« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 56]

Economic Life in the 1930's

by Joseph Chrust

Translated by Dr. Leon Chameides

Jews in Commerce

A special article published in the Official Newspaper of the Katowice Jewish Community (#91 November, 1935) offers a complete picture of the role of Jews in the commercial life of the city. The article relies on statistical data used by the community to determine taxes. From these we can conclude that 630 Jews were engaged in commerce. This included 200 small market stall owners, shopowners, and door - to- door salesmen. This constituted 18% of all those in the city paying an industrial tax.

It was apparently very important for the writer of the article (Eliasz Abrahamer) to publish these statistics in order, as he himself explains, to contradict claims that “all” commerce was in the hands of Jews. Two tables are presented in the article. One lists gross receipts and the other, income. In 1934, Jewish merchants paid about 300,000 zloty as an industrial tax and around 100,000 zloty in income tax. In that year, there were 1260 Jews who paid income tax. Both from a point of view of the number and the amount, Jews therefore paid 20% of the city's taxes. The percentage of Jews who engaged in so called Jewish occupations like salespeople, clerks, etc., barely reached 2% of the total number of people in commerce.

Annual Gross Revenues (zloty) Annual Income (zloty)
Number Gross Number Gross Number Income Number Income
215 1,000 26 40,000 202 1,500 50 20,000
15 2,000 28 60,000 326 2,500 31 30,000
28 3,000 26 100,000 255 4,000 14 40,000
19 4,000 8 150,000 149 6,000 9 50,000
19 5,000 6 200,000 102 8,000 5 100,000
25 6,000 6 300,000 62 10,000 3 100,000
22 8,000 7 500,000 79 15,000    
32 10,000 1 800,000        
64 15,000 6 1,000,000        
34 20,000 3 More than 1 million        
44 30,000            

With this statistical help, Abrahamer came to the following conclusions:

  1. The anti-Semitic claims of Jewish “dominance” of commerce were figments of the imagination. These claims were made in those years only in order to further limit the number of Jews forced to engage in commerce.
  2. The statistics again show that an ever larger number of Jews is being pauperized. Surely no one would claim as merchants the hundreds of poor Jews whose turnover and income are so low that the authorities have released them from any obligation to pay taxes. These Jews would gladly give up the “privileges” that the title “merchant” bring if they only had the opportunity to have a different job, such as coachman, mailman or coal miner.

The author of the article comments about another anti-Semitic claim, namely that the Jews “are buying up Katowice”. To refute this statement, he uses data from the “Statistical Yearbook”. According to these published statistics, in 1934 there were 3,708 homes in Katowice; Jews owned only 282 or 7.5% of them.

Dr. Adolf Scheier wrote an article in the Official Newspaper (#47 January, 1934) entitled “To Jewish Merchants - A Few Words” in which he called on them to organize in a merchant's association. It appears that such an organization already existed but in view of the problems which confronted the Jewish merchant, the leaders decided to broaden its membership and strengthen its activities. To attract membership, dues were lowered from five to three zlotys per month. In addition, members were entitled to receive help with bookkeeping, legal advice, taxation advice, access to a professional library, and help with correspondence in Polish as well as other languages. The organization also planned to establish a professional school and evening classes for commercial workers.

Despite this extensive effort, the organization did not appear to have been successful. For the next two and a half years there is no further communication to its membership. In September 1936, an appeal to the merchants of Katowice is again published which calls on them to cease their apathy and to join the merchant's organization (Official Newspaper #118 September, 1936). The same issue also informs the members about a lecture by the lawyer Dr. Leuchter from Krakow on issues of commerce.

An Association of Small Merchants which represented the interests of small shopkeepers, peddlers, and stall merchants appears also to have been active in the Katowice Jewish community. It publicized its activities in the Official Newspaper (#81 June, 1935 and #108 July, 1936). An announcement draws attention to a general meeting under the signatures of the chairman, M. Adler and the secretary, H. Helberg.

In 1932 an announcement appeared in the Official Newspaper about the creation of an organization for workers in the spiritual fields and offering instruction in Polish and English languages.

Association of Craftsmen

The Jewish founders of commerce and industry in Katowice established a number of organizations, among them an Association of Craftsmen. From the Official Newspaper (#4 March, 1932) we learn that on the 13th of March (1932) this organization celebrated its 20th birthday. It was therefore founded in 1912. According to the article, Mr. Egon Markus had served as its President since 1922. In view of the difficult times, stated the announcement, the anniversary would be celebrated in a very modest and subdued way way.

