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[Page 144]


by Monika Warnesko

Translated by Jon Levitow


The Town of Zawiercie – A Center of Industry

In the “Sanatsye[1]” times Zawiercie was one of the saddest characteristic features of the regime: a dying city.

This label attached to it over a period of years. “Bourgeois[2]” reporters and economists described Zawiercie this way for a long time.

Why this was so – with so many local factories? To answer this requires a look backward in time.


A hundred years ago the area was mostly forest. Even earlier there was the village: “Little Zawiercie.” You won't be able to find out much about this village – even by rummaging through the old archives and records. “Big Zawiercie” is much newer than “Little Zawiercie.” It has existed for 100–105 years. We can learn about “Big Zawiercie” from books, archives, and yellowed newspapers, as well as from oral testimonies.

The land of the Zaglebie[3] district was always poor, unfruitful. The towns surrounding “Little Zawiercie” belonged to various noble magnate: the Firley's, Worszicski's, and afterwards the Gotkowski's were the lords of Kromołów, the Beninski's in Mrzyglod, the Menczinski's in Zarki and Myszkow. Their tombstones, stone busts, and stone friezes immortalized the features of their faces and memorialized their grand way of life for later generations.

The peasants in the villages of the area, however, vegetated for generations on the inferior land. The legend about Mrzyglod might be true, that a Polish king almost met his death when he wandered into the area because no one could offer him food or water. (The name Mrzyglod means “the town between castles,” “mrzy” being from “miedzi,” which in Polish means “between.”)

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Men were singed[4] and worked to exhaustion in the great forests of Poreba for the benefit of noble magnates. They smelted iron in primitive ovens heated by wood charcoal. The aristocrats had in their possession brown coals taken a hundred years before from Warpie Mt., on the other side of Slawkow, near Siewierz[5]. A little later they acquired control over the shining lumps of coal that were found in large quantities south of Zawiercie – near Sosnowiec, Dombrowa, Sielec, and Milowice (Mislowiec).

Afterwards – in the middle of the 19th cent. – came the railroad line from Warsaw to Vienna.

The entire region developed quickly. A large ironworks was created in Dombrowa, in comparison with the older, charcoal–powered ovens in Poreba were insignificant.[6] The plant was called the Bankove works because the Polish National Bank financed it. Then in 1859 – the Tszeszkowski mine, and in 1865 – Nowa (now “Parizh[7]”), Hieronim, and Lobenski – all in Dombrowa.

A turning point in the local development was the right to force land–owners to give up property for industrial purposes and to pay “protection–fees” for coal,[8] as decreed by the Russian government of the time, but the main factors were:

  1. The right to “personal ownership[9]” was abolished in 1864 in Russian–controlled Poland.
  2. The development of a network of railways
  3. Annulment of the tariffs at the border between Russia and Congress Poland, which created favorable conditions for the sale of Polish goods in the eastern districts of the Russian empire.
  4. The increasing mechanization and development of real industry in place of the earlier, handwork enterprises.
The industrial magnates, factory owners, and bankers began to be interested in the village of Little Zawiercie. The older enterprises, like for example the ironworks in Poreba, became the foundation of new–style factories. Neighboring villages provided an inexhaustible supply of workers.

[Page 146]

So, next to Little Zawiercie, arose a settlement with the name, Big Zawiercie. Zawiercie quickly became a small town and a little later, a town. 1873 – the brothers Ginsberg open a textile factory. 1885 – Reich's glasshouse.[10] 1886 – Erbe's foundry, 1893 – Krowczik's factory. 1897 – Hulczinski's smelting works.


Social–Political Developments

Socialist brochures already appeared in the TAZ[11] in the 1890's. Many were passed from hand to hand – and even reached the neighboring villages of Koniecpol, Szczekociny, Ongrodzieniec, and Pilice. The best customers for the illegal literature were the peasants of Szczekociny.

In Zawiercie there were plans to create a secret press in cooperation with the industrial colonies because it was difficult to stay in contact with Warsaw.


A few facts about those times:

In 1891 there was a failed harvest and a great hunger. The bakers in Zawiercie demanded high prices for bread. One baker named Szczetszinski said he would rather throw the bread into the pond than give it to “you sons of bitches” for eight groshen (that was the previous price – at the time the bakers were demanding 12 groshen for a pound of bread).

