Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


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Kock - guidebook

Dancing is the one who travels to Kock.

Hasidic folk song from the 19th century.
Kock - guidebook

People have souls, not clockworks, Menachem Mendel Morgenstern (1787–1859), a Hasidic tsaddik from Kock (pronounced “Kotsk”), used to say. For many years, the town was one of the major centres of Hasidism in Poland and home to a Hasidic dynasty famous for its ardent and enthusiastic piety. Its founder, Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, was most likely born in Biłgoraj. He was tutored, among others, by the famous Hasidic master Simcha Bunem of Przysucha and Jacob Isaac Horowitz, called the Seer of Lublin. In 1829, he settled in Kock. During his teaching sessions, he strove for a synthesis of the rigorous rabbinic regulations and most poetic mystical visions, of the Talmud and Kabbalah, and also pursued secular learning and medieval natural philosophy. He taught that there is but one Divine revelation and but one God’s will, and that a Hasid’s duty is to do everything to learn their hidden meanings. In 1839, he experienced a revelation, after which he decided to burn all his manuscripts and spend the rest of his life in seclusion, isolated in a bricked-up chamber next to the prayer room in his house in Kock. Many of his followers left him at that time, although some of them stayed in town, acknowledging the leadership of the tsaddik’s descendants after his death. His son David (1812–1873), and grandson Izrael (1840–1905) succeeded him as the rabbis of Kock and the rebbes of the local Hasidic court. 

 The teachings of Menachem Mendel were popularised by theVienna-born Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, in his Tales of the Hasidim (published in 1903–1904). The Kock tsaddik’s definition of idolatry, as written down by Buber, was cited in Pope Francis’ first papal encyclical, published in 2013 by the Vatican: Idolatry is ‘when a face addresses a face which is not a face’ (Lumen Fidei, 13).


God’s dwelling 


“Where does God live?” – asked the Kotzker rebbe to the surprise of the several learned men staying as guests in his house. They laughed at these words: “What are you saying, rabbi? The world is full of His wonders!” 

 But he answered his own question: “God lives wherever you let Him in.”


Different customs

A Hasid of the rebbe of Kotzk (Kock) and a Hasid of the rebbe of Chernobil were discussing their ways of doing things. The disciple of the Chernoboler rebbe said:

“We stay awake every night between Thursday and Friday; on Friday, we give alms in proportion to what we have; and on the Sabbath, we recite the entire Book of Psalms.” “And we,” said the Hasid from Kotzk, “stay awake every night as long as we can; we give alms whenever we run across a poor man and happen to have money in our pockets, and we do not say the psalms it took David seventy years of hard work to write, all in a row, but [we recite them] according to the need of the hour.” 

Menachem Mendel z Kocka, [w:] M. Buber, Opowieści Chasydów, translated by P. Hertz, Poznań-Warszawa 2005, p. 247-249

The tsaddik’s house
Direct link for this paragraph

Kock, Tower at the house of the tzadik

At the intersection of Wojska Polskiego, Warszawska, and Polna Streets there is a wooden house with a distinctive polygonal turret that allows a view in all directions. However, this so-called “tsaddik’s house” was not where Menachem Mendel lived – it was built at the turn of the 20th century, presumably as a post office. From the beginning of the 1930s, however, it was home to the court of the last of Kotzker (Kock) tsaddikim – Izrael Lejba and Abraham Josek Morgenstern, Menachem Mendel’s great-grandsons. 

 The court of the first tsaddik of Kock was presumably located in Białobrzeska (today Joselewicza) St., near the residence of Duchess Anna Jabłonowska and Aleksandra d’Anstett, who presented Menachem Mendel with two building plots in 1837. To this day, there are wooden buildings there that might be old enough to remember Kock’s first tsaddik and the Hasidim making pilgrimages to see him.


Drewniany budynek przy ul. Kościuszki  prawdopodobnie pamięta czasy Menachema  Mendla


Duchess Anna Jabłonowska is one of the amazing women of the 18th century, whose personalities are imprinted deeply on the landscape of towns they owned. Duchess Anna Jabłonowska rebuilt Kock and gave it a new urban shape – a new city square was founded, as well as the network of streets spreading from it. A new town hall was built alongside other buildings by the square, while the church in the southern frontage was rebuilt in a new style. For herself, Jabłonowska erected a palace in place of the castle, surrounded by a big park with many exotic trees and bushes. The designer and the leader of the works was a distinguished architect of the classicist era – Szymon Bogumił Zug. The ducal court became a meeting place for the notable people of the Rzeczpospolita cultural world – scholars, writers, poets, and painters. King Stanisław August Poniatowski used to visit the place.


