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KALISZ (Ger. Kalisch ; Kalish ), city in Poznan province, W. Poland; it had the most ancient community in Poland. The first Jews to arrive there, in the last third of the 12th century, were minters. They served Mieszko iii the Oldster, prince of Great Poland (1127–1202), and his descendants. A large group of Jews from the Rhineland and other parts of Germany arrived in Kalisz by way of Silesia in the middle of the 13th century and received protection from the ruler. They established a settlement in the city of Kalisz, and engaged in financial activity and commerce. They were among the initiators of the Statute of Kalisz issued by *Boleslav v the Pious in 1264, which they apparently helped to draft. In 1287 the elders of the community (judei seniores Kalisienses) bought a plot of land from the owner, Rupinus, on which a cemetery was established. In the middle of the 14th century there existed a "Jewish street" in the city which was the center of varied financial activities. At the time of the *Black Death in 1349 the Jews in Kalisz suffered from persecutions. In 1358 the heads of the community obtained permission from King *Casimir iii the Great to establish a synagogue; its erection was begun immediately, and it remained standing until 1857 when it was destroyed by fire. In 1364 the head of the Kalisz community, Falk, obtained Casimir's ratification of the charter of privileges for the Jews of Poland.

Apart from *moneylending, during the 15th and 16th centuries the Jews of Kalisz engaged in commerce with Cracow and Breslau, and in crafts including goldsmithing, tailoring, and butchery. The Jewish quarter was extended, and the community grew with the addition of immigrants and refugees from Bohemia (1542), Hungary, and Germany. During the 15th century many Jews in Kalisz moved to new settlements in other towns in Poland. At the beginning of the 16th century the Kalisz community was headed by a kahal administered by three to five parnasim.

Anti-Jewish disorders broke out in Kalisz in 1542 owing to the Jewish commercial competition with the townsmen. A *Host libel involving the Jews in Kalisz occurred in 1557. In 1565 the Kalisz community applied to the king for justice with a claim against the municipality for damages and desecration of the synagogue which had occurred during a mob outbreak that year. At the end of the 16th century wealthy Jews of Kalisz engaged in extensive commercial activities at the fairs of Lublin, Cracow, and Poznan, and also with towns in Silesia. In 1580–81, they conveyed through the local customs station approximately 4,500 hides, 13,500 kg. wool, 4,000 kg. wax, and 70 kg. pepper, among other merchandise. Apart from this elite there existed a poorer stratum of Jews in Kalisz; in 1579 about one-third of the Jews of the city had not paid their taxes because they were in financial straits.

The Kalisz community was severely affected by the cataclysm in Poland in the middle of the 17th century. Hundreds of Jewish refugees from south and east Poland passed through Kalisz in 1648–49 escaping from the *Chmielnicki massacres. In 1659, toward the end of the war between Sweden and Poland, hundreds of Jews were killed in Kalisz and the Jewish quarter was razed by the troops of S. *Czarniecki. The Kalisz community was rehabilitated within a short time through the prompt assistance given it by the Jews of Poznan, *Leszno, and *Krotoszyn. By 1670 it was able to give asylum to refugees from Vienna. King John iii Sobieski ratified the privileges of the Jews of Kalisz in 1676, and in 1678 the Sejm (diet) granted them tax reliefs to assist them to overcome a severe financial crisis. In the last third of the 17th century many Jews of Kalisz did business at the fairs of Breslau and *Leipzig, exporting furs and hides, and importing costly cloth, metal ware, and precious stones. Apart from commerce, the Jews of Kalisz also engaged in crafts as tailors, furriers, goldsmiths, saddlers, smiths, engravers, bakers, and butchers. From 1672 Jewish craftsmen were obliged to join crafts associations.

During a fire which broke out in Kalisz in 1706, 45 Jews perished, and two years later 450 Jews lost their lives in a plague in the town. Many Jews became ruined after these calamities and the financial crisis, and in 1713 the community was obliged to borrow money from Christians in order to aid the needy. The position of the Jews in Kalisz became even more serious when Christian merchants in the 1720s organized themselves in a confraternity one of whose main objectives was to oppose Jewish commerce. The economic position of the Jews in Kalisz improved only in the second half of the 18th century due to their success in dealing in grain, cattle, sheep, wool, and cloth, and in the production and sale of alcoholic liquor. In 1761 the community arrived at an agreement with the municipal authorities by which the Jewish population was exempted from the duty of supporting soldiers in exchange for an annual payment of 1,200 zlotys. Following a *blood libel incited by extreme Catholic circles in 1763, four Jews were sentenced to death. There were 809 Jews who paid the poll tax in Kalisz in 1765. In 1786 among 207 craftsmen 101 were Jews.

In the second half of the 17th century Kalisz was an important spiritual center of Polish Jewry. The first rabbi known by name, Solomon Zalman b. Jeremiah Jacob, officiated there from 1639 to 1643. Israel b. Nathan Shapira (R. Israel ha-Darshan) who served as rabbi in the second half of the 17th century, established an important yeshivah there. He was followed until 1696 by *Judah b. Nissan, author of Beit Yehudah. From 1656 to 1683 Abraham Abele *Gombiner, author of Magen Avraham, served as dayyan there.

