Sochaczew is a district city in the
Mazowiecki voivodship, on the western edge of the Łowicz-Błonie Plain.
It lies 50 km from Warsaw, on the banks of the Bzura river and its
tributaries Utrata and Pisia.
Sights of interest
- neo-classical market stalls (19th century)
- ruins of the castle belonging to the dukes of Mazovia (14th century)
- neo-classical manor house (18th-19th century)
- late Baroque church in Trojanów (18th century)
- ruins of the mullah’s tomb (first half of the 19th century)
- Jewish cemetery (ca. 15th century)
- cemetery of the St. Lawrence (Wawrzyniec) parish, with Orthodox
chapel (dates back to before 1914, with several dozen gravestones from
the 19th and early 20th centuries and sectors for soldiers who fell in
the September 1939 campaign, including the grave of the officer in
charge of Sochaczew’s defense – Major Feliks Kozubowski)
- cemetery for Polish soldiers who fell in the battle on the Bzura in 1939 (in Trojanów)
Museum of the Sochaczew Region and the Battlefield of the Battle on
the Bzura is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from
10am to 4pm, on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 3pm. Closed Mondays.
Plac Kościuszki 2, 96-500 Sochaczew
Tel: (0-46) 862-33-09.
Museum of the Narrow-gauge Railway
ul. Towarowa 7
Tel: (0-46) 864-93-41; Fax: (0-46) 862-59-75
Sochaczew is one of the oldest towns in Mazovia. The first mention
of it is found in a document issued in 1368. Sochaczew had already been
granted its town charter much earlier, however – in the early fourteenth
century, or perhaps even as early as the late thirteenth century. In
feudal times, Sochaczew played an important role as the capital of one
duke’s separate holdings, which influenced its defensive character and
significance. Bolesław Krzywousty was in Sochaczew, where he died in
1138. Sochaczew defended itself against the raid by Lithuanian and Rus’
in 1286, and in 1294 duke Kazimierz II died in a battle with the
Lithuanians. In 1377, Siemowit III issued the first Mazovia-wide statue,
called the ”Sochaczew statute”, and in 1410, Polish armies marched
through the town on their way to Grunwald.
The town’s most active period of development came during the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when the burghers’ privileges were
expanded to include the freedom to trade at the Lublin markets, in Rus’
and in Gdańsk. In the mid-sixteenth century, Sochaczew was considered to
be a medium-sized town. Many of its residents became educated, and
Kasper Goski, a doctor of medicine and astrologer of European fame,
lectured at the Kraków Academy and was for many years mayor of Poznań.
In the seventeenth century, the town was heavily damaged as the result
of the Swedish invasion and Rakoczy’s armies, and then the Northern War.
It did not regain its former glory, but became a center for small trade
and the site of noble regional councils.
During the First World War, Sochaczew witnessed fighting along the
German-Russian front on the Bzura and Rawka rivers. Damage was heavy,
and as late as 1927 as much as approx. 60% of the buildings had still
not yet been rebuilt, although the interwar period was marked by lively
industrial and economic growth in and around Sochaczew.
During the September campaign in 1939, the 2nd battalion of the 18th
infantry regiment, under the leadership of Major Feliks Kozubowski,
gained fame for its defense of Sochaczew. After the defeat of the Polish
army, the city became part of the Generalgouvernement, subject to all
the restrictions introduced by the Germans. Residents of Sochaczew took
part in the resistance, heroically defending their city, for which in
1985 they were awarded a Grunwald Cross 3rd Class. The Red Army entered
the town on 17 January 1945, defeating the last German detachments.
Jews lived in the area of Mazovia already in the eleventh century,
and are mentioned in the Polish Chronicle by Gallus Anonymus. There, he
writes about Judith, wife of Władysław Herman, buying Christians out of
slavery from the Jews. No documents or other evidence has survived,
however, that would enable us to determine when Jews first settled in
The oldest record of their presence is a document dating back to
1426-1455 containing a privilege defending the financial interests of
the Jews of the Sochaczew area, which had been granted by Władysław I.
Evidence for the existence of the Jewish Community as an institution in
Sochaczew, on the other hand, dates back to 1507. This document is a
list of the Jewish Communities that were taxed in conjunction with the
coronation of King Sigismund I the Old. A Jew named Jakub from Sochaczew
is mentioned with respect to the creation of the “Jewish districts”, of
which there were four in pre-partition Poland. The districts were
responsible for collecting taxes for the royal treasury and decided how
much the individual Communities should pay.
The sixteenth century brought quite unexpected events to the
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was known for its tolerance and
provided asylum for dissenters. Rumors spread regarding profanation of
the Host by Jews from Sochaczew, along with a Catholic servant. All the
accused were caught, probably at the initiative of the papal nuncio,
Luigi Lippomano, and, after confessions were obtained under torture,
they were burned at the stake in 1556. Jews comprised about 2% of
Sochaczew’s population at that time. They were primarily were involved
in the leather, wool and tallow trades. They also undoubtedly engaged in
money-lending and collection of the royal excise tax.
