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[Page 200]

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 doubts… 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 credit.

* * *

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.

[Page 201]

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 sentences… 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 European city.

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