The end result was that this particular baker was assaulted, and later other Zawiercie bakers were too.

The next day Cossacks came from Bedzin along with police from the whole area. The Cossacks stayed in Zawiercie over a week.

1904 – there were powerful chapters of the PPS[12] and SDKPL[13] (Rosa Luxemburg's party). The first large demonstration took place on the 25th of December in a square near the church. The demonstrators broke into the offices of the factory and took the “black book,” where the names of “seditious” workers were recorded, i.e., ones who were considered uncooperative.

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Workers listed in the black book were fired and blacklisted so they couldn't get other jobs.

Activists in the SDKPL in Zawiercie and Czestochowa area included Felix Jerzinski, later founder of the Bolshevik “Emergency” Committee (later the NKVD)[14]. He was known by the names of Fronek, Ostronom, and most often Yuzef.

Near Zawiercie were the Poreba factory metalworks, which existed for over 200 years, Wisoka Cement, near Lazy, the Steinhaken cellulose and paper factory in Myszkow, and the Bauerer foundry, etc. A strike broke out in Zawiercie and Myszkow, and there was a danger that the strike might spread to the paper factory and yeast factory in Pilice. Cossacks assembled in Wierbka, not far from Pilice, where the residence of the Vesele and Sobieski families once stood. They prevented the Zawiercie workers from inciting the Pilica workers who lived in the Wierbka settlement. In further developments, political strikes also broke out with the slogan “Down with Tsarism.” The center of the revolt was in Hulczinski's smelting works when during the spring of 1905 the “Dark Strike” broke out. It was called this because the workers in the plant extinguished all the lights, and all around it was like the “darkness of Egypt.[15]

The Cossacks opened fire. Four people died out of the crowd that had come from all over town to Hulczinski's works. Inside the plant the Cossacks fired again, and 3 workers were killed.


After 1905 the young days of the city were over. Zawiercie began to flicker like a candle going out. The situation there became much worse during WWI. After the war, on the 16th of December, 1918, the Council of Workers' Delegates was created, but in 1919 the councils throughout Zaglebie were dissolved. During a demonstration of workers in front of the city hall in 1920 (which ended in a well–known pogrom of “the ragged”), several workers were wounded or killed.

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In the years 1919–1920 the factories were no longer operating. There was unemployment and destitution among the workers. The situation improved in subsequent years, but it was still bad. K. Wzos, a Polish journalist from the Krakow “Currier,” wrote in 1921: “Zawiercie is the city of the unemployed. Three quarters of the Zawiercie population live on public assistance. The population spends its time in the houses and streets, and therefore the streets and houses of Zawiercie have a strange appearance. The worst conditions prevail in the ‘Argentina’ quarter. The schools face financial difficulties because most parents don't have the money for tuition. Commerce has collapsed. The price of real estate has plummeted. The city's income has fallen as well.”

Calls to save Zawiercie from disaster were constantly heard.

In 1931 there were more strikes, and in summer of 1931 an “Italian” strike[16] broke out at Hulczinski's.

From the book: “The Town of Zawiercie Brought to Life.” The book is in Polish.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. lit., “purge,” referring to the Pilsudski government of the second Polish Republic in 1926 and ff. As the Polish title given (in transcribed Polish) at the end of this article as well as various hints within the article indicate, the article must have originally appeared in Communist–era Poland. All footnotes are those of the present translator. The author's notes are in parentheses. Return
  2. This must refer to writers before the Communist period. Return
  3. I have used the Polish spellings for place and personal names where I've been able to find them. Names I couldn't identify are in in qu. marks. The exception here is for “Zaviertshe” itself, which it transcribed phonetically throughout– in Polish the spelling is Zawiercie. Return
  4. That is, burnt by the iron smelters, as will be explained. Return
  5. In the original Yiddish, “Zhikhvits” – which I am unable to identify. Siewierz is not very close to Slawkow but maybe not too far. Return
  6. Lit., “annulled in sixty” – an allusion to Jewish religious law where a non–kosher element of a dish may be considered “annulled” if it represents less than one in sixty parts. Return
  7. That is, Paris – apparently the mine still existed in the writer's time. Return
  8. I've translated this phrase literally and am not sure what it means. The land–owners paid the Tsarist government for the right to mine coal? Return
  9. I.e., serfdom Return
  10. Pol., “szklarnia” – a greenhouse or glasshouse, i.e., for indoor agriculture. Return
  11. The textile factory started by the Ginsberg brothers was called the “Towarzistwo Aktzine Zawiercie” or TAZ – meaning “Zawiercie Incorporated.” See pg. 7 below. Return
  12. Polish Socialist Party Return
  13. Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania Return
  14. The Soviet police, of which the KGB was a department Return
  15. A reference to the ninth plague as in the Book of Exodus. Return
  16. A kind of work slowdown. Return

