The first account of Jews living in Łomża comes from 1494. At the time, the Jews of Łomża owned a synagogue and a cemetery[1.1]. In 1556, King Zygmunt August issued the non de tolerandis Judaeis privilege, which caused most Jews from Łomża to move to the neighboring Piątnica. However, with time the ban on the Jewish settlement in Łomża was gradually abandoned. In 1598, King Zygmunt III Waza issued a privilege allowing Jews to stay in the town, but for no longer than three days[1.2].
Historical sources confirm that a Jewish community existed in Łomża in the second half of the 16th century. At that time, Jews began to gain importance in the local economy. At the turn of the 16th century, Mazovian towns experienced an economic crisis which led to fierce competition between Christian and Jewish merchants and craftsmen. As a result, Jews were once again expelled from Łomża. Some of them resettled in Piątnica, while others moved to the nearby village of Rybaki located by the Narew River; it later became the Jewish district of Łomża[1.3].
In 1808, 157 Jews lived in Łomża; they constituted 10,4 % of the total population. During the Napoleonic wars, the Jews of Łomża provided supplies for the French army. Judka Blumowicz was the richest Jew in the town. He built the largest house in Lomża; it is said that Napoleon himself stayed there during the invasion of Russia. Under the Duchy of Warsaw, local Jews received the permission to re-establish the Jewish community. It had its seat at Woziwodzka Street, between the town and the Jewish district in Rybaki. At the time, the Łomża community was quite poor and was not able to employ a rabbi, so it used the services of rabbi Zew Wolf from Śniadów[1.4].
The community of Łomża established its own cemetery in the first half of the 19th century, but no exact date can be indicated. Janusz Szczepański provides two dates: 1822 or 1833[1.5]. In his book Pamiątki i zabytki kultury żydowskiej w Polsce Przemysław Burchard mentions the year 1820[1.6]. Before the establishment of a cemetery, Jews had been burying their deceased in Śniadów[1.7].
The authorities of Congress Poland continued the Duchy of Warsaw’s policy of establishing Jewish districts in bigger towns. In Łomża, the attempt to create such a district was unsuccessful. The district had been planned to be located within the Żydowska, Kaznodziejska, Woziwodzka and Rybaki Streets. Documents preserved from that period include the correspondence between the commissioner of the Łomża Region and Duke Deputy Józef Zajączek; the commissioner suggested creating the district along the aforementioned lines. In response, the Jews of Łomża applied to the Government Commission for the Interior and the Police for a permission to settle in the central part of the town. They claimed that they were involved in trade, which contributed greatly to the local economy, that they could speak Polish and that they dressed similarly to other townsmen. Józef Zajączek was convinced by these arguments and allowed Jews to settle in all parts of the town[1.8].
In 1822, there were 977 Jews living in the town (197 families). 45 houses belonged to Jews. The Jewish community must have greatly improved its financial situation since at that time some of the Jews paid higher rents and lived in better houses than other inhabitants, a fact bemoaned by local officials. In 1827, 948 Jews lived in Łomża; they constituted 29% of the total population (3,265 people lived in the town). In 1857, 2,608 Jews lived in Łomża, constituting 44,3% of the total population amounting to 5,881[1.9].
In the first half of the 19th century, Jews dominated trade in Łomża. At the beginning of the 1840s, the richest merchants were: Moszko Koliński, Eliasz Lewkowicz (colonial goods); Jankiel Kokoszka (imported goods); Mendel Goldman, Icko Lewkowicz, Josef Nathan Kohn (goods sold by ell); Lejbko Kufman, Chaskiel Jakobi Nejman, Kiwe Jakobi Nejman (foreign and Nuremberg goods). Jan Trzask and Jan Rostaniewski were mentioned as Polish merchants. In 1842, 26 Jews traded with food, 24 with the so-called Nuremberg goods (mercery, combs, pins, etc.), 19 with salt, 12 with ell goods, 9 with fish, 8 with iron, 4 with leather, 4 with glass. 13 Jews were stall-keepers: Izaak Lewin Flatau, Icek Bramssol, Dawid Ickiewicz Lewkowicz, Berek Izraelowicz Flatau, Meier Rafałowicz Kolniak (ell goods); Szaja Naiman Jakob (ell and Nuremberg goods); Izaak Kacper Flatau, Jankiel Budkowicz Gutman, Lejba Białostocki, Icek Fersztenberg, Szlama Ickowicz Asz (ell and domestic goods); Szymon Lewin Gruszka, Wolf Herszkowicz Ptakus, Fajba Herkowicz Gabowicz, Mejer Herszkowicz Perk, Hersz Wolfowicz, Kupielski, Judka Lewin Krajewicz, Lejba Moszkowicz Bursztyn, Mendel Berkowicz Zacharewicz Rozenbaum, Gerszon Szczygłowicz Róża, Chaim Herszkowicz Lewko, Szymon Abramowicz Kac, Hersz Lejbowicz Flatau[1.10]. Jews also worked in crafts, especially the so-called light handicrafts. In 1842, Łomża had 42 Jewish tailors (as compared to 46 Poles), 19 shoemakers (42 Poles), 18 bakers (20 Poles), 9 butchers (19 Poles), 5 cap makers (5 Poles), 5 tinsmiths (5 Poles), and 4 glass makers (no Poles)[1.11].
