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[Page 41]

Community Life in the 1930's

by Joseph Chrust

Translated by Dr. Leon Chameides


After an interval of a number of years, the Jewish community was once again given the opportunity in 1932 to reshape its image for the coming five years through elections. From the level of involvement we can deduce the active interest in the elections. Out of 800 eligible members, 675 or 85% participated. In order to elect 21 members of the council, five lists were submitted. There was an attempt to agree on a unified list, but the effort failed.

List #1 “General Jewish Voters' Union for the Strengthening and Expansion of Community Institutions” under the direction of Dr. Kaufman received 323 votes, or 10 representatives.
List #2 “United List of the Zionist Organization and Jewish Democracy” under the direction of Dr. Rapoport received 99 votes, or 3 representatives.
List #3 “Hutterer” received 37 votes or one representative.
List #4 “Künstlinger” received 151 votes or five representatives.
List #5 “Zmigrod” received 65 votes or two representatives.

The complete list of representatives was:

  1. Dr. Leo Kaufman (dentist)
  2. Fritz Weichmann (member of city council)
  3. Egon Markus (manufacturer)
  4. Berthold Kochmann (merchant)
  5. Hermann Schalscha (builder)
  6. Jan Loebinger (lawyer)
  7. Dr. Fritz Reichmann (dentist)
  8. Jacques Schöller (merchant)
  9. Jerzy Neumann (printer)
  10. Moritz Nebel (butcher)
  11. Dr. Ozjasz Rapoport (lawyer)
  12. Dr. Fryderyk Better (physician)
  13. Pinkus Wassertheil (merchant)
  14. Adolf Hutterer (merchant)
  15. Jerzy Künstlinger (merchant)
  16. Naftali Besser (merchant)
  17. Dawid Mannsfeld (merchant)
  18. Szmul Szolowicz (merchant)
  19. Chil Meitlis (merchant)
  20. Ludwik Zmigrod (merchant)
  21. Dawid Siegreich (manufacturer)

The legal basis of these elections was the law of July 23, 1847 which imposed a responsibility on the Jewish communities to establish institutions for religious needs; for the care of the poor and the sick; to provide Jewish schools and religious education for the young; and to maintain a cemetery. That same law also provided that all expenses connected with these tasks shall be borne by members of the community.

From an article that the Community Council published in the Official Newspaper (#3, March, 1932) we learn that a number of innovations were introduced in Katowice that did not exist in other Jewish communities.

  1. Beginning in 1927, the community did not charge families for a grave or a funeral service. That was so “at a time when in other communities burial of the dead was at times turned into a bargaining session”.
  2. Beginning with 1929 the community established a welfare office that coordinated all charity institutions e.g., public kitchen, women's organization, association for the assistance to the sick, support for the poor, help for transient Jews, and making available loans without interest for the poor.
  3. The community maintained the “Talmud Torah” and the Hebrew school which, in 1932, were attended by more than 400 boys and girls. A Kindergarden was maintained for small children. Religious instruction in government and municipal schools was provided by the Rabbis and other teachers.
  4. The community surpassed other communities in issues of Kashrut. In other communities, income from shechita constituted approximately 50% of all community income thus raising the price of meat significantly. In contrast, in Katowice the cost for this service had been kept very low since 1912. The burden of a high price for shechita, the article pointed out, falls first and foremost on the poor.
  5. The community maintained a Mikvah (ritual bath).
  6. The community maintained a Great Synagogue with 1400 seats and a smaller Beit Midrash with 250 seats. For the High Holidays, the community rented additional prayer halls.



kat042.jpg The [Jewish] community building [36 KB]
The [Jewish] community building that was built in 1937 instead of that which
stood next to the Great Synagogue and today serves as a health fund.


Future community plan included the building of a hospital, a home for the elderly, an orphanage, and a second synagogue. The article goes on to describe the community's taxation system. In contrast to other communities, where tax burden was borne by only 8-10% of the community, in Katowice the tax was paid by all adult members. Thanks to this system, the individual burden was not as great and it was sufficient to cover not only the religious needs but also to maintain welfare and educational institutions without the necessity of placing additional payment burdens on the Jewish inhabitants.

