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Dąbrowa Górnicza – The eternally gloomy town

by M. S. Geshury (Brukner)

Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky

Zagłębie – an area of earth shrouded in a grim darkness. It is a special and distinct world on to itself, one wherein a miner's image is always one of death. He struggles ceaselessly with the Angel of Death for every piece of black rock cleared from each corner of the mine. Zagłębie is the center of coal mining in Poland.

A seriousness of intent and conceit is spread over the miners, who wear black shirts and carry carbide lamps in their hands. Their eye follicles resemble rocks of burned black underground dust garnered from the extraction of these black diamonds. Often did the explosive black dust coat their bodies, and they would leave behind them a wife and children in a state of miserable poverty, their cries emerging from their roofs, but not the hearts of the owners or salesmen, who were usually gentile and despised.

Zagłębie Dąbrowskie, one of the most excavated parts of Poland, had a double life: the life above ground – nervous, traffic-laden and appropriate to a sizeable city. And the life underneath the earth – in the coal quarries of Poland and their inhabitants, mines that produce coal for heat, lighting for the houses and power for the factories and their machines.

A curious wanderer, who arrived here to view these wonders of human genius, of the power and greatness of the forest of smoking factories, would never know that they walk on top of miners who are daily threatened with death, like so many small earthworms toiling below for the benefit of reaping the treasures that generate power for those above.

Dąbrowa Górnicza, Czeladź, constituting a long strip of land, a dark city with red walls. The walls are blackened by layers of coal dust. Small and large houses built closely together, without backyards or courtyards. The black children of these miners play in the narrow arches between the buildings. One hears the noise of the electric freight trains above the sound, and the noise of heavy machinery in the foundries, all this clatter generated in the quest for the black diamonds being dug below. Here even the very sun feels itself to be superfluous. This sun appears to the miners who lie at the entrance and shines on their drills as they ready to dig the black rock below. And when the miner returns to the surface to ensure himself he is still sound of body, hands and feet, to a more illuminated layer of the earth, even there the sun doesn't demand much of him, since he's assisted by electric lamps. And on Sundays, his day of rest, or on holidays, when the miner does see the sun, a sun high in the shining skies, it makes him a bit sad, not less than his unemployed brethren, whose great dream is to be working underground in the caverns of the earth, to extract coal and bread. The unemployed even envy the working horses, who are pulled down to the mineshafts in order to haul the coalbins up to the surface. They are often left down underground and never again see the light of day.

Before we get to the history of the city, we need to examine the economic conditions of the Zagłębie and its surrounding area.

A. The history of mining in Dąbrowa

The beginnings of the mining industry in the Zagłębie district go far back into antiquity. W. Sodowski states in his book, “Tracing the Beginnings of the Slavic Peoples” that “the Gothic peoples in the area were mainly engaged in the excavation and development of metals.” Dr. Heinrich writes in his book, The History of Szczetchyn: “The Goths, whose places of dwelling were in the forests and swamps (and here the meaning is the Zagłębie and Silesia districts), excavated iron ore, something spoken of contemptuously in the Annals of Tacitus. In the time of the migration of peoples, they were driven from their homes by the Slavs. Among these last, iron miners were greatly valued and forced to excavate iron ore.” It appears that once there was also gold mining, or thus said the historian Luka, who said that in about the year 760 Przemysław, who was later elected Prince of Poland in the name of Leszek IV, was a gold miner by profession. The first Polish chronologist, W. Karlowek wrote that in the time of Mieszko I, cattle thieves were taken to work in the mines [as punishment], and already during those days, mines existed in Poland (apparently in Sławków). Other historians of this period mention metals excavated in those days, and the princes of the time kept them for themselves.

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Historical evidence of the mining industry in Zagłębie district can be found in the “Bull of Pope Innocent” of 1136, which is included in the “Diplomatic Codex of Greater Poland” (published by A. Rożyński in 1480). This Bull names properties belonging to the Archbishop of Gniezno, which cite (in Latin) a village near Bytom, whose inhabitants are described as “farmers who farm silver”. The famous and learned publisher has determined that Swartow from the papal Bull is Siewierz of today. Likewise, there is evidence that in about 1140 in the present region of Zagłębie and environs, there were villages completely settled by farmers, gold or silver miners, and a regiment of these miners fought bravely in the battle with the Tatars near Legnica in 1240.

These were important considerations in the history of mining in the Zagłębie district, of which the mainstay was quarrying and demolition, or the sale of iron, something known to the Slavs already during pre-history days. In the hills near the mines, especially in forested areas, iron foundries sprouted, which were primitive forerunners to the foundries existing today. These foundries were fueled by coal from the mines below, their fires being stoked by hand.

