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[Page 139]

Chapter 6


The Chief Rabbis of the Community

kat139.jpg [29 KB]
Katowice Conference of the “General Zionists” [Zionim Klaliyim] of Eastern Galicia in 1938

First row (sitting) from right to left: second, Rabbi Dr. Kalman Chameides; third, the Rabanit Trude Chameides; sixth, Dr. Torton; eighth, the Rabanit Bella Vogelman; ninth, the Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Vogelman; tenth, Dr. Filelsdorf
Second row (standing) from right to left: third, Mr. Seidler; fourth, Mr. Yitzhak Schieff; fifth, Mrs. Mathilde Schieff; sixth, Mr. Parutz; seventh, Mrs. Parutz; eighth, Mr. Elias Abrahamer (wearing glasses); eleventh, Mr. Beitner, father of Anny Wigotzki; first from left, the teacher Wiener
Last row (standing) from right to left: third, Zigi Halbreich; fourth, Mr. Kosch; fifth, Dr. Moshe Salpete

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Katowice's Rabbinical figures between the World Wars

Magister Jakow Tajtelbaum

Translation edited by Hillel Kuttler


Rabbi Dr. Jeszajahu Lewin (1897-1941)

As Katowice was returned to Poland's sovereignty in 1922, Dr. Jeszajahu Lewin was appointed its chief rabbi. He was the son of the rabbi of Rzeszow, a district in western Galicia. Born in the town of Rohtin in 1937, Lewin spent his early school years in traditional and public educational institutions.

He continued and graduated from the regional gymnasia. He was also a student in Warsaw's yeshiva and in institutions in Galicia (such as Brody and Tarnopol). He studied at the University of Krakow, in the faculty of philosophy and philology, where he finished his PhD.

Dr. Levin received his rabbinical ordination and permitted to teach Jewish subjects from Rabbi Pinchas Dembicer of Warsaw and from the rabbis of Brody and Tarnopol. Over time, he became a highly admired and respected character in the community. One of his initiatives was the establishment of the community's boys school Talmud Torah' that was opened in 1927.

He served as a rabbi for only six years. Due to a family tragedy he had to leave his position, and in 1928 moved with his family to serve as the community rabbi in Lwow. Dr. Levin was murdered by Ukrainians in riots that followed the German invasion of Katowice in 1941.


Rabbi Dr. Mordechaj Fogelman (1898-1984)

He was born in 1898 in Przemyslany (eastern Galicia) to an Orthodox family. His family had famous rabbinical roots, and among his ancestors are well-known figures in the history of Judaism: rabbis, philosophers and Talmud commentators. As a child, he learned simultaneously in an Orthodox cheder and as an external student in a non-religious institution to prepare himself for high school. Later, he went to several yeshivas in eastern Galicia: at his uncle's, Rabbi Szwadron, in Brzezany, and in Tarnow, Stanislawow and Lublin. As a yeshiva student, he published articles in Hebrew magazines, dealing with historic-Talmudic issues. He was ordained as a rabbi by Ternow's rabbi, Meir Arek, and several years later by Rabbis Dawid Horowitz and Meir Szapira of Lublin as well – all well-known personalities in their communities.

Due to the relative calm that followed World War I, he was able to complete his course of study in Vienna and in Switzerland, where he received his matriculation certificate in 1918. He continued to study in the Bern and Zurich universities: history, philosophy and classical languages. At that time he was also the editor of a Hebrew magazine, Hayarden, in which he published a set of his research works that dealt with historical, literary and Talmudic issues. He completed his studies in 1924 in Florence, where he received his PhD for research titled on the organization of Jewish communities in Israel during the first centuries AD. He based his work on The Jerusalem Talmud resources of Bavly, Midrash all of them early Jewish traditions, and on early Greek and Roman literature and archeological evidence from Rome.

Dr. Fogelman worked for two years as a Talmud lecturer at the rabbinic institution in Florence.

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During the time he lived outside Poland, he also published several scientific studies in German and Hungarian journals. When he returned to Poland in 1926, Rabbi Fogelman was invited to serve as Katowice's chief rabbi, a position he filled until 1939. He was responsible for various, branching cultural and instructive activity among the district's Jewish population, especially the youth. He paid special attention to the community's Jewish schools, and often gave open lectures and debates on Talmudic issues, whose audiences were mainly young people. Dr. Fogelman also gave unique classes about Judaism to those who weren't studying in Jewish high schools. He was one of the primary writers for the community's official bulletin, publishing pieces about current affairs and Jewish subjects. He also saw himself as the patron of Katowice's Jewish kindergarten, the opening of which was his wife's idea. The kindergarten was under the jurisdiction of the community.

