50°20' / 19°09'
Translation of Sosnowiec chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopaedia of
Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume VII,
pages 327-338, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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During the Polish Uprising of 1863, groups of rebels organized themselves in the forests near Sosnowiec. One of these groups stole 90,000 roubles from the tax office in Sosnowiec and drove out the Russian garrison from the city, and following these successes, around 100 workers joined the rebels who were organized into a battalion. Several weeks later Russian army battalions were brought to the city and most of the railway workers who had participated in the rebellion were arrested. At the end of 19th century the rate of development greatly accelerated in the region and the population of Sosnowiec grew at an unprecedented rate. In 1895 the number of residents reached approximately 50,000, and later on the demographic boom continued. In 1886 5,051 industrial laborers worked in the region and in 1901 there were 23 factories in Sosnowiec and its suburbs. The industrial development drew investors, bankers and real estate agents to there and at the same time trade and services developed. The city grew unplanned, though Sosnowiec and the suburbs were not regarded as a single civic entity. Only in 1902, after the village of Sielce, that numbered 20,000 residents, and the miners' settlement Fogon (with the same name as the mine) were also joined to Sosnowiec, did Sosnowiec achieve city status. Over the years, other small workers' settlements were joined to it.
At the end of the 19th century Sosnowiec was, when most of its population was industrial workers, the center of the labor movement. In 1894 the PPS party (the Polish Socialist party) initiated a large miners' and industrial workers' strike. In January 1905, during the period of the revolution, hundreds of workers assembled in a local factory and set forth to demonstrate in the city streets. The Russian mounted battalion that was conscripted to quell the riots opened fire on them and 21 of the demonstrators were killed. In an additional clash in the Katarina foundry plant 38 demonstrators were killed. The strike it and with it the events of the revolution of 1905 ended in Sosnowiec after 32 blood-filled days.
With the outbreak of the First World War, the Germans captured the Zaglembie
region including Sosnowiec. The industrial infrastructure of the city was badly
damaged. The Germans emptied out the contents of many factories and others were
transferred to Germany. An additional 15,000 workers were sent to work in
German factories. Only the coalmines were undamaged and work in them continued.
At the beginning, public prayer took place in private houses and in the shtiblach [small synagogues] of the Chassidim. In 1906 a large and expansive synagogue was dedicated that was deemed to quickly supply an answer to the needs of a large community. Its building was mainly financed by donations of resident Jewish merchants.
In 1898 the Sosnowiec kehila was recognized as an independent kehila. Three wealthy and educated merchants Stanislaw Rajner, Jakob Najfeld and Adolf Openhajm were elected as the first kehila council. From 1906 there were two Chassidic Jews from amongst the 12 members of the Dozór Boznici (the representative kehila committee on behalf of the Royal Polish government, whose authority was limited to religious matters).
The growth of the kehila and the expansion of its range of activities can be learnt from its budget. In the years 1899-1902 the income of the Sosnowiec kehila was 6,502 roubles. Most of this sum 6,450 roubles was received from the kehila tax (50 roubles per household). The expenditure of the kehila totalled 6,350 roubles of which 3,285 roubles went for wages (100 roubles to the rabbi, 400 roubles to two cantors, 355 roubles to three beadles and 480 roubles for the guards), synagogue lighting 250 roubles, synagogue repairs 305 roubles, assistance the poor 1,200 roubles, support to the Talmud Torah [religious school] 1,260 roubles. In 1909 the kehila budget grew to 9,787 roubles and assistance the poor to 2,644 roubles; in 1910 the budget reached 12,843 roubles and assistance to the poor was budgeted to 5,089 roubles.
Private people assisted the kehila by financing the welfare and relief institutions. In 1902 the merchant Genrich Elionor Rajcher donated 10,000 roubles to the Tomchei Aniyim [Supporting the poor] society, and in 1907 the Linat Zedek [hospice for the poor] society was established to assist the ill. In 1912 Dr. Abram Perlman founded the Jewish hospital, acquiring funds from the city's wealthy, and in May of the same year the hospital was dedicated.
At the end of the 19th century most of the children in the kehila studied in the traditional cheder, but the wealthy hired private teachers for their sons. Chaim Nachman Bialik was amongst the first Hebrew teachers in the city (in the years 1897-1900). In 1902, when Sosnowiec was declared a city, 8 public schools were established, and the Jews of Sosnowiec, for which only a few of their children studied in them, were also compelled to participate in their upkeep with an annual payment of 5,000 roubles (education tax). In 1907 a Jewish public school was established in which there were two separate classes, one for boys and one for girls. In 1913 there were 22 students in the boys' class. In 1908 the kehila established a Talmud Torah, at a cost of 2,400 roubles. In 1913 Icchak Rotner donated a plot to the kehila on which an additional Talmud Torah was built.