In Zagłębie Dąbrowskie, one could find antiquated iron ore foundries, the basis of which appeared in earlier village names (not those of today), i.e. Kuznica, Kuznicki, Rudniki, Róda, Ródki and others. Also an uncountable number of pings (pings meaning small diagonally dug dredgings), that are also called by the name “doktah.” A second string of old mining traces that appear in our area are found in the names of the mining workers, which continue to be used down to the present day though these professions are no longer practiced and we no longer know what they are, i.e. Świerszcze (torch bearers), Lanczawniecie, Policzarzie, Trakarszie, Leowoniczie, Suslikorscze, and others. The forests which once certainly covered the Zagłębie area began disappearing already in the 15th century as these trees began to be used in the building of houses.

We read in the chronicles of Leo Adorowoz, the Bishop of Krakow, that there were 1,222 iron foundry buildings in the Zagłębie district, and if there were foundries, then there were probably coal mines.

We know nothing about the beginnings of the mines in Sławków, but there are traces showing that already in the 10th century there were mines in Boleslaw and in ancient Olkusz, which give us evidence that here too, the bowels of the earth were excavated in the 13th century.

As we wander in our searches around Zagłębie, we find in every step memories of past mining operations: sunken pits, mounds of rubble, iron filings, mines excavating coal, places where soot covered foundries. Where there is now a gloomy silence across the sands, centuries ago workers flocked to this land to penetrate into the depths of the earth in order to produce metals.

Coal-producing stone was known in our area already in the 16th century (in Silesia it was already known in the 12th century). Yet it was not seen favorably as a heating material. Andrzej Celerjuszkler in his book “Descriptive Poland” (Amsterdam 1659 and Vilna 1730) records that near Czarczik coal-bearing rock could be found. However, despite the fact that coal was in various places in the Zagłębie area, it was largely disregarded for a long time, though it was known that here and there iron ore was being smelted from 1627 on. The real quest for black treasure only really began in our area from 1724, when Felician Szonowski, the bishop of Krakow and Prince Szybirski erected near Siewer giant furnaces for the processing of iron ore. From this we can conclude that the mines in Stojowice were the first in Zagłębie. For the next several decades, the historic chronicles of Zagłębie do not speak much about mining or coal extraction.

On 11 April, 1783, King Stanisław August awarded sole mining rights to “the shareholders in the consortium for the development of salt and coal mining.” Resultantly, the first dealership in coal production was established on 11 March, 1784. It was comprised of 12 people from Saxony, with the Baron Leopold Bowost at their head. It's unknown what this group did. After a short existence, their organization folded in 1796.

The year 1785 was decisive in the mining of coal. In that year, shepherds came by chance on lumps of coal in the soil of Będzin, which was once covered by a forest called Radocha. This same occurrence took place in Dąbrowa, where coal was found in a pasture, about thirty meters from the side of a church standing there today. Around 1790, coal was discovered in Strzemieszyce, Niemce and Frumowka.

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The first committee of the Dabrowa Savings Fund - dab025.jpg [40 KB]
The first committee of the Dabrowa Savings Fund (1912)

Standing from the right: Ruwen Grosfeld, Israel Zilberszac, Dawid and Josef Grinbaum,
Jekel Mitelman, Gerszon Chanoch Szpilberg. Sitting: Jakob Szalom Fiszel, Nachman Aron Gutman,
the dentist Szternik, Szlomo Halperin, Dawid Ber Zygrajch, Sztorchajn, Gecel

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Yet in none of these places serious attempts at mining were made. In 1795 however, the administration of all Zagłębie passed to the Prussians and actual mining began in all areas, according to the advice of Hajdnic, the-then Prussian minister and the Graf (Count) Radon, the Prussian mining director. As a result of these early explorations, real mining began. During the time of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, in 1809, the Ministry of the Interior organized a royal commission for the foundation of iron smelting and the mining of coal. The chairman of this commission was Ludwig Hauke. Because of his initiative however, interest in the leased estates of the mines was lost and given over to the mining director. Hauke came to an understanding with the Minister for the Interior and through the latter, an edict was issued to the effect that, other uses excepted, this understanding would pertain to mining development. This order was preserved in the governmental archives.

B. The history of the city of Dąbrowa

Dąbrowa Górnicza can attribute its name in part to an old settlement in the area, today called “Old Dąbrowa.” Several hundred years ago, it was part of a heavily oak-forested, swampy and muddy area that was difficult to reach, with high rocky hillsides sloping leisurely down to the banks of the Black Przemsza River.