All the while, he stayed involved withacademic publications, and presented various works of study and research about Talmudic concepts and matters.

When World War II broke in September 1939, he left for Krakow, hoping to find a haven from the Hitlerian army and its violence. After several days, Krakow was invaded as well, and the rabbi traveled with his family to Lwow. They managed to cross the border to Romania, and after much trouble arrived at the port of Constanza. While there, British certificates were sent to them by Israel's chief rabbi, Isaac Hertzog, and they were permitted to immigrate to Israel.

The rabbi and his family – his wife Bella and young daughter Naomi – arrived in Israel in March 1940. They resided in Tel Aviv at first, moving to Kiryat Motzkin (near Haifa), where Rabbi Fogelman was appointed the town's rabbi. As a couple, they ran social and religious activities. They opened a kindergarten and an elementary school through the Mizrahi movement of which they were members.
The rebbetzin's nephew, who survived the Holocaust, arrived at their house and was adopted. His name was Israel (“Lolek”) Lau. He continued his course of studies in yeshivas, was ordained a rabbi and became Israel's chief Rabbi.

Rebbetzin Fogelman z”l passed away in August 1975, and Rabbi Fogelman – after serving as Kiryat Motzkin's rabbinic authority for 44 years – passed away at a ripe-old age in September 1984.


Rabbi Kalman Chameides (1902-1943)

Born in 1902 in the town of Szczyrezec (eastern Galicia) to an Orthodox family, he spent his early years in the cheder and in the local yeshiva. In 1920, he left for Vienna to continue his studies. He studied at the Hebrew academy of pedagogy, which was administered by Vienna's chief rabbi, professor Tzvi Chajes. Chameides was found to be an usually talented student who attracted the interest of his superiors.

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In 1924, Chameides finished his matriculation exams with great success. He then studied at the rabbinical seminary in Vienna, while working on his degree in philosophy and classical philology in the University of Vienna.

In 1925, he traveled to Jerusalem to study at the just-opened Hebrew University. He was sent by Professor Chajes to study at the faculty of Jewish science, and was financed by a Jewish industrial tycoon from Italy named Stock.

In 1926 he traveled back to Europe and arriveds at the famous rabbinic seminary in Breslau, Germany. There, he continued, too, his general academic course of study in classical philology, specializing in the Hellenistic culture.

In 1928 he was appointed Katowice's chief rabbi (alongside Rabbi Fogelman) and served in this position until the beginning of the war in 1939. His first actions dealt with reshaping and developing Jewish education and its institutions in town. He brought new concepts to the Talmud Torah Cheder School, according to which the teachers started to teach various Jewish subjects, and the Hebrew language, all in modern pedagogical methods. Together with his wife Gertrude, they established the girls' religious school, inspired by Bais Yaakov. In 1935, he opened the Hebrew co-educational school, which was meant for children whose families demanded more Hebrew hours and held national-Zionist views.

Rabbi Chameides's character affected his surroundingsand always created a healthy, cheerful atmosphere due to his traits and skills. As befitting the community he was leading, he delivered exciting lectures and speeches on Jewish and national holidays, and did so in four languages: Polish, German, Yiddish and Hebrew.

He taught, as authorized by the Polish government, the Dat-Moshe (basic Judaism) in public high schools with part-Jewish students. He also delivered lectures in the assemblies of various youth groups. He was known for his legal confrontation with anti-Semitic journalists in the Talmud slander trial, a trial that was widely covered in the national and international press.

He initiated the publication of the community's weekly bulletin, and was its editor and primary writer, covering current affairs and studies in various fields of Judaism.

In 1937, the government appointed him to be a military rabbi for the Jewish soldiers located in Katowice. At the time, he was also serving temporarily (apparently as a replacement) as a rabbi in the city of Bendzin.

Rabbi Chameides was highly involved in Jewish-Zionist affairs throughout the district. He was the chairman of the Supporters of the Hebrew University branch in Katowice and an active member in B'nai B'rith and in Zionist and pan-Jewish organizations. When the winds of war began to blow, he left for a tour in England's Jewish communities, where he was offered several rabbinic positions. Because his loyalty to his Katowice community was stronger, he returned to Europe.

Several days before the war broke out, he traveled with his family to the east: to his town of birth, where his parents still resided. The area was conquered by Soviet Russia a long time afterwards. The physical conditions were extremely rough, and the rabbi made great efforts to leave the country and go to western Europe, in vain.