The first meeting of the elected representatives took place on May 11, 1932. Two representatives resigned and Walter Götz and Ludwig Schlesinger took their place on the Council. It was reported that the Wojewoda refused to approve the election results of the Community Administration, and the incumbent administration continued therefore to work alongside the newly elected Council. On August 16, 1933 the Administration informed the Wojewoda of its resignation. The Wojewoda accepted the resignation and on September 30, 1932, he appointed an administration headed by Bruno Altmann. At the same time, the Wojewoda dismissed the Community Council and appointed a new Council headed by the lawyer, Dr. Mayer. The basis of the dispute between these two bodies, as published in the Official Newspaper (#41, October 1933) was the issue of the two Rabbis.

The composition of the new Administration that the Wojewoda appointed consisted of: Bruno Altmann, Chairman; Eliasz Abrahamer, Vice-Chairman; Dr. Leon Kaufmann; Jerzy Neumann; Dr. Oziasz Rapoport; Dr. Mark Reichmann; Jerzy Schalscha; Fritz Weichmann; Ludwig Zmigrod.

Members of the Council were: Samuel Mayer, Chairman; lawyer Jan Löbinger, Vice-Chairman; Max Altmann; Mauritzi Berger; Naftali Besser; Dr. Friedrich Better; Dr. Wilhelm Braunig; Dr. Ignacy Breiter; Wiktor Bolowa; Adolf Czewiklicer; Karol Aharanahach; Isidore Freund; Jerzy Grinpeter; Adolf Hutterer; Heinrich Klein; Dawid Mannsfeld; Egon Markus; Salomon Manczil; Hermann Schalscha; Ludwig Schlesinger; Dawid Wassertheil.

From a report of a community meeting held on June 22, 1936 (#106 of the Newspaper) we get an idea of the extent of the responsibilities of the administration. During 1934 its expenses totalled 272,000 zloty and in 1935, 269,000 zloty.

There was almost no segment of life of the Jewish inhabitants of Katowice that did not involve, directly or indirectly, the community administration. This included issues of religion, education, social services, help for refugees, and in the fight against antiSemitism. In addition to their dedication and diligence, the communal workers were exemplary in the civilized manner of their debates. Many examples of this can be gleaned from the Official Newspaper of the community.



Religious Life

Concern about religious life was naturally the first priority of the community Administration and was the responsibility of the two community rabbis, Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Vogelmann and Rabbi Dr. Kalman Chameides. Both were outstanding human beings with a broad academic and Jewish education. Both were gifted speakers and writers and both possessed the highest ethical standards. Despite this, the fact that there were two Rabbis caused, through no fault of theirs, problems and even crises. One of the crises came to a head in the second half of 1933 with the resignation of the community Administration but after a short time a solution was found that permitted both rabbis to continue to serve.

The rabbis of Katowice were, during their years of service, spiritual leaders of the flock in the fullest meaning of the term. They did not confine themselves only to issues of kashrut and synagogue but were involved with the people. They concerned themselves with the needs of the community; wrote and spoke out on issues of the day, and published their views both in Polish and German in the community newspaper. In their day these obviously served as the daily bread of the populace.

A report submitted by the rabbis at one of the community meetings regarding the religious life of the youth of Katowice is typical (Official Newspaper #74, February, 1935). The report deals with religious education in the city schools and with Judaism in the community institutions.

From a report of Rabbi Dr. Vogelmann it appears that in 1935 there were 619 students in the Berek Joselewicz School. Each class was taught religious subjects for two hours a week and in addition, beginning in the third year, Hebrew language was taught two hours a week.

In the Emelja Platter School there were 26 Jewish children and in the Pilsudski School - 31. In the other four municipal schools there were an additional 27 children. In all these schools, two hours of religious instruction a week were given to the children in two groups.

In the Szkola Wydzialowa (Elementary School), 132 Jewish children studied in the German and Polish sections and received religious instruction ten hours a week. In the Gymnasium of Mathematics and Nature there were 22 Jews (four hours of religious instruction per week); in the Municipal Gymnasium - 54 Jews (six hours per week); in the Municipal Gymnasium for Girls - 76 Jewish students (12 hours per week).

At the same meeting, Rabbi Kalman Chameides reported about the two sections, for boys and girls, of the “Talmud Torah”. The boys' section had 147 students and the girls' section, 140 students. The boys' section consisted of five classes. The curriculum was arranged in such a way that after two or three years, the language of instruction in the school would be completely in Hebrew.

The girls' section included four classes and an evening class for graduates. The language of instruction was mainly Yiddish and partially Polish.

From an obituary that appeared in April, 1935 (Official Newspaper #78) we learn of the death of Rabbi Dr. Philipp de Haas who had served as Rabbi [of Katowice during the first world war, following in the footsteps of Rabbi Cohn].



Social Welfare

The community administration, in addition to fulfilling religious needs, was also keenly aware of the ever growing social problems, especially among the waves of immigrants who came from the towns of Poland and Galicia to seek work in a developing city. It was natural that before the holidays, and especially before the holiday of Passover, the community organized traditional Maot Chitim (money collections for food) drives, and arranged to feed children who came hungry to school and clothing and shoes for those in need. Later, the community administration arranged summer camps for the children. But the community was not satisfied with these episodic actions. Soon a centralized social action department was created which coordinated all the social welfare and charitable work of the community.

The following is a typical financial report of the Welfare Department. The report is for January, 1932 and it is the first report that we have:

Most impressive is the annual report published in March, 1933 (#27 of the Newspaper) [which indicates that 25% of the community's budget was spent on direct charitable help]. The following financial support was granted:

4129 zloty to transients; 8600 zlotys for monthly support to 30 families living in the city; 2587 zlotys one time support to 182 families living in the city.

The very same document reports the essentials that were distributed in addition to money during the same period. Forty unemployed families received 5616 kg of bread; approximately 5000 liters of milk; 25,000 lbs of coal; and 22,000 lbs of potatoes. In addition, 82 pairs of shoes were distributed, and the kitchen served 41,440 meals that cost the community 11,621 zloty. On the average, 120 people daily availed themselves of these meals.

The report also tells us about an office of legal services which helped the poor in dealing with government offices and even represented them in court. A summer camp, costing 7,500 zloty was organized for the first time that year and a pre-school was maintained for children of poor, working mothers in which 50 children were enrolled.


kat045.jpg Jewish Youth at a Purim party in the community building [30 KB]
Jewish Youth at a Purim party in the community building


It is evident that all the activities of the department were well organized and meticulously recorded. The average number of individuals seeking help on a daily basis was 40. The active files for that year included 207 families who required medical care; 32 families who received monthly financial help; 63 families who received one time financial aid; and 98 families who received food - either meals or groceries.

The Association of Jewish Women worked closely with the Social Welfare Department and it too distributed food packages, clothing, and shoes for needy children.

The Chevra Kadisha, an organization whose primary mission is the dignified burial of the dead, had the additional responsibility in Katowice, as in many other Jewish communities, of caring for the sick. The report details the help it gave in the form of referrals to doctors and hospitals, around the clock nursing care, medications, and different forms of treatments. [The 1932 report indicates that it employed three full time nurses and added others when the need arose].

In view of all of the above it is no wonder that a never ending stream of poor Jews came to Katowice who saw in it a “little America”.

As the number of returnees from Germany increased [as a result of the order expelling all Jews formerly from Poland], the number of people requiring aid also increased. The report covering half a year (January 1 - June 30, 1935) shows a total expenditure of 37,426 zloty. We learn that 300 of the Jews expelled from Germany remained in Katowice. This placed an undue burden on the community institutions at a time when members of the community had become inured to the ever new problems and the interest of the donors decreased and almost disappeared.



The Cemetery

One of the many activities that the Jewish community administration could take pride in was its cemetery. The community administration could point with justifiable pride at the fact they were able to eliminate bargaining about cost while the family was still grieving. In spite of this, the Jewish community was forced into a debate with a Jewish weekly printed in German published in Bielsko. From this argument we learn that until 1926 the custom in Katowice, as in other Polish communities, was that the price of a burial was arrived at through a bargaining process with the deceased's family. But beginning on January 1, 1927 this process was eliminated in Katowice. The families were no longer responsible for any payments; these were now covered by the Chevra Kadisha which had responsibility for its own budget part of which was covered by the community.

The Chevra Kadisha, however, had only 400 members even when the total membership of the community rose to 6,000. Since it became increasingly difficult for 400 members to bear the responsibility for the remainder of the community, it was decided to broaden the base by imposing a tax on all members of the community beginning in 1930.

In January, 1935 a new Chevra Kadisha committee was elected. They included Berthold Kochmann (chairman), Adolf Grünpeter, Riesenfeld, Jerzy Grünpeter, Adolf Miedzwinski, Dawid Wassertheil, Naftali Besser, Henryk Grzes, Moses Posner, Adolf Goldstein, Karl Ehrenhaus (vice chairman), and Heinrich Rosenzweig.

The cemetery report for that year is written in a truly poetic style. “No ivy from legends, nor secret passages impede the steps of a visitor. There is nothing mystical anywhere. Nevertheless the eye sadly embraces the filled fields. One stone next to another with rarely an empty space between, speaking to each other in the mute language of the dead....”

But there are also the dry statistics: In 1934, 44 people were buried in the cemetery, including 20 men, 18 women, and 6 children. Since the establishment of the cemetery (October 15, 1869), 1936 people have been buried including 727 men, 592 women, and 617 children. An analysis of year-to-year data reveals that the largest number of deaths occurred during the war years: 1916 - 50 deaths; 1917 - 54; 1918 - 58. Also buried in the cemetery are 24 who fell in the first world war and 5 “other” soldiers.

The Community Administration involved itself in every facet of the day-to-day lives of the Jewish inhabitants. It had the responsibility to react to everything that touched the Jewish population. It represented the Jews before government bodies, drew attention to important dates in the Jewish calendar, and especially during the years when anti-Semitism was at its height, fought against this sickness which sapped the strength and livelihood of the Jews.

In 1934, the 50th anniversary of the Chovvei Zion Conference that took place in Katowice, the community celebrated the event in which the Jews of Katowice had taken such an active part. Four members of the community, Friedland, Moses, Freutel, and Löbinger had participated in the conference. The Conference took place in the “Concordia” hall of Bnei Brith was opened by A. Löbinger; Freitel was in charge of organization and Friedland was the German secretary.

The Community Administration initiated the establishment of new institutions, such as the Music Association. It organized elections to the World Jewish Congress. Above all, from a vantage point of so many years, one can see the importance of its regular bulletin, “The Official Newspaper of the Jewish Community of Katowice”, which was unique and which continues to be such a rich source of information about Jewish life in the Diaspora.

[A good example of the extent of the activities of the Administration is published in the Newspaper (#27, February, 1933). “In the course of the past (1932) year the Administration had 26 meetings during which 393 issues were discussed and 152 decisions were made.
The Representatives had 7 meetings which dealt with budgetary and personnel issues.
The secretary received 2,337 letters and petitions and sent out 1,870 letters in addition to approximately 5,500 letters dealing with taxation issues.
In 26 community issues, we successfully intervened with government authorities.
The Taxation Commission had 14 meetings and the Appeals Commission for Community Taxation held 6 meetings. The Budget-finance Commission held 4 meetings and the Education Committee, 5 meetings.”]


Assimilation

The plague of assimilation and even conversion did not pass Katowice by. Its close proximity to western culture and interaction with Germany, often caused the borders between Jews and Christians to become somewhat blurred. It is unlikely that a desire to be freed from the burden of paying the community tax played any role in the decision to leave the community because all those who left, converted to Christianity, became atheists, or at least left Judaism. Thus for example, the newspaper (#25, February 1933) lists 17 names of individuals who resigned Judaism. Along with the name, the list includes the place of birth, date of birth, profession, and address:

Amsterdamer, Leon; Budniok, Charlotte; Chameides, Michal; Jozsefi, Melanja; Klich, Rosalja; Lichtenbaum, Roman; Markiewicz, Sofja; Pilzer, Stanislaw Ferdynand; Reich, Bronia; Sukolski, Szymon; Sukolska, Jenny Luiza; Schneier, Marja; Schnell, Aleksander; Sternbach, Ella; Tennenbaum, Jozef; Weinberger, Jakob; Winnikow, Aleksander.

The names of the deserters from Judaism continued to appear even after Hitler came to power.


kat046.jpg Pocztowa Street at the beginning of the [20th] century  [31 KB]
Pocztowa Street at the beginning of the [20th] century


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