This same “old city” is the core of the present-day town, which developed rapidly thanks to the production of the “black gold” that was excavated from beneath the ground.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the town began. If we examine the name of the place we will discover inadvertently that it existed quite early on. In previous centuries, the name “Dąbrowa” was given to oak forests, where myriads of heavily branched oak trees covered those areas. Contacts between colonists of such “Dąbrowas” showed an affinity for such areas. People living in the “Dąbrowas” used the fruit of the oak tree (acorns) as food, potatoes being scarce, and thus these trees were not merely seen for their beauty. The ancient peoples placed great emphasis on the oak forests and certain trees were even worshipped. Life in these areas grew up around them, and from this life, cities were founded.

Could not “old Dąbrowa” have begun in this way? As recently as forty years ago, an oak forest could still be found, named “Dombowniki”. This tells us that this area was once covered by oak trees, through which rivers and streams meandered, the waters of which flowed from the Psoczka River to the Trzewiczka River.

It is hard to bring to light today the beginnings of “old” Dąbrowa. However if we could but go through the old sales documents in the archives of the city of Stockholm, which appeared during the time of the Swedish knights, issued at that time by Swedish pundits; if it were possible to retrieve from the depths of the Baltic Sea the documents that went down with the ships; if it were possible to extract from the soil, from the meadows and the rubble of Swedish wars the mining regulations and franchises of the Polish kings from the 14th to the 17th centuries, we would be mute with surprise. We would be convinced that this was our Zagłębie. This is the “old Dąbrowa.” If we could but resurrect the place of official meetings of Dorotka who was the commandant of the 40 units in the district of Glowno, it would certainly show us an area of flat oak woods above the river called Bogoria, which later became part of Dąbrowa. If the ancient and illustrious Olkusz-Wroclaw path could but speak to us, it would tell us how because of Dąbrowa it moved forward; how the currents crossroads split the region of Będzin into Grodziec and Ksawera; and how the old inn once called Olszewice affected the salt of Wieliczka. It's unfortunate that the vintage oak trees of Dąbrowa no longer hum their songs, as it was from such songs that we learned of the tar workers of old who came during the time of the “migrations of the peoples” who came to “comb” the earth in search of coal needed for the production of metal. Following these Gothic peoples, doubtless the people of Dąbrowa also learned to “comb” the earth, and in about the year 1236, they came to be known as the dredgers of Siewierz (spruce), and later of Sldiawków.

If we could but read the chronicle of the battalions of the miners of Zagłębie, that stated that in 1241, during the Battle of Legnicą against the Tatars, where they faced a forest of siege machines from the enemy, we would doubtless also find the names of Dąbrowa's sons. But unfortunately all records have been lost. Remaining now are only some names and scattered fragments in traces of the old settlement, in the form of worn out huts covered with straw or wooden shingles.

We find comments from past years that Old Dąbrowa belonged to the Duchy of Siewierz. Among the mining documents of the Duchy of Siewierz from the year 1442, (copies of which are to be found in the archives of the town of Czeladź), the name Dąbrowa does not appear. No listing of the discussions of bishops' properties and the Duchy of Siewierz of 1668 or 1746-48 mentions anything about Dąbrowa, and even the veteran Polish historian Jan Długosz makes no reference in his works about the settlement, even though it is known to have already existed in his time.

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In evidence of this, we can use a map of the Duchy of Siewierz from the middle of the 15th century, wherein Dąbrowa is mentioned as a town outside the Duchy's borders.We learn from the chronology that Sławków, Głogów and żukowice were mentioned in the annals of the Duchy of Siewierz even though they were never actually a part of the Duchy. The territorial adherence to the Duchy of Siewierz apparently relied only on the fact that they belonged to the archdiocese of the Bishop of Krakow, yet this was never formally acknowledged. While determining these places, we learn that in about 1440 they were sold to the Bishop of Krakow. From this we can also probably assume the same is true concerning Dąbrowa.

Relying on a map of the Duchy of Siewierz, Old Dąbrowa was apparently founded in the 16th century. In 1588, servants of Maximillian the Austrian rode through Dąbrowa en route to Krakow. They were angry due to an unsuccessful reception they received in Będzin, and plundered the town completely. During the attack by the Swedes in 1655-1656 the village remained in its burned state. The brave populace was taken by the Swedes to Czestochowa to work in the mines. Of eighty-five farms in the area there remained only several dozen (in the archives are recorded the names of their owners). Before the onslaught of the Swedes the population of the village was about 460 souls; but after the village burned, no more than 120 or so could be counted. Within this number were some 40 children, whose parents were lost during the Swedish attack.

