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[Page 161]


Sosnowiec

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


The first period of the Jewish community in Sosnowca

In essays about Rabbi Issachar Berisz Graubart of blessed memory, I have mentioned the fact, that the Sosnowiec kehila broke its ties with the mother kehila of Bedzin and became an independent authority. I will now describe this in further detail.

In the second half of the 19th century Sosnowiec was still a village. In an official census from 1856 it is not mentioned. In the place which today is called “Old Sosnowiec” a large pine forest was sprawled out, and from this comes the name Sosnowiec (Sosne – pine). Near the forest were a number of small houses, and because of its proximity to the Prussian and Austrian borders a Jewish settlement began to develop.

The Jews first to reach there came from Bedzin, Olkusz, Miechów and other places, and for the most part they were tailors. For this reason the first minyan [public prayer service] there was called the “Tailors minyan”. It took placed in Modrzejowska Street. Up until the last world war the tailoring profession was very widespread amongst the Jews.

Over time Sosnowiec progressed into a thriving town with trade and industry, on its outskirts coal mines and metal foundries developed. According to the official census of 1897 Sosnowiec numbered 9043 residents, which included 2921 Jews; In other words, about a third were Jews. Apart from this, small groups of Jews lived in areas in the vicinity of the town, like in the village of Niwka, in which there were 271 Jews within a population of 3093 people.

As the number of Jews increased, so did the will of the Jews of Sosnowiec to break away from the Bedzin kehila. They lobbied the district minister in Piotrków to allow them to be an independent entity, and this occurred after much labor and effort. On the 23rd of July 1898 the district minister granted the Jews of Sosnowiec a license to found an independent kehila, and freed them of all obligations to the Bedzin kehila.

On the first of January 1899 the Jewish kehila in Sosnowiec officially came into being. I say “officially”, but in fact sometime before then, Sosnowiec had its own cemetery and also a rabbi, who was officially listed in the “duchowny” (spiritual) ledgers and all the time received a wage from the Bedzin kehila as a teacher. When the Sosnowiec kehila was founded, Rabbi Abram Gitler, of blessed memory, served as a teacher, and although of conservative views, was a great teacher and had many good attributes. Later in the year 1898 there wasn't a Sosnowiec town council yet, since it was only recognized as a town in January 1903, the Sosnowiec kehila was subject to the regional minister of Bedzin.

The places of Kataryna, Milowice, Wygwizdów , Niwka, Sielce, Pogon and other small localities were affiliated with the Sosnowiec kehila, that were previously affiliated with the Bedzin kehila. Bedzin did protest bitterly against breaking ties with these places from its jurisdiction with the excuse that this was liable to cause grave damage to the very existence of the Bedzin kehila, however the government did not take this into account. Nevertheless the district minister demanded from the Sosnowiec kehila to elect itself a rabbi. Since they did not want to dismiss the elderly rabbi, and the kehila did not have an official license to acquire a rabbi, they elected a “substitute rabbi” – Rabbi Dawid Sztajnzalc, whilst in fact Rabbi Dawid Gitler served, in the budgets he continued to appear in actuality as a the first “duchowny”, that is to say as a dayan [judge].

In the first year of its official existence, in 1899, the kehila budget reached 9,450 rubles; the income was 3,251 rubles, as against the expenses of 4,156 rubles, including 1,000 rubles wages for Rabbi Sztajnzalc, and more. The wage for the “duchowny” was not included in the budget, because it was only approved from 1902 with an annual wage of 500 rubles, as he received in Bedzin.

The income and expenses for 1900 were in almost the same format (3,833 rubles income and 4,556 rubles expenses). The deficit from the first two years was covered by a member of the kehila committee, Stansilaw Rajcher (assimilated) in the form of a loan to the kehila.

Rajcher was one of the three members of the new kehila committee. The chairman was Dr. D. Najfeld (assimilated), that in 1900 was awarded on behalf of the government the title of honor “Court advisor” for his social and philanthropic good deeds. He also received a “Stanislaw” award. Incidentally, Dr. Najfeld wrote with different pennames in “Japanese stories” – articles with a social emphasis in regional Polish newspapers.


