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The Rappaport family on vacation in Rabka, Poland, 1926

The Rappaport family on vacation in Rabka,
Poland, 1926
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Devora Hanfeld, Israel)
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Since 1999: Rabka-Zdrój

In Yiddish: ראבקע / Rabke

A town in the district of Nowy Targ, in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship in Poland. Rabka was known as a spa town.

In 1254, the Polish Prince Bolesław Wstydliwy the Shy, awarded the land of Rabka to a monastery of the Cistercians monks. In 1364, the village transitioned to ownership of the crown. The Polish King Casimir III the Great awarded to Rabka city rights according to the Magdeburg Laws. In 1446, the city passed into the ownership by the local nobility. In 1570, they began to produce salt from the local springs.

After the first partition of Poland between the neighboring powers in 1772, Rabka was annexed by the Austrian Empire. In 1813, with the goal of preserving for themselves the salt production monopoly, the Austrians prohibited salt production in the area of Rabka, and even ordered the closure of the springs producing the salt. In 1847, a cholera plague broke out in the town, which claimed 266 victims, 30% of the local inhabitants. In 1858, it was discovered that the local salt spring water contained a high percentage of iodine and bromine, and based on that, the son of the nobleman Julian Zubrzycki built a clinic which attracted many vacationers. The construction in 1884 of a train station on the rail line that crossed Western Galicia contributed to the development of the place. At the end of World War I in 1918, Rabka was included within the borders of the independent Poland.

The Jews in Rabka

Until the annexation of Rabka by the Austrian Empire, Jews were prohibited from settling there. The prohibition was removed, and the presence of six Jews was documented in 1827. Anna Magdalena Goldberger, the daughter of Joachim Goldberger, one of the Jews, converted to Christianity. After her, Leah Firer, who was born in Chocholow in 1835, also converted to Christianity. Chaya, the daughter of Moshe Bloch, also converted to Christianity, and in 1861 Pesya, the daughter of Leybl Rigelhaupt, together with her first-born brother, the merchant Herman Rigelhaupt, and his wife Anna, the daughter of Moshe Bloch, and their seven children, converted to Christianity. In the 1840s, a tavern called Aulshitze was operating in Rabka, under the ownership of the merchant Moshe Bloch (who converted to Christianity). He was also owner of a workshop for dying and drying industrial cloth. The tavern closed in 1848.

In 1835, there were 34 Jews recorded in Rabka (0,5%), in 1845 there were 67 Jews (0,8%), and in 1855, 86 Jews lived there (1,6%). The Jewish community consolidated in Rabka in the second half of the 19th century, and in 1895 there were already 261 people (3,1%). The medical clinic of Rabka earned growing popularity among Jews of Poland. As a result, the demand for kosher catering services increased, which created new opportunities for earning a living in the community. Most Jews in Rabka did not observe traditionally Jewish ways of life. They didn't wear head coverings and did not dress differently from the Christian residents.

In Rabka, a number of guest houses were built for Jewish vacationers. Despite the fact that the guest houses were under Jewish ownership and that Rabka had hired a Jewish shochet named Tibinger, they had difficulty supplying kosher food. At the end of the 19th century, a synagogue was built, and a cemetery opened. In 1890, the Jewish fund named after Wilhelm and Maria Fränkel organized a summer camp for Jewish children from Krakow and the region called Łęgi. In 1907, a building was constructed for a project to provide convalescence for children. In 1923, there were 110 children staying in the building, and in 1927 there were 400 children being treated there.

After the conclusion of World War I, the number of Jews in the town decreased. In the population census of 1921, there were 172 Jews counted in Rabka. According to the population census of 1931, in the county of Nowy Targ, 2,571 Jews resided, 450 of them living in Rabka.

The local Jews were employed in small business, manual labor, managing liquor shops and  taverns, textile shops, bakers, and peddlers. The Jews were not involved in agriculture, although they leased land and owned agricultural farms. The richest Jew in Rabka during those years was Freundlich, the owner of a beer brewery that later turned into a milk plant.

The community of Rabka was an autonomous community within the Jordanow community. Beginning in the year 1887, Rabbi Israel Ber Naftali Hertz Schreiber was appointed as the rabbi of the entire community. In the 1930's, Rabka had its own rabbi, Rabbi Israel Rokach (who died in the Holocaust). The Community Council in Rabka financed the synagogue, and in 1934 the new mikveh and the funds for the poor, supporting a gemilut hasadim fund and other welfare for the poor, and contributed to meeting educational needs, including evening lessons for learning Hebrew.

In the period between the two World Wars, there were local political, cultural and public activities among the Jews, and also among the convalescents and vacationers. There were charity organizations active locally, such as the Bikur Cholim association. The American Joint organization financed the local Jewish doctor, who took care of children and poor convalescents without charging for the services. A union of Jewish merchants and an association of craftsmen established a charity fund in 1935 to provide loans for those in need.

There was an active Jewish school. The library of the Zionist Organization served the vacationers as well. There were branches of the Zionist organizations in the area - General Zionists, Bnei Akiva, Maccabi, and Betar.

The Holocaust

On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The German Army, along with the Slovakian Army, captured Rabka on September 3, 1939. The Jews were commanded to immediately present themselves for forced labor. Restrictions were placed on their movement. They had to pay high ransoms, and were required to wear an armband with a Magen David.

Also, houses and factories under Jewish ownership were marked with a Magen David. The Germans and Christian thugs would often burst into Jewish apartments and plunder their possessions. A short while later, the Germans grabbed 13 Jews and took them to an unknown location.

On September 17, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland and captured areas in the east. A portion of the 450 Jews that were in Rabka until the time of the German occupation moved to the Soviet controlled area in the east. At the end of 1939, a Judenrat was set up in Rabka headed by Freundlich, the owner of the beer brewery.