In the late sixteenth century, the city
fell into decline, most probably because of a fire that had destroyed
most of the buildings in 1590. The number of Jews living in Sochaczew,
however, nevertheless grew more than three-fold, and now made up over
10% of the town’s population. This was for the most part the result of
an influx of Jews from Western Europe. Now there was not only a Jewish
religious Community and synagogue, but also a hospital. Economic
disputes with the locals centered on taxes. Finally, an accusation of
ritual murder was made and suspects punished. The residents obtained
from the king a regulation banning Jews from settling in Sochaczew – it
was however never brought into force. The next fire swept through the
town in 1618.
In 1633, the Jews received a privilege from the Polish king
Władysław IV permitting them to own buildings, pieces of land and
gardens; to use the already existing synagogue and cemetery; to produce
and sell alcoholic beverages; to slaughter cattle; and to sell meat at
Warsaw’s Old Town. This privilege was de facto a legalization of the
During the seventeenth century, Sochaczew was not spared damage from
the Swedish invasion and numerous wars and epidemics that affected the
entire country. The town became depopulated, fell into decline; there
was also a return to agrarian patterns. The number of Jewish residents,
however, continued to grow steadily thanks to immigrants from all over
Europe, and by the early eighteenth century Jews comprised over half of
the town’s population. They founded a large yeshiva, which was headed by
rebbe Arie Leib Charif, who had come from Opatów. A masonry synagogue
was also built – interestingly, it was constructed from bricks
originally from the ruins of a Gothic parish church that had burned down
in 1793. This was an exceptional case, since usually material from the
demolition of Christian structures was later used solely for the
construction of other church buildings. It should also be noted that
relations with Poles were much better during this period.
The year 1883 was an important date in Sochaczew’s Jewish history:
it was then that the Chasidic leader Abraham Bornsztajn (1839-1910)
settled in the town. He was author of two treatises on the Talmud and
numerous commentaries on the Torah and Talmud. He found many supporters
in Sochaczew, where he founded a synagogue and Chasidic yeshiva, and
served several years as rabbi. The tsarist authorities governing the
Russian partition since 1772 banned him from this function. As a result,
he was instead active as a tsaddik and served as director of the
The First World War, while restoring Poland’s independence, also
brought many losses and much destruction. The town’s population fell to
about 5,000. The interwar period was time of social and economic revival
at all levels. In 1924, the Jews held half of the seats on the town
council, and Mosze Szwarc was deputy mayor. The town had a Jewish
library, amateur theater under the direction of Nachum Grundwag, a wind
orchestra and the Jewish Gymnastics and Sports Association. In 1936, the
Yiddish-language biweekly Sochatshever Tsaytung began to be published.
The following Jewish schools operated in the town: the general Hebrew
school “Hatchiya” (“Rebirth”), the general Hebrew school “Yavne”, and a
religious school for girls, “Beit Yaakov” (“House of Jakub”).
After the Second World War, Sochaczew quickly found itself in the
very center of military operations. From 9-17 September 1939, the town
was under fire during the battle on the Bzura. The residents abandoned
the bombed and burned buildings, fleeing to Poland’s eastern territories
in hope that they would manage to escape behind the front lines. On 17
September 1939, however, the Soviet Union attacked Poland from the east
and these hopes were dashed.
The fate of Sochaczew’s Jews was similar to that of all Jews living
in the Generalgouvernement. The German occupying authorities introduced a
Jewish Council of Elders – the Judenrat, as well as forced labor and
bans on the movement of Jews within the district, such as a ban on using
the narrow-gauge railway. Nevertheless, Jews who managed to escape from
the Polish lands that had been annexed to the Reich kept arriving. In
January 1941, a ghetto was created in Sochaczew. On 15 and 16 February,
however, those Jews were already sent to the Warsaw ghetto.
The only surviving trace of the Jewish presence in Sochaczew is the
cemetery, which is in the southern part of town, beyond ul. Traugutta.
This cemetery was probably established as early as the fifteenth
century. Up until the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw’s Praga district was
founded, the Sochaczew cemetery was also the resting place for Jews who
were residing illegally in Warsaw. The grave of Abraham Bornsztajn is
located there, and has an ohel erected above it, in the Chasidic
tradition. A similar ohel was constructed above the grave of Eliezer
ha-Kohen Lipsker, who was first a rabbi in Pułtusk, and later in
Sochaczew and Płock and then once again in Sochaczew. During the German
occupation, the kirkut was the site of individual and mass executions of
Jews. The Germans profaned the cemetery, using the gravestones as
building material for military objects outside town. After the war, the
Sochaczew kirkut was officially categorized as “non-existent”. After
much arduous work carried out in the name of the Social Committee for
Care of Jewish Cemeteries and Historical Buildings, many gravestones
were nevertheless located, the oldest of which dates back to the Jewish
year 5570 (i.e., 1810).