A report about the celebration and a review of the general activities of the organization is presented in the very next issue of the newspaper (Official Newspaper #5). At the anniversary celebration, the painter, Mr. Louis Miedzwinski reviewed the various phases of the development of the organization over the course of the past 20 years. He especially complimented the chairman of the organization, Egon Markus. The builder and organization treasurer, Riesenfeld, gave a financial report. Six new members were initiated into the organization and two members, Szymon Riesenfeld and Jeana Boldes, who died during the past year, were memorialized. A representative of the General Craftsmen's Association also participated in the celebration. He bestowed honorary membership in the General Craftsmen's Association on the painter Louis Miedzwinski, the butcher Heyman Schaal, and the builder Izydor Riesenfeld,. (A report about the same celebration appears in a later Newspaper (#19) and indicates that six members received honorary membership in the overall organization).

On April 9, 1933 (Official Newspaper # 30) Egon Markus was elected for the 12th time to be Chairman at an organizational membership meeting,. We learn from this report that the organization tried to help members in need and that it organized an annual Chanukah and Purim party. A special membership meeting took place in June, 1933 (Official Newspaper #34) at which it was decided to establish an insurance fund in case of death. In 1934, the chairman, Egon Markus was honored by the Chamber of Craftsmen on the occasion of completion of 25 years of professional work (Official Newspaper # 47).

As a result of stricter laws that required every independent craftsman to be certified, the organization took steps to help its members (Official Newspaper # 60 July, 1934). This subject was again addressed in November, 1935 (Official Newspaper # 92) and August, 1936 (Official Newspaper # 107). These suggest an active and vibrant organization.

Interest Free (Gemilut Hasadim) Bank

Jewish merchants used the general financial institutions and branches of the major banks in Katowice. In addition, a branch of the co-operative Jewish “Bank Udzialowy” was located in Katowice. The Official Newspaper (#72 January, 1935) published a large announcement to that effect, that included names of surrounding towns where additional branches were ready to serve its customers.

This bank carried out business on a purely commercial basis but, in addition, its founders established an interest free fund to help merchants and craftsmen who found themselves in temporary economic difficulties. The first reference to the existence of this fund is in a report in the Official Newspaper ( #12) of July, 1932). The report indicates that this fund had been in operation for several months during which it succeeded in raising a few thousand zloty and making a number of interest free loans of several hundred zloty which could be repaid in small, weekly installments. The organizers dedicated the months of July and August for publicity about the program and appealed to every Jew to join the effort and support it.

The report lists the following as administrators of the fund: Dr. Leon Kaufman, Küfer, Barbasch, Goldwasser, E. Abrahamer, Herbstman, Georg Schalscha, Bruno Freund, Waltuch, Menczel, Dawid Wasserteil, G. Neumann, Dawid Ehrlich, Jozef Goldstein.

From time to time announcements about the fund appear in the Newspaper. Their purpose was to increase the public's awareness and to enhance its income. From January 15 to February 15, 1933, an intensive effort was undertaken to increase the membership to 100. Other fund raising efforts included a “Gold Book” in which donors' names were inscribed and occasional parties and dances.

At a general meeting of the fund on April 19, 1936 (Official Newspaper # 102) it was announced that the fund had doubled in size. The following were elected as new administrators: Dr. Kaufman, W. Barbasch, B. Freund, J. Herbstman, J. Genendelman, J. Diamand, Ch. Schlachet, Blumenfrucht, Sz. Kaufmann, S. Olmer, D. Ehrlich, S. Gross, J. Milner, Seidler, and L. Miedzwinski.

Large Companies

There were a number of large Jewish business enterprises in Katowice. These included the iron export companies of the brothers Altmann, Nothmann, Merachatz, and the iron forge of Liebermann; the coal companies of Silberstein and Goldstein; the hotel and cafe “Monopol”, the hotel “Rodzinac” owned by family Lustig, the hotel “Savoy” owned by the engineer Zahnreich, the “Central Hotel” owned by Gruenfter, and the hotel “Wiener Hoff” owned by Wiener; the largest movie house in the city “Rialto” established by Berthold Kochmann, the coffee house, “Austria” owned by Galonzka and Myerowitz, and others.

