Kutnicki Family Research

The story of the Kutnicki family of Otwock, Poland

Frontispiece of Otwock-Karczew Yizkor book

Master of the Universe, give me the strength to be a listening ear to Man; we are sons of the compassionate (e.g. Abraham), but how many are there in the world who do not receive pity, who suffer in agony. Otwock, a city of healing, though many illnesses come to Man from sadness, but even selfless joy only partially frees one from this world... naked souls, souls rising up and coming down, rejected souls. Men strive in this world - and many are the harried and confused... one who receives compassion is one who is loved! 
-The Otwocker Rebbe
It is the illness that brings health, davka the illness! 
-Rebbe of Amshinov, resident of Otwock, referring to the many visitors of the city's sanatorium and rehabilitation centers
The ecstatic is only one side of Hasidism. The second side - restraint of the ecstatic. This too is in the nature of the pious ['Hasidic'], an important foundation.  
-Rebbe of Koshnitz, resident of Otwock
"Justice and kindness, I will sing to You, Hashem, I will lift up my voice." Psalms 101:1. Regardless of whether the Master of the Universe judges you with a measure of Kindness or, forbid, a measure of Justice, I will sing to You, Hashem, I will lift up my voice. 
-Modzitzer Rebbe, famous for his love of songs and many self-composed nigunim, religious melodies

Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish, Otwocker Rebbe
(Otwock Yizkor book)

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. Kutnicki Family Research
  4. Epilogue
  5. Directions and Tips for Further Research
  6. Technical details
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. Sources


The following is the result of genealogical research conducted regarding the Kutnicki family of the Polish towns Otwock (pron. Ot'vosk) and nearby Karczew (pron. Kar't'shev), a vacation and rehabilitation town located 25 km (16 miles) southeast of Warsaw. The lone remnant of this family after the Holocaust was Solomon Joseph (Szlama) Kutnicki who immigrated to New York with his wife Valeria, whom he met at a Displaced Persons camp after the war, and their young son, Benjamin. The author of this web page, Chaim Kutnicki, a descendant of Solomon's, embarked upon this research after visiting Otwock on July 5-6, 2011 and collecting relevant archival documents, a process recorded in this on-line photo album. Please send any corrections or suggestions to Chaim.

Keep in mind when reading the following that genealogical research is inherently limited. Most of the documents consist of straightforward facts such as dates, names and places. Additionally, the information is certainly not complete and many holes still remain including names of brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles whose records simply didn't survive the passage of time or the destruction of the Nazis. We can never truly reconstruct the past, but with a little imagination and an appreciation of the spirit of the times, we can perhaps still hear the distant calls of the Yiddish shopkeepers out on Kupiecka Street hawking their wares to curious passersby.

A map of modern Otwock with several points of Jewish interest noted.

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Pre-war Otwock

Koscielna Street, Otwock, 1929
(Routes to Roots Foundation)

Just a few kilometers from Warsaw is the small town of Otwock. It was famous throughout Poland for its crystalline air and sanatoria for people suffering from lung disease... there stretched miles of pine forests and on the pitch area were the houses of the Jews, also known as villas. Wooden, painted brown and at least from the porch, almost all look identical... summer and the neighboring town of Otwock, thousands of families were arriving... It is hard to imagine that there are no longer Jews. There remains only the sand, on which we built... 
-Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1945

Some background information concerning Otwock and its surroundings --
Pre-war Poland:

Pre-war Warsaw: Pre-war Otwock:

Political statusTotal pop.Ethnic Polish pop.Jewish pop.Jewish % of total pop.
1885Russian controlled936
1909Russian controlled3,000
1921Indpt. Poland8,5603,1525,40863%
1938Indpt. Polandapprox. 20,000approx. 5,000approx. 15,00075%

