WIELUN

WIELUN (Pol. Wieluń, Rus. Velyun), district town in the province of Lodz, Poland. Jewish merchants settled in Wielun about the middle of the 16th century when the town prospered as a station on the commercial route from Poland and Lithu ania to Silesia. A privilege, de non tolerandis Judaeis, was granted to Wielun in 1566. A Jewish settlement was reestablished at the close of the 18th century. There were 70 Jews (6% of the population) in Wielun in 1808; 642 (16.5% of the population) in 1857; and 2,732 (38%) in 1897. When the town was rebuilt after the great fire of 1858, the head of the local community, Leib Kon, succeeded in thwarting the plans for erecting a Jewish quarter. The overwhelming majority of Jews earned their livelihoods as craftsmen and a minority engaged in commerce. The first synagogue (1799) was situated in an ancient building acquired from a monastery. A large synagogue was built in its place in 1855. Until 1848 the Jews buried their dead in the cemetery of Dzialoszyn. In the early 1850s, as a result of a cholera epidemic, a local cemetery was acquired. From the 1850s the influence of Ḥasidism began to be felt in the community. At the close of the century R. Menahem Mendel Grynberg held rabbinical office. During World War I hundreds of Jewish workers from Lodz found refuge in Wielun. In 1921 Jews numbered 4,818 (44% of the population). Between the two world wars Jewish craftsmen (65% of the working population in the community) formed trade unions (as builders, carpenters, tinsmiths, locksmiths, barbers, etc.). The town's transportation was developed by Jewish initiative in providing buses and lorries. The community's educational institutions included a talmud torah, Yesodei ha-Torah, yavneh schools, a beth jacob school , and a large yeshivah in which about one-third of the Jewish pupils studied. Both the zionist movement and agudat israel were active in the community, and delegates from the Jewish population were an important factor in the municipal council. Before the Holocaust there were outbreaks of antisemitism in the town: a boycott of Jewish trade, attacks on the synagogue and its worshipers, and there was an attempt to provoke a blood libel (1937). (Arthur Cygielman) -Holocaust Period About 4,200 Jews lived in Wielun in 1939. During World War II the town underwent heavy bombardment and the Jewish hospital was among the numerous buildings destroyed. The ancient synagogue of Wielun was also destroyed and part of the Jewish population escaped to the nearby city of zelow . When that town was occupied by German forces, most of the Jews returned and found shelter in barracks and in damaged buildings. The Germans soon began to kidnap able-bodied Jews in the streets for slave labor in what became daily raids. Jewish slave labor was used for the construction and repair of   the roads and buildings, and in demolition work (including that of the synagogue). Another group of Jews was forced to build a swimming pool for the Germans, using tombstones from the Jewish cemetery for paving it. Pillage of Jewish property went on without interruption. Even the liturgical objects and the library of manuscripts in the synagogue were looted by the Nazis. Several hundred Jews from the neighboring villages escaped to Wielun, but the Jewish population constantly decreased as a result of either "voluntary" or forced transfers to other parts of Poland. In February 1942, the Germans publicly executed ten Jews on the pretext that they violated the prohibition against the preparation of kosher meat. In June 1942, the president of the judenrat was murdered by the Germans, and during that same summer the ghetto was surrounded by German police and a large number of Jews were deported to an unknown destination. The liquidation of all the Jewish communities in Wielun county began on Aug. 22, 1942, when the entire Jewish population (about 10,000) from the neighboring towns and villages were driven to Wielun and kept in the Augustine Church without food or water for several days. The sick, the weak, and the old were murdered in the church, and the rest, together with the Jews of Wielun, were sent to the death camp at chelmno . Only a small number of physically fit were sent to lodz Ghetto. (Danuta Dombrowska) -BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Mahler, Yidn in Amolikn Poyln in Likht fun Tsifern (1958), index: M. Bersohn, Dyplomataryusz dotyczący Żydów w Polsce (1910), no. 190; J. Goldberg, Stosunki agrarne w miastach ziemi wietuńskiej w drugiej połowie xvii w xviii wieku (1960); W. Wilczyński, in: Informator Wieluński (1934); I. Schiper, Dzieje handlu żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich (1937), index.

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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