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[Page 63]

The Refugees from Germany

by Joseph Chrust

Translated by Dr. Leon Chameides


In April, 1933, the Administration of the Jewish Community of Katowice published in its Official Newspaper (#30) an appeal to the public on behalf of the Jewish immigrants from Germany. These were families who had resided in Germany for many years and suddenly, in one night, were expelled and brought to no man's land on the border between Germany and Poland in the notorious “Operation Zbaszyn”. Katowice, located on the German border, was fated to become one of the first way stations for hundreds of these refugees.

The borders of Poland were not immediately opened for these refugees and, when they were finally opened and many of them managed to reach Katowice, they didn't know which way to turn. Some continued on in order to join family members in various cities in Poland, but many remained in Katowice because they had no other option. These needed help and the Katowice community united to help their brothers and sisters.

The question of the refugees was placed ahead of the regular agenda by chairman Dr. Reichman at a meeting of Representatives on April 22. He promised that the Jewish community of Katowice would not spare any efforts to help these refugees and announced the formation of special committee of aid.

On April 27, 1933 (Official Newspaper # 31) a public meeting was called by the Temporary Committee to Fight Anti-Semitism. A report was given about a Jewish conference that took place in Warsaw. An Action Committee was selected consisting of: Dr. Torton, Dr. Mayer, Dr. Rapoport, Dr. Kaufmann, Jerzy Neumann, Dr. Reichmann, member of the City Council, Weichmann, engineer Zmigrod, Bruno Freund, D. Haper, and Eliasz Abrahamer. Mr. Lion was appointed secretary.

On May 1, a meeting took place of representatives of all Jewish organizations in Katowice that were helping the refugees. A working committee was chosen and consisted of: Dr. Torton, Dr. Scheier,. Roza Altmann, Greta Neumann, the builder Riesenfeld, Ms. Stattler, Paula Kuhn, Jenny Kaufmann, Ms. Mannsfeld, Ms. Potok, Ludwig Schlesinger, Henryk Nothman, Ms. Wohlfeiler, Goldwasser, Lion, Dr. Breiter, Dr. Licht, Bruno Freund.

On May 7 (Official Newspaper # 31) a meeting of representatives of 10 Silesian Jewish communities took place in Katowice in order to determine what actions should be taken to help the refugees. It was agreed that the activities should be centralized in Katowice and delegates from six communities immediately pledged to transfer money and to collect within their communities additional sums as necessary.

A special assembly took place in the synagogue on May 14, 1933 (Official Newspaper # 32 May, 1933) to protest the burning of books by Jewish authors in Germany. [1500 people attended and were addressed by the only speaker, Rabbi Chameides who spoke in Polish, German, and Hebrew. He brought the assembled to tears as he described the current status of the Jews in Germany and their martyrology. He pointed out that Jews have passed through many auto da fe in their history. Enemies expected to destroy Judaism in this manner. It turned out however, that despite physical pain and many sacrifices of life, it has been impossible to destroy the Jewish spirit. On the contrary, with each catastrophe, its spirit has become more creative. For this reason, said the speaker, we have a strong conviction that all Hitler's onslaughts will miss their mark and that Jewry will emerge victorious from this battle also].

An additional public appeal (Official Newspaper # 33) regarding the refugees was published in June and suggests that the organizers were not satisfied with the public response to their previous appeal. Together with this appeal, a financial report was published showing that the second appeal did have an effect. According to this report, a conference of 50 delegates from Jewish communities including Krakow, Bielsko, Czestochowa and Warsaw took place on June 4th in Katowice. According to the report, the Katowice Committee helped 422 refugee families up to May 2, of whom 364 received some form of aid. At the time of the report, 101 individuals in Katowice were receiving aid from the committee. The total expended by the committee for aid was 7,084 zloty. [A detailed report of these expenditures is given].

A breakdown of the citizenship of the 101 refugees showed that, in addition to those with Polish citizenship, there were 12 Germans, 9 Rumanians, 4 stateless, 3 Hungarians, 1 Argentinian, and 2 Austrians.