The Jewish communityDirect link for this paragraph

Pieczęć kockiego rabina B.W.Rappaporta, XIX w., zbiory Archiwum Państwowego w Lublinie

The first Jews arrived in Kock in the late 16th and early 17th century. Many residents of the town were killed during the 1648 Cossack Revolution. After the wars of the mid-17th century, the town slowly regenerated, and Jews began to return as well. Towards the end of the 17th century, Maria Wielopolska, the owner of the town and niece to Queen Maria Kazimiera (King John III Sobieski’s wife) issued a document in which she obliged local Jews to perform duties to the town the same way Christians did: to provided organized help in case of fires, to keep night watch, and to repair roads, bridges, and dams. 

 A hundred years later, Duchess Jabłonowska designated the northern quarter of the town to be a Jewish district. It was there that the most important buildings of the kahal were located – the synagogue and the mikveh. In a special “Proclamation” published in 1773, the duchess also regulated matters for the Jews regarding judiciary matters and kahal elections, and also the rules for resettling elsewhere and trading in certain types of commodities. The earliest known statistics for the Jewish population of the kahal and town of Kock date from around that time, the second half of the 18th century. They prove that the kahal consisted of the town of Kock, plus three other small towns (Serokomla, Wojciechów, and Adamów), and 40 nearby villages; the number of its members was estimated at about 800, and they all reported to the Kock kahal.


The synagogue

(at the crossing of Szkolna, Radzyńska, and Wesoła streets).

Projekt odbudowy bożnicy w Kocku, fasada, Zbiory Archiwum Państwowego w Lublinie

Before World War II, the synagogue stood in the northeastern part of the town, on the road leading north from the marketplace (now Piłsudskiego St.), at the place where the road leading to the Jewish cemetery branches off near the statue of Kościuszko. The synagogue was a large brick building that combined the functions of a prayer venue and Jewish communal authorities gathering. Referred to in 1933 as the Great Synagogue, the building was erected in the second half of the 19th century. It burnt down in 1899 but was soon rebuilt. The kahal budget for 1926–1927 included expenses for whitewashing and painting the synagogue, repairing its floors, and putting in glass windows. In 1930, a sum of money was allocated “to A. Cukier for the examination of the synagogue Torah scrolls and the synagogue itself,” and in 1931–1933, a sum of 140 złoty was allocated “for electrical wiring.” 

 The communal budgets from the interwar period mention two prayer houses in addition to the synagogue, one of which was located in the same building as the synagogue. 

The mikveh stood opposite the synagogue, on the west side of Szkolna St. It was a brick building from the second half of the 19th century. It burnt down with the synagogue in 1899 but was rebuilt before World War I.


From the preserved archives we can learn that in 1818 the "szkolniks" or the beadles of the synagogue (hebr. shamash) were: Meier Zielkowicz (55), Fiszel Judkowicz (60), and Szloma Szmulowicz (35) – who was also a "town guard". The rabbi at the time was presumably Szloma Friedman, son of Zelman, who died as a rabbi in Kock in 1826 aged 52. During this same year  Fiszel Rechtman (58) was also a "szkolnik", while the synagogue beadle and a "pergamnik" (a person preparing the Torah scrolls) was Boruch Mandelcwajg (54).


Social organisations

 Rynek w Kocku, dzień targowy , lata 20., w górnym prawym rogu widoczna synagoga, Źródło: Kolekcja Marii Kowalewskiej w zbiorach cyfrowych Osrodka “Brama Grodzka Teatr NN”
Numerous organisations, societies, and political parties – both Polish and Jewish – emerged at the beginning of the 20th century and during the interwar period. It is well preserved in the memories of the local population how, during the 1905 revolution, Jewish workers on The seal of Kock’s Rabbi B. W. Rappaport, 19th century, collection of the National Archives in Lublin strike blew up the warehouses of a local distillery. All Jewish political parties of note, from Zionists to communists, had established their branches in Kock. The Bund and Hashomer Hatzair were quite popular among the Jews of Kock. Among the trade unions, two most influential were the tailors’ union and the pursemakers’ union. The pursemakers’ activities included looking after the public library, where local people could read the works of contemporary Yiddish authors and Yiddish translations of European literature. The library hosted multiple soirées at which young people of all political persuasions met. Daily, weekly, and monthly papers as well as magazines were distributed – according to the Memorial Book of Kock, almost every young person bought a paper. In the town council, consisting of more than 20 members, almost half of the seats were filled by Jews.

