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Struggle of Generations

The history of Sosnowiec and Zagłębie

by M. Sh. Gashury

1. Various Stories about the Village and the Town

Translated by Gabrielle Johnson and Osnat Ramaty

Sosnowiec is said to be the “youngest” town of all the towns and villages in the Zagłębie region. That town has neither such a rich history as Będzin, Siewierz, Czeladz and Modrzejów, nor can it be compared to the ancient town of Niwka.

Yet the Sosnowiec soil has a few stories to tell about the town's history.

Sosnowiec came into Polish possession before the 10th century. Different armies passed through the area and a number of important events were recorded to have taken place there. However, in general, Sosnowiec successfully managed to keep away from most of the political showdowns.

Sosnowiec avoided becoming a mercenary of Genghis Khan's empire, whose army, coming from the vast steppes in Mongolia, galloped on their small, swift horses via Lignitz (Legnica) in Lower Silesia almost all the way to Berlin at the beginning of the 13th century.

Sosnowiec did not have to suffer from the Piast[1] civil war or from the political development in independent Poland to the country's triple partition instigated by its border nations Austria, Prussia, and Russia.

Sosnowiec did not participate in the Polish revolution against Russia led by Kosciuszko[2], and it did not fight the army of Napoleon the Great – an army that chased their Russian counterpart all the way to Moscow.

Sosnowiec was spared from many misfortunes that befell other parts of Poland. It was not before a few years prior to World War I when Sosnowiec seemed to awaken with wide-open eyes from a long hibernation. Years after the lengthy Russian occupation of Congress Poland[3], and after the socialist request to set up an army against the imperialistic regime and its oppression, Sosnowiec realized what it had been spared, and found its place in the geographic and economic development of a flourishing Zagłębie.

The transformation of Sosnowiec from a village to a town took place during the era of Tsarist Russia. During that time the town made the transition to major industry. Sosnowiec benefited from economic development during the final years of the Tsarist rule, as did other towns. Coal and ore mining developed into a growing industry sector, factories and a network of railway lines were built. Sosnowiec became the hub for two central railway lines in Russian Poland as well as the center of communication for the capital city of Austria and for Prussia. Each of these factors had an effect on the prestige of the industrial working class, and transformed the town to a dynamic center of that region.

The times during the reign of Tsar Nikolai II had a positive, yet fateful influence on the Jewish population. From an economic point of view the industrial development in Russia helped the Jews to become an important factor in the industrial development in general. A small upper class had become very affluent and held stronger positions than industrialists, all sorts of entrepreneurs, bankers, and traders. At the same time, the Jews were banned from working in the iron and coal industry in Zagłębie. The only chance for Jewish workers was to be employed at smaller Jewish-owned factories where work conditions were not particularly good.

In the year 1827, when the Russian power put together a list of Polish villages, the name Sosnowiec had not yet appeared. This may serve as evidence that Sosnowiec did not even exist back then. However, only a short time after the founding of the settlement it started to develop rapidly, and became a major center of communication and industry.

It was not before 1902 when the Russian power granted the town charter to Sosnowiec. Prior to that year, the settlement had existed as a village for over half a century. A never-ending stream of immigrants from the surrounding region had been settling in Sosnowiec. The Jews took an active part in the economic development of the town.

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2. Transition from Village to Town

Translated by Gabrielle Johnson and Osnat Ramaty

Sosnowiec, the capital of the Dabrowa and Zagłębie region, is located between the rivers “Black Przemsza” and Brynica.

The present-day urban center, which has been in existence for only a few decades, is comprised of twelve communities and villages: Old Sosnowiec, Pogoń, Szylca, Środula, Milowice, Modrzejów, Radocha, Konstantynow, Ostra Górka, Debowa Góre, Kuznica, and the Zagórze farm.

A little over 100 years ago, the area had been a large forest, abounding in a variety of animals. The region was full of swamps, which prevented easy access to the forest. Flocks of waterfowl swept across the swamplands. Nobody dared, not even in daytime, to wander off into that maze on the mountain slope to the right-hand side of the Przemsza River – the present-day location of Wawel Street and Kosciuszki Square. Back then, the place looked scary with its rotting trees, knocked over during frequent storms. Wild beasts ruled the forest during the winter months, and in the summer it was a hiding place for different bands of robbers. In 1840, the famous Silesian robber Sydla and his bunch settled there. Sydla was later beheaded by sword in Racibórz.

No less cruel was the mountain ridge known as Wygwizdów, a spooky place in the Przemsza mountains – the location of the present-day roads to Snieszna, Golembia, Szeczna, Chemiczna, and Konstantynowska.

In the old times a narrow trail, referred to as “Devil's Trail”, ran across the ridge. In 1825 a small mill could be found near the dam, although nobody lived there, and for years the mill just sat there, deserted.

Another region people avoided was the Cieszyniacz Forest between Old-Sosnowiec, Milowice, and Pogoń. In 1870 it was the preferred hideout of a band of robbers that was led by the Silesians Pistolka and Eliasz and consisted of about 50 members, responsible for a large number of murders. The band and their leaders had been sentenced to death by the Bytom court, but were later acquitted by Emperor William I.

