PILA: Wielkopolski Print

Alternate names: Piła, Pile, Pily [Pol], Schneidemühl [Ger], Schneidemuehl, Schneidemuehle, Pile, Pily.  53°09' N, 16°45' E, 50 miles N of Poznań (Posen). 1905 Jewish population: 800. Capital of Posen-Westpreußen, Germany (1922-1938) and capital of Piła Voivodship (1975-1998) in west-central Poland on the Gwda River. ShtetLink. JOWBR and burial list. History. History. No Jews live in Pila today. [June 2009]

BOOK: History of the Jewish Community of Schneidemühl: 1641 to the Holocaust. by Peter Simonstein Cullman. The Schneidemühl cemetery memorial website has much information and history on Schneidemühl. [August 2009]

After the first partition of Poland in 1772, Pila was renamed Schneidemuehl. The area became the Prussian province of Posen (Grand Duchy of Posen), Prussia's most Jewish province. To date, no records of the first Jewish cemetery are found. This second Jewish cemetery in Schneidemuehl, probably was established in the late 1840s and is located in the city center, near the 17th century Jewish quarter. The 1850s Berlin-Kuenigsberg railway creation gave the town importance. 1905 Jewish population was 800 out of 22,000. My cousin Martin Rosenberg, as former head of the Chevra Kadisha of Schneidemuel, immigrated to Santiago, Chile in 1938 and brought with him a handwritten booklet containing over 500 names, complete with Hebrew death dates pertaining to the second Jewish cemetery of Schneidemuehl. (I estimate though, that the names in this booklet account only for about 25% of all Jews buried in Schneidemuehl.) The list is a revised, alphabetized master list. Revisions were possible with the aid of Civil BMD records of Schneidemuehl in my possession and are based on my own research into the history of the Jews of Schneidemuehl, my maternal ancestral town. I have sorted the contents of the booklet by names, dates and by field of burial. By comparing this list against the Civil BMD records of Schneidemuehl, I found numerous discrepancies in the data of the salvaged booklet. I was able to enhance the original list by correcting the spelling of some surnames, adding numerous maiden names, adding some dates of death as well as correcting many dates, adding all (converted Hebrew dates) to dates of the Gregorian calendar, incl. dates of the week. The remaining minor discrepancies in dates between the Hebrew and Gregorian calendar are due to the difference in the exact time when the death occurred, i.e. before or after sunset. The Germans destroyed the Jewish cemetery of Schneidemahl in 1940. Source: Peter Simonstein Cullman, 99 Yorkville Ave., Toronto, Ontario, M5R 3K5, Canada. Copy of original booklet at Leo Baeck Institute, NY: Storage-Location: Second floor; Accession Number(s): AR 2600. [2003]

