Translated by Bill Leibner
With the beginning of the development of the Jewish community, the Jewish educational framework began to function in Sosnowiec, namely the heder-school, with all its plusses and minuses.
The old-timers of Sosnowiec still remember the names of their heder teachers, namely Reb Hilel from Bedzin whose heder was located in Szlomo Frymorgen's house on Modrzejowska Street. He taught basic Hebrew that enabled the students to read the prayers and the Talmud. Among his students were not only residents of Sosnowiec but also students from Pogon, Sielce, and other towns in the vicinity.
The heder teacher Jakob Litwak was an excellent Talmud teacher and even the slow students managed to learn some Gemara  and commentaries.
In general, the heder teachers from the area of Lithuania excelled as good teachers and were in great demand in Sosnowiec as well as in the nearby Jewish communities of Zaglembie. In a nearby village, Dandówka, there was an excellent heder teacher named Jakob Zaban. He was born in the vicinity of Brest-Litowsk [southern Belarus], in the village of Orle. His heder attracted the best students in the village. One of the students made a great impression on the teacher and he recommended him to Rabbi Chaim Solowiejczyk, head of the Brisker Yeshiva (Brest-Litowsk). It was a rare exception to send a student from Zaglembie to Brisk, which was the heartland of Litwak learning. Good students were usually recommended to the Yeshivas in Radomsk, Kaminsk, and Amstow.
The Russian government did not recognize the heders. Only in the second half of the 19th century did the government require the heder teachers to take examinations in Russian in their Hebrew subject matter. Most teachers ignored the requirements and the heder continued to function without change.
In Sosnowiec there was a need for Hebrew teachers. Some private teachers were even hired to teach Hebrew subjects. The first Jewish community committee created a Talmud Torah. On July 1, 1907, a school was opened that consisted of two branches, one for boys and one for girls. The education committee consisted of attorney Landau, Dr. Likernik, S. Maimon, B. Openhajm, Dr. Abram Perlman, Dr. M. Rajcher, and a few members of the executive committee.
The Talmud Torah in Sosnowiec underwent several major changes. It required an annual budget of 2,400 rubles but the amount was not always available. The institution was frequently on the brink of bankruptcy until a group of active leaders took matters into their own hands and organized an effective system of administration. In 1908, the committee finished the new building for the Talmud Torah. The committee consisted of Lejb Englard, Grunem Sapir, Rabbi Gitler, Chaim Josef Zalanc, Mosze Maryjanka, Lejb Abramowicz, Jakob Sztal, Gerszon Stawski, Mosze Kenigsberg and others.
In the year 5678 (1918), the Talmud Torah institution came under the influence of the Rabbi of Radomsk, who was a leader of Agudat Haorthodoxim [Orthodox Union]. The institution became very religious and changed its main educational outlook to one that emphasized strict adherence to religion. The name of the institution was even changed to Yesodei Hatorah [basis of the torah]. Soon the institution faced an economic crisis that affected the entire country. The debts reached astronomical figures and the building was almost sold to cover the debts. A few well-to-do people came to the rescue of the institution. They were Szymon Mendel Tobiasz, Chaim Unger, Lejbusz Szwajcer and Majer Roter. These people restored financial order in the society and even restored the original name of the institution to Talmud Torah. They appointed Michael Francoz to head the institution and he headed it until the outbreak of World War II. The year before the war, the Talmud Torah had 370 students and an annual budget of 15,000 zlotys, which was raised by school fees, contributions, pledges, wills, flower sales and special appeals.
The Zionist leaders created the so-called heder metukan [modern heder] where Hebrew and the Bible were taught along modern lines. In Sosnowiec the institution was called the Zionist Talmud Torah.
Following World War I, new educational institutions were established in Sosnowiec. In 1918, the Mizrahi movement (a religious Zionist Movement) opened the Mizrahi School under the leadership of Reb Lewi Icchak Jungster, M. S. Kerner, Szabsia Wajs, Szmul Krystal, J. Cwajgenhaft, and S. Glickman. The great poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, Rabbi Szapiro, Daniel Perski, and other famous celebrities visited the school.
In 5686 (1926), the Aguda [union] established a Beit Jakob school for girls. The founders were Heniek Neufeld, Icchak Dafner, Jidl Borowiecki, Eliezer Szklarczyk, Chaim Lichtik and Jechiel Grylak. The director of the school was Herszl Borensztajn.
Sosnowiec also had a girls high school that was established in 1915. The school functioned even on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Eventually the teachers forced the school to close the doors on Shabbat and holidays.
In 1922 the building of a Jewish high school was begun. The driver behind this
project was Dr. Abram Perlman. In 1933, a special building in the center of
Sosnowiec was rented for the Jewish high school.
Dr. Tobiasz Melodista headed the institution beginning in 1923. In August of 1937, the Jewish community proceeded to create a commercial high school under the supervision of Gutwort. The school was located at number 1 Przejazd Street, a very nice building. In 1938, the building of the commercial school was finished and the school opened its doors in the new place.
Translated by Bill Leibner
In Polish literature, Zaglembie occupies a distinguished position. The participation of the Polish workers in the 1863 revolt was widely reflected in Andzej Strug's Our Fathers, in Wielopolska's Kryjaki, in Zeromski's Homeless People and so on. Stanislaw Wygodzki also wrote about the Polish mine workers. He was born in 1907 in Bedzin, the son of a Zionist leader named Icchak Wygodzki. He describes the sufferings and pains of the miners in his prose and songs. He also devoted a great deal of his writings to the tragedy of the Jewish people. He survived the war and is one of the more popular writers in Poland today.