Sources: History of Otwock, Pinkas HaKehilot

Pre-war industries: Clientele: Demographics:
...All of that is during the weekday, but on Shabbat, you could no longer recognize the Jews, after they bathed in the mikva (ritual bath), and they changed all of their clothes - it's like they changed their entire being and received their extra soul, everyone runs wearing their Shabbat clothes to their shul or Rebbe for prayers... Everyone here deals in Yiddish, even the Gentiles, including the policemen, they know the language and are knowledgable of the Shabbat and holidays. They come to visit their Jewish neighbors with gefilte fish or cholent. They particularly enjoy Passover with the wonderful alcohol called Pasachovka [vodka from raisins]. 
-Meir Yarkoni, "The City as I Remember Her", Otwock Yizkor book

Bazaar, Otwock, 1929
(Otwock Trails website)

The Otwock Jewish community began as an outgrowth of the original community in nearby Karczew. The community became independent after World War I and continued to grow until the financial crisis of 1929 which caused an economic depression throughout Poland. Community charity services operated throughout the town, including a free loan society, hospitals, and an orphanage. Most of the town's shops were in Jewish hands and served both the townspeople and the vacationers. The Jewish population again grew in 1938 as a result of an incoming wave of refugees from eastern Germany.

Immediately following independence in 1919, the new, untrained Polish army harassed the Jewish community as they passed through the town, including robbery, rape and beatings. As for the townspeople, anti-semitism was relatively uncommon, particularly since the Poles were interested in the frequent wealthy Warsaw Jewish clientele, but by the mid-1930's, outbreaks of violence began as well.

Pictured are members of Otwock's Poalei Zion, Labor Zionist, youth group, one of many such Zionist associations in town.
(Otwock Yizkor book)

Jewish Otwock was impressively varied including a great many organizations along the political and religious spectrum. Cultural performances were common and sports clubs were popular. Multiple Zionist groups were active, especially amongst the youth, including Labor, Beitar, Revisionists, Mizrachi, Kadyma and Aguda, and many Hasidic courts were drawn to the town due to its quiet, salubrious environs. Some of the more famous Hasidic masters in the town included:


Rabbi Chaim Katzki, chief rabbi of Otwock
(Otwock Yizkor book)

Yiddish authors who spent time in the town included:

S. Ansky, 1910

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Wartime Otwock

Entrance to the ghetto.

Diagram of Otwock ghetto
(Otwock Yizkor book)

Betzalel (Calek) Perechodnik wrote a fascinating memoir while in hiding during the war called Am I a Murderer (התפקיד העצוב של התיעוד) which details his service as a Jewish policeman in the Otwock ghetto, his escape from the town following the ghetto liquidation and his time hiding in Warsaw. He did not survive until the end of the war, but his writings from only a few months after the liquidation provide an amazing insight into the thinking of the Jews at the time, exactly what they did and did not know about the German plans of genocide and his own personal story of loss. It is incredible to read his astonishingly precise knowledge in 1943, years before Yad Vashem, the Nuremberg trials, the Eichman trial or anything else we know about today. A summary of his more important insights:

Ukrainian soldiers hurrying Jews to the train station for transport to Treblinka during the liquidation of the Otwock ghetto.
(Otwock Yizkor book)

Holocaust time line in Otwock:

Sebastian Rakowski, curator of the local Museum of Otwock, informed me:

"The Germans were responsible for burning down the Kupiecka Street (where the Kutnickis lived), including the Blass Central Synagogue which stood in the center of the square. The area has been rebuilt as a bus depot and strip mall".

A member of the Warsaw community told me that after WWII, Warsaw was completely decimated and therefore many of the returning Jewish refugees went to Otwock and restarted a community in the town. (Immediately following WWII there were still 300,000 Jews living in Poland (Source: YIVO)). The final mass exodus of Jews from Poland came in 1968, following the Six Day War, when the Soviets politically aligned themselves with the Arabs and forced out the remaining Jews.

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Contemporary Otwock

Modern city of Otwock: Modern city of Karczew (adjacent village):

More on modern Otwock (from Polish Wikipedia).