Between 1840 and 1846, Beniamin Diskin worked as the rabbi from Łomża, which made him quite a distinguished figure. In 1842, he hosted sir Moses Montefiore, who was travelling to Petersburg in order to deliver a petition regarding Jewish issues. The Russian authorities invited Rabbi Diskin to participate in the European Rabbinical Council, which assembled in Petersburg in 1843[1.12]. In 1867, Eliahu Chaim Maisel took over the office of the rabbi in Łomża; he was considered to be one of the most distinguished Russian rabbis. He established the “Pidjon Szwujim” fund in the town; it helped the Jewish youth to avoid army service. Lejba Abramowicz Rakowski was another well-known rabbi in Łomża; earlier, he had left Płock as a result of the conflict with Hasidic Jews[1.13]. In 1880, Elizer Symcha Rabinowicz became the rabbi of Łomża; he had earlier served as rabbi in Suwałki and was theauthor of, among others, Bikurej Jaakow and Hilchot Erec Israel. Rabinowicz had to leave the town soon afterwards because of his conflict with the head of Łomża and the local governor. Between 1887 and 1910, Michael Tenenbaum took over the rabbi’s office. He was a zealous adversary of Zionism, Haskalah and assimilation. After his death in 1910, Jehuda Lejb Gordon took over his position; he worked as a rabbi until the outbreak of WWI[1.14].
Jewish people from Łomża participated, together with Poles, in the 19th-century national uprisings. During the November Uprising, there were some wealthy Jews among the 150 apprehended and imprisoned people: Moszek Nowiński, owner of the sugar factory, merchant Nachman Tykociner and physician Efraim Edelsztein, who was tortured in public. All three of them were released on bail after a few weeks. Thirty Jews from the Łomża district were sentenced to imprisonment or forced migration into Russia for their participation in the Uprising[1.15].
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Jewish community in Łomża made an important investment. In 1880, a large synagogue was built on the corner of Senatorska and Giełczyńska Streets. Interestingly, a design of a similar synagogue in Moorish style had already been created in 1832; its author was a well-renowned architect, Enrico Marconi. The design, one of the first and few designs of synagogue in his career, was never brought to life. A yeshiva operated next to the large synagogue. It was not the only one synagogue in the town. The second one was located in the suburbs, at 90 Ostrołęcka Street.
At the turn of the 19th century, Jews constituted almost half of the Łomża’s inhabitants. In 1893, 8,767 (47,8%) Jews lived in the town, while the total population was 18,346; in 1910, there were 2,334 Jews in Łomża (44,6%) and 27,671 inhabitants altogether[1.16].
At the end of the 19th century, Jews dominated the industry of Łomża. Among the workers employed in textile factories 55% were Jewish (44,3% - Polish), in metal factories – 45% (53,2%), in food industry – 47,9% (50,7%), clothing industry – 63% (34,9%), construction – 38,4% (60,9%), in industries classified as "other" – 57,4% (36,5%). In total, Jews constituted 54,2% of all workers in Łomża (43,6% were Poles%)[1.17].