The great Hebrew poet Chaim Nachman Bialik lived in Sosnowiec in the 1890's. He gave Hebrew lessons and made a good living but lived in literary isolation, for there were few Hebrew literary outlets in town. There he wrote the famous poem Achen Chatzir Ha'am and several other poems. Some of them were later published in his books of poems. He also wrote in Sosnowiec, the satirical poem about political Zionism entitled Rabbi Zerach, as well as the songs Al Levavchem Sheshamam and Yaldut. Ahad Ha'am, the publisher of the Hebrew paper Hashiloach refused to print the last song of Bialik. He claimed that the poem was frivolous. In the summer of 1887, he finished his great poem entitled Hamatmid or the dedicated student that made him famous throughout the Jewish literary world. In Sosnowiec, Bialik also wrote the poems, Razi Haleila and Bashel Tapuch.
Bialik used to organize literary evenings at the home of Gerszon Stawski, which was located at number 15 Pilsudski Street. These evenings attracted the Jewish literary crowd of the city. On his visit to Sosnowiec in 1932, he reminisced about his stay in the city and referred to the period as the best period of his youth.
Mosze Stawski (1884-1964) lived in the city between 1906-1908. He wrote primarily in Hebrew. He wrote many stories that dealt with animal life, oriental legends, and descriptions of the life of the early Halutzim (pioneers) in Erez Israel.
He lived at the home of his brother Gerszon Stawski in Sosnowiec. He surrounded himself with young Jewish intellectuals who were interested in Jewish culture. He wrote many novels, as well as a story about the fortress of Bedzin. He wrote primarily in Hebrew. Still, he published four volumes of stories in Yiddish, one volume in Russian, and two volumes in Polish.
In 1911 Mosze Stawski left for Erez Israel, and settled in the village of Tobiasz. In 1922 he moved to Tel Aviv.
Zalman Merkin was also a native of Sosnowiec (1898-1937). During the first years of World War I he was very active in the Jewish cultural movement and frequently addressed assemblies. He was a popular Zionist speaker, especially amongst the youth. He devoted himself to the study of Jewish literature and language. He became a well-known Yiddish literary critic. His articles and books dealing with Jewish literature appeared under the name of Max Erik.
In his youth Merkin studied Hebrew with Bialik. Then he joined Zalman Rejzin to
perform an in-depth study of the old Yiddish literature. He left for Russia in
1929 and continued with his study of Jewish literature. Of course,
Marxism-Leninism now overshadowed the study. His famous works were The
Old Yiddish Novel and Short Story that appeared in Warsaw in 1926, and
The History of Old Yiddish Literature to the Period of the Jewish
Enlightenment, published in Warsaw in 1928. In Minsk (Russia) appeared
his work entitled Research of the Enlightenment during 1789-1881.
He was a lecturer of Yiddish literature at the University of Minsk. He was
arrested in 1937 and died in prison.
Modrzejów, near Sosnowiec, was the home of Dr. Jakob Majtlis. In 1921, his famous article appeared in the Yiddishe Rundschau [Jewish Review] publication. The item was entitled The First Revolution. After that date, he actively participated in the literary Jewish publications of Germany. His articles dealt with literary criticism, historical research, and Jewish folklore. He also contributed items to many publications in other countries. He was particularly interested in old Yiddish literature and folklore. In 1932, he published in Germany his book, entitled The Story: Its History and Origin. It made a great impression in the Jewish literary world. He also published the book The Praises of Rabbi Samuel and Rabbi Yehuda Hassid. The book was published in 1961 in London. Dr. Majtlis is now a permanent resident of London.
The Yiddish poet Awraham Nahum Sztencel was born in Czeladz in 1897. His first book of poems and songs appeared in Leipzig (Germany). Other collections of songs and poems soon followed. Presently, he lives in London, where he edits the literary monthly Lushon und Leben (language and life). He also lectures and reads his literary creations at the writers club in London.
Dr. Naftali Nusenblat (1897-1943) was born in Stry (Galicia, presently Ukraine). He was very active in the Zionist youth movement during WWI. He was drafted into the Austrian Army and became an officer. He reached the rank of lieutenant. He then studied law at the University of Vienna and received a doctorate. He devoted himself primarily to literature and arts. He did a great deal of research on the life of Dr. Herzl, the leader of modern Zionism. In 1938 he reached Dobrowa-Górnicza where he continued his research on Herzl. He also collected Yiddish national songs. He was killed by the Germans.
Amongst the native sons of Sosnowiec and vicinity who settled in Israel, there are also writers and researchers. Dawid Malec authored the following books in Hebrew: Ma'agalot, Hatachtim Baderech, and Hasha'ar Naoul. Dr. Adam Noach Braun was the author of Sefer Hartza'ah Vehazkara, Arugat Habosem, and Tikun Midat Nafshi. Szabsia Wajc authored the book entitled Meotzar Hamachshava shel Hachasidud. Dr. Jehoszua Prawer wrote the books Mamlechet Jerusalem Hatzalbanit (The Crusader Kingdom in Jerusalem), Ashkelon veRetzuah Ashkelon B'medinat Hatzalbanim, and Rashit Hachaim Ha'ironim b'Eiropa Bemei Habinaim. Dr. Jakob Liwer wrote the books The House of David after the Destruction of the First Temple and The History of the House of King David. Dr. J. Lustig authored the book The History of Myslowice in German.
In 1933, The Young Zaglembie was established by a group of young writers. Their objective was to popularize the world of art amongst the masses. Two book collections appeared under the title of Struggle (1933), and Whips (1935). A book of poems entitled Young Zaglembie also appeared in 1937. Some of the members of the group were Tobiasz Baum, Zygmunt S. Baum, Herszl Dancygier, Efraim Klajnman (in Israel), Lejzer Szykman and others.
Zaglembie also produced the talented writer Jechiel Fajner-Dinur (also known as
K. Tzetnik) who wrote Salamander, which appeared in Tel Aviv in
1947. He also wrote The House of Dolls, and some other books that
are being translated into other languages.
Translated by Bill Leibner
The first newspaper in Zaglembie was published in Polish by the coal miners of Dabrowa under the name of Górnik [coal miner]. With time, Jews joined the staff as experts in the coal industry or as commercial coal reporters.
