Northern Poland

Northern Poland – Gdansk, Sopot, Westerplatte, Malbork Castle, Torun History of Jewish community in Sopot ( 1860 – 2011) The first Jews arrived to Sopot in about 1860. In 1869 ..

Northern Poland – Gdansk, Sopot, Westerplatte, Malbork Castle, Torun

History of Jewish community in Sopot ( 1860 – 2011)

The first Jews arrived to Sopot in about 1860. In 1869  there were only 5 Jews living there. While Sopot was gaining in importance as a sea resort, the number of Jewish inhabitants was gradually growing . It was a very popular  holiday destination among the Polish Jews. The biggest influx of Jewish population took place at the turn of the 19th and 20th century.   Originally the Sopot Jews belonged to the kehilla in Wejherowo. It was not until 1900 that the authorities allowed the visitors to say their prayers in the Kadisz Nissenbaum boarding house, located at  35 Grunwaldzka Street. In 1903 Simon Friedlander, an itinerant preacher, arrived from Gdansk.

The boarding house offered also kosher cuisine available to all the guests.   In 1912 the  Jewish population of Sopot set up their own religious community (kehilla) and a year later they drew up its statute. Only men with an annual income of 420 marks or house owners and without a criminal record could exercise an active electoral right.  People residing in Sopot for at least a year gained a passive electoral right. The kehilla board and the team of representatives were elected once every six years.  After three years by-elections were held.   The chairman of the first board was a doctor Max Lindemann. The board also comprised a rentier Hermann Gluckauf and a wholesaler Georg Lichtenfeld. The representatives were: Eugen Koenigsfeld, the owner of the pharmacy – “Pod Orlom”, Alfred Kantrowitsch, Samuel Simon, Leopold Boss and Philip Mendelsohn, to name but a few.   The board bought some land, founded a cemetery and built a synagogue (in the years 1913-1914) according to a design of the local architect, Adolf Bielefeldt.

The opening of the synagogue took place on 26th May 1914. The sermon was preached by a rabbi from Gdańsk, Robert Kaelter. The choir of the Gdansk synagogue took part in the ceremony. Until 1918 the board office was located in the building of the synagogue. The next chairman Samuel Simon moved the office to his trading house at today 5 Bohaterow Monte Cassino Street.   In 1922 a mortuary chapel was built in the cemetery. In 1928 a mikvah was added to the synagogue. The first floor was converted into a flat intended for the serviceman and a watchman.

The non-Jewish Wandtke family lived in it. Franciszek Wandtke was a watchman and his wife Agnieszka cleaned the synagogue and helped women in the mikvah.   In the 20th century 3 immigration waves of Jewish population reached Sopot: Around 1905 after the pogroms in Russia, the second about 1920 and the third in 1930. The first wave of newcomers was small. Sopot was then inhabited by Raw Abram Yehuda Chen who became the spiritual guide of the orthodox immigrants. In 1935 he left for Palestine. The immigrants from the lands of  former Poland, Lithuania, Bielarus and Ukraine were called Ostjuden. These were orthodox Jews who did not integrate with the local, progressive Jews. In 1921 Ostjuden established the Zionist Organization which came under the authority of the Berlin headquarters .It was headed by Samuel Spytkowski who raised money for the fund Karen ha-Jesod. In 1923 the Jewish Immigration Committee was established in  town. Soon it was transformed into the Eastern Jewish Association. This organization for Ostjuden had its own funeral fund from 1925.

As part of it, a charity institution Gemilus Chesed was created in 1930. The organization also owned a library. In 1929 the association numbered 398 people.  The main activities that the Sopot Jews pursued were services for the spa guests, trade and crafts. There were many Jewish boarding houses where mainly Jews were staying. Each of them had its own shochet (a ritual butcher). Sopot was also full of Jewish restaurants, shops and workshops. In the interwar period there were also shops with kosher meat, e.g. at 3 Sobieskiego Street (there was a butcher stall in the same building) and 6a Monte Cassino Street.  The kosher meat could also be bought at a local market. In 1930 the last elections to the kehilla board were held. The elected board  comprised the Jews who had just settled in the town, i.e. the directors of the Gdansk companies “Oleo and Bloomfield Overseas” .Abraham Kornmann and Benno Friedmann, as well as a factory owner, Abraham Turbowitz. Siegmund Seeling, a colonial merchant and the owner of a few Sopot tenement houses became the kehilla chairmen.   In about 1930 the kehilla board moved to the tenement house at 809 Niepodległości Avenue. The Jewish kehilla in Sopot had not had their own rabbi until 1937 when Majer Bieler was appointed at 1920. Prior to that, the religious services had been provided by the chief rabbi from Gdansk. One of the Sopot preachers was Moritz Hofmann. He was also a teacher and a synagogue custodian.  He resided at 4 Helska Street.

