|The first mention of Szczuczyn was
in 1466 when it was mentioned in documents as a village that belonged to
private owners by the name of Scipin [c pronounced tz]. In 1692 it received the status
of a town called Szczuczyn. In 1699, it got permission from Augustus II,
the King of Poland, to hold five fairs a year and a weekly market.
||Number of Jews
In 1721 a school (collegium) for
nuns was established and there were some classes held for foreign
languages, history, science and metaphysics. In 1742 a hospital was
established, which later became known as one of the best in the country.
The city developed during the
period of Prussian rule from 1795-1806 and during the Napoleonic Kingdom
in the 19th century. The population grew almost threefold in that century.
The economy of the city was based on crafts and commerce. At the end of
the 19th century all kinds of small workshops were established, engaging
in liquor production, milling and carpet making.
In 1852 there was a big fire that
destroyed 186 houses - only 59 were left. During the First World War
(1915) the town was captured by the Germans. After the end of the war the
city was annexed first to the Region of Grajewo, and in 1936 it became an
independent region. Some Jewish families were found in Szczuczyn in the
18th century, and in the 19th century, parallel to the development of the
city, the number of Jews increased. Many Jews migrated from the villages
around Szczuczyn after they had been deprived of their traditional
occupations, such as liquor manufacture and sales.
In 1877 the Jews represented 75% of
the total population and their main income was derived from petty trade.
Some of them dealt in horse-trading during the fairs. Jews were also
involved in crafts, especially in shoe-making and tailoring. Some of them
established their own small manufacturing companies and in the 19th
century and the beginning of the 20th century, Szczuczyn became known in
the region as a summer resort and people came even from Warsaw and other
big cities. Most of the summer tourists were Jews.
Around 1820 an independent Jewish
community was established, followed by a synagogue and a wooden Bet
Midrash [House of Study].
In 1858 two buildings were
renovated and another house of study was added. The community had its own
Rabbis, and of those known to us, the most famous was Rabbi Yehoshua Heshl,
and after him, Rabbi Noah Chaim Eisenstadt.
In the 1890's Rabbi Menachem Mendel
Astrinski, known for his book "Menachem's Plant" [Tsemach Menachem] was
the rabbi of the town. After he died in 1904 there was an argument between
supporters of his son, Judah, and those who supported his son-in-law,
Gershon. After 2 years the community chose Rabbi Judah Haleib Hassman, who
had been a Rabbi in other communities previously. Rabbi Hassman who served
for about 20 years, established the Yeshiva which was a branch of the
famed Slobodka Yeshiva.
During the First World War most of
the students scattered and Rabbi Judah Lieb went to the interior of
In 1921 Rabbi Judah returned to
Szczuczyn but did not start the Yeshiva again. In 1928 Rabbi Judah left
Szczuczyn and emigrated to Hebron and became a teacher [Rosh Yeshiva] in
the Yeshiva there. In 1929 he moved with the Yeshiva to Jerusalem. He died
The first political organizations
in the Jewish community arose at the end of the 19th century. The first
Zionist group was established in 1898.
Branches of the Bund and Poale Zion
were established in the first years of the 20th century. Some of the
public institutions which were established at that time included Kupat
Gmilut Hasadim [a charitable institution], a public library and a drama
Until the end of the 19th century
the Jewish children studied in cheders. At the beginning of the 19th
century a Hebrew cheder was established, then a state [public] school for
Jewish children that comprised two classes and was attended mainly by
During the First World War, in
Szczuczyn, as in the other places conquered by the Germans, there was a
revitalization of political and social movement within the Jewish
In 1916, a Zionist Federation was
established, which later had a few hundred members. Also established was a
Beth Am, or community center, which had a reading room where some lectures
and social events took place. The community opened a public kitchen where
some meals were given to the poor. Around the end of the First World War
the library was split into two: one section for the Bund, and the other
for the Zionists.
Toward the end of the First World
War some Jews were injured by General Haller's soldiers. The soldiers
searched their houses, confiscating any valuable goods and beating them.
In the Interwar Period
Between the two World Wars most
Jews were engaged in various crafts and small scale trade. In addition to
the existing industries, there was a factory owned by a Jewish
manufacturer engaged in oil production which employed 15 Jewish workers.
Another new industry involved the purchase of fish which were bred in the
neighboring districts in pools. These fish were then delivered to large
Various crafts employed about half
of the population of the town, mainly shoe making and tailoring. Few
families earned their livelihood from home manufacture of flaxen goods.
Jews were the majority in other branches of industry as well. Only one of
the bakeries in the town was owned by non-Jews. The only smith in town was
a Jew and all tinsmiths and barbers were Jews.
