In days past, Chęciny was situated on an important route leading from Hungary to Greater Poland and Gdańsk and from Russia to Silesia. It was established by order of King Władysław the Short. It developed as a town settlement at the foot of a 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 meetings of his knights.[1.2] The first reference to Chęciny comes from the years 1564-1565[1.3]. From the beginning, Jews in the town faced difficulties.
In 1581, King Stefan Batory confirmed a town 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 later, King Władysław IV permitted the town's 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 “Jewish life in Chęciny had thrived, especially after the privilege granted by Władysław IV in 1638."[1.6] Troops commanded by Jerzy Rakoczy leveled the entirety of the town. Given their desire to rebuild the town from the rubble, the authorities gave permission to the Jews and encouraged them to build their own houses, to participate in business and develop it without limits, and to have licenses to trade in alcohol beverages. The Permanent Council Decree from 1777 removed all the restrictions on Jewish settlement in Chęciny. From that point on, free settlement could develop unhindered.
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, 70 percent of the whole population. In 1862, 3,077 Jews called Chęciny home and made up 77.7 percent of the total population. A. Penkala states that in 1897 Chęciny was populated by 4,361 Jews (70.6 percent), and in 1921 – 2,825(56 percent)[1.8].
The year 1885 was not favorable for the town. Despite many efforts, the Iwanogrodzko-Dąbrowska railway line was not established in Chęciny. A railway station was instead situated in Wolica, a few kilometers away. The city was thus unable to gain the many economic benefits associated with being a transportation hub.
In 1896, Chęciny was home tp 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...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 of the Jewish community in Chęciny.[1.11]
By the end of the 19th century, Chęciny was described as a ruin consisting of 400 houses.[1.9] The town’s main income was derived from crafts and trade. Monday fairs attracted a few thousand people to the town. In 1905, the town was severely damaged by a fire. In 1909, there were 5,590 people in Chęciny including 2,157 Catholics, 3,414 Jews, and 19 Orthodox Christians[1.13]. Jews thus constituted 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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