The referendum of 1921 showed clearly of the Silesian territories as Germanized, after 123 years under German government and influence. Most of the Jewish children in Katowice were sent to schools that taught in German. The wealthier families sent their children to private schools, and the rest- to a 4-classes community-supervised school named after Baron Hirsch, where teaching language in use was German as well.
The Polish authorities, who sought ways to restore Polish cultural domination of the area, offered the Jewish community to close the small German-speaking school, and replace it with a national-Polish public 7-classes school. The gates of Szlezia were instantly opened to Jews from all over Poland, many of which were originally
Unemployed and arrived Katowice as tailors, shoemakers and peddlers.
The Berek Joselewicz School was opened in 1928. Unlike finding a proper building for the school, teachers were many and easy to find. It was decided that the administration, principal and teacher-staff will be all Jewish and paid from state money; the building, equipment and janitor will belong and taken care of by the municipality- the same arrangement as in all elementary schools throughout Poland. Both Jewish and catholic festivals were holidays, on which school was closed.
Originally, classes were as usual on Sundays, but due to the janitors' resistance, the school started a 5-day school week. Instead, one extra hour was added to each day. The school celebrated Polish national events very fancily; the Rabbi would make a homily and special prayer service, and an official representative of the authorities was regularly present.
Many schools in Szlezia, private and public, taught in German. Most of the German Jews residing in the county left after not-voting for Poland in the referendum, with exceptions of those holding real estate or important factories, who didn't leave. Intellectuals who decided to stay, learned the Polish language as soon as they were able, and after 1933 sent their children only to Polish private schools- or to the Berek Joselewicz school later on.
By the end of the school year of 1939, the school had about 700 students. Some of them were murdered in concentration camps during the holocaust years, others died in Russia. Dozens of survivors who lasted are the initiators of this book, and of the memorial in Katowice, in the synagogue's original location.
The school's first principal was Mr.Deligacz. He arrived to Katowice as a trained and experienced educator.
Another teacher who originally came from Warsaw was an apprentice at Janosch Korzack's orphanage, where he acquired experience. Finished his degree in Mathematics in Warsaw, where he was murdered.
The male teachers' names are as following: A. Shapira, L. Noemann, Szwadron, Kiken, Margolis. All female teachers were unmarried and had seminarian academic degrees, as was required by the Silesian law. Their names are: Londner, Apter, Zajden, Diler, Leir, Ringler. Teachers would often receive a salary bonus of 20%, called cost-addition.
The curriculum was similar to the one taught in all the Polish public elementary schools. Later on, the graduates could be accepted to governmental high schools, specializing in trade and commerce or industry. None the less, most of them proceeded to private Jewish high schools near their communities, like those in Sosnowiec or Będzin - for example, the Yavne high school in the latter, and others- where the Hebrew language was taught.
Most of the students participated in Zionist youth groups. We, the teachers- as governmental employees- were officially unaware of this activity. The Religion classes were defined as the Jewish community's initiation, and weren't a part of the official curriculum.
A teacher named Winer, who regularly taught at the Baron Hirsch public school, was responsible for teaching the main prayers, which he did in his own unique way. As his Polish wasn't very fluent, he was usually dealing with discipline and order problems.
Occasional visits to the school were paid by Rav Dr. Fogelman, accompanied by Rav Kalman Chameides - Both took patronage of the school as a gesture meant to fasten the connections between the community and our institution. Earlier before, the school's Rabbi Position was filled by Dr. Yishayahu Levine, son of Rzeszow's Rabbi, a man of a very imposing figure, who was extremely qualified. He learned in Vienna and Warsaw. Due to private affairs he had o leave the position, and after a time came to lead the community in Lwow, where he was highly admired as well. Unfortunately, he was murdered by the Germans. I was told he was offered a hiding place, together with his wife and children, but he refused to leave his people. Wrapped in a Talith, he led the great Lebowian community, in the Nazis' command, to a saintly death of Kiddush Hashem.
I heard this story from his elder son, with whom I came to Israel in the year 1946, onboard the famous ship La Spacia. Young Mr. Levine stayed in Russia for a short period, and then immigrated to the United States, where he published a book telling his story of the war.
The community supported also a preparatory program. Two teachers ran the program- Sara Stubiecki of Częstochowa, a trained teacher` and another practical-trained helper. The wealthier Jewish families would send their children to private preparatory programs, where the physical conditions were better- but no Jewish characteristics or orientation were given.
My school's classes were taking place in a building on Stawowa st. since 1928. By the time I started to teach there, courses were given in the Girls high school building on May 3rd street every afternoon starting on 2 pm- and in very poor conditions. The class rooms were crowded and dirty. I had to teach a group of 65 children, 9-8 years old. The authorities won't divide them into 2 separate groups, because the regulations required at least 70 students in order to do that.