Many workers were supporters of the General Jewish Labor Bund in Lithuania, Poland and Russia, established in Vilnus in 1897 with the aim of bringing about revolutionary changes in the social relations as well as national and cultural autonomy of Jews. Its popularity peaked during the 1905 Revolution, which arrived to Łomża as well. On 3 February 1905, the youth attending the Government Gymnasium in Łomża issued a petition to the school management, demanding that everybody, irrespective of religion and nationality, be accepted in the school. The revolutionary slogans were supported by some of the students of the yeshiva. Motel Biały, a member of a wealthy Łomża family, was one of the most passionate activists; he organised a Bund club with his colleagues and gave lectures on the theory of socialism and political economy in his own house. At the turn of 1905, the interventions of the Russian army became more frequent. On 28 December 1905, the Bund activists who had organised a general strike of business establishments were arrested in Łomża. Apprehensions were also carried out at the beginning of 1906. In January, two well-known Bund activists, L. Lewin and J. Tabulnicki, were imprisoned. On 30 March 1906, 26 members of Bund who gathered at shoemaker Zedka’s place at Długa Street, in Adruszkiewicz’s house, were arrested. The arrested (among others Izaak Nelken, Izrael Lejkin, Izrael Jarecki from Płock) had been distributing leaflets in Russian garrisons. Even though the Russian authorities suppressed the revolution, it strongly influenced the young generation of Jews.
Bund was not the only active political party in Łomża. The Zionist movement, originated in the 19th century, was getting more and more influential. The author of the book Memorial of Dawid Jankiel Jeleń from Łomża came from Łomża. In his work, Jeleń described his thoughts on the possible solutions of the Jewish problem in the Kingdom of Poland and Europe. He claimed that it was in the interest of the European powers to help Jews to depart for Palestine and create the Jewish state there. Zionism was especially popular right before and during WWI. The hopes of Zionists were aroused by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which the government of the United Kingdom expressed their support for the recreation of the Jewish state in Palestine. Nevertheless, the Orthodox faction was the most influential among Łomża Jews.
During WWI, Jews in Congress Poland adopted a “wait and see” attitude, but in synagogues, they prayed for the Russian victory. The Jews from Łomża, trying to convince Russians of their loyalty, offered 30 hospital beds to the Russian Army; 15 of them were located in the rooms of the "Hatsomir" association. In the great synagogue, the rabbi appealed to Jews to make sacrifices and be loyal to Russia; several superior officers and Russian authorities were present at the ceremony. The loyalty towards Russia was appreciated – the commander of the 6th Corpus thanked the Jewish inhabitants of Łomża for their patriotic efforts.
When Germans entered Łomża during WWI, Jews were hoping that their political status would improve, which is why the Jewish community enthusiastically welcomed the German troops arriving to the town. The election to the municipal council, ordered by the Germans, was quite controversial. Jews were accused of betraying the Polish cause and Poles were suspected of rigging the election. In March 1916, 10 Jews were elected to the 24-person Municipal Council. Since 26 November 1916, the 1st Infantry Regiment of Polish Legions under Colonel Edward “Śmigły” Rydz stationed in Łomża and in 29 April 1917, it was joined by the 4th Infantry Regiment under Colonel Bolesław Roja. This had enormous influence on the activisation of the Polish society; at the same time, Jews were accusing Polish soldiers of plundering and other acts of violence. Nevertheless, it was pointed put that among the soldiers in the Legions there were also Jews from Galicia.
Jews agreed with Poles on the political issues related to Poland. The Jews of Łomża took part in the protest against the decision to cede Chełmszczyzna and Podlasie to Ukraine by virtue of the so-called Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of 3 March1918. In the synagogue, Rabbi Gordon urged people to protest, which is why the German occupant imposed a part of the contribution compulsory for Poles on the local Jews. The Jews of Łomża manifested their loyalty to Poland on the occasion of anniversary celebrations, holidays and funerals, which were often treated as a pretext for organising great patriotic manifestations; among others, on 12 November 1918 many Jews under the leadership of the rabbi participated in the funeral of four members of the Polish Military Organisation.
After Poland regained independence, the political, social and economic situation of Jews changed. 7,559 inhabitants of Łomża voted in the first Polish Parliament election in 1919. 3,394 people voted for the Jewish lists; the Orthodox and the Zionist factions (joint list no. 9) received 2,466 votes, the Bund (list no. 10), Vereinigte (list no, 14), and Poale Zion (list no. 6) – 917 votes in total, and Jewish People's Party (list no. 6) - 11 votes.