Following the German attack on the Soviet army in 1941, the Germans invaded Lwow –- the district capital – and its surroundings. By the end of 1941, they closed a ghetto area in Lwow and concentrated all the Jewish population in it. Ghetto life soon became unbearable, and hundreds died due to hunger, disease and murder by the Germans and their helpers.

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By the middle of 1942, when transfers to the death camps were an obvious daily truth, the remaining Jews knew they are on the verge of total extermination. In this tragic time, the ghetto religious section (a part of which was Rabbi Chameides) asked for a meeting with the archbishop of Elbow's Greek-Catholic church, Andjei Szepticki, in request to save several hundreds of Torah scrolls that were likely to be ruined and vandalized after the ghetto will be emptied. In a meeting of the community's representatives and the archbishop, he agreed to hide the scrolls, if the Jews will manage to bring them to him. Together with his brother, Klement, and sister Josefa, he also agreed to hide tens of Jewish children- among them the Chameides children- in Christian monasteries.

In 1943 the Rabbi got infected with Typhus, and just before the Lwow ghetto was eliminated- in December 1943, he passed away at the age of 41.

His 2 sons, who were saved from the horror, are Katowice-born: the older Tzvi, born in 1932, is now professor Herbert Chameides- and expert in nuclear physics who these days resides in Australia. The younger one, Yehuda Chaim, born in 1935, now known as Dr. Leon Chameides, a cardiologist who lives in the United States.


Bibliographical sources and Testimonies
  1. almanac skolnictwa zydoskiego w polsce s. 92-94 I 97-99.
  2. Friedman, P. - roads to extinction, essays on the holocaust, pp. 191-192, the Jewish publication society of America social studies, Usa, 1980.
  3. Urzedowa Gazetta Gminy Izraelickiej w Katowicach, 1932-1936
  4. Lwow (edited by Dr. N. M. Gelbar), P. 148-149 and 667. Entziklopedia Shel Galuyot Press, Jerusalem 1956.
  5. Testimony of Sara Diller- a past teacher in Katowice's elementary school.
  6. Testimony of Dr. Naomi Goldfeld (originally Foggelman)- Daughter of Rabbi M. Foggelman.
  7. Testimony of Dr. Leon Chameides.

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Seat placement in the ezrat nashim [women's section] of the synagogue

[Page 145]

Rabbi Dr. Kalman Chameides (1902-1943)

Dr. Leon Chameides

Translation edited by Yocheved Klausner

Rabbi Dr. Kalman Chameides, the last spiritual leader of the Jewish community in Katovice, was born on 5 April 1902 to a poor but religious family in the town Szczyzec, about 30 kilometers from Lwow.

The origin of the family is not known. At the beginning of the 18th century we find several great rabbinic dynasties of that name in the region, however their relationship to the family is not clear. Grandfather Shulim [Shalom] (Maximilian) was known as a scholar, but he made his living as a Shochet [ritual slaughterer]. I remember him as a tall man (was he indeed tall, or is that just the way he was perceived by a five-year old boy?) wearing a long, white beard, curled white “peot” and a pleasant smile.

Rabbanit Trude Chamiedes Rabbi Dr. Kalman Chameides

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My grandmother Miriam (Maria Loft) is kept in my memory as a strict and stubborn woman, who ran her house efficiently, and could not stand any foolish behavior. She made it perfectly clear, that she does not like “Germans” (meaning my mother) in her house, and would not let us speak German instead of Yiddish. The most vivid memory I have from her is after a German-Ukrainian “Aktzia” [pogrom] in 1941: when we returned home we found her wounded, her teeth missing, but proud of the fact that a whole gang of young, strong Ukrainians were unable to remove her from her home.

My father was one of five siblings. His brother Benyamin was still a bachelor. His brother Itzhak married Zipora Butterfield and was a textile merchant in Gorlice. His brother Hirsch died in the 1920's, and his sister Rivka Karl married a soap-manufacturer in Lwow.

I have no knowledge of his years as a youngster in this Yiddish-speaking town. The family would speak about his brilliant and analytical mind, his unusual memory and his devotion to study. One of these stories described him studying a difficult chapter of the Talmud all night, at the light and warmth of a single candle.

He was 16 years old when World War I was over. Apparently that was the time when differences began to grow between his own opinions and those of his family and friends. Who inspired him to be a Zionist, to engage in general and religious studies, to study Polish and literary German, to attend the university and learn Jewish Sciences? We do not know. But we do know that all this resulted in an unpleasant rift between him and his parents and past, which never healed. We also know that in 1923, at the age of 21, he was a student of philosophy at the University of Vienna and studied also at the Rabbinic Seminary in Vienna. The same year he won a scholarship that enabled him to study one year Hebrew and Arabic, at the new Hebrew University that had just opened in Jerusalem.

