Jews first appeared in Przasnysz in the 16th century and emerged as an organized community in the 18th century. The late 1880s saw the community 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, suffering due to losses during World War I. In reborn Poland, the Przasnysz community gradually grew to 3,000 members by mid-1939.
The community had been founded at the end of the 18th century or at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1857 it numbered 1,888 people (numbers in the form of synagogue supervision). 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 beit midrash was commenced, next to the synagogue on Bydlęca Street on the Węgierka River. The beit 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 mikveh replaced the old one erected in 1824. By the authorities’ orders, the old synagogue was taken down in 1886. That same year, a new synagogue was built in Bydlęca (later Berka Joselewicza) Street. It did not survive World War I, as it was demolished by retreating Cossack troops in 1915.
In 1820 the Jewish quarter in Przasnysz was demarcated. It encompassed the Horse Market as well as Błonie, Zduńska, Mała Warszawska, and Kacza Streets. Densely populated, it had to be enlarged by absorbing Świętokrzyska and Makowska streets.
After World War I, the kehilla gradually rebuilt its infrastructure in the town. During 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 10,000zl for that purpose. He also funded a large aron ha-kodesh for the town. Mendel Lewkowicz served as rabbi until 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 by Hasidim from Góra Kalwaria and Aleksandrów. They formed a 200-strong division of Agudat Israel. They aided Talmud Torah financially and rivaled Zionist groups and movements.[1.2]
The entering of the Wehrmacht troops was the start of systematic persecution of Jews in Przasnysz. The men were stripped of clothes, covered 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.[1.3] Przasnysz became “Judenfrei” as early as autumn 1939.
[1.1] Central Archives of Historical Records, Denomination Office, sign. 1441, k. 62-63
[1.2] R. Waleszczak, Przasnysz i powiat przasnyski w latach 1866-1939. Zarys dziejów, (1999), 309-310; J. Szczepański, Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX-XX wieku, (2005), 316.
[1.3] J. Szczepański, Społeczność żydowska Mazowsza w XIX-XX wieku, (2005), 399; M. Grynberg, Żydzi w rejencji ciechanowskiej 1939-1942, Jewish Historical Institute In Warsaw, (1984).
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