During the Polish–Soviet War, attitudes within the Jewish population varied. On 11 July 1920, the Main Council of the Federation of Polish Jews called for people to fight to defend the country. It is known that Jewish communists were active in Łomża; they organised manifestations and anti-war marches. Nonetheless, most Jews were loyal to the Polish state. The Orthodox faction condemned Bolshevism and anathematised Leon Trotsky. The Jewish youth was joining the Volunteer Army in the first phase of conflict, but later they avoided being drafted, mainly because of problems with religious practices and the persecution of Jewish recruits by Polish subordinate officers. Hearsay of the cooperation between Jews and Bolsheviks started to spread among Poles. It resulted in numerous repressions against the Jewish population; Jews were beaten up, their beards were cut and at times murders were carried out.
On 30 July 1920, General Sosnkowski, the Minister of the Military, answered the appeals of the Jewish parliament members and intelligentsia and ordered for the participants of anti-Jewish incidents to be severely punished. When the Bolshevik army entered Mazovia in the first half of August 1920, it was enthusiastically welcomed by a considerable part of the Jewish population. Jews started to join revolutionary committees, offices and the public police. Wealthy Jews presented very different attitudes; many of them were robbed and arrested. Romuald Jałbrzykowski, the Bishop of Łomża, claimed that most people arrested by the Bolsheviks were Jews.
According to the first Polish census of 1921, 9,131 out of 22,014 inhabitants of Łomża (41,5 %) were Jews. According to the second census of 1931, the town had 8,912 Jewish inhabitants (35,6%) and 25,022 inhabitants in total. Interestingly, among all Jewish inhabitants of Łomża, 8,409 declared Yiddish as their mother tongue, 403 - Hebrew and 100 – Polish.
The results of the 1922 Parliament Elections reflected the political sympathies of Jews living in Łomża in the 1920s. The Orthodox and the Zionist factions were the most popular; the latter united under the name of the Block for the Protection of Jewish Nationality Rights and obtained 10,7 % of the valid votes in the Łomża constituency. In total, Jewish lists obtained 12,660 votes (11% of all votes). The Bund got 507 votes (0,4% of all votes), Poale Zion-Left – 628 (0,6%), All-Jewish National-Economic Block – 133 (0,1%).
After the Sejm Election in 1928, the power structure changed. In Łomża, the Block of National Minorities (the Zionists) obtained 1,676 votes (17,3% of all valid votes), All-Jewish National-Electoral Block (the Orthodox faction) - 897 (9,3%), Bund – 790 (8,2%), Poale Zion-Left – 30 (0,3%). In total, Jewish lists obtained 35,1% of votes in Łomża.
After the May Coup, the power structure in Łomża changed once again. In 1930, only 9% of electors voted for the Jewish lists (two years before – 35,1%) and the most popular party was the Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government. Due to new electoral law introduced on 8 July 1935 which practically disabled opposition parties from entering the parliament, most of the political parties, both Polish and Jewish, boycotted the parliament election in 1935 and 1938.
The Orthodox faction predominated in the Łomża community for many years. It was not until 1932 that Poale Zion-Tseirei Zion won the election for the Community Board; it formed a coalition with the progressive craftsmen faction. In 1936, the representatives of the Bund became members of the board; they obtained the same number of seats as Aguda – 4. The organization of Zionists-Orthodox got 3 seats, Poale Zion-Tseirei Zion – 2, General Zionists – 1, merchants – 1.
Jehuda Lejb Gordon was the first rabbi of Łomża in the interwar period. In 1925, he left for the USA to collect funds for the yeshiva in Łomża. He died during his travel and was succeeded by Aron Bakszta, who was an ardent opponent of Zionism and the supporters of Mizrachi. In 1930, he left Łomża. The next person to become the rabbi was Mojżesz Szackes, who claimed to be unaffiliated, but financially supported the Palestinian national fund Keren ha-Yesod.
Cooperative movement and philanthropy were very important elements of Jewish activism. In 1922, a Jewish co-operative bank was established in Łomża. In 1930s, two charity organisations, "Hashgochas-Yesomim" and "Kinder Heym", collected funds for Jewish orphans.
In the 1920s, Jewish culture started to flourish. In 1929, the H. Medem Library (established in 1906 by the Central Council of Trade Unions) owned a collection of 4,150 volumes and had 69 permanent members; another Jewish library in Łomża, Hatchiyah (established by the Zionist Organisation) owned 1,643 volumes and had 98 members. Between 1921 and 1939, a Jewish newspaper in Yiddish called „Lomzher Shtime” (ed. A. Domowicz) was published in the town.
