The town is situated in Nidziańska Basin, 31 kilometres Southward from Kielce. Chmielnik obtained civic rights in 1551 thanks to the privilege by King Zygmunt August. The town was attractive because it was located on trade routs: Sandomierz-Chęciny and Cracow-Iłża. This location and the fact that it was a private town attracted Jews. Chmielnik was an important centre of Calvinism and Arianism during the reformation.
In central Kielecki District the Jewish community of Chmielnik was one of the oldest in Poland. The legend says that first Chmielnik Jews came from Spain. Unfortunately there aren't any evidences for that in archives. The community was established after the year 1630 on the base of the privilege by the owner of the town – Krzysztof Gołuchowski. Jews were allowed to build a wooden synagogue at the same time and it was constructed several dozen years later - Northward from the Main Square, in the centre of Jewish quarter.
About 100 families lived in Chmielnik in 1748, there was also a wooden synagogue and two cheders. The town accounted for 782 Jews (56% of total population) in 1787.
Hasidic Jews came to Chmielnik at the end of the 18th century. Rebbe Abraham Dawid Orbach was the precursor of Jewish colonization. 782 Jews lived in the town at the end of the 18th century. In 1820 the town had the population of 1222 people including 590 Poles and 632 Jews. The cemetery by Targowa Street was established then. Between 1820 and 1849 quite impressive development of the town was observed. The number of residents grew to 2917 people including 1976 Jews. Majority of them maid their living through craft and trade. It is worth to mention that 13 fairs per year took place in Chmielnik and they were a great opportunity to sell articles.
Cramped wooden buildings of the town, full of cells, pigsties and barns were the reason why the fire in 1849 damaged 139 residential buildings and 122 outbuildings. Houses by the Main Square and at Bóżnicza, Zatylna, Kościelna, Stopnicka, Szydłowska, Garbarska, Furmańska and Kielecka Streets (occupied by Jewish families mainly) fell prey to fire.The synagogue and two cheders were also burnt. About 950 Jews lost their houses.
At the beginning of January Uprising in 1863 Chmielnik was located on the area of some 1503.60 acres and buildings were situated only on 112 acres. There were 284 houses, 190 of them belonged to Jews. The town was occupied by 3488 people – 764 Poles and 2724 Jews. Markets and fairs still played an important role. They took place on the Main Square and at the square by the road to Szydłów. The main market was performed on Thursday and many merchants from Ponidzie villages and towns came to the town. That was the reason why all people dreamt of living in the centre, especially by the Main Square.
Another great fire happened in 1876 – 208 residential buildings and over 400 outbuildings were burnt. The Main Squre was reorganized during reconstruction. The nearby houses were two-storeyed, built of stone and bricks. It was also planned to built a Jewish school and a hospital on the area of the cemetery by the synagogue; a bath house outside the town, by the stream, Eastward from the road to Busko and a slaughterhouse Eastward from the latter. Measurements taken in 1905 showed that the town accounted for 58 hectares and the population crossed 10,000 people. Jews constituted 81% of the total population. It is not a surprise that in the town were about 30 cheders.
In 1880 Eliasz Sztrauch opened a factory of agriculture machines in the town. Szloma Zonszajn was a co-owner of a book shop in 1911. Books in Polish, Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish could been bought there. It was also possible to purchase newspapers in those languages.
When Kielce received a railway connection (after 1885) many wealthy Jews from Chmielnik began to invest in Kielce. Zagajski family was the most popular – they purchased limekilnes „Wietrznia”.
The town was seriously damaged during the I World War. In 1915 a common Polish-Jewish Civil Committee was established. It tried to put an end to speculations, really broad among kosher butchers. After the evacuation of Russians and deportation of Jews into the empire, the social life weakened. C. and K. Komenda in Busko asked, inter alia, Rabbi of Chmielnik to support the rescue action among Jews in March 1916. Supply difficulties, caused by Austrian Military Authorities' policy, deepen the aversion between Poles and Jews. However, hostility have not been observed. Austrian occupation had one positive effect – a narrow gauge railway connected Chmielnik, Jędrzejów and Pińczów, what had an influence on the development of local trade.