In 1926 he entered the Rabbinic Seminary in Breslau. This institution was established in 1854 by Zacharia Frenkel as the first modern theological seminary that was based on high academic standards, emphasized scientific research and used modern scientific tools. It had a wonderful library and was the publisher of the first Jewish scientific journal, Monatschrifft fuer Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums [Jewish History and Science Monthly].

Young Chameides graduated in 1928 and received the prestigious Rozin award for his excellence in Philosophy and Midrash. He was ordained Rabbi on January 19th, 1929 and continued to serve as the community Rabbi in Katowice, where he served as ABD [head of the religious court] and chaplain.

The community leader was Mr. Bruno Altman, and in his house Chameides met his future wife, the beautiful Gertrude Koenigshofer. They married in that same house on September 24th 1929, when the groom was 27 and the bride was 25. The Altmans were a wealthy family, who had a metal manufacturing business. The grandparents Leopold and Charlotte had 9 children – Joseph Georg, Max, Herman, Arthur, Gertrude, Bruno, Martha, Gottfried and Robert. Bruno's sister Martha married Isaac Koenigshofer from Fuerth and another sister, Gertrude, was my mother. The two families were related in another way as well: Bruno's first wife, Yetchen, was Isaac Koenigshofer's sister. They had two children, Jonas and Charlotte, before Yetchen died while giving birth, in 1912. Bruno married her sister Hanna and they had three children: Norbert, Leopold and Manfred-Joseph.

The Chameides family grew on September 16th 1932, with the birth of a son, Herbert (Zvi, Hirsch), and on June the 24th, 1935 another son was born, Leon (Yehuda Chaim Yonatan).

As the approaching storms of World War II were already felt in the air, in 1939 Rabbi Chameides traveled to England to check several positions that were offered to him, but out of loyalty to his community and concern for his family he returned to Poland, to a world that was soon to become insane.

Among thousands of refugees, the family, with the two little sons (aged four and six) escaped eastward, to the Soviet occupied areas and stayed at the grandparents' apartment in Szczyzec. Life was difficult and complicated, and the desperate attempts to obtain travel permits to the west were futile. In his letters to England from 1940 father wrote: “You should not wait idly! Trude must get well, and I mean it literally, not metaphorically. Help us!” Mother wrote “So far, thank God, we didn't starve,” but to that same postcard father added: “I do hope we will see you again.”

The Germans attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, and entered Lwow on the 1st of July. Immediately they began to limit and reorganize the Jewish community; they appointed a “Judenrat” [Jewish Council] and Rabbi Chameides, with several other rabbis, were appointed to the religious division. Very little is known about the discussions within the Judenrat, but we do know that the leaders of the religious division, including R'Chameides, Israel Leib Wolfsberg, Moshe Elchanan and David Kahana openly warned Dr. Landsberger, head of the Judenrat, about cooperating with the Germans.

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Letter from Rabbi Dr. Kalman Chameides abd his wife Trude during World War II

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Life in the ghetto soon became unbearable and dangerous, and by mid-1942 it became clear that the destruction of the community was imminent. In this desperate time, the religious division arranged a meeting with Archbishop Andzej (Andrei) Szepticki, to see whether he would agree to safeguard several hundred Torah scrolls. Archbishop Szepticki, one of the real “righteous gentiles,” had proved his sympathy to the Jewish people even before the war: he knew Hebrew well and on several occasions he sent food for Passover to needy Jewish families.

The meeting took place in august 1942, on the background of rumors of a final “aktzia” that was planned. The archbishop agreed to keep the Torah scrolls, if they would be brought to him. He also agreed, in cooperation with his brother Clement, head of the monastery and his sister Josefa, head nun, to hide a number of Jewish children, despite the heavy personal risk. Among these children were Herbert and Leon.

In 1943 Rabbi Chameides contracted typhus and died in the Lwow ghetto at the time the ghetto was annihilated in November 1943. Details on the deaths of the other family members remain unknown.

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Wedding reception for the couple Kalman and Trude Chameides


Wunder, Rabbi Meir. Meorei Galicia (Encyclopedia of Galician Sages)
Kahana, David. Yoman Ghetto Lwow [Diary of Lwow Ghetto]
Juedisch Theologisches Seminar Breslau. Jahresbericht [Jewish Theological Seminary, Breslau. Annual Report]
Friedman, Philip. Their Brothers' Keepers
Friedman, Phillip. Roads to extinction


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