Somewhat later, the Kurier Sosnowiecki [Sosnowiecer Courier] began to appear in Sosnowiec in Polish. The Russian censor kept a close watch over the paper. Many Jewish firms in Sosnowiec and vicinity advertised in the paper. A monthly newspaper began to appear in Polish, entitled Echo, and devoted some space to Jewish social and communal life. The paper was non-political and devoted itself primarily to literature, art, theater, and music. News items and articles devoted to Sosnowiec also appeared in the Silesian press.
The Jews of Sosnowiec could not even dream at this time of publishing a paper.
The Jewish population had a mixture of origins. Some came from Lithuania,
others from Ukraine or Germany or Austria, and still others from other areas of
Poland. The assimilated Jews read the Yiddish-German newspaper Der
Beobachter an der Weichel [The Observer on the Wisla/Vistula],
Jutchenka, and Israelit, published in Polish. Many
articles about life in Sosnowiec appeared in these publications. The educated
and nationally inclined Jews read the Hebrew paper Hatzfira [The
Siren] that appeared in Warsaw, and Hamelitz [The Supporter] that
appeared in St. Petersburg. Both papers carried items about Sosnowiec and
Sosnowiec had a large educated Jewish population that liked the Hebrew press and fought the assimilated Jews who wanted to transform the Jewish masses into followers of Polish culture, to abandon the traditional Jewish life, and to open German and Polish schools. Both factions had contempt for Yiddish, the language of the masses. They referred to it as a jargon, or boorish dialect.
Lejbusz Szpigelman was the first pioneer in spreading the Hebrew and Yiddish books and newspapers that appeared in Russia. In 1911, Szpigelman began to publish a weekly newspaper called Anoncen Blat [Announce-Page] that appeared until 1913 when it changed the name to Undzer Telefon [Our Telephone]. The Anoncen Blat was distributed freely to the papers that came from Warsaw. There was no market for a local Yiddish paper. With time, Szpigelman succeeded in selling papers and began to distribute the paper to other cities, namely Piotrkow. An office under the leadership of Rafael Lederman was opened in Czestochowa. The paper soon reached the cities of Radomsk, Kielce, Lublin, and towns in Upper Silesia.
The number of Jewish writers also grew as the paper's circulation increased. We must mention the following Yiddish writers: L. Goldsztajn, Jeszaja Lewkowicz, Berysz Preger, Fiszel Biemka, J. Pejsachson, Gerszon Stawski, Mosze Fajnkind, Izrael Mosze Wajnryb, and so forth. The paper was first printed at Szlomo Belchatowski's print shop in Piotrkow and then moved to Bedzin where it was printed at Efraim Zajdner's print factory, which was the largest printing establishment in Bedzin. With the start of World War I, the paper could not continue to appear regularly, and was finally closed by the Germans.
On November 11th 1918, World War I ended, and the Germans left. Zaglembie and the rest of Poland were free. Szpigelman began to publish his paper Undzer Telefon, but the Polish authorities closed it on June 28, 1919 and it reappeared on July 18, 1919 under the name of Zaglembier Zeitung [Zaglembian Newspaper]. The paper would continue to appear on a regular basis until the Germans invaded Poland. It appeared regularly in Bedzin and had a widespread net of readers in the area, especially in Sosnowiec. The paper dedicated extensive coverage to Jewish life in Sosnowiec, and many Jewish firms placed their ads in the paper.
In the month of Shvat of 5685 [January/February, 1925], the Yiddish weekly Yiddishe Wochenblat, edited by the late Mosze Chaim Kaminer and Lipman Berkowicz, began to appear. The paper devoted itself to Jewish religious life in Zaglembie and Silesia. The paper was a training school for future Yiddish newspapermen and writers. Some of them became famous, namely Gerszon Gora (lives in Israel), Jechiel Fajner known as K. Tzetnik (lives in Israel), B. Mandelbaum (lives in the USA), Sztajer, Jakubowicz, J. Granatsztajn, Dawid Skornik, Berl Recht, Leib Szczekacz, Zajdman, Zeisler, Kaner, and so forth. The paper appeared for a period of 8 years under the editorship of Berkowicz, who presently resides in Israel.
In 1937, Sz. Lewkowicz (Ben Amotz) left the Zaglembie Newspaper where he worked for many years and published his own paper called Zaglembie Leben [Zaglembian Life]. He wrote most of the articles under different names. He devoted himself to the Zionist cause and devoted a section in his paper to Erez Israel. The paper was interesting and lively. Each issue was widely read. The paper appeared until the Germans invaded Poland.
Another Yiddish paper appeared locally under the name of Zaglembier
Shlezish Wort [Zaglembie-Silesian Word], edited by Izrael Szwajcer.
Translated by Bill Leibner
The Jews of Sosnowiec were deeply affected by the ideology of the Chibat Zion [Love of Zion] movement, rather than by the Socialist ideology of the period. This situation began to change as a Socialist awareness began to develop amongst Jewish workers in the nineties. While the Chibat Zion movement was meeting in Katowice, the Yiddishe Arbajter Ferband [Jewish Workers Association] was meeting in Warsaw and began a massive educational drive. The organization, however, lacked sufficient human resources to carry on such a drive since most of the activists were from Lithuania and South Russia. They were imbued with a Russian culture that was unfamiliar to Polish Jewry. The Russification drive brought about the opposite effect in Poland. Polish Nationalism reached new highs and even affected the Jewish intelligentsia. The mere act of speaking Polish was considered a revolutionary deed. The educated Jewish youth in Sosnowiec as well as in other cities were imbued with the ideal of freedom and Polish independence. The Jewish intelligentsia was affected by assimilationist trends that strongly endorsed Polish national aspirations.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish organized labor groups in Sosnowiec and Zaglembie did not achieve great social breakthroughs amongst the masses. It became crystal clear to the leaders of the Jewish Socialist movement that there was a need for locally trained leadership that was familiar with the local population and problems. One such potential leader was Icchak Mordechai Pejsachson, who became one of the most able and influential personalities in our region.
