The beginnings of Kosów Lacki have their roots in Middle Ages. The land, on which Kosów is situated (earlier known as Kossowo), the headquarters of Kosowski family for ages has been located on the border of Mazovia and Podlasie. Little is known about the origins of the town. Sometimes, a small village under a similar name, of which the first mention can be found in the document by Konrad Mazowiecki from about 1230, is associated with Kosów. However, this is not true. The small village is a completely different settlement. The Kosowski family settled down in Kosów in the first half of the 15th century and until the end of the 18th century they were the owners of the town. Then, towards the end of the 18th century, another family – the Kuszellów family became the most important. Let’s take a look for a moment at a really rough period before Marcin from Ciołków turned up.
The second half of the 13th century and the 14th century were disastrous for the area. The period brought a complete destruction of rural settlement between the Bug and Liwiec rivers. There were the years of the greatest, long-term and destructive battles for the areas of the mazowiecko-jaćwiesko-ruski borderland. First it was destroyed by the invasions of the Jaćwing and Prus, next Lithuanians. There was a rivalry over this land between the Russian and Mazoviecki princes. In the second half of the 14th century Crusaders came here. The border of the land along with the land of Drohiczyn, which previously belonged to halicko-włodzimierski kingdom under the reign of the Romanowicz family, changed a bit. Until then the border was along the following rivers: the Nurzec, the Miena and the Liza, and on the side of the Bug river, along the Cetynia river. The border was established artificially right through the święcka castellan whose eastern side was within the Great Lithuanian Kingdom. And in the south partially along the Liwiec river and in the areas of Węgrów and Starawieś through the maleszewska wilderness.
The area of Kosów was in the part of Drohiczyn land attached to Lithuania. Until 1569, with some short breaks, these areas were a part of Great Lithuanian Kingdom. The Union between Poland and Lithuania at the end of the 14th century and the end of battles became the trigger for people to settle down again on these areas. In 1390 Mazovia prince Janusz I received drohicka land as a fief from king Władysław Jagiełło. He settled hundreds of knight families from so-called ‘Old Mazovia’, which consisted of the areas of Płock, Warszawa, Zakroczym, Ciechanów. Sadly, his action was not completely successful on drohicka land. On the other hand, he was successful on the neighboring lands: łomżyńska, wiska and nurska lands. There were two reasons for this situation. Firstly, the period of time when he ruled the Podlasie region was much too short. Secondly, the unstable situation on these lands until the Grunwald battle in 1410. In 1394, four years after giving the land to the Christian ruler Janusz I, Crusaders made a plundering expedition nearby Drohiczyn. During this expedition, according to the Crusader chronicler ‘the place was devastated with fire and sword, many people were killed and others taken hostages’. Certainly, this situation did not encourage people to settle down over there.
In 1417 the great Lithuanian prince Witold gave the village to Marcin from Ciołków – a knight and foreman of bishop lands in Pułtusk. He received Kosów on the basis of feudal rights, what meant that he had to be present at each armed expedition and his peasants had to assist in castle reconstructions.
Thanks to the foundation of Marcin (or his son Andrzej) the first church was erected, known as the church of the Annunciation of Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph. In 1425 the parish was established here. People from Kosów were the most significant and obliging patrons in the 18th century.
Worth mentioning is the fact that in 1530 in a part of Kosów known as Russian there was an orthodox church of the Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary, which was made into a uniate orthodox church after the union in 1596. In the middle of the 18th century its patron became Wawrzyniec Wojciech Kossowski (died after 1753) podlaski sword-bearer. During the reign of the family Kosów received town rights on the basis of the privelege issued by Stanisław August Poniatowski in 1778 and given to Franciszek Marcel Kosowski, drohicki chamberlain (although the first mention of Kosów as a town appeared in 1723). The right to fairs was strictly connected with this (on 19 March and 15 May – a three-day fair) and markets (Tuesday and Friday). Franciszek Marcel married Ludwika Kuszell, a daughter of podlaski table manager Michał. In this way a new family appeared in Kosów, whose existence was of immense importance to the development of the town. Its members one by one became the owners of the following properties of Niwiski, Nowa Wieś Kosowska, Hulidów (property in Kosów). First Ignacy Kuszell, later his descendants, were the administrators of these properties. Thanks to Edmund Kuszell there is a neo-gothic parish church built (1906-1907) according to the project of Józef Pius Dziekoński – the first deacon of Architecture Department of Warsaw Polytechnic and the founder of the Care Association of the Monuments of the Past. A nice addition is watercolor which Dziekoński painted right after the construction had been finalized. It is the only so precise an effigy of the original shape of the church, which was partially destroyed during World War II. In the second half of the 19th century Edmund erected a beautiful manor house located within the property of Kosów Hulidów (nowadays Pańska street).
