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[Page 68]

The place of the Jews of Dąbrowa Górnicza and Zagłębie in the coal mines

by Jakob Rechnic

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

  1. As far as I know, my great grandfather, is of Hungarian extraction.
  2. My father z”l, leased coal mines via Christians, for the sake of appearance, since according to the laws it was forbidden for the Jews to run coal mines, a matter which was also publicized at the time in the “Gorniczy-Hutnici” magazine.
  3. The lands alone “Czencza Luizi” in Szopienice were leased. On the other hand the “Czencza Luizi” was subject to a private monopoly.
  4. Our surroundings were not at all influenced by these matters, since they were run according to existing laws.
  5. The laborers, not only did they not rebel, quite the contrary, they were very pleased with the situation, since the profits in the Jewish coal mines were higher, and likewise, the social conditions were better. As proof – during the period in which strikes broke out in other mines because of increased wage demands, in our mines the laborers never joined the strikes. During periods of difficulties in supplies, we always took care that they receive on time what was owing to them, something that did not exist in other mines.

Dąbrowa Górnicza and its environs were rich with many coal deposits, and in earlier times it was the center of developed coal mines.

The Jews, in general, were not active in this industrial branch and at the most dealt in coal marketing, but Dąbrowa Górnicza and environs also developed extensive activity in this industrial field, and caused considerable expansion of the coal mines.

The Jewish pioneers in this field were members of the Rechnic family as well as the Zmigrod and Majteles families. Even at the end of the 19th century the Rechnic brothers, Szmuel and Chanoch, father of the writer of these lines, leased from the “Sosnowskie Towarzystwo Górnicza” company, and received rights to produce coal from the shallow upper layers in the Niwka council land.

Since according to the Russian laws in those times, it was forbidden for Jews to be the owners of coal mines they used Christians for the sake of appearances. This was the situation until 1915, that is to say, till the occupation of these regions by the Austrian authorities during the World War One period.

For the “Matilda” mine that was managed by my father and later the “Karol” mine which was founded by him, the owners that appeared officially were Bojda and Karol Grabianski. In the same manner Szmuel Rechnic behaved with the “Jarosław” mine, the leasees of the shallow coal mines, as did Zmigrod in the “Helena” mine and Majteles in the “Orion” mine.

The previously mentioned mines were initially run in a primitive fashion. The coal was produced from the shallow layers only to a depth of tens of meters. The underground transport was carried out with wheelbarrows or wagons, which were pulled by laborers. The coal was extracted from the ground with the aid of baskets.

A number of years before the war, Chanoch Rechnic used horses for this purpose. In 1915 the Austrian occupation regime allowed Chanoch Rechnic to manage the “Karol” mine in his name. at the same time, based on an agreement with the “Sosnowskie Towarzystwo Górnicza” company, he had permission to extract coal from the mines to a unlimited depth, and not in accordance with what had been customary up until then, only in the shallow layers. A global lease payment was paid for this right. From then on, he introduced many improvements in the mine, amongst other things drilling machines activated by air pressure, technical arrangements for transporting coal within the mine and elevating it above the ground and so on.

Thanks to these investments, the coal output from the mine grew considerably, for example: from approximately 5,000 tonne in 1915 to approximately 18,000 tonne in 1917, and in 1923 the output reached about 50,000 tonne. The number of laborers employed was around 200.

In the coming years, as a result of competition in the coal mines in Upper Silesia, the economic situation deteriorated in the small mines, but in 1925 the output still totaled about 20,000 tonne in the “Karol” mine.

In 1925, in accordance with an agreement between the coal mine owners in Poland, uniform prices were determined for coal and the marketing of coal was limited.

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Chanoch Rechnic, like other Jewish leases of small coal mines, did not participate in this agreement, because it was linked with a danger of considerable limitations and even with the possibility of negating coal marketing. Nevertheless, more relaxed commercial conditions were created, since the coal prices rose considerably and they sold it below the customary price. In this way they managed to earn themselves wide markets for coal produced by them, As a result of this, the coal output from the “Karol” mine totaled more than 35,000 tonne in 1926, and in coming years over 40,000 tonne.

At the same time, Chanoch Rechnic's son – Jechiel Rechnic and the writer of these lines – began running independent coal mining businesses. Jechiel Rechnic managed in the years 1927-1931 till the sale of the “Maksimillian 1” mine and the writer of these lines – “Maksimillian 2” both of the mines were leased from the “Flora” company.

From 1935 the writer of these lines managed the “Helena” mine on land leased from the “Sosnowskie Towarzystwo Górnicza” company.

dab069.jpg [35 KB] - Coal mine in Dąbrowa
Coal mine in Dąbrowa

[Page 70]

The coal output from the “Maksimilian 1 & 2” mines totaled 20 to 40 tonne annually, and the “Helena” mine – even more than 100,000 tonne.