The first rabbi, Rabbi Arje Lejb Gitler (died in 1888), came to Sosnowiec from Pinczow in the 1860s, and after his death his son, Rabbi Abram Majer Gitler, was appointed in his place (died in 1925). He served in this capacity for 37 years. For many years the father and son were compelled to make do with the title of educational teacher, since the Jews of Sosnowiec were subject to the kehila in Bedzin, and only when the kehila [of Sosnowiec] received independence was Rabbi Abram Majer appointed as its rabbi. In 1900 he was elected as Rabbi on behalf of the authorities and preacher Rabbi Dawid Sztajnzalc (died in 1921), and in 1902 Rabbi Icchak Glikman (died in 1929) was elected to a dayan [judge] in the kehila circumventing Rabbi Gitler, a deed that caused a dispute in the city.
In the city there were also Admorim [Chassidic rabbis] with their following of Chassidim: Rabbi Alter Abram Bezalel Natan Neta Biderman from the land of Israel (The Jerusalem Rabbi), who died in 1933 and his coffin was brought to Israel; his relative and son-in-law, Rabbi Mordechai Elazar Menachem Biderman, took his place (was killed in the Holocaust); Rabbi Dawid Pardes son of Rabbi Mordechai from Staszow (died in 1922), a pupil of the Visionary from Lublin; Rabbi Eliezer Finkler (died in 1937), of the Radoszicz rabbinical dynasty, came to Sosnowiec in 1929 from Kielce; his eldest son, Rabbi Pinchas Isschar Finkler, continued the Admorim in Sosnowiec (killed in the Holocaust); Rabbi Szlomo Chanoch Hacohen Rabinowicz, one of the wealthiest men in Poland and an exceptional marketing talent, established 36 yeshivot [religious seminaries] (Keter Torah [Crown of the Torah] yeshivot) and looked after their upkeep. He was killed in the Holocaust with his daughter and only son-in-law, Rabbi Mosze Dawid Hacohen Rabinowicz, who ran the chain of yeshivot.
In the year 1897/8 the first group of Zionists was organized. Amongst the
founders and activists Chajm Nachman Bialik was prominent, who resided at that
time the city and opened classes for studying Hebrew. The principal activity
was focused on distributing Otzar Hahityashvut Hayehudim [The
Jewish settlement treasure] Zionist Bank bonds.
In 1903 a representative from Sosnowiec was elected as a delegate to the Zionist Congress. In 1907 the Chovevey Hasafa Ivri [Lovers of the Hebrew language] society was founded, on the initiative of the writer Mosze Stebeski who resided in Sosnowiec in the years 1906-1908; in 1912 the Hazamir [The songbird] society was founded, that formed a choir and presented plays, lectures and other cultural activities in Hebrew.
The Jewish workers' movement was already active in Sosnowiec at the end of the 19th century. In 1894 its members participated in organizing the first strikes in the local workshops, and in the events of the 1905 revolution Jewish youths were called to leave their schools and join the protestors. In the years 1906-1908 underground cells of the Bund and Poale Zion [Workers of Zion] were organized. Izak Ingster was prominent amongst the workers, for distributing revolutionary literature in the city.
More than once anti-Semitic incidents erupted in the city, often as it happens, at the initiative of the workers. On Rosh Hashana [Jewish New Year] of 1903, for example, workers pelted stones at the Jews who had come to the Przemsza River to perform the tashlich [ridding of sins] ritual. The police put a stop to the incident before casualties were caused. In July 1911 an angry crowd of Poles broke into the synagogue at prayer time and caused a commotion, since they claimed that the Jews had kidnapped and hidden a Polish girl in order to use her blood for ritual rites. Once again bloodshed was prevented through the intervention of the police.
Sosnowiec was captured by the Germans when the First World War broke out. During the first period of occupation there was terrible suffering, frequently to the point of starvation. In 1915 thousands of Jewish refugees came to the city from other settlements in the Zaglembie region and the kehila, that found it difficult to assist them, handed out 100 gram of bread each day to the refugees. The suffering was slightly eased in 1916 as aid despatches began arriving from German Jews and money from the American Joint [organization].