To the east and the west of the Sielce Palace, an old patch of forest remained up to the 1820s. The forest reached from Brynica via Milowice all the way to Modrzejów, and by 1845 only a swampy abyss surrounded by pine trees was left over. Even in 1870 the center of Sosnowiec, with its parochial church and Russian monastery, consisted of nothing else but thick forest and swamps.

A remarkable fact is that the steppes and forests were full of life centuries before Sosnowiec came into existence. During the Iron Age, in the 5th century B.C., these were the dwelling places of the Lausitz[4] peoples and tribes. The Germanic tribes drove the earlier Lausitz tribes away from their original settlements and into the forests.

Around 1902, thanks to the rich middle class, the area experienced fast growth.

Not one of the villages incorporated into the town of Sosnowiec was previously known by that same name. Even until now it remains unclear if the village had been called Sosnowiec or Sosnowca.

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3. The Beginning of the Town

Translated by Bill Leibner

The village of Sosnowiec was located amongst forests and swampy areas. On the north, it bordered the village of Pogoń, where the Pogoń coal mine began to be exploited in 1815. On the eastern side, several streets developed later, notably: Malachowska, Targowa, and Teatralna. The southern edge of the village was the river of Winica. The area was sparsely populated.

The main road led from Będzin through Pogoń to Sosnowiec and Modrzejów and all the way to Silesia. In the area of Sosnowiec, another road branched off to Ostra Górka to Milowice and Sielce. The roads were poorly maintained. The road to Milowice was frequently muddy or extremely dry. The road to Sielce was in very poor condition around the area of Ostra Górka. Towards the end of the century, the road that led from Sosnowiec to the river Przemsze slightly improved. This road was the only communication link with the city of Sielce, which was rich in stone and clay.

During the Russian rule, there were several buildings in town, notably the railway station that was built in 1859. The first director of the station was Friedrich Olkis. The border building was constructed in 1838. The customs house was built in 1859. The first manager of the place was Anafri Karpovicz, and the secretary was Konstantin Pragier. The first administrative chief of the village was recorded in 1880 as Abram Blumenfeld [this is how the name appears in the original Yiddish though seems to be a typing error and should be, in fact, Blumental]. His office was located near the present Targowa Street, which was surrounded by swamps at the time.

Blumental was a native of Modrzejów, and together with Hamburger, a native of Będzin, bought lots around the railway station and built the first big houses in the city. Hamburger also built the first hotels, the Warszawski and the Wictoria, which were located directly opposite the railway station. Blumental built a large house at Targowa Street 11. The name of Blumental thus entered the history pages of Sosnowiec as the first mayor of the city.

The following villages and communities formed the basis of the expanded city of Sosnowiec:

Ostra Górka

The history of the village began towards the end of 18th century. Previously, a few chimney stokers who lived in two small barracks inhabited it. In 1822, the first coal mine started to operate and gave impetus to the development of the community that kept growing until it was absorbed by the city of Sosnowiec. A straight road across the city from the railway station in Sosnowiec ran until it reached Ostro-Gurka, and then Radocha and Modrzejów. The road followed the riverbanks of the Brynica and the Black Przemsza. The entire road was exposed to large pit holes where coal excavations took place, and it was dangerous to travel on it.


Radocha was established on the banks of the river Brynica and was situated between Sosnowiec and Modrzejów. In 1646, there were five barracks in the village; subsequently, two more barracks were added. In 1827, the village already had 4 houses that contained 22 people. Up to 1845, the village was called “Postki Radocha”. The documents of the 17th century indicate but one family name. The documents also tell us that there was an inn at the beginning of the 19th century.

A chemical factory was established in 1896 under the name of “Radocha”. It began its activities with a subscribed capital of 700,000.00 roubles under the management of a Jewish massager named Saks. In 1900 it produced 300 railroad cars of earth wax, paraffin, and sterine, as well as anti-chlorine, wax materials for floors and shoemakers, heavy duty grease, wine and lemon juices, nitrates, sugar-oil, and so forth.


In 1645 the place had an inn and two shacks. The entire village was bought by the “Gruben Company” in the second half of the 19th century. At the time, the village had a few shacks along the river Przemsze. In 1667, a family by the name of Migdalka inhabited one of the shacks. In 1883, “The Mainz Company for Chemical Industries” located in Frankfurt am Main established a factory in Środul. The name of the factory was “Grzychow” and it employed 95 workers. It produced sulfur acids, salt acids, concentrates, and chalk chlorite. In 1900, the Gutman Company also opened a chemical factory. The village was connected to the railroad grid along the Warsaw –Vienna line, where goods could be shipped and received.


Pogonia is an old palace; its ancestry reaches back to the days of the “Bashful King Boleslaw of Poland,” when the first wooden fortified position was built on top of the mountain in Będzin, approximately during the 13th century.

