We do not have exact details about the beginning of the Jewish settlement in Osięciny. We assume that its beginning was in the second half of the 18th century. Then, a few Jewish families lived there. Organized Jewish settlement occurred in the beginning of the 19th century. In the 20s of that century, Jewish lodging was confined to two streets only and there the Jews were allowed to purchase property. One of the streets even had the name Ulica Zydowska (the street of the Jews). In that street a Beth Midrash made of wood was erected (later its walls were changed to stone). Due to the closeness to the Prussia border, starting from 1822 new Jewish settlement was forbidden in Osięciny.
The first Jewish settlers dealt in small commerce and peddling. Few of them lived on artisanship and had traditional occupations, such as tailors, hat makers etc. After the abolishment of the lodging restrictions in 1862, the Jewish population in Osięciny grew in number and the Jews were allowed to settle in any parts of the town. Around that year, the municipality gave the Jewish community an area near the cemetery, where a synagogue made of bricks was erected. Traditional societies were active in the community life, such was "Chevra Kadisha" (burial society) and "Hachnasat Orchim" (hospice for the poor), founded in 1906.
Also in the period between the two World Wars the Jews of Osięciny made a living mainly from small trade and artisanship. In addition to the Community Committee, there were other welfare institutions for mutual aid which helped the poor and needy. In 1933 the society "Bikur Holim" ("Visit the sick") was founded and it helped the poor sick people and purchased medicines for them. The end of the 20s saw the establishment of "Kupat Gmilut Hassadim" (Charity Fund) and it too helped the needy with credit on easy terms. It had about 70 members. In the year of 1936, the capital fund of this society was 6,000 zloty and at that year it gave 200 loans to the community members.
During the inter-war period, branches of almost all the Jewish parties in Poland were active in Osięciny. Amongst the Zionists the strongest faction was that of the General Zionists and "Hamizrachi". In 1923 branch of Beitar was established. Also branch of "Agudath Israel" who was based mostly on the Gerer Hasidim, Aleksandrów, Stryków and Sochaczew Hasidim.
Among the rabbis who served the community we mention R' Benjamin Eliahu Kantor who held the service from 1885 and then moved to Sokołów Podlaski. For some years held the position the Head of Court R' Szlomo Zalman Najman (died in 1921). More information was recorded on his son, R' Abraham Noach Najman, the last Rabbi of Osięciny. R' Najman was born in 1877 and perished at Chełmno in 1942. In the years of his service there was a small Yeshiva by the Beth Midrash where pupils of the shtetl studied. One of the pupils was R' Perlmuter, who served for few years as the local Rabbi in Osięciny and then moved to Warsaw.
The leaders of "Agudath Israel" controlled the administration of the community. The head of the local branch was R' Abraham Noach Najman, the community's rabbi. The last chairman of the community's committee was Wolf Ber Wojdeslawski from "Agudath Israel". Between the two World Wars the Jewish pupils in Osięciny continued to study in the local heders and the local "Talmud Torah". In addition, the children studied in Polish state schools. In the 1930s, a library of Beitar was established.
The Anti-Semite propaganda in the 1930s influenced the polish population in Osięciny. There were many attacks on Jews passing by and the Jews suffered from the boycott of Jewish trade and workshops.
Units of the German army marched into Osięciny in October 1939. Soon after the occupation the Germans started in confiscating merchandise from the Jews. They imprisoned 20 citizens of the town (10 Jews and 10 Poles) and held them as hostages until all their demand of confiscating property and merchandise were met.
When the region was annexed to the Reich in October 1939, persecutions of the town Jews worsened. In the autumn of 1939 a Judenrat was erected by the Germans' command. The main aim of the Judenrat was to supply the Germans with quota of Jews, age 15-60 for forced labor in the field, the forest and in building shacks. The Jews were ordered to wear an yellow Magen-David patch. Particularly they abused Jews wearing beard. A few Jews were murdered. In November 1939 the Germans forced the rabbi of the community, R' Abraham Noach Najman to take out Holy Scrolls of the Torah out the synagogue and burn them. He was murderously bitten up while refusing this command. In the year of 1940, a ghetto was established and the Jews were forced to move into it. At the same time, some tens of young Jews were transported from Osięciny to forced labor camps in the region (Bielsk, Moglina and other places within the Reich).
