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[Page 109]

50 years of trade and industry

by Dawid Liwer

Translated by Rita Ratson

Donated by Erin Einhorn

Bed-109.jpg [10 KB] - Dawid Liwer

The city of Będzin is one of the oldest in Zagłębie. On the unpaved road of trade that tied together mid-Poland and neighboring Germany – had for many generations, developed as an important trade and industrial center.

When we write about trade and industry we are refer to the Jewish participation, since all of the founding work in developing the trade and industry in our city was almost completely carried out by the Jewish population. Beginning with large trade companies, wholesale and retail businesses, up to and including very small industries, was for the most part in Jewish hands.

Initially, in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War, there were Christian wholesalers, who existed thanks to the large support of the Polish government organizations, which were interested in repressing Jewish trade.

The import and export of various materials to Poland passed through Będzin through to other countries and back. There are no exact figures in official sources on the participation of the various sections of the population in the trade development of our city. Therefore, in order to receive information on how particular economic branches developed in our city, we made use of information that was passed on by word of mouth, which were recalled more or less in detail, relating to the economic development of Będzin.

The Growth of the Jewish Population

Będzin was amongst the first five cities in Poland, in which the Jewish population was stable and increased steadily, through the sturdy economic foundations of the city, in which Jews had built and developed a major trade and industry. Będzin had achieved her particular Jewish character due to the fact that it always had a large Jewish majority. The following table shows the growth of the Jewish population from 1789 to 1939, and the percentage of the city's general population (according to M. Kantor-Mirski, Z. Lesczynski and other sources).

Year Gen. Pop. Jews Percent
1789 1,200 300 25.0
1835 2,500 1,200 48.6
1855 3,350 2,240 68.0
1897 13,550 10,839 80.0
1921 30,000 18,210 60.0
1931 50,000 24,000 44.0
1939 60,000 27,000 45.0

In 1941, with the stream of refugees from surrounding areas, Będzin there were approximately 40,000 Jews there.

In 1897, 80% of the population was Jewish, in 1921 there was only 60% and in 1931 it fell to 44%; at the same time the total population of Będzin grew threefold in the period from 1897 to 1939. The reduction in the percentage was the result of the politics of the Polish administration, which favored the pure Polish population. This meant that the administration had skillfully raised the Polish percentage there.

In 1931, Będzin was amongst the top ten cities of Poland, by virtue of the number of Jewish citizens and in 1937 she was already amongst the top seven cities in Poland.

The Jewish industry and enterprising spirit

It is quite amazing to recall that the industry was founded completely by the Jewish enterprising spirit and skill without significant capital and without assistance from the Czarist and later also the Polish governments. Jewish youth, who had come from Bet Hamidrash, for whom the Bet Hamidrash was their public university, founded an entire industry – the coal industry (which was not in Jewish hands). There were only a few Jewish coal miners, and the Jews transported and distributed the Zaglembian coal to distant Russia and also beyond the borders of the country so that by the year 1935 coal export reached was 35% of the entire production, which came to approximately 7½ million tons.

[Page 110]

In the same manner, Jewish industry helped develop not only coal mining in Zagłębie, but also the large plants belonging to the families Potok, Szajn, Fürstenberg, as well as the tens of smaller iron and metalworking plants. Jews built large limekilns, screw and nail factories, zinc and paint factories and so on.

[Please note that this is a partial translation of this article]

B. Memories

[Page 133]

Jewish education in the beginning of the twentieth century

by Abram Gold

Translated by Rita Ratson

Donated by Erin Einhorn

Over 50 years ago, the population of Będzin was almost entirely Jewish. The city was laid out from the water mill to the “peasant gate” on Kollataja Street that led to Dabrowa. If it weren't for the church on the hill in the old market place, and the ruins of the royal castle of Kazimierz the Great – one would be able to say, that in those years that Będzin was a purely Jewish city. It was not easy to make a living. One did everything to earn a precious piece of bread and because of this, there was no shortage of teachers in the city, who made an effort to get as many children as possible of businessmen who barely managed to keep their head above water into their “cheders”. Every four-year-old boy studied with a teacher (someone who taught the youngest children); where they learned the “aleph-bet” and Hebrew, and then later they attended “cheder”, where they learned Pentateuch [traditional Yiddish version of the Torah] and Talmud. The aspiration of every father and mother was for his or her child up to be a rabbi's assistant, a wise person or a cantor if he had a good voice. Parents purchased less food in order to collect the money necessary to give their children a proper education.