An interesting chapter in the history of Dąbrowa was the dispute in 1754-1760 between the Dąbrowa townspeople and those of Będzin, which degenerated into armed conflict. The cause for the conflict was a parcel of land called at first Raducha and later Dąbrowa. This land was claimed both by the residents of Będzin and Dąbrowa. However, according to surviving documents, the legitimate claimants were the Dąbrowa folk.

The beginnings of present-day Dąbrowa Górnicza was the coal mining area Reden, which opened in 1796 under the government of Prussia, then was ruled by Frederick the Great. The mines were named for the-then Head of Prussian Mines, Friedrich Wilhelm, count of Reden. Reden was born in 1752 in the town of Hamelin in the Electorate of Hanover, and died on the 3rd of July, 1815 in Buchwald [Bukowiec]. In 1807, the mines became the property of the French Marshal Lannes. Because of the non-payment of considerable taxes, the Krakow municipal district court seized the mines and delivered them to a Jew named Szmul Buchbach. The following year, ownership of the mines reverted to the Polish ministry of finance.

In 1815, a huge smelting plant named “Constanti” was built next to the coal mine, and this remained in operation until 1851. Later it sank and became a pile of rubble, and was rebuilt again in 1901. Thus the mining of coal increased, requiring the decision to tunnel ever deeper in order to reach production targets. Because water interfered with the mining operation, a horizontal channel was dug at the deepest level of the mine, so that the production of coal could continue in the direction intended, and the water was then pumped out from the depths. The “sztolnia” (shaft) was about 2,000 meters long, with a depth of 25 meters. It continued through the earth until it reached present-day KoŚciuszko Street, where it connected with the large Glownia canal, which leads the water into the river.

The first candidates to work in the mines of Reden were recruited from the residents of Old Dąbrowa. As mining began to develop, workers from the community of Kielce and the districts of Miechów and Jędrzejów, and later from the Krakow area began to arrive , and at the end from Silesia. After the Polish rebellion of November, the Czarist Russian government forcibly sent dozens of noble Dąbrowa families from the Grodno to work in the mines, as well as some from Novogrodok. These people sympathized with the rebellion and were punished by the Czar's government.

In 1838, due to labor shortage, it was agreed to import foreign workers. Bank Polski arranged to hire 70 German families from Saxony and Hanover. They were settled in the closest area to Dąbrowa. After about a year, it was found that the German worker was unequal to the Polish worker in terms of stamina needed to work in the mines, something which caused the first people to leave the Zagłębie area. They took their tools and possessions and returned to the areas from which they came. Only a small portion remained, mainly the Hanoverians, and settled there, eventually acclimatizing themselves and forgetting their homeland.

A third wave of transients, some of whom were bureaucrats, flowed in 1860 to the Reden area, recruited from different areas of Poland as well as from abroad.

The mines of Reden, which had begun from a wonderful basis, unfortunately ended in their closing. In 1828 the first conflagration erupted in the mines due to the spontaneous combustion of coal dust remaining in the mineshafts.

Besides the Reden settlement, two more neighborhoods sprang up in Dąbrowa: Huta Bankowa and Ksawera, which came about during the period when the mines belonged to the Polish bank, from 1835-1852.

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The various periods in which Dąbrowa grew and developed into a large settlement were reflected in the architecture of the buildings. The town of ancient times, even though its inhabitants were not wealthy, kept the old character while gradually assuming the shape of a city. The neighborhoods of Huta Bankowa and Ksawera appeared to be purely industrial facilities. Every street was bisected by canals and planted trees, and the houses were different. The prettiest and most outstanding houses were: the local governor's mansion, built in the gothic style in 1842, according to the Lancy building plan; here was found the office of the head of the government factories; the miner's hospital, which achieved its character resulting from a change in the old worker's barracks, erected in 1827 for the workers; also the pharmacy and the post office. The number of buildings reached 78.

Dąbrowa of Zagłębie excelled in an unprecedented manner as the seat of governance to the mining industry as well as the administrator's base. Dąbrowa earlier (during the time of the Czarist regime) belonged to the shire of Radom in the Olkusz district, and reposed on the banks of the Black Przemsza River between a large number of mines and iron foundry works. This area spread out the length of about a mile, and half a mile wide, between the Glowno heights and the Będzin area. It was situated a short distance from Będzin, 3 kilometers from Glowno and a kilometer from Zomkowice. In actuality, Dąbrowa was not quickly recognized as a city, although market days] and seasonal fairs took place every week. The population was a mixture of mining people and factory owners. In 1860, the census counted 600 inhabitants.