The economic position of the Jews
in those years was very difficult. During the course of those years their
economic condition deteriorated. This deterioration was part of the
general economic state of the country as a whole, especially amongst the
agricultural population. This meant that the sources of income for Jewish
merchants, storekeepers and artisans dried up since their main clientele
was the peasantry in the area. Unemployment increased and work provided by
the neighboring agricultural areas also diminished. The boycott of Jewish
enterprises also helped to worsen the situation of the Jews.
The big fire of 1929 burnt many
houses and left many Jewish families without a roof, or homeless. In that
period the special charity, Kupat Gmilut Hasadim had to work even harder
to try and fulfill the many needs of the Jews.
In 1925 a co-operative bank was
formed with the aid of the Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution
Committee] to issue loans under favorable conditions and close to half the
Jewish families obtained loans at favorable rates. The Jewish Community [Kahal]
continued to engage in welfare activities and assisted the very poorest.
Various special events were held to help needy cases such as occurred
after the big fire of 1929.
Another charitable institution was
formed and joined by the local priest who received help from people in the
United States. In 1925 a Committee of Jewish merchants was formed to
protect and provide mutual help for themselves. Another Committee was
formed in order to try and obtain licenses for the local trades and
Other Kupot Gmilut Hasadim worked
to lend their members loans without interest.
There were other charitable
organizations, Linat Hatzezek, for example, which helped the community in
various ways, including providing medical aid. The "Bikur Holim"
[visitation of the sick] and "Hachnasat Orchim" [hospitality] societies
accelerated their activities. All these charitable institutions did not,
however, manage to prevent the Jews from leaving Szczuczyn. Many of the
youngsters left for the bigger towns and this reduced the population
between the wars.
The deterioration in the economic
conditions in Szczuczyn did not, however, stop the development of the
social and cultural life of the community. Soon after the end of the First
World War educational establishments were opened by the Jewish community.
In 1921 a "Tarbut" Hebrew school
was started and had about 350 pupils. In 1923 another school was
established under the name of Y.L. Peretz. In this school Yiddish was the
language used for all classes. The headmaster of the school was A.
Eliyovitch, who had been a local Yeshiva student. Due to lack of financial
resources, the school was closed in 1928 and some of the founders
emigrated to South America.
In 1925 Bet Yaacov school for girls
was founded under the auspices of Agudat Israel. In Szczuczyn there was
also another State-supported school ["Szabasowka"] for Jewish children.
Again, most of the students were girls. Between the wars there were also
two Jewish libraries. There was also a "Kultur-Ligeh" sponsored by the
Bund which included a library and an amateur drama group.
The Maccabi Institution, which was
established in the early 1920's, gathered together all the sporting groups
in Szczuczyn, but when most of the members left the town in 1927, the
Maccabi organization had to close. Maccabi renewed its activities in 1930
Most of the Jewish parties in
Poland were represented in Szczuczyn. Among the Zionists, the strongest
party was the Mizrahi party. Associated with the Mizrahi were the Work and
Torah Movement and The Religious Guardian Organization. This latter party
established a Hachshara Kibbutz [preparing people to become farmers in
Palestine] in the town, and also outside the town for religious people
from other places. This Kibbutz was a religious one. It was leased from a
farmer and it's purpose was to increase the people's knowledge of Judaism.
In Szczuczyn there were some branches of the Poale Zion, General Zionists
and Zionists-Revisionists. Among the youth movements there was a Hechalutz
organization which also had a special training Kibbutz. In the 1930's
other youth movements, including Betar and Zionist Youth were established.
In 1922 the youth movement of
Agudat Israel, Zeirei Agudat Israel, was founded with 100 members. The
Bund established itself in Szczuczyn and activities were mainly concerned
with education and culture. The Rabbi of Szczuczyn until 1932 was Rabbi
Yechiel Michel Rabinovitch, who replaced Rabbi Judah Leib Hassman. After
him came Rabbi Eliyahu Zvi Efron, who remained in post until the beginning
of the Second World War. Apart from the study houses and the synagogue,
there were in Szczuczyn several Shtiblech [small prayer houses]. The
largest one was run by the Gur Hasidim.
