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"To Bring Memory Back" edition 2007-2008

WYSOKIE MAZOWIECKIE- Center For Professional Education linia

Who are we

Center for Professional Education in Wysokie Mazowieckie

The center consists of: Center of Practical Training, Technical School, Technical Secondary School for Adults, and a Professional School.

Our meetings are organized by the Circle of Young Regionalists.

The name of our project is: “MEMORY IS EVERYTHING".

The project is being coordinated by Karol Glebocki.

Why we do this project

As a result of interference between different colonization movements and few waves of incoming settlers a differentiated national and religious structure was formed in Wysokie Mazowieckie. Alongside the Catholics there were many Greek orthodoxes, Uniates, Jews and few Evangelical Catholics. We want to discover this multicultural heritage and bring back its memory.

We feel morally obliged to remind the inhabitants of Wysokie Mazowieckie that our town was for ages a meeting place for many different religions and cultures creating its unique atmosphere. We believe that in this way we can better understand ourselves and the world that surrounds us.

Jewish community in our town

Jewish community in our town
by: K. Głębocki, K. Bielawski

Jews settled in Wysokie Mazowieckie presumably at the end of 17th century. According to church files dating back to 1722 there were 10 Jews in the town and they weren’t able then to form a community due to the insufficient number of members. In 1723 they became a branch of Ciechanowiec kehillah. The first years of the town’s community are known thanks to sessions of The Council of Four Lands (Arba Aratzot) where a dispute took place over who should supervise Jews in Wysokie Mazowieckie- a community in Ciechanowiec or Węgrów. Both sides presented their arguments but as neither of them had any written evidence, the Council decided to postpone the decision until the next session which was to take place in winter 1725-1726. Until then neither of the communities was to rule over the branch and taxes were to be distributed equally among the two sides. In 1756 an independent Jewish community in Wysokie Mazowieckie was acknowledged. In the book “Polish cities in the millenium” we read that in 1779 many Jews inhabited the town working mostly in trade and craftsmanship. In 1789 a rector of the local church wrote that “Jewish community of Wysokie Mazowieckie owes the church every year: two stones of suet and two quarters of meat, which was collected by previous rectors”. A Prussian survey of 1799 lists 869 inhabitants, 276 of whom were Jews which made their population 32% of the whole. Quickly, the town’s population became dominated by Jews and in 1897 there were 378 Jews in 1065 inhabitants in total. In 1857 Jews accounted for 58% town’s population ie. 1053 and in 1897 the number grew to 62%. Since 1880s most Jews arrived from Lithuania. The first population survey in free Poland stated 1898 Jews in total 3214 inhabitants (55%) of Wysokie Mazowieckie.

Jewish quarter existed in north-west part of the town. Jewish houses and squares were located by Krzywa (Zarzeczna) street which is today Żwirki i Wigury street, near Brok river. A synagogue, rabbi’s house and mikvah were nearby along with two cemeteries. Before establishing cemeteries, Jews from Wysokie Mazowieckie were buried in Jabłonka Kościelna. Jews also lived near the town’s main square and its vicinity where a study hall Beth Ha Midrasz was situated.

The first wood synagogue was built in 1722 and can be seen in Z. Glogers drawing of 1870. The building was one of the finest buildings in the town and in Podlasie region. The building was torn down in 1871 because of poor condition. New, brick synagogue was built in 1879.

 We know the names of rabbis from Wysokie Mazowieckie. The first one was Meir Horowitz (1833-1853) and then Shlomo Weler (1853-1892) and Ajzyk Jakub Weler (1893-1902). The last rabbi, elected in 1902 was Aron Jakub Perlman.

 In the early stage of Jewish settlement, their occupation was predominantly inn-keeping. Later on they turned to trade and craftsmanship, buying crops from local farmers in exchange for manufactured goods. In the interwar period Jews owned many workshops and shops in the local market square. In the next years Jewish plight was getting worse and they could survive thanks to help provided by their relatives from USA.

 Jewish organizations such as Poalej Syjon, Tzeirei Syjon, Mizrachi, Tarbut, HaShomer HaLeumi, HaNoar HaZioni, Betar, Sports society "Makabi" were at peak of their activity and charity organizations like Hachnosas Kallah, Hachnosas Orchim, Bikur Cholim were functioning. In 1930s Jews established a small, local hospital. 

In 1937 there was a pogrom which resulted in heavy plundering of Jewish property, destruction of houses and 23 victims.

Before World War II, 2500 Jews lived in Wysokie Mazowieckie which was 55% of the total population of the town. On 10 September 1939 German tanks raided the city destroying 80% of its buildings, purposefully bombing wood buildings with incendiary ammunition. The entire, wood-structured city centre was destroyed along with Jewish quarter. 71 houses and 132 other buildings were destroyed and one Jew died in the flames of his own house. On the very same day, four Jews were shot and one was forced to jump into a well where he drowned, on the road between Wysokie Mazowieckie and Zambrów. On the 12 September 1939, 2000 men over 17 of both Polish and Jewish origin were captured and rounded up in the local church. They were held there for two days with no food or water and then rushed to Zambrów and Łomża and later on to East Prussia. Two Jews and one Pole were shot en route. On the 26 September 1939 the town got under Soviet occupation due to the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty. This secured them a relative peace for the time being. However peace didn’t last for long.