[Page 149]

“Zawiercie (or Zavartshe)”

by Itsik Roytmentsh

Translated by Jon Levitow



The name of the town comes from the name, “Warta,[1]” the river that has its source in Kromołów and flows through the region of Zawiercie. “Zawiercie” means “on the far side of the Warta.”

Until the 1860's Zawiercie numbered, beside several hundred Christian families, a few dozen Jewish families that engaged in handiwork and commerce.

In 1866 the Jewish Ginzburg brothers (who had apparently come from Berlin) built a large textile factory, which was eventually counted as one of the largest in Poland. The factory became popularly known as “TAZ” (Pol.: “Towarzistwo Aktzine Zawiercie”)[2]. By 1914 the factory employed around 9,000 workers. The inhabitants called it the “mother” of the city.

The board of directors and almost all of the higher management were Jews. Most of them were assimilated, and they came from various cities in Poland. They lived exclusively in the so–called “Family Houses,” built by the factor owners. These Jews related to the Jewish population of the city in the way that usually suits intellectuals and “advanced” individuals – they almost never came into contact with the common Jewish population. They wore European clothes – and that was a novelty because at that time very few Zawiercie Jews dressed like Europeans – rather than in Jewish “yibetses[3]” and Jewish hats. In fact, the Jews called these assimilated managers “Germans.”


Zawiercie Becomes a Town

With the development of the textile factory and other factories, both the Christian and the Jewish populations grew due to an influx from the surrounding cities and villages.

Just before the outbreak of WWII,

[Page 150]

around 7,000 Jews lived in Zawiercie (out of a total population of 34,000). Jews engaged in handiwork and commerce – and some as workers (in the TAZ factory, mentioned above, and in others).

Socially and politically, Zawiercie did not lag behind the other cities in Poland. The city had:

  1. A Jewish handcrafts' union (400 members), founded in 1909 by handcrafts workers Khayim Besser, Ever Pertsyes, Zelig Shteynkeller, Iser Dimant, Berish Frayberg, and others.
  2. A merchants' union, founded by the merchants Yisroel Margolis, Yoyel Tsvaygl, Dovid Visser, Oyzer Zeyfman, etc.
  3. A cooperative bank for handcrafts workers and retailers founded by Yosef Sobelman, Zelig Shteynkeller, Oyzer Zeyfman, Berish Hendler, Khayim Besser, Note Besser, and the writer of these lines. In 1927 a magnificent building for the bank was constructed. The handcraft workers and retailers made extensive use of the bank, which gave them short– and long–term loans and carried out various commercial transactions.
There was also:
  1. A charitable fund with its own beautiful building, built and created by Volf Stopnitski, Yosef Liberman, Berish Brat, Sholem Yakhitzon, Dovid Kenigsberg, Berish Neyman, Zilberberg, etc., and
  2. an orphanage and kindergarden, also with its own building, donated by the well–known Levinshteyn family.
The Jewish community leadership also had its own building, which according to the Tsarist government also had to serve as the Talmud Torah and Cheder. The building was donated by Reb Hershl Zilberman (“old pops[4]”). It was built in 1907 in the synagogue place.

The story of the construction of the synagogue is an interesting one: in 1878 or 1879, the above–mentioned Ginzburg brothers assembled some of the Jews of Zawiercie and told them: “We plan to construct a synagogue and beys–medresh as long as the Jews buy generously.[5]” Having received promises from the important Jews of Zawiercie, they kept their own promise. It's appropriate to mention that the Zawiercie synagogue is the only one in the Zaglebie area, which was not destroyed by Hitler's wild hordes. They did, however, use the synagogue as a horse–stable, and it is now a merchandise mart.