Katowice also had a number of very fancy stores whose founders were Jews. For example, the brothers Barsch, the brothers Markus, “Boberk” and, in the last few years, “Wolworth” owned by Izak Zimberknauf; the fur store at Milenskiego 6 owned by Jakob Milner, the “Titz” store which belonged to Auerbach and the shoe store of Huttner and Kaufmann, as well as the carpet and curtain store of Menczil.

Other businesses under Jewish ownership included the well known delivery company, Weichmann, with its many branches; the chocolate and candy factory owned by Schlesinger, and the Discount Bank owned by Scholowitz. The founders of the first mills were Fiedler and Glazer and subsequently, Weichmann. In the field of textiles and ready made clothing were Steinberg, the widow Gruntahl, the brothers Rond and Bender, Hugo Lifshitz, the brothers Wasserteil, his son Kotner, Konigsberger, and Grawowoski. In haberdashery there were the brothers Schindler, and the brothers Grunfetter, as well as Berthold Kochmann.

[Page 59]


by Joseph Chrust

Translated by Dr. Leon Chameides

Anti-Semitism, prevalent throughout Poland between the world wars, was especially prominent in Silesia. This was a deep seated emotion that had been embedded in the population for generations and was undoubtedly aggravated by nationalistic and economic conditions.

After the first world war a territorial dispute arose between Germany and Poland about the fate of Silesia. The Allies tried to resolve this complicated problem by a plebiscite which took place on March 20, 1921. The results showed that 62% of the local population voted in favor of Germany and 38% in favor of Poland. The Allies therefore decided to divide Upper Silesia. The industrial part that voted in favor of Poland (3200 sq km with a population of 900,000), including Katowice, was awarded to Poland; the remainder was given to Germany.

Polish Silesia soon began a process of “Polonization” accompanied by expressions of Anti-Semitism, spurred on by the fact that a large part of the Jewish population was brought up on German culture and spoke German. Many of the Poles were coal miners and the anti-Semitic agitators had an easy time rousing them against the “rich” Jews. anti-Semitic activities included discrimination within the law, continuous attacks against Jewish slaughter, instigation in the local press, and boycotts against Jewish merchants, often accompanied by physical assaults.

Legal Discrimination

Like all new countries that won their independence after the Allied victory, Poland obligated itself to guarantee equal rights to its minorities. However from the moment of its creation, Jews were forced to struggle at every turn in order to secure even the most elementary rights. In general, these struggles took place far from Katowice; in the capital, in parliament (Sejm), or in the various government ministries, but occasionally the struggles reached Katowice and involved representatives of the Jewish community.

This occurred when there was a question about the authority of the Jewish community or about the interpretation of a law.

Perhaps because he was seen as a symbol of authority, Jews seemed more secure while Marshall Jozef Pilsudski was President Poland. They hoped that as long as he was alive, he would not permit any evil to befall Jews, not out of “love for Mordechai” but because he would not allow anyone to undermine the authority of the government. This sense of security was especially shaken in Katowice when he died in May 1935, since nationalist-socialists (NAZI's) were already in power only a few kilometers away. [The Official Newspaper of May 1935 (# 79) published a number of emotional eulogies bordered in black and a special service with a sermon was held in the Great Synagogue to mark this occasion].

The Official Newspaper of September, 1936 (# 111) describes a small incident which reflects the decent relationship that existed between the municipality of Katowice and the Jewish community. According to law every new resident was obligated to fill out a registration card in duplicate. This was however enforced only for Jews; non-Jews were not required to file a copy. Jews saw this as an act of discrimination but the municipality quickly published a clarification pointing out that this was done for the benefit of the Jewish community which had a started a registration process in 1928. By giving the Jewish Community a duplicate of the registration form, it was helping it to keep track of its members and thus could better fulfill its responsibilities towards them.

The Ofiicial Newspaper (#114 October, 1936) relates the following:

“Recently, the post-office distributed an anti-Jewish libellous pamphlet entitled “The Sabbath Courrier” published in Poznan to all local inhabitants, including Jews. We simply cannot understand how the Post Office could allow postmen, who after all are government employees, to become unknowing assistants and propagandists for this anti-Semitic trash. It should not be necessary to emphasize that postal authorities must assure that newspapers and other printed matter not contain material that agitates against the state or a segment of the population. The Post Office cannot hide behind the excuse that it is obligated to deliver everything for which it has received payment since it would then also be obligated to deliver anti-state pamphlets”.

