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When visiting various Polish cities, I often check if there is a synagogue or a Jewish cemetery there. These are places with a very different state of preservation, but they constitute an important element of the history of towns and villages. The Jewish cemetery and synagogue in Piotrków Trybunalski are places that we managed to see during our visit to this city.
Location and accessibility
The synagogue is located in the city centre near the castle. There used to be a Jewish cemetery right next to it, but it was destroyed. The one that has survived our times is located at Kręta 20 street.
This cemetery, which has survived to our times, is closed. The family who lives in the house, which is practically in the cemetery (former gravedigger’s house), has the keys. It is open to tourists (daily from 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., on Fridays until 3.00 p.m., except Saturdays and Jewish holidays). We were on Saturday (Shabbat) so we didn’t manage to get inside.
History of the synagogue in Piotrków Trybunalski
The object that we can see today is actually two synagogues – the Great and the Small.
The Great Synagogue was built in 1793 on the site of an older building. Its founder was Mojżesz Kocyn, a merchant from Piotrków. It was devastated in 1854 by the Russians. Fourteen years later it was completely rebuilt. During World War II, it met a fate similar to most synagogues in Poland – it was destroyed by the Nazis. It served temporarily as a prisoner-of-war camp and prison for Jews. From 1954, it housed the sports hall of the “Unia” Sports Club. However, after protests from the Jewish community, this activity was discontinued. In 1967, the renovation of the synagogue was completed and it was transferred to the Municipal Library, which was located there until 2012.
As for the Small Synagogue (on the right), it was built in 1775. Like the neighbouring Great Synagogue, the Nazis also devastated the Small Synagogue during World War II. It was renovated together with the Great Synagogue and also served as a library.
Jewish cemetery in Piotrków
As I mentioned earlier in Piotrków Trybunalski, there were two cemeteries. The first one, which no longer exists, was located right next to the synagogue. In the first half of the nineteenth century, as part of the cleaning of Piotrków streets, part of the cemetery area was expropriated and designated for development. The cemetery was fully used and the tombstones were eroded. After the entry of the German army in 1939, the cemetery was profaned. The matzevot were used for construction purposes.
The cemetery, which still exists today, was established around 1792 and is located a bit further from the centre. It covers over 3 hectares. In its western part, local tzadiks are buried. The cemetery has mass graves of victims of World War II, during which the cemetery was devastated. In 1976, it was planned to transform it into a municipal cemetery, but after the voices of opposition, the plan was not implemented. Since 1989, it has been included in the list of monuments, and in 2015 all tombstones, and there are over 1700 of them, were inventoried (you can find the list here).
Jews of Piotrków
The beginning of Jewish settlement in Piotrków dates back to the 16th century. Under the privilege of King Jan III Sobieski, they could live in Piotrków. The district in which they lived was called the Jewish Town.
The Jews of Piotrków were craftsmen and merchants with various businesses. Among those that they ran before the Second World War, there were tanneries, oil mills, a sawmill, a brick factory, a mill and a barrel factory.
Shortly after the city was taken over by the Germans, a ghetto was established in the Jewish part. It was the first ghetto in Europe! In 1940, over 20,000 Jews lived in Piotrków. At the time of the liquidation of the ghetto, this number was close to 30,000. Most of the Jews from Piotrków Trybunalski were transported to the camp in Treblinka or other labor camps.
Worth a visit?
I feel a bit unsatisfied due to the fact that I did not manage to enter the cemetery. I only looked at the fragments through the wall. However, it is impressive, and the synagogue in Piotrków Trybunalski is a place worth visiting. These are other reasons why Piotrków should be on your trip list.