The Socialist Revolutionary idea reached Zaglembie in 1892 through the gates of the Steiger School in Dabrowa. The school was a hotbed of revolutionary activities and served as a center of illegal literature on behalf of the cause. The posters, proclamations, and tracts that were printed in this school soon found themselves plastered on the city walls, and in coal mines, factories, and official buildings. All appealed for more humane living conditions for the workers. Strikes soon began to take place. The first great strike started on March 8, 1894 at the Zawierce industrial complex, soon followed in April by the a strike of Piasker coal miners. On April 23, 1894 a strike started at Pitzner and Gamper in Sosnowiec. In September of 1894 a strike started at the Ditel factory, followed by a strike at the Dabrowa smelting factory. Slowly, wages improved as well as working conditions, in spite of the Russian government that tried to suppress the demands of the workers by all means. The Cossacks roughed up any worker that they met. The Governor of Piotrkow, Miller, plastered the walls of the area with proclamations warning the people not to strike. Penal paragraphs were cited, but to no avail. Meetings were forbidden, discussions were not permitted, and the courts handed down severe punishments for union activities that frequently reached two months in jail. All these attempts failed to stop the drive of the workers, and strikes continued to start without warning or notice. Management was forced to improve wages and working conditions in order to insure stability. The workday of thirteen hours had to be somewhat curbed.
Following the amalgamation of the Social Democratic group of the Kingdom of Poland and the Polish Socialist Party, there appeared an appeal in 1895 signed by the Workers Committee of Dabrowa. This was the first indication of the growing socialist movement in Zaglembie. Apparently this committee organized the big strike of the oven workers at the Huta Bankowa, and later organized the strike at the Martimer Pits. The illegal literature increased in circulation. The Górnik was for a long time the only paper in Zaglembie, and its circulation constantly grew. On May 13th 1897, the miners stroke the Ernst Michael Pits in Czeladz, and in August of 1897, the workers at the Jerzy Pits in Niwka struck. This was a bitter strike and the government was determined to break the strike; it forced the workers to return to work without wining the slightest concessions.
The year 1899 brought with it a revolutionary fervor. Strikes were called all
over, and most of them resulted in better wages and living conditions. On
September 22, the spinners at Szajn's Spinnery in Srodula, Sosnowiec went on
strike and the 900 spinners at Ditel's went on strike on May 22. The Piotrkow
governor Miller took an active interest in the strike and arrested strikers
each day. The number of arrested workers soon reached eighty. But the wave of
strikes did not stop; it grew in intensity and reached Piaski, Grodziec,
Koszelewki, Milowice, Czeladz and so forth.
The revolutionary intensity declined somewhat in 1900 following the arrests of many Socialist leaders, notably Józef Pilsudski, Woyczechowski, and others. With the killing of Mazor, the police launched massive arrests and searches in Zaglembie. Many people were placed under police surveillance. May 1 was not celebrated that year. Many miners were arrested and detained. Cossack units were stationed in Dabrowa and Sosnowiec. The newspaper Górnik ceased to appear. The situation continued for another two years. Leon Czarkowski, a member of the central committee, wrote in March of 1902 that things had deteriorated beyond imagination. The miners of Niemce remained faithful to the cause of the red flag, and it remained a socialist fortress. The Russian government tried everything to stem the growth of this movement and detained many people on the mere suspicion of belonging to the Socialist party. Still the party grew in strength.
Translated by Bill Leibner
The year 1905 was a crucial year for the Russian Empire. It started on January 7th with a strike of about 150,000 workers in the Russian capital of St. Petersburg. The shooting of unarmed strikers by the Russian army in front of the Winter Palace caused an outburst of emotion directed against the Czar. The P.P.S. (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna / Polish Socialist Party) in Zaglembie immediately launched an educational campaign that consisted of meetings and lectures in factories and mines to explain to the workers their situation. The Zaglembie region was already considered an important center, for it was comprised of mines, smelting furnaces and factories where thousands of workers were employed. The prevailing calm suddenly erupted into a chaotic situation. Political strikes were called and workers listened to the speakers in the streets and factories. They called for an end to worker exploitation, for liberty, and for the end of oppression.
There were hardly any Jews among the coal miners in those days. In contrast, Jews did work in factories in Zawierce, Czestochowa, Bedzin, and other cities. Jewish educated workers actively participated in the ranks of the P.P.S. movement [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna / Polish Socialist Party] that espoused the fight for Jewish equality in society.
In Sosnowiec there was already the nucleus of a Jewish proletariat. Jews worked in German firms as clerks. There were Jewish artisans and their assistants, there were Jewish jobbers, and all worked a fourteen-hour day for very low wages. Following 1905, the Bund organization became very active in the area. There was already a nucleus of Poalei Tzion activists in the area. A delegate from Bedzin, Juda Lajb Fajner, participated as a delegate to the Poalei Tzion conference in December of 1905 in Warsaw. Also amongst the activists was Mosze Merkin.
The people in Zaglembie did not really know what was happening in Russia in 1905. The newspapers were heavily censored and Zaglembie news items were sparse. Still the population was restive. Stores and factories were closed, transportation was halted, and demonstrations and clashes with the police and army occurred.
A news item in the Hebrew newspaper Hatzfira states that on January 27, 1905, striking workers tried to open the gates of the Karina smelting factory. Someone from the crowd fired at the army guards of the Botirke battalion but the soldiers did not respond. In another area, a worker armed with a knife attacked a soldier, whereupon the soldiers opened fire and killed 21 workers and wounded 20. In the foreign press and in the Silesian and Galician press there were reports of soldiers having killed and wounded hundreds of workers.
The strike lasted 32 days and was called off without any gains for the workers.