In 1918 the area of Chmielnik accounted for 760 hectares, buildings were placed on the area of 165 hectares. There were 26 streets and about 800 houses in the town. People constructed buildings without plans. Aniela Barbara Sołtysiak recalls: „We lived in Jewish tenament, it belonged to Mr Pasternak. When his financial status was better – something was built on, another floor was added, creating a backyard with four tenement and two one-storey houses...”.
Town Council comprised 18 Jews in 1920 and 15 in next years – that proves social activity of Jews.
According to the 1931 census Chmielnik had the population of 8050 people including 6359 Jews, i.e. 79%. Jews owned 80% of craft workshops and shops. Shoemaking, tailoring, gaiter production, furring, cap production and carpentry were the domain of Jewish craftsmen. Plenty of Jews from Chmielnik dealt with carpentry, producing decorative furniture for nearby farmers. Jewish Carpenter's Guild was established in 1926.
Chaim Franke (quarry owner) played an important role in economy. Abram and Jonas Sztrauchs and Eliasz Szlama owned limekilns. Mechel Kaufman run the factory of plaster however, Zagajski family had also something to say in this area despite the fact that Abraham Zagajski moved to Kielce in 1885. Printing house belonged to Ch. Fajngold, sawmill to Ch. Blank, tea rooms to R. Dajtelbaum, E. Klarman, R. Klarman, L. Nirenberg and Sz. Nirenberg. Decorative whips, produced and sold by J. And M. Rozenblums were really popular. Becelel Mały rented a distilleries in Grabki for 1750 zloty per year. He produced vodka and sold it in Jewish shops. Zagajski family wasn't the only popular family that moved to Kielce. Moszek Mendlewicz, who opened the wholesale company of domestic and colonial fruit at Nowowarszawska Street No. 2, moved there too at the turn of 1910 and 1911.
Chmielnik was known for geese breeding and good wine, which was produced by Icek Rajz. It should be mentioned that only Jewish merchants dealt with peddling. Merchants and hucksters didn't have problems with being granted a credit. Jewish shareholders owned: Trade-Industry Bank, People's Bank, Credit Cash, Merchant Bank and Discount Bank.
Aguda dominated among the parties. Abram Czapnik, Abram Fisz, Wolf Wajnryb were active there. In the middle of the 1930's Organization of Zionists Orthodoxes Mizrahi associated about 50 people. Poale Zion – Right had almost the same number of followers while Poale Zion – Left accounted for less members. The existence of Zionist Association of Young People Brith Trumpledor was also registered. In 1931 Zionist young people from Chmielnik participated a trip organized in Kielce. That is how they were included in Bejtar, Kielecki District.
Yeshiva was opened in Chmielnik in the second part of the 19th century. Several schools were led for young people in the interwar period – Talmud Torah, Beis Yaakov and Beis Josef. A library was established by Haszomer Hacair, there was also Jewish Association of Library of I. L. Perec. Jabne Association should also be mentioned, just like Jewish Sport Club Hapoel. Association of Aid for Poor Ill Jews Linas Hacedek, which was registered on February 28, 1924, took care of poor people, who could been easilly found in Chmielnik. Poor people were also supported by Gemiłus Chesed, which was approved by District Authorities on May 6, 1927. Five Jewish associations were registered in general in the interwar period.
Many interesting information about the Jewish community in the interwar period can be found in the preserved preliminary budget estimate and the correspondence that concerned it between the Management and District County in Busko. The Jewish community of Chmielnik, as so-called large community, elected Council and Management. Council long standing activists were as follows: Icek Moszenberg, Izahar Kainczenkier, Lejzor Abramowicz, Jankiel Moszek Gluzman, Berek Granek, Szloma Zylberberg, Jankiel Wajnberg, Dawid Tyson, Icek Dzioża, Ajzyk Pion, Josek Bronowicki, Jankiel Płócienik. The Management's activists were as follows: Josek Dawid Zylberberg, Majer Mendel Gutman, Abram Sztrauch, Dawid Zalcman, Lejb Chawa Wilczyk, Lejbus Pasternak, Herszel Szloma, Chaim Mały, Sylmian Tobiasz.
