The Jewish Culture Trail
The Trial was financed by the Silesian Voyvodship Authority and the Local Authority of the town Żarki.
The town of Żarki is closely connected with the Jewish culture as since the 17th C. till the World War II it was the place where the Jewish were the mayority of the town population. The town of Żarki is the only place in the north of the Kraków-Częstochowa upland where we still can see some remains of the Jewish culture- The Jewish temple, the Jewish cementary called ‘Kirkut’ and the characteristic urban centre- tenant houses. The urban centre is called the Old Town and it used to be the main livingplace of the Jewish. Today there are still some people who call the town the Jewish Żarki.
The Jewish main incomes were connected with trade and handcraft especially shoemaking. Their products were exported mainly to Silesia, the south and the north of Poland. The tradition of producing shoes has been continued till now. In the 19th C. Żarki was the one of industrial towns which was the main reason for the Jewish settlement. In 1827 the Jewish population was 702 (27,3% of the poulation of Żarki), in 1857-154 (54,2%), in 1864-2291 (61%), in 1921-2536 (57,6%).
The Jewish Culture Trail – Czestochowska Street
The house number 49 in Częstochowska Street is a place where Płaczek family was hiding Zborowski family during the Nazi occupation. Maria and Josef Płaczek risked their own lives and their daughter’s life in order to save Eli Zborowski who after the World War II has lived in New York and has become the leader of American and International Societies for Yad Vashem. The Płaczek family were given the title and the medal The Just among the Nations of the World. There are many more families that helped their Jewish neighbours during the war although they could have been severely punished by Nazis and only very few tarnished their reputation.
In St Barbara’s Street there was a butcher’s in the interwar period. The kosher butchering took place in its eastern part whilst animals for Christians were killed in the west of the butcher’s. At present, there is a joiner’s shop.The Jewish religious community, that existed in Zarki since 17th century, had to respect and follow all traditions and customs which were supervised by the synagogue. The synagogue supervisors were in charge of administration and court of justice for the Jewish society. Zarki Jewish Community consisted of 20 local places. In the interwar period maintained two synagogues, the secondary school, the library (6 thousand volumes were given by Abraham Josef Sztybel, a famous heraldry expert for New York who was born in Zarki), the ritual bath, the butcher’s, the shelter and hostel for the poor Jews.
The Jewish Culture Trail – the Old Kirkut
There are not remains of the first Jewish cemetery, but in Górki Street here was the second, so-called, the Old Kirkut. It had existed till the third kirkut was started in Polna Street in 1821 year. The only fragment of the Old Kirkut is a large yard that probably hides some human remains tombstones. All cemeteries are sacred places for the Jews, here the ancestors’ ashes are waiting for Moses’ coming that is why exhumation is forbidden.
The Jewish cemeteries and funeral homes were situated at the distance of 50 ells (about 25 m) from the nearest houses. The religious rules obligated the family to burry the dead as soon as possible, even the day of death. The family was to make the tombstone in a year time; its size and form depended on the family wealth. In every community there was a funeral fraternity (chewra kadysza) whose duty was to organize the funeral ceremony and look after all cemeteries.
The Jewish Culture Trail – Kirkut in Kierkow
Near Polna Street, in so-called Kierków, we can still see one of the biggest and most interesting Jewish cemeteries in Jura. It was started in 1821 year as the third kirkut in Zarki and its area reached 1,5 ha. In 1983 – 1985 nearly 900 graves were catalogued there. The cemetery was partially renovated and tidied thanks to Eli Zborowski who was born in Zarki and who is the leader of American and International Societies for Yad Vashem.
In 2004 year the inhabitants of Zarki, the Local Authority and Eli Zborowski asked the Department of Judaism of Jagiellonian University to make an academic kirkut cataloguing and publish it as a book. In kirkut, there have been preserved about 700 graves so we can see some standing and fallen tombstones (stelle-macewy), tombs and framed graves and the remains of obelisks. They are made of sandstone, limestone, granite and concrete, however, there are not preserved any cast-iron graves. On some tombstones, we can see very rare symbols (8- and 12-armed stars), ornaments and letter patterns. There are also several unique Hebrew-Polish inscriptions or inscriptions which include Arabic dates.