Still, morale was very high amongst the striking workers, and the circulation
of the P.P.S. [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna / Polish Socialist Party] newspaper
The next day there was another mass assembly with flags and banners facing the Cossack units. A clash was avoided at the last minute by the mediation of the mayor of Sosnowiec, Mr. Kronenberg. At a special assembly at the theater following the mass demonstration, the mayor proposed that the strike be called off and a committee be formed to demand all powers of government. The committee consisted of Perkowski a member of Parliament, Fajnsztajn Social Democrat, lawyer Wierzbowski, and Rokeach from Bedzin. The committee was ordered to negotiate the surrender of all powers to it. They met with Mirbach, the General Governor of the province, and handed him their demands. His reply was simple; there was no revolution and no need for drastic changes. This was the reason that he did not order the Cossacks to attack the large manifestation of strikers in the city. He did agree, however, to remove the police barricades in the city and to recall the police check posts in town. The general assembly also selected a special committee that included representatives from the P.P.S. [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna / Polish Socialist Party], the S.D.K.P.L. [Socjaldemokracja Krolestwa Polskiego i Litwy / Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania] and others. The city was divided into sectors and the police were expected to work with the representatives of the sectors in order to insure tranquility in the city. Posters were hung throughout the city explaining the situation. In effect, the citizen sector committees controlled the city for the next nine days. The gendarmes controlled only the Railway station. The gendarmes did not permit the city police to enter the area. The committee protested the ruling, but the Governor insisted that the area in question be under the control of the forces of the gendarmes.
Due to the constitutional freedom, the newspaper "Górnik" appeared daily and kept the people informed of the situation. The police soon received military reinforcements and began to tighten the reins of the city. Arrests and searches began in the city. The committee of district leaders met with the police chief and demanded an explanation. The answers were evasive and the leaders met to discuss the next steps. The next morning, posters appeared on the walls of the city announcing military rule. Strong police formations patrolled the city and Cossack units in battle formation were on the ready. Arrests and searches were carried out on a large scale, and police cordoned off certain areas. Thus ended the free rule of the city.
Terrible news began to reach the city about pogroms throughout Russia. Indeed some 200 pogroms took place against Jews in the Empire. There was no pogrom in Zaglembie, but the atmosphere was very depressing. Rich Jews began to leave the area and the rest of the Jewish population was gripped by fear.
The fear was intense, as demonstrated by the following example a concert was held in the evening under the direction of the seven year old Henio Sienkiewicz, when someone shouted that there was trouble in the city. The audience panicked and tried to get out as fast as they could. In reality nothing happened, but the fear was so immense that anything was possible.
The capitalists of Upper Silesia exploited the events of Zaglembie. The gates
of Poland were opened to them, as the tax on coal imports was abolished. German
exports grew by 30%. But the joy was short-lived. Soon the Silesian miners
joined the Polish and Russian workers in strikes. Mass demonstrations were held
in support of the Polish and Russian workers. At the end of July 10th, Russian
sailors from the famous Russian battle ship "Potiomkin" appeared. On November
13th, the miners and furnace workers of Myslowice went on a strike that
resulted in clashes with the police.
Translated by Bill Leibner
Ruins of palaces, forts, temples and princely dwellings tell the historical past of Dabrowa of Zaglembie. During the period of mass migrations in the 4th and 5th centuries, the Slavs appeared and conquered vast stretches of land between the rivers Dnieper and Dniester, the Wisla [Vistula/Weichsel], and west to the river of Elbe. They also settled in Silesia and in Zaglembie. The Slavs who settled the area were the white Chrabats, who came from the area of Krakow and spread throughout the province. Dabrowa was part of the ancient historical Slav settlement of the area that the Polish King Mieczyslaw the First annexed to his kingdom.
The area was already settled in 1070. When the Polish King Boleslaw Chrobry (Boleslaw the Brave) moved his capital from Gniezno to Krakow in 1020, the city of Dabrowa developed rapidly, and in 1110 received the title of royal region. In 1106, a man by the name of Dragoslaw received from Bolek Ksziwosti the right to establish the village of Koszeglo. Also, the feudal ruler of Wroclaw received permission to build the church to be named Na Piasku, according to Kazimierz Sprawiedliwi. The permit for an inn was also granted in 1193 for the church in Krimola.
M. Sztencel wrote in his History of Silesia that in 1228 Kazimierz the Great granted Klemense, governor of Opol, large tracts of land near the river Brinica. Anaroszewicz recalled in his book History of the Polish People, that in 1345 the village of Pogon already existed. The feudal lord of Krakow during the years 1318-1326 mentioned the following places: Bedzin, Czeladz, Grodziec, Kozieglowy, Sewer, Chruszczobrod, Zarnowiec, Krimolow, Glodowiec, Mrzyglód, Kirow, Niegowa, Przybynów and Dluzec.
Gromer, in his History of the City of Bytom, told the story that in 1340 a certain Piotr Panow donated the monastery of Vincenti in Bytom to the villages of Dabrowka and Mylowice. M. Bilski, in his Polish Chronicles wrote that Kazimierz the Great built palaces in Bedzin, Wanwalec, Mirow, Zarnowca, and Ojców during the years 1335-1360.
From a document in the diplomatic code book we learn of the existence of Zawierce on October 11th, 1456. The document also stated that there were two communities by the same name, a smaller and a larger one.
The famous Polish historian Dlugosz mentioned that the following places existed in the period1440-1460: Boleslaw, Strzemieszyce, Okradzinów, Zabkowice, Losien, Kosmolow, Rokitno, Sziszialko [Krzykawka?], Ice [?], Lubianka, Myslow, Postaszowice, Ryczów, Rodaki, Golczowice, Drudkow, Rudniki etc.
In his book Above Historical Events, A. Fabinski mentioned the following places in the area about 1490: Czygowa, Smolin, Riczow, Pomrozyce, Golonóg, Leszniow and Old Dabrowa etc.
The 16th century showed new places like Niwko, Niemce, Mrowisko (later
Modrzejów) and Kazimierz. We must also mention that the present district
cities Bedzin, Zawierce, and Olkusz freed themselves from the old district
cities of Porzowo, Lelewo, and Krzondz as well as from oppressive princely
ruling. With the first Polish partition in 1772, large parts of Zaglembie were
divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria.
