by Monika Warnesko
Translated by Jon Levitow
The Town of Zawiercie A Center of Industry
In the Sanatsye times Zawiercie was one of the saddest characteristic features of the regime: a dying city.
This label attached to it over a period of years. Bourgeois reporters and economists described Zawiercie this way for a long time.
Why this was so with so many local factories? To answer this requires a look backward in time.
A hundred years ago the area was mostly forest. Even earlier there was the village: Little Zawiercie. You won't be able to find out much about this village even by rummaging through the old archives and records. Big Zawiercie is much newer than Little Zawiercie. It has existed for 100105 years. We can learn about Big Zawiercie from books, archives, and yellowed newspapers, as well as from oral testimonies.
The land of the Zaglebie district was always poor, unfruitful. The towns surrounding Little Zawiercie belonged to various noble magnate: the Firley's, Worszicski's, and afterwards the Gotkowski's were the lords of Kromołów, the Beninski's in Mrzyglod, the Menczinski's in Zarki and Myszkow. Their tombstones, stone busts, and stone friezes immortalized the features of their faces and memorialized their grand way of life for later generations.
The peasants in the villages of the area, however, vegetated for generations on the inferior land. The legend about Mrzyglod might be true, that a Polish king almost met his death when he wandered into the area because no one could offer him food or water. (The name Mrzyglod means the town between castles, mrzy being from miedzi, which in Polish means between.)
Men were singed and worked to exhaustion in the great forests of Poreba for the benefit of noble magnates. They smelted iron in primitive ovens heated by wood charcoal. The aristocrats had in their possession brown coals taken a hundred years before from Warpie Mt., on the other side of Slawkow, near Siewierz. A little later they acquired control over the shining lumps of coal that were found in large quantities south of Zawiercie near Sosnowiec, Dombrowa, Sielec, and Milowice (Mislowiec).
Afterwards in the middle of the 19th cent. came the railroad line from Warsaw to Vienna.
The entire region developed quickly. A large ironworks was created in Dombrowa, in comparison with the older, charcoalpowered ovens in Poreba were insignificant. The plant was called the Bankove works because the Polish National Bank financed it. Then in 1859 the Tszeszkowski mine, and in 1865 Nowa (now Parizh), Hieronim, and Lobenski all in Dombrowa.
A turning point in the local development was the right to force landowners to give up property for industrial purposes and to pay protectionfees for coal, as decreed by the Russian government of the time, but the main factors were:
So, next to Little Zawiercie, arose a settlement with the name, Big Zawiercie. Zawiercie quickly became a small town and a little later, a town. 1873 the brothers Ginsberg open a textile factory. 1885 Reich's glasshouse. 1886 Erbe's foundry, 1893 Krowczik's factory. 1897 Hulczinski's smelting works.
Socialist brochures already appeared in the TAZ in the 1890's. Many were passed from hand to hand and even reached the neighboring villages of Koniecpol, Szczekociny, Ongrodzieniec, and Pilice. The best customers for the illegal literature were the peasants of Szczekociny.
In Zawiercie there were plans to create a secret press in cooperation with the industrial colonies because it was difficult to stay in contact with Warsaw.
A few facts about those times:
In 1891 there was a failed harvest and a great hunger. The bakers in Zawiercie demanded high prices for bread. One baker named Szczetszinski said he would rather throw the bread into the pond than give it to you sons of bitches for eight groshen (that was the previous price at the time the bakers were demanding 12 groshen for a pound of bread).
The end result was that this particular baker was assaulted, and later other Zawiercie bakers were too.
The next day Cossacks came from Bedzin along with police from the whole area. The Cossacks stayed in Zawiercie over a week.
1904 there were powerful chapters of the PPS and SDKPL (Rosa Luxemburg's party). The first large demonstration took place on the 25th of December in a square near the church. The demonstrators broke into the offices of the factory and took the black book, where the names of seditious workers were recorded, i.e., ones who were considered uncooperative.
Workers listed in the black book were fired and blacklisted so they couldn't get other jobs.
Activists in the SDKPL in Zawiercie and Czestochowa area included Felix Jerzinski, later founder of the Bolshevik Emergency Committee (later the NKVD). He was known by the names of Fronek, Ostronom, and most often Yuzef.
Near Zawiercie were the Poreba factory metalworks, which existed for over 200 years, Wisoka Cement, near Lazy, the Steinhaken cellulose and paper factory in Myszkow, and the Bauerer foundry, etc. A strike broke out in Zawiercie and Myszkow, and there was a danger that the strike might spread to the paper factory and yeast factory in Pilice. Cossacks assembled in Wierbka, not far from Pilice, where the residence of the Vesele and Sobieski families once stood. They prevented the Zawiercie workers from inciting the Pilica workers who lived in the Wierbka settlement. In further developments, political strikes also broke out with the slogan Down with Tsarism. The center of the revolt was in Hulczinski's smelting works when during the spring of 1905 the Dark Strike broke out. It was called this because the workers in the plant extinguished all the lights, and all around it was like the darkness of Egypt.
The Cossacks opened fire. Four people died out of the crowd that had come from all over town to Hulczinski's works. Inside the plant the Cossacks fired again, and 3 workers were killed.
