“Sosnowiec” – Encyclopaedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume VII
(Poland)

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Translation of “Sosnowiec” chapter from

Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem

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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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[Page 327]

Sosnowiec
(Sosnowiec District, Kielce Province)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


Year General Population Jews
1880 9,318 120
1897 36,289 2,291
1921 97,?86 13,646
1931 108,959 30,805
1937 124,526 26,904
1938 129,610 28,893


At the beginning of the 19th century Sosnowiec, a village in a swamp region belonged to Leon Labusz. In 1815 a coalmine was founded in the area, and in spite of the swamps and the other difficult local conditions the region saw a surge in development. New factories drew thousands of new settlers to Sosnowiec and the nearby villages. Over time these villages were joined to Sosnowiec. When Sosnowiec was linked to the Warsaw-Vilna railway line (in 1858) thousands of workers streamed there from Czestochowa and Piotroków-Trybunalski. They founded new workers' settlements along the railway line. In 1822 the miners' settlement, Ostra Górka, was founded, as was the Radona suburb, which was originally a private agricultural settlement that in 1896 had chemical product plant built in it. An additional chemical factory was founded in 1883 by German investors in the Srodula suburb, which was also joined to Sosnowiec.

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.


[Page 328]


The Jewish settlement till the end of the First World War

The first Jew, Abram Blumental from Modrzejów, settled in Sosnowiec in 1859, by permission from the Russian authorities, and also served as the first tax clerk in the city. He purchased land near the tax office and erected the first brick plants in the city. In the early 1860s additional Jews came, who established their residences near the railway station. Prominent amongst them were William Bergman and Adolf Openhajm from Czestochowa, who came at the head of a group of Jewish merchants. There were also groups of Radomsk, Alexander, Sochachew and Kuczak Chassidim and several “enlightened” (educated) Jews that settled in Sosnowiec. At the beginning, the Jews from there were belonged to the Bedzin “kehila” [Jewish community] and buried their dead in its cemetery. Only in 1893, after a cholera plague caused many deaths in Sosnowiec, was a Jewish cemetery opened there, from donations from the Rajcher family (merchants) who financed the land purchase. The authorities gave their permission to open a cemetery, in spite of the opposition of the head of the Bedzin “kehila”. In 1908 the cemetery was expanded and a wall erected around it.

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.


[Page 329]


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.


The Jews between the Two World Wars

Economy and Employment

The economy of the Jews of Sosnowiec was based on trade and craft. According to a (partial) survey that was carried out by the “Joint” in 1921 there were 368 workshops and businesses owned by Jews in Sosnowiec at the time, that together employed 955 workers of which 101 were non-Jews. In 135 workshops hired workers were employed, and in others the owners or their families worked. The following are the survey details:


Field Factories
and workshops
Employed
Tailoring and needlework 205 514
Food products 68 128
Metal products 22 132
Building 21 27
Wood products, carpentry 15 32
Machinery 9 12
Cleaning & sanitation 8 45
Leather products 7 16
Textile 4 24
Graphics 4 8
Chemical products 1 6


A small wealthy merchant class together with many workshop owners and pedlars established a “Union of Independent Merchants” in 1915. Later, well-established workshop owners joined the union and it then included 300 members. In 1927 600 small shopkeepers organized their union that had its own credit department. This union had a great influence in the “kehila”. In 1926 the Jewish merchants opened a branch of the “Kupiecki Bank”. The Merchants' Union and the “Kupiecki Bank” frequently donated to Zionist bodies, the main one being the “Keren Hayesod” [Jewish Foundation Fund]. Financial circles close to “Agudat Yisrael” established the Cooperative Bank, which was closed at the beginning of the 1930s because of monetary irregularities.


Life in the “kehila” and Public Jewish Activities

In 1924 there were elections held for the “kehila” committee, the first following the war. Nine of the elected council members were from the “Gush Leumi” [National Bloc] (Zionists not from “Hamizrachi” and the Merchants' Union) whilst the “Mizrachi” and “Agudat Yisrael” lists each received one mandate.


