by M. H.
Translated by Rachel Fassler
Donated by Erin Einhorn
It is about two years before World War II, and I am living in Magdiel a letter came to me from my friend Szymon Rotenberg (who goes by the nickname Szymele). In this letter, he wrote that for years he has been writing a book about our parents' hometown Będzin.
When the writer was compiling Ilustrirter Almanach fun yidishn Zagłębie (Illustrated Almanac of Jewish Zagłębie), he never imagined that this horrible holocaust, the likes of which our people have never seen in the thousands of years in the Diaspora, would happen to the Jews of Europe in the enlightened 20th century. Although there was already rampant anti-Semitism in Germany, German Jews were persecuted and citizens who had Polish heritage were thrown out of their country, nobody had imagined the measure of evil that was in the hearts of the Germans.
Subconsciously, Rotenberg suspected that the future held inescapable death for our people living in Poland, and because of this we must record the writings about our birthplace in order to save them forever, so that future generations will know and remember that tomorrow may be too late
In his first letters Rotenberg told the editor his story, of which he is not only the literary editor, but also organized it in all of the technical aspects and took care not only to gather information and edit it, but also to include hundreds of pictures.
Furthermore, he is also worried about paying for this monumental project that requires substantial means. However, in spite of these pressures, he does not give up or get upset because he believes that his mission will be accomplished and his story will see the light of day.
I requested from him a writer's salary upon my arrival. With his apologies, he did not fulfill my wishes and explained, that all participants in the book are working not in order to receive a prize, and that it is a great privilege for me if my work on Zagłębie's Landsmannschaft will be included in the book, that participants include many well known writers such as Professor Dr. Mosze Szor, Prof. Dr. Majer Balaban, the historians Dr. Icchak Sziffer, Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and many more with well known reputations in the Jewish world. This silenced my request, and I continued my work with inner satisfaction and in the hopes that my labor will not be in vain and that I would even contribute to eternalizing our amazing community.
Many articles (attached are pictures and certificates) were about the families of Zagłębie, who settled in Israel from the second Aliyah until the end of the fourth. I elaborated about their lives and activities, especially those that were in the public life and in the fields of art and literature. I allotted room for the section Yizkor to those who gave their lives to defend and save. They were many, especially in the years between 1936-1939, when massacres were occurring in Israel. I was made aware by the editor that the book will cover research about Będzin and Zagłębie, as well as lists written by businessmen, one of them whose name I will mention here: Rabbi Zalman Graubart, (the son of the former Rabbi of Będzin Rabbi, J. B. Graubart,) the Rabbi of Toronto, Canada.
And so weeks and months passed. The editor hurried me along, so that I would quickly finish my work that was to be given to the printer.
In August 1939, several days before the outbreak of the war, I received a letter from Rotenberg and this was the last time he approached me in which he wrote the following words that I will never forget that were so full of fear:
Friend! A war is going to break out any day. The enemy is ready to attack us, and he is annexing parts of Poland. The atmosphere around us is electric, and who knows what the days will bring. I will not let go of my pen until the first shot, because only a bullet will force silence my artistic expression, in which I have invested so many years
Regrettably, the horror did not pass quickly enough, and his deepest fears were realized. Będzin was captured by the evil kingdom and many Jews were wiped off the face of the earth.
The lengthy and high quality Almanach that was printed on exquisite paper, in a beautiful frame, in a large book, was lost along with its creator who met his death in Auschwitz in 1943, and left us a rich spiritual inheritance.
Years passed. The horrible times ended. The first survivors come out from hiding, deathly, from the concentration camps, and go to Israel carrying word of the terrible news that almost nobody from our city survived. With this news we understood that we have the privilege of being spared our lives in order to immortalize our destroyed community. At every opportunity we spoke of the need to establish a living monument to the Jews of Będzin in the form of a book dedicated to their memory.
I found out that the Almanach was already printed, but that it had been destroyed in the bloody massacres of the war.
At the same time, a man from Będzin now living in Katowice, wrote to us that one form of the Almanach miraculously arrived in Israel and we must get on its trail. The committee of Zagłębie's survivors presided over by Rabbi Menachem Hager (may his memory be blessed) traced the book, and it was found in the possession of a man who did not want to give it up, being under the impression that he would make money for himself. We were dependent upon his good will.
How did the only copy fall into the wrong hands? At the end of the war the Starosta (district head) of Będzin found in his basement the only copy that had been left to be censored. He gave it as a present to the rebuilt community. One of the members took the copy with him and tried to bring it to us unsuccessfully.