After 1905 the young days of the city were over. Zawiercie began to flicker like a candle going out. The situation there became much worse during WWI. After the war, on the 16th of December, 1918, the Council of Workers' Delegates was created, but in 1919 the councils throughout Zaglebie were dissolved. During a demonstration of workers in front of the city hall in 1920 (which ended in a wellknown pogrom of the ragged), several workers were wounded or killed.
In the years 19191920 the factories were no longer operating. There was unemployment and destitution among the workers. The situation improved in subsequent years, but it was still bad. K. Wzos, a Polish journalist from the Krakow Currier, wrote in 1921: Zawiercie is the city of the unemployed. Three quarters of the Zawiercie population live on public assistance. The population spends its time in the houses and streets, and therefore the streets and houses of Zawiercie have a strange appearance. The worst conditions prevail in the ‘Argentina’ quarter. The schools face financial difficulties because most parents don't have the money for tuition. Commerce has collapsed. The price of real estate has plummeted. The city's income has fallen as well.
Calls to save Zawiercie from disaster were constantly heard.
In 1931 there were more strikes, and in summer of 1931 an Italian strike broke out at Hulczinski's.
by Itsik Roytmentsh
Translated by Jon Levitow
The name of the town comes from the name, Warta, the river that has its source in Kromołów and flows through the region of Zawiercie. Zawiercie means on the far side of the Warta.
Until the 1860's Zawiercie numbered, beside several hundred Christian families, a few dozen Jewish families that engaged in handiwork and commerce.
In 1866 the Jewish Ginzburg brothers (who had apparently come from Berlin) built a large textile factory, which was eventually counted as one of the largest in Poland. The factory became popularly known as TAZ (Pol.: Towarzistwo Aktzine Zawiercie). By 1914 the factory employed around 9,000 workers. The inhabitants called it the mother of the city.
The board of directors and almost all of the higher management were Jews. Most of them were assimilated, and they came from various cities in Poland. They lived exclusively in the socalled Family Houses, built by the factor owners. These Jews related to the Jewish population of the city in the way that usually suits intellectuals and advanced individuals they almost never came into contact with the common Jewish population. They wore European clothes and that was a novelty because at that time very few Zawiercie Jews dressed like Europeans rather than in Jewish yibetses and Jewish hats. In fact, the Jews called these assimilated managers Germans.
Zawiercie Becomes a Town
With the development of the textile factory and other factories, both the Christian and the Jewish populations grew due to an influx from the surrounding cities and villages.
Just before the outbreak of WWII,
around 7,000 Jews lived in Zawiercie (out of a total population of 34,000). Jews engaged in handiwork and commerce and some as workers (in the TAZ factory, mentioned above, and in others).
Socially and politically, Zawiercie did not lag behind the other cities in Poland. The city had:
The story of the construction of the synagogue is an interesting one: in 1878 or 1879, the abovementioned Ginzburg brothers assembled some of the Jews of Zawiercie and told them: We plan to construct a synagogue and beysmedresh as long as the Jews buy generously. Having received promises from the important Jews of Zawiercie, they kept their own promise. It's appropriate to mention that the Zawiercie synagogue is the only one in the Zaglebie area, which was not destroyed by Hitler's wild hordes. They did, however, use the synagogue as a horsestable, and it is now a merchandise mart.
Zawiercie also had no cause for shame when it came to its parties and splinter groups.
Various kinds of Zionists found a warm reception in the city. In connection with which, if my memory doesn't fail me, the first Zionist umbrellaorganization was founded in 1899. This happened on Parembsker St. in the attic room in Isaac Yaskovitsh's house. The founders were: Yisroel Kromer (now in America), Meir and Yisroel Frenk, Yisroel Margolis, Shlome Baumatz, and others.
Shortly before WWII, the leftwing parties also had great influence on the Jewish workers.
In the RunUp to the Second World War
A Socialist Party was formed in Zawiercie in 1917 United. At its head stood Gustav (Gutek) Borenshteyn (later city councilman). The party assembled a committee, which ran a kitchen and distributed sustenance to the poorest element in the Jewish population (Joint Help). The party also took care of general social assistance for the lower levels among the impoverished Jewish population after WWI. Thanks to these forms of aid, carried out exclusively by United, the party was able to win almost all of the poor Jewish population in Zawiercie to its side.
In 1918 or 1919 United submitted its own list of candidates to the local election for City Council and enjoyed a big victory with three council seats. The following is interesting: the election list of the United bore the number 7, and it so happened that Landau, one of the councilmen from the party, had on his right hand only two fingers, and so on both hands together only seven fingers. The opposition made fun of this and called the party the Sevens. This name remained with them for a long time…
It's also worth mentioning another curiosity: one day during the abovementioned elections, United send out its activists across the city, and among them was Kopl Vaysman (Kopl Solozh), who was known to be apolitical, an unaffiliated Jew. A voter asked him as a joke, Tell me, Kopl, what is the program of ‘United?’ What do they want? Kopl didn't think long before answering, Well, Gutek Borenshteyn knows…
(Gutek Borenshteyn was the head of the party and was very popular in town).
Zawiercie was generally a quiet, workingclass town. AntiSemitism was not strongly felt as it was in other towns in Poland. While in Zaglebie, excesses regarding the Jews often took place in the years before WWII, and a pogrom against the Jews took place in Czestochowa in 1937, Zawiercie remained calm. We suffered only from fear.
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