On 24 June 1941 Wysokie Mazowieckie went under German rule again. Between June and July several Jews were executed for communist activity. On 15 August 1941 Judenrat was ordered to gather all Jews on the market square on the following day. People panicked but only few managed to get out of town. Those who remained prayed through the night and went to the market terrified. The German authorities ordered the ghetto to be built. It occupied the area of eastern part of Jagiellońska street, Dolna street up to the river, Kościuszki street, market square, Mystkowska street up to Polna street (currently Ludowa). The ghetto was surrounded by a barbed wire and there were two gates leading inside, one of which was situated in the market square. The ghetto in Wysokie Mazowieckie was also inhabited by Jews from Jabłonka Kościelna, Kulesze, Rosochaty, Szpietów and Wyszonki making it total of five thousands inhabitants. In spring 1942 a group of German military police led two Russian prisoners-of-war and ten Jews from the custody to the cemetery on Krzywa street. They dug a hole there, and were lined up near it. MP Herman Wehner killed them all, shooting them one by one on the back of their heads. The bodies were buried by the military policemen. On 2 November 1942 Germans began closing the ghetto. Initially Jews were transported to Czyżewo and then by train to Treblinka and Oświęcim. The last group was deported in mid-November to a temporary camp in Zambrów and then, in January 1943 they were transported to Treblinka. From Zambrów to Czyżewo people were transported on sledges or wagons with cold, frosty weather outside. Guards made often stops and forbid anyone to get off which resulted in many people freezing to death, especially those younger and older ones. Those few who survived were hidden by Polish families.

Over the years, Jews in Wysokie Mazowieckie had two cemeteries. One was situated by Białostocka street and today there is no trace of it and the other one was founded by today’s Żwirki i Wigury street. Karol Głębocki, in his book entitled “Dokumentacja ewidencyjno-fotograficzna cmentarza żydowskiego w Wysokiem Mazowieckiem” (Record and photo documentation of Jewish cemetery in Wysokie Mazowieckie), writes about a history of this place- “In the local church files from 1838 I found a short passage mentioning Jewish synagogue and a cemetery. As files from 1822 and 1830 mention only a synagogue we may presume that a cemetery by Żwirki i Wigury street was founded between 1830 and 1838. Twenty years after that we read that a cemetery has a fine fence surrounding it. Jewish cemetery and a catholic cemetery (founded in 1804) were situated next to each other, separated by a trench.” 

Years after the extermination of Jewish community in Wysokie Mazowieckie, the cemetery became forgotten. Some tombstones were damaged and the heavy thicket made others inaccessible. Cemetery’s condition changed thanks to Michael Traison, lawyer from Canada. This is how he recollects the emerging of his idea to renovate the cemetery: “One day I was sitting at Starbucks in Michigan with my good friend Wojtek. Knowing little of Wysokie Mazowieckie, I asked him about the history of Jews from his home town. He answered that there was nothing left of them in Wysokie but for the place called “The Jewish Forest”. Fascinated, I visited the place several weeks later and discovered a field packed with trees and bushes which for sixty years has served the local teenagers as a place for secret smoking and drinking. Unlike other, few hundred similar places which I have visited in Poland since 1992, the cemetery wasn’t littered and didn’t suffer much damage.”

Michael Traison decided to act and with help of local authorities and his own funds he managed to clear the place, unveiling over 100 tombstones. He also managed to grab the attention of local students and teachers and thanks to the website made by Ada Holtzman descendants of Jewish inhabitants of Wysokie Mazowieckie were informed about the restoration of the cemetery and more people became involved in the project- Norman Weinberg from Polish Jewish Cemetery Restoration Project, rabbi Michael Schudrich and workers of Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland. Local students and teachers became involved in revealing the history of their town- “We feel morally obliged to remind the inhabitants of Wysokie Mazowieckie that many cultures, religions mingled in our town over the ages, creating unusual, unique climate. Along Catholic church there were also Orthodox church, Eastern Catholic church and then Jews and Protestants. Together with young people we want to discover this multicultural heritage and restore memory about it. By participating in “To Bring Memory Back” project we want to document Jewish history in our town thus understanding better one another and the world around us.”

After the restoration, the cemetery gained a new fencing, all tombstones returned to their original places and a memorial was erected to commemorate Jewish inhabitants of Wysokie Mazowieckie. The writing on the memorial, in Polish, English and Hebrew says: “Jews settled in Wysokie Mazowieckie in the 17th Century.  In the second half of the 19th Century they became and  remained the  majority of the town's citizens, contributing to its economic  and cultural development.  During the German occupation, in August 1941, all  Wysokie Mazowiecki Jews were forced to live in a ghetto. The ghetto was liquidated on November 2, 1942, and its 2000  Jewish inhabitants were sent to the camp in Zambrow, and afterwards, in January 1943 – to Auschwitz. In memory of the Jewish inhabitants of Wysokie Mazowieckie, murdered in the time of the  Shoah by the Germans and their collaborators.”

Thanks to Kora Cecerska and Remigiusz Sosnowski all the tombstones were catalogued. The oldest tombstone marks the burial ground of Tojve son of Dove, died on 9 Tammuz 5620, that is on 29 June 1860. The most recent tombstone has an inscription that says “Here lie people murdered by Germans on 20 November 1942. Adaszkol family”

Przetłumaczył Miłosz Turniak                                                                                          

What we do in the project

We continue our activities started during the 2006/2007 edition of the program
  • We make the inhabitants of Wysokie Mazowieckie realize that our town was a place of peaceful coexistence of three religions.
  • We show them the contribution of the Jewish community to the economic, social and cultural development of our town.
  • We gather pictures, documents and relations concerning Jews from our town.
  • We share the gathered information with the society of our school (http://www.ckz.xt.pl/) and town (articles in „ECHO WYSOKIEGO” local newspaper, material for our site on the “To Bring Memory Back” website, and on the POLIN Polish Jews Heritage web portal). (http://polin.org.pl/search/Wysokie%20Mazowieckie/?PHPSESSID=12857fe098b0be44d04390258cf278ba)

What we are going to do next

On November 2, 2007, we plan to commemorate the anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto in Wysokie Mazowieckie. We will prepare a leaflet informing about this event.


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