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Translation of Slawków chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Ada Holtzman zl
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem for permission
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of
Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume VII,
pages 356-358, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
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Slawków is mentioned for the first time in documents from the 13th century as a private village of the Bishop of Krakow, which served as a center for his other estates. Even in ancient times lead and steel tracts were found in the region and mines were established. At the end of the 13th century, Prince Przemyslaw from Krakow endowed Slawków with city rights, and in 1361 King Kazimierz the Great began implementing the Magdeburg Law. Over the years Slawków earned privileges and various benefits that helped in its development, though fires frequently broke out and caused much destruction. In the 15th century, new lead and steel tracts were found in the area, and many came there to lease concessions for the extraction of the lead. Most of the new settlers were German businessmen. In the 15th to 17th centuries Slawków was one of the most prosperous in the region. At that time there were flourmills, brandy distilleries, and beer breweries, and five annual fairs were held there. However, the Swedish Wars, the first in the middle of the 17th century and the second at the beginning of the 18th century, cast devastation and destruction on the city, and its population also dwindled greatly. This period of depression continued until the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century the recovery process was very slow.
Following the third partition of Poland (in 1795) Slawków was included in Austrian territory. From 1807 to 1815 it was annexed to the Warsaw Princedom and later was part of the Kingdom of Congress Poland territory under the auspices of Tsarist Russia. The various leaders saw the mines around Slawków as an important economic source and developed them; however the Russian regimes cancelled its city status.
During the First World War the economy of Slawków suffered badly, but at the end of the war the development process resumed and varied industries flourished in Slawków. Amongst other things, an alcohol refinery, sawmills, steel sheet rolling plants, a zinc product factory, a steel-wire factory, several brick-kilns, a plant for producing fire refractory bricks and ceramics, and a plant for producing a coffee substitute (chicory) were founded. Hundreds of workers were employed in the steel and lead mines when the war ended. It was only in the 1920s that modern water and sewage systems were installed.
Though it was an ecclesiastical settlement and Jewish settlement in Slawków was forbidden for hundreds of years, at the end of the 17th century several Jews came and leased mines and inns. After the cancellation of the ban on Jewish settlement throughout the Polish kingdom. in 1862, small shopkeepers and tradesmen joined them, as well. The Jews converted the tailor trade, shoemaking and furrier trade to home industries. The largest and most important plant in the town had been established in 1838 by Szlomo Szajn (who died in 1919), a Bedzin resident. The founder purchased a small, failing plant in Slawków, which soon became a prominent nail, screws and steel wire factory that was one of the largest in Zaglembie. Many Jews from there were employed and made their livelihood in this plant.
In the beginning, public praying was carried in private homes, and the Jews took their dead to be buried in nearby Olkusz . At the beginning of the 20th century a plot was bought in 1904, on which the Bet Midrash was built. At approximately the same time a cemetery was sanctified and a Chevrah Kaddisha [burial society] established. Nearby villages also belonged to its kehila [Jewish community]. The first rabbi in Slawków, Rabbi Szalom, son of Mosze Juda Zayonc, served there from 1881 till his death in 1929.
In 1921, when the war between Poland the USSR erupted, and for a period after that. Slawków fell into the hands of the Red Army. The Soviets began confiscating property and equipment, and the main sufferers were the Jewish traders.
Even in the period between the two world wars the Jews kept their traditional sources of incomes small trade and workshops. Amongst them there were paid day laborers. At the end of the war, many Jews required financial aid. In the early years the Joint helped small shopkeepers to re-establish their businesses, and in 1927 the Kupat Gmilot Chassidim [philanthropic fund] was founded, which loaned small amounts of money to small artisans and tradesmen at no interest. In 1928 the authorities closed five bakeries belonging to Jews because of deficient sanitation. During this period the metal factory founded by Szlomo Szajn employed about 1,200 workers, a quarter of whom were Jews.
In the years 1930 and 1936 a number of large fires broke out in Slawków, and tens of Jewish families were left homeless. The fire damage, together with the continuing financial distress, caused many of the youths to emigrate, mainly to South American countries.