Some of the refugees continued their journey while some remained as part of the Jewish community in Katowice. Evidence for this can be seen in announcements that appeared from time to time in the Official Newspaper searching for work, searching for apartments, or appeals for donation of books for Polish language instruction. All this continued until the entire community of Katowice became themselves a community of refugees on September 1, 1939.


kat065.jpg Old photograph of the city theater  [36 KB]
Old photograph of the city theater




[Page 64]

Culture and Art

by Joseph Chrust

Translated by Dr. Leon Chameides


Cultural and artistic life in Katowice was very vibrant when compared to cities of similar size in the rest of Poland. The fact that two cultures, German and Polish, coexisted in this city, caused each segment to try to develop its own cultural and artistic life. Jews, brought up on both cultures, contributed and drew their inspiration from both worlds. The Poles tried to infuse their culture into this area with the help of the State, thus making the city's ensembles and theater productions of unusually high quality.

However, the relatively small Jewish community was not satisfied with this. It developed its own cultural life and private initiative attempted to satisfy all tastes. Issues of the Official Newspaper of the Jewish community in Katowice reflect activities in this area also. During the 1930's, Petrowski and Gold, providing light Polish entertainment visited Katowice; theater productions of “Ahaswer” and “Bar Mitzwah” with the well known actor Boris Tomaszewski took place; and the “Hazamir” from Krakow and Joachim Stuczewski performed. Rosenblatt, Sirota, and Kusewitzky satisfied lovers of the cantorial art. There were also art exhibits by Merzer, Jakob Rotboim, and Chanoch Berczinski.

But this did not suffice. The public felt the absence of an institution that would fulfill their special musical needs and therefore “A Jewish Association for Music and Song” was established in November, 1934 (Official Newspaper # 68). The first leaders included: Dr. Mark Reichmann , Chairman, Ms. Vogelgarn, Vice Chairman, Jerzy Schalscha, Maurycy Berger, Pessel, Friedler, Nanny Abrahamer, Dr. Fryc Guttman, and Dr. Henryk Appel.

Announcements appeared from time to time about rehearsals of the orchestra and chorus under the direction of George Steinitz. It appears that the organization was frought with difficulties since in an announcement for a general meeting (Official Newspaper # 99 March, 1936) the agenda includes an item “continuation or discontinuation of the association”. Later announcements suggest that the organization's activities continued. These announcements include choir rehearsals, a search for a violonist/cellist for a chamber music quartet and about the first performance (Official Newspaper # 114 October, 1936) that took place in December. The program included the choir under the direction of George Steinitz, the string quartet of the brothers Splewinski, and the following soloists: Mesdames Schmidt and Abrahamer (voice); Mr. Wiener (voice); Mr. J. Splewinski (violoncello); Mr. A. Splewinski (violin); Mr. B. Feldmacher (violin); and Mr. A. Zurkowsi (piano). The concert which included compositions of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelson, Liszt, Lewandowski, Poper, Zulzer and others showed a very high artistic level of the performers.


Society for Jewish Literature and History

The first mention of this society in the Ofiicial Newspaper (# 3 March, 1932) notes that the society was formed 30 years ago, or in 1902. The same announcement also indicates that the society aimed at satisfying the spiritual needs of the Jewish public. To that end it established a library and organized lectures. For many years the society did indeed fullfil its mission. The library grew and was extensively used while the lectures were well attended.

However, the announcement noted that in the last few years interest had waned. The demand for books from the library as well as attendance at lectures had decreased. The membership in the society continued to decline. The author attempted to explain this decline by the fact that other organizations, founded over the course of the years, now provided for the spiritual and cultural needs of their members.

Out of concern for the many in the community who had no connection with the other organization, the writer suggests that there was a need to strengthen the activities of the society. In the same issue of the Newspaper there is also an announcement of a lecture sponsored by the society on the topic “Moshe Hayim Luzzato and his Literary Creation” presented by Rabbi Dr. Vogelmann. Because of the large number of organizations serving the community, the society was unable to provide extensive educational programs In January 1933 Rabbi Vogelmann gave a presentation on “The Morranos”. A month later, a lecture was presented by Rabbi K. Chameides entitled “Educational Problems in the Talmud”.

There appear to have been no further programs for a long period of time. In January 1935 (Official Newspaper # 71) the public was informed about the society's renewed efforts. In this announcement, signed by Dr. O. Rapopport, the society admitted its lack of programs, the fact that there have been no lectures, and that even the library was no longer functioning. Despite this, the leaders announced plans to attempt to resume programs and activities.

In 1938 the library was again active on Derekcyjna Street and continued to function until the outbreak of the war when this vibrant cultural life was destroyed together with the Jews.