In January 1942 the Jews were assembled in a big hall. They were forced to bring all the valuables they owned. At the same time, other Germans looted their houses. Some of the Jews learned about the German intentions to liquidate the ghetto and they escaped town. Unfortunately most of them were caught by the Germans and shot to death.
On April 15th 1942, the final liquidation of the ghetto of Osięciny occurred. The remainder of the Jewish population was assembled in the local church and from there was deported in trucks to the extermination camp in Chełmno. From the Jewish population of Osięciny only 15 survived the war: 12 survived the concentration camps and 3 escaped in the beginning of the war to the Soviet Union. After the war, at least 4 Jews who returned to the town were murdered, among them two butchers: Moshe [Moszek] Berkowicz and Manes Gutowski.
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We do not know much about history of the Jewish cemetery in Osięciny. The necropolis is situated outside the town in a village of Karolin, close to forest and approximately 500 meters away from the road connecting Osięciny with Włocławek. The cemetery was destroyed by the Nazis and gravestones were used to built pavements.
In the book „History of Osięcin and its surroundings” by Jan Cybertowicz and Jarosław Kotuniak devastation of the necropolis is described in the following words: “The cemetery was located in the nearby forest on top of a small hill. It was completely taken apart by Nazi. The cemetery was established on sandy ground. During occupation the Nazis were fixing and building roads. On streets they were laying cobbles while on pavements flag-stones; they were building a square in Osięciny. To build roads and pavements they needed lots of sand. Also place for square was located very low thus always muddy so they moved there practically entire hill on which the cemetery stood (…). Day by day many Jews worked in difficult conditions on transporting sand (…). After sand had been spread on place for square, the Nazis forced Jews to dance on it in order to level it. That process was supervised by gendarme Johan Werner”.
Just after the war at the area of the necropolis there were some matzevas and enclosing wall. Today there is no trace of them. Some gravestones can be found in different places of the town. Some are in covered pond in Karolin. In the place of former house of cemetery keeper his grandson erected a house.
In 1983 in Israel a book “The Tear” describing everyday life of shtetl in Osięcin was published. It was written by Rafael Olewski born in 1914 in Osięciny in family of the local and last rabbi. Rafał Olewski was a lancer in Polish army and thanks to miracle he survived Holocaust and hell of concentration camps. He died in 1981. By courtesy of his son Arie Olewski we can publish here excerpt from book concerning the Jewish cemetery in Osięciny: “Area for Jewish cemetery was sacrificed more then 100 years ago by a local rabbi. This place is situated around 2 km from the city. Close to the entrance gate caretaker Kulpa lived. One of his duties was digging graves. Gravestones were ordered in Włocławek. Every year on Yom Kippur Kulpa and his wife came to the synagogue and house of prayer to take care about candles. The cemetery was also called House of Living or Good Place. Many information on burial customs can be obtained from stories of Szmul Abrams Abramowicz from Osięciny. He said that the cemetery was set up in 1800. According to the regulations of the town hall and village administrator deceased could have been buried three days after death but Jews ignored it. We can recall one such a story. On one hot Thursday daughter of Jakow Biederk died and funeral started on Friday shortly before Shabbat. Deceased was carried in an open carriage close to the town hall. On that day chief of Nieszawa district was visiting Osięciny. It happened that together with his secretary he saw procession, stopped it and asked about date of death. When treasurer of Chevra Kadisha Burial Society answered that girl died the day before, chief started yelling that nobody is allowed to break the regulations in his district and the funeral is forbidden. The procession went back and the funeral was postponed two days. The ceremony was performed again on Sunday before Christians left church.
The other problem was destroyed wooden enclosure of cemetery. On the area of necropolis people grazed cows and goats that dug out graves and knocked down gravestones. Temporary plates with names of deceased placed on graves were spread around what caused confusion. It was obvious that new enclosure is needed. But the Jewish community was very poor. A committee was established to build new enclosure. Jakow Topolski, Aharon Nutkiewicz, Mosze Berkowicz and Joel Bornstein wandered from one house to the other and after two weeks they gathered enough amount of money. They bought lime and Polish workers prepared bricks. Unfortunately there was not enough money to transport bricks to the cemetery. Committee asked all Jews who had horses and carts to spent half day and transport bricks. One day was enough to do that. Few days later the Jewish cemetery in Osięciny had a new fence.”
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by K. Bielawski