[Page 330]


Dr. Abram Perlman was elected as head of the “kehila” and his deputy was Lejbusz Zendel. In the elections of 1931 the “Hamizrachi” list achieved 5 mandates, the Zionist “Histadrut” – 4, “Agudat Yisrael” – 2, the merchants' list – 2, the laborers and porters' list and the workshop owners each received one mandate. Mordechai Klajnberg from the Zionist list was elected as head of the “kehila”, and Icchak Sztajn, a “Hamizrachi” man, was elected as his deputy. This committee was disbanded two years later because of a deficit of 192,000 zlotys in the treasury and irregularities in the account books. In order to balance the “kehila” budget and guarantee payment of its debts, the authorities appointed an “ad hoc” committee with 8 members, at the head of which was Berysz Tenzer. In 1935 the budget of the “ad hoc” committee stood at 337,175 zlotys (of which 56,000 zlotys were collected from those who had in the past been late in their payments or had been exempt from the “kehila” tax.) In the same year the committee succeeded in paying debts of 30,000 zlotys. The expenditure items included 4,900 zlotys to the hospital, 4,939 zlotys to the “Ripui Aniim” [“Healing the poor”] society for purchasing medicine, and 500 zlotys for camps for the children of the poor. In education 1,600 zlotys were allocated to the high school, 1,700 zlotys to the school in which orphaned children studied, 400 zlotys to the Radomsk yeshiva, 200 zlotys to the “Bet Ya'akov” School, and additional money to the Talmud Torah and the sports' union.

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:


List Congress
14th
(1925)
16th
(1929)
17th
(1931)
18th
(1933)
19th
(1935)
20th
(1937)
“Al Hamishmar” 137 2 28 774 499 400
“El Livnot” 449 5 8 8 4 74
“Hamizrachi” 56 250 587 493 675
“Revisionists” 3 390 166
“State Party” 181 17 10
“Hitachdut” 65 361
“Poale Zion” 26
“Working Land of Israel” Bloc 281 806 1,017 1,009


The first Zionist youth movement in Sosnowiec, “Hechalutz”, was already established in 1916 and following it came “Hashomer Hatzair” [“Young Guard”] (the center in Sosnowiec was established on 1918) and “Freiheit”(“Dror”), which when founded in 1929 numbered 40 youths and in the 1930s, the number of members reached approximately 250. Members of “Freiheit”, most of them were working youths, held discussion groups like the “Borochov” class for learning the history of Zionism and the workers' movement.


[Page 331]


In 1927, following the visit of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who came for a series of lectures, a “Beitar” center was established in Sosnowiec. In 1930 “Beitar” members established the “Tel Chai” fund. Before the war, 200 “Beitar” members joined the “Hebrew Legion” in the city that Ze'ev Jabotinsky set up to fight in the Land of Israel. The “Hanoar Hazioni” [“Zionist Youth”] movement, which was affiliated with the “General Zionists”, had a substantial influence, most of its members being students from the Jewish gymnasia.

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.


Jews in General Public Life and the Socialist Movements

In Sosnowiec, a characteristically industrial city, a strong Jewish workers movement developed during this period, whilst communist activities and the “Bund” framework were prohibited during that period. In 1922 the Jewish workers went on strike for two days with a demand for a wage rise, and through the year a wave of strikes spread and included the PPS members and Communist Party supporters. The police arrested ten of the strike leaders, most of them Jews. In July 1923 the Jewish salaried workers in the needlework profession went out on strike and demanded a wage rise of 50%. In November 1924 the leaders of the communists in Sosnowiec were arrested, a few of them Jews. In July 1938 the mineworkers assembled in the city in a first step of the struggle to improve their wages. Only a few of them were Jews but the “Bund”, that had grown stronger during this period, participated in the assembly and in the propaganda coordinated by the workers, along side the PPS members.


[Page 332]