 Direct link for this paragraph

Jewish cemeteryDirect link for this paragraph

(Jana Chrzciciela street)

Kock, Jewish cemetery

It is not known where the Jewish cemetery was located before the new urban layout of Kock was implemented in the second half of the 18th century. A new cemetery was established outside town, one kilometer northeast of the centre, amid fields gently sloping towards the south-west. The oldest preserved matsevah dates back to 1819. It is in this cemetery that successive tsaddikim of the Morgenstern dynasty were buried, starting with Menachem Mendel in 1859. An ohel was erected over their graves, built of brick, with a hip roof. Before the war, the cemetery was surrounded by wire spread between wooden poles, and there was a custodian’s house near the gate. The dead from Adamów, Serokomla, and Wojcieszków were also buried here. The cemetery was expanded before the war, to occupy an area of 2.2 hectares. During the war, it was partially devastated. The German troops forced the Jews to remove the matzevot from the cemetery and used them to pave the roads leading to the palace and to build a jail in the palace courtyard. The Nazis carried out executions in the cemetery, too. After the war, local people uprooted the remaining sandstone matzevot and pulled down both the ohel and the custodian’s house. In 1958, the land was ploughed and planted with trees. In 1987–1990, the ohel was gradually rebuilt and the cemetery was fenced again. Today, about 30 matzevot can be found there. The keys are kept by Roman Stasiak, living in the first house beyond the cemetery.

The Legend of Berek JoselewiczDirect link for this paragraph

Śmierć Berka Joselewicza na ulicach Kocka, akwarela Henryk Pilatti, zbiory Muzuem Narodowego w Krakowie

At the opposite side of the town from the cemetery, on the road to Białobrzegi, there is another important grave – that of Berek Joselewicz (1764–1809), a colonel of the Polish Army and the commander of an uhlan squadron. Berek was killed in Kock in 1809, during the battle fought by Polish forces led by Prince Józef Poniatowski against the Austrian army. Born in Kretinga in Lithuania, the son of a horse trader, Berek was described by the Governor of Eastern Galicia, Gausruck as a man of cheerful disposition and enterprising spirit. He travelled throughout Europe as the agent for Bishop Ignacy Jakub Massalski, a local landowner, and on his travels witnessed key historical events, including the French Revolution. During the 1794 Kościuszko Uprising, Berek proposed forming a Jewish Light Cavalry Regiment to help the insurgent leaders against Russian invasion which led eventually to the Third Partition of Poland. Berek was supposed to recruit about 500 men into it to defend the Warsaw district of Praga. At Joselewicz’s request, these Jewish soldiers were allowed to observe their religious laws and wear their traditional Jewish beards; they were granted access to kosher food and the right not to work – or fight – on the Sabbath (whenever possible). 

 After the failure of the uprising, Joselewicz was taken captive, found himself on the Polish territory in the Austrian Partition, served in the Polish Legions in Italy and in the army of the Principality of Hanover, and immediately returned to Poland after the Duchy of Warsaw was established. 

 A mound was erected over Berek Joselewicz’s grave. In 1909, Count Edward Żółkowski, the owner of the local estate – still under Russian rule at the time – erected a monument set on top of the mound to commemorate Berek as an outstanding Polish patriot. In the interwar period, Berek Joselewicz became a symbol of the active presence of Jews in Polish history and, at the same time, a hero for the Jewish scouting movement, such as the assimilation-oriented Berek Joselewicz Scout Troops and the Zionist scouting organisation Hashomer Hatzair.


Reżyser Jonasz Turkow podczas zdjęć do filmu fabularnego „In di pojlisze welder” („W polskich lasach”) według prozy J. Opatoszu, 1929, Zbiory ŻIH

Berek Joselewicz and Menachem Mendel appear together as characters in a novel by Joseph Opatoshu, titled In Polish Woods (In Poylishe Velder/W polskich lasach, Yiddish edition 1921, Polish edition 1923), set in Kock before the January Uprising. Jonas Turkow directed a feature film based on this book in 1929, but the movie has not survived.


 Karta tytułowa książki Ernesta Łunińskiego „Berek Joselewicz”, przełożonej z polskiego i wydanej w Kocku w 1928 roku.