Only 2 or 3 years later we were moved to a spacious, suitable school building on Gliewicka st., in the Dombrowka neighborhood.
We were given a whole floor for the school's purposes, but the entire building hosted two more schools: A Polish School for Silesian children, which taught in Polish, and a school for minorities children, which used German. The building's large common courtyard, which was lined with a tall fence, was in use during break times by all three schools.
Our students were called Żydy to Palestine! by the Polish Silesian kids and Yuda Frakka by the German ones. Quarrels and hitting occurred rather often. In the end of the school day, every one of us teachers escorted his class in couples to the street corner. We were generally discriminated- our students were not allowed to use the common crafts facilities in the building, and so on.
The school existed for a total of 11 years, in 7 from which I taught there. During a short visit to Israel of my past student, Bertha Frischer (formerly Piltzer), she reminded me of the school drugstore she ran in my class, which was a service for the entire school.
It was a time of massive Anti-Semitic inciting, using the call swoj do swego. The purpose of other school-stores at the time was clear: To ensure the students don't buy at stores of Jewish ownership. Our goal was of course different- all incomes from the store's sales were dedicated for school trips and hiking days. I was in charge of doing the shopping (notebooks, pencils, pens, etc.), which I did in wholesale stores.
This Sales girl is now the owner of a grand supermarket in New-Jersey. She, after surviving the concentration camps, is now the mother of two and grandmother of five children. Every time she visits Israel, she reminds me again how I predicted her profession in advance.
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
We all remember our elementary school. It was a large, well-organized school, which handled well incidents of Polish Anti-Semitism. I started school when I was 7 years old, when it was still located on Gliewicka Street. One separate floor was used for all the Jewish classes. We, as children, did not feel or understand that there was anything wrong with that.
There was a spacious courtyard and a party-hall for our use, and there was a caretaker, non-Jewish, who was very strict and kept order. My teacher's name was Ringler. I cannot recall her first name, but her pleasantness and sense of authority I can still remember.
After the first grade, we were divided into two classes, Mrs. Halperin taught mine. She had a wide scale academic education in literature, and her being Jewish was probably the only reason she got to teach in an elementary school, and only the lower grades.
When I was in my third grade, school was relocated again, for anti-Semitic reasons, and moved to Bogucice, a small miner's suburb of Katowice. We had to take the train or the tramcar to get there, and some children would walk the way back home armed with a 'Gummy Knippel', a rubber stick used for self-defense in case Gentile kids will attack and start a fight, which they regularly did. It is important for me to remark that the Katowice children never gave up and would protect themselves from harassments.
In grades three and four my teacher was Mrs. Last. Our classroom was in the section of the lower grades, where the yard was small, and we did not have a gym, a hall or any other facility. The garden and the sports court belonged to the neighboring school for miners' children, and we could use them only with the permission of the school's Polish administration. Their attitude was tense and often hostile. I remember one of their teachers told me once: Don't throw orange peel in the yard's garbage cans, the miners' kids have nothing to eat and it makes them jealous.
When I finished 4th grade, I started 5th grade where the principal was Mr. Neumann. The fifth grade was located with the upper grades in the other wing of the school, and we were taught by professional teachers. If I am not mistaken, Neumann taught History, Schwedron taught Natural Science (for the scientific experiments we used to go to another school) and Geography, Halperin Polish Literature, Margulies Sports, Teichner Religion. This teacher used to tell us legends from our Sages [Midrash] after classes. All teachers had excellent professional training.
The last principal of the school was Dr. Tchachkes. All the Jewish children ultimately became students in this school, because they were not accepted in any of the other schools. We could find in our school children from very assimilated families, and our school brought them back to Judaism.
The Town's Jews
The entire town was covered with a thick German patina. This could be noted in the beautiful Jewish Temple, in the Synagogue Chorus on Shabat days, and in the special afternoon prayers for pupils. Near the Temple was a small Community house and in its place a big and impressive house was built. The Katowice community spent a great deal of money to build this house and the Jews were very proud when it was finished. The dedication of the house took place about a year before the war broke out, and we, the children members of the Hanoar Hatzioni [The Zionist Youth] movement celebrated there the Adloyada [Purim parade] on Purim. The Purim show we put on was Chamberlain Promises Eretz Yisrael to the Mufti and to the Jews. Manos Diamant played the Mufti.
Several institutions belonged to the community: the kindergarten with he teachers Pera and Rutha, the Hebrew School under the management of Mr. Wiener, the Bet Yaakov School for girls under the management of Chava Taube and the Talmud Tora under the management of Wiener and Stein.