In 2002, a local priest by the name of Wojciech Lemański began the 'Committee for the Memory of the Jews of Otwock and Karczew' (Komitet Pamięci Żydów Otwockich i Karczewskich) which educates the local children about the history of the town's Jews, restores the Jewish cemetery and holds memorials.

Video from August 19, 2011 of Otwock's annual march commemorating the execution of 4,000 Jews and the deportation of 8,000 Jews to Treblinka and Auschwitz:

Video of the August 19, 2012 memorial for the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto:

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Kutnicki Family Research

Kutnicki Family Tree until Szlama
(Larger ver.: svg | pdf)

Analysis thus far of collected documents (see below for more information about the Gramps software):

Kupiecka (lit. Merchants) Street, Otwock, former home of the Kutnicki family

Earliest recovered documents mention Benjamin and Fajga Kutnicki (parents of Szlama), among others, living in Karczew in the early 1900's, but within a few years they almost all moved to Otwock. Among the documents analyzed, the Kutnickis are referred to as a large family living on Kupiecka ('Merchants') Street engaged in the butcher trade. S. Kutnicki and U. Kutnicki are listed in a 1930 business directory, and a 1937 directory lists Sz. Kutnicki on Kupiecka 24. Other documents refer to Benjamin and Fajga living on 26 Kupiecka, Srul and Jenta living on 27 Kupiecka, and Szlama Chaim and Rojza Perla living on 22 Kupiecka. Quoting the Otwock Yizkor book, "At the crossroads of Alexandrovska Street [later renamed Kupiecka], the dwellings of the butchers, large and extensive,  the Kiejzmans, the Kutnickis, the Goldmans and the Kenigsbergs, together with the carters and the porters are the heroes of the city standing up against those Gentiles that are anti-semitic." It is interesting to note that a number of court documents mention multiple instances of 'public disorder' caused by younger members of the Kutnicki clan.

Other Jewish families in the butcher business listed in the 1930's business directory: ... M. Fajgenbaum, ... Frejman I., Geldman Sz., Goldfarb K., Guttner J., Kiejzman S., Kenigsberg Ch., Klamberg D., Kutnicki S., Kutnicki U., Migdalski Br., Pitkiewicz H., Rebkowski W., Rozenberg K.,... These families maintained among themselves both business and personal relationships. Many of the court cases reference multiple butcher families, particularly the Kiejzmans and the Kutnickis. There were even marriages:

There were also family spats in the shtetl:

and partnerships: and lasting friendships:

According to Fajga Kutnicki's death certificate, Szlama had 5 siblings, for which we have the birth certificates of Chaim, Sura, Henia-Dwojra. Szlama's original birth certificate was also identified.

(This was one of the least expected revelations, learning that Szlama Josef had a brother named Chaim. This is of course surprising since they are the same names as Frank and Adina's children, even though the existence of an uncle Chaim was unknown at the time of the children's births. The younger Chaim was in fact named after Adina's mother Irene (Chaya).).

Few documents remain from the wartime period which reference the Kutnicki family. The best guess is that most of them met the same fate as the rest of the Jews of Otwock. This is corroborated from the little that is known - post-war testimony shows that Srul Kutnicki was murdered by Germans in the ghetto (perhaps for attempting to leave the ghetto boundaries?) and his wife Jenta Kutnicki died later in the ghetto liquidation. Similarly, Fajga Kutnicki (née Gurfinkel) was witnessed murdered by the hands of the Gestapo in May 1942.

Yad Vashem has a list of Kutnicki family members who were murdered during the Holocaust, based on the original list of the perished in the Otwock Yizkor book.

From Larry Kutnicki:

"My father told me that an eyewitness observed the Nazis testing the new ovens at Treblinka. The eyewitness said that the ovens were tested as follows:

The Nazis said to throw in my father’s brother alive—when my father’s father protested and said “I will go in his place”—the Nazis threw them both in the ovens alive…"

Larry was also told that following the war, Szlama and a cousin returned to Otwock to try to reclaim their homes from Poles who were squatting there. According to the account, Szlama eventually tried to dissuade the cousin from confronting the family but failed. Szlama hid in some bushes nearby, while his cousin knocked on the house door. A conflict ensued, the cousin was shot and Szlama fled.