The Będzin documents reveal that from the year 1870 a trickle of population to Dąbrowa began, which soon took on a mass character. People arrived from various places, and not just laborers and clerks but people from other walks of life as well, who hoped to find here suitable conditions to live and work. Many of the newcomers stayed, while others bemoaned their inability to achieve riches quickly and soon left. Among many of the arrivals were Polish gentlefolk, who lost their estates which were confiscated after the January rebellion.

The following years saw an increase in the population, and Dąbrowa grew rapidly. Despite its development, however, it retained the status of a village until 1915, and only in 1916 it was granted the honorary title of “city”. The first mayor of Dąbrowa during the period of the Austrian conquest was Edward Koszinski. The chairman of the city council was Dr. Adam Fibuar.

C. Jewish settlement in Dąbrowa

Prior to 1800, Jews had not settled in Dąbrowa. However, in 1767 an inn called “Under the Lion” was established, which lay on the border between “old” Dąbrowa and Będzin, and was run by a Jew named Jakub Josiwowicz. Even though he was a permanent visitor to Będzin and dealt there in the field of animal hides, we cannot think of him as a Dąbrowa resident.

After 1800 still not much is heard about Dąbrowa Jews, as during this time the mining industry was in the hands of the government, which did not allow them to settle there. On the other hand, a law had been promulgated which allowed the receipt of government land for mining. Until the year 1828, an edict issued by the local mining authority in 1816, said that under severe penalty, Jews were forbidden ownership in either the mining or smelting industries. This situation began to ease only after 1828 due to a lack of people to work in these fields, thus allowing Jews access. Around this same time, some of the first Jews began to settle in Radon: a family called Zeig, which later changed their name to Zeigus and still later, to Zigus. In 1828, two families arrived in Dąbrowa, Rozencwajg and Nathan. The head of the Nathan family, Aaron, who knew that Jews were forbidden to work in Radon in mining and smelting, opened honey syrup shop. Because honey syrup was tasty, miners would visit him often, and they would call him Miodownik. Aaron adapted to this name quickly, to the point that he abandoned his real name, and began to call himself Miodownik. Even his heirs later in Dąbrowa continued to use Miodownik as their surname.

The flow of Jews into Dąbrowa increased significantly after 1864. During this period the following Jewish families settled in Dąbrowa, having arrived from elsewhere in the Polish kingdom: Wajsalc, Seidbund, Mager, Szpigelmann, Strzegowski, Rechnic, Gliksman, Liberman, Glazer, Bajtner, Halperin, Nusenbaum, Szlezinger, Grosfeld, Grinbaum, Dąb, Kanerek and others.

The chronicles of the Polish uprising against Russia in 1863 featured some notable Dąbrowa names, as in Dąbrowa they received considerable support from the clerks and workers of the mines and foundries of the city.

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The rebels under the command of Theodor Tschaikowsky conquered Dąbrowa, formed a Polish national government and brought the mines and customs offices under their control. However this situation did not last long, and within a few weeks the area was reconquered by the Russian [Czarist] army. It is unknown what the fate was of the small Jewish community that had only just began to establish itself there, but it is unlikely that they faced worse conditions than did other Jewish communities in the Zagłębie area, most of whom were indifferent to the rebellion.

Within the Dąbrowa area, Jews from Zagłębie also tried establishing themselves in the mining business. The brothers Myrowice and Ignac Majtles, sons of the affluent Hassid Szmul Majtles from Modiszew who had settled in Sosnowiec opened in 1902 a coal mine named “Stanislaw” near the Catholic cemetery of Dąbrowa. This mine successfully obtained 3 mining rights that had belonged to a mining company called “Flora.” It had been previously operated by an engineer named Heliczinski, and later by a Winogowski family, who sold the mine to the engineer Stanislaw Lokowski and Morici Majtles. Following the death of Lokowski, his portion of the property went to Ignac Majtles. This was already during the time of independent Poland. The mine, by the time it came into the possession of the Majtles family, was in a poor state due to the in operation of the drilling unit deep inside and the deterioration of the facilities at the mine's entrance. The new owners refurbished the equipment and worked vigorously to improve the facilities. After a few months of hard work and capital investment, the mine's operations yielded a 40% improvement. The mine employed 240 workers and 15 clerks, and produced 50-60 tons of coal annually. The majority of the mine's output remained within the Polish state, and only a small percentage was exported to Austria and Czechoslovakia.