The book turned up in America where its owner tried to print it, but he was prevented from doing so because they knew that all of the rights are reserved for the descendents who live in Israel and France. After a lot of effort we succeeded in getting the book, but we were so surprised that we were given only one part of the Almanach and even that was not complete the part that tells about Będzin and some things about Sosnowiec, Dąbrowa and adjacent neighborhoods, were gone.
We settled for what we had, and decided to publish this part, which luckily was
saved, with only minor changes. The Almanach is published in full
in Yiddish in this edition. We tried to fill in what was missing, every single
detail that should be uncovered from the past and compiled together in the
Będzin Book with objectivity and historical accuracy.
by S. Rotenberg
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
Before discussing the history of the Jews in Będzin, we will examine the history of the establishment of the city. Będzin is the regional capital of the Kielce district and extends from the left bank of the Czarna Przemsza River to the foot of an ancient fortress.
In the fourteenth century the city was called Bondien; in the fifteenth century, Bondin and Bondzin; in the sixteenth century, Bendin and Bendzim; since the seventeenth century it has assumed the present name of Będzin.
Będzin is one of the oldest cities in Poland. Apparently, a settlement was established here around the eleventh century. The population engaged in fishing and the transport of goods along the Przemsza River and settled around the fortress, which stood on a high rocky mount. During the reign of King Boleslav The Shy (1238-1279), a wooden fortification was built on the massive foundations of the ruined fortress. Boleslav granted Będzin special rights, which at that time meant being considered a village.
The choice of these surroundings for a settlement was not accidental, since in earlier years a main transport artery had been established on the rivers that led from the Przemsza to the Warta River, and from there to the Oder (Odra) River and onwards to the Wisla River. Furthermore, there was a land highway from Będzin that linked Krakow with Greater Poland.
When the Polish king, Kazimierz the Great, understood the obvious strategic value of the mountain, he destroyed the wooden fortress and in its place built a tremendous fortress in 1358, which stood guard on the Polish border against the Germanizing Silesian people. It was a three-tiered fortress with 4-meter-thick walls that were 12 meters high. When Kazimierz completed this structure, he built the city, transferring the residents from the earlier Będzin settlement, which was located in the Malobadz region of today.
In 1364, stone defense walls were built and their remnants exist until the present day. In Zamkowa Street are buildings that were built upon the ruins of these walls, as were the Zaulek alleyways and the ancient Jewish cemetery in Zawale Street, and in recent years it is still possible to identify remnants of these walls.
Since Będzin was a border city, located on crossroads from different directions, it received special patronage under the auspices of the king, through which the city developed and grew rapidly. According to the privileges given by King Kazimierz Jagiellonian in 1464, every merchant bringing goods to Silesia had to stop in Będzin and sell some of his wares there.
In 1540 there were 100 houses in Będzin and 800 residents, while at the same time the city of Kielce had 84 buildings and 600 residents.
Fairs were often held in Będzin, and merchants would come from as far away as Breslav in Silesia; as a result, the city became one of the richest. However, because of frequent attacks by the Germans, who were envious of this wealthy city, it was destroyed from time to time and then rebuilt over an extended period. In the Swedish Wars the city was destroyed. The trade and enterprise decreased markedly and the economic pinnacle vanished.
In 1673 the city had only 40 buildings and 346 residents. In 1686 the Polish King, Jan Sobieski the Third, passed through Będzin with soldiers en route to Vienna and supplied military support to the city, which had been surrounded by the Turks. The king stayed over in Będzin and in memory of his stay there a memorial was built which exists to this day at 45 Kollataja Street.
A poll that was carried out in 1789 showed that at that time there were 279 buildings and 1200 residents.
At the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century, as miners began to extract coal from the surrounding region and tin producing factories were founded, the city once again began to flourish.
During the years between 1795 and1807, Będzin was annexed to the Siewierz district, in 1808 to the Pilica district, and in 1813 to the Olkusz district.
In 1831, after the Polish uprising, the city became impoverished and the Tsar choked any initiative for economic improvement. It was only in 1858, when a delegation came to Będzin to build the Ząbkowice-Sosnowiec railway track, that the city again breathed a sigh of relief, though this period did not continue for long.
It is ironic that during the Polish uprising of 1863, in which the Jews took part in the resistance to the Russian tyrants, the city returned to life.
