The oldest information about the Jewish settlement in
Bełchatów quotes seven persons living there in 1764.
This could be one family. But who were these people?
Unfortunately, the above-mentioned source gives no names,
only the number. Historians did not however check the
old record books from Bełchatów. The registers for non-Christian
citizens, which were established in 1809 (separate ones
for Jews were initiated in 1826), show surprisingly many
Jewish names, which can only indicate that several Jewish
families already lived in town. Among the civil records,
for example, there is a death record for Jakob Salmowicz
from 1811, the 70 year-old father of the local rabbi,
Lewek. Most probably Jakob had lived there for several
years before he died in Bełchatów!
The oldest surnames mentioned in the earliest records
are Konzens, Cwilik, Markowicz, Ambramowicz, Kusy, Rzeslawski,
Birnbaum, Sztatlender, Szarpanski—all appeared
in documents from 1809 to 1811. The professions of the
first (known) Jews are tanner, inn-keeper, or trader,
and all of them traditional and typical for shtetls in
The name Bełchatowski appears in civil records of Bełchatów
in 1824 for the first time (a newborn Dawid). Later more
Belchatowskis appeared in nearby Piotrkow which would
explain why the newcomers from Bełchatów received this
name Belchatowski (it means “from Bełchatów”).
As there is only one Bełchatów in Poland, this surname
It is important to underline that all this does not refer
to Grocholice, a small village just two miles away and
a separate kahal, which had a different administration
(now it is a part of Bełchatów).
Although Bełchatów was mentioned 1391 for the first time
in historical documents, it remained a small settlement
for 400 years. The bad quality of soil, little natural
water, no roads connecting it to more important cities
nearby, created a very poor economy and made life very
difficult. With the exceptions of a few peasant families
who had lived there in very primitive conditions, there
was nothing which could attract newcomers or improve
living standards. Members of the Kaczkowski noble family,
owners of Bełchatów (their renovated manor is now a local
museum), looked for various possibilities for an improvement.
The real impetus came in the 1820s as a weaving industry
started to boom in this area. Jews were very welcome
to settle in Bełchatów, and their number grew rapidly,
as well as the percentage of the total population (in
1860 already 76% of 1500 inhabitants were Jewish). They
came generally from other Polish towns situated to the
west (such as Zdunska Wola). Most probably the close
distance to the new flourishing center of the cotton
industry (production and trade) in Lodz motivated them.
Leon Kaczkowski supported the newcomers, offering lots
to build houses on around the Stary Rynek (Old Market),
space for a synagogue, a cemetery, and a primary school.
In 1842, among the nine owners of weaving manufactures,
there were three Jews, one Pole and five Germans. By
1867, Jews owned 13 of 16 textile factories in Bełchatów.
Jews were not only wealthy owners of the industry, but
first of all, workers, who were very badly paid. They
worked either in factories or at home, if they managed
to possess a weaving mill. At the end of the 19th century,
Bełchatów had 32 textile factories (some of them were
In 1921 Bełchatów had more than 6,000 inhabitants (59%
were Jewish), and got back its municipal rights in 1925
(after being lost in 1869 as a revenge of Tsarist rulers
after the uprising 1863). Thirteen of 25 city councils
were Jews. All possible Jewish streams, both social and
political were represented in Bełchatów, from the Orthodox
Chassids to agnostic Jews who became members of the Socialist
(and even secretly because it was officially forbidden)
or Communist party.
In September 1939 Bełchatów was invaded by the German
army and included into the so-called Warthegau, a province
of the Third Reich. Soon many transports of stateless
Jews expelled from Germany were brought to Bełchatów,
which was declared “a Jewish city” in 1941
(Jüdische Stadt). 5,500 Jews from Bełchatów and
surrounding cities were squeezed into the unenclosed
ghetto. The liquidation of the ghetto began in August
1942, when a smaller part of the inhabitants were transported
to the Litzmannstadt Ghetto and the larger part to the
concentration camp Kulmhof (Chelmno nad Nerem) where
they were murdered in vans.
Only 1% of the Bełchatower Jews survived the war (in
hiding or in concentration camps). They all decided not
to stay and emigrated to various countries around the
world or to the newly established State of Israel.
Today Bełchatów has more than 60,000 inhabitants. After
reserves of brown coal were discovered in 1960, a huge
mine and a power plant were built.
Today no Jews live in Bełchatów.