The History of the Szydłowiec Community Before the Holocaust
Before the 20th Century
Szydłowiec was founded in the 13th century, and three hundred years latter it had grown to become an important commercial and industrial center. The town was the private property of Polish nobility, which meant that there were no restrictions on Jews settling there. The Jewish community which grew in Szydłowiec was relatively affluent; its members made their living primarily from industry and trade. During the Swedish invasion of Poland in the 17th century, the town was badly hit. However, the Jewish community survived, and remained an important center for the Jews of the region.
At the end of the 18th century, Jews accounted for 90% of the residents in Szydłowiec. And yet, it was only in the 19th century that the town resumed its demographic and financial growth, and Jews were allowed to purchase property and to build a synagogue. In 1862 the edicts restricting Jewish settlements all across Poland were canceled. This development allowed the Jews of Szydłowiec to expand the town’s Jewish Quarter, and erect new residences.
In 1876 a fire destroyed most of the houses in the town. The synagogue and the Beit Midrash were among the only buildings to survive intact. The Jewish community enlisted to help those of its members who had become homeless, and various mutual help foundations were established. Rabbi Samuel Mohilever, one of the leaders of the Hibat Zion movement in Poland, was among those responsible for the creation of several of these mutual aid foundations. All in all, the renovation operations lasted for more than a decade.
At the end of the 19th century Szydłowiec had some 6,000 Jews, who were about 75% of the town’s residents. At this time the Jews of Szydłowiec began to work as leather tanners and shoe manufacturers – new occupations which joined, but did not supplant, the Szydłowiec Jew’s traditional employment in commerce and industry. Jews from Szydłowiec were also involved in several quarries, relatively large businesses which supplied stone to markets all across Poland and Russia. Among the notable “Jewish business” were also two flour mills, which were renowned for employing many Jewish workers.
In the 19th century the town became an important Hassidic center.