In the elections of 1919 to the city council, the first following the war, the Jews earned representation of 9 out of the 40 elected council. A combined Jewish list of “Agudat Yisrael”, “Hamizrachi” and the Merchants and Tradesmen Union members participated in the elections of April 1925 to the city council. Preceding the elections the electoral committee reduced the proportion of Jews with voting rights to 40%. Hence, in this year only 3 Jews were elected to the council, led by Dr. Abram Perlman. In 1926 the city council only allocated 25,000 zlotys to Jewish institutions out of its general budget, which stood at 3 million zlotys. In the elections of 1929 5 Jews, members of the “National Bloc”, were elected and also two representatives of the “Poale Zion”, who had contended separately. In 1929/30 the council allocated 20,000 zlotys to the Jewish hospital, 3,968 zlotys to summer projects for Jewish children, 500 zlotys to the “Malbish Arumim” [“Clothe the Needy”] society, 200 zlotys to the TAZ health organization and 500 zlotys to the “Maccabi” sports union. In these elections a Jew, Dr. Froks, was elected for the first time as a member of the council management committee. Additionally, in the elections of 1934 the Jews retained solidarity. The “National Bloc” received 10 mandates in the council. Amongst the Polish lists the “Sanacja” party received 24 seats, the PPS received 9 mandates and the communists – 4. In the elections of May 1939, the last before the war, the Zionists received 4 mandates in the city council and the “Revisionist”, “Hamizrachi”, the tradesmen and “Agudat Yisrael” lists, that had contended separately, received one mandate each. The accomplishment of the “Bund” was notable in that whilst in the past it had not been represented in the city council, in 1939 it received 2 mandates. Amongst the Polish lists the PPS achieved a devastating majority – 25 mandates – and the “Sanacja” list was reduced to 14 mandates.


Anti-Semitism

The rise in anti-Semitism that was felt in Poland during this period did not exclude Sosnowiec, and in the 1930s affairs often reached violent incidents. In November 1931 about 3,000 youths and young supporters of the anti-Semitic “Endecja” party protested in the city, at the head of which was a former police officer who was known for his extremism. During this incident two Jews were injured, and only through police intervention were severer injuries prevented. In 1935 unknown perpetrators placed a bomb in the “Bet Midrash”. Two boys were injured, one a 14-year-old boy who died in hospital several days later. In July 1936 a bomb was found in the “Bristol” hotel, which was owned by Jews, and dismantled in time. In 1938 the wave of violence reached its peak. In February three bullies beat up a 16-year-old yeshiva student, stripped him of his clothes and severely injured him. He was hospitalized in the Jewish hospital. In the same month bullies broke into the “Bet Midrash” in Sosnowiec and beat up the worshippers. The police were called there and the attackers escaped. In November 1938 another bomb was placed in one of the synagogues in the city. The police arrested 5 activists of the Right wing party who admitted performing this deed.


During the Second World War

A. September 1939 to May 1942

Preceding the war, the Germans and the Poles concentrated large military forces along the border, and the tension in the Zaglembie region, which bordered with Germany, was very high. On the 1st of September 1939, as the fighting began, the first Jews fled eastward for fear of the German army and the following day, on the 2nd of September, the stream of fugitives increased. All in all, during the first days of the war around 9,000 Jews fled from Sosnowiec and nearby Bedzin. Amongst the fugitives was also Rabbi Hager, who managed to reach Russia (later went to live in the Land of Israel and served as the head of the “Mizrachi” center). Many of the fugitives returned to their homes after several days, since the German army rapidly progressed and caught up them on their escape route.

In the city itself panic buying prevailed, and a few hours after the war began foodstuffs had ran out in the shops.


The First Edicts and Persecutions

On the 4th of September German army forces entered in Sosnowiec. Those Jews who had remained in the city hid out in basements or locked themselves in their homes. The Germans progressed through the streets whilst firing into houses and attics in which they suspected that hostile elements were hiding out. Jews were amongst those killed and wounded by this shooting. On the 5th of September all male Jews were called to the city square. German soldiers fired into the assembled crowd and further casualties were inflicted. Since the square was not large enough to accommodate everyone, the men were led to the Szajn factory yard, and there they were held that night whilst German guards maltreated them for their enjoyment. On the 6th of September the “Einsatzgruppe” force, which commanded the Zaglembie region, entered the city, led by an SS officer of “Obergruppenführer” rank, von Wirt. Their first action was to abuse the Jewish males in the factory yard. The barbers amongst the detainees were ordered to shave those with side curls and beards, which took place amidst beatings and abuse. The SS men murdered one of the Jews. After they were held for two days in the factory yard, the Germans separated out several Jews, declaring them to be hostages and murdered them on the pretext that the Jews of Sosnowiec had opened fire on the German army when it entered the city. All in all around 30 Jews were murdered in the first days. Before the Jewish males were released, the German SS officer asked who was the head of the “kehila”. Szlomo Lajzerowicz feared to step out to them and in his stead Mosze (Moniek) Meryn, a “kehila” committee member, stepped out and presented himself as the leader of the “kehila”. The officer ordered him to convey a water pipe to the detainees and to take away the injured and the dead bodies.