On the 5th of May 1864, a large group of rebels were involved in a battle against the Russians, in which they were soundly defeated, and in this place (near the railway) the victims of this battle were buried. In their memory a memorial plaque was erected, which was removed in 1936 because it hindered city traffic; however, a monument was erected quite close by in the form of the Holy Mother.
On the way to Czeladz are the preserved ruins of an old building called Syberka. The name originates from the fact that the Soviet authorities exiled Polish noblemen here from around the Nayman River because of their participation in the 1831 revolution.
In later years, this building served as a customs house. When New Poland was founded, the building was pulled down, since it symbolized Czarist persecution.
A glorious page in the history of Będzin was the rebellion of Zaglembian workers against the Russians, in the years 1905-1907.
From August 1914 until the end of 1918, the city remained under German rule.
Jews in Będzin
The first Jews appeared in the Zaglembian region in 1226, and in the main they were engaged in agriculture and were compelled, as were the rest of the cities' citizens, to pay a tithe tax.
At the end of the thirteenth century there were a substantial number of Jews in Będzin. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, they abandoned agriculture and moved on to trade. Some of them opened stalls for exchanging currency.
The highest institute in Jewish life was the kehila, which was elected by the city's elders. At the head of the kehila were the rabbi and legal advisor. During the second half of the sixteenth century, a special envoy was dispatched to Krakow, to the Council of the Lands; the name of the envoy from Będzin was Rabbi Israel Ben Shmuel (Shmuelivicz).
The Jews of Poland were considered foreign subjects and, hence, were under the
supervision of the king, who appointed special governors to operate under his
auspices. These governors, who were called waivada, in turn, transferred
their authority in towns like Będzin to the starusta.
The civic legal authority was not binding on the Jews. They were initially tried by a Jewish bet din. It was possible to place an appeal to the waivada or the starusta or even to the king.
The Jewish court was comprised of a rabbi, a legal advisor and observers (lavnik), who were elected by the kehila. Quarrels between Jews and Christians were brought before the Jewish court while the waivada and the starusta participated.
The trials took place in the synagogue. The jail, whose upkeep the Jews had to maintain, was also located next to the synagogue.
The laws of the Jewish court included 12 sections, written in Hebrew and Polish, and were engraved on the walls of the synagogue for all to see.
For their participation in the courts, the Jews gave the waivada a sum of 12 guilden annually, as well as open and secret gifts
Initially, the rights of the Jews were limited. They were only allowed to live in special quarters and partake in trade on certain days of the week. The number of traders was also limited. During the reign of King Kazimierz Jagiellonian, in 1453, the Jews managed to receive further rights, though not full rights.
The fact that the Jews dealt in foreign trade can be proved by the fact that in the year 1695, a Jew by the name of Mosze Bendiner participated in the Leipzig Fair.
In 1527, Zygmunt the First matched the rights of the Jewish traders to those of the Polish traders with regards to customs levies and taxes, and 15 years later Jews were already running taverns, trading in spirits and engaging in other occupations that had been previously forbidden.
During the reign of King Stefan Batory, the Jews were allowed to live in the center of the city and sell their wares in the general market with Christian traders.
In 1592, the civic authorities of the town were sued by King Zygmunt the Third, who ordered them to defend the rights of the Jews and held them responsible for harm inflicted upon them.
The Jews received full rights during the reign of Wladislaw the First, who granted them full rights matching those of the Christians.
Each time a new Polish king was crowned, the Jews of Będzin sent an envoy requesting that they be granted rights. A parchment charter that was approved by King Jan Sobieski has been kept in a sealed iron vault in the Będzin Town Hall to this day.
After the ascent to the throne of Stanislaw August Poniatowski, a Jewish delegation set out and returned in July 1776 with a new charter signed by the king himself and by the royal notary. This document is also kept in the Będzin archives.
In order to improve their circumstances, the Jews came up with all sorts of inventions. In Poland, there was a tax known as the chimney tax and every Jew had to pay a sum of 30 piastres for each chimney in his house (non-Jews paid 6 piastres). This burden caused the Jews to combine all the chimneys of their house to one common one. This invention was discovered, and the guilty were punished, evicted from the city, and their houses confiscated.
In their struggle for their rights, the Jews even tackled the Council of the Lands, which occasionally had caused them certain injustices. A revolution of a sort erupted in1666, and the authorities were forced to intervene. Similar instances of rebellion against the Council of the Lands were not unknown, and the history of the Jews of Będzin contains quite a few instances of this type.