The Stanislaw mine was unique and generated much interest in Dąbrowa and the surrounding community. It was not dug vertically but had two paths sloping their way from the mine's opening, some 140 meters deep into the earth. The working conditions in this kind of mine were very difficult and required constant supervision that demanded much time and. As a result of this, the profits were minimal and twice were down to zero. The mine, however, provided a livelihood for several hundred workers and even the Christian workers valued the energy of the Jewish owners of the mine, endeavoring not to cause hassles and problems, as occurred elsewhere.

Members of the Zmigrod family of Będzin did not wait for abrogation of the Russian decrees against Jews being involved in mining and smelting, but managed to overcome these obstacles through the employment of what seemed to be, at least visually, non-Jews.

The Rechnic family of Dąbrowa was leaseholder of the first mines. The head of that family settled in Dąbrowa after 1864, and was active in Jewish life, especially towards the close of the 19th century. At the beginning, Rechnic dealt with the business aspect of digging, while his sons Heinrich and Szmul concerned themselves with the merchandising of the coal itself, later even getting involved with the digging out of the coal. Between 1900 and 1909, Heinrich led the “Matilda” mine in Dąbrowa and in 1900 the “Karol” mine in Zagórze, near to Dąbrowa. His brother, Szmul Rechnic, headed the “Jarosław” mine in nearby Niwka. The Rechnic family was involved in this mining business until the beginning of the Holocaust.

The number of Jews in Dąbrowa continued to grow, and also the number of Jews employed or engaged in the mining business. However they also incurred the wrath of Będzin's Jews and its rabbinate because they became involved with their own businesses and were no longer at the mercy of the Będzin community and rabbinate which hitherto had some control over their lives. It was time, basically, for Dąbrowa's Jews to form their own community. Until then, the Będzin rabbinate represented Zagłębie's Jews, as before that time there was no rabbi in Sosnowiec, and so the Dąbrowa Jews belonged to the Będzin community, as did all Jewish groups in the greater area. The great rabbi Jisaschar Graubart (the author of the book Divrei Jisaschar) began to officiate in place of Rabbi Kimelman, who was chief rabbi of Będzin and its area until 1893, when he died. By taking on the rabbinate of Będzin, he found himself at strong odds with the Sosnowiec community, of which Dąbrowa had been an integral part. Sosnowiec succeeded in breaking away from Będzin and Dąbrowa was eager to follow in its path.

Thus, from 1894, the dayan [religious judge] of Dąbrowa was Rabbi Mosze Bar Dawid Rapaport, who had been ordained by the noted rabbis of Kalice, Ostrowza and Będzin. With the expansion of its own Jewish community, the question of the independence of Dąbrowa's Jews became fundamental. The communities of Zagosza, Jusipow, the “Gemina Gorna” from Glowno and Zomkowiece approached the chancellor of Piotrków with a request to divest themselves of the Będzin community, and to state that along with the Dąbrowa Jewish community, they formed a new bloc.

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The reasons given for the foundation of this new community was that the greater distance now to Będzin required a local rabbinate, inasmuch as the Będzin folk were too busy with their own lives and situations, and so there was a need for local synagogues in Dąbrowa. The operations of the Russian government were exceedingly slow, and thus the problems of the two communities shifted to one of questions and answers, caught in the cogs of the Piotrków chancellor, without substantial results.

In the meantime, the Russian government representative found a pretext to banish several hundred Jewish families from farm land in the Dąbrowa area. According to law it was prohibited, especially for Jews, to settle in the area. This was in 1910. Two years later, after much Jewish prodding to the authorities, the farmland became available for settlement. However the Russian representative filed an appeal and won, and thus Jews were again denied settlement. This went back and forth until the Piotrków chancellor declared Dąbrowa a city. The legal wrangling now moved to the Governor-General in Warsaw, who deferred the matter to St. Petersburg. However before the matter could be finally settled, the First World War erupted, causing abeyance without settlement. Nonetheless, in the wake of the Russian exodus from the area near the German border in the early months of the war, there was a juridical postponement of the settlement question with the Jews being the winners. Dąbrowa was declared a city under Austrian authority.

In 1910 the Jews of Dąbrowa severed links with the Będzin and declared themselves free to administer to Jewish affairs in Dąbrowa and its surroundings. The delegates of this community were: Jakub-Mendel Gliksman, Icze-Majer Nusbaum, Szlama Rechnic and Dawid Nuber. They remained leaders in this capacity until 1916.