A burial register of the community, based on a booklet by Martin Rosenberg, head of Schneidemühl's Chevra Kadisha and safely taken to Chile in 1940, can be found at Leo Baeck Institute, NY: accession Number AR 2600. An annotated version thereof is included in the JOWBR database on Schneidemühl. Following the German colonist movement of the thirteenth century, and particularly after the end of the 1241 Mongolian invasions, many German colonizers brought with them not only diligence, zeal and industriousness, but also the clergy with their ingrained prejudice and animosity against perceived non-believers and heretics. Coming from Brandenburg, Pomerania and even Holland, these settlers were followed by sporadic migrations in the fourteenth century when they also relocated east of the Oder in the area of the Neumark. Clearing dense forests and bogs, they farmed the land while generous grants were often given to them by the nobility of Brandenburg to settle in an orderly fashion. Many of these early German-speaking settlers may well have reached the Kraina, the borderland between the rivers Notec, Drage and Gwda, the land around the settlement then known in Polish as Pyła. Numerous villages and towns were established and were often known by their German-sounding names from then on. Frequently, towns were given Magdeburger Stadtrecht (Magdeburg Town Law) nach deutschem Recht, in other words home-rule rights, jus municipale (municipal rights) according to German law-a concept that eventually spread throughout Eastern Europe. That area remained under Brandenburg's control until 1368 when the land of the Kraina became Polish. General immigration of German settlers diminished, however, when Poland under Kazimierz IV Jagiellonczyk (1447-92) defeated the Teutonic Order in 1466, settling once and for all the German Knights belligerence that had stirred up undue hatred amongst Poles against German settlers. The area around the settlement of Pyła, situated in the southern Pomeranian lake district, was one of dense pine forests and lakes. Speculation exists that a Slavic settlement of woodcutters in the fishing village Pyła may have existed before any of the later villages and surrounding towns of the area were established. Thus, in the 1300s Pyła grew to some extent because of its position on the Gwda a mere 6 kilometers from where it joins the river Notec. Pyła's simple layout of unpaved streets and primitive clay and timber houses gave little protection to its inhabitants and was still far from becoming a commercially interesting locale. It has been claimed that Queen Jadwiga in the 1380s was the founder of the town of Pyła. If one were to credit a Privilegium (charter) of the early 1380s as evidence, a document associated with the building of a church in Pyła and ascribed to the very young Polish-Hungarian Queen Jadwiga d'Anjou, then that period could well be regarded as the time the village of Pyła/Snydemole was elevated to the status of town. The recurring Polish-German double naming Pyła-Snydemole may be attributed to the fact that two originally separate localities took their name from the water-powered sawmill that had been part of the town's raison d'être from the beginning. Documented references to Snydemole and Pyła are reportedly found in parish church sources of 1449, where there is mention of a sawmill and of the name of the current Wojewoda (governor) Paul. Until 1480 Pyła was a Mediatstadt, a town owned by the nobility, belonging to Maciej Opalinski who later presented his holdings to King Kazimierz IV, at which time Pyła became an Immediatstadt, a royal town. However, King Zygmunt I-during whose reign immigration of numerous Jews from the Iberian peninsular, Bohemia and Germany was encouraged-bestowed Magdeburger Stadtrecht, municipal rights, upon the town of Pyła on 4 March 1513, a landmark decision. Attaining Stadtrecht was a sterling achievement for Pyła since it gave the burghers not only status, but also the rights to self-administration and its own judiciary, leading to the elimination of different rights for Polish and German burghers. Compared to towns like Czarnkow, Trzcianka or Ujscie, whose Jewish communities only began to grow in the 1700s-Jewish roots in Pyła can be traced to the mid-sixteenth century. Theirs can be regarded as one of the oldest communities in this area of Poland. Others called the locale variously by its Polish name Pyła or Piła or by its Low-German name Snyde-Mole, Schnyde-Möhle or Schneyde-Mühle. During the reign of King Alexander Jagiello and in the later 1500s when there were already a number of tradesmen in town, some of its inhabitants may have found it useful to have Jewish traders among them to facilitate commerce, considering that Pyła was in proximity to the border of Märkisch Friedland. Itinerant German-Jewish traders may have passed through Pyła on their way to other towns in which bi-annual fairs were held, plying the area with their wares. Several peaceful decades would have passed before their numbers, their well-being and self-confidence warranted the establishment of a permanent kehillah and an orderly Beth Din in the strict sense of the word. As a Mediatstadt that belonged to the nobility, Pyła's Jews never suffered as those whose towns