The aforementioned mines, even though they already had many technical improvements and electrical equipment, it was impossible to compare their equipment to other mines, and the output from them was relatively low; only the “Helena” mine achieved above average results. In spite of this, the laborers in these mines received a relatively high wage and considerable social benefits, such that there were never disputes amongst the working staff.

Thanks to the high coal prices that were determined by the agreement, and thanks to the fact that the managers of these mines made do with lower profits, they could successfully compete with the large mines of rich coal concerns, and this despite the fact that high lease payments were paid, totaling 2 to 3 guldens for each tonne of coal output.

For this reason the concerns made an effort to cause difficulties for the Jewish leasees and didn't allow them to continue managing the mines. As a result of this Chanoch Rechnic, following a prolonged dispute with the “Sosnowskie Towarzystwo Górnicza” company, was forced to close the “Karol” mine in 1934, and Jechiel Rechnic and the writer of these lines, were compelled to give up the management of the “Maksymilian 1 & 2” mines, since the owner of the land refused to agree to extracting coal from deeper down.

In 1937, the writer of these lines liquidated the “Helena” mine. Close to the break out of World War Two Jechiel Rechnic and the writer of these lines began managing the “Szopienice” coal mine near Katowice, on private land.

When World War Two broke out and the occupation of the land by German authorities, managing the mine became impossible. In this way and end was put to Jewish activity in the coal mining field in Dąbrowa and Zagłębie.

This activity, even if it was short, was very fruitful, not only for the plant owners themselves, but also for the working staff and the national economy. Although a “capitalistic” activity is being spoken about here, for all that, even now, during the communist regime, it is recalled with esteem and respect. Recently articles appeared in the Polish professional press, which stress the achievements of these mine owners. In particular the Rechnic family is mentioned, which brought about, to a considerable extent, the development of the coal industry in Dąbrowa and Zagłębie, the fair treatment of the mine owners towards the laborers, the care of their needs and so forth.

This activity constitutes, undoubtedly, an additional page in the history of the Polish Jews' contribution for the national economy, till its bitter liquidation.

[Page 71]

The development of Dąbrowa Górnicza

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

This article is a translation of historical, scientific material relating to the geography, topography and geophysical development of the Dąbrowa Górnicza coal center. You will certainly ask: What does this material have to do with a memorial book to the slaughtered, incinerated and innocent annihilated Jews of Dąbrowa Górnicza? Dąbrowa émigrés and others will justify this in their question, however the book's publishing committee sees the Dąbrowa community as an integral part of the Zagłębie district. The community sat upon coal, breathed its dust and its smoke poisoned and helped develop this industrial region.

The coal mines were closed with seven locks against the Jewish worker. The P.P.S.[1], the Sanacja[2] communists, the Endecja[3] and just Jew haters were united in this boycott. Many petitions and complaints were served by the Jewish labor parties of the trade unions to abolish this boycott, and there were always evasive replies. In spite of all tens of Jews penetrated the plants and their working ability didn't disappoint, and certainly not in their professional know-how. Hundreds of Jews worked in the mines, and they were obliged to pay a special tax for this permission. We see this article as a completion of the description of the history of the Jews of Dąbrowa Górnicza.

In 1796 coal rocks began to be extracted from the Reden mines in the center of Dąbrowa Górnicza. In the beginning the output was so minimal that it didn't influence the development of the town. Only much later, in 1817, the gigantic plant of “Konstantin” was operated near the Reden mines, something which turned the wheels of development of the mines and the whole town. A number of years after that, in 1825, the government together with the mine management built the Kolonia Reden (the Reden colony). During the same period of time a second mine called “Kaswer” was run up. Around it a new settlement sprang up, mainly of the mine workers.

Today, 150 years after the building of the first workers' residences in the Dabrowa settlement, they are worthy of a special accolade only that in their place stands a large and developed town with heavy industry, a modern town in every way constituting an integral part of the whole of the Zagłębie region.

The geographical factors behind the creation of the mines

After the sinking of the springs and swamps in the present Słońsk hills, over many generations layers of sand were created and below them deposits of coal rock. This occurred after the ground water sank, and perhaps also sea water that poured into the valleys below the aforementioned hills. In scientific language this phenomena is called a geophysical or wedged basin. With the hardening of the sand, silt and limestone layers, there are no indications of this in the nearby vicinity, only perhaps around Nikwa and Bytom and the frontier of Miechów and Olkusz; indeed this happened during the period of hardening and cooling of sea water – the Ice Age. A thick layer of limestone settled and hardened and turned over after hundreds of years and possibly at least thousands of years. This was the cause of the formation of the Polish plains landscape. In this region the popular opinion is that the “Zagłębie” lands are amongst the oldest and the first to cool down and form sandy, lime soil in all the area of Poland. Atmospheric factors and climatic depressions over a period of hundreds of thousands of years caused huge deposits of limestone layers, and on the other hand valleys or hills – as witnessed by the Golonóg hills or the peninsula constituting the Górka in Będzin and the mountainous region of Grodziec with waters producing disinfectant liquid there in the form of carbolic acid.

