Leszno [ˈlɛʂnɔ] (German: Lissa, between 1800 and 1918 also called Polnisch Lissa or Lissa in Posen) is a town in Western Poland. Situated in the southern part of the Greater Poland Voivodeship.
Lissa is a well known birthplace of many Jewish leaders. According to Yad Vashem some 519 persons who were born in Lissa were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Most were residing in larger towns and cities at the time of WWII, particularly Berlin.
Lissa was a center of Jewish studies. There is a museum in the town that holds some important Jewish community artifacts and records. A link to this museum is Muzeum Leszno
There is a Yizkor Book for Lissa, as yet untranslated from German. Listed on JewishGen Yizkor Book project database.
JewishGen blog entry on the town Reconstituting a Community: Leszno, Poland
Lissa was known for weaving, cloth making, sewing, clothing manufacturers and tailors to the rich landowners and nobility. Among many others the Berwin family was known for fine tailoring for wealthy patrons.
From Jewish Gen Cemetery project database:
LESZNO: USComm. no. POCE000320
Leszno (known as Lissa in German) is in Leszno. Cemetery location: ul. E. Estkowskiego. The town is located at 16.35 longitude, 51.51 latitude, and is 69 km from Poznan and 96 km from Wroclaw. Present town population is 25,000-100,000; no Jews. Town officials: Prezydent Edward Szzucki, ul. Studzienna 4/4, 64-100 Leszno, tel. 20-45-66. Urzad Miejski w Lesznie, ul. Karasia 15, 64-100 Leszno, tel. 20-36-36, fax. 20-28-20. Regional interests: Ewa Piesiewicz, Panstwowa Sluzba Ochrony Zabytkow w Leszyie, ul. Mickiewicza 5, tel. 20-63-83. The earliest known Jewish community in town was 16th century. Jewish population in 1921 was 299 (1.8%). Noteworthy individuals who lived in this Jewish community: Elia Margolies, Rabbi Abraham Lissa, Rabbi Jacob Lissa, Rabbi Akiba Eiger, Rafal Kosch, Dr. Leo Baeck, Hirsch Kalischer, Ludwik Kalisch. The Jewish cemetery was established in 17th century; last burial 1939. Noteworthy Jews buried in cemetery: Rabbi Izaak ben R. Schalom, Rabbi Izaak ben R. Mose Gerson, and Dawid Tewle. Conservative and Progressive/Reform Jews used this cemetery. Communities that used this cemetery: Wschowa in 1759 (19 km away), Swieciechowa (6 km away), and Zaborowo (2 km away). Cemetery location: urban, on flat land, isolated. No sign or marker. It is reached by turning directly off a public road and is open to all; no wall or gate. The size of the cemetery was 2.7 ha but does not exist now. It is occupied with residential buildings. Stones that were moved are in the district museum in Leszno (4 pieces). about 30 pieces are incorporated into roads. The oldest known gravestone in the cemetery is 18th century. Tombstones are dated 18th-19th century. They are made of sandstone that are flat shaped stones, finely smoothed and inscribed stones, and flat stones with carved relief decoration. Inscriptions on tombstones are in Hebrew and German. No known mass graves. The cemetery property is owned by the municipality. It is now used for residential buildings and storage. Properties adjacent to the cemetery are recreational and residential. The cemetery boundaries are smaller than in 1939 due to housing development. The cemetery is rarely visited by private visitors. The cemetery was vandalized during WWII. There has been no maintenance or care. There is a pre-burial house, a gravedigger's house, and residential buildings within the limits of the cemetery. Security, erosion, and incompatible nearby and planned development are moderate threats. The site was visited and the survey was completed 29 Oct 1991 by Dariusz Czwojdrak, ul. Lipowa 22a/4, 67-400 Wschowa. No interviews.
Vital data on births, deaths and marriages is forthcoming as the Jewish Records Indexing project centered on the town of Leszno proceeds. Some data is already available here: www.jri-poland.org
A great deal of information on the Jewish history of Lissa can be found on the Virtual Shtetl site at:
Data is also available on microfilms made by the LDS record program. These are available from the local Mormon church library system.
LISSA (called formerly Polnisch Lissa):
Town of Prussia. Originally a village, it was incorporated in 1534; and soon afterward the first Jews settled there, with the authorization of Count Andreas Lescynski (1580-1606). Many of these Jewish settlers were probably of German origin, as the names "Auerbach" and "Oldenburg" frequently occur. The first privilege granted to them is dated March 10, 1626. In that year there already existed a synagogue at Lissa, also a cemetery, the plot for which had been presented by Count Lescynski. The earliest extant tombstone is dated 1662. At that date the community was fully organized and the schedule of taxation determined. Communal expenses were defrayed by taxes on slaughtering, dowries, the sale of houses, the ritual bath, and legacies. The Jews of Lissa not only engaged in commerce, but also followed trades: there were tailors, furriers, shoemakers, goldsmiths, lacemakers, locksmiths, tanners, barbers, embroiderers in gold, jewelers, buttonmakers, dyers, and turners. Most of these trades were organized into gilds, each of which generally had its own rabbi. The strong competition between the Jewish artisans and merchants and the Christians often led to sanguinary conflicts.