were under ecclesiastic domain, where the Catholic clergy generally harassed, if not outright banned Jews from properties under their jurisdiction. While no names of those who comprised the early Jewish community in Pyła have been preserved, decades later in 1617 three Jewish men are named in connection with Pyła and are recorded as N. Fiebes, Jochim Voss and Jochim Lazarus. It is unclear whether they had settled as individuals or as families. Initially, Pyła's small but growing Jewish community may have totaled no more than ten families or seventy souls who simply gathered for prayers in shtiblech, little rooms in private houses or in rented quarters. A Beth haMidrash, a house of learning, was situated west of the future ghetto, but we do not know at what stage the community was in a financial position to build a freestanding synagogue. The first cemetery was probably established in 1627. Pyła's Jews were particularly affected when in 1605 the widowed Johan Zygmunt III married the pious 17-year old Catholic princess Konstancja, archduchess of Habsburg, and presented the town of Pyła, together with the lands of the domain of Ujscie, as a wedding gift to his new bride. By her husband's benevolence, she became responsible for changing Pyła in several ways over the next few decades. Acting in concert with the tenets of the prevailing Catholic Counter Reformation, the queen first attended to what seemed closest to her heart. After the devastating fire in 1626 (rumored to have started in the house of the Jew Joachim) when the entire town was laid to ashes, the queen charged her secretary Samuel Targowski on 15 July 1626 to survey what was left of the town, then decided on a distinct segregation of Jews and Christians. The Jewish community was to be resettled in a ghetto that was to become a virtual town within the town, from thereon often referred to as Judenstadt, the Jews' town. The ghetto area became effectively a trapezoid-shaped district. A further fifteen square ruten had to remain empty ‘to adequately separate Jews from the rest of the population' and the decree called for a sizable trench to be dug to surround the Jewish quarters where feasible. The ghetto remained until the early 19th century. The earliest accounts of a religious head to lead the rabbinate of an organized community in Pyła take us to 1641 and the reign of King Wladislaw IV Vasa. While anecdote and conjecture still surround the life of the community's first spiritual leader, Rabbi Meir ben Eljakim Goetz, about whose name, lineage and life we have limited knowledge, he is said to have lived from ca. 1600 to 1656. While much of the German lands had been devastated as a result of the Thirty-Years-War, the area of Wielkopolska was not affected, but Wladislaw's commonwealth began to decline. All of traditional Polish-Jewish society was shaken by a series of cataclysmic events that became known as the Deluge, beginning in 1648 with the uprising and unspeakable excesses of the Zaropóg Cossacks under the petty aristocrat Bogdan Chmielnicki. At the end of July 1654 Swedish troops captured some towns near Pyla. Renewed clashes occurred south of Pyła during the Second Swedish War, and one year later on 24 and 25 April 1656, many Jews were unable to escape in time; of those who remained, thirty-three men and women, together with numerous children were massacred-the loss of life amounted to nearly fifteen percent of the community. The Jewish community was not only robbed of its properties, its Torah scrolls and holy books were torn up and destroyed. The town itself was partly destroyed and totally plundered. During October that year, a Polish troupe of Stefan Czarniecki's army who sought terrible retribution upon the largely German and Protestant burghers of Pyła, accusing them of collusion with the Swedes-while Loyola's zealous disciples fanned their anti-Jewish hostilities in many parts of Poland. To add to the plight, it was discovered that the plague had been carried in. In the face of a pattern of pitiful human degradation, and despite the almost insurmountable difficulties created by the wars, the kehillah did recover by degrees from the abysmal situation. Nevertheless, the Christian town folk were largely unsympathetic and tried at any opportunity to erode their Jewish neighbors' legal status and meager success. By being perceived solely as economic rivals, life for the kehillah was strained to the utmost and almost bereft of hope for some time. After lengthy negotiations, the kehillah was successful on 20 June 1670 in obtaining a royal Schutzbrief (letter of protection), but it took another two years before the community could reach tentative agreements with the burghers of Pyła to live among them in peace. During the Seven Years' Wars havoc was visited upon the inhabitants again. But after these wars-as a result of treachery and conspiracy on the part of the Saxons and Russians, coupled with Sweden's might-Poland's national morale was finally broken. With the signing of the definitive treaty to divide Poland between Prussia, Austria and Russia in 1772, the so-called First Partition of Poland was accomplished. Pyła became part of theKingdom of Prussia and was renamed Schneidemühl. The town's total population had shrunk