The 1928 incomes were planned as follows:
12,000 zloty – contribution from residents
60,000 zloty – slaughter of cattle and poultry
2000 zloty – cemetery fees
500 zloty – monuments
4400 zloty – Passover bread
200 zloty – weddings
400 zloty – donations
1000 zloty – from leasing properties
The main income was to come from slaughter, as it was in all communities. Slaughter fees included: 6 zloty – ox/bull/cow, 2.50 zloty – calf/ram/sheep, 0.40 zloty – fowl. Money was charged by employed casher and he transmited it to the Management. Income from slaughter was almost always lower than the assumed one. Why? We can find the answer in a document by the Management (January 1930), which states that kosher butchers completed their duties with dubious eartnestness causing lower incomes from this source. Kosher butchers performed illegal slaughter, charging large amounts of money for themselves. Kosher butcher Jochene Gertner was the owner of a house at Kilińskiego Street, Motel Kozłowski owned a newbuild house at Bednarska Street.
The expenditures were as follows:
Rabbi Sylman Tobiasz – 4000 zloty
Kosher butchers – 4400 zloty each
Cantor Josek Koplowicz – 900 zloty
Cantor Moszek Zmidka – 550 zloty
Gravedigger Abram Kuperszmid – 832 zloty
Maintenance of the synagogue – 400 zloty
The costs of the synagogue maintenance wasn't high especially since it was a valuable monument of architecture.
The expenditures included also: 7000 zloty – maintenance of Talmud Torah, 300 zloty - Beis Yaakov, 300 zloty – Palestine Rebuild Fund – 300 zloty, National Fund – 300 zloty, Poor Workers in Palestine Fund – 200 zloty, orphanage of J. Piłsudski in Busko-Zdrój – 500 zloty.
The lowest contribution in 1933 was 5 zloty while the highest 150 zloty. The latter was paid by 3 people: Izrael Diament, Moszek Fajngold and Icek Fogiel. Industrialists from Kielce paid the contribution there too: Mieczysław and Herszel Zagajskis, the owners of „Wietrznia” quarries. Their contribution accounted for 125 zloty because they paid the tax on the base of their properties in Chmielnik only. Over 400 people were exempted from paying due to poverty.
The community possessed a historic synagogue, which was situated at Wspólna Street. It was the one storey building, which was built on a rectangle plan of dimensions 16x29m. The synagogue was built of broken stone and roofed with hip roof. The main prayer house with ornate trunk, where Torah scrolls were stored, was situated in the East part. The vault was decorated with mouldings that consist of geometrical forms with semicircular convex and concave sides and fleurons that are similar to late Baroque style. A vast woman's gallery was situated in the West part of the building.
The 'old' cemetery was situated by the synagogue while the 'new' one was placed by Targowy Square, where was also a funeral house. The whole area was fenced with stone walls. Funeral Fraternity that consisted of the most popular citizens dealt with burials. The burial and all the activities connected with it was treated as an important religious duty that should be done voluntary.However the Fraternity wasn't approved by the authorities.
The office of the Management was situated in the community's building. The County Office's inspector wrote that „The office inventory consisted of 16 chairs, two tables and a locker, which was filled with files”. There wasn't any cash, where community's money may be stored. The community was also weakened by the fact that numerous disagreements occured between the Council and the Management especially in case of rabbi's position.
Franciszek Malec, who inspected the community, wrote: „Generally speaking the economy of Religious Community of Chmielnik is led unofficially in case of many matters.
On September 16, 1933 the postion of rabbi was filled by Szaja Epsztajn after long disputes and arguments.
Chmielnik had the population of 6670 Jews in 1938, i.e. 76.8% of all residents. Against the year 1921 the population increased by 762 people. 545 families were obligated to pay contributions. In 1938 the movables were estimated at 50,000 zloty, the realties at 250,000 zloty (it consisted the value of the synagogue, four prayer houses, the cheder, the mikveh and the cemetery). The indebtedness accounted for 27,000 zloty. Orthodox Jews dominated in both the Management and the Council (75% of shares). Poale Zion-Left had 16% of shares and Poale Zion-Right – 9%.
Ośrodek Edukacyjno-Muzealny "Świętokrzyski Sztetl"
ul. Wspólna 14, 26-020 Chmielnik
tel. kom.: 734-158-969
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