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Various people who worked for the prince or tended to his affairs inhabited the place. The village is first mentioned in a book entitled “The History of the Polish People” by Narutowicz, which was published in 1345. The village acquired a bad reputation towards the end of the 14th century due to the poor behavior of the inhabitants. The village changed ownership several times; it belonged to the Kowacz family, then to Timinski family in 1599, and to the Jarocki family in 1636. The Polish historian Dlugosz also mentioned Pogonia. There were indications that two villages by that name existed in the 18th century; one was located near Grzychow, and the other one near Sielce. Each village had a separate courtyard and farms. In 1902 Pogonia was already an industrial settlement in the Będzin region, and was a suburb of the new expanding industrial city of Sosnowiec. The population reached 1,500 people, and included some Jews. The Jewish population increased steadily.


This community already existed in the 14th century. It had several names but finally remained with the name of Sielce. The founders of the community built it on high ground to protect it against the floods from the Przemsze River, and from possible attacks by robbers. The town served as a residence for fighting units. Sielce changed hands several times owners until it was acquired in 1902 by a group of French investors who controlled coal pits and a smelting place. The village consisted of 15 acres of land and an inn.

There was a four-walled palace built on swampy soil in Sielce. The approach to the fortification was difficult. It was assumed that Teutonic knights built the place to protect the area from attacks. Part of it was built by Prince Ludwig von Anhalt-Köthen-Pless, who also resided there.

Near the palace in the direction of the river Przemsze, there was a promenade garden. Years ago, this was a public garden for the enjoyment of the entire population. At the entrance there was a sign: “The garden is open to the public”. There were several graves in the garden that contained the remains of the previous owners.

In 1840, coal was discovered in Sielce. In 1858 the village was acquired by Count Renard. A company named “Pani” was established to exploit coal, and in 1884 the inheritors of the estate created a new company named “Count Renard”. The village of Sielce and the coal mine “Count Renard” were acquired in 1902 by French industrialists. They created a new company and named it “Industry Group-Huta Bankowa”. The company also owned the metal factories in Radom.

In 1881 A Prussian company named “United King and Laurahütte” established a metal foundry in Sielce and named it “Katharinenhütte”. In 1900 the establishment produced 3,548,583 poods [a pood is an old Russian measure of weight, which equals 16 kg, or 35 pounds] of metal. Later the Modrzejów Coalmine and Foundry Association acquired the smelting plant.

Sielce had 33 houses with a population of 279 persons 1827. By 1889, the village had expanded to the Przemsze River and contained 39 houses with a population of 365. In 1902, Sielce was already part of Sosnowiec and had a population of 20,000 people.

Jews lived in Sielce, and were primarily involved in commerce. The Jews called the place Little Jerusalem. Already in 1870, many famous Jewish scholars lived there, notably Cwika Kalisz, Szmul-Mosze Jungster, Ruwen Lauden, Michael Landner, Nachum Szarf, Hendel Jungster and Szmaja Szajer, who started out as a shoemaker. The ritual slaughterers were Motel Cwajgenhaft and Alter Wysznic. Members of the burial team were Leibusz Rederman and Icchak Saks. Berisz Sielcer was the cantor during the High Holidays at the synagogue of “Tifereth Shlomo” in Radomsk. Some Jewish families adopted the name Sielcer.

By the beginning of the 19th century, Jews lived in the villages of Pogonia, Wigwizdow, Old Sosnowiec, Ostra Górka, and Milowic. When these villages were incorporated into Sosnowiec, the Jewish population also became part of the city. Coal mines, foundries and smaller factories surrounded the latter. This feverish economic activity attracted many Jewish families who settled and earned a living.

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4. A Railway Communication Center

Translated by Bill Leibner

Sosnowiec owed its rapid economic expansion not only to the growing economic activity of the region but also to the railway that linked it with the rest of the country and with foreign countries. The Warsaw-Vienna railway line started to be built in 1842. Then there was only one railway line in the entire Russian Empire – namely the Moscow-Carskoje Selo line. Thus, the Warsaw-Vienna railway line was the first extensive railway road in the Russian Empire.

In effect, we can say that the city of Sosnowiec began in 1858 when the government commission announced the plan of the construction of the railway. A member of the commission, Hilke, bought the land between the future railway station of Zabkowice and Katowice for the future railroad. The engineer Sokolski and the surveyors Adolf Tomas and Aleksander Kalisz started to build the railway with the financial backing of Epstein's financial company. The line went from Zabkowice to Sosnowiec with stops in Dabrowa Górnicza and Będzin. The hauling of goods became much cheaper and more effective. The cheap transportation gave industry a terrific boost.

Why did they first build the section from Warsaw to Granica? Prince Paskiewicz-Warszawski, in the name of the Tsar of Russia, then ruled the Russian part of Poland. The tariffs on Polish goods were very high in Russia. Thus, Poland traded more frequently with Prussia and Austria and had extensive trade relations with these countries. Thus, the Poles wanted rail lines to these countries. The Russian government procrastinated for a full year but finally the Tsar gave his consent. The building company built the railway according to the Prussian and Austrian railway gauge rather than the Russian gauge that was a bit wider. Thus, Austrian and Prussian railways could transport goods to Warsaw without the need to transfer goods. The Russian railway could not use the Warsaw-Vienna line due to the broad gage.