Incitement Against Ritual Slaughter

Tender feelings of mercy for animals suddenly developed in the hearts of the anti-Semitic leaders and they began to concern themselves with the “inhumane” aspects of Jewish ritual slaughter. They demanded that animals be stunned before being slaughtered, as was customary in non-Jewish slaughter.

The agitators brought up three essential arguments: a) Jewish slaughter causes unnecessary suffering for the animals; b) Jewish slaughter is not religiously mandated; c) Jewish slaughter causes the meat to be more expensive and this is passed on to the non-Jewish population which needs part of this meat. In other words, the non-Jewish population is forced to help support the Jewish community which covers most of its expenses through income derived from ritual slaughter.

The battle about Jewish slaughter had a unique aspect in Silesia because Katowice wholesalers were especially active in the export market and the importers from abroad for some reason demanded that animals be slaughtered in accordance with Jewish ritual practice. Whenever those exporters saw a possibility of improving their bottom line, even the “humanists” among them readily supported Jewish ritual slaughter.

In 1936, Rabbi Kalman Chameides published a series of articles on Jewish slaughter and one of the facts he pointed out was that the Jewish community did not establish the principle that its expenses be covered by income from ritual slaughter. It was rather the Polish government authorities who demanded it in order to prevent the Jewish community from instituting direct taxation.

The Jewish communities in Silesia, in contrast to the remainder of Poland, had the good fortune of being able to fall back on Prussian or Austrian laws and were therefore able to cover the community's expenses almost entirely from taxes. The Katowice community was able, for example, to cover 90% of its budget from direct taxes and only 8% from income derived from ritual slaughter.

Rabbi Chameides refuted the Polish claim that the non-Jewish population bore the burden of supporting the expenses of the Jewish community by citing data in “The Statistical Data of the City of Katowice” (Official Newspaper # 99, March, 1936).

Local Newspapers

We succeeded in obtaining only a small portion (1932-1936) of the Official Newspaper of the community but even in this limited number there are a number of references to incitement against Jews in the Polish press. For example, there is a report (Official Newspaper # 15 September, 1932) of a slander lawsuit brought by the general manager of the Jewish community, Eliasz Abrahamer against the editor of the anti-Semitic paper “Hasla Podwawelskiego”:

“A libel lawsuit brought by the Director of the Jewish Community, Mr. Eliasz Abrahamer against the editor of the anti-Semitic paper 'Hasla Podwawelskiego', Kowalski, was heard by the Katowice court on Friday, the 9th of the current month. Kowalski was found guilty and sentenced to a 100 zloty fine or 10 days in jail and the plaintiff was awarded the right to publish the result of the case with the cost to be borne by the accused”.

We can only guess at the content of the anti-Semitic newspaper “Blyskawica” (Lightning) from a polemic article written by “Kalonymus” (probably Rabbi Kalman Chameides) in the Official Newspaper (# 39 September, 1933). The name of the article is “The Jewish Attitude Towards other Religions” and it deals with all the so-called “scientific” theories of the antiSemites.

The same issue carries the following announcement: “As a result of complaints from the Administration [of the community], the public prosecutor has already confiscated copies of the anti-Semitic weekly, “Blyskawica” three times”. Eight months later (Official Newspaper # 56 May, 1934) there appears a report about the conviction of “Blyskawica's” editor:

“The much postponed trial against the editor of “Blyskawicy” who was charged with defaming Jewry and the Jewish religion recently ended. After hearing the opinions of experts, namely the Rev. Professor U. J. Archutowski, Rabbi, Professor Schorr, and Rabbi Chameides, who agreed that all the quotations from the Talmud published in “Blyskawicy” pertaining to the use of Christian blood as well as other citations that defame Jewry and its religion are based on falsehoods, the court sentenced the editor of “Blyskawicy”, Chowanski, to nine months in jail, payment of 200 zl in damages to the Jewish community, and to cover the expenses of the trial”.

The “Official Newspaper” especially cited the arguments of the representative of the community, the lawyer Dr. Mark Reichmann.

Physical Violence

The memories of Katowice expatriates are filled with stories of assaults during their childhood. No one guided the little anti-Semites in their actions. They simply absorbed hatred of Jews in their homes. Little by little, these assaults began to appear to be organized.

The “Official Newspaper” (#13 August, 1932) reports:

“Last Saturday night - Sunday morning, the sign in front of the Jewish Community Administrative Offices at Mlynska 11 was defaced with oil paint by unknown assailants. Also defaced, were display windows and signs of Jewish merchants in various areas of the town but especially in the vicinity of Third of May Street”.