In the place of contemporary stadium there used to be a pretty big manor house (18th century), of which remained only a corner chapel with saint John Nepomucen.
In the 19th century the owners of the manor located in the same place (although it was a different building and different development of the whole area) were Mr and Mrs Dytel. On the eve of the outbreak of World War II Feliks Woliński bought the manor house. Feliks, along with Ludwik Andrycz (a grandfather of Nina Andrycz) was an owner of a prosperous ‘Lubicz Stable’ in Warsaw. He set his sight on the stable with a view of establishing a farm there. Unfortunately, the plan did not work due to the war and in 1944 the German soldiers set the manor house on fire.
Jews. For nearly 200 years, until the outbreak of World War II, Kosów was a town where two cultures met: a Jewish and Polish cultures. According to some data there were times when Jews made over 90% of the whole population of the town. The first mention of Jewish community in Kosów (subject to węgrowski district) goes back to 1755. This data cannot be associated with the arrival of the group of Judaic faith. There is data that 30 years earlier the first Jews started to come to the town and they contributed to the development of the town. Unlike catholic Polish citizens, who dealt mainly with agriculture, Jewish citizens dealt mostly with trade and industry. Therefore, in the first decades of the 20th century on the market in Kosów there was a Jewish speakeasies with a small brewery, there were also tailors, shopkeepers and more significant traders. In the 18th century a beautiful wooden synagogue was erected there. Sadly, today there remained only a brick synagogue from the beginnings of the 20th century (until recently it had a function of an electric windmill) and mikveh (nowadays a police station). It is worth to mention a cemetery, or rather its remaining, which are located along the route Sokołów Podlaski – Kosów, some 2 km away from Kosów. The most significant trace of Jewish existence in Kosów is the heart of town with such a characteristic density of brick houses, which can be entered right from the street. Until recently one could also notice some traces of mezuzahs. Today it is practically impossible. The life of Jews from Kosów was terminated in Treblinka in the years of 1942 and 1943. At the same time, biculturalism of the town ceased to exist. Some Jews, though there were very few of them, managed to escape before the local ghetto was liquidated.
Some matzevas coming from Kosów are in the Museum of Struggle and Martyrdom in Treblinka. They were found on the so-called ‘Black Road’ connecting the extermination camp with the labor camp. Nazi soldiers used Jewish graves as a building material.
El Greco. Undoubtedly the most significant and most discussed event connected with Kosów was the discovery of faded and partially painted picture, which fascinated right from the first sight and presented Francis in ecstasy. Its authorship was assigned to a Spanish master El Greco and proven after 10 years during the maintenance process when the signature of the artist was uncovered: Domenicos Theotocop… (oulos). This was his real name. This discovery made the town very popular with Polish press – from the most important national dailies to regional periodicals of the whole country. The very town became an important centre and a target for specific tourism. Even today Kosów inhabitants talk about hundreds of people who visited the town then. And it started prosaically. Izabella Galicka and Hanna Sygietyńska, two young art historians from the Institute of Polish Art of Academy of Sciences together with a photographer arrived in Kosów Lacki to prepare for publication ‘The Catalogue of Monuments of Art in Poland’. They were both the authors and editors of the catalogue. One day they visited the vicarage by accident because the door to the parson’s flat was slightly ajar. What they noticed at first was a painting on the wall. The priest did not know its origins. The women after nearly two years of working on the painting – stylish and comparative analysis, brought out the article entitled ‘An unknown picture in Kosów from the Franciscan series of El Greco’ in ‘Bulletin of Art History’. They attributed the work to the very master. Unfortunately, the women were too young to be taken seriously and the press mocked them by publishing satirical poems.