In 1927, a Citizens Committee was appointed to build a vocational training and an elementary school in Kock to be named after Joselewicz as a form of memorial. The project was launched under the honorary patronage of Poland’s leader, Marshal Józef Piłsudski, and the committee was comprised of the leading representatives of the local Jewish and Christian communities: Mayor Marian Otton Górczyński, Municipal Councillor Moszek Goldband, Rabbi Josef Morgenstern, Prelate Marceli Glinka, Kock’s parish priest; Mojżesz Dawid Wajnberg, the head of the Jewish community in Kock; Marcin Stępień, the principal of the elementary school; and Town Councillor Jojna Zygielman. 

 After several years of fund-raising, the school was finally built – the main part of the building was completed by the summer of 1939. Further work was interrupted by the German occupation. The school opened after the war, and to this day the building is part of the school complex in Kock.


II World War and HolocaustDirect link for this paragraph

On September 9, 1939, during the first bombing of the town, the last tsaddik of Kock, Israel Leib Morgenstern, was killed together with all his family in the orchard near their house. 

The last battle of the September Campaign was fought near Kock during October 2 to 5, 1939, between the Independent Operational Group “Polesie” commanded by Gen. Franciszek Kleeberg and the victorious German 13th Motorised Infantry Division. 

 After entering the town, the Germans very quickly began implementing repressive measures aimed predominantly against the Jewish population. In November 1939, they rounded the Jews up in the synagogue and ordered them to pull it down. The prayer house and the mikveh were destroyed in the same way. Resettlements of Jews to Kock began from both nearby and more distant towns (Lubartów, Suwałki). Toward the end of 1940, a ghetto was established in the northern part of the town, where all Jews were confined. The liquidation of the ghetto began near the end of 1942. It was preceded by two mass executions in the summer that year – more than 200 people were shot dead in each of them. In the autumn, the Jews were marched to Łuków, from where they were transported to the Treblinka extermination camp and murdered there.


In November 1942 Jews were sent from Kock to Treblinka. By Lieutenant Brand's orders to the train station they were transported by peasant wagons.
They rode the entire day...
Hersz Buczko was on the wagons, one who ran a groats plant.
There was Szlomo Rot on the wagons, whose ice cream was the best in town.
There was Jakow Marchewka on the wagons, who sold lemonade.
There were – Cyrla Opelman, who imported fabrics most elegant, and her competitor, Abram Grzebień.
Cyrla Wiernik, the one from the city square, with a haberdashery store was there on the wagons, and Szlomo Rosenblat, her neighbour, with women's haberdashery was there too.
There was Hennoch Madane on the wagons, industrial hardware merchant.
...and Lejb Zakalik was there on the wagons, the mill owner, and his brother, children, and grandchildren.  

Hanna Krall, "Tam już nie ma żadnej rzeki" [There is no river there anymore], p. 17-18


TimelineDirect link for this paragraph

1203 – the first records of Kock, a market settlement located on the road from Lesser Poland to Lithuania and belonging to Płock bishops

1239 – a Roman-Catholic parish is founded

1417 – location privilege

1443 – confirmation of the town rights by Włodzimierz III Warneńczyk

1515 – Kock becomes a private town, owned by the house of Firlej

half of the 16th century – the Firlejs become pious Calvinists

1648 – Kock is occupied by Khmelnytsky's Cossacs, who murdered many residents and burned the buildings, including the school and its library.

1655 – during the Deluge, Swedish army marched through Kock

1670 – a son of Mosze ben Isaak Jehuda Lima – a famous Lithuanian rabbi and the author of Helkat Mehokek – becomes Kock's rabbi

1753 – the town is bought by Kazimierz Karol Sapieha, after whose death (1756) the lands were received by his daughter – duchess Anna Paulina Jabłonowska of house Sapieha, the wife of Bracław's voivode, Kajetan Jabłonowski.

1795 – after the Third Partition of Poland, Kock becomes part of the Habsburg Empire

1807 – Kock is in the Duchy of Warsaw

1809 – the Battle of Kock and the death of Berek Joselewicz

1815 – Kock as a part of Congress Poland in the Russian partition.

1829 – Kock is chosen as the seat of tzadik Menachem Mendel Morgenstern

1831 – the November Uprising

1863 – the January Uprising

 the 60s of the 19th century – the lands of Kock are purchased by Żółtowscy, who remained the owners until the land reform of 1944

the end of the 19th century – Kock is the seat of the gmina authorities, there is a Roman-Catholic parish, a post office, a school, a pharmacy, and two mills. Small factories producing oil, soap, and vinegar were also active. Christians dealt mostly with agriculture, while Jews with trade and crafts – especially tawing. Many out of the 324 houses were built of brick – mostly near the city square.