The first Jews to arrive in Będzin settled behind the defense walls of the city, in the area around the present Zaulek and Monzaivaska streets, later in the area around Zawala Street, and finally in the area around the streets Rybna and Berka Joselowicza (formerly Gzichowska).
In the fifteenth century, on this same street, a wooden synagogue was erected, and it was during this period that the first cemetery was established. Its remnants remain to this day in Zawale Street, and it was in use up until the year 1831. Not only Będzin residents were buried there, but also those from the whole region: Milowice, Byton, Tychy, Chorzow and Sielce. [This cemetery was completely destroyed by the Nazis].
Since the cemetery was located in the city area, a tithe tax was imposed by the Church, which until 1588, required the Jewish kehila to give to the Church fund for every deceased. This special payment was known as a burial tax, on the background of which quarrels occurred quite often between the clergy and the Jewish kehila.
It so happened that the Jews of Byton buried their dead secretly in order to avoid this payment, and the kehila did not pay the Church its dues. As a result, the priest of Będzin, Jan Katolski, sued the kehila for embezzlement under the existing law. The priest brought forward as a witness a Jewish woman who confirmed that on the 5th of May 1687, Jews from outside Będzin had buried their dead in the cemetery. This case continued for eight years and even reached the office of the bishop of Krakow. The priest proved that the Jews of Byton had collaborated with the Będzin kehila and that in Myslowice there was no synagogue or even a cemetery.
The priests of Myslowice and Grodziec called for an investigation of this matter. Testimonies were taken from various Jews, who swore in synagogue that they were telling the truth. Following the investigation the verdict reached was that the Będzin kehila should pay the burial tax that was owed to the Church.
The life of the Jews of Będzin circled around the synagogue. At the head of the
kehila there were a rabbi and four dayanim [judges], whose task
was to supervise the community's institutions: chevra kaddisha [burial
society], Talmud Torah [school], hospital fund, maoz dal (institute
for providing for the poor), providing for brides, clothing the poor, and a loan
society (a type of philanthropic society).
These institutions carried a heavy responsibility, since Będzin was a border city where refugees who had been exiled from various countries found refuge. As a result, the financial situation of the kehila was not terribly good, always needing loans in order to be able to assist the needy.
Nearby the existing synagogue there were chadarim [religious elementary
schools] and a large yeshiva. It was here that the very famous Rabbi Natan
Mitlas sat; he was also head of the yeshiva. When in the armies of the Austrian,
Maximillian, confronted Będzin in 1587, the rabbi collected a sum of fifty
ducats in order to build the city walls. Rabbi Natan passed away at the age of
105 and was buried in Zawale Street.
It should be noted that in this cemetery the famous businessmen, Shlomo Markovicz and Jonathon Smolovitz, are buried. They toiled endlessly on behalf of the kehila and represented it in the presence of King Jan Sobieski the Third.
Until 1538, the Jews dressed like the rest of the Christian community. However, in accordance with the law imposed by Piotrkow, the Jews were forced to wear berets and special yellow-colored hats.
It is difficult to determine the number of Jews living in the seventeenth century in Poland, and in Będzin in particular. Due to the high head tax, the kehila did not report the correct number of Jews, in order to avoid paying the tax, which was three guilden per person. In addition to this, there were religious and political considerations. The Jews tried to abolish the head tax and in its place establish a one-time bulk payment. Indeed, in 1590 the Polish Sejm [Polish parliament] decided to cease taking this tax and fixed an annual tax for all the Jews of Poland of 10,000 guilden.
In the second half of the eighteenth century, the Jews were already a majority in Będzin, and they ran the butchers, taverns and public houses. They also leased a beer-making factory, the flourmill, and the gardens near the fortress. It was during this period that the kehila built a new synagogue that stands to this very day [the synagogue was burned by the Nazi invaders and later completely destroyed]. In the synagogue's cellars there was a jail meant for the Jews.
The synagogue was initially renovated in 1921, and in the years 1925-26 it underwent internal decoration by the painters, Mosze Appelbaum and Shmuel Zigler, and by the sculptor, Chaim Hanft. The artistic work carried out on the synagogue was of a high standard; reproductions of this work appear in homes for the disabled in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and in the Jewish Scientific Institute (YWA).
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the following were the noblemen of the city: Herszl and Dawid Aharonowicz, Jakob Lewkowicz, Majer Szapira, Hershl Rubin, Jakob Erlich, Icchak Gitler, Szymon Londner, Lajb Zondlovicz, Wolf and Dawid Brauner.