In general the Jews were not different from the rest of the population, in clothing and in general appearance. They did their best to blend with the Polish residents and to preserve good relations with them. They had their own way of responding to anti-Semitic manifestations. For example, when a group of anti-Semitic residents demonstrated in front of the Woolworth Department Store on 3rd May Street, owned by Mr. Zimberknopf, the owner invited a boxer who dispersed the demonstrators, to our great delight.
My parents owned a wholesale business. When anti-Semites vandalized our store, my father simply hung a white sign, reading Where is your culture gone?
Despite the Jews' lively community and material well-being, the Silesian counties, including Katowice, were absorbed in Anti-Semitism. The everyday life was running as usual mainly thanks to the Jewish citizens themselves, who were European by definition and maintained an open, modern lifestyle.
The Polish government made significant efforts to culturally define the area as Polish. As a part of these efforts, they developed the T.C.L. - the Company of Public Libraries. The TCL building was located on the corner of Francuska and Wojewodzka streets. It had several floors, in every one a library dedicated to a different subject. The ground floor had the children and youth library alongside a reading-hall, where the librarian Ms. Juson worked. She was a Jew-sympathizer Polish lady, and in her patronage all children felt sheltered and equal. On Saturdays, she used to screen children's' movies (mostly polish folktales), about which the children were always excited.
Bankowa Street had a zoo, where monkeys, lions, bears and exotic birds resided and were shown. A skating rink was located not far from there, which used artificial ice whenever the temperatures rose. Personal skating trainers for children were available for a small fee.
A mentionable organization was Wizo, which used to arrange fancy public parties in a hall on Powstancow Street.
At the top centre: Rabbi Kalman Chameides
The Youth Groups
The youth groups of Katowice had great influence on, and were a major part of our social lives as children. The main ones were Hanoar Hatzioni (Zionist Youth) from Opolska Street, Akiva and Beitar groups. the activity added interest and idealism to our everyday life, and became an antithesis, a contra to the severe Anti-Semitism on the streets.
I joined the Zionist Youth when I was 10 years old, and I can easily say my life had been changed thoroughly since. Happiness and optimism were possible only thanks to the Zionist ideas. Our local branch was known for its cultivated and well-educated members, young students who had no actual concerns but anti-Semitism.
We were divided into groups and corpses: There were seniors, who were about to finish their matriculation exams, intermediate ages, and we- the youngest -Leor group from the Berek Joselewicz school. The head of my corps was Jdek ( I can't remember his last name). The corps itself was composed of 4 groups: 2 for girls and 2 for boys. Our counselors were Fela Frajlich, Bronka Blatman, Kantor and Aszer Grinboim. Of the groups names I can only recall Snow-white and Cedars. Heads of the branch were Hesio and Basia Nojbauer.
Hesio was a man of great persuasive skill and the ability to create trust. It was thanks to him I was allowed to go on a summer camp; after he convinced my mother that I will suffer from no lack in physical conditions or in supervision. I remember those summer camps like a good dream: the beautiful mountains and their forests, and around them us as independent kids and young adults, spending a great time and taking care of ourselves. The summer camps were a part of a general Zionist array of camps set up by Poland's government, and were held for Silesia's and Zaglembie's youth. Skawa was so remote, that not even trains reached it. There were two campsites- for younger, and for older kids. The groups were sleeping in separate rooms, on hay mattresses and quilts. A blue and white flag was hung in the center of the camp, aside the Polish flag, and they were both raised each morning, folded every evening and guarded along the day.
In the mornings we would go down to the river to wash, eat lunch in army-like aluminum dishes, and play sports and social games. During the month we stayed there, we had one Hebrew Day, that is, we weren't allowed to speak Polish- and whoever couldn't speak Hebrew had to stay silent This camp was over by midsummer, and afterwards I traveled to Rabvka- a fancy summer camp which I nonetheless found boring after the Zionist camp.
In Rabvka I met Neutek Kromolowsky and Ada braff of my school. I spent there most of August with my mother and brother, and we returned to Katowice barely a week before the war broke.
In the last few days before the war actually started, we packed essentials and headed to Warsaw with my mother, brother and nanny- Bassia Bulka. Most of the roads to Krakow were already blocked, therefore we took a train to Kielce- and that's where we were cut off. The Germans moved faster and bypassed us. My father managed to arrive there and meet us only weeks later- I remember one of the neighbors commented to him: Well Mr. Reich, it appears that your vacation is over. My parents wholesale business, that was one of the biggest in Silesia, was now renowned by one of our customers- a German printer named Karl Shultz-Troihandler. Years of lack, poverty and wanderings had now begun. Of my entire family, which consisted of many uncles, aunts and cousins; my brother and parents- I am the only one who was left.
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