Translated by Bill Leibner
We lack precise documents to establish when Jews arrived in the area of Zaglembie, but the fact remains that by the 10th century, Jewish merchants bought local produce and sold merchandise that they brought with them. Travelers told of encountering large-boned Jews with tanned faces, thick beards and long clothing who transported wheat, wood and flax. They also told of coins with Jewish lettering. During this period, the Zaglembie region was basically an agricultural area, somewhat behind the nearby region of Silesia economically. The Jewish presence in Zaglembie was at first very small and consisted mainly of Jews who fled from Germany and Silesia due to fear of the Crusaders.
During the 11th and 12th centuries, Jewish artisans joined the Jewish merchants in Zaglembie. In documents of the Jewish community of Bytom, we can see that the Jews at first worked the land and were forced to pay prevailing interest rates, like all other residents in 1226. Following the expulsion of Jews from Spain, Jews settled in all major cities in Poland, including Zaglembie, especially in Bedzin. By 1450, the city of Bedzin already had an organized Jewish community, and in the 16th century the community already had a full time rabbi.
We know very little of Zaglembian Jewry during the Tartar-Mongol invasions of the 13th century. There is a lack of documents for the period, and we do not know where the Jews of the area moved during the time in question. It is possible that they escaped to Krakow or to Germany or Bohemia.
A similar pattern existed for the first Jewish settlers in Silesia. The earliest indications of their presence date from about 1150. Documents indicate Jewish ownership in Klein-Tinz. In 1190, there were already Jews in Bonzlau (Boleslaw). In 1203, the village of Sokolnice, which later became part of Wroclaw, was owned by the Jews Josef and Jecheskiel. In 1917 a tombstone of Dawid ben Sar-Szalom, who died on August 4th, 1203, was discovered. We have bits and pieces of information indicating that from 1227Jews lived in Bytom on the river Odra [Oder], from 1270 in Swidnica, from 1280 in Glogau [Glogów], from 1281 in Troppau [Opawa], from 1285 in Münsterberg [Ziebice], and from 1301 in Liegnitz [Legnica]. At first the Jews of Silesia were primarily farmers, but gradually they exchanged their trades for commerce and manufacturing.
By the middle of the 13th century, a number of Jewish communities in Silesia were already suffering from religious persecution. The priesthood embittered the life of the Jews through various edicts and discriminations. The senate of the province of Wroclaw issued various edicts aimed at the Jews, but princes protected them. In 1295, Duke Bolko the First issued a protective writ for his Jews; four years later, in 1299, Henryk the Third of Glogau [Glogów] did the same for his Jews. This was followed by a protective letter by Duke Bolko the Second for his Jews in Schweidnitz [Swidnica].
During this period, Silesia underwent rapid economic change, and the new inhabitants needed credit. They obtained it from the Jews. Even feudal barons, lords, princes and ministers had to borrow from the Jews. During the second half of the 13th century, Jews no longer worked in the fields but rather were engaged in commerce and banking. They participated in the economic growth of the province, particularly the Silesian cities, and they settled along the major highways that connected Silesia with Bohemia and Moravia. In a document from 1286, the bishop Thomas of Breslau [Wroclaw] complained that the Jews under the protection of Prince Heinrich the Fourth conducted their business without interruption while above the heads of the priests lurked various dangers. The Silesian princes understood the importance of Jews in the development of their cities through the growth of commerce and manufacturing. The economic situation of the Jews in this area was good, and they devoted themselves primarily to their synagogue and study centers.
The church, however, grew more antagonistic to the growing Jewish presence in
Silesia. In 1267, the conference of priests of the area adopted several
resolutions, namely: Jews could not live with Christians in the same building;
a wall or water channel had to separate Jewish homes from Christian quarters;
Jews had to wear a special hat. In 1319, the persecutions intensified and in
1337 the so-called Armleder gangs attacked Jewish communities under the pretext
that the Jews profaned the holy bread. Jews were tortured and
killed by these gangs. There were also some pogroms organized and led by
Christian artisans. In 1420, the Jews were accused of supporting the Hussite
movement, which revolted against the Catholic Church. There were even
accusations that the Hussites sang Jewish songs that Rabbi Awigdor Karo
assembled and published in Hebrew and German. Although they did not take part
in the religious rivalries, Jews were not helped by them. Accusations fanned by
the interested parties reached such intensity that severe persecutions
resulted, as did frequent expulsions of the Jews from the area. Jews and their
property became open targets for demagogues. The persecutions and expulsions
lasted until well into the 15th century. Much later, the Jewish communities
began to rebuild themselves in the Silesian cities and their influence was felt
in the development of the Jewish communities in Zaglembie.
Translated by Bill Leibner
Until several hundred years ago, Dabrowa lay nestled between dense forests and swamps that prevented development of the community. Change came following the discovery of so-called Black Diamonds deep underground.
In books dealing with the history of the area, it is noted that Dabrowa belonged to the Duchy of Siewierz. According to maps of the royal family, Old Dabrowa already existed in the 15th century. This community underwent many stages of development, robberies and fires.
The present Dabrowa Górnicza began with a mine named Reden. It was opened for exploitation in 1796 by Prussian authorities, during the reign of Frederick the Great . In 1807, ownership of the mine passed to a Frenchman, Marshal Lannes. Due to a large amount of unpaid interest, the civil court in the Krakow region appointed a Jew, Szmul Buchbach, as overseer of the mine. Ownership of the mine reverted to the Polish ministry of finance the following year.
In 1815, a huge smelting plant named Constanti was built next to the coal mine. Coal extraction grew year by year, as diggers went deeper and deeper into the ground. To avoid water deposits, a drainage channel was built to remove the water. Inhabitants of Old Dabrowa were the first coal miners. With time, a stream of workers from the Kielce region, from the areas of Miechó and Jedrzejów, from the region of Krakow and Silesia began to flock to the area. Following the failed November Uprising [1830-1831], the Russians forced dozens of Polish noble families to work in the coal mines. There was always a shortage of working hands, and in 1838 seventy German families from Saxony and Hanover were brought to provide labor. Within a year most of them left Zaglembie; a limited number remained and acclimatized themselves to the area.