Synagogue construction began in 1912 on Majska Street. Berl Fuks contributed the plot for this area, however the building was only completed during the war, and Berl Fuks was the gabbai (sexton). The Jewish cemetery began to operate only after Poland became an independent state, in 1920. The members of the Chevra Kaddisha were: Wolf Fajner (founder), Jehoszua Swierski, Mosze-Aron Lurie, Mosze-Dawid Spigler, and Gerzon-Hanoch Spilberg. Before the completion of the synagogue, services were held in a rented building. There Mordechai Liberman of Zabrze acted as cantor, and went on to perform as cantor in the completed synagogue building. His promoters were Berl Fuks, Alter Futerko, Mordechai-Hilel Ferenc, Jicchak-Majer Luxemburg, Herszl Reichman and Mosze Mitelman. The Jewish cemetery was near Jabrowa Street.

The first rabbi of Dąbrowa was Alter-Mosze Aaron HaLevi, who was born in 1867, the son of a rabbi from Pazenow. Already in his youth he was a prodigy. He married the daughter of the rabbi of Niemczyk (near Strzemieszyce), and his father-in-law gave him a house in Sosnowiec, from which he had a rental income. He was an unpaid member of the Beth Din of Będzin and a good friend of Rabbi Josef Engel, who lived in Będzin several years. In 1911 he came to Dąbrowa and began to officiate as the rabbi of the community and surroundings. He was a chassid of Rabbi Szlomo Hakohen Rabinowicz, the known Tzadik of Radomsk (the author of Tiferet Shlomo), a great master of charity. He presided in Dąbrowa until his death on the 15th of Kislev in the year 1934. His assistants were, alternatively, Rabbi Aba Szlezinger and Rabbi Mosze Rappaport. He was replaced by his son-in-law Rabbi Baruch Epsztajn, of the illustrious Admorim of Majwarow, great-grandson of Rabbi Kalonimus of Krakow, author of Maor Veshemesh. Rabbi Baruch Epsztajn perished in the Holocaust.

The majority of Dąbrowa's Jews and that of the surrounding area were Hasids with connections to various families, and presently there sprung up “shtiblach” (Hasidic synagogues) of the Radomsk, Krimilow, Alexander and Gur dynasties. These first made a great impression on the Jewish community. At the home of Rav Halevi (the author of the book Tevuat Adama), a shtibel was opened, and the Bet Midrash there was seen as the center of the Radomskers. However there were also other Hassidim, such as Rav Ruwen Glazerman, who was a Hassid of the Kock dynasty. He was part of the businessmen of the city who chased after deeds of piety, and to him it is worthy to devote a separate page.

Among the Radomsk Hassidim Rav Jakub-Scholem Fiszl should be mentioned, who was born in Będzin, but lived most of his life in Dąbrowa. He would pray in tefillin given to him on his bar-mitzvah by the author of Tiferet Shlomo, and was a business person involved in charitable works. He took part in the joyous occasions of everyone, but also in their sorrows. He died in 1933.

At the beginning of the First World War, with the conquest of Dąbrowa by the Austrians, a “Jewish Vaad” (committee) was founded, for the purpose of handling Jewish affairs in the city. Its members were: Jakob Sternik, a dentist, Szlomo Halperin (the son-in-law of Jakob-Scholem, of the first Zionists) and Gershon-Chanoch Spielberg. Their elected advisors were Gitzl Shturchjain, Szlomo Rechnic, Jakub-Scholem Fiszl and Ruwen Grosfeld.

Based on a decree by the Austrian occupation government on 3rd September 1916, a community “vaad” was officially established, which actually began operation on the 9th of July, 1916. In its first elections winners were:

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Mordechai-Lew Miodownik, Jicchak-Majer Nusenbaum and Lejbl Strzegowski. Their assistants were: Ruwen Grosfeld, Dawid Grinbaum and Mosze Mitelman. They continued in their jobs until 1924. The first chairman of the Jewish Council elected in 1924 was Hersz-Tuwje Liberman, and the first chairman of the Vaad was Lejbl Strzegowski.

According to the census taken on the 18th of March, 1923, the number of inhabitants of Dąbrowa was 33,868, among which 16,599 men and 17,269 women. The number of Jews in the city reached 5,000 souls.

D. The Black Przemsza River

Dąbrowa rested on the banks of the Black Przemsza River, which was the Zagłębie's main and longest river. Nonetheless, it never achieved much honor or significance. It was an average river, whose waters flowed quietly. It ran mostly in a straight line, yet did not lack for a few curves in the length of its course. The people of the area were content with what fate brought them and valued the river as being a wide one. Strollers along its banks enjoyed the area's beauty and never ceased to praise its merits. Drowning took place from time to time, and like other rivers, it had its share of accidents and troubles. Flooding occasionally happened and caused more than a few hazards, and in rare instances flooding became so severe as to cost both lives and property.