The history of the Jewish cemetery is also connected with litigation. In 1836 there was a disagreement between the Paulite monastery prior and the synagogue supervisors concerning the project of building a brick wall around the cemetery. The Jews were convinced that their cemetery was started on the manorial ground with the permission of the town owner. The prior proved that the Jewish were buried in the monastery ground as a result the Jews committed themselves to pay for using the cemetery. However, when they relinquished paying in 1847 - 1858, the case was brought to the court and it was won by the Paulites.
The Jewish Culture Trail – the synagogue
Jewish Cultural Trail - Synagogue
Synagogue is a place of assembly, prayers and teaching. There exists information about two Żarki synagogues from 1790-1792; a third one, so called reformed one, was established around 1870. It was the most magnificent one in its unique Neo-Romanesque - Moorish style, a style which was only altered in the after-war repairs in the years of 1954-1957. Next to it, from the south, the there was a smaller and older neoclassical synagogue, devastated during the war and the Nazi military control. A similar fate met the ritual slaughterhouse, the bath (Mikveh) and an auxiliary building for education and other purposes (cheder) which had been located at the back of the smaller synagogue.
The current building is the old synagogue extended by one third of its original length. Inside the original layout has been preserved: the main hall, where in the eastern wall, in a small built-in annex there was a place of Torah (aron ha-kodesh) and Bimah in the middle. Until 2009 when the refurbishment has begun there was a balcony from the west - a trace of the prior area for women. In accordance with the religious laws men and women prayed separately – men the ground floor and women in the gallery.
Renovation between 2009-2011, financed by the European Union and the Town Hall of Żarki, has saved the building from decay. In the historical western part the facades were restored in accordance with the pre-war model. The roof, a part of the load-bearing walls, wiring, windows and doors were replaced. A hall was created in the memory of the Żarki Jews. The area around the building has been redesigned. The former synagogue has served as a cultural center since the 50s of the twentieth century.
Today the melodious prayers of Jews cannot be heard here anymore, no-one lights
the Sabbath candles...
The Jewish Culture Trail – Characteristic town-planning
The centre of the town around the Old Square and all neighbouring streets were places where the most Jews lived. In Koscielna Street we can see a characteristic compact settlement. In the interwar period there were a lot of small shops and workshops that belonged to the Jews. There are still a few authentic buildings that architecture style: houses number 3 and 5 in Lesniowska Street and houses number 1 and 3 in Myszkowska street.
The town was famous for St Stanislaw’s Fairs that took place from 1 till 9 May in the centre of the town. The Old Square and the near big square became a market place as trade and marketing were the main sources of income, especially for the Jews. The Fairs have survived till the present day and they take place every Wednesday and Saturday. The basic kinds of work for the Jews were handicraft, trade and service. The most popular crafts were: shoemaking and tailoring, the tanning industry and furriery. In the interwar period there lived a furrier who put the pieces of leather in such a way that he “wrote” the client’s name on a fur coat. Before the World War II there were fifteen bakeries in Zarki
The Jewish Culture Trail – ghetto
The inhabitants of Zarki did not escape the extermination during the World War II. On 4 September 1939, two days after the German had invaded the town, a lot of people were arrested and 102 people were executed; they were mostly Jews. The invaders suppressed the Jewish autonomy and established the Seniors Committee – Judenrat, that had to follow and fulfill all Nazis’ orders. The Jews could not leave the town, they had to wear the armbands with the symbol of David’s star and their houses were also marked.
In February Germans created a ghetto which was organized in houses in the town centre around the Old Square. It was not enclosed like in other towns or cities, but the borders of the place were marked with warning boards forbidding the Polish to enter the place. Over three thousand Jews lived in the ghetto. On 6 October 1942 three hundred Jews were executed and the rest was taken to the extermination camp in Tremblinka or to ghettos in Czestochowa and Radomsko. There were only very few Jews left in Zarki.Although they were specialists who had to work for Germans, they were taken away after a few months.