The occupying authorities appointed a citizens' council to run the city and in it there were two Jewish representatives the merchant Hersz Lipszyc and Slizi Maimon, both of them from assimilated circles. In 1917 the first elections were held for the city council. Members of the Poale Zion joined the PPS party that contested the Nationalist Endecja party. Ten out of the eighteen members of the elected council were Jews: six of them assimilated, one a representative of the Orthodox, two Zionists (one from Poale Zion) and a representative from the merchants' party.
After the Germans had eliminated most of the restrictions that the Tsarist
Russian authorities had instigated on public and political activity, the
Bund and Poale Zion renewed their activities in the
city. In 1916 Poale Zion members held the first home gatherings and
established a library (named after Y. L. Perez), and held Zionist and other
lectures and meetings, including Bund members. In 1916 the first
branch of the Zionist sports association Maccabi was established
and in 1917 a Maccabi conference was held in Sosnowiec, with 82
activists participating. In 1915 a group of educated Jews established the first
modern high school.
|Tailoring and needlework||205||514|
|Wood products, carpentry||15||32|
|Cleaning & sanitation||8||45|
In the committee elections of February 1936 there were 12 lists. The Orthodox were greatly strengthened and embarked on the elections with 4 lists, that together received 2,000 votes, whilst the League for a Working Land of Israel only received 230 votes, Hamizrachi 445 and the General Zionists together with the Revisionists only 288 votes. In 1938 the committee budget stood at 200,000 zlotys. From this 45,000 zlotys were allocated to the maintenance of the synagogue, school and other public buildings, 8,000 zlotys to cultural and educational projects, 6,000 zlotys medicines for the poor, 8,000 zlotys matzos for the poor and 2,500 zlotys as assistance to immigrants.
In the last elections, in January 1939, the Orthodox were further strengthened, Rabbi Englard's list received 3 mandates in the committee, Hamizrachi 3, and the rest of the contenders Agudat Yisrael, the Zionists, Rabbi Glickman's list, the Radomsk Chassidim, the Alexander Chassidim, Rabbi Frumer's list and the workshop owners' list each received one mandate. Szalom Lajzerowicz and Josef Majtlis were elected as head and deputy of the Kehila. Several days after the elections the Zionist representative withdrew from the Kehila management committee and a young businessman, Mosze (Moniek) Meryn, took his place (1903-1943), and he was later the very influential head of the Judenrat of the Zaglembie region during the Holocaust period.
In the period between the two world wars, Zionist activity in the city reached a peak. Already in 1920, there were Zionists from all movements and factions General Zionists, Hamizrachi, Tzerei Zion [Young Zionists] (that had 200 members) and Poale Zion, which we learn from the list of participants in a donation evening for the Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] that was held at the time. The Revisionists established a Revisionists branch there. In 1929, after the riots in the land of Israel, members of the Revisionists and Beitar protested next to the British consulate in Katowice. In 1931 Chaim Nachman Bialik visited Sosnowiec and 3,000 city residents came to hear his speech.
The distribution of power between the Zionist delegates in Sosnowiec can be
learnt from the results of elections to the Zionist Congresses:
|Working Land of Israel Bloc||||||281||806||1,017||1,009|
The Jewish youth in Sosnowiec was also active in two large sports' unions Maccabi, that was already established during the First World War, and Shimshon (established in 1922) whose football team in Sosnowiec was renown throughout Poland. In 1926 there were 600 activists in Maccabi who took part in ten sports' disciplines. In 1932 a large sports delegation set out from Sosnowiec to the Maccabia in the Land of Israel. Several of the delegation took advantage of the opportunity and settled in Israel.
The culture blossoming in the period between the two world wars also was evident in the educational field. In 1918 the Hamizrachi gymnasia was founded. Agudat Yisrael activists opened a school belonging to the Bet Ya'akov chain, in which about 300 girls learnt in 5 classes. The Jewish high school that was founded during the First World War was closed in 1922, however in 1929 national classes were begun in the new Jewish gymnasia. The Jewish Schools' Society, founded by Dr. Abram Perlman, opened a Jewish primary school near the gymnasia. In 1931 the society also founded a large public library that served the Jewish education system. In that year the Orthodox expanded their educational chain and opened a cheder which had four classrooms, it was called Yesod Torah [The Basis of the Torah] in which secular studies were also learnt. In 1937 a group of wealthy merchants was organized, which was led by Josef Sapir and 250,000 zlotys were collected to establish a commercial high school, and a year later, in 1938, a school was opened. 50 boys and girls studied in it. The curriculum also included work in businesses in the city, and in the evening there were advance studies for merchants and clerks. In 1935 the ORT organization opened evening craft classes in which about 150 youths studied. In 1938 ORT held a collection campaign to finance its activities in the city and raised 6,000 zlotys.