1919 – Kock regains town rights and is assigned to the ‎Łuków powiat in the Lublin voivodeship.

1927 – the town is largely destroyed in a fire – ca. 170 buildings burned down in the eastern and northern parts of town

2-5.10.1939 – the Battle of Kock The last battle of the September Campaign

1940 – the ghetto is created. Its residents were subjected to progressively harsher restrictions. Many Jews died in executions in the town and its vicinities

1942 – liquidation of the ghetto. Its residents were gradually deported to the extermination camp in Treblinka.

23.07.1944 – the 27th Home Army Infantry Division put Kock under occupation before reaching the Soviet front.

2015 – Kock is a town in the Lubartów powiat of Lublin voivodship and has ca. 3600 residents.


DemographicsDirect link for this paragraph

Year    Jewish Population

1786    800 (42%)

1820    549 (32%)

1860    1.480 (51.5%)

1897    3.014 (64%)

1907    3.268 (62.8%)

1921    1.529 (41%)

1931    2.372 (52.6%)

1937    2.213 (49.5%)

1939    ca. 2.500 (approx. 55%)


Worth seeing:
– The Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary Church Complex.

– the park and palace complex erected circa 1780 by duchess Anna Jabłonowska in place of the former castle of house Firlej, according to the design by Szymon Bogumił Zug. The complex is baroque, with an axial symmetrical setting "between a courtyard and a garden" – formed by the main body, two annexes joined by galleries, a courtyard, an entry gate, and a bridge.

– the wooden and brick buildings complex dating back to the turn of the 19th and the 20th century.

– a war cemetery with a monument commemorating the fallen in the Battle of Kock, the last battle of the September Campaign of 1939


Location:Direct link for this paragraph

Lubartów powiat [county]

Kock gmina [municipality]

51°38’21’’ N / 22°26’54’’ E

Town name Kock, Kotsk, Kotzk, קאצק, (Yiddish), Коцк (Russian), קוצק (Hebrew)


Tourism infrastructureDirect link for this paragraph

In Kock there are two small hotels/wedding houses, and several pubs. Agritourism companies are present in the surrounding area. 
Dom Kultury (tel. 81859 11 10) is a partner of the Shtetl Routes project.


Authors: Paweł Sygowski, Emil Majuk

Surrounding area

  • Firlej (10 km): a Jewish cemetery (19th c.); the wooden Church of the Transfiguration (1880). 
  •  Radzyń Podlaski (21 km): the old Jewish cemetery (17th/18th c.); the new Jewish cemetery (early 20th c.); Holy Trinity Church (1641); the Potocki palace and park complex (17th/18th c.); the Szlubowski Palace (18th c.). 
  •  Michów (18 km): The Church of the Assumption of Mary (16th c.); a memorial (2013) at the site of the destroyed Jewish cemetery. 
  • Lubartów (24 km): a Jewish cemetery (1819); the Sanguszko Palace with a garden (18th c.); St. Anne’s Basilica (1733–1738); Capuchin monastery complex: Church of St. Lawrence, a monastery, and a garden (1737–1741). 
  •  Czemierniki (20 km): urban layout (16th/18thc.); a Jewish cemetery (1703); a palace and park complex (1615–1622); the Church of St.Stanislaus (1603–1617). 
  • Adamów (21 km): a Jewish cemetery (20th c.); the Church of the Holy Cross (1796–1858). 
  •  Parczew (41 km): a synagogue, currently a shop (2nd half of the 19th c.); a wooden bell tower (1675); the Shrine of Our Lady Queen of Families (1905–1913).
  • Kamionka (22 km): a Jewish cemetery (1st half of the 19th c.); the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (15th/16th c.); the Weyssenhoff family tomb chapel (1848); the Zamoyski family tomb chapel (1890–1893). 
  •  Kozłówka (24 km): The Zamoyski Museum – a palace and park complex comprising 14 buildings dating back to the late 18th and the early 19th c. as well as a 19-hectare park with a French-style garden. 
  • Bobrowniki (42 km): a Jewish cemetery (19th c.); the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1488, rebuilt in the 16th and 17th c.). 
  • Dęblin (43 km): a synagogue, currently a shop (2nd half of the 19th c.); a fortress (19th c.); the wooden Church of the Merciful Christ (1781); the Air Force Museum; the Vistula River Railroad Station complex. 
  • The Polesie National Park
  • The Kozłówka Forest Landscape Park





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