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[Page 273]

Jews in Bedzin
by S. Rotenberg

Translated by Bill Leibner

A historical review of Bedzin, from the past to the present day independent Poland

1. The city Bedzin and the castle

Prior to discussing the history of the Jews in Bedzin, we will first review the historical development of the city.

Bedzin is a district city in the region of Kielce and is situated on the left side of the river Black Przemsze. The place was known as Bandien in the 14th century. It then underwent several name changes in the next century, notably Bandin, Bandzen, and Bandzin. In the 16th and 17th century, the place was called Bendim and in the 18th century it was known as Bedzin. The community started around the strong point located at the top of the stone mountain at the end of the 10th or possibly the beginning of the 11th century.

Sos273.jpg [12 KB] - The ruins of the Bendiner castle
The ruins of the Bendiner castle

During the reign of Boleslaw The Bashful (1238-1279), a wooden castle was built on the exiting ruins. The castle had a stone base and a tower. The king took the community under his protection and granted it the status of a village market.

The selection was not accidental, for the place was situated on a historical water route that led from the Przemsze River to the Warta River, then to the Oder River, and finally to the Wisla River. The oldest land route that connected Krakow with the rest of Poland via Silesia crossed the city of Bedzin.

The wooden castle stood until the reign of Kazimierz the Great. He destroyed the wooden structure and instead built a fortified stone castle about 1358. This castle guaranteed the Polish borders against incursions from the Germanized Silesians. There is a possibility that with the completion of the castle, or perhaps somewhat later, the King ordered the creation of a new city to which all the residents of old Bedzin were moved. The actual place of old Bedzin is today's Malobondz.

The new Bedzin did not yet have stone walls in those early days. Instead it was surrounded with earthen walls and wooden gates. Only in 1364 did they build fortified stone walls around the city, and some of them remain to the present.

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Many commercial roads crossed Bedzin, which was a border town. These roads led in many directions and were protected by royal decree. The city grew very rapidly and became a commercial center. The city received in 1464 the royal privilege of dealing in salt. The privilege granted by Kazimierz Jagiello forced all salt merchants heading to Silesia to sell salt to stop in Bedzin for three days and sell some of their salt in the city. Avoiding the city meant a stiff penalty. Thus Bedzin became an important salt center. It is interesting to note that in 1549 there were 100 homes and 800 inhabitants in the city, as opposed to 64 homes and 600 people in Kielce. Royal tax assessors who visited the city of Bedzin in 1564 to collect taxes confirmed that the city butchers owed the crown 24 stones (pounds) of fat, 16 bakers owed each 5 silver groschen, 10 shoemakers owed each 4 silver groschen, the city bathhouse owed 96 silver groschen, the city brewers owed 96 silver groschen, and the wooden and earthenware merchants 96 silver groschen each for participating five times at the fair.

Sos274a.jpg [15 KB] - The castle
The castle and the entrance to it

The Swedish wars caused a serious decline to the well-being of the city. Gone was the commercial center. Many merchants and artisans left the city. In 1673 there were only 40 homes and 346 inhabitants. The population wouldl rise slightly with the beginning of the 18th century, but it would never recover its past commercial status.

In 1683, the Polish King Jan Sobieski III visited the city with his army on the way to help the city of Vienna which was being attacked by the Turks. He remained but a few days at the castle. A statue was erected to commemorate the event. It still stands at Kollataja Street 45 in Bedzin.

The last census that was conducted in 1879 indicated that the city had 279 homes and about 1200 residents that paid 27 guilders and 15 groschen for the use of the bathhouse and 200 guilders for commercial privileges. The Jewish butchers (there were no other butchers in town at that time) paid 253 guilders and 10 groschen. Tax on the ritual slaughter and the Jewish community was 700 guilders, and was paid directly from the synagogue.

Only in the late 19th century when the coal mines started to open, and when the zinc smelting places started to operate in 1826, did the city of Bedzin awaken economically.

Sos274b.jpg [17 KB] - The entrance to the subterranean caves
The entrance to the subterranean caves

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From an administrative point of view, Bedzin belonged from 1795-1807 to the Siewierz district that the Prussian occupier called New Silesia. With the Prussian defeat, Napoleon ordered the creation of 6 departments in Poland. Bedzin was attached to the Lelow-Siewierz district in the Kielcer region. On December 12th 1808, the district was changed and Bedzin was attached to the Pilica district. The highest instance of administration was the district executive chamber. Somewhat later, Bedzin was again reassigned to another district, the Olkusz district. During the Prussian occupation from 1795-1807, there was a customs house on Czeladz Street, and the mayor's office was in the old market.

Following the revolt of 1831, the city's economic life plunged into a terrible morass that lasted for 30 years. The Czarist officials did everything in their power to make life miserable for the local population. They stopped all economic initiatives in the city. Only in 1858, did the city begin to breathe a bit with the arrival of representatives of the Warsaw-Vienna Railway Company. These officials began to build the Zabkowice-Sosnowiec railway line. The city of Bedzin soon returned to its previous economic status, namely apathy that lasted until the events of 1863.

The moment the revolt started, the city of Bedzin came to life. A large segment of the city's population, including many Jews, took up arms and revolted against the Czarist oppressors.

On May 5th 1864, a pitched battle took place between the revolting Poles and the Russians outside the city. A large segment of the population participated in the battle that defeated the Russians.

On this spot (near the present railway station) were buried all the Poles who fell in this battle. Later a shrine was erected in their memory, but it was removed in 1936 because it interfered with city traffic. A memorial was erected nearby for the Polish heroes in the form of a statue of the Holy Mother.

We also have to add an explanation about the “Siberke”. On the left side of the road heading from Bedzin to Czeladz, one saw in the past remnants of an old building that the local residents referred to as the Siberke.

The name referred to the fact that the Czarist authorities forced some noble Polish families from the area of the Nieman River to settle in the area. These families partook in the revolt of 1831 and were convicted to do forced labor. Therefore the Czarist police forced them to work in the Zaglembia coal mines. Later the building served as a Russian customs house, and then it was relegated. The structure was demolished in modern times as a symbol of Czarist rule. The city of Bedzin continued its sluggish history. Apathy ruled he city. Appointed mayors came and went but did little for the city. Their main preoccupation seemed to be self-enrichment.

The Zaglembia workers who actively supported the fight against the Czarist oppression between 1905-1907 wrote a nice page of history. Since 1914, the city came under German and (partial Austrian) occupation that ruled the city with an iron hand.

Sos275.jpg [14 KB] - The ruins of the "Siberke"
The ruins of the “Siberke”

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