In the 1920s and 1930s several Jewish newspapers appeared in Sosnowiec. In July 1921 the weekly Unzer Blat was founded (in 1923 Unzer Telefon), which was edited by Lajbisz Szpigelman. In 1937 one of the personnel of the important weekly magazine Zaglembier Zeitung established the weekly Zaglembier Leiben which also came out in Sosnowiec.
The Gmilot Chesed [Philantropic] fund was also amongst the important aid and welfare organizations and was founded in 1925 at the initiative of the Joint. Its basic capital stood at 20,000 zlotys. In 1929 there were 127,000 zlotys in the fund and 700 Jews secured loans. Around 24,000 people benefited from treasury loans up until the outbreak of the war. The Jewish hospital had for many years had financing difficulties was closed in March 1925 but in August 1926 was reopened. In the 1930s the financial situation of the institution improved and it was expanded, and the number of patients that were treated in it over a year was about 400. In 1936 the number of patients reached 867, and before the war 1,224 people were treated in the hospital and it had 90 beds. In 1927 a company was organized for the building of a Jewish old age home and about 170 of the community's wealthy collected 90,000 zlotys. In 1933 the building was completed and an old age home with 40 places was opened. In May 1939 there were 120 Jewish refuges from Germany in Sosnowiec and the kehila, together with the Jewish welfare institutions initiated an aid program for them.
In 1925, Rabbi Glickman was elected as the head of the Bet-Din
[Jewish law court] in Sosnowiec and following his death official elections were
held in 1930 for the position of city's rabbi and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager
(dies in 1954) was elected, a Hamizrachi activist and was its
delegate to the Zionist Congress. Due to his Zionist activity the Agudat
Yisrael people did not recognize him and his Chassidim. They elected
Rabbi Iszajahu Englard (father of the present Admor from Radzin),
who had served earlier as the rabbi in Modzrejow, and he was appointed as the
city's rabbi and thus Sosnowiec had two city rabbis. Together with them Rabbi
Jehoszua Glickman, the son of Rabbi Icchak, served in the city and its
neighborhoods (1894-1942, died in the Holocaust); Rabbi Szlomo Sztenzel (died
in 1919), the author of Kohelet Szlomo, who also stood as the head
of the yeshiva; Rabbi Chanoch Chanich Jungster; Rabbi Jonatan Sztark; Rabbi
Mendel Hacohen Szwarc; Rabbi Arie Cwi Frumer from Kozieglowy, who from 1935
stood at the head of the Chachamei Lublin [The wise men of
Lublin] yeshiva; and Rabbi Dawid Jehoszua Halbersztam.
In the city itself panic buying prevailed, and a few hours after the war began
foodstuffs had ran out in the shops.
In the same month, the Germans operated systematically to separate the Jews from their possessions. Jews living in good apartments were vacated in favor of Germans. A branch of the East Custodian office was established in Katowice, that was subject to Goering and oversaw the confiscation of property. After all the businesses owned by Jews in the Zaglembie region were listed, the businesses were confiscated for the good of the Reich and custodians were appointed for them most of them Germans who had come to the region through the chance of becoming rich from Jewish property. In 1940 there were 2,592 German settlers from the Reich in Sosnowiec and in 1942 their number reached 10,794 about 10% of the city's residents. For the most part the custodians continued to hire the previous owners in their businesses, for a meager wage. After deducting his expenses and wage, the custodian would transfer the business profits to a special government account. This system created an opening for corruption and becoming rich easily.
Together with the confiscation of property, regulations were announced at the
end of October regarding the induction of Jews into forced labor. Men who were
younger than 55 were obliged to work two days a week. In November a number of
additional edicts were announced including the obligation of wearing a white
armband with a blue Star of David on it.
