Jews appeared in Przasnysz in the 16th century and emerged as an organized community over the 18th century. The late 1880s saw the kehilla reach its peak, with the number of its members at 4,500 (52% of the town’s population).
However, in the next decades the number decreased, which was additionally caused by the losses during the First World War. In the reborn Poland the Przasnysz kehilla gradually grew to 3,000 members in mid-1939. It had been constituted at the end of the 18th century or at the beginning of the 19th century.
In 1857 it numbered 1,888 people. Around that time services were held in a wooden synagogue with a stone front, which was capable of holding 1,050 men in the main room and 220 women on the balcony[1.1].
In 1860 the construction of a new beth midrash was commenced, next to the synagogue in Bydlęca Street on the Węgierka River. The beth midrash measured 56 feet in length, 41 feet in width and 14 feet in height. It was a tin-roofed, wooden building on an underpinning. One year earlier the building of a new bathhouse started to replace the old one, erected in 1824. By the authorities’ orders, the old synagogue was taken down in 1866. In the same year a new synagogue was built in Bydlęca (later Berka Joselewicza) Street. It did not survive the First World War as it was demolished by retreating Cossack troops in 1915[1.2].
In 1820 the Jewish quarter in Przasnysz was demarcated. It encompassed the Horse Market as well as Błonie, Zduńska, Mała Warszawska, Kacza streets. Densely populated, it had to be enlarged by absorbing Świętokrzyska and Makowska streets[1.3]. The hardships of wartime being over, the kehilla gradually rebuilt the infrastructure. In the interwar period it had a cemetery, an orphanage, a bathhouse and a cheap canteen. The recreation of the synagogue was completed in 1928 and the costs were covered by rabbi Eljahu Purzycki, who had sold his house and allocated 10,000 zl for that purpose. He also funded a large aron kodesh.
Mendel Lewkowicz served as rabbi till 1924 and was followed by Icchak Parzęczewski (1939-1942, previously rabbi in Głowno, Łowicz and Ruda Pabianicka). The kehilla was strongly influenced by orthodox supporters of traditional Judaism as well as Hasidim from Góra Kalwaria and Aleksandrów. They formed a 200-strong division of Agudat Israel. They also aided ‘Talmud Torah’ financially and rivaled other Zionist groups and movements[1.4].
The coming of the Wehrmacht troops meant the start of systematic persecution of the Jews. The men were stripped, hung with colorful ribbons, paired off with prostitutes and made to dance to music over unrolled Torah scrolls. The synagogue, the prayer houses and the rabbi’s dwelling were set on fire. The massive repressions forced the Jews to flee to other cities in the General Government, mainly to Radzymin and Warsaw[1.5], Przasnysz became ‘Judenfrei’ as early as in autumn 1939.
In 1941 a forced-labor camp was created. The prisoners – Jews, Lithuanians and Ukrainians – were kept in the local St Felix of Cantalicio convent and were used to build a new road. The number of prisoners hovered around 100. In 1943 the camp was liquidated and the prisoners were transported to the Stutthof concentration camp[1.6].
[1.1] Central Archives of Historical Records, Denomination Office, sign. 1441, k. 62-63
[1.3] http://przasnysz.polska.pl/dokumentyarchiwalne/gallery,Plan_miasta_Przasnysza_majacy_sluzyc_do_przeniesienia_Zydow_w_oddzielne_rewiry_ok_1820_r,gid,338015,cid,6808.htm?body=desc; http://przasnysz.polska.pl/miastodawniej/article,Do_odzyskania_niepodleglosci,id,338321.htm
[1.4] Radosław Waleszczak, Przasnysz i powiat przasnyski w latach 1866-1939. Zarys dziejów, Przasnysz 1999, pp. 309-310; Janusz Szczepański, Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX-XX wieku, Pułtusk 2005, p. 316.
[1.5] Janusz Szczepański, Społeczność..., p. 399; Michał Grynberg, Żydzi w rejencji ciechanowskiej 1939-1942, Jewish Historical Institute In Warsaw, Warsaw 1984
[1.6] Obozy hitlerowskie na ziemiach polskich 1939-1945. Informator encyklopedyczny, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa 1979, p. 407.
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