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[Page 7]

Chapter I

Jewish History of Zabrze

Edited by Tammy Forstater

 

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Synagogue of Zabrze

 

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Zabrze between Gliwice and Katowice, Poland

 

The city of Zabrze, Poland

Zabrze is an industrial mining town near the city of Katowice. It is an old historic city, already mentioned in 1243 as Biscupci and as Alt-Zabrze in 1295. In the late Middle Ages, the local Silesian Piast dukes invited German settlers into the territory resulting in increasing German settlement. Zabrze became part of the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526, and was later annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia during the Silesian Wars. With the discovery of coal in Zabrze by the Jewish mining engineer Salomon Izaka of Brabant, Belgium, the city became a coal mining town. The first mine named “Królowa Luzia”, located in Zabrze, began to extract coal in 1791, becoming one of the largest mines in Europe. In 1791 it produced 120 tons of coal and in 1891 the production reached to 3,000,000 tons.

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Railroad cars transport the coal from the digging site to the exit site.
The trains also provided transportation for the workers

 

Coal attracted many industries and provided economic opportunities. The city grew.

With the booming economy, Jews began to move to Zabrze. In 1825, the first Jew reached and settled in Zabrze. He was Mozes Glaser, a builder. However, before Glaser, there were other Jews that dealt with or visited Zabzre, like Jakob Lebol or Jakoba Schlesingera. But Glaser was the first permanent settler. In 1840, 24 Jews lived in the village of Zabrze and several dozen Jews in the vicinity. The Jews who first settled in Zabrze at the beginning of the 19th century began to plan the organization of a Jewish community. Meanwhile they depended on the Jewish community of Bytom for all their spiritual needs, like burial services. The Jewish population slowly grew in numbers and wealth. Simon Hamburger started the first steam mill that Samuela Hoffman later acquired and expanded. Wilhelm Silber opened a brick factory. Lobel Haendler opened a brewery and Karol Sachs opened a factory that produced lubricating products. In addition other industrial enterprises were opened by Jews that helped the growth of the city of Zabrze.

As mentioned earlier, the Zabrze Jews depended on the religious services of the Jewish community of Bytom. By 1860, there were about 300 Jews in Zabrze and vicinity. There was a need for a Jewish communal organization in Zabrze.The Jews in the town organized the Jewish community to provide various services including burial services. The following Jewish inhabitants of Zabrze partook in the creation of a Jewish community organization:

Bohm, Max
Eisner, Wilhelm
Glaser, Noa
Handler, Heinrich
Schuler, Salomon
Dantziger
Grunwald
Guthamer, Dr.
Eugen
Handler
Kaiser
Kochmann
Markus
Pollack
Sachs
Schindler
Wienskowitz

The organised Jewish community of Zabrze petitioned the authorities to grant the Jewish community of Zabrze full independence and the request was confirmed in 1872. Wit the arrival of the permit, elections were held to elect an official body of representatives of the Jewish population of Zabrze and immediate vicinity. The following people were elected to the Jewish community council of Greater Zabrze:

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The official stamp of the Jewish community of Zabrze. Notice the coal hammers used by the miners as symbols of the Jewish community of Zabrze

 

The main objective of the community organization was to provide religious services and religious instruction for the Jewish population of the area.

In 1865, the Jews of Zabrze purchased a sizable plot of land that was located at the intersection of the present Brysza and Karłowicza Streets. The plot was much larger than was needed for a synagogue. The remainder of the plot was destined for an elementary Hebrew school and an old age home. Mateusz Kries, master mason, was commissioned to build the synagogue.

 

The Jewish cemetery at Zabrze

The Jewish cemetery was set up in 1871 by the Jewish community. The plot was a gift to the Jewish community of Zabrze from the town's last private owner, Guido Heckel von Donnersmarck. At the time, the plot was in the suburbs of the town. Several months after the establishment of the cemetery, a funeral house was built next to it It was the seat of the Chevra Kadisha or Burial Society. Prior to this period, the Jewish deaths of Zabrze had to be transported to the Jewish cemetery of Bytom. A grave had to be bought and paid for as assessed by the Bytom Jewish community. The entire process was handled by the Zabrze Chevra Kadisha. This voluntary association already existed for some time in Zabrze. In 1872, the Chevra Kadisha or Jewish burial society had about 70 members. In 1892 Max

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Entrance to the Jewish cemetery in Zabrze

 

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The inside of the Jewish cemetery behind the gate at Zabrze

 

Böhm financed the extension of the funeral house, where apartments for the cemetery's caretaker and gardener were built. Because the the Jewish community grew in size, the surface of the cemetery was extended between 1894 and 1895.