Amongst the Hashomer Hatzair graduates, a movement whose influence was prominent in Sosnowiec, there was almost no-one left in the city when the war broke out. A group of friends from the Sosnowiec center had been in the hachshara [training camp] in Radom when war broke out and on the 6th of September moved to Vilna and stayed there. Samek Majtlis suggested to his Hanoar Hazioni [Zionist Youth] movement friends to escape to the Soviet occupied region and establish a kolkhoz there. The leader of the movement in Sosnowiec, Jozek Kozoch, on the other hand, demanded that everyone remain in Sosnowiec and continue activities. Indeed, most of the Hanoar Hazioni members heeded their leader and stayed. They met secretly in small groups of 5 members and held activities in private homes, and even established funds for mutual help for families of members who had met with serious difficulties.
In 1941 there were about 700 members of the Zionist youth movements in the city
of which about 400 were members of Hanoar Hazioni.
The first Judenrat included 7 departments welfare, health, law, financial, labor, supply and administration. In 1940, as refugees arrived from Silesia, the welfare department opened up public kitchens and clothes' warehouses. The health department was responsible for the maintenance of the hospital, the only one in all of Zaglembie that treated Jews. The labor department organized the induction of the forced labor and put an end to the kidnapping in the city streets as long as the Germans needed workers for clearing snow or repairing roads. It was Meryn that suggested to the Germans that the Judenrat be used to induct a quantity of the required forced laborers.
In December 1939 the Germans established the Zentrale, the central Judenrat in East Upper Silesia, and Mosze Meryn stood at the head of this new body. He inducted well-known public activists from Sosnowiec and Bedzin and also younger people, in their 30s and 40s, most of them from Zionist parties, into the Zentrale. The Zentrale included 9 departments welfare, health, law, finacial, labor, education, a statistics department and archives. Up until April 1940, it also had an emigration department. The Zentrale departments supervised the work in the equivalent departments of the local Judenrat, helped it with finance and directed its work. When the Zentrale was set up, Mosze Meryn's brother, Chaim, was appointed as head of the local Judenrat in Sosnowiec.
At the end of 1939 a Jewish police force was also established in Sosnowiec. In
1941 it was under the control of the central police force of the Zentrale,
which numbered some 200 policemen. The Jewish policemen
wore a yellow and white armband. Romek Goldminc, the head of the Jewish police
force in Bedzin, was appointed as the head of the Zentrale police
force. He was born in the Land of Israel and worked in the Land of
Israel office in Katowice before the war.
In the spring of 1940, about 5,000 Jews who had been deported from Silesia were brought to the eastern section of the Zaglembie region. Several hundred of them reached Sosnowiec. In March 1941 6,500 Jews were deported from their city to Oswiecim, with the assistance of Jewish policemen from Sosnowiec and Bedzin. On reaching Sosnowiec, several hundred from amongst these were sent to labor camps. The rest were warmly greeted by teams of youths together with a medical staff that took care of the elderly and the ill. About 3,000 of the refugees were absorbed in Sosnowiec and Bedzin, and the Judenrat prepared places to live for them in the apartments of Jewish families.
In October 1940 the first groups set out from Sosnowiec and Bedzin to the labor camps, in which there were about 500 youths. At the end of autumn the number of workers in the camps already reached 2,880 persons. Most of them were involved in excavation work and paving fast roads that were intended to link Silesia with the Reich, in the Breslau [Wroclaw] and Gleiwitz [Gliwice] areas. The work conditions in the labor camps belonging to the Schmelt Organization were very difficult. The people worked for 12 hours in freezing cold, were regularly punished and beaten, and the food was poor and the living quarters extremely run down.
News about the goings on in the labor camps reached Sosnowiec and Bedzin, and
in March 1941, as a new wave of worker induction for the camps began, the
candidates that elected to report for work by themselves, together with the
Jewish police, were compelled to forcefully induct workers. At night the police
raided Jewish homes and took with them people appearing on previously prepared
lists. As a way of putting on pressure, Meryn tended to cancel the food cards
of the families whose sons had not reported. During this period workers from
Sosnowiec were sent to build the annihilation camp in Auschwitz.
In June 1942 the deportations were renewed throughout the Zaglembie region. Once again the deportation candidates did not report, and the Gestapo and the Jewish police raided the homes and assembled the residents in the school building in the city. When the required quota was not reached, the residents of a Jewish old age home were added to the transport, and were brought there in wagons, as well as children from the orphanage (several of them managed to hide out in a nearby field assisted by members of Hanoar Hazioni). Later came the turn of the hospital. The patients were hauled out of their beds and taken in trucks to the assembly point. In total around 2,000 of Sosnowiec's Jews were sent to Auschwitz in June 1942.