to a marginal 1,043 inhabitants of whom nearly one-third were of German origin, while an almost equal number of 318 souls belonged to the Jewish community. They represented an impressive thirty per cent of the population, possibly the highest percentage ever in the history of the town. However, despite the relatively high number of Jews at that time, Schneidemühl never became a Jewish town, as often occurred in parts of Poland where Jews dominated population and trade. In the year 1781, another huge fire occurred in Schneidemühl, devastating half the town. Forty-four houses, thirty-seven stables and seventeen barns burned down. Following Prussia's inglorious defeat at the hands of Napoleon at the battle of Jena, and after signing the Peace of Tilsit of 7 July 1807, Prussia had lost nearly fifty percent of its territory. The new Polish-Prussian border ran very close to Schneidemühl and, together with the largest part of Posen, Schneidemühl became part of Bonaparte's Grossherzogthum Warschau, the semi-independent Grand Duchy of Warsaw, headed by King Friedrich August of Saxony. However, after Napoleon's final defeat, in 1815 the Congress of Vienna gave Schneidemühl to Prussia again. The Polish language was banned from offices and education and the city saw a significant influx of German settlers. Schneidemühl then belonged to the Grand Duchy of Poznań, which was later renamed Province of Posen of the Kingdom of Prussia, which in turn became part of the German Empire after 1871. After centuries, Rabbinic Judaism, its ruling and authority, had reached its height during the era of Jewish autonomy in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Poland, but with the demise of the Va'ad arba ha-aratsot, (the Synod of the Four Lands), Judaism was shaken to its very foundation by a new phenomenon, Haskalah, the European Enlightenment, in the late 1700s.  Schneidemühl had barely recovered from the worst outbreak of cholera of 1831 when, in the summer of 1834, the city was again struck by a fire that destroyed the dwellings and houses of worship of the Jewish community, together with large parts of the city centre and the city archives. It became evident during the process of naturalization in the 1830s-when the community counted 130 families, including a score of fairly prosperous middle-class founders and patrons-that the numbers of members and their devotion would justify a stately new house of worship. A new synagogue arose in what later became known as the Wilhelmsplatz, in time for Rosh Hashanah of 1841. However, the community's executive decided to choose the seemingly more propitious date of 15 October for the official inauguration, the birthday of his majesty, Friedrich Wilhelm IV. For the occasion the known biblical scholar, preacher and poet from Berlin, Rabbi Salomon Plessner, was invited to dedicate the new house of worship. A new rectangular 0.8 ha cemetery, adjacent to the earliest burial grounds at Karlstraße 13 (pl. Domańskiego), was inaugurated in 1854, not far from the later city centre, near the new synagogue. In the 1850s the city was connected to the Berlin-Königsberg railway, the Ostbahn. By the end of the 19th century the city, a Prussian military garrison town, had become one of the most important railway nodes of the region. Schneidemühl's Jewish population in 1905 was 800 out of a total of 22,000 inhabitants. With the end ofWorld War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, and after much protest by the German majority of its population, Schneidemühl was not included in thePolish Second Republic. The new Polish-German border ran five km south of the city. Schneidemühl later became the Regierungsbezirk, the centre for local administration of the new province Grenzmark Posen-Westpreussen. In March and September 1938, an administrative reform divided the entire area west of the Polish border into the three entities Brandenburg, Schlesien (Silesia) and Pommern (Pomerania).With the onset of the Nazi period, institutionalized anti-Semitism arrived in Schneidemühl, together with the Gestapo's harassment of political and racial undesirables. The climate for Schneidemühl's shrinking Jewish community that had reached over one thousand members during the mid-19th century, changed irreversibly. The 1938 pogrom that was Kristallnacht embodied so much more than a night of broken glass. The freestanding structure of Schneidemühl's fine synagogue became a prime target for the Nazis that night who set fire to the nearly one-hundred-year old house of God. The old cemetery was totally destroyed by the Nazis of Schneidemühl in 1939 and replaced by a public park. Although many members of the Jewish community were able to emigrate in time, the rest of the 300-year old Jewish community of Schneidemühl was destroyed after the last remaining Jews had been arrested and deported after 21 March 1940. Five years later, in February 1945, Schneidemühl was captured by the joint Polish and Soviet forces after two weeks of heavy fighting. 75% of the city was destroyed and almost 90% of the historic city centre lay in ruins. The city was slowly rebuilt, renamed Pila again and became a Polish city once more. Source:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it [August 2009]