[Page 66]

“Little Paris”

by M. S. Geshuri

Translated by Dr. Leon Chameides


Katowice, the capital of factories, mines, and cast iron, also left its mark in the field of education and culture.

It is first mentioned in 1598 when it was a field in Boguczice, a village located on the banks of the Rawa river then known as Rozdzyna or Rozdzanka. During the middle ages, rows of “foundries and factories of the noble iron works” stretched along the valley of this river, which today flows in the center of the city. During the last 90 years Katowice incorporated more than 20 settlements that were established at various times.

The first reference to Boguczice was in 1360. Until the 1840's Katowice was a small village next to Boguczice. In 1839 Franz Winkler, a graduate of the Mining Institute in Tarnogora and former director of mines who became extremely wealthy through marriage, transferred the management of his estate from Mychowic (near Bytom) to Katowittz in order to make more efficient use of the mines and iron foundries. Through Winkler's efforts, a rail line was established from Breslau to the border of Galicia through Szwintochlowic and Katowice to Myslowice. This stimulated the rapid development of Katowice with establishment of many different factories by wealthy merchants from Scotland, England and Germany. The Prussians called the city “Little Paris” because of its mercantile prosperity and they wanted to give it a German spirit and appearance.

In 1783, Katowice had a population of 490; by 1921 it had grown to a population of 50,000. It should be pointed out that in 1915 the city already had a population of 48,000 but this declined during the war years (1916-1918) by 10% because Germans fled the city as they saw their “push to the East” end in failure. In 1921, after a plebiscite, the city was transferred to independent Poland. In 1923 its population was 58,000 and after the incorporation of several villages, it rose to 112,822 and by 1930 to 130,000 people.

In 1855 Josef Lompah described it as “ a place with a name of a village but the appearance of a city”. In 1859 the last village head (Weit) of Katowice, Kazimerz Skiwa, resigned from office. In 1865, the authorities gave it the status of a city. In 1922 the Polish army entered the city and declared it Polish.

Beginning with 1933, an atmosphere of Hitler's hatred and poison could be felt in the city without any reaction by the Polish authorities. At the outbreak of the world war, battles for conquest of the city continued for three days. The period of occupation of the city was characterized, as in all Poland, by murder, rule by terror, and expulsions. A guillotine was erected in the Katowice prison. The city was turned into a seat of government and together with the nearby areas of Zaglembie Dombrowska and the counties of Olkusz and Zywic was incorporated as part of the “Greater Reich”. The city was liberated by the Soviet army on January 27, 1945.

(From: M. S. Geshuri, “Towns and Villages in the Vicinity of Zaglembie” on “The Book of Sosnowiec” p. 111).


kat066.jpg Decoration at the front of the building in Mickiewicza Street, 1905 [38 KB]
Decoration at the front of the building in Mickiewicza Street, 1905




[Page 67]

“Little Berlin”

by Dr. Chaim Shoshkes

Translated by Dr. Leon Chameides


“As we travel, we see unfolding before us coal mines and workers' cities; we pass the great Bismarkhuta which flickers with thousands of lights.

We soon find ourselves on the outskirts of Katowice. Before we actually enter the city, we see us a well lit, large four storey building. This is the editorial and printing house of the newspaper “Polonia” owned by Korpanti who also owns the largest corporations in Upper Silesia.

The German language begins to be heard and even when Polish is spoken, German words are mixed in...”.

It is no wonder. For nearly 600 years the area was part of Germany. Our sympathy goes out to those who managed to keep the Polish language over so many hundreds of years under impossible conditions. As Alphonse Doda put it so well: “They held in their hands the key to their locked prison cell”.

Katowice is known here as “Little Berlin”. This is an exaggeration. But it does have many of the qualities of a large city such as asphalt pavements, electricity, street cars, beautiful business establishments, and many banks.

Almost every other building on the main street contains a bank and in the days of speculators in German and Polish currency, the city was therefore often called “Bankowice”

And when I saw that in the streets of Katowice there were cars equipped in the back to brush the streets, I began to believe that Katowice is indeed a European city...

(Dr. Chaim Shoshkes “From Bendzin-Sosnowiec to Katowice” in “The Book of Sosnowiec” p. 201).


kat067.jpg Wolnosci Square [35 KB]
Wolnosci Square


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