In 1858, another building company received a concession to build a railway line from Warsaw to Bromberg (Bydgoszcz in Polish). Both companies united in 1890 and began to build the Warsaw-Vienna line. Of course, the line was built piecemeal. The first section was built in 1846 and ran from Warsaw to Grodziec and Skierniewice. Then it was extended to Czestochowa, Zabkowice and Granica in April of 1848. Then there was a suspension of time that is attributed to the revolutions of 1848 in Europe that frightened the Russian Tsar – the reasoning being that the railway would bring trouble to the Russian Empire.

The first factories in the area of Sosnowiec in the 19th century did not rapidly alter the primitive landscape of the region. The coal mines of “Pogoń”, “Ostra Górka”, and “Wictor” in Milowice did not achieve great outputs of coal. They employed few workers from the area and were not interested in real growth. Even the smelting firm “Anna” kept a slow pace of production. Only with the advent of the railway line did these various industrial points become integrated in a fine system of transportation that gave the area the necessary boost for growth. Indeed, with the building of the railway line along the Black Przema River, the region assumed a new life. This event occurred in 1859 when the commission approved the line and started to build the section from the railway station of Zabkowice to Sosnowiec and Pogoń, and from there to Będzin. The railway line was built along the old road.

Old Sosnowiec lived a quiet and dormant life until the first train whistle in 1859 disrupted the silence. The inhabitants met at the old inn named “Under the Stars” and discussed the situation whereby the train hauled and pushed wagons along the railway. The inn was packed and many people had complaints to the elder Szyminski and held him responsible for permitting the building of the railway. He quieted them down by stating that he was promised that a road would be built amidst the swampy forest terrain of Pogoń. The road would clear a path through the forest and provide the residents with a good means of transportation. The forest would later be named Third of May Street and Szeromski Street.

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13.3 million roubles were invested in building the line. For the first twenty years, the income of the railway came primarily from hauling coal. In 1858, the railway carried 946,000 poods [an old Russian measure of weight, which equals 16kg, or 35 pounds] of coal. In 1864 it carried 6,643,000 poods of merchandise; in 1870 17,714,000; in 1875 it carried 25,365,000; in 1880 – 77,701,000; in 1885 – 88,323, and in 1890 the railway carried 93,815,000 poods of merchandise.

We have to remember that the poor soil conditions of Zagłębie gave a tremendous boost to the development of industry in the area since it provided manpower that barely eked out an existence from the land. With the building of the Warsaw-Vienna railway line that crossed the entire province of Zagłębie, the coal industry took off. In Dabrowa, they opened a huge smelting enterprise named “Huta Bankowa” that was financed by the “Bank Polsk”. Then in 1859 they opened a new coal mine named “Czyzikowski”, and in 1865 the pits of “Nowa”, “Hieronim” and “Lobencki”. All of these undertakings were started in Dabrowa.

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5. Sosnowiec during the Polish Revolt
against the Russian Empire

Translated by Bill Leibner

The news about the revolt against the Czar electrified the city of Sosnowiec. The reports told that Poles rebelled against the Russian Czar and that rebel units were in the forests of Sosnowiec. The people who brought the news were Polish railway clerks.

The date was the 26th of January 1863. Two days later, Polish railway workers started to visit some private homes in Sosnowiec. In the evenings there were private meetings attended mostly by young people. In the village, rumors began to circulate, meetings were held, and the atmosphere was tense. Lights twinkled in the barracks at night where secret meetings were held.

On February 2nd, 1863, Maximilian Zdanovicz, the supervisor of the customs house, invited all his Polish clerks to a meeting at the inn “Under the Stars”. They met in one of the rooms. Following the meeting, all participants became sick and did not show for work on February 3rd and 4th 1863. Some clerks even left town on so-called official business. On February 6th 1863, the disease spread to the Polish soldiers of the border units. One of the battalions stationed in Oczow and led by Theodor Cziszkowski attacked the city of Sosnowiec on February 7th, 1863. The attack started at 4 o'clock in the morning and was soon joined by railway workers and village people. The rebels seized the railway station of Sosnowiec and confiscated 90,000 rubles from the customs house. They then continued their attack on the border guard house. The Russians resisted, and a fierce battle developed for the possession of the place. Finally, the Russians retreated on the run across the Brynica River and the Poles seized tens of horses, rifles, and other weapons. Following the battle, Theodor Cziszkowski established his headquarters at the railway station of Sosnowiec and released a communiqué to the effect that Polish People's Government would assume power and distribute the land amongst the peasants. The same evening he left the city with his soldiers in the direction of Dabrowa.

According to a German announcement, a 15-hour battle took place between the Polish rebels and the Russian border troops in the city of Dabrowa. A description of the event follows. At 3:20 in the morning, the director of the railway station received a message that the train scheduled to arrive at Dabrowa arrived and left on schedule. The border post had at its disposal two infantry battalions and a retinue of Cossack horseman that were stationed in Dabrowa. They were sleeping in various corners of the railway station. They never dreamt of trouble. Polish railway workers meandered between the non-commissioned officers and distributed cigarettes and vodka. The latter was consumed straight from the bottles. A few minutes before 4 o'clock in the morning, the Polish railway workers disappeared, and a train with 500-armed rebels arrived at the station. The latter immediately began to attack the place and a fierce battle developed. Many Polish farmers joined the battle armed with their scythes.

