Town in Kujawy-Pomorze province in northern Poland. Jews were not allowed to live in Włocławek, a bishop-owned town, until the early nineteenth century, though the town was never granted an official privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Jewish traders occasionally appeared at the markets and customs office on the Vistula River. After the town lost its status of ecclesiastical settlement in 1793, the first four Jewish families settled there in 1803–1805; by 1812, there were 99 Jews. In 1824, a Jewish rewir (quarter) was established, and in 1825–1826, officials forcibly moved all but three families to that district. In 1841, however, 32 families were nevertheless still living outside the rewir.
Passover plate. Teichfeld & Asterblum. Włocławek, ca. 1910. Ceramic, colored glazes. Inscribed in Hebrew: “Seven days shall you eat matzot.” (Gross Family Collection)
In addition to working as tailors, carpenters, and shopkeepers, Jews formed influential groups of wholesale traders and factory owners. These groups, which were prone to Polonization, dominated the community until the early twentieth century. In 1820, Włocławek had a Jewish population of 218 (6.6% of the town); in 1857, this number had risen to 1,255 (20.1%); in 1897 to 4,248 (18.5%); and in 1910 to 6,919 (20.5%).
From the late nineteenth century, the Zionist movement had followers in Włocławek. A branch of the Bund was established there in 1902, followed by the Po‘ale Tsiyon in 1906 and PPS. Political life grew livelier after the Germans occupied Włocławek in November 1914. Rabbis also wielded a strong influence, including Yosef Ḥayim Caro (active from 1859 to 1895) and Leib Kowalski (1895–1925), the latter of whom was one of the founders of Mizraḥi and a senator in the Polish parliament. In 1919–1920, 1931, and 1935, a number of antisemitic incidents occurred.
During the interwar period, Włocławek’s Jewish community had several elementary schools and high schools, two yeshivas, and three sports clubs. There were also a number of Yiddish-language publications. In 1921, the Jewish population numbered 9,595 (23.8% percent), in 1931 it totaled 10,209 (18%); and in 1939, the figure had risen to about 13,500.
From Herz Grossbart in Warsaw to the "Shtern" (club?) in Włocławek, Poland, 23 July 1932, accepting their invitation to perform a "word concert." His fee will be 200 złotys plus expenses, and he offers to send 50@-60 posters for 25 złotys. Yiddish. Letterhead: Herz Grossbart. RG 107, Letters Collection. (YIVO)
Włocławek was occupied by the Germans in September 1939. In October of that year, synagogues were burned, Jewish property looted, and local Jewish leaders shot. From December 1939 to February 1940, approximately 2,000 people were deported to Ożarów, Włoszczowa, Szczebrzeszyn, and Tarnów. About 4,000 Jews remained in Włocławek. In November 1940, a ghetto was created, and in December, it was sealed off. In June 1941, approximately 1,000 people were deported to Poznań and Chodzież. The main deportation of Włocławek’s Jews took place on 26–30 September 1941. At that time, approximately 2,000 Jews were deported to Łódź, and from there to the Chełmno death camp. On 27–29 April 1942, those who had remained in Włocławek were also then sent to Chełmno, and the ghetto was burned.
By October 1945, some 265 Jews had returned to Włocławek. Although their numbers rose to 966 by June 1946, Jews began leaving Poland, and by December there were just 724. Beginning in March 1945, the Komitet Pomocy Żydom (Committee for Aid to the Jews) was active there. All Jewish organizations, with exception of the regime-licensed Socio-Cultural Society of Jews in Poland, ceased activities in 1949, and by December of that year only 371 Jews remained. In 1966, the Socio-Cultural Society of Jews in Poland had 69 members, a number that dwindled to 52 in 1969. By that time the Jewish religious community ceased to exist as well. In 2000, Włocławek, formally being part of the Wrocław Jewish community, had no one to belong to the community.
Mirosław Krajewski, ed., Byli wśród nas: Żydzi we Włocławku oraz na Kujawach Wschodnich i w Ziemi Dobrzyńskiej (Włocławek, Pol., 2001); Kathriel F. Thursh and Me’ir Korzen, eds., Vlotslavek veha-sevivah: Sefer zikaron (Tel Aviv, 1967); Abraham Wein, ed., “Vlotslavek / Włocławek,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Polin, vol. 4, V’arshah veha-Galil, pp. 202–209 (Jerusalem, 1989).
Translated from Polish by Christina Manetti