Dabrowa belonged at first to the Radom regional office, despite the fact that
the place was growing large enough to support a daily market. However the
authorities did not want to recognize it as a city. In 1860, Dabrowa had a
population of 600 inhabitants. After 1870, the place grew by leaps and bounds,
expanding in all directions as streams of people kept coming. Only in 1916 did
Dabrowa receive city status. The first mayor was Edward Kuszynski and the first
presiding election officer was Dr. Adam Piwauer.
Translated by Bill Leibner
In 1767, on the border between Old Dabrowa and Bedzin there was an inn called Under the Lion, managed by Jakob Jozepowicz. He was a permanent resident of Bedzin and also dealt in animal skins. Until 1828, by order of the mine director, Jews were forbidden to open inns near the smelting or mine complex. Due to a constant shortage of working hands, the rule was relaxed and Jews began to work in the mines. Among the first Jewish workers was the family Cajg, which later changed its name to Cajgus and still later to Cygos. The same year, the families Rozencwajg and Natan arrived in Dabrowa. The latter opened a store to sell honey water, and the miners called him Miódownik [Honeyman]. The name stuck and was carried on by successive generations.
A larger influx of Jews began in 1864. Among the Jews who settled then in Dabrowa were people named Wajsholc, Zajdband, Nager, Szlesinger, Grosfeld, Grinboim, Demb, Kundak and others.
In the Dabrowa region, the Jews made the first attempts to enter the coal
mines. The brothers Moritz and Ignac Majteles, sons of the pious Szmul Majteles
from Modrzejów, lived in Sosnowiec. In 1902 they opened their mine,
named Stanislaw, next to the Catholic cemetery in Dabrowa.
They invested a large sum of money and installed new equipment and added new buildings. The mine was on the verge of bankruptcy when the brothers took it over, and they managed to turn the place around and increase coal production by forty percent.
The family Zmigrod did not wait for the Russians to cancel the edict against Jewish employment in the mines and smelting place, but financed their business enterprise indirectly through a fictitious non-Jewish figurehead. The Rechnic family of Dabrowa, which resided there since 1864, made similar arrangements. This family also specialized in leasing coal mines. Between 1900 and1909, Henryk Rechnic managed a large mine named Matilda in Dabrowa and a mine named Carol in Zaglembie. His brother, Samuel Rechnic, managed a mine named Jaroslaw in Niwka. The Rechnics had a great deal of experience in managing coal mines and dealt with coal until WWII.
The number of Jews in Dabrowa kept growing. From the year 5657 (1897), the rabbi in Dabrowa was Rabbi Mosze Rapaport, who was ordained by the Rabbis of Kalisz, Ostrów, and Bedzin. The Jewish community, however, belonged to the Bedzin Jewish community, where they buried their deceased members. In 1908, the Jews of Zagórze, Józefów, and Zabkowice appealed to the governor of Piotrków to permit them to establish their own Jewish community.
During that time, the Russian authorities banished several Jewish families from Dabrowa under various pretexts. They returned to the city in 1910. Only when Dabrowa became a city during WWI did Jews feel safe there.
In 1910, the Jews of Dabrowa decided to establish their own Jewish community. The first leaders of the community were Jakob Mendel Gliksman, Itche Majer Nusbaum, Szlomo Rechnic and Dawid Weber.
The synagogue on Mieszka Street was started in 1912. The founders were Berl Fuchs, Alter Futerko, Mordechai Lajb Miodownik, Kopel Chrzanowski, Mordechai Hilel Ferens, Icchak Majer Luksenburg, Hersz Rajchman, and Mosze Mitelman. The tin maker Berl Fuchs, who was also the gabbai [sexton] of the synagogue, donated the place. During construction of the synagogue, the Jews prayed in a rented study center. The cantor Mordechai Liberman, who later moved to the synagogue, prayed there.
The cemetery was built in 1920. The members of the chevra kaddisha [burial society] were Wolf Fajner, the society's founder, Mosze Aron Luria, Gerszon Henoch Szpilberg and Szpigler.
Most of the Jews of Dabrowa were Hasidim who belonged to various Hasidic courts. In the city there were many small one-room chapels where the followers of particular rabbis prayed, namely the Radomsker Hasidim, the Krimilower Hasidim, the Alexander Hasidim and the Gerer Hasidim. Among the Radomsker Hasidim who were very influential, Jakob Szalom Fiszel should be noted in particular. He was born in Bedzin, but moved to Dabrowa where he prayed with phylacteries that he had received on his bar mitzvah from the famous rabbi Tiferet Shlomo. He managed the revolving fund for the city's poor and died in 1933.
When WWI started, the Austrians occupied Dabrowa. A committee was formed that consisted of Jakob Sternir, a dentist; Szlomo Halperin, a son-in-law of Jakob Szalom, one of the first Zionists in town; Gerszon Henoch Szpilberg, as adviser; and Gecel Sztorchajn, Szlomo Rechnic, Jakob Szalom Fiszel and Ruwen Grosfeld.
By order of the military command of the area, a temporary Jewish community committee was established on September 3rd, 1916. The committee called for elections on June 9th,1916. The following Jewish leaders were elected: Mordechai Lajb Miodownik, Icchak Majer Nusbaum, and Lewy Strzegowski. Ruwen Grosfeld, Dawid Grinbaum, and Mosze Mitelman were elected as stand-by candidates. In 1924, a new community leadership was elected; the chairman was Lewy Strzegowski and the presiding officer of the community committee was Hersz Tobiasz Liberman.
In the census of March 18th,1923, the total population of the city was 33,868
residents: 16,599 men and 17,269 women. The Jewish population was 5,000.