In May-June 1942 about 10% of the Jews were deported from the city. During this period the shops increased production, even so there were many Jews that remained in the city who the Germans considered as non-productive and they decided to renew the controlled deportations from Sosnowiec and Bedzin. In addition to the local Jews there were about 7,000 Jewish refugees living in Sosnowiec and Bedzin from Silesia, from the General Government and from Oswiecim, who didn't have identity cards and whenever a selection took place they were in greater danger than the others.
On the 8th of October, Chaim Meryn, the head of the local Judenrat in Sosnowiec, announced a call for all the Jews to report on the morning of the 12th of August at various locations in the city and to bring their work permits with them. Chaim Meryn already knew something about the destination of the deportations and, in spite of this, did not refuse to aid the Germans. A day before, on the 11th of August, Mordechai Anilewicz met with the leaders of the youth movements of the city and firmly demanded that the Jews not report. However the young movement members were not successful in convincing most of the Jews not to heed the Judenrat orders.
On the 12th of August 1942, that was later to be known as the Great
Deportation, the Jews of Sosnowiec left their homes and made their way to
the assembly points. Despite the fact that the official reporting time was
determined as 7 o'clock in the morning, many sought to come early, and the
first people came at 5 o'clock. The sick and elderly that had obtained report
exemptions from the Judenrat made an effort and came for fear that
the Gestapo would raid homes and take vengeance. At 7 o'clock in the morning
there were already about 22,000 Sosnowiec Jews assembled in the sports' arena
in Jan Street and in seven of the larger shops, and at 10 o'clock
Jewish policemen were sent to transfer those assembled in the shops
to the sports' arena. The crowding in the sports' ground was great. Everyone
waited for the inspection time. On account of the heat and lack of water,
several people fainted, the tension reached a peak, and at 3 o'clock in the
afternoon some agitation began amongst the assembled crowd. The
Judenrat people received permission from the Germans to distribute
bread to those assembled in the arena, however, when the bread was brought a
large disturbance broke out. The SS men beat the assembled crowd with rubber
batons and forced them to stand in lines. In the meantime, news arrived
according to which the selection had already begun in Bedzin. At 4 o'clock in
the afternoon the SS men surrounded the arena and large riot broke out amongst
the Jews. The Jewish police concentrated the Jews onto one side of the arena
and the selection began. In the center of the arena members of the Schmalt
Organization, Drajer and Lindner, stood together with Meryn. The Jews
were divided into four groups and sent to corners on the other half of the
arena. In the first group there were Judenrat members and its
employees and Jewish policemen, in the second youths aged 16 to 24, in
the third work permit holders, and the fourth group families with
children and the elderly. The selection continued to 10 o'clock at night.
In the early evening the Judenrat clerks were released to their homes, as well as members of their families (the first group) and following them the shop workers (the third group), whilst those youths who were destined for the labor camps (the second group) were transferred to a local transit camp. Amongst those in the fourth group there were those who tried to sneak into the third group; the Germans responded by shooting and there were some casualties. In the meantime, heavy rain began and the Germans quit the place. A squad of Jewish policemen was delegated to guard the Jews remaining in the arena. On the next day, the 13th of August, Meryn came to the arena and told the Jews remaining there that he had requested from the Germans that they not carry out the deportation. The Jews were ordered into rows and led to four houses on Targowa and Kolontaja Streets that had been vacated of their residents. Whilst they were marching there, two Jews attempted to escape and were shot dead. It was stifling and greatly overcrowded in the four houses. The Germans guarded outside and forbade opening the windows for fear of escapes. In spite of the strict guard, several members of the youth movements managed to get inside the houses and take out several children. Hipek Glicensztajn of the Hanoar Hazioni discovered a faulty wall in one of the houses and with the help of some other people opened up a large hole through which many escaped. On the 15th of August the deportation began. For three straight days loaded trains set out from Sosnowiec, in which about 4,000 Jews were taken from Sosnowiec to Auschwitz.
After this deportation Meryn told those that remained the Great Deportation was proof that only if the Jews worked would they have a chance. In the summer of 1942 Meryn opened two labor camps in Sosnowiec and Bedzin (Arbeits-Kommando Lager or abbreviated as AK) for the refugees from the General Government and the Zaglembie region who were left without identity papers and a danger of deportation hung over them. Even though there was a deal of anger towards Meryn and his men, many believed what he was saying and thought that the August event did prove the necessity of a Jewish work force and only Jews that were not useful were intended for deportation. A large flux of people began in the direction of the shops and other work places that entitled their workers to a working permit necessary for the German war effort (the army required clothes, boots and other products for the difficult campaign in the USSR and North Africa). The Schmalt Organization, whose activities were at their peak at the time, increased the demand for Jewish workers. The organization ran 84 labor camps for Jews in Silesia, that together with the shops employed about 60,000 workers. Held's textile shop in Sosnowiec employed about 4,000 workers in 1943.