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The Russian soldiers stood their ground in spite of the surprise attack. Then the railway workers and the local Polish citizens attacked the defenders from the rear and broke their ranks. The Russians soldiers began to run towards the Brynica River. The Poles chased them and a battle developed in the forest area. Cziszkowski then divided his force into two units. One would attack in the front and the other force would flank on the left side of the Russian force. The railway workers and the residents of Sosnowiec took cover along the dense undergrowth that is today's Teatralne Street, and waited for the proper moment to launch their attack.

The fight in the forest intensified, and at a given moment the farmers launched their attack against the Russian soldiers, screaming “God is with us”. At the same moment, the railway workers and residents began to run towards the Russian positions from the rear. The latter were certain that these forces represented new rebel military forces and decided to cross the river to the Prussian side. Here two battalions of Prussian cavalry that arrived from Gliwice disarmed them. Quite a number of farmers distinguished themselves in the battle with their scythes, as did the residents of Old Sosnowiec with their axes and pitchforks. The German historian, O. Klausman, writes in his book Upper Silesia Before 55 Years that “the sight of the wounded Russian soldiers was terrible and I have never forgotten it”. The faces and parts of the bodies were literally butchered by the instruments that the rebels used.

Kurowski, the leader of the rebels in Zagłębie, arrived in Sosnowiec on February 7th, 1863. In the city were concentrated 300 Russian soldiers. The rebel forces consisted of 50 horsemen, 50 bowmen, and 50 soldiers armed with scythes. Following the defeat of the Russian forces at the railway station, the battalion seized many weapons and headed to Dabrowa where they took 30 Russian prisoners and soon released them in the city. In the city of Sosnowiec proper, another 100 men organized themselves into a fighting unit and joined the rebels. Following the battle, Langewicz and his staff arrived in the city and took up residence at the railway station. But he left the place on the night of February 8th 1863 since rumors circulated that German battalions were beginning to concentrate along the border with the aim of attacking the Polish rebels.

For a few days, there was absolute silence in Sosnowiec. The railway stopped, since the tracks were damaged near Zabkowice. The line to Katowice was also stopped. The entire life of the city was frozen. Only on February 15th 1863, did the first Russian clerks appear at the border posts. Of course, Russian infantry forces and Cossack forces escorted them. Arrests were carried out on a large scale amongst the railway workers. Interrogations were carried out for long periods of time. The effects of the revolt were felt for a long time in the city. The jails were crowded with people and the courts were very busy. All Polish railway workers and clerks were fired and replaced with Russians. The same thing happened in all other imperial offices in Sosnowiec.

Sosnowiec and Sonowice remained separate units attached to Pogonia for a long time after the failed revolt. Only in 1864, did Sonowice free itself from this supervision, and Sosnowiec received its independence in 1880. The first so-called mayor of Sonowice was the Jew Abraham Blumental and when he retired in 1890, Chodzipski assumed the position. There were 150 voters in the town. Following Chodzipski was Jan Maczukow, and then Jozef Konieczni.

In 1902, these villages united and based on a Russian decree, Sosnowiec was declared a city. To it were adjoined the following settlements: Ostra Górka (the last aldermen was named Kafka), Sielce (the last aldermen was named Antoni Dziedszyc), Środula, Kuznica, Radocha, and during the occupation, Konstatinow, Milowice and Modrzejów.

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6. The First Houses, Smelting Places,
Factories, and Coal Mines

Translated by Bill Leibner

The railway station that was built in the village of Sosnowiec was the only house in an area that was sparsely populated. Slowly, the future city started to expand from the railway station.

The first row of houses was built along Modrzejów Street, which was later crossed by Targowa Street. From this point to the railway station there was a large tract of land that was swampy. Later, a street was built where there was a forest and it was called “Iwan Grodzka Place”; still later the name was changed to “Deblinska”. Simultaneously, another street developed by the name of Przyjazdowa Street, which was later changed to Warszawska Street. Then was built Kolejowa Street, which was changed to Kollataja Street. Along Modrzejów Street, Targowa Street also developed rapidly. The only street that was paved in 1881 in Sosnowiec was Kolejowa Street.

The newly built railway station was a stimulus for building of new houses in the area of Milowice, Pogoń, Sielce, Ostra-Górka, Dembowa, Góra, and Radocha. Bigger changes occurred in these areas in the thirties of the previous century when large amounts of German capital flowed into the local industry of Dabrowa in Zagłębie.

The communities developed around the coal mines. Houses were built around the mines. Roads were constructed to and from the mines. These communities established hospitals, schools, clubs, cafeterias, swimming installations, and other institutional buildings. The most developed facilities were around the coal mines that belonged to Count Renard. The buildings extended quite extensively, and stretched along Narutowicza, Szpitalna, Klimantowska, Szkolna, Piekarska, and Browarna streets. According to the initiative of the director L. Mauwe, the first telephones were installed in the city of Sosnowiec, and they served as an example for the rest of the country.