On the other hand, articles were published in which one found some explanations as to how they paining came to be found in the vicarage of a tiny town in Podlasie. Various versions of the picture provenance were presented. They were inspired by the utterances of supposedly the first owners or their descendants. The legend had it that a Napoleonic Chevau had brought the painting from Spain. It was emphasized that the painting from Kosów is one of many scenes of Saint Francis which were painted by El Greco. The greatest minds in the field of art history were skeptical towards the authorship. The speculations ended when the results of conservation works were revealed. Since 2003 the painting has been on display in Diocese Museum in Siedlce.
Treblinka. ‘Treblinka, it sounds good, Aaron Einstein thinks to himself this morning. Sounds like a name of a pretty girl. In this word we can hear music. We will live, we will see’, thought a modestly living Jew from Kalischken in the story by Arno Surminski. He had this thought shortly before getting on the train. He was certain he was on the way to choose a house for his family. A literary character of Einstein was not secluded. It was common for people heading for any extermination camp: be it Treblinka, Oświęcim, Bełżec or Sobibór, not to realize the seriousness of the situation. They may have wanted not to think about the oncoming horror or they may have known nothing about Nazi actions. It was difficult to verify due to the fact there were few if none eye-witnesses. The beginnings were prosaic. In the neighborhood of three small villages: Wólka Okrąglik, Poniatowo and Maliszewa there was a gravel pit belonging to Marian Łopuszański. It was situated 6 km away from the train station in Treblinka. The owner of the pit contributed to the fact that a new railway was built to connect his pit with the main railway line from Sokołów Podlaski to Małkinia. Nazi authorities paid a lot of attention to this place during the attack on Soviet Union. Then, a concrete road joining Treblinka with Kosów Lacki and the material for the road were transported from the above mentioned gravel pit. Ernst Gramss, the county governor residing in Sokołów Podlaski, set up a company producing concrete and he also extracted material from Treblinka. After the attack on Soviet Union there were problems with finding cheap workforce. Hence Gramss decided to open a penitentiary labor camp ‘aiming at defeating units harmful for the nation’. ‘Opportunistic element’ from the districts of Węgrów and Sokołów who disrespected the regulations of the occupants were to be transported there. Theo von Eupen was the commander there and the original name for the camp was ‘Arbeitserziehungslager’, which meant educational labor camp. Later an official name was ‘Der SS – und Polizeifuhrer im Distrikt Warschau Arbeitslager Treblinka. Officially the camp was opened from 15 November 1941 to 23 July 1944 and unlike the extermination camp it had a name Treblinka I.
The history of camp Treblinka II had its beginning nearby Berlin in the town of Wannsee on 20 January 1942. Then, headed by one of the most important SS officers Reinhard Heydrich, a conference took place. During the conference rules were made concerning ‘the final solution’, which actually meant regular extermination of Jews. Odilo Globocnik, who was an SS general and, was responsible for this action. Within ‘Reinhardt Action’ camps of mass extermination were set up in Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka and Christian Wirth was in charge of all three.
The camp was set up in July 1942. It was built by the prisoners of the neighboring camp and people from the area who were forced to do the job. The material for the construction was transported from Warsaw, Sokołów Podlaski and Kosów Lacki. Local Jewish communities were forced to do this too. A barbed wire was used to fence the area of total 17ha, which was located some 0,5 km from the railway line and the road. A new part of the railway line was built to the already existing line. It finished with the unloading ramp. Its official name was ‘SS-Sonderkomando Treblinka’, commonly known as Treblinka II. The first commander was medical doctor Irmfried Eberl, from August 1942 Frany Stangl, and from August 1943 until the liquidation of the camp Kurt Franz called ‘dolly’. In August 1943 a rebellion broke out among prisoners. Some of them managed to get to the armory from which they stole weapon (rifles, ammunition and grenades). About 25 Nazi soldiers, 66 Ukrainian guards and 800 Jews were killed. Most camp lodgings were burnt. About 200 inmates managed to escape from Treblinka. One of those who escaped described all those events in his memoires ‘Rebellion in Treblinka’.