CEMETERY: Established probably in 1627. A new rectangular 0.8 ha cemetery, adjacent to the earliest burial grounds at Karlstraße 13 (pl. Domańskiego), was inaugurated in 1854, not far from the later city centre, near the new synagogue. This old cemetery was totally destroyed by the Nazis of Schneidemühl in 1939 and replaced by a public park. Today there is is a kindergarten and a Police School gymnasium on the original cemetery site. No trace of gravestones remains, only a fragment of brick cemetery wall (in the courtyard of the house at ul. Konopnickiej 5 and Wiązów alley). A cemetery in Pile-Leszkowi was established in 1915 to bury the WWI military dead. One part was dedicated to Russian Jewish soldiers. A monument was later built with massive, rectangular columns crowned by a Magen David. Most gravestones were identical, displaying a Magen David. This monument was destroyed by the local Nazis in the 1930s, the gravestones were used to shore up the river banks. Only three gravestones remained including two restored in the 1990s, but later destroyed by local vandals. The place where the monument stood is still clearly visible. Pila website. [June 2009]

PILA I: US Commission No. POCE000420

Alternate name: Schneidemuehl in German. Pila is located at 53º 09 N 16º 44 E in Pila province. The cemetery is in the town center. 1990 town population was 25,000-100,000 with 10-100 Jews.

  • Local: Urzad Miasta w Pile. and Mgr. Roman Chwaliszewski, region Konserwator Zabytkow, 64-920 Pila ul Tczewska 1 Tel. 223-88.
  • Regional: Panstwowa slurba Ochnony Zabytkow, Oddiar w Pile, Mgr. Barbara Lucryuske; addressa nd phone number above. Interested: Tomarzystwo Mirosuikow Ziemi Pilslul (hard to read-may be wrong) Mgr. Roman Chwaliszew sw. tel. 223-88.

The earliest Jewish settlement was 16th century. In 1626, the great fire in the whole town started from the house of Joachim the Jew. Afterwards, the Jewish inhabitants were expelled to the specially created separate district. The unlandmarked cemetery was established at the beginning of the 17th century, probably 1627. Eventually, Progressive/Reform Jews used it. The isolated urban flat land has no sign or marker. Reached by turning directly off a public Police School, access is entirely closed with a continuous fence and locking gate. The approximate size before WWII was.80 ha. There are no stones. Stones were moved to another cemetery. A regional or national government agency owns the property used for recreation. Adjacent property is a Police School. It was vandalized during WWII and does not exist. No threats.

Henryk Grecki, 70-534 Szczecin, ul Sltysiz 3/13, tel. 377-41 completed survey Aug. 13, 1991 after a visit.

US Commission PILA (II) No. POCE000421

The "Military Cemetery" is located at Leszkow-"Cmentarz Wojenny" at 53º 07 N 16º 47 E in the province of Pila, 4 km "od centrum Pily." The cemetery was established in 1915, also the date of the last burial of all soldiers. The suburban flat land, part of a war cemetery, has inscriptions in Hebrew on gate or wall. Reached by turning directly off a public road, access is open to all with a broken fence without gate. The approximate size before WWII and now is 1.20 ha. 20-100 gravestones, with many in original locations and more that 75% of the stones toppled or broken. The cemetery is divided into sections by religion. The 20th century, granite and other multi-stone monuments have inscriptions in Hebrew. No known mass graves. No structures.

The municipality owns the property used for cemetery only. Adjacent property is forest. Occasionally, private visitors stop. It was never vandalized. Local/municipal authorities cleared vegetation in 1970. Authorities occasionally clear. Weather erosion is only a slight threat.

Henryk Grecki, 70-534 Szczecin, ul Sltysiz 3173, tel. 377-41 completed survey Aug. 13, 1991 after a visit.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 12:47