The land ownership on which these buildings, roads, factories, and installations were constructed requires a serious explanation. Most of the land in and around Sosnowiec during the construction of the railway belonged to the landowners of Modrzejów-Sielce or to the Grzychow fields. The former group was also in possession of Dembowa Góra, Radocha, Kuznica, Srudola, and parts of Sosnowiec. Most of the center of Sosnowiec belonged to landowners from Grzychow. They also owned the villages of Ostra-Górka and part of the village of Pogoń. This group basically consisted of two large landowners called Pogoń from Kramsta and Pogoń from Renard.

The industrialists of Sosnowiec that created a society as early as 1877 had to consider the basic Russian law of 1864 that vetoed all land purchases from farmers. The farmer could not sell land, yet the industrialists needed land to build and expand. All sorts of partnerships were created through middlemen to avoid the law, especially in the village of Pogoń. Many such transactions were performed between 1878-1881 to build industrial enterprises. Similar transactions were performed between 1893-1902 to buy land to build houses.

The industrial complex was well built, while the houses for workers were built cheaply and in great disorder. The Czarist rule against building resulted in illegal building at night. Construction was done behind tall fences. There was no architectural planning, no plans, no coordination; different building materials were used and there were no sanitation facilities. As late as 1921, 18% of the houses in Sosnowiec were one-story houses. There was no planning board or office to impose building standards; as a result the streets were sinking in swamps and in darkness. The Polish social and anti-Semitic worker in Sosnowiec, Andrzej Niemajewski, shouted the following slogans: “People, you are sinking in the swamp. Your children will die as a result of communicable diseases. Where are you building homes, where are you building roads, what kind of water are you drinking, and what kind of air are you breathing?”

The rapid expansion of housing and industry gobbled up the land reserves and resulted in ever-greater congestion, which soon reached even the surrounding villages. Commerce flourished and new streets kept appearing – notably Policina, and later Dekerto, Ditlowska, Polna, Cerkewna, Koczszelna, Towaszistwa, Sosnowieckija, Sienowska and Ostra-Górka. The population reached 50,000 inhabitants. Administrative buildings were constructed around the railway station.

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In 1902 a royal decree was published to the effect that the place Sosnowiec in the area of Będzin in the region of Pietrikow and the following communities were part of this city. The city was established on lands owned by Grzychow and Sielce landowners and included the following villages; Old Sosnowiec, Pogoń, Ostra-Górka, Sielce, Rodocho, and Blumental – the Niwke colony – and the land that the Vienna-Warsaw railway line was built on. All of these areas composed the city of Sosnowiec. The city now had a population of 60,000 residents.

The first homeowners along Modrzejów Street were: Hajnkes, Rotszyld, Frimorgen, Plawner, Kenigsberg, Wainreb, Pachter, Fiszhof, Grodsztajn, Binder, Abramczyk, Englard, Mangela, Federman, and Planer. The first homeowners along the Kolejowa Street were: Rajcher, Majerhold, Porembowicz, Feliks, Potok, Roszicki, Neufeld, Priwer, Openhajm, and Torski. The first homeowners along Przyjazdowa Street were Mrokowski, Jermolowicz, Bergman, Zajonc, Konieczni, Sztrocki, and Pampelow. The first homeowners along Pharmacy Street were Podlewski and Ruszicki. The first homeowners along Deblinska Street were. Kucharski, Halami, Kloge, Wiltas, Kempe, and Szefer.

In 1895, the tempo of building houses intensified. New homes and industrial plants kept appearing. In 1898, the village of Sosnowiec had already six hotels: Wictoria, Warszawski, Grand, Saski, Drezdenski, and Niemecki. The village of Sosnowiec had two theaters, indoor and outdoor.

The first industrial enterprises in Sosnowiec were the coal mines “Ludwig Hofenung”, opened in 1806 near Czarna Street. Pogoń was opened in 1815, and Ostra-Górka in 1822. Then followed the smelting plants “Anna” and “Ludwig” that were established in 1822. In 1853, a chemical fertilizer factory was opened in Sosnowiec that was later acquired by Paul Lamprecht.

In 1881, Karol Gustav Dietrich bought a large tract of land along Malochowska Street and opened a paper factory. Then a glass factory was opened that was owned by the Pringsam and Szlezinger Company. This factory employed 600 workers in 1904. The inheritors of the Szajn and Deutsch-Werdau Company established in 1875 a spinning factory along 1st of May Street. They then added a dying plant where 1,200 workers were employed. Several years later the company opened another spinning factory that started to function in 1886 and immediately employed 2,000 workers. The Szajn spinning factories soon reached first place in their production of the material in Russia. These factories were not only the biggest, but the oldest establishments in this field in Poland.

[Page 131]

7. The Beginnings of the Jewish Community
of Sosnowiec

Translated by Bill Leibner

Small Jewish communities existed in the various villages and communities that would form the future city of Sosnowiec. Of course, a well-established Jewish community existed in Będzin, which was the largest Jewish community in Zagłębie. This community dated from the times of the reign of the Polish king Boleslaw Chrobri. The Jewish community of Będzin served for a long time as a center for other Jewish communities throughout the region. The Będzin community was well established and well known throughout Poland. Jews of Będzin played an important role in the economic life of the region, which was rich in coal, iron and other minerals. The city of Będzin was very active economically, and was frequently referred to as the “Jerusalem of Zagłębie”.