Translated by Bill Leibner
The Jewish community of Katowice sponsored a conference of Chovevei Zion [Lovers of Zion]. Thirty-six delegates from major European countries attended the meetings to revive interest in and promote the activities of the movement. Dr. Leon Pinsker was elected chairman and presiding officer of the conference. All major Jewish movements participated in the conference.
There were problems of unity and major differences among various factions, and the movement almost collapsed in 1887. Two years later, in 1889, the Russian government granted a permit to an organization called The Company to Assist Jewish Field Workers and Artisans in Syria and the Land of Israel. The main office of this association was located in Odessa and was referred to as the Odessa Committee. The representative of this organization in Sosnowiec was Gerszon Stawski.
The Russian delegates who participated in the Katowice conference passed through the city of Sosnowiec as it was undergoing transformation from a rural village to a booming city. Some of the mood of the city affected them, as we can see from the fiery speeches that were given at the conference. These speeches and debates were read in the city and caused a slight awakening of the Jewish population. Even some assimilated Jews were moved by these debates and began to approach Zionism.
At the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897, we noticed Kempinski as the representative of the Sosnowiec Zionists. The movement took roots in Sosnowiec and Zaglembie.
Dr. Herzl traveled to Russia in 1903. On his way home he visited Zaglembie. He made a great impression in Sosnowiec.
Katowice was chosen as the site of the first conference. The Zionist movement was forbidden in Russia; however, the leaders of the Chibat Zion movement viewed Katowice as a suitable conference site for their conference since the city was ruled by Prussia but was also very close to Russia and Poland. Some important leaders of the movement also lived in the city. The founder of the Yeshuv Eretz Israel association in Katowice was Dr. Landsberg, a rabbi in Lignice and a member of the Alliance in Germany. The association called itself Bnei Brith and became a model for similar institutions in Germany and Silesia. During the years 1883-84 many conferences of the Chovevei Zion movement took place and the idea arose of establishing an international organization to represent the movement. The leader of the movement in Katowice was a merchant named M. Mozes, born in 1848, who always dreamed of rebuilding the land of Palestine. He encouraged all the members of the central committee in their work and together with Rabbi Dr. Landsberg and the teacher Z. Freutal they established the Bnei Brith lodge in Katowice. Similar lodges were established in other Silesian cities. The office in Katowice started to publish a weekly paper entitled Der Kolonist [The Colonist], which devoted itself to the problems of Palestine.
The Katowice office of the movement also started to assist in the opening of other branches in various countries. Because Romania was the only country that had a central committee, the movement planned conferences in many other countries to help launch itself and to unite those countries in a worldwide organization. The aim was also to establish a financial institution to help the colonization of Palestine. In 1883, invitations for the conference in Katowice were sent out. The organizers of the event established contact with the branches in Galac, Vienna, Lemberg, Warsaw, Bialystok, Odessa, Rostow, Minsk, and Wilna.
The number of participating delegates was still small. Katowice had five
delegates. The next conference, in 1884, was much larger; there, the basis for
an international organization was established.
Translated by Bill Leibner
In 1898, the first Zionist association in Sosnowiec was established under the initiative of the great Hebrew writer, Chaim Nachman Bialik. A similar association was created later in Bedzin. The first Zionists in Sosnowiec were primarily Lithuanian Jews. Among the founders of the association were Gerszon Stawski, a brother of the writer Mosze Stawski, Jakob Wajnberg, Kempinski, Mosze Gerszon Feldsztajn from the paper Hatzfira and the Yiddish paper Haynt. The association of Sosnowiec encouraged the creation of the Zionist lodge in Bedzin, whose leaders were Berysz Preger, Wilbuszewicz, Wroncberg, Frenkel, and Wdowinski.
During Chanukah 5659 (1898), the first Chanukah party of the Zionist
organization in Sosnowiec took place; all the Zionists of Zaglembie were
invited. Bialik read some of his poems, rich in content and poetic fantasy.
The primary function of the Zionist movement during the years 1899-1900 was the popularization of shares of the Jewish Colonial Bank in London. Bedzin bought the largest number of shares. The firm Hendel Nunberg alone bought 50 shares, while all of Sosnowiec bought 25 shares. Payments for the shares were made on an installment plan.
With time, some younger Zionists joined the ranks of the movement, among them Dr. Wajsman and Klajnic. In 1903, the delegate for the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel was Gerszon Stawski, who represented the Sosnowiec and the Noworadomsk Zionists. At this conference, a proposal was made to accept the Uganda plan that called for the settling of Jews in Uganda. Stawski was opposed to the proposal. The delegates from Bedzin and Czestochowa voted in favor of Uganda. Stawski also participated in the funeral of Dr. Herzl in Vienna in 1904. In December 1905, at the Ninth Zionist Congress in Hamburg, the delegates from Sosnowiec were Wajnres and Preger from Bedzin. There was a great division at this congress between two wings of the Zionist movement. The German Zionist wing was headed by Dr. Wolfson, Heinrich Löwe, and Professor Warburg. This faction greatly influenced the Zaglembie delegates who voted for them.
With the outbreak of WWI, a new period of activities began for the Zionist movement in Zaglembie. On the thirteenth of Sivan 5672 (May 29th, 1912), a general conference of Orthodox leaders in Katowice took place that established the organization of Agudat Israel. World renowned rabbis from Russia attended the conference. From Bedzin came Rabbi Isachar Ber Graubart, Pinchas Lajb Buchwajc, Berysz Preger and Reb Wolnerman. From Sosnowiec came A. Lewensztajn, from Modrzejów came Rabbi Iszajahu Englard, and from Myslowice came Rabbi Dr. Winter.
From the Western countries came rabbis and doctors with rich cultural backgrounds. By and large, Hasidic rabbis were absent from the conference.
From that time on, Zionist activities in Zaglembie continued, conducted with a
great deal of devotion and dedication until the total destruction of the Jewish
communities during WWII.
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