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At the beginning of November 1939, 100 Jews of high standing and wealth from Sosnowiec and Bedzin were arrested as hostages in exchange for a large ransom payment. They were released after a month, at the beginning of December, after the sum of money and a quantity of gold were collected and delivered to the Germans.

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.


Zionist Youth Movements

Amongst the youths that fled the city when the war broke out were many members of the youth movements. “Beitar” members fled from the city in an organized fashion and before they set out they burnt the center's documents. A few of them managed to reach the Soviet border, but there they were caught and arrested. Others tried reaching Vilna and from there go on to the Land of Israel. Some of them returned to Sosnowiec at the beginning of 1940 and reorganized as a “Beitar” battalion.

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 “Judenrat” and its Institutions and the Establishment of the “Zentrale”

Mosze Meryn was ordered to set up a Jewish council with 24 members. Public figures and elders like Ignacy Majtlis, Antony Kohn, assimilated circle leaders, Berman from the “Bund”, Dawid Lewartowski and Icchak Sztajnfeld of “Hamizrachi”, and also some “General Zionists” members, some of them graduates of the “Hanoar Hazioni” movement, were selected for the first “Judenrat”. Fanny Czerna, a graduate of the Jewish gymnasia in Sosnowiec, became Meryn's deputy and partner in private life.

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.


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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.


Youth Department

At the beginning of 1941 Meryn established a Youth Department within the framework of the central “Judenrat”, through which he intended to oversee the activities of the youth movements in order to avoid confrontation with them. He invited the leaders of the “Hanoar Hazioni” in Sosnowiec to establish the department and operate within its framework for the good of the youth of Sosnowiec and Bedzin. Members of “Hanoar Hazioni” wrestled at length with the question of cooperating with the “Judenrat”, but in the end they decided to accept Meryn's offer. Meryn offered the management of the new department to Dr. Liberman, a “Poale Zion” activist in Sosnowiec. However, Dr. Liberman was unwilling to operate under stringent supervision and demanded from Meryn that he receive independence in this position, and hence the head of “Hanoar Hazioni”, Jozek Kozoch, joined the “Judenrat”. By his side there were youth movement leaders serving such as Kalman Tencer, the leader of the “Hashomer Hatzair” center in Sosnowiec; Herszl Szpringer, the secretary of the “Dror” kibbutz in Bedzin; Israel Diamant from “Hanoar Hazioni” in Bedzin; Arie Liwer from “Gordonia”; and several others. The Youth Department allocated resources from the “Judenrat” treasury to the youth movements for educational activities and initiating courses and advanced studies. From 1940 onwards, when most of the despatches were to distant labor camps, the department leaders exploited their connections with the “Judenrat” in order to keep movement members away from this evil. Indeed, up until 1942 youth movement activists were not sent to labor camps.


Labor Camps

In 1940 the number of Jews reached 22,407 and a year later their number rose to 24,249. The original SS plan was to deport the all of the Jews of Sosnowiec and the region to the “General Government”, since Silesia was annexed to the Reich. However, in the end the plan was not realized, due to the refusal of the “General Government” governor, Hans Frank, to absorb hundreds of thousands of Jews into his jurisdiction. Since the Jews remained in Zaglembie an extensive mechanism was established for dealing with the utilization of the Jewish work force. In October 1940 a “Special representative office on behalf of the SS Reichsführer and the German police director for the foreign peoples' labor force in Upper Silesia” was established. The SS officer Albrecht Schmelt was appointed as director of this office and the new organization was named after him, the “Schmelt Organization”. Schmelt was directly responsible to Himmler and dealt with the induction of Jewish forced laborers for the labor camps that were established throughout Silesia. In November 1940 Schmelt ordered Meryn to prepare a list of all the Jews with a division between the able-bodied and those unsuitable for work. In the autumn of 1940 a transit camp (“Dulag”) was founded in the commercial gymnasia in Sosnowiec in which Jews were held until being sent to labor camps. Wooden bunks were erected in the school halls and the building was surrounded by barbed wire. Before leaving for the labor camps, the workers were transferred from Sosnowiec to Bedzin and from there dispersed to the various labor camps. Whilst they were in the “Dulag” in Sosnowiec, the “Judenrat” took care of their maintenance and a small medical staff was kept there. The German representative together with Kugelman, a “Judenrat” man, managed the labor camp.