Within the framework of the *Councils of the Four Lands the communities of Kalisz, Poznan, Leszno (Lissa), and Krotoszyn, were the most important in the province of *Great Poland. In the second half of the 17th century the Kalisz community obtained the leadership of the provincial council, continuing to hold it until 1714 when the treasury of the council was transferred to the Leszno community. Representatives of the Kalisz community frequently served as parnasim of the Councils of Four Lands at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th. In 1737 the province of Poznan-Kalisz had the third-largest Jewish population in the kingdom of Poland (after the provinces of "Russia" and *Sandomierz-Krakow), and was responsible for 16% of the sum that the Jews of Poland were obliged to pay to the royal treasury.

When Kalisz was under Prussian rule (1793–1806), many Jews found employment in the expanding commerce and crafts, as well as in supplying the army. The number of Jews in the town had increased to 2,113 (c. 30% of the total population) in 1804. The struggle of the townsmen against the Jews now intensified, particularly after Kalisz was incorporated within Congress Poland in 1815. In 1827, under pressure by the local authorities, the government ordered that the Jews of Kalisz should reside in a separate quarter (rewir) which existed until 1862 and was severely overcrowded. In addition, until this year Jews from other places were prohibited, under the czarist regulations concerning residence of Jews in the border zones, from settling in Kalisz to the border with Prussia. The Jewish population numbered 3,463 (29% of the total) in 1827, and 4,352 (36%) in 1857. In 1854 only 23 Jews had houses outside the Jewish quarter.

From the 1840s Jewish economic activity became more extensive. Up to 1861 Jewish merchants and contractors developed enterprises for wool weaving and tanning, and also traded in cotton, wool, and wine. After the economic standstill resulting from the Polish uprising (1863–64) came to an end, and following the opening of the railway (1871), Jews with capital opened factories for soap, candles, and liqueurs, and in the 1870s began to develop the lace industry in Kalisz which soon became celebrated on the Russian and Chinese markets. Toward the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, Jewish manufacturers established modern textile works and knitting factories for mass-produced socks, as well as a toy factory (for dolls). The Jewish population in Kalisz numbered 7,580 (32% of the total) in 1897, and 14,318 (36%) in 1908; among the 67 factories in Kalisz that year, 32 were Jewish-owned. A Jewish hospital was founded in Kalisz in 1836 by the industrialist L. Mamroth, on the initiative of the physician Michael Morgenstern, which continued to exist until 1939. A Jewish school with Russian as the language of instruction was founded in Kalisz in 1875, in which 150 pupils were registered that year. In 1878 anti-Jewish riots occurred in the town, provoked by religious fanatics in which many peasants took part; 13 Jews were killed and damage caused to Jewish property in the city amounted to 200,000 rubles. From 1881 on, the Russian authorities organized frequent expulsions from Kalisz of Jews who were German or Austrian citizens. By the beginning of the 20th century there was a large stratum of Jewish workers in Kalisz, who in 1909 numbered over 3,000, including apprentices and hired workers employed in workshops. Toward the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century *Ḥasidism gained influence in Orthodox circles in Kalisz, especially the Hasidim of Gur (*Gora Kalwaria), Kotsk (see Menahem Mendel of *Kotsk), and *Warka. Progressive circles established their own synagogue in 1911. Among rabbis of Kalisz in the 19th and 20th centuries were Solomon b. Akiva *Eger (1835–40), Elijah Ragoler (1840–50), Ẓevi Hirsch *Chajes (1851–55), Meir b. Isaac *Auerbach (1855–60), Hayyim Eleazar Waks (1862–81), Samson Ornstein (1881–1902), and Ezekiel Lipschuetz (until 1932).

When the German army occupied Kalisz in August 1914, the soldiers — as a result of deliberate incitement without any military justification — set fire to about 150 Jewish houses in the center of the city. Thirty-three Jewish residents of Kalisz lost their lives in this action, and many fled from the city. Later, schools were established, including a Tahkemoni school directed by Jacob Shalom Engel, and a national religious school for girls, Havazelet.

After the establishment of Polish rule, members of the *Endecja party in Kalisz organized a pogrom there in March 1919 in which two Jews lost their lives. In order to defend themselves against antisemitic agitation, Jewish youth and workers there organized *self-defense groups at the end of 1919 and in 1920. The Jewish population of Kalisz numbered 15,566 (35% of the total) in 1921, and 19,248 in 1931. During the interwar period all the Jewish parties were active in the city, as well as trade associations of workers in the lace factories, to which both Jews and Poles belonged, and of garment workers, leather workers, porters, and others. In the municipal elections held in 1927, 11 Jews were elected among 34 members of the council. A Jewish secondary school was opened in 1916. There were three Yiddish schools in Kalisz in the 1920s and 1930s (belonging to cysho), founded by workers' parties. Periodicals published in Kalisz included a weekly of Zionist orientation, Di Kalisher Vokh, founded in 1919 and edited by M. Abramowitz, and an independent weekly, Kalisher Lebn, founded in 1927 by Dr. Fogelson, which continued as Dos Naye Lebn under the editorship of A. Mamelok until 1938. Between 1929 and 1937 *Agudat Israel published a weekly, Kalisher Vokh, under the editorship of Rabbi Littman. In the 1930s there were two synagogues and about 35 prayer-houses in Kalisz.