It is not known when the first Jews arrived in Będzin. But we do know that already in the thirteenth century Jews opened money change booths. The Jewish population kept growing and Jews started to look for work outside the city. They encountered great hostility from the local Polish population that was incited by the local priests, and in some instances accusations were even made to the effect that the Jews killed Christians for their blood.

Jewish families already lived in the following villages: Pogoń, Wygwizdow, Ostra Górka, and later Old Sosnowiec. The Jews were involved primarily in mining for coal and iron. They also started to build small factories and smelting places.

[Page 132]

The building of the Vienna-Warsaw railway line and the big railway station of Sosnowiec chased away the robber bands from the area. Jews began to settle the area around the railway station in 1860. From the railway station, the road crossed the entire city of Sosnowiec, along the Modrzejów Street until it reached Ostra Górka. From there the road continued to Radocha and to Modrzejów. Along Modrzejów Street there was a forest where one could see small peasant huts. The Jews purchased them and built large houses. The first Jewish house owners in Sosnowiec included the Modrzejówer Jew Abraham Itzhak Blumental, Hamburger from Będzin, Lajbele Binder, Ajzyk Ingster, etc.

The Russian authorities did not grant building permits, nor did they look pleased with the building of a city on the border with Prussia. But ways were found to deal with the functionaries so that they looked in a different direction. Entire streets were built at night without lights, without order, or precision. With the rapid development of the city, the Jewish population also grew. The brothers Ginsburg, Adolf Openhajm, Stanislaw Rajcher, and others created large export firms. Many educated Jews arrived from Chęstochowa and took over the leadership of Jewish life in the city. Most of them were assimilated Jews and their influence was felt in the Jewish community of Sosnowiec. Of course, there were some religious Jews as well as some Hassidic followers of the Rabbi of Radosmk and Alexander.

In 1885, the Iwangoroder railway line was completed. This line connected Iwangorod (Demblin) with the Zagłębie region. Merchandise no longer had to travel through Warsaw to get to Russia. The Russian authorities built a huge railway station in Sosnowiec that became an important communication center. Sosnowiec became the center for Russian wheat exports to Germany. The city's population grew with this economic activity, and the city became an important economic factor in all of Poland.

Many wheat dealers were attracted to this city and they influenced Jewish life in the city. The names Wolfson, Kabak, Herc, Lipszyc, and Orlowski became well known in Poland. The city of Sosnowiec was referred to as the “Polish America”. The city attracted people from distant little hamlets in the region of Kielce. They came from Chmielnik, and Pinczów, Checiny and Jedziew, Staszów, Dzialoszyce, Slomniki, Miechów and so on. From a legal point of view, the Jewish community of Sosnowiec was still part of the Jewish community of Będzin. It took some time for a few dedicated people to create an independent Jewish community of Sosnowiec.

[Page 132]

8. The Period of Industrialization

Translated by Bill Leibner

The industrialization period rapidly changed the life of the city of Sosnowiec. The peasants sold their plats of land that were not particularly fertile and moved to the city where they became salaried laborers. The barons of German capitalism purchased the land. During the Tsar's period, German industrialists already controlled the entire heavy industry of Sosnowiec and to a great extent the industry of Zagłębie. The Jews played an important role in the development of the city. There were even periods when they were a majority in the city. The German industrialists generally cooperated with the Jews.

Following 1879, the need for coal intensified, and this translated into the intensification of the search and development of mines. The inheritors of Count Renard developed the big coal mine known as “Renard,” which employed 2353 workers in 1910. The smelting industry also intensified its production and employed a sizable work force. The imposing of tariffs on raw materials and cessation of the importation of German iron products forced the German industry to open branch offices in Sosnowiec. This also resulted in the opening of a plant in Konstantinow in 1880. The factory owned by Fitzner-Gamper produced boilers, machines, and bridges. The factory employed 1,200 people by 1910.

In 1881, the German manufacturer, A. Deichsel, from Zabrze in Silesia, opened the largest factory to produce rope and thread in Poland. The factory was located in Dembowa Góra near Modrzejów. The place employed about 300 workers and the rope produced was of good quality and soon achieved a fine reputation in Poland.

[Page 133]

In 1883, a German company by the name of “Friedrichhütte” built a smelting establishment in Milowice, where 370 workers were employed. The number of workers increased to 1,480 in 1910. The same year, a German industrialist from Upper Silesia, Count Henckel from Donnersmarck, established a smelting plant named “Pushkin” in Dembowa Góra that employed 350 workers.

Due to the increased tariffs of 1877, another large factory to produce wool thread opened in Sosnowiec. Economic conditions were favorable, for wages were low, especially for women and children.

In 1878 the descendents of the Saxon manufacturer Z. G. Schein opened a spinning and dye plant that produced excellent products. They made a name for the factory throughout the Russian Empire. The same people opened in 1904 a big tricot and sock factory that employed about 1000 workers. Also, smaller factories opened in Sosnowiec in various industrial fields – notably the paper factory of Lamprecht, the glass factory of Prinksheim and Schlesinger, the linen factory of Deichsel, the chemical factory “Grzychowa” in Radocha, and the lithography Jermolowicz (Jewish). The city also had smaller establishments of weaving, copper finishing, zinc-furniture, glue, beer breweries, steam mills, and so on. In 1880 Sosnowiec had 11 factories, and in 1900 the total rose to 23 large factories. The city had electricity in the streets and homes prior to officially becoming a city.