The Przemsza River offered the Jews living in its vicinity a place for bathing and ritual immersion before Shabbat and holidays, and a place for “tashlich” gatherings on Rosh Hashana. On the other hand, the river was a source of enjoyment to the industry workers as well.

The White Przemsza trickled from springs in the Wolbrom area, through Sławków and Granice on the westerly side in the direction of Niwka, where it merged with the Black Przemsza near an area formerly called “The Three Monarchies.” The Black Przemsza flowed through all the major towns of the Zagłębie, which were now mostly called cities. On the left bank of the Przemsza were streams called Zwiczka and Bugrija, an area of wetlands that joined Fajkla, Glowno and Dąbrowa.

It is not easy to dismiss the value of the Black Przemsza River, which flowed within the border of Congressional Poland and within the confines of Galicia. Its course meandered along through brown clay and silt, which gave its waters a murky brown color, hence the name “Black Przemsza”. This was in contrast to its brother river in the Wolbrom area, the waters of which were clear and thus was called “the White Przemsza.”

Obviously, the rivers too had a specific history. The Black Przemsza played an important part in the commerce of ancient times, and until the end of the 11th century served as a water conduit from the Vistula to the Wartha Rivers. Until the end of the 14th century, the Przemsza carried sailing barges. Along its waters plied barges, skiffs, small vessels of different types, etc. These carried merchandise and material to the Vistula area and back. The Black Przemsza is mentioned in the writings of the Polish historian J. Długosz. On the banks of the Przemsza from ancient times, fishermen caught and sold their catches. In villages along the banks of the Przemsza, many people labored, using horses in their work. These people continued in their ways until the first half of the 19th century. In 1830, sailing vessels, some as big as 18 meters long and 5 meters wide, perhaps forty in number, and not considering smaller craft, sailed between Dąbrowa-Będzin and the Vistula. Until 1860, the Przemsza trade carried potatoes, flour, straw, lumber, fish, coal, etc. The annual loads by 1859 reached upwards of 900,000 units of weight. In 1818, a plan was conceived to construct a canal from the Przemszain the Dąbrowa-Będzin area to the White Przemsza.

In olden times, the Przemsza was well-stocked with fish of all kinds, and even pike found its home here. The river added a handsome income to the Będzin and Dąbrowa miners and to the owners of the estates of Pogon and Szielce. Along the Przemsza oak trees could also be found in great numbers, lining the banks of the river, although many had already been cut down. Today the river is no longer stocked with fish. Those which are left are mostly bream and some bottom-feeders. This scarcity is due to overfishing and not allowing the fish to replenish themselves naturally. Boat rentals too suffered from this and few are now found along the banks. Veteran fishermen believe that effluents from the mines contributed to the dearth of fish in the Przemsza. In ancient times, even eels could be found in abundance in the Przemsza River. Today few are left.

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The water level of the Przemsza River began to recede considerably already in the 15th century. By the end of the 18th century, due to the establishment of mines and foundries near its banks and in the rest of Upper Silesia and the Zagłębie, water began to “escape” and be absorbed by industrial pools and similar constructions. These culminated in law suits between the land owners and the mining industrialists, which resulted in some heavy payment of reparations. More than once did these sums reach more than 3,000 Taler.

During times of heavy rains, the Przemsza often overflowed its banks and flooded adjacent areas. During the month of Cheshvan in 1936, the great flood of that period reached the newspapers, and it is from these that we learn of the damages caused. We learn that the torrential rains which poured for many days unceasingly caused massive flooding of the river's banks, along with flooding from the Bogoria river. The water level rose precipitously and it was only through extensive efforts of police that no lives were lost. Most of the flood damage occurred in Będzin and Dąbrowa. In some areas the depths of the waters reached three meters. Streets were inundated and some houses were half full of water. The inhabitants who had not rescued their belongings incurred severe losses, as water damaged clothing, furniture, appliances, etc. Even connection with other communities was broken.

In Dąbrowa, the following areas were especially hard-hit: Zilona, Korzeniec, Roboticza and others. Many residents were forced to leave their dwellings, and children were taken by small boats to safety in schools. The municipal government was actively involved in the rescue operations. Great indeed was the wrath of the Przemsza, and it was many days before the waters subsided and life returned to normal.

Also the Bogoria River passed through the Dąbrowa area in forested wetlands. Through its entire length, this river presents a beautiful view to any onlooker. Near Gzichów its waters merged into the Black Przemsza.

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