[Page 162]


The third member was the wealthy Chassid Reb Lajb Englard. I didn't find any material on the virtues of this last member in archival documents.

Indeed, the Sosnowiec Jews, who so wanted to break their ties with the Bedzin kehila, quickly learned that this “game” would cost them much more than previously, and when they ceased paying “Etat” [tax] the deficit grew from year to year. In 1901 the deficit was already 2,137 rubles; the income was only 3,040 rubles. The deficit grew even further in the kehila budget of 1902. The income was only 945 rubles; the deficit grew and reached 3,183 rubles. Stanislaw Rajcher continued to lend money to cover the deficit. In the regional report to the district minister it said, that in order to avoid a delay in paying the clerks wages the kehila needed to borrow money.

It was only after Sosnowiec was accepted as a town (at the beginning of 1903) and gained a town council that the financial situation of the kehila improved. The supervision of kehila matters was transferred to the town council that took upon itself to determinedly collect “Etat” dues, which until 1901 had reached 8,450 rubles. There were no longer deficits. On the contrary, in 1903 the income grew to 3,852 rubles, and later after all the expenses for kehila needs had been paid, a surplus of 675 rubles remained. The “Etat”, which in 1902 reached 4,535 rubles, grew in 1903 to 4,935 rubles was divided by 450 “Etat” payers.

In the meantime, the Jewish population in Sosnowiec grew. On the first of January 1908 Sosnowiec had 11,515 Jews, apart from the Jews in the neighboring settlements that were part of the Sosnowiec environs. Together they numbered 13,000 people.

As the Jewish population grew, of course so did the needs of the kehila in Sosnowiec. The kehila budget grew, and the Sosnowiec kehila was known as one of the wealthiest and most important in Poland.

By the way, in the description of the history of Sosnowiec in the first period of its existence, one needs to mention the classic court case that was held in 1907 against the “gabbaim” [beadles] of the “Chevrat Kaddisha” [burial society], Messrs Szabsia Sluzewski, Jakob Sztahl and Lajb Federman on extortion of burial fees from Messrs Pachter and Fiszhof for the burial of their relatives. Mr. Pachter approached the chief prosecutor of the court in Warsaw and Mr. Fiszhof – to the district minister in Piotrków.

I hereby wish to present a summary of the contents of both the claims, whilst leaving out insulting expressions which were used in relation to the “Chevrat Kaddisha” in Sosnowiec. This is what was written:

The “Chevrat Kaddisha” in Sosnowiec has a monopoly on the burial of Jewish dead, whilst extorting large sums of money from the relatives of the deceased as they felt fit in accordance with the property ownership of the deceased or their relatives, without accounting for what the money was laid out for.

On the 9th of February, 1907 the widow B. died (I've omitted the name for fear of defamation of the deceased). She had required the support of her sons in her old age. The “gabbaim” of the “Chevrat Kaddisha” had demanded burial fees from her relatives of no less than 1,200 rubles. The deceased's relatives refused to pay this enormous sum, and called for several women who dealt with sewing shrouds to take care of the burial of the deceased. However, the “gabbaim” of the “Chevrat Kaddisha” forbade them to deal with the deceased without documents; the women left and the deceased was not buried.

The relatives transferred the deceased to Modrzejów, with the aim of burying her in the cemetery there. However, as they went about preparing for the burial, Sluzewski telephoned to the “Chevrat Kaddisha” people that they not assist for any amount. The relatives were forced to return the deceased to Sosnowiec. After bargaining and stormy arguments the “gabbaim” agreed to take 1,200 rubles, 600 in cash and the rest in bonds, which would be cashed in time. Thus it occurred that only on the fourth day after the death of the woman, the burial was taken care of at night, and for this those involved paid a special price.