The plans to open a Jewish theater in Łomża never came to fruition, but famous Jewish theatre troops often visited the town. In 1929, director and actor Ajzyk Somberg came to the town to stage a play by Sholem Asch. Łomża also had its own amateur theater groups, which often performed on Purim. The local artists visited, among others, Ostrołęka, Maków, Ostrowia and Przasnysz.
One of the most distinguished people from Łomża was Icchak Iwri, who published a critically acclaimed volume of poems called Między krwią a krwią. Sport associations were very popular among the youth. The "Kraft" and "Ha-Poel" clubs were run by the Zionist organisations. The most popular sports were football, athletics and rowing.
A branch of the Society of Jewish Fighters for Poland’s Independence was established in Łomża in 1933 as a symbol of patriotism and attachment of some of the Jews to the tradition of Polish independence. Jews manifested their loyalty to the Polish state by participating in fundraisers for the National Defense Fund. In 1937, Jewish Merchant Association in Łomża appealed to the Jewish population to make donations for the same cause. Many young Jews served in the army. In April 1939, the representatives of the Jewish community in Łomża asked for financial contributions to be made for the Loan for Anti-Aircraft Defense. They put special emphasis on the fact that Jews had always followed the tradition of supporting their homeland. On the other hand, anti-Jewish sentiments were gaining ground in the town. In 1932, there were attempts to push through the decision to ban Jews from joining the Łomża Rowing Association; the proposal was eventually rejected. Various violent incidents took place during football games between Polish and Jewish teams.
During WWII, in September 1939, heavy fights between Polish and German troops took place in close vicinity of Łomża. The large synagogue was destroyed during an air raid. Łomża was eventually incorporated into the Soviet occupation zone by virtue of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty.
In June 1941, following the outbreak of conflict between Germany and the USSR, German troops entered the town. At that time, Łomża was the place of residence of around 1,000 Jewish refugees from Jedwabne, Miastków and Śniadów. In the middle of July 1941, German authorities established the Judenrat with Mendel Moszyński as the president and Mendel Koliński as his deputy. The council had 24 members, among them: Dr Hefner, Jankiel Gałczyński, engineer Mojżesz Rozenthal, Tabulicki. Apart from the Judenrat, the German occupant also established the Jewish Police composed of 25 members under the leadership of Salomon Herbst. In August 1941, a ghetto was created in the town. Its area comprised the entirety of Senatorska Street up to Zielony Targ and the Rybaki district on the side of Zielona Street.
On 12 August 1941, all Jews residing in Łomża were ordered to move to the ghetto, which in result housed ca. 10,000 people. During the process of displacement, occupants imposed a high contribution on the Jewish community (25 kg of gold). Germans threatened to burn down the Jewish district, but never actually did so since the Judenrat quickly paid the due amount. From June to September 1941, about 3,800 Jews were killed; 2,200 were shot in the woods near Giełczyn (200 on 16 August and 2,000 on 17 August)[1.18].
The ghetto in Łomża was liquidated on 1 November 1942. It is estimated that 8,000 Jews were deported to a transit camp in Zambrów. When the camp was liquidated on 10 January 1943, most Jews from Łomża were transported to the extermination camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Lomzha, [in] Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust, vol. 2, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, p. 747.
Sefer Zikaron Le-Kehilat Lomza, ed. Y.T. Lewinski, Tel Aviv 1952.
Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005.
[1.1] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 14.
[1.2] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 16.
[1.3] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, pp. 17, 33.
[1.4] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 85, 113.
[1.5] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 85, 113.
[1.6] Burchard P., Pamiątki i zabytki kultury żydowskiej w Polsce, Warszawa 1990, p. 67.
[1.7] Szczepański J. Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 85.
[1.8] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, pp. 58–59.
[1.9] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, pp. 48–63.
[1.10] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 69.
[1.11] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 72.
[1.12] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, s. 90.
[1.13] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 92.
[1.14] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 163.
[1.15] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 129.
[1.16] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 133.
[1.17] Szczepański J., Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX i XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, pp. 145–146.
[1.18] Lomzha, [in] Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust, vol. 2, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, p. 747; Sefer Zikaron Le-Kehilat Lomza, ed. Y.T. Lewinski, Tel Aviv 1952.
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