The Jews of Lissa suffered much during the wars in which Poland engaged, and more especially from the Cossack persecutions under Bogdan Chmielnicki. On the partition of Poland Lissa was annexed to Prussia.
In its most prosperous days Lissa contained between 4,000 and 5,000 Jews. It became the seat of a famous yeshibah which attracted students even from distant parts of Germany ("Memoiren der Glückel von Hameln," ed. Kaufmann, pp. 231-234). The first rabbi of Lissa was Isaac Eilenburg (1648), whose successors were: Jacob Isaac ben Shalom (d. 1675); Isaac ben Moses Gershon (d. 1695); Ephraim Kalisch; Mordecai ben Ẓebi Hirsch (d. 1753); Hirsch's brother, Abraham b. Ẓebi Hirsch (died as rabbi of Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1768); Phoebus Heilman (rabbi of Bonn; died at Metz); Aryeh ben Samuel; Tebele Horachow (d. 1792); and Jacob Lissa (died at Stry in 1832). After Jacob Lissa's death the rabbinate remained vacant until 1864, when the present incumbent, Dr. S. Bäck, was elected. Among the many Talmudic scholars of Lissa was Akiba Eger, the younger (subsequently rabbi at Posen), who lived there from 1770 to 1791. The present (1904) population of Lissa is about 14,000, including about 1,200 Jews. Source: Jewish Encyclopedia 1906 in the public domain.
From the YIVO Encyclopedia online; Węgrzynek, Hanna. 2010. Leszno. YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Leszno (accessed February 19, 2015).
Town in the Wielkopolska province of Poland. Established by the Leszczyński family, Leszno (known as Lissa in Yiddish and German) granted its population civic rights in 1547. Jews were living in Leszno as early as the beginning of the sixteenth century; records indicate that they paid a coronation tax in 1507. Many Protestants, including Czech Brethren, settled there as well.
Jews were granted a community privilege in 1580, and it was probably then that a cemetery and a synagogue were established. In April 1656, during the Polish–Swedish war, many Protestants and Jews left for Silesia, fleeing Stefan Czarniecki’s Polish army. In 1709, Jews importing furs from Russia were accused of carrying the plague; consequently, Jews were temporarily expelled from the town.
Jews played an important role in developing Leszno into one of Poland’s most important centers for commerce and textile manufacturing. As many as nine Jewish craft guilds existed, including goldsmiths, tailors, furriers, butchers, tanners, and embroiderers. Since Jews were not permitted to trade in clothing, they dealt instead in wool, which they sold in Lithuania, Ukraine, and Russia. Jews maintained close contacts with German towns, especially Breslau, where there had been a synagogue from 1684. They also participated in Leipzig’s fairs: in 1686, as many as 23 Jewish merchants from Leszno traded there.
In the eighteenth century, Leszno became a leading Jewish community in Great Poland. Its yeshivas attracted students from German territories and all over Poland, including the young Akiva Eger. Among its rabbis were David Tevele and Ya‘akov Lorbeerbaum. In 1765, approximately 5,000 Jews lived in Leszno (about 15% of the town’s population); it was one of the largest Jewish communities in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the Jewish quarter was destroyed by fire several times. This did not, however, result in a population decline. An imposing synagogue was built during this period.
After the second partition of Poland (1793), Leszno was annexed by Prussia. Jews were attracted to German culture, and many gradually left for cities such as Berlin and Breslau. In 1837, the Jewish population of 3,470 accounted for 40 percent of the town’s residents; by 1881, it had fallen to 1,833, or 15.5 percent. Leszno and its Jewish community lost its economic position, due (among other factors) to the imposition of new customs duties that limited trade with Russia. However, religious and cultural institutions continued to develop.
After Leszno was reincorporated into Poland in 1918, only 322 Jews remained in 1920; this number fell to 172 in 1939. With the outbreak of World War II, the town was annexed to the Reich territory of Warthegau. At the beginning of 1940, some Jews were moved to the Generalgouvernement, to Grodzisk Mazowiecki, and then to the Warsaw ghetto in February 1942. From April 1941 until August 1943 a labor camp was run in Leszno for some 500 Poles and Jews, who were forced to build railway tracks. After the camp’s liquidation some prisoners were sent to Silesia.
Leszno’s late eighteenth-century synagogue has been preserved, with fragments of its early twentieth-century polychromy. Presently the building is used as a museum and exhibition hall. The Jewish department of the museum is located in the former building of the burial society. Suggested Reading
Sophia Kemlein, Die Posener Juden, 1815–1848: Entwicklungsprozesse einer polnischen Judenheit unter preussischer Herrschaft (Hamburg, 1997); Louis Lewin, Geschichte der Juden in Lissa (Pinne, Ger., 1904); Magdalena Rakowska and Agnieszka Wojciak, Żydzi w Leszczyńskiem (Leszno, Pol., 1995); Fritz Scherbel, Die Juden in Lissa (Berlin, 1932); Abraham Wein, ed., “Leshno / Leszno,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Polin, vol. 6, Meḥozot Poznan ve-Pomeranyah / Gedansk (Dantsig), pp. 83–87 (Jerusalem, 1999). Author
Hanna Węgrzynek Translation
Translated from Polish by Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov