From Bedzin-Sosnowiec to Katowice
by Dr. Chaim Szaczkes
Translated by Bill Leibner
We took our seats in an elegant French car that meandered along a road where
the sky was always cloudy due to the dense smoke resulting from the many coal
mines in the area. The landscape is poor and the agriculture is meager but
there is a pulsating rhythm of creation that draws the individual into a state
of work consciousness that is so popular in this part of Poland. My traveling
companion, the owner of the car, is a member of that group of Jews who made it
big due to hard work and perseverance. He is still a traditional and warm
Jewish person. He owns a metal factory in the Dabrowa region in Upper Silesia,
and remains a member in good standing within the Jewish community.
The small car races forward as though it was trying to gain mastery of the
wheel. It almost begs the driver to relinquish control and permit it to reach
maximum speed of eighty kilometers an hour. The relatively new engine is still
developing more power in order to reach the maximum speed and we have our
But, slowly our eyes notice the richest diamond in the Polish
crown, namely the area of coal and metal.
* * *
We drive through Bedzin at full speed. There is a very active Jewish life in
the city. The main street is lined with three story houses and gives the
impression of a cultural city, in comparison with other cities in the region of
Kielce and Radom.
The city has a weekly Jewish paper and a daily Polish anti-Semitic paper. It
has sports clubs and stiff rabbinical fights; all the necessary elements that
befit an important community. My traveling companion describes the economic
situation of the Jews in the area. They are predominantly involved in small
businesses that provide the living necessities for the large working elements
that comprise thousands of miners in the area. Hundreds of Jews are
self-employed as peddlers in neighboring Upper Silesia. They peddle candy,
ready to wear suits, watches, and house items. Of course everything is sold on
* * *
In five minutes we had crossed Bedzin; we had just left the old Bedzin market
and we are already in Sosnowiec. One gets the impression that the city consists
of a beautiful and large street that parallels the railway. The impression is
rather imaginary, for one sees small and filthy side streets that are attached
to the main street. The latter has a restaurant, a coffeehouse with music, a
big movie house and a few other big city pretensions. The youth of Sosnowiec,
however, prefer to spend the evenings in Katowice, which is 15 minutes away by
railway. The trip is pleasant and being further away from home or parental
supervision makes the ride that much more pleasant.
We leave Sosnowiec along the highway that borders the old German border. Along
the Polish side, the road is still full of potholes. Before us is a road marker
with the inscription "Province of Silesia"; in other words, we cross
the old Russian border. Even a blind man can immediately feel that he entered a
different country for the road is smooth and tarred. The ride is smooth and
pleasant. The entire area of Silesia can be compared to a gigantic furnace that
breathes fire and melts metal into a river of liquid fluid that is then
distributed throughout the industry of the country.
The liquid metal eventually produces a host of products that range from bolts
to locomotives. Countries that do not have such a furnace to produce these
items are in perpetual "slavery", and must import these products from
abroad. Here is a forest of 57 chimneys from the "Lacha-Huta"
foundry. Industrial buildings stretch for miles. They occupy an area similar to
the one that separates Bedzin from Sosnowiec. Huge cranes pivot about metal
towers. They hoist a railway car loaded with coal as though it was a bag of
feathers. Next to the foundry, one sees large black mountains of burned out
coal that is piled up and hardened with time.
The city of Lacha-Huta is located next to the factories where thousands of
workers reside. The streets are paved, with nice municipal buildings, schools
and private buildings; the city has electricity and sewage. The tramways
circulate in the city as well as outside the city limits. As a matter of fact,
one can mount a tramway on the Polish side of the border in Silesia and travel
for forty-five kilometers into German Silesia. Each village is connected with
the tramway system. Each city has a sewer system (the city of Lodz still has no
sewer system). The smallest community has a school building.
* * *
Slowly we overtake a slow moving tramway and enter the city of Krolewska-Huta,
which bears the same name as the big foundry located in town. Most of the
inhabitants are workers and employees of the coal mines and factories in the
area. It is estimated that their number reaches about eighty thousand. The
offices of the coal companies are located here. Five meters from the
stone-parking wall of the Krolewska-Huta foundry, and we already feel the
burning heat on our faces. As we approach closer, the heat from the furnaces
where the metal is melted becomes more intense. The grinding noise of heavy
chains, the halting noise of metal wheels of the railroad loaded cars with
coal, the small electric propelled cars above the roofs, half naked bodies
colored with the color of the melted metal, and conveyor belts heading in all
directions. All of this is driven by the power of the steam engines. Their
clouded chimneys can be seen from a distance as they belch waves of smoke. This
is the foundry where eighty thousand people enter in the morning and leave it
in the evening after eight hours of work.
* * *
We travel further and pass coal mines and cities of workers. We by pass the
huge Bismarck foundry with thousands of fires blinking in our direction. We are
now on the road to Katowice. Before we enter the city, we notice a big
four-story building totally illuminated; this where the newspaper
"Polania" is printed. The paper belongs to Karpantin. He also owns
some of the major industrial enterprises in Upper Silesia. We begin to hear the
sound of the German language. Even Polish speakers use German words in their
This is not surprising, for Germany ruled the area for six
centuries. We must sympathize with the latter people who continued to use their
mother tongue in spite of all the hardships and sufferings. This brings to mind
the famous quote of Alphonse Daudet: "They kept the key of their closed
prison in their own hands."
Katowice is frequently called "Small Berlin" but this is a bit
exaggerated. Still one cannot take away from this city the bridges, the
tramways, the rich stores and the numerous banks. Every other house along the
main street seems to have a bank office. During the great speculation wave
between the German and Polish mark, the city was nicknamed
"Bankowice". When I saw cleaning trucks with brooms attached rolling
through the city and sweeping the streets, I was convinced that Katowice was an
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