Zawiercie also had no cause for shame when it came to its parties and splinter groups.

[Page 151]

Various kinds of Zionists found a warm reception in the city. In connection with which, if my memory doesn't fail me, the first Zionist umbrella–organization was founded in 1899. This happened on Parembsker St. in the attic room in Isaac Yaskovitsh's house. The founders were: Yisroel Kromer (now in America), Meir and Yisroel Frenk, Yisroel Margolis, Shlome Baumatz, and others.

Shortly before WWII, the left–wing parties also had great influence on the Jewish workers.


In the Run–Up to the Second World War

A Socialist Party was formed in Zawiercie in 1917 – “United.” At its head stood Gustav (Gutek) Borenshteyn (later city councilman). The party assembled a committee, which ran a kitchen and distributed sustenance to the poorest element in the Jewish population (“Joint Help”). The party also took care of general social assistance for the lower levels among the impoverished Jewish population after WWI. Thanks to these forms of aid, carried out exclusively by “United,” the party was able to win almost all of the poor Jewish population in Zawiercie to its side.

In 1918 or 1919 “United” submitted its own list of candidates to the local election for City Council and enjoyed a big victory with three council seats. The following is interesting: the election list of the “United” bore the number 7, and it so happened that Landau, one of the councilmen from the party, had on his right hand only two fingers, and so on both hands together – only seven fingers. The opposition made fun of this and called the party the “Sevens.” This name remained with them for a long time…

It's also worth mentioning another curiosity: one day during the above–mentioned elections, “United” send out its activists across the city, and among them was Kopl Vaysman (Kopl Solozh), who was known to be apolitical, an unaffiliated Jew. A voter asked him as a joke, “Tell me, Kopl, what is the program of ‘United?’ What do they want?” Kopl didn't think long before answering, “Well, Gutek Borenshteyn knows…”

[Page 152]

(Gutek Borenshteyn was the head of the party and was very popular in town).

Zawiercie was generally a quiet, working–class town. Anti–Semitism was not strongly felt as it was in other towns in Poland. While in Zaglebie, “excesses[6]” regarding the Jews often took place in the years before WWII, and a pogrom against the Jews took place in Czestochowa in 1937, Zawiercie remained calm. We suffered only from fear.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The Warta is a river in western-central Poland, a tributary of the Oder river. Return
  2. “Zawiertshe Incorporated” Return
  3. I am unable to identify this word. Maybe fr. Polish, “yubek,” a tunic? Return
  4. Slang, like “old poppie” or “old daddy–o” Return
  5. This sentence is difficult. Yid.: “Mir boyen uf a shul un a beys–medresh, oyb yidn veln nisht koyfn ‘shorye. ’” “Shorye” is unclear to me – I'm guessing it comes from Polish “szszodrze” – “generously,” and the “nisht” is a fairly common feature in Yiddish (although illogical in English), with a meaning equivalent to “as long as.” The meaning seems to be that as long as the Jews remain good customers of the Ginsbergs' products, the latter will be able to pay for a synagogue. Return
  6. The quotation marks are mine – to emphasize what is clearly an irony on the author's part. Return

[Page 153]


by Y. Zigelbaum

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Edited by Stacey Swann

Today, with the help of G–d, I am 81. I have endured many tribulations. My memory is a bit faded, but I remember very well people and events from more than 70 years ago.

I was born in the town of Papiernia, four kilometers from the village of Pradła[1], close to Lelów. The famous tzadik Reb Dovidl Lelower was born in Pradła. Many old timers from Zawiercie were born in Lelów or close to Lelów in Szczekociny.

The name of settlement of Papiernia stemmed from the primitive paper workshop that was established by my paternal grandfather, Reb Yitzchak. He was the first person in Czarist Russia to use water marks for the production of paper (vaserstreich in Yiddish). The authorities took an interest in the invention and made a contract with him for the production of such paper, but only for them. My grandfather had to take an oath, and he received 42 morg[2] of land for his invention. On the land he built a flourmill (there was a river whose water flowed rapidly) as well as a paper factory. My father paid his brothers (one lived in Janów, one in Pilica, and another in Lelów) their share and became the sole owner of the mill and paper factory.