The following is the indictment regarding the “defamation of the deceased” by the Jews for not burying the dead immediately following the death, and the humiliation caused to the claimants through the fact that they kept the deceased in their homes for four days, an affair which had a very negative impact on their lives. Therefore the claimants have approached the court prosecutor with a request, that he prosecute the aforementioned “gabbaim” for the crime of extorting money by coercion, and included a list of witnesses willing to verify the aforementioned facts.


The general prosecutor transferred the matter to the General District Minister of Warsaw, and further transferred the claim to the regional minister in Piotrków to instigate an investigation.

The Russian clerk, Szamski, investigated the matter in Sosnowiec, and many witnesses verified the facts. On the other hand there were many that claimed that nothing of the sort occurred. Whereas the “gabbaim” claimed that they didn't have to respond to the relatives' claims in regards the plot and so on, however Mr. Szabsia Sluzewski, who was at the time also the head of kehila committee, used the money for the needs of the kehila.

This is not the place to supply details of all the typical petitions that concerned parties claimed during the investigation, that the men also received a burial fee of 1,500 rubles from Mr. Fiszhof for the burial of one of his more distant relatives. I will be content with providing a short summary of the process.

The clerk, Szamski, transferred the investigation file to the district minister in Piotrków and on the 2nd of September 1906 it was decided in the district offices to transfer the matter for investigation in the regional court in Piotrków. The file with the decision was transferred to Warsaw to the General District Minister who ordered an investigation be made, however there they didn't agree with the decision of the district minister in Piotrków and cancelled it (end of October, 1908). After this news relating to Sosnowiec reached the town (8th November, 1908), the claimants concerned appealed the decision of the General District Minister from Warsaw in the senate in Petersbug. The defense of the appeal document was delivered to an expert in Jewish matters, the attorney Mill in Petersburg.

The case in Petersburg continued for a long time. In the meantime, First World War erupted that brought with it “peace” between the battling parties in Sosnowiec…

The story of the birth bangs of the Sosnowiec community is without doubt liable to cause great interest in our generation.


[Page 163]


The activists in Sosnowiec were brought into battle on two fronts. On the front line they had to struggle with the kehila committee to which the Jews of Sosnowiec were affiliated. The later covered the greater part of the “Etat” of the Bedzin kehila, without receiving any compensation in return, apart from the wages paid to the teacher in Sosnowiec. It is obvious that the Bedzin kehila didn't want to have a sizeable share taken away from under it and defended itself with all its strength. On the other hand, the activists struggled with the resident population who were apathetic to the whole issue, as if the matter didn't at all relate to them.

In the end the healthy influence of the cultural authorities in Sosnowiec overcame, in which the Lithuanian influence played a significant role, in its introduction into to the new council – that was a type of small melting pot within its branches – trade and culture, as is prominent in the report of the Russian inspector, and the town agreed to break its ties with the Bedzin kehila and establish a unique kehila for itself.

The reasons that the Jews of Sosnowiec used in their petition for the district minister in Piotrków were logical and convincing, without impairing the honor of their fellow man. In it was written, that the number of Jews in Sosnowiec was greater than the number of Jews in Bedzin, it had a description of the educational status of the Jews in Sosnowiec, and a declaration that they were prepared to take on the burden of the expenses related to the establishment of an independent kehila and so forth. This petition was signed by the kehila committeemen, Najfeld, Attorney Wyszowski from Bedzin, the Openhajm Company, Landau, Rajcher and hundreds of others.

The Bedzin kehila, together with the rabbinate, firmly protested against the break with the Sosnowiec kehila from their own kehila. The breaking of ties with this town was liable to undermine the foundation of the Bedzin kehila, whose population was poor. However, the regional minister in Bedzin, to which the district authorities approached with information and recommendations, stood by the activists of Sosnowiec and replied to questions received from higher levels, that from its point of view it had no objection to the Jews of Sosnowiec being its own unique kehila, and regarding the budget of the Bedzin kehila – the fear was not as great as described by the members of the Bedzin kehila committee; there were enough wealthy people, with ability to cover the deficit in the event there would be one and they had no need for any type of assistance. And anyway – the regional minister continued, Bedzin covered a sizeable region with a large Jewish population, burdened only slightly by the “Etat”. District Minister Miller in Piotrków approved the request of the Jews of Sosnowiec (July, 1898).