 

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The Jewish cemetery at Zabrze

 

The inscriptions on the tombstones underwent changes with time, namely less and less Hebrew letters. The cemetery was used until most of the Jews of Hindenburg were rounded up in 1943 and sent to the death camps. A few „ mishling „ or mixed families remained but disapeared with time. At the end of the war, there were no known Jews in Hindenburg. With the end of the war, the name of the town was changed to Zabrze. Repatriated Jews from the Soviet Union began to settle in Zabrze and began to use the Jewish cemetery that would be used until 1953. A unique aspect of the cemetery is that, in addition to Hebrew inscriptions, many tombs feature texts in both German and Polish. Typical tombstone decorations and inscriptions in German and Hebrew continued to be placed on the tombstones. The most impressive tombstones date back to the 19th and 20th centuries when the well to do Jewish families built family plots. Special attention should be paid to the tombs of the following families: the Deckos, the Borinskis, the Herzbergs, the Goldmanns and the Leschnitzers. The most splendid tomb, made of black Swedish granite, belongs to Max Böhm (died in 1904). With time, some of the tombstones collapsed or were damaged extensively. The caretaker collected the parts and placed them in a special location called the “wailing wall”.

 

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Family tombs at the Zabrze cemetery

 

A special place was of course reserved for the fallen German Jewish soldiers of World War One. Russian prisoners of war of World War One and Soviet soldiers killed in the area during World War Two were buried next to the walls at the front and back of the cemetery. Within the cemetery there was an area where the Germans dumped the bodies of inmates from the nearby labor camp that was a subsidiary of of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex. This camp was located in the city of Hindenburg. The Nazi local authorities encouraged the people of Hindenburg to dump their garbage on this plot, so that nobody would know what was buried there. The mass grave was discovered by Mr. Dariusz Walerjañski, a local historian. He and the municipality cleared the plot and the bodies were reburied in a mass grave

At the cemetery one can admire a beautiful stand of trees, consisting of more than 200 trees; most of them are robinias, with the rest being tall European ash, maples, sycamores and others. Family tombs are fitted into the framework of columns, semi-columns and pilasters. With the disappearance of the Jewish community of Zabrze in the fifties following the closure of the Joint organisation, the Jewish organisations and the vicous anti-Jewish attacks, the Jews of Zabrze left the place as did most of the Jews of Poland. The cemetery became neglected and overgrown. Lately, a historical group started to clean the cemetery area and restore it to its former state.

 

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The main entrance to the Zabrze synagogue

 

The synagogue building was completed in 1873. The synagogue was a free-standing English is two-story red brick building, with the elements typical of Romanesque and Moorish architecture. All decorative elements, such as corners, window frames and friezes, were made in plaster. The synagogue was rebuilt once more in 1909. It resembled the one of Kaiserslauter, and had three entrances. Over the main entrance there was a Hebrew inscription which was a citation from the First Book of Moses (the Book of Genesis) 28:17 - " This is none other than the house of God, and his is the gate of heaven." The main prayer room was surrounded on three sides by galleries

 

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The Jewish school of Zabrze on the left and the towers of the synagogue on the right form the Jewish compound of Zabrze

 

for women. The ceremony of the consecration took place on April 2, 1873. It was led by Rabbi Landsberg with religious songs and a prayers, while the sermon was delivered in German by the Orthodox rabbi of Radom. The first rabbis were usually brought from Bytom or Gliwice to conduct services. Then in 1895, Rabbi Saul Kaatz was engaged to be the rabbi of the community. He later had an assistant named Dr. Rabbi Arthur Victor who passed away in 1934.

Both Rabbi Kaatz and Rabbi Victor were busy with the Jewish flock of Hindenburg (during World War One, the city of Zabzre asked and received permission to change the name of the city to Hindenburg). Rabbi Kaatz conducted an impressive memorial service at the synagogue on December 8, 1925 where two panels with the names of the 51 fallen Jewish soldiers were added to the memorial wall of the synagogue. All these Jewish oldiers lived in Hindenburg and fell in the battles of World War One defending Imperial Germany. Rabbi Kaatz eulogised the fallen soldiers who gave their lives for the German homeland. He would

 

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List of German Jewish soldiers from Zabrze that fell in
World War One and some were buried at the Jewish cemetery in Zabrze

 

continue to lead the community until the summer of 1942 when most of the Jews of Zabrze were deported to the death camps, including Rabbi Kaatz.

The Zabrze community also had the following cantors to serve the community:

S.Schallamach
H. Singermann
A.Landesar

Amongst the teachers of the Jewish school we remember:

J. Michaelis
Dora Kohn
Lamg
D. Malachowski
S. Petzal Arthur Wahler
Principal M. Strauss

The Jewish community of Zabrze was one of the larger Jewish communities in Upper Silesia. In 1931, the Jewish population reached 1200 people. The president of the Jewish community was attorney Dr. Guthamer, the presiding officer was Mandowsky and the treasurer was Michaelis. Attorney Martin Schindler represented the community to the outside world. The budget for 1931 was 50,000 German marks, which covered the school where 60 children attended classes and another 90 children received religious instruction.

