Chęciny – was situated on an important route leading from Hungary to Greater Poland and Gdańsk and from Russia to Silesia. It was established on the order of King Władysław the Short. It developed as a town settlement at the foot of the castle whose walls were adapted to the shape of Góra Zamkowa[1.1]. The castle was chosen by Władysław the Short to host the court judgements and knights meetings[1.2]. The first information mentioning Chęciny comes from the years 1564-1565[1.3]. Originally, the Jewish settlement came up against some difficulties. In 1581, King Stefan Batory confirmed the right, which stipulated that there should only be two Jewish houses in the town[1.4]. The right to rent houses in the town was granted to Jews in 1662. Thirty years from that date, King Władysław IV permitted the Jews to erect a brick house of prayer and to say prayers without restrictions of any kind[1.5]. One piece of information published in “Słowo Żydowskie” monthly read that “the Jewish life in Chęciny had thrived, especially after the privilege granted by Władysław IV in 1638[1.6]. When troops commanded by Jerzy Rakoczy entered this region, the town was completely raised to the ground. Determined by the desire to reconstruct it, the authorities gave permission to the Jews in order to encourage them to build their own houses, to participate in business, develop it without limits, and to have licenses to trade in alcohol beverages. The Permanent Council Decree from 1777 removed all the restrictions on the Jewish settlement in Chęciny. From that moment free settlement could develop without being hindered.
The situation in the town in 1780 was described in this way: “The Jews, who are prevailing in this area, live in apartments in the square and on the main streets. It is an easy guess that the Jews own all the grocery products and people can buy a variety of things in their stores, especially goods and materials, but also various kinds of clothes”[1.7].
In 1827, Chęciny was inhabited by 1,740 Jews which constituted 70 percent of the whole population. In 1862, there lived 3,077 Jews here, i.e. 77.7 percent of the total population. A. Penkala gives information that in 1897 Chęciny was populated by 4,361 Jews (70.6 percent), and in 1921 – 2,825, i.e. 56 percent[1.8].
The year 1885 was not favorable for the town. Despite efforts, the Iwanogrodzko-Dąbrowska railway line was not established here. A railway station was situated in Wolica, a few kilometers away from Chęciny. It must have rebounded unfavorably upon the town economy.
In 1896, Chęciny numbered 5,083 people, and in 1883 – 6,578[1.9]. According to Marian Palewicz “the Jews living in Chęciny were an extremely resilient ethnic group”, while “their distinct religion was a strong barrier securing them from losing their own national identity”[1.10]. In the 1880s, Rabbi Nusyn Majer Fisz was the religious leader for the Jews in Chęciny [1.11].
At the end of the 19th century, Chęciny was described as a ruin consisting of 400 houses and cubicles[1.9]. The town’s main income was derived from craft and trade. The Monday fairs attracted a few thousand people. In 1905, the town was severely damaged by a fire. In 1909, there were 5,590 people in Chęciny and the number included 2,157 Catholics, 3,414 Jews, and 19 Orthodoxy followers[1.13]. The Jews constituted then 61.1 percent of the whole population.
[1.1] R. Garus, Szlakiem zamków i budowli obronnych, Kielce, br.r.wyd., p. 8
[1.2] R. Tenże, Chęciny. Krótki przewodnik po mieście i zamku, Kielce 1991, p. 7
[1.3] A. Sabor, Sztetl. Śladami żydowskich miasteczek, Kraków 2005, p. 132
[1.4] J. Morgensztern, Regesty z metryki koronnej do historii Żydów w Polsce (1574-1586), „BŻIH” 1963, no. 47-48, p.116
[1.5] M. Paulewicz, Osadnictwo żydowskie w Chęcinach, „BZIH” 1975, no. 2, p. 36
[1.6] R. Wasita, Migawki z polsko-izraelskiego spotkania na Kielecczyźnie, „Słowo Żydowskie” 2000, no. 22, p. 4
[1.7] J.F. Carossi, Reisen durch Verschiedene polnische Provinzen mineralogischen und anderen Inhalts, Leipzig 1781, p.56
[1.8] A. Penkalla, Żydowskie ślady w województwie kieleckim i radomskim, Radom 1992, p. 30; Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, Województwo kieleckie, Warszawa 1925, p. 34
[1.9] „Gazeta Kielecka” 1900, no. 56
[1.10] M. Paulusiewicz, Stan demograficzno-ekonomiczny mieszczan chęcińskich narodowości żydowskiej w 1919 r., „BŻIH” 1979, no. 3, p. 109
[1.11] APK, RGK, catalogue no. 2054
[1.12] „Gazeta Kielecka” 1900, no. 56
[1.13] S. Wiech, Miasteczka guberni kieleckiej w latach 1870-1914, Kielce 1995, p. 134
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