The “cheder” teachers were known in the city by their nicknames. My teacher was called Kalman “Katlass”, another: Nuchem “duck”, a third one Lajbisz “with a broad beard”. What did the “cheder” look like at that time? The entrance was straight in from the street into the house. A barrel of water stood on one side that Ephraim the water carrier had brought from the pump in the old market. From time to time the “Rebbetzin” [Rabbi's wife] sent the pupils out to bring back a pail of water. We happily carried out the Rebbetzin's wishes – we also rocked the baby, shopped for her food in various stores, and other errands – anything apart from having to sit at the Rebbe's table in fear. At the door stood a pail of dirty water, which we called the “slop pail”. Then there was an iron oven and a long table with two large benches where we, the “Gentile boys” (as we were called by the Rebbe) used to sit and study. The next room served as a room for the members of the teacher's household. The teacher used to have a “helper”, a strong young man, who used to go round and pick up the children every morning. He used to pick them up, a few children at a time, on his shoulders, in his arms and by the hand.

The teacher and his assistant taught the pupils the “aleph-bet” from a prayer book, while holding a wooden pointer and yelling loudly in our ears, demanding that we remember the letter and when our poor frightened soul did not allow us to remember the “aleph-bet”, the child received a real beating; and so many marks were left on the children. After about two years, when we completed the Torah in Hebrew, we progressed to the “cheder”, where we learned Chumash (Pentateuch – traditional Yiddish version of the Torah) and the first part of the Talmud. Despite this, the teachers did not earn enough to make a living and so their wives had to do whatever they could to help earn more money. They sold baked foods and so forth. During the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkoth, the class lessons ended and the teachers went from house to house to find new pupils. We did not learn worldly subjects in the “cheder”, apart from Russian, which was ordered by the Czarist government. Every child had to learn, by heart, the Czar's oath. On every Russian national holiday or birthday of one of the Czar's court, we went to the school and said prayers in honor of the Czar (for his good health) and for his friends and court.

When we were older, we stopped listening to the Rebbe, we went on to “yeshiva” or traveled on our own to learn in the Bet Hamidrash. Children from more worldly homes and families were able to continue to study in Wroncberg's synagogue, which at the time had already become a reformed school, made up of three classes in which they learned all sorts of subjects. This particular school was one of the best. Students from the whole region came to study there; if their parents were capable of paying the tuition for them. Hebrew was studied in Ashkenazi, the bible and the director, Mr. Wroncberg, taught grammar. He was a good Hebrew teacher and Talmudist. There was a different teacher for German and Russian; a private teacher taught Polish, because the Russian government forbade it. The teacher for Russian was a Gentile. Later on a relative of Wroncberg from Warsaw arrived. This teacher, Jehoszua Rapaport, taught thousands of students in Będzin up until the Holocaust period.

Also Szlomo Sabatke, born in Slomnik, one of Wroncberg's mentors, was an excellent teacher and extraordinary Hebraist. He began working independently some years later and opened a school of his own with great success.

In the school we were educated to have a national spirit; we learned about the origins of our holidays, not only the religious ones, but also the national ones. There also was a teacher, Iszajahu Jakob, who spoke Hebrew very well. He ran his school in the art house in the new market. His wife had a boarding school for Jewish children from Lithuania and Russia who used to study at the Russian school of Będzin, “Komerceskioje Ucilisze” [commercial junior high school] in Rubin Street in Nunberg's house.

In 1905, a Polish marketing school was founded, in which a small group of students from very worldly circles, studied. They had to go to school on Shabbat, as well. There was a school in Jechiel Wajner's house where Jewish students studied to be writers. They studied in the Russian language. They wrote petitions to the government. Girls from the level of society studied additional subjects and also a little “Yiddishkeit” in the two public schools belonging to Szmul Judl Rozenes in Zukerman's house and in Majer Lemel Sendiszew (died in Israel) and Blimele Sendiszew's house. When two Polish high schools for girls were established, managed by two women (Kszimowska and Ceplinska), both teachers gave up the schools and became storekeepers.

M. L. Sendiszew immigrated later on to Erez Israel together with his family. His son, Moszele, fell during the incidents of 1936-1939.

Girls from wealthier homes continued to study with Mrs. Mandelkorn. In Będzin there were quite a few young men from Russia, who studied in our city because of the many restrictions in their native towns. There, young men suffered a great deal because of their ethnic background. They gave lessons in private homes to the families' children. They wore special school uniforms with brass buttons and special caps, because in the religious circles they were regarded as Gentiles. They were welcomed by the enlightened families, who were seeking worldly education and to become acquainted with foreign languages. Yiddish was regarded as non-kosher. The language embarrassed secular people, not aware of the fact that the greater portion of the city's population spoke Yiddish though reading a Yiddish book was forbidden. Those who read a Yiddish book were regarded as a “model to be emulated”. It took a long time till it was accepted that Yiddish was a language and it worked against the assimilation process.

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