Antisemitic propaganda increased in Kalisz under the leadership of the Endecja party from 1933, and many attempts were made to impose an economic *boycott on Jewish businessmen and artisans there.

[Arthur Cygielman]

Holocaust Period

In 1939 there were over 20,000 Jews living in Kalisz (almost 50% of the total population). The Germans occupied Kalisz on Sept. 6, 1939. Jews were seized by the Germans in the streets for slave labor, and were subjected to confiscation of property. Measures were introduced imposing a curfew, and the wearing of the yellow *badge. The beards and earlocks of Orthodox Jews were cut off, Polish antisemites taking part in these activities with particular zeal. Over a short time about 20% of the local Jews managed to escape while 10,000 others were evicted from their homes in an Aktion on Nov. 20, 1939, to make room for Baltic Volksdeutsche. The evicted families were at first lodged in warehouses, but during the first two weeks of December were deported to the Lublin district of the General Government. Following the deportation several thousand additional Jews managed to escape from Kalisz and dispersed over many parts of Poland, including nearly 7,000 who found refuge in the *Warsaw ghetto (1940). The Germans established a labor camp in the nearby village of Kozminka where 1,300 able-bodied Jews were employed. By Jan. 1, 1940, 612 Jews remained in Kalisz, some of them craftsmen. In October 1940 the Germans murdered all those chronically ill in a nearby forest.

The Jewish community of Kalisz, reduced to some 400 able-bodied young people, was housed in three buildings, in which workshops were established. Some Jews were forced to dismantle the tombstones from the Jewish cemetery to be used for pavements. By the end of 1941, 200 Jews, including some children, were sent to the death camp at *Chelmno. A few months later the remaining Jews were sent to *Lodz ghetto, where the few Jews still in the Kozminka work camps were sent. Kalisz thus became *judenrein.

The Jewish community numbered nearly 300 in 1946 after some of the survivors returned, but all eventually left. Several memorial books for the Kalisz community were published in Israel: Sefer Kalish (2 vols., Heb. and Yid., 1964–67); The Kalish Book (1968); and Toledot Yehudei Kalish (1961, by Y.D. Beit-Halevi).

[Danuta Dombrowska]


Warsaw, Archiwum Glowne Akt Dawnych, Komisja wojewósztwa Kaliskiego, no. 50; ibid., Komisja rządowa do spraw wewnętrznych i duchowych, vol. 2–4, nos. 1124–26; ibid., Księgi Kancelarskie, no. 25, pp. 287–305; ibid., Ostrzeszków, Inscriptiones religioses, vol. 55, no. 22 (= cahjp, Ḥm 2/1068, 2194–96, 703/1, 2/703/2 respectively); Lodz, Wojewódzkie Archiwum Państwowe, Kancelaria gubernium Kaliskiego, vol. 3, nos. 276–8, 343, 1499; Rada opiekuńcza gubernium Kaliskiego, nos. 88, 100, 129, 157, 172, 234; vol. 8, nos. 270–4 (= cahjp, Ḥm 7529, 7534 a–1, 8202a–c, respectively); Poznan, Wojewódzkie Archiwum Państwowe, Kalisz, nos. 47, 49 (= cahjp, Ḥm 2445); M. Bersohn, Dyplomataryusz, dotyczący Żydów Polsce (1910), nos. 96, 127, 161–2, 231, 250, 282, 358; R. Mahler, Yidn in Amolikn Poyln in Likht fun Tsifern (1958), index; B. Wasiutyński, Ludność żydowska w Polsce w wiekach xix i xx (1930), 6, 10, 12, 26, 49, 50, 71, 176, 180, 185, 200, 210, 214; Osiemnaście wieków Kalisza, studia i materialy…, 2 vols. (1960); R. Rybasrski, Handel i polityka handlowa Polski w xvi stuleciu, 1 (1928), 35, 141–3, 157–9, 224–5; J. Caro, Vortraege und Essays (1906), 124–5; M. Gumowski, in: bŻih, 41 (1962), 10; A. Chodyński, Dawne ustawy miasta Kalisza (1875), 91–96; L. Lewin, Beitraege zur Geschichte der Juden in Kalisch (1909) = Festschrift… A. Harkavy (1908), 141–76; idem, Die Landessynode der grosspolnischen Judenschaft (1926), 42, 55, 59, 95, 104, 106, 116; I. Schiper, Dzieje handlu żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich (1937), index; F. Kuper and T. Lewicki, Żródła hebrajskie do dziejów słowian (1956), 152, 155; Y.D. Beit-Halevi, Toledot Yehudei Kalish (1961); Sefer Kalish, 2 vols. (1964–67); D. Dabrowska, Kronika getta Lodzkiego, vols. 1–2 (1965–1966), passim; idem, in: bŻih, no. 13–14 (1955).