The Jewish community was a vibrant community that had many clubs and associations ranging from a burial society to various sports clubs and social and welfare associations, including the welfare association to help needy people, the women's lodge of Veritas and the men's lodge of Veritas. Bnei Brith was very active as were various Zionist organisations. The largest group in the community was the branch of the Central Union or better known by the initials C.V. This was the largest Jewish organization in Germany that represented Jewish interests in Germany and was at first vehemently opposed to Zionism. As things developed in Germany, the group mellowed its opposition to Zionism and effectively helped Jews leave Germany. The Zionist groups organized orientation courses for people planning to go Palestine, and offered Hebrew courses. Zionist youth clubs such as „Maccabi Hatzair” made great progress amongst the German Jewish youth. Slowly but steadily, the Jews were isolated from the German population. Even the public library was closed to the Jews and the Jews organized their own library.

 

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Jewish children in Zabrze near the aynagogue in the thirties. The children were members of the Zionist youth organisation „ Maccabi Hatzair”

 

The Jews were active in trade, especially grains and cattle. Jews were also in the professions and some had large businesses. Jewish life was very intense and revolved around many social and cultural associations.

Zabrze was officially renamed Hindenburg during World War One in honor of Generalfeldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg. The name change was approved by King Wilhelm II on 21 February 1915. Following the war, the area of Hindenburg was disputed between Poland and Germany. Both countries insisted on taking possession of the area including the city of Hindenburg. The League of Nations ordered a plebiscite to be held. , 21,333 inhabitants (59%) of the Hindenburg community voted to remain in Germany, while 14,873 (41%) voted for incorporation to Poland. In May 1921 the Third Silesian Uprising broke out and Hindenburg was captured by Polish insurgents, who held it until the end of the uprising. When Upper Silesia was divided between Poland and Germany in 1921, the Hindenburg community remained in Germany. It received its city charter in 1922. Just five years after it's founding, Hindenburg became the biggest city in German Upper Silesia and the second biggest City in German Silesia after Breslau.

At first, the wave of anti-Semitism stoked by the Nazi press across Germany did not affect the Jewish community in Hindenburg. The city was protected by the League of Nations minority charter, which guaranteed the rights of minorities. It was basically designed to protect the large Polish population but also benefited the Jewish residents. But the Nazis were determined to rule the city and slowly imposed their terror tactics on the Jewish population. The other minorities also felt unwanted. The special minority status ended on July 16, 1937. The Nazi terror machine went into full gear in Hindenburg. Some Jews began to leave the city and sought safety in the bigger cities with larger Jewish populations, or tried to go abroad. In Germany, the terror felt by the Jewish population assumed catastrophic proportions. Furthermore, the municipal elections in 1933 gave the Nazi party a victory in Zabrze. The citizens of Zabrze voted for the Nazi politician Max Fillusch

 

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Plaque erected in Zabrze in memory of the destroyed synagogue

 

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The sign reads:

IN MEMORY

of the Jewish Community of Zabrze (Hindenburg) that was
destroyed by the German Nazis during the Shoah.
On this plot stood the Jewish synagogue that was built in 1872
and destroyed in the “Kristalnacht” pogrom of November 9-10. 1938.

“ Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt” Deuteronomy chapter…

This memorial was erected due to the efforts of
Ernasta Shmuela Schindler and the community of Zabrze in 1998

 

who became mayor and remained in the position until 1945. With him started the worsening of the Jewish situation in Zabrze. On November 9, 1938 on the so-called Kristallnacht, the Germans torched the synagogue. The synagogue burned and smoldered for two days, and was reduced to rubble. The adjoining „Mikvah”, or ritual bath house, was also destroyed. Two other Jewish buildings in the compound were left standing. One was the old age home and the other was the schol. The area of the synagogue remained desolate until 1998. Then Ernest Shmuel Schindler and the Zabrze municipality erected a memorial plaque on the site where the synagogue stood. Following World War Two, the Polish authorities restored the name of Zabrze to the city.

The Gestapo arrested 350 Jews and kept them in detention. The next day 95 Jews were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. The Jewish population of Zabrze declined rapidly and according to a survey in May of 1939, the Jewish population stood at 554 people. Within a few years, the Jewish population shrank by more than 50%.

During World War Two there were two major actions aimed at the Jews of Zabrze. According to the testimonies of Jewish survivors of Zabrze, the first action took place on January 1, 1942, where many Jews were rounded up and sent to the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau including Rabbi Kaatz . The next action took place in 1943 where the remaining Jews were rounded up and sent to the death camps. By October 1944 there were only 16 Jewish “mishling” families where one of the partners was not Jewish. It is not known how many of these families were still in Zabrze when the Soviet army marched into the city in 1945. They became the masters of the city and later handed it over to Poland.

 

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On the right, the Jewish school building in Zabrze remained standing throughout World War Two

 

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