After Hitler had ascended to power the Jewish population became persecuted. In 1935 the anti-Jewish manifestations took place on the beach. Cars carrying anti-Semitic slogans drove around the  town. Sopot ceased to be a popular holiday destination among Jews . Town residents of Jewish origin  started leaving  town . From 1937 the anti-Jewish attacks escalated. Shops that belonged to Jews were ransacked. Jews were forbidden to trade on the local market. In the second half of 1938 the attacks on  Jewish population grew stronger, also their shops and flats were  destroyed.  Jews could not enter cinemas or theatres. Working in public institutions became impossible for them. A vast majority of  Jews  escaped  from  town, many of them emigrated. After burning the synagogue in the night of 12/13th November 1938 the Nazis began the dissolution of the Jewish religious community. The area belonging to the kehilla was bought by the local authorities for 16 thousand guilders. The kehilla chairman, Siegmund Seeling, took legal steps to receive a compensation in the amount of 116 thousand guilders from the insurance company “Commercial Union Assurance Limited London” which insured the synagogue against the fire. The case was brought to  court in Gdansk, and the kehilla’s attorney was Herbert Lewy. Unfortunately, the case was soon withdrawn from  court by virtue of the decision issued by Rudolph Bittner, the Senate’s proxy for  Jewish affairs. In 1939  140 Jews who stayed in  town were deported to the General  Government.

AFTER 1945 When  the war was  over, the Jewish kehilla started to rebuild. In 1945 it numbered 454 people. The Poalei Zion Ichud Association established even a kibbutz called “Kineret” at 11 Helska Street.   Unfortunately, in the mid 1947 a new wave of  emigration started and lasted until 1950.

Jewish Gdansk and Sopot Itineraries Ideas
Gdansk is a royal and hanseatic city, regarded as a symbolic place where World War II broke out and the decline of communism in Europe began. Gdansk is situated on the mouth of the Motlawa and the Vistula Rivers, by the Gdansk Gulf. It is considered important culture, science, industry and communication center.   It is a cradle of Solidarity lead by Lech Walesa.

How to get there?
Gdansk is located in North of Poland. For people arriving Gdansk/Sopot, they can either take a train (4.5 hours from Warsaw) or we will provide a private driver and sightseeing on the way.  From Krakow, there is 7 hour train. There is also nonstop flight from Warsaw, about one hour , from Krakow (connecting in Warsaw) and also nonstop flight to Frankfurt – from there you connect to USA.

Suggested Itinerary.

In 15th century the first Jews frequently visited Gdansk and “Jewish Lane” existed on the bank of the Motlawa. They traded in grain and timber, were engaged in the liberal professions, employed in crafts.  You will also learn about this population in the Free City of Gdansk, Polish Jews and Jewish emigres from Soviet Union visiting Sopot as a popular sea resort in the mid-war period, about their  emigration who passed through Gdansk on their way to the US or Palestine, about the kindertransporten, two synagogues burnt down and two others demolished, houses and shops looted on the Crystal Night  and the saddest episode in the Nazi Times – the Jewish ghetto, deportations and survival.  Last but not least you will hear about their post-war history and present times. You will admire the remnants of Lesser Gieldzinski collection of art and listen to the anecdotes. You will also visit one of the old Jewish kirkuts  and the site of former Gdansk ghetto.

Day One

Meet and greet service (train station or airport or hotel’s lobby. Gdańsk walking tour – Gdansk Jews Heritage sites  ( 4 hours)  Suggested itinerary (modified for each client)   A walk along streets of the historic Hanseatic City of Gdansk includes major city highlights Green Gate, Long Market,  15-th century merchant’s palace – Artus Court, symbol of Gdansk – Neptun’s Fountain,  The Main Town Hall (optional visit to the museum ). Continue visit to the New Branch House (to learn about the first Judaica gathered collection in the world and its story as they were first offered to the Grand Synagogue, next sold by Gdansk Jewish Commune to finance the Jewish exodus in 1938-39, You will have an opportunity to admire the interior and remanants of Lesser Gieldzinski’s collection). Long Street with marvellous merchant’s houses, grand ornamental arch – Golden Gate, pride of Gdansk the biggest brick church in the world – St. Mary’s Church, Mariacka Street, waterfront canal with The Crane – the biggest crane of medieval Europe. The former places of local synagogue in Panska Street, former Jewish shops in the waterfront area  and telephone books from the interwar period (you will see how many Jewish families resided in Gdansk and Zoppot) and the Kindertransporten Memorial designed by Frank Meisler to commemorate 4 kindertransporten that left Gdansk short before the outbreak of WW2.

Option: combined with one-hour walking tour visit to the Solidarity Memorial and the Roads to Freedom Exhibition ( except Mondays)  In summer time (May-September) – a brief boat ride across the Motlawa River to the Olowianka  Island.