During World War II
Szczuczyn was 3 kilometers from the
border of Poland and East Prussia. On the first day of the Second World
War many people fled the town, including some Jews, but after a few days
most of them returned. Between September 8 and 23, Szczuczyn was
controlled by the German army. During that period the Germans sent 350
men, mainly Jews, for forced labor in Germany. After 5 months there were
only 30 survivors from this group who returned to Szczuczyn. The Germans
burnt the synagogue and two of the study houses. They beat Jews and stole
everything they could. According to the Ribbentrop - Molotov agreement of
August 23, 1939, Szczuczyn was annexed to the Russians and some Red Army
units entered the town on September 27, 1939, the eve of the Sukkot
holiday. Some local groups of Communists, among whom Jews were prominently
represented, gave a warm welcome to these Russian units. The new regime
took over some of the bigger properties around Szczuczyn and arrested
wealthy peasants, merchants, millers and storekeepers, among whom there
were many Jews. These arrests were in fact recommended by some of the
local Communists. Some 20 Jewish families who were thought to be
untrustworthy were deported some kilometers from Szczuczyn into other
Russian controlled towns, to Wasosz and Radzilow. On June 21, 1941, they
were sent to Siberia. On the eve of the war between Germany and Russia on
June 22, 1941, some of the Jews tried to flee the town but only a few
succeeded. Approximately 2,000 Jews were left in Szczuczyn. On June 22,
1941, some of the German units passed through Szczuczyn on their way east.
For about two weeks there was no governing authority in the town. On the
evening before June 28, groups of Poles attacked Jews in four areas in the
town; in the market, in Lomzinska Street, the new town, and in the suburb
of Pawelki. The rioters, who were armed with axes, knives and agricultural
tools entered the Jewish houses and cruelly killed many families,
especially some the most influential, and affluent Jewish families, and
those of the intelligentsia. As day dawned the hooligans carried away more
than 300 dead men, women and children on carts and put them into large
anti-tank ditches. The murderers then announced that their intention was
to kill every single Jew in the town. On Saturday June 28, 1941, some
women representatives of the Jewish community (for men it was too
dangerous to walk in the streets) went to ask for help from the priests
and the educated Poles of the town. However they all refused to go and
help the Jews. On that day some German soldiers arrived. The women
approached the officers and asked them for protection for the Jewish
community. They also gave the officers some presents. Some German units
then proceeded to patrol the city and for a while the pogroms stopped.
Apparently, on July 24, 1941, some
gangs of youth gathered all the Jews in the old Jewish cemetery.
Representatives of the Polish police selected 100 of these Jews and sent
the rest home. The ones that were left were cruelly murdered by those
Polish policemen. They were then buried in a mass grave in the cemetery.
On August 8, 1941, the Gestapo approached Szczuczyn. On their orders, the
Polish police gathered all the Jews in the Market Square and divided them
into four groups: old people, young men, young women (including girls of
13 and 14) and mothers with babies. The first three groups were put into
buildings by the Polish police in Beblowski's courtyard. The women with
babies were left to stand for a whole day in the heat without food or
water. That day the Polish police
established a Ghetto by putting a fence around Keshiva Betil [Krimma
Gus/Crooked Street]. Women with children and some
young men were brought into the Ghetto, as were craftsmen, 15 members of
the Judenrat who had been selected by the Germans, and four Jewish
On the day the Ghetto was
established, which was August 8, 1941, all the Jewish patients from the
public hospital were taken to the cemetery and cruelly murdered. During
the next five days all the Jews who were gathered in the courtyard of
Beblowski were taken out group by group and killed. Most of them (600)
were killed in the Jewish cemetery. It is assumed that the murderers were
Germans, together with some Poles who joined them. Among those killed was
the local rabbi: Rabbi Efron. During this time in the Ghetto the Jews were
living in very crowded conditions, 15-25 people in each room with very
little in the way of food, clothes or domestic utensils, and without wood
to heat the houses. Many of them became ill and never recovered.
On November 2, 1942, the Ghetto was
liquidated. About 200 Jews were taken the Transfer Camp in Bogusze and
from there they were sent, in December 1942 and in January 1943, to the
death camps at Treblinka and Auschwitz.
From then on there is no more trace
of Jews in Szczuczyn.
Yad Vashem Archives 03/3702.
AMTI 2154 [Archion Merkazi leToldot Israel, or Central Archive for the
History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem]
Welfare Fund of Szczuczyn, Biala Sztacki. Report of the Financial
Situation of the Szczuczyn Welfare Fund, January-July, 1930.
Grajewo Yizkor Book (New York, 1950), pp. 220-221, 223-224.
The Destruction of the Szczuczyn [Jewish] Community (Tel Aviv, 1954).
Memorial Book to the Communities of Szczuczyn, Vasilishok. Ostrik, Nowy
Dwor, Rozanka (Tel Aviv, 1966) pp. 25-114.
"Heint" [Today - Warsaw Yiddish Newspaper]
October 17, 1926; April 29, 1930; May 14, 1930; February 14, 1932; March
17, 1932; November 10, 1935; September 9, 1937.