The Bedzin kehila committee did not reconcile itself with the situation and prepared to present an appeal. Discussions began between the two kehilot, on Jewish law amongst the rabbis, that continued without result or being finalized. The Jews from Bedzin weren't for ruining their relationship with personnel in the banks, the exporters and tax officers with whom they had commercial relationships, and were willing to give the rabbinate in Bedzin a certain compensation for the damage incurred with the breaking off of the Sosnowiec kehila. The appeal of the Bedzin kehila was not presented to the authorities. The individuals that had made a “international” commotion remained idle. Sosnowiec from its aspect, apparently, didn't provide any compensation and promises in this regard, and this also caused antagonism.

In the meantime the Sosnowiec kehila began to get organized. A kehila committee was elected to which Dr. Najfeld, Stanislaw Rajcher and Reb Lajb Englard joined.

Wanting to completely bypass Bedzin, the Bedzin regional minister officially invited Rabbi Reb Nachum Asz of Czestochowa to come to Sosnowiec, in order to receive pledges from the representatives of the kehila committee, according to the law. The pledging ceremony took place in the synagogue in the presence of senior government clerks headed by the regional minister with an air of great festivity.

All the Jewish population took part in the celebration which sought to strengthen the new kehila, and the Bedzin regional minister informed the district minister in Piotrków in this regard.




Letters to the editor

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld



A

Dear editor,

We, the undersigned, allow ourselves to bring attention to several incorrect assumptions in Mr. Mosze Fajnkind's article called “The first period of the Jewish community in Sosnowiec”.

  1. It is not true that the first Jews who reached Sosnowiec were mainly tailors, and for this reason the first minyan [public prayer service] there was called the “Tailors minyan”. On the contrary, of the small number of Jews that were then in Sosnowiec – ninety percent belonged to the wealthy status.
  2. Likewise, it is not true that the Jews of Sosnowiec broke their ties with the Bedzin kehila after intensive lobbying to the district minister in Piotroków. In fact the eminent Jewish industrialists lobbied in Piotroków regarding this issue and managed to advance matters, till Sosnowiec was transferred into an independent kehila as well as an independent town.
  3. Likewise, it is not true that Rabbi Abram Gitler z”l, served as the first rabbi in Sosnowiec. In reality the first rabbi was Reb Arie Lajbisz Gitler z”l, father of Rabbi Reb Abram Majer z”l.

    Regarding the rabbinate in Sosnowiec – the writer's words are basically not accurate. Rabbi Reb Abram Majer Gitler was certified a rabbi by senior rabbis. After the death of his father z”l the Jews of Sosnowiec took him on as rabbi. After Sosnowiec became an independent town and the authorities demanded that there be a rabbi who would meet requirements, the Jewish community once again unanimously elected Rabbi Gitler z”l and sent documents to the district office to approve the rabbinical credentials. It should be regretfully noted that there were “modern” rabbis and one of them contrived and informed in the district office that the credentials of Rabbi Gitler were not satisfactory, after he had already worked for more than five years as a substitute rabbi from the time he exchanged the rabbinate in Pacanów for the rabbinate in Sosnowiec (thus the Russian law determined at the time).

    The extent to which Rabbi Gitler z”l was liked by us can be seen by the fact that after Rabbi Gitler lost his license as a “substitute rabbi”, the Jewish community nominated Mr. Dawid Sztajnzalc, may he rest in peace as a “substitute rabbi”, solely to prevent us from receiving a “modern” rabbi, since we already understood what a “modern” rabbi was about. For all that, Rabbi Gitler managed to receive confirmation as a rabbi from the authorities several years later.