Among questions and answers in Noadei Yahadut (First Edition, Even Ezer, question 62) it is apparent that in the year 5535 (1775) there was a rabbi by the name of Rabbi Majer working in Będzin. From other sources, it is known that his surname was Orbach.
In the chevrat kaddisha ledger it was noted that in 1765 the head gabbai [manager of synagogue affairs] was known as His Eminence Rabbi Mosze. In this same ledger, it is noted that in 1783 Rabbi Tuvia was elected and that following him came his son, Rabbi Dawid.
Following Rabbi Dawid, Rabbi Mosze Hamburger, who was the brother-in-law of admor Rabbi Elimelech Meliznesk, who served for some 30 years.
In the ledgers of chevrat tehilim [Psalms Society?] and chevrat kaddisha from the years 1807-1835, we found the signature of a teacher by the name of Menachem Nachum Rozanis, who was later elected to be the Rabbi of Będzin.
During the same period the Uterein Shlossberg cemetery, well known to Będzin residents, was dedicated. It should be noted that in the year 5591 (1831), the kehila purchased a plot from local residents for the sum of 300 guilden and an annual payment of 20 guilden. In this cemetery there are a number of gravestones that have the Polish eagle engraved upon them. The eagle symbol was engraved at the demand of the Polish community, which wanted recognize the Jews who participated and distinguished themselves in the Polish uprisings of 1831 and 1863.
In 1831, more than a hundred Jews died within two weeks from a plague that erupted in Będzin during this period or by falling in the Polish uprising.
Following the period of Rabbi Nachum Rozanis as Będzin's rabbi, Rabbi Hirsz Rozanis served for a short time but was persecuted, for reasons unknown, by some house-owners and was forced to leave the city.
After him, came Rabbi Berisz Hertziger, who passed away on the 25th of Shevat, 5606 (February, 1846) and was buried in the cemetery on Hagura Zamkowa; a tent was erected over his grave. [Today, nothing remains of this cemetery, either.]
In 5599 (1839) the famous gaon [highest rabbinical authority] and founder of the Sochachev dynasty, Rabbi Avremele Borensteyn, was born (son of the rabbi from Biala, Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf, and son-in-law of Rabbi Mendel, the rabbi from Kozak). The mother of the rabbi from Sochachev, Dabrish, was the daughter of the Będzin resident, Rabbi Mordechai Hirsz Erlich.
In the years 1807 to 1813, the Jews had limited political and civil rights. There was a law that forbade Jews from getting married without permission from the authorities. A Jew wanting to marry had to have capital of 1,000 teller, be 25 years old, and prove that his father and grandfather were residents of the city of his birth.
After part of Poland was annexed to Russia following the Vienna Congress of 1815, a law appeared forbidding non-local Jews to settle in Będzin which was located 21 km from the Austrian and German borders without permission from the authorities. Hence, Jews were forced to settle in the area around Będzin, beyond the 21 km perimeter forbidden by law for settlement.
Because of this law, the following villages belonged to the Będzin kehila: Sielce, Modrzejow, Lagisza, Gezichov, Siewierz, Strzemieszyce, Slawkow and others. In Będzin there were 2,440 Jews and 1780 Christians.
The Czar, Alexander the Second, canceled this law.
In 1867, Będzin was proclaimed a district capital and annexed to the Piotrkow region. Up until then the city had been part of the Olkusz district and the Radom region.
Statistics show that in 1880 there were 5,424 residents in Będzin, of whom 3,800 were Jews.
Today there are 50,000 residents in Będzin and its environs, of whom 24,000 are Jews.
In 1850, the rabbi from Cheradz, Rabbi Langfus, was elected as Będzin's rabbi, and a wage of 180 rubles was allocated, as were a free apartment and other expenses. Rabbi Langfus presided over the Rabbinate for 14 years and died in 1864. During his time a temple was built at a cost of 2,500 rubles. The plot on which the temple was built belonged to Wolf Feldsman, who transferred it to the kehila.
The budget for the kehila reached only 495 rubles. There were 374 Jews who owed community dues; of these, only 209 homeowners paid and the rest were exempt, since they were regarded as unable to pay.
In 1848 the following were elected to be community leaders: Isaac Bialer, Aharon Novenberg, Herszl Londner, Bendet Fischel and Ovadia Shnitzer.
In 1856 Lajb Potok filed a complaint with the governor of Radom, in which he claimed that the last dynasty of community leaders had been embezzling community funds; an investigation was undertaken, which showed that the allegation was unfounded. Potok was sued for vicious libel and unfounded