And thus the depressions of valleys and the mountainous areas were formed around them like Zagórze. An additional wide valley spreads out at the base of the Black Przemsza River. For some reason the coal deposits are in fact in the higher locations in the region. It is interesting to see how Nature created an incredibly symmetrical engineering shape of a sparkling coal layer and so on, to a depth of hundreds of meters. Whilst going down into a mine this can be clearly seen (see the article by the second President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi z”l).

Eons ago the whole area was covered with dense forests that were also a factor in the formation of the deposits. The access to them was difficult and people had yet to know the value of coal and its utilization; in addition to this there were swamps that were so deep and large that hardly any settlements appeared in the mountainous region around the rivers and the springs, like the settlements of Slawków near the White Przemsza River, Będzin and Siewierz near the Black Przemsza River and Czelad ź near the Brynica [River]. These were the earliest settlements in the region. A large number of small villages were on one side of Dąbrowa Górnicza, and on the other side Zagórze, Golonóg, Strzemieszyce and Zabrze.

[Page 72]

Even older settlements are Siewierz and Bytom, and there is proof of their existence in the years 1105-1120, in the period of the Emperor Bolesław Chrobry; one of the first kings of Poland, who built one of the palaces in the region. This also caused a large number of villages to be established in the area. Even in the lowest regions and even in the forests, and almost all with names of various types of trees, sometimes a full name or a shortened or lengthened name and they are: Dąbrowa, Sosnowiec, Porąbka and others.

A special trade route ran through this region as early as the 12th century. The route begins in Kraków (the capital of Poland at the time), through these villages in the direction of Słońsk and in the other direction to Lublin and continued on to Wrocław. On one hand a land route and on the other hand – timber and other merchandise were sent along the rivers on barges. They call this route the “wet path”.

The name “Dąbrowa” means pasture. There were forested areas and between the trees there were also oak trees. In Congress Poland there are no fewer than 433 settlements, amongst them towns and villages, whose names and their format and various nuances in the end come to the name of a single tree which grew and developed in the region of Dąbrowa. The religious and national conduct and ritual developed over many generations around stories of the good attributes of the trees with the large leaves, of their pleasant smell that they disperse around them, and many songs were sung about the courage of people from this region.

The administrative regime

During the reign of King Kazimierz the Great, around the years 1180-1200, Dąbrowa and its environs was part of the Siewierz district, being that districts did not yet exist, it was the Siewierz and Bytom Princedom, Bytom itself belonged to the Słońsk region. In 1443 these princedoms were united to a central administration in Kraków and that continued till 1790.

During this period the region made a great leap forward in its development, the central administration in Kraków supplied the impetus for this. The Church also looked after its faithful which it settled in the healthy environs of Dąbrowa, thanks to this, in a short while Dąbrowa was transformed from a small village to a developed town. Golonóg, which in fact was founded years before Dąbrowa but in spite of its historical site, remained a small town and around it many villages developed with their residents making a livelihood as tenant farmers under the estate owners. In spite of this, Dąbrowa was built up and grew as a town from the beginning of its development, thanks to the mines and the heavy industry that was quickly founded from the beginning of its existence.

Villages generally arose around the estate or the church, the lands belonged to the estate owners or the church and over decades houses and huts were built without plans, with windy roads shaped like trails. Dąbrowa, which drew its support and inspiration from the beginning of its development from the central administration, which thanks to natural resources: iron, coal, timber and rivers, was planned from its very beginning. The population indeed built houses around the plants, however here there was also a planning hand. The mines constituted a separate town within the bowels of the earth, all of the land was fenced and entry to it was absolutely forbidden. It was a state on its own.

The workers themselves constituted an issue, the mine laborers, living outside of the town. Who doesn't recall the change in shifts, with the tens of thousands of sooty laborers hurrying to their homes at night with torches lit, quickly passing along the town's roads.

The government took care of these laborers together with the management of the concessions owner of the lands overlooking the plants. The government allocated plots and the management built modern and complex neighborhoods, such that complete areas arose as the Dąbrowa laborers' town. Neighborhoods of small houses arose around the cemetery, the management of the plants leased plots and the laborers built their houses, one helped the other: close and distant relatives today built someone's home and tomorrow they'd build someone else's. Some time later they also purchased the plots. These neighborhoods also exist to this very day. A planning hand was here as well, it wasn't random building, rather planned with a network of roads and sewage. The distribution of plots and the opportunity to build was given in order to connect the laborers to their work place, since up till then there was desertion because a lack of stability in housing and the laborers didn't stay on, an issue which caused instability and disruptions in the development of the plants and the mines.