In the autumn of 1942 the Germans began establishing a ghetto in the Srodula quarter. Its establishment continued for a long period on account of the difficulty of the evacuation of the Polish residents of the quarter and the transfer of Jews to their houses. Only on the 15th of March 1943 Meryn completed the transfer of 14,000 Jews to the Srodula ghetto and another 6,000 Jews were transferred to the ghetto in the old city quarter (Stary-Sosnowiec). Meryn made sure that the transfer was orderly. The housing department of the Judenrat took care of the allocation of living places. A new home for children up to 6 years of age was established. The Jewish hospital, as well, continued to operate and the public kitchens were reopened. A fence did not surround the ghetto, and there were only signs declaring that leaving the Srodula quarter for the Polish sections of the city was forbidden. This fact facilitated the transfer of food to the ghetto, and also thousands of workers left each day for their work in the shops, that remained outside the ghetto.
In June 1943 the Germans decided to liquidate all the Jews in Upper Silesia. The deportation from Sosnowiec and Bedzin was determined for the 22nd of June. On the 19th of June 1943, Mosze Meryn, his girlfriend and assistant Czerna, his brother Chaim and several other senior Zentrale members to the German police headquarters, and on the same day all of them were deported to Auschwitz. It is thought that their deportation was connected to a passport affair, in which hundreds of Zaglembie residents were involved in (see later). The Germans appointed his deputy, Webek Smietana, to take Meryn's position. The akzia in Bedzin took place on the 22nd of June and in the Sosnowiec ghetto continued for two days on the 23rd to 24th of the month. This time the Jews hid away better and many of them were not caught. About 1,200 Jews from the city were deported during this akzia to Auschwitz.
On the 1st of August 1943 the final liquidation of the Jews of Zaglembie began. The Germans, who had learnt lessons from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and from the deportations in Zaglembie in June of the same year, recruited large forces for the deportation 775 policemen and German soldiers and 22 officers, a few of them from Katowice and Gliwice. The action began at 2 o'clock after midnight, on Sunday morning, and according to the plan, around 30,000 Jews from Sosnowiec and Bedzin were destined for Auschwitz and it was to be completed within 4 days. In reality this deportation continued till the 8th of August. Many of Sosnowiec's Jews hid out in bunkers and various other hideouts that had been prepared beforehand, and there were also incidents of resistance. About 400 Jews who resisted or tried to escape were shot to death.
After the deportation of August 1943 there were still Jews in two labor camps
in Sosnowiec and Bedzin. Their residents were employed in the removal of bodies
from the streets, the cleaning of houses and the collection and sorting of the
deportees' property. On the 7th of December 1943 800 of them were sent to
Auschwitz, and on the 15th of January 1944 the last of the Jews, around 400
people, in the Sosnowiec camp were sent to Auschwitz.
At the end of May 1942, during the first visit of Mordechai Anilewicz in Sosnowiec, 15 members of Hashomer Hatzair gathered and heard from him about murder of the Jews from Vilna and the Ponar region and about the extermination waves in East Poland. His words received confirmation from another source a Jew who had run away from Auschwitz and had hidden out in the home of Hanoar Hazioni members. His stories of the gas showers in Auschwitz sounded muddled, however when Anilewicz arrived in Sosnowiec the picture began to become clearer. During his visit the members of the youth movements decide to establish a local Jewish underground.
The first activity of the Hashomer Hatzair members was to distribute pamphlets in which there was information about the extermination and a call to the Jews not to report of their own will for deportation. They also put out an underground newspaper in Polish, that Anilewicz himself edited. Other movements began to put out underground newspapers and distributed them amongst their members. At the end of 1942 a sharp dispute broke out between the Judenrat and 10 underground activists of Hashomer Hatzair and their 21 year old leader Cwi Dunski. People in the underground were subject to shadowing by the Jewish police and one of them, Romek Szlezinger, even passed on information to the police about the underground activities. Dunski was responsible for several activities that were carried out whilst Anilewicz was in the area they listened to the radio, distributed newspapers, called the Jews to sabotage the merchandise in the shops and so on. In January 1943 the Jewish police arrested Dunski and Lipek Minc, who was also from Hashomer Hatzair. They were released after an interrogation of several weeks.