Among the 12 members were Sigmund Buksbaum, the Braunfeld brothers, Israel Zelinger and Zolman. A list of Jewish residents was prepared, according to gender, age, and profession. It fell upon the Judenrat to supply men for forced labor such as removing ruins, clearing snow from roads, and working in the sawmill. Forced labor applied to all Jews aged 14 to 60. The use of the Hebrew language was prohibited, and Jewish students were removed from the Polish schools.

Jews came to Rabka from other locations with the hope that the control and supervision over the Jews would be more tolerable. The number of Jews there grew until the end of March, 1941 to 1,500, of which 880 came from Krakow and the surroundings.

In 1940, a school for officers of the German security forces in the General Governate, Schule der Sicherheitspolizei und SD in GG, was moved from Zakopane to Rabka. The school was housed in a building called Villa Tereska, which was located on a hill on Sloneczna Street. The commander of the school was SS-Untersturmführer Wilhelm Rosenbaum, known as the “hangman from Rabka”. The German and Ukrainian cadets used the Jews as tools for learning terror, cruelty, oppression and murder. In 1941, in the forest next to Villa Tereska, bunkers were built, as well as a shooting range for training. The path to the range was paved with matzevot from the nearby cemetery as well as from the Jewish cemetery in Jordanow. The beautiful steps leading up to Villa Tereska were built from matzevot from the cemeteries in Jordanow and Mszana Dolna.

In 1941, the Germans concentrated the Jews in one area on Dluga Street, in an unfenced ghetto. Later, in three other buildings on Słona Street, a work camp was set up. About one hundred Jews resided there, brought from Nowy Sanz and Nowy Targ and the surroundings. They performed quarry work, the building of roads, and the expansion of the Villa Tereska. In February, 1942, the Jews were commanded to hand over all furs, warm clothing and ski equipment. Four men who did not comply  were executed. On April 28, 1942, seven Jews were killed in the streets. Between May and July of 1942, three transports brought Jews from Nowy Sanz for forced labor, at the request of Wilhelm Rosenbaum. On May 9 1942, the first transport arrived, which included between 60 and 200 people. The people who were not capable of working or who were not favored by Wilhelm Rosenbaum were shot on May 10 in the forest next to Villa Tereska.

The second transport included about 150 people. At the end of July, 100 Jews were sent from Nowy Sancz to Rabka. Among them were Orthodox Jews in traditional clothing. Only 90 people reached Villa Tereska, the rest were shot on the way. On May 22, 1942, Wilhelm Rosenbaum arranged a selection among the Jews of Rabka. He called from a list entire families. The people were held in a barn with no food or drink. On May 25, 1942, at four in the morning, 45 people from the list, the oldest and weakest among them, were taken to Villa Tereska. At 8 in the evening, the victims were brought to pits dug in the forest behind Villa Tereska. The Ukrainians and the guards ran them to the place of sacrifice, separate groups, each being struck along the way. The people were commanded to undress and stand next to the pits, and they were shot in the back of the head . Wilhelm Rosenbaum himself murdered six Jews. The sin of one of the murdered families from Rabka - two parents, a daughter aged 15 and a son aged 10 - was their family name, Rosenbaum. They were murdered so that friends wouldn't laugh at Wilhelm Rosenbaum for having a Jewish name.

In June, 1942, at the same time of an arrival of a transport of Jews from Nowy Sanz, the mass murder took place of another group, made up of 300 Jews, among them more than 200 Jews from Rabka and about 50 Jews from Nowy Sanz. On July 17, 1942, in another slaughter, about 100 Jews were murdered who came on a transport from Nowy Sanz, along with Jews from Krakow who were seeking refuge in Rabka.

Between August 28 and 30, 1942, Jews from Rabka were sent to the extermination camp at Belzec. About 200 Jews remained in the work camp. In December, 1942, about 100 of them were moved to the concentration camp in Plaszow. On September 1, 1943, the work camp was closed, some of the Jews were executed, and the last 70 or so were sent to Plaszow.

After the Holocaust

Rabka was freed by the Soviet Army on January 28, 1945. The few that were saved did not return to Rabka. In 1999, Rabka received the name Rabka-Zdroj. The synagogue building that the Germans had turned into a bath house for the Jews in 1942 was now serving as a residential home. There was a medical clinic in the place where the Jewish school had stood. The Villa Tereskawas now under the ownership of the teacher’s union.

To this day, it is not known how many Jews were killed and buried in the pits of Rabka. There are no remaining matzevot in the area of the cemetery. At the location of the mass graves of the Jews killed by the Nazis, sixteen concrete surfaces have been placed. There are also isolated, unmarked graves spread throughout the forest in the vicinity of what was Villa Tereska. The area of the cemetery is surrounded by an iron fence, with a Magen David etched on the entrance.

There is a sign on the gate explaining what the place is. There is a memory plaque etched with an inscription in Polish and Yiddish: “Respect to those resting here, who perished at the hands of the Hitlerite murderers 1941-1942”. A statue was built "in memory of the dead Jewish martyrs ", made from the matzevot that were found and collected in the area. The matzevot that were found apparently came from the cemetery in Jordanow.

In the area of the cemetery, two marble plaques were erected. One is from 1989, due to the generosity of the fund of the Pilar sisters. The second plaque has an inscription written in three languages, Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish: "My heart, my heart, for victims, the fence is built and the cemetery is renovated by Leib Gaterer from the city Frankfurt – born in Dobra, with the support of the city council of Rabka, in memory of the victims who were murdered and buried here during the years 1942-1944, may Hashem avenge their blood."