This project is dedicated to commemorating the once vibrant and influential Jewish community of Kozienice "Koznitz" in Poland. The goal of this project is to identify and catalogue all of the Jewish families that lived in Kozienice prior to the destruction of the Jewish community during World War II.
Kozienice [kɔʑɛˈɲit͡sɛ] (Yiddish: קאזשניץ Kozhnits) is a town in central Poland with 21,500 inhabitants (1995). Located four miles from the Vistula, it is the capital of Kozienice County (Polish Powiat kozienicki). The name of the town first appeared in records in 1429, when it was spelled in Latin Coszinicze (Kozinice). In 1569 it was called Kozienycze – the name comes from the given name Kozina.
Kozienice had a Jewish community with a long history. Kozienice is pronounced as "Kozhnitz" in Yiddish. In the early 19th century, the Kozhnitzer Magid Yisroel Hopsztajn was one of the pioneers of Hasidism in Poland. He established the Kozhnitz dynasty. In 1856, there were 2,885 people in Kozienice with 1,961 Jews, and in 1897, there were 6,882 people and 3,700 were Jews. Before World War II, about 15,000 souls lived in this region. The Jewish community lived there for about 400 years. The two main industries there were tourism, with Jewish pilgrims visiting the Maggid's tomb, and shoe manufacturing.
Kozienice had approximately 5,000 Jews before World War II. In September 1939, the Germans forced 2,000 Jews into a small local church, where many of them died of suffocation.
Kozienice had 15 streets. The Germans established a ghetto in the Fall of 1940 in an area of only three streets. A Jewish council was established by the Germans, but most prominent Jews refused to serve. On September 27, 1942, 8,000 Jews from Kozienice and nearby towns were sent to the Treblinka death camp, where they were murdered on arrival.
Only 70 - 120 Jews were then left in the Kozienice ghetto, but they were deported in late December 1942 to the Pionki slave labor camp and to Skarzysko Kamienno camp. Some Jews, however, were able to hide near Kozienice.
Kozienice was home to the Kozienice Chasidim, Chasidic group founded by Israel ben Shabtay Hepstein (Hapsztejn, Hofstein, 1733-1814), known as Magidem [Hebrew, "preacher"] of Kozienice, a sorcerer and tzaddik, one of the main Chasidic leaders. He had been a pupil of Dov-Ber of Miedzyrzecze, Elimelech of Lezajsk and Levi Yitzhak of Berdyczow. At a young age, he became a melamed in the Przysucha cheder. According to legend, on his deathbed, Elimelech of Lezajsk touched his heart, imparting him with great goodness and sensitivity. Around the year 1765, he settled in Kozienice. He led an ascetic life, and was also known for his charity work. He was a valued Talmudist and Kabbalist, as well as the author of Avodat Israel, published posthumously (Hebrew, Work of Israel, 1848).