[Page 164]


  1. Regarding the third member in the kehila committee Reb Lajb Englard – the writer wrote that he didn't find anything in the files about his attributes, and indeed his activities were solely in the religious field; and secondly – we don't relate great importance to the files.

    Respectfully,
    A group of Sosnowiec Jews, to which the present Sosnowiec is still remembered when it was still covered in a forest of trees.




B


Dear Editor,

In the letter of the group of Sosnowiec Jews, that the present Sosnowiec is still remembered when it was still covered in a forest of trees, which was printed in your newspaper, attention is given to several incorrect details in my articles on the Sosnowiec kehila.

Initially I thought about not responding to this, since all that I wrote about Sosnowiec is based on archival files, official reports and so on. However so that it will not seen as a “silent admission of guilt” and for the historical truth, I hereby establish the following:

  1. It is correct that the first Jewish settlement in the town consisted of tailors, whereas the wealthier status that the “group” boasts so much about came there later, after the nearby town of Katowice became a large commercial town, and stores, retail offices, agencies and so on were opened in Sosnowiec.

    Up until 1862 it was completely prohibited for Jews to settle in Sosnowiec because it was on the “borderline” on which there was a ban on Jewish settlement by the Tsarist regime, and only tradesmen settled there illegally.

  2. It is correct that Sosnowiec was involved in a campaign with Bedzin regarding breaking ties with it, as I described in detail in my articles on Sosnowiec, and due to the “quarrel” with Bedzin the Rabbi from Czestochowa was officially invited to receive pledges from the members of the kehila committee. Jewish Czestochowa certified this fact.

    The “group” contradicts itself in its writing that eminent industrialists managed to receive permission for an independent town and an independent kehila.

    If the issue arose and was decided upon in Petersburg, that it had the final decision in the matter, here it is obvious that the issue needed to firstly go through the offices in Piotroków and Warsaw, and here there needed to be a decision not in favor of Sosnowiec, but the truth of the matter this isn't how it was. Piotroków decided in favor of an independent kehila in Sosnowiec, and this was determined on the 25th of July 1898, as I wrote. Whereas Petersburg determined the issue of declaring Sosnowiec as a town, since in this matter only Petersburg could decide, after the matter had passed through both the authorities of Piotroków and Warsaw, and this occurred three years after the founding of the kehila. In other words, in 1902, and the town council only began operating in 1903.

  3. It is true that in the official documents and kehila budget the name of Rabbi Gitler appears as “duchowny” and not as a rabbi. This is also proved in the memorial book (“Pamiatnaja Kniga”) of the Piotroków district in 1913, in which Rabbi Sztajnzalc appears as the rabbi. However, I specifically said that in fact Rabbi Gitler was president of the rabbinical court, and signed as president of the court in letters found in the Piotroków rabbinate.

    I do not ignore the claim that the father of Rabbi Abram Gitler preceded him in the Sosnowiec rabbinate however I would like to officially state that his father was not mentioned at all in documents and correspondence.

  4. It is true that Rabbi Gitler didn't have the right to the rabbinical throne in Sosnowiec, as the members of the “group” affirm themselves, and this fact as well, meant that there was a need to nominate Rabbi Sztajnzalc as a “substitute rabbi”.
  5. In my articles it wasn't my intention to defame the honor of someone, and if I did not mention the Gitlers as rabbis – “my conscience is clear”. Even though I didn't intend to dishonor kehila member Englard, in relating the attributes of the first two members of the kehila committee, I didn't consider that I needed to apologize in regards to Englard, regarding whose attributes I didn't find anything about in the files.
  6. Finally I would like to stress one issue: Between the lines I read, that the “group” only intended to relate to the “rabbis” and not the issue itself. There are those who are probably interested in whether or not the “group” ascribe importance to the contents of the Sosnowiec kehila files – as far as I'm concerned, historical importance should be given to the annals of the Jews in the region, and this impelled me to write the articles that I published.

    Respectfully,
    Mosze Fajnkind


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