Meryn, who saw the existence of the underground as a danger to all the Jews, wanted to return and arrest its members, but they hid out and hence he placed pressure on the family members so that they would turn themselves in. Minc's brother was fired from his work in one of the shops and his mother and Dunski's 10-year-old sister were arrested and held in the Jewish police headquarters. Members of Hashomer Hatzair decided to smuggle Dunski out of the city and hide him in a nearby village, but a night before he was to leave the Jewish police arrested all the members of Hashomer Hatzair including Lipek Minc, Ina Gelbard and Fela Katz. Chaim Meryn and Police Commander Goldminc himself, interrogated Chana Wirnik but she did not reveal the hideout. However, the police managed to track down Dunski and brought him to the police headquarters dripping blood and chained up as a criminal. Dunski and Minc were interned in the detention center in the orphanage in Bedzin. Later they were turned over to the Germans, interned in a jail in Myslowice and in the spring of 1943 they were sent to Auschwitz and murdered there by hanging. Meryn turned in a further underground group to the Germans that was suspected of communist activities, and 8 of its members were executed in April 1943. The Jewish underground put Meryn on trial in his absence and placed a death sentence on him. A further collision between the underground activists and Meryn occurred on the background of a rescue attempt using South American passports, an affair in which hundreds of Jews from Zaglembie were involved. Meryn saw this rescue system as a danger to all the Jewish public and sought to put an end to it.
The Eyal (Irgun Yehudi Lochem [Jewish Fighters Organization]) in Zaglembie sought the assistance of the center in Warsaw in obtaining arms and also in making plans and guidelines for building bunkers. In February-March of 1943 several female operators set out from Sosnowiec and Bedzin, amongst them were Ina Geldbard from Hashomer Hatzair in Sosnowiec and Fredka Oksenhendler-Kozuch from Hanoar Hazioni. Up until June 1943, the underground in Sosnowiec and Bedzin managed to obtain 15 pistols and several hand grenades and also instructions for preparing homemade bombs. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943 had a great impact on the direction of activities of the underground in Zaglembie. Members of Hashomer Hatzair and Dror were resolute in their minds to fight to the end, whilst members of Hanoar Hazioni in the city were divided amongst themselves. Many spoke about the hopelessness of rebellion at the end of which death was certain. Janek Cymerman supported the idea of rebellion, whilst Jozek Kozuch called for a focus on efforts to smuggle members over the border. In the last months of the Srodula Ghetto's existence members of Hanoar Hazioni continued in their efforts to find escape routes. In July they smuggled their comrade, Jadzia Szpigelman, through to Slovakia.
At the same time the movement members dealt with building bunkers and obtaining
weapons. During the deportation of June 1943 members of the Eyal movement
hid out in bunkers that were prepared beforehand, however they were unable to
organize a rebellion. Members of the movements saw this as a bitter defeat,
particularly since several of its members were caught and sent with the
transport. In the August deportation most of the other Jews in Sosnowiec also
hid out in bunkers. In the Srodula Ghetto there were two bunkers of the
Eyal movement in the hothouse of the
Gordonia members, commanded by Szlomo Lerner and Hanka Bursztyn,
and the Hanoar Hazioni bunker. Those that sat in the bunker planned
to open fire when the Germans entered, however the fighters of the organization
in Sosnowiec and Bedzin had only 20 pistols. In the Gordonia bunker
a slip-up occurred; most of the members were caught before they managed to go
down to the bunker. In the Hanoar Hazioni bunker Janek Cymerman and
Hipek Glicensztajn held pistols. Those hiding in the bunker tried to escape the
ghetto, but they were discovered by the Germans and forced to open fire; Hipek
Glicensztajn wounded a German policeman.
After a short shoot-out he was killed with his girlfriend and Janek Cymerman. Jozek Kozuch was also killed whilst trying to smuggle his friends out of the ghetto.
At the end of August 1943, 32 members of Hanoar Hazioni and several
of their parents, who were located in a labor camp in Sosnowiec, managed to
escape to Slovakia and Hungary. Several months later more members of the youth
movements managed to escape to Slovakia and a few of them reached the land of
Israel in 1944.
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Updated 05 Dec 2004 by OR