Day Two

Full-day trip to Stutthof Concentration Camp and the sites of the Death March ( 8 hours ) Stutthof was the first concentration camp built by the Nazi Germany regime outside of Germany. Completed on September 2, 1939, it was located in a secluded, wet, and wooded area west of the small town of Sztutowo. The town is located in the former territory of the Free City of Danzig, 34 km east of Gdansk. Stutthof was the last camp liberated by the Allies, on May 9, 1945. The Camp was the place where an estimated 65.000 inmates from 25 countries were exterminated during WWII. The death rates were extremely high from malnutrition, typhus and exhaustion. The traumatic exhibition shows the record of human suffering  Meet and greet. Transfer to Sztutowo, the place of the former Nazi Camp. In summertime, we can take a short ferry crossing and pass by fishing villages which become popular seaside resorts in summer time. You need about two hours to do the sightseeing of the camp and watch 2 documentary movies. The museum gives testimony to the martyrdom of Poles, Jews and people of 230 other nationalities kept prizoners in this camp. The visitor trail leads to the Death Gate, huts of the Old and New Camp, the gas chamber, the crematorium , watch towers and a symbolical Memorial with a reliquiary at the back of the monument. Recommended after a visit to make a stroll along the sandy beach. On the way back, we can stop and have a nice lunch in a nearby  restaurant or walk in the sandy beach.  Includes: private guide-driver, private transportation, admission to the documentary presentation, parking fee, ferry ticket in summertime Excluded: lunch, additional literature or DVD purchased in the museum shop

Day Three

Full-day Malbork Castle Tour (7-8 hours) with lunch in  a castle restaurant

Meet and greet (preferably at 9:00 A.M.) Transfer to Malbork Castle . On the way to the castle you will see the remnants of villages, dams and architecture made by Mennonites. Sightseeing of the castle with your English speaking guide.

Malbork Castle was built by the Teutonic Order which named it Marienburg, literally “Mary’s Castle”. The castle is a classic example of a medieval fortress, and is the world’s largest brick gothic castle. UNESCO listed the castle and its museum as World Heritage Sites in 1997. The castle was expanded several times to host the growing number of Knights, and became the largest fortified Gothic building in Europe, featuring several sections and walls. It consists of three separate sections – the High, Middle and Lower Castles, separated by multiple dry moats and towers. It once housed approx. 3000 “brothers in arms”, and the outermost castle walls enclose 52 acres, four times larger than the enclosed space of Windsor Castle. Both castle exterior and interior are just fascinating. Interior courtyards, gates, dry moats, wells, castle treasury, reconstructed mill and much, much more to see. The dormitory, dining rooms, kitchen, castle treasury, Malbork’s armory – you need at least 2 hours to catch the spirit.

Optional: lunch in one of the castle restaturants. Learn the mysteries of Teutonic Master cuisine and what Polish rulers loved to eat most. Try local specialities and relax. There are two  nice restaurants inside the castle. The owner Bogdan Galazka, speaks English and is the graduate of the Culinary Academy in NYC. The place has an excellent reputation for food.

Return to Gdansk /Gdynia harbour.  Included: private English speaking guide, private transportation, English speaking castle guide, parking fees, highway toll   Excluded: admission: to the castle, siege machine exhibition, observation tower, lunch at Gothic Restaurant

Local currency may also be needed for lunch or a coffee break, local souvenirs, to buy some postcards, pocket guide, castle DVD or tokens minted in the castle or other souvenirs. A sticker allowing to take pictures inside the castle rooms is a cost of PLN 15 .

Note: On Mondays and some holidays the Castle Museum is closed. Only Castle area and selected interiors are open to public and an interesting exhibition of the medieval siege machines. There is also an option, on the return way to Gdansk, to combine the Teutonic Castle with a short visit to the former Concentration Camp at Stutthof or arrange sightseeing of Gdansk.  If you are interested in unforgettable open-air events such as “Light and Sound ” Spectacle arranged mid-April til mid-September or historical show “Malbork Siege 1410” or Culinary Academy at Malbork Castle , ask for full details and a quotation.

Other activities :   We would be happy to provide other activities in addition to Jewish Heritage tours, for example, military theme, WW2, lighthouses, art galleries, folk museum, numismatics, gastronomy tour, genealogy tour, adventure tour, Chopin’s music or would prefer rather Off the Beaten Track Tour, just ask!  River cruises (seasonal) on a 17th century Galleon!   1.5 hour cruises in summer on the route Gdansk – Westerplatte – Gdansk on 2 beautiful galleon-style ships: The Black Pearl and Galleon Lion. Commentary is provided in 4 languages on board of ships about history of Gdansk. Meeting with Gdansk Kahal ( Community) can be arranged upon the request.

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