A few insights gleaned from the original source documents:

Some notes about interpreting the documents:

Both genealogists with whom I spoke in Warsaw were surprised to find how rare the name Kutnicki is, both among pre-war and post-war documents.

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Szlama Josef and his wife, Valeria
(Courtesy of Larry Kutnicki)

Szlama and Valeria's ketuba from the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons camp
(full size)
(Courtesy of Larry Kutnicki)

Map of Szlama Kutnicki's documented travels, 1944-1949

Szlama Josef was registered as prisoner A 19264 in Auschwitz on July 30, 1944. He was eventually liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 15, 1945. From displaced persons records, we know that in his travels he passed through the DP Camp in Kaunitz, which primarily housed Hungarian women deported from Auschwitz to the Lippstadt sub-camp of Buchenwald and at war's end forced to march to Kaunitz. It is possible that this is where he met Valeria (Walli) Chana Siegelman who he later married in the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp on April 10, 1946 (9 Nisan 5706). In the memorial book She'erit HaPleitah (1946), a Salomon Kutnicki from Otwock b.1921 is listed as living in Celle (a city near Bergen-Belsen) and a Szlama Kutnicki from Otwock is listed as living in Kaunitz, a city 2 hours away from Celle. As can be seen from the above map, he passed through multiple DP Camps before leaving from Bremerhaven, Germany on the ship "General Howze" on May 9, 1949. Interestingly, in a document from only a few months following liberation, he lists his desired destination as Haifa, Palestine. This was unrealistic though due to the strict British quotas at the time.

As mentioned earlier, Szlama eventually settled in New York City where he and his wife Valeria raised a family of 3 boys and 1 girl. Szlama passed away on March 1, 1973, and his descendants now live in New York, Kentucky, and Haifa, Israel.

As for the other handful of Kutnicki families in the United States, it seems they are not related to Szlama Josef Kutnicki. There is a Kutnicki family in Colorado (Cindy, Stan, Diane, Evan, Sara, Peter, Bernadine, Loretta) who received the name from Peter Kutnicki, born in Landstuhl, Germany in 1947 to Bernice and Wladyslaw Kutnicki from Warsaw. There is also a record of a Mieczyslaw (Moshe) Kutnicki owning a metal hardware factory named Felart in Solec 23, Warsaw and living at Raszynska 5, Warsaw. No further information about him has been identified. There are also a number of families who changed their names from Kutinski to Kutnicki upon immigrating to the US.

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Directions and Tips for Further Research

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On-line Resources

The Otwock archive has access to various census data and records, which I was unable to view at the time. The birth, marriage, death records from Karczew arealso viewable at Latter Day Saints' Family History Centers. This data includes:

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Technical Details

The various bits of information have been collected in a program called Gramps. I have exported my current database as of 13 Sep 2011 into databases of different formats: GEDCOM, GeneWeb, Web Family Tree, and Gramps XML Package (only download if you want to play with the databases on your own computer).

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First, to my father Frank Kutnicki, z"l, who, along with hundreds of thousands of other children of Holocaust victims, grew up in torment knowing (and not knowing) what atrocities had been committed to their parents. As for the work involved, this project was possible thanks to the saintly patience and support of my wife Kayla, the encouragement of my uncle Larry Kutnicki, and the expertise of Jewish genealogy experts Yale Reisner and Anna Przybyszewska Drozd of the Zydowski Instytut Historyczny (Jewish Historical Institute) in Warsaw, Sebastian Rakowski of the Museum of Otwock, the kind librarians of the National Museum, Jerusalem, Israel and Daniela Malec, Polish translator and recent immigrant to Tel Aviv.

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