[Page 133]

9. The Commercial Development

Translated by Bill Leibner

The Jews were second to the Germans in the development of the industrial base of Sosnowiec. The Jews built electric mills and exported flour to the furthest corners of the Russian Empire. The foremost mill owners in town were: Kalman Langer, Mordechai Klajnberg, Mendel Klajner, Mosze Jankel Szarf from Modrzejów and later Sosnowiec, and Itche Majer Sztark, born in Wolbrom. All the mills were concentrated along Spolne Street. From the railway station, lines went directly to the mills, which facilitated the export of wheat.

Lajzer Brukner, a son-in-law of Langer from Modrzejów, bought the remains of the flour process from the mill owners. Brukner was also an agent of the mill owners and represented them in many cities in Germany, notably Breslau (Wroclaw) and Berlin. He opened a large sales office in Mislowice that dealt with his clients in Germany. Somewhat later, Nachum Hamburger also entered the field of wheat sales.

The rapid development of the flour industry in Sosnowiec also revived local and foreign commerce. A new set of Jewish businessman, agents, and grocery men appeared. At the end of the previous century, there were about 300 food stores in Sosnowiec, tens of restaurants, beer halls, and cake bakeries. There were 7 hotels, 80 sewing establishments, 7 fashion houses, 2 book publishers and 2 photo shops. New technical and intermediary enterprises, exploratory agencies, credit banks, insurance and exchange offices steadily made their appearance in the city. Parallel with the legal commerce, there also developed a large illegal trade. In 1904, Sosnowiec had a population of 57,190 residents and in 1914 a population of 118,475; within a period of ten years, the population had more than doubled. In 1886, the Sosnowiec factories employed 1,051 workers and in 1914 they employed 19,876.

[Page 133]

10. The Economic Situation during the
German Occupation

Translated by Bill Leibner

During 1914-1918, the industrial and commercial development of Sosnowiec stopped growing. The metal and leather factories lost a great deal of their equipment. Items that could not be removed were destroyed. The metal and spinning industries were the most affected by the war. The war seriously affected the Schein factories, many of which were looted, destroyed, or removed. The only items that remained were the skeletons of the once beautiful installations and the ruins.

[Page 134]

For the six years, the factories stood idle without hope of ever starting production again. However, the persistence of the owners and the inflow of new cash enabled the factories to resume their work.

The destruction of the industry in the area of Sosnowiec, especially in the Dambrowa area of Zagłębie, was carried out in accordance with a plan devised by the German occupation authorities. German industrialists from Upper Silesia played a major role in the plan. At the beginning of the war, the Zagłębie factories were closed down and the workers were sent to Upper Silesia to take the place of the drafted German workers. The number of displaced workers soon reached 15,000 in the fall of 1914. These workers left their families at home in Poland. Furthermore, the areas of Będzin, Chęstochowa, and Wielun were permitted to wage campaigns to enlist Polish workers for the mines in Upper Silesia. Others areas of Germany were not permitted to recruit Polish workers.

The general policy of industrial destruction did not affect the Polish mines. This raw material was in great demand, and improvements were made to increase the extraction of the material. The “Bergamt”, which was established in Sosnowiec in August 1914, was responsible for all matters pertaining to the coal production of Zagłębie. The office served the German interests, and saw to it that the production of coal would remain efficient.

The situation in the metal industry was different. At first, the order was given to shut down the melting furnaces. Then, the the ore reserves of the smelting places were confiscated. The furnaces “Katharina”, “Holdzinski”, and “Milowice” were damaged and the French companies “Renard” and “Czeladz” were confiscated. In numerous articles, the issue was raised of co-opting the region of Będzin with Germany. In 1916 Upper Silesian factory owners demanded that the entire region of Zagłębie be co-opted with the German economy. They stressed the importance of the region for the economy of Upper Silesia. The German defeat, however, put a stop to all these discussions of destroying the Sosnowiec industrial base.

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  1. Piasts – the Piast dynasty dates back to its fabled, rural founder Piast whose descendants were Siemowit, Leszek, Siemomysl, and last but not least Mieszko I. Return
  2. Tadeusz Andrzej Kociuszko – Polish general and nationalist. He served with George Washington in the American Revolution (1776-83). He returned to Poland in 1784, fought against the Russian invasion that ended in the partition of Poland, and withdrew to Saxony. He returned again in 1794 to lead the revolt against the occupation, but was defeated by combined Russian and Prussian forces and imprisoned until 1796. Return
  3. Napoleon was defeated in 1812. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna established the Kingdom of Poland, commonly known in English as Congress Poland, and in German as “Mittelpolen”. Return
  4. Bronze Age cultural group in Eastern Central Europe, named after their first discovery in the “Niederlausitz” (Lausitz) region; it had formed during the Middle Bronze Age and existed until into the Older Iron Age. Return

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