, in 1989, the Polcul Foundation recognised his journalistic activities.

His other awards include Medal of Merit as a Cultural Activist (2000), the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (2011) and the Cross of Freedom and Solidarity (2015).