The Committee then proclaimed a drive amongst the Jews of Poland to raise the necessary funds to cover the financial outlay. The Jewish kehila of Bedzin was one of the first to respond to the drive and presented its contribution. It assumed that this was the end of the story. It later discovered that its assumption was totally erroneous; the debt was not redeemed. Furthermore, the Jewish community became aware of a document that was signed by the representative of the Committee of the Four Lands. The document stated if within a period of time the outstanding debt is not redeemed, then Kowalkowski has the right to rob, seize, arrest and torture any Jew in the Kingdom of Poland until the debt is repaid three times over the outstanding amount. If the money is still not forthcoming, the royal secretary has the power to confiscate Jewish estates in Poland, close synagogues, expel Jews from their homes, and settle Christians in their places.
When the news of the document reached the Jewish community, it publicized the content of the writ and mobilized the membership for action. The Jews surrounded the home of the delegate to the Committee of the Four Lands and accused him of betrayal. The delegate who was at home on the Slawkówer Street (presently Kollataja Street) felt threatened and called for help to the municipal guard. However they arrived to find his place demolished and the delegate seriously injured. There was fear of further disturbances and the mayor stepped in and called on the soldiers of the castle to restore order and suppress the so-called revolution. The story ended with the dismissal of the representative, Samuel Salomonowicz, from his post. He and his family were chased out of the city.
A similar revolution occurred in Bedzin sometime earlier in 1539
regarding religious books. King Zygmunt I issued to a family the privilege of
selling Jewish religious books in the province of Krakow. This family had the
sole right to sell prayer books, chumashim, slichot, Haggadot, etc. The Jews of
Bedzin apparently considered this privilege to be directed against them for
they attacked the sellers of the family when the latter reached the city, and
burned their merchandise in public. The act caused a great deal of commotion in
Bedzin and the garrison was called to restore order.
The Jewish cemetery was located on city property, and therefore had to pay taxes to the church. Already in 1588, the tax known as the cemetery tax that the Jewish community had to pay for each burial was finalized.
The church was provided with a list of burials. Still, a controversy erupted between the head of the local church and the Jewish kehila regarding the cemetery tax.
The Jews of Bytom secretly buried their dead in the Bedzin Jewish cemetery in
order to avoid paying taxes. The Jewish community of Bedzin could not force the
Jews of Bytom to pay their taxes, and thus delayed paying the appropriate tax
to the church of Bedzin. The latter, or its chief, Jan Kotolecki, took the
Bedzin kehila to court for violating existing agreements. The priest presented
the court with a sworn affidavit from a Jewish woman, dated May 5th 1687 to the
effect that Jews who do not live in Bedzin bury their dead in the Jewish
cemetery of the town.
|The Zaulek Street
(the narrow alley)
The case was so complex that in 1692 the Bishop of Krakow appointed an arbitrator to help solve the case. The arbitrator was the priest from Myslowice, Stanislaw Zigmontowicz. In 1694, the latter appointed a priest from Grojce, Mikolai Jerzyorkowicz, to examine some witnesses and even ordered some Jewish witnesses from Myslowice to swear in the synagogue that their testimony was true. The Jewish witnesses from Bytom did not appear. Following the examination of the entire case, a decision was rendered to the effect that the Bedzin Jewish community had to pay the outstanding claims as well as the burial tax. We do not know whether this decision ended the case.
The synagogue on Berka Joselowicza Street was the center of Jewish communal life in Bedzin and the vicinity.
A rabbi and four dayanim (religious judges) headed the community. It was their responsibility to safeguard the various Jewish institutions in Bedzin. In the 16th century, the community had basically seven institutions, namely: the Hevra Kaddisha [burial society], Talmud Torah [school], Bikur Cholim [help for the sick association], Maoz Ledal [association that provided meals for the needy], Hachnasat Kala [association to help wed poor girls], Malbish Arumim [help to provide clothing for the needy], and Halva'ot Chen [mutual fund without interest]. At the head of each organization was a trustee from the Jewish community.
The various institutions worked rather well, for they provided help to the many refugees that flocked to the city. Bedzin was a border city and many Jews found refuge here from various persecutions in their hometowns. Here they rested and recuperated a bit before continuing their journey. The large influx of refugees frequently forced the Jewish community to borrow money in order to help the persecuted brethren. Besides, the various institutions listed above, and the many heders , Bedzin also had a large Yeshiva. The head of this institution was the very popular Rabbi Nathan Majteles. He collected money from the Jews of Bedzin and presented 50 ducats to the mayor of Bedzin to strengthen the walls of the city against the expected attack from the forces of Maximillian the Austrian. The rabbi died at the age of 105, and was buried in the old cemetery in Zawale Street.
We have to point out that the cemetery also contains the graves of the of many representatives of the Jewish community of Bedzin, notably Szlomo Markowicz and Yehonathan Samuelewicz, who worked so diligently to protect the rights and privileges of the Jewish community in the city. It was their job to receive the royal signatures on the existing privileges, namely from the King Jan Sobieski III.
Up to 1538, the Jews of Bedzin wore clothing similar to the ones worn by all citizens throughout Poland. It was the Pietrikower Statute that introduced different headgear for Jews. Jews had to wear a beret, or a hat, or any headgear in a yellow color, or face a steep monetary penalty.
It is very difficult to estimate the number of Jews in 16th century Bedzin, or
for that matter in Poland. The heavy tax of 3 guilders per person forced many
officials and communities to diminish the number of registered people in their
community. There were also religious and political reasons for posting smaller
numbers than existed. The Jews of Poland tried very hard to eliminate the head
tax and instead pushed for the Ritshalt or global tax for the
entire Jewish community of Poland. The drive was successful, and in 1590 the
Polish Parliament abolished the head tax and instituted a global tax in the
amount of 20,000 guilders for the entire Jewish community of Poland.
|The Jewish Cemetery on Zawale Street|
In its early form, it consisted of wood that was dismantled in 1881. A new synagogue that consisted of bricks and stones was built in its place.
In 1921, the synagogue was restored and the entrance barrier along the western wall was removed. During 1925-1926, it was hand painted and decorated by the artists Mosze Apfelbaum, Szmul Cygler, and the metal plastic artist Chaim Hanft.
The artwork in the synagogue was of a high standard, according to the art critics that visited the synagogue. Reproductions of the artistic works in the synagogue can be found in the Batzalel Museum in Jerusalem, the Museum in Tel Aviv and at the Yivo Institute in Wilna
The influential Jews in Bedzin in the 18th century were: Herszel and Dawid
Aronowicz, Jakub Lewkowicz, Majer Szapiro, Herszel Rubin, Jakub Erlich, Itzhak
Gitler, Szymon Londner, Lajb Zendlowicz, Wolf and Dawid Brauner.
|Inside the cemetery
(The defense wall in the background)
In the registers of the Tehilim Association [psalm group], Hevrah Chayatim [Tailors' Society], and Hevrah Kaddisha [burial society], we find frequently between 1807-1835 the signature of the scholar Menachem Nachum Rozanis; he became later Rabbi of Bedzin.
In those days, the cemetery under the castle mountain was established. This
information is provided in the records of the burial society of 1831. The
records state that the land was bought for 300 guilders and each year there
would be a tax of 20 guilders. In this cemetery there are few tombs with the
Polish eagle. According to some, the Polish population insisted that the
participants in the uprising of the 1831 and 1863 be immortalized with the
symbol of the country.
|The cemetery under the castle mountain|
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