The paper expressed astonishment that this could have occurred on a main street, well patrolled by police. There is no doubt that a whole string of assaults must have occurred, for the Official Newspaper” (# 86 August, 1935) to declare in an editorial: “The Administration of this community presented an appropriate memorandum to the Wojewoda [Governor]

Dr. Michal Grazynski, regarding the anti-Semitic incidents which have taken place in Silesia and especially in Katowice. According to reports, the Wojewoda has already given appropriate orders and we hope that these inexcusable acts of those who would disturb the peace will not occur in the future”.

After only a short period of time, in December, there was an attempt to blow up the Katowice synagogue. A community delegation consisting of Rabbi Chameides, Abrahamer, Klein, and Drs. Reichmann and Mayer (Official Newspaper # 94 December, 1935) presented the Wojewoda with an extensive memorandum regarding the situation of the Jews in Silesia and specified its demands. The Wojewoda expressed an understanding for the issues and promised that he would take the most severe means in order to maintain order.

Two months later, in February 1936, 21 members of the National Party (Stronnictwo Narodowy), were accused of an attempt to throw a bomb at the synagogue, and a trial took place in the court of Katowice (Official Newspaper # 97 February, 1936). The defendants admitted their guilt but they defended their actions on the basis that they were “Polish patriots” protesting against Jews who were enemies of Poland. The court sentenced them to jail terms varying from 1 1/2 to 3 years. The Newspaper notes the appearance of the defense lawyer, Krysowski from Katowice. In their defense he claimed that Jews had profaned churches in Lwow and Czestochowa and therefore he saw nothing terrible in the fact that a bomb was thrown at the synagogue. The Newspaper expressed its disappointment that the presiding judge, Arzt, did not allow Krysowski to continue with “this beautiful speech” for then “we could have learned from the man who derives most of his income from Jews what he really thinks of his clients”.

The slogan “Swoj do swego” (Everyone from his own) which was meant to deter Polish customers from buying from Jewish merchants, could be heard ever more frequently throughout Poland, including Silesia. The newspapers, even the more serious among them did not avoid publishing this slogan even when right next to it there might appear a big advertisement from a Jewish business. Jews continued to delude themselves that they will be able to arouse the conscience of the anti-Semites. by by publishing logical refuting articles

The snowball rolled on. Anti-Semitism, once it raised its head, spurred on from the other side of the border where the Nazi beast ruled, did not pause in its tracks and culminated on that fateful day, September 1, 1939 when disaster struck the Jews of Poland and of Katowice.

kat061.jpg The market in Katowice near the Rawa River  [35 KB]
The market in Katowice near the Rawa River, behind the dome of the synagogue.
The Jews greatly influenced the trade and marketing life

[Page 62]

Anti-Semitism is Absorbed from Birth

by Joanna Lefkowitz (nee Siegman)

Translated by Dr. Leon Chameides

kat062.jpg Student card of Joanna Siegman, received discounts on the trains in Poland  [20 KB]
Student card of Joanna Siegman,
received discounts on the trains in Poland

I was not familiar with the term “anti-Semitism” until I came face to face with it for the first time in one of its ugliest expressions.

I was then a student in the elementary school for Jewish children, named for Berek Jozelewicz, a Jew who entered Polish history as a warrior who fought and died for its freedom. Originally, the school was located on Paderewski street, but later it moved to Bogoczica, a working neighbourhood, where I met anti-Semitism which was flooding all of Poland in the 1930's.

On our way from school Christian children would always attack us but it was really difficult for us, Jewish children, to defend ourselves since we were always in the minority.

One of the events that I shall never forget, occurred one evening when I was returning from a gymnastics class at the Bar Kochba association and a news hawker shouted “Gazeta Narodowa (Poison Against the Jews)!”. I was then ten years old and I remembered that I panicked. The fact is that I remember the occasion to this day.

Other events that remained engraved on my memory include the boycotts against Jewish stores and later on the arrival of Jewish refugees from Germany after they were expelled in an operation called “Operation Zbaszyn” named after the border crossing.

With the help of hatred of Jews, the Germans succeeded in stupifying Polish vigilance until they crossed the border on September 1, 1939 and very quickly conquered this country.

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Katowice, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Lance Ackerfeld

Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 21 Jan 2006 by LA