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.


Work in the “Shops”

The most guaranteed way of avoiding the dispatches to the labor camps was by employment in one of the workshops (“shops”) that were founded in Sosnowiec from the beginning of spring 1941 onwards. In 1941 the Held tailors' “shop”, Braun's leather products shop, Gorski's thatch and raffia woven products “shop” and several carpentry “shops” were founded. Production in the “shops”, which were managed by the Germans, increased greatly in the years 1941-1942, with the expansion of military activities on the eastern front and the increase demand for clothing and footwear products. A workday in the “shops” was about 10 hours, the working conditions were difficult and the wages poor – 20-25 marks per month (a professional worker received 35 marks), and from this wage a 30% tax to the “Schmelt Organization” was extracted. However, as mentioned, in spite of all this work places in the shops were very sought after. In the spring of 1942 the number of workers in Held's tailors' shop reached 2,000 and in all the “shops” combined there were more than 3,000 Jews.


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B. The Period of Deportations (May 1942 till August 1943)

The annihilation of the Jews from the Zaglembie region was carried out in stages. At the beginning the Germans applied the “Controlled Selection” system – that is to say, people unable to work were sent to the extermination camps whilst looking after the lives of the workers who served the German war economy or worked in the SS factories. At the end of April 1942 the “Judenrat” in Sosnowiec sent summonses to 6,200 Jews – mainly families with two or more children and adults that weren't working in approved locations. They were informed that they would be sent for “resettlement”, and in Sosnowiec that the rumor spread that the destination was Theresienstadt. The deportees were allowed to take 25 kg of baggage and food for three days. From amongst the 5,000 Jews from Sosnowiec called to report for deportation on the 10th May 1942, around 300 came to the assembly point, and Jewish policemen were sent to search the houses. Since by the afternoon the quota had not been reached, the Gestapo was enlisted to carry out searches. The SS men encircled three large buildings in Targowa Street, combed the apartments and hauled out all the residents, amongst them Rabbi Englard and several other public figures like Chaim Kuperminc, one of the “Mizrachi” leaders in Sosnowiec. The “Judenrat” approached the Gestapo with a request to release them, however their response was negative, with the excuse that the quota of deportees had yet to be met. On the 11th of May, Meryn ordered his policemen and clerks to complete the deportation quota otherwise they themselves and their families would be part of the transport. This threat did its work, and already on the same day 1,500 Jews were assembled. On the 12th of May a train set out from Sosnowiec on which there were 1,500 Jews from Sosnowiec on their way to Auschwitz. The Germans allowed Rabbi Englard to get off the train, but he refused to abandon the rest of the Jews in their time of strife and in the end, he was killed together with them.

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.


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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.


The Jewish Underground

Meryn, like the rest of the Jews, only guessed the destination of the deportations. At the beginning of May 1942 he assembled the “Judenrat” members and informed them that the Germans sought to deport 10,000 Jews, but he had convinced them to reduce the number to half.


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During the heated argument most approved collaborating with the Germans, on the reasoning that if they did not need the orders the Germans themselves would be carry out the deportation and there would me much greater disaster. The minority group – mainly people of the Youth department at the head of which was Jozek Kozuch – left the “Judenrat” as a result of this decision.

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 Eya”l (“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 Eya”l 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 Eya”l 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.


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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.


After the War

In 1945 many of the refugees who had escaped to the USSR immediately after the outbreak of war, returned to Poland. 2,400 Jews settled in Sosnowiec, but the number of Jews was halved up until 1946 – 1,220 people, and up until the end of the same year most of them left Poland in the face of increasing violent anti-Semitism within its boundaries.





Sources




 Yizkor Book Project    JewishGen Home Page     Zaglembie, at KehilaLinks


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
Emerita Yizkor Book Project Manager, Joyce Field
Contact person for this translation Osnat Ramaty
This web page created by Osnat Ramaty

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Updated 05 Dec 2004 by OR