There were many villages around Pradła. During my childhood, Baruch Szeinerman lived in Bodziewjowice (one of his children converted to Christianity). Leizer Zelonka (the uncle of Yosel Zelonka) lived in Biała[3]. Avraham Hirsch Rosenblum lived in Dobrogoszczyce. A glassmaker name Rothbaum, the father of the baker Yaakov Yitzchak Rothbaum of Losnice, lived in Gołuchowice.

There were more Jews in Pradła : The Rinski brothers (Wolf–Itche, Moshe Yosel, and Yankel). Yankel was the toll collector of the bridge. Chaim Weisman was the lessee of the small factory for plows. Mendel Praszker was the ledger keeper. The wealthiest Jew in Pradła was Yerachmiel Cyter. Yitzchak Rosenblatt was Cyter's bookkeeper. Cyter's brother–in–law, Tenenbaum, also lived in Pradła.

Cyter came to Pradła as a simple person. He started like others. He purchased a calf or a limited amount of grain from one farmer or another. He then was strengthened financially. Rajski, the noble magnate, approached him and befriended him since Cyter was diligent in business and more intelligent than the other townsfolk. The owner of the estate, who manufactured liquor, put a wagon at Cyter's disposal. Cyter sold him his merchandise. Over time, Cyter leased a sawmill. Later, he lent money to his noble magnate. Finally, the noble magnate's debt reached 4,000 rubles. Cyter became wealthy from the fire insurance money, especially during the era of serwytutim (the payment of damages to the serfs for their years of services as a result of the law banning serfdom). When, for example, the noble magnate had a forest, and the forest was due to

[Page 154]

the serfs as serwytut, the noble magnate took care to find a diligent Jew who would purchase the forest from him and cut it down as quickly as possible despite the anger of the farmers. The farmers complained and rebelled, but the trees were already in the warehouse of the Jew. Cynter earned a huge sum of money from such a forest, for he purchased the wood from the noble magnate at a tenth of price.

* *

With respect to the first people of Zawiercie, I have to add that I own a machzor (festival prayer book) that was once owned by the elderly Lewensztejn. The following inscription is on the inside of the binding: “This book belongs to the scholarly man Nathan the son of Tzvi Lewensztejn. Here, Zawiercie, in the year 1847.” This indicates that there were Jews in Zawiercie already in 1847, at the time of the completion of construction of the Warsaw–Vienna railway line. Lewensztejn was already a resident of Zawiercie rather than Kromolów. Probably, his father–in–law Mendelson and his brother–in–law Holenderski had already lived in Zawiercie more than a hundred years ago[a]. They were contractors who worked on laying of the railway line.

* * *

I had already lived in Zawiercie at the time of the war. The situation was difficult. As the owner of a flourmill, I had connections with the German authorities and helped many Jews lobbying the Germans. For example, I helped a woman who was arrested at that time by the Germans for holding a large quantity of liquor in her house for sale (this was forbidden at that time). Through lobbying, petitions, and bribery, I softened the heart of the German who accused her, and he disguised the matter.

I also had connections with the Poles, for by 1919 I had already taken upon myself, as the sole Jewish miller in the city, to provide flour for the baking of bread for the residents of the city. This was recommended to Commissar Kepaszcyk by the flour merchants of the city. I indeed kept my word and the city enjoyed a steady supply of low cost bread, consistent with the former price.

I should point out that the situation in general was bad. Also the situation of several wealthy people of Zawiercie was particularly bad. I remember how I came to the home of Reb Leibel Berger and noticed that he was eating a very sparse breakfast. I did not know that he was so tight with money. I found out that his female employees were demanding reparations for the entire wartime period, claiming that he had paid them a low salary the entire time. I discussed this with the leader of the employees at that time, Meroz, who made his best efforts to extricate Reb Leibel from his dire straits.

There were also incidents of urgent need in giving charitable grants to people who had formerly earned their livelihoods but had become completely impoverished. One of them was Sh. Y. L., owner of a grocery store, who was a scholar and a lovely man. We helped him with a large loan. He later fully paid back the loan.


  1. Hundred years ago might be in the middle of the 19th century Return

Translator's Footnotes

  1. According to “Where Once We Walked,” the population of Pradła was 87. Return
  2. A morg is an old unit of measure, about 5754 square meters in Lesser Poland. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgen Return
  3. Biała Błotna Return


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