In spite of the financial crises the period between the two world wars was, for all that, noted for spirited Zionist and political activities and a flourishing culture. A Jewish public library had opened in Slawków in 1917, and nearby a number of activities took place --Hebrew courses, lectures, literary gatherings and so on. At the end of the war branches of the General Zionists. Mizrachi, Poale Zion and the Hechalutz movement were established in Slawków. A training Kibbutz Hachshara Ovadiya belonging to Hashomer Hadati [religious guard] (part of Hapoel Hamizrachi) was founded there. Preceding the 14th Zionist Congress (1925) there were 98 eligible voters in Slawków.
The orthodox were also active in the town. In the beginning a local branch of Agudat Yisrael was founded, and in 1929 the Shomer Shabbat Vedat [Keeping the Sabbath and Religion] society was founded.
During this period, many of the children in the community studied in private chaderim [religious classes], under the auspices of the kehila, but more and more children (mainly girls) transferred to study in the Polish governmental school.
In 1931 Rabbi Baruch Gad Heffner was voted in by a great majority to replace Rabbi Zayonc. In this same period Rabbi Szlomo Pinchas Markus (died in 1962) also served in the town, and after the war served as the rabbi of New York and later in Tel Aviv.
In November 1939 a Judenrat was established in Slawków, headed by Laks, and a small Jewish police force that included three policemen. The Slawków Judenrat was subject to the central Judenrat for the Silesian region located in Sosnowiec , the Zentrale. Immediately after it was formed, the Judenrat opened a public kitchen for the needy, and in February 1941, 200 daily meals of soup and bread were distributed. That winter the Judenrat assisted 400 destitute people by handing out clothing and heating material and in other ways, as well. In March 1941 the welfare department of the Judenrat distributed 300 food packages to needy families. Every day 25 babies received milk, and apparently lunches were also distributed to older children. The Judenrat maintained a clinic in which a doctor and two medics worked. In 1941 it started a metalworking course, in which 20 students were taught.
In the years 1940-1941 there were still several local Jews who continued working where they were before the war, including those who continued to work as clerks in the local metal factory that was confiscated from the Szajn family and operated by Germans. In 1941 or 1942 the Blechwaren Fabrik company (sheet metal factory) belonging to Josef Skopk from Sosnowiec, founded a branch in the Slawków synagogue, in which 50 Jews were also employed. The rest of the Jews were inducted into forced labor in Slawków and the surroundings, and in 1941 Jews were also transported to distant labor camps, according to a list prepared by the Judenrat, after a Jewish doctor had examined them. The first group sent to a labor camp had 50 people. Before leaving for the camp the chairman of the Zentrale in Sosnowiec, Mosze (Moniek) Meryn, came to Slawków and lectured the Jewish listeners on the importance of work in the camp as the only way of saving lives. From time to time new inductions to labor camps were carried out, and more than once the Germans kidnapped passersby in the street for this purpose.
At the end of 1941 or the beginning of 1942, a ghetto was established in Slawków that included two small streets. The crowding and poverty were severe, and even though the ghetto was not fenced, leaving its boundaries was forbidden. From 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. of the next day the ghetto was under curfew and the Jews had to remain in their homes.
At dawn on June 10, 1942, the Germans and Polish police surrounded the ghetto, took the Jews from their homes before they had a chance to dress (some of them were barefoot and others had only their underclothes on), and while being beaten and abused they were herded to the former brewery building outside of town. The Jews were locked up in the brewery for three days and nights, and only some individuals were allowed to leave to bring food back to the prisoners. In the meantime, a selection of Jews fit for work was carried out and they were separated and taken to work in shops (workshops) in Sosnowiec and Bedzin, or deported to forced labor camps. On June 12th, all those who remained were taken out of the brewery building and rushed to the train station in Bukowno, a distance of 6 kilometers from Slawków. Only the elderly and ill were driven in wagons. When the Jews reached there they were put on a transport train and deported to one of the extermination camps, seemingly to Auschwitz, where they met their deaths. Rabbi Heffner and his family were also amongst the murdered.
After the large deportation, the members of the Judenrat and several needed professionals with their families remained in Slawków about 20 people all in all. Several months later the German mayor deported them to cities in the Silesian region where there were still Jews, and they shared their fate with their brethren, the local residents from these places.
A young Jewess from Slawków, daughter of the Lancman family, survived with the help of a young Pole, Dziewrzinski, who had learned tailoring from her father before the war.
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