There were as if two worlds in the camp. One consisted of gas chambers, crematory furnaces (older citizens of neighboring villages still remember the unbearable smell) in which about 900000 Jews were killed. The other belonged to the staff of the camp. They were provided with a variety of entertainment among them a small zoo. Franz, the last commander, entitled his album with the pictures of his ‘work’ ‘Beautiful Times’.
Despite cruel restrictions and punishment for hiding Jews, many people from neighboring villages helped their Jewish neighbors. The family of Jan Góral, who lived on the border of Kosów, helped a group of 12 Jews.
Nowadays, on the territory of the extermination camp Treblinka II there is the Museum of Struggle and Martyrdom. Its curator is Edward Kopówka. In a tiny building one can see a spacious model of two camps, archive photos and plenty of tables showing those tragic times. All of these prepare visitors for the entrance to the former torture room. The additional benefit of the museum is the exhibition of paintings by Wolfgang Hergeth which focus on the character and tragic death of Janusz Korczak.
Monuments. There are remains of sets of gardens and parks in Kosów district, for example Dębe Nowe (brick mansion of Feliks Chróścicki from 1903), Tosie (mansion from the beginning of the 20th century), Nowa Wieś (wooden mansion from the first half of the 19th century). Some of them are completely ruined. One can see an old watermill in Jakubiki and numerous shrines and street crosses, which played various important functions in the past. One of the shrines in Wólka Okrąglik shows the venue of an old choleric graveyard. There is another cross in Olszew, along Kosów Lacki - Sterdyń road. There is a small metal board mentioning the year of 1875. This date is said to commemorate the events connected with the oppression of Uniates.
An interesting fact associated with Kosów is the fact that the oldest veteran of January Uprising, Feliks Bartczuk, whose pseudonym was ‘Piast’ (1846-1946), lived in Kosów. He was a person admired by many during World War II. Despite his age he lost neither courage nor the spirit of patriotism. He was obsessed with his uprising uniform. He wore it every day at home, in the town saying ‘Let people see that a Polish officer is walking. Maybe it will lift their spirits because the Republic of Poland must regain independence’. He did not wear a cap since he was afraid that some German soldier might dump it from his head and profane the eagle. Germans, however, did not forbid him to wear his outfit. He himself knew that for the Polish he is the symbol of the continuity of the existence of Poland.
One of the natural routes of Nadbużański National Park crosses the area of Kosów district.
WE ARE TOGETHER - MEETING YOUTH FROM POLAND AND ISRAEL
Project “We Are Together” has been organized since 2010 by the provincial governor of Warsaw voivodeship and Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Every year the youth from Poland and Israel meet at workshops in Kosów Lacki; meantime the authorities are invited to a panel devoted to the commemoration and protection of Jewish heritage. All participants of the meeting visit the ex-Nazi camp in Treblinka and pay their respect to its victims.
In Treblinka we, alive, are together again, whose life was terminated by extermination: together with a wonderful pedagogue Janusz Korczak and his orphans, with a Jewish tailor from Białystok, whose coat my grandfather still remembered even after 40 years, together with a 5-year old Sara from Sokołów, whose life was terminated before it actually started. We are together with nearly 1 million in majority anonymous Jewish citizens from hundreds of cities and towns of Mazovia, Podlasie and the whole Poland and countries of nearly all Europe. We are together remembering the mutual heritage of nearly one-thousand-year long living Jewish community on the lands of Poland. This heritage was enriched by the variety of interpenetrating cultures, religions, traditions not only Polish and Jewish ones, but also Tatar and gypsy cultures and the cultures of Belarus and Lithuania. We are here today since we believe that our mutual heritage and both friendship and understanding based on learning about the richness of this heritage will become the best guarantee for the war not to be repeated again.