The mines and industry

With the development of the iron foundry industry and coal mining in Dąbrowa, a settlement of thousands of laborers began in the close vicinity, and through this distanced themselves from their former residents as tenant farmers under estate owners.

[Page 73]

The crowded settlement of the population created a separate civic authority without a connection to all of the large rural environs.

The mining of coal in Dąbrowa began during the Prussian regime in 1776. A special committee was founded in the Ministry of the Interior, whose responsibility was to supervise the development of the mines and foundries in Dąbrowa and environs. A man named Hakel was nominated the chairman of this committee (his residence was in Warsaw). After some time the committee's location was transferred to Kraków and, once again, some years later to Kielce. In 1827 the committee was transferred to Dąbrowa and its name was “The committee for mine and foundry matters”. During this period Dąbrowa became renown in the whole of Poland as a mining and foundry center, and the committee was located there till 1883.

The work of mining coal was always accompanied by many dangers like the emergence of gases in the mine, rockslides, flooding and so on and so the professional union of coalminers received special conditions, similar to those of stevedores and sailors. Special professional unions for laborers of the mines exist up until today even under the communist regime in Eastern Europe. The mine workers received certain privileges and were taken on to work only after a trial period and an examination of their abilities and political loyalty. Work in the mine was similar to army service, the miner had to take a vow and later after he went though all the stages the miner would receive a special uniform and this entitled him special rights and a little respect. Work in the mines was contract work and there are acceptable norms. Exemption from work was given because of disability or old age. At the time the mines were the only work place in all of Poland in which a wage pension was customary. The need for workers was constant, and a qualified miner was considered a worker who had successfully passed through all the various work stages in the mine.

A special way of life related to the mining work was created: It is known that there were mining holidays and miners' parades with their festive dress accompanied by a band. The festivals and celebrations and miners' parties were known in the region and their after effects reached distant places throughout the whole of Poland. In addition the transition of the workers from one stage to the next, from the status of a miner's helper's laborer, or from miner's helper to a miners' supervisor was accompanied by ceremonies like the sprinkling of salt over the head of the candidate. The salt was brought especially from the salt mines in Wieliczka close to Kraków.

The Jews in the mines

At the beginning the mine management opposed and forbade the settlement of Jews in Dąbrowa Górnicza. It seems that their lobbying in high places, in the mining commission, did the trick and in the end a number of Jewish families were given permission to settle under certain conditions. They were forbidden to settle close to the mines or foundries and they were forbidden to run taverns. Permission to settle was given by the government headed by Staszic whose name was given to whole quarters in Dąbrowa and also the name of the a mine, schools and so on.

The first Jews in Dąbrowa were handsome, tall with long beards. We will recall only two of them: In Reden, Reb Lejbl Frochcwajg (Cygusz) and the family of Mordechai Lejbl Miodownik in old Dąbrowa heights whose grandchildren live in Israel.

Development of education and commerce

The coal mines and the foundries grew and expanded, their produce was found throughout Europe and outside of it, and because of the competition they needed knowledgeable experts. To this aim, miners were firstly sent to England and foundry experts to France and Belgium, in order to learn mining and avoiding dangers.

Over the years a miners' school was established, whose name was renown throughout all of Poland and students from outside the country would study there.

Not only Poland benefited from the coal; the produce was also sent beyond its borders, and many Jews helped out in its distribution, which came with the tin from Dąbrowa (before World War One), to the borders of distant China.

(Prepared and translated from Polish: Abram Bajtner)


  1. The Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna, PPS) was one of the most important Polish left-wing political parties from its inception in 1892 until 1948. Józef Piłsudski, founder of the resurrected Polish state, was a member and later leader of the PPS during early 20th century. return
  2. Sanacja (Sanation) was a coalition political movement in the interbellum Second Polish Republic. It was created in 1926 by Józef Piłsudski as a broad movement to support the „moral sanation“ (“restoration to health”) of the Polish body politic before and after the May 1926 Coup d'État that brought Piłsudski to virtually dictatorial power. From then until 1939, Sanacja was the dominant political force in Poland, largely controlling the government. return
  3. Narodowa Demokracja (National Democracy), also known from its initials ND as “Endecja,” was a Polish right-wing nationalist political movement most active from the latter 19th century to the end of the Second Polish Republic in 1939. A founder and ideologue was Roman Dmowski. The movement effectively ceased to exist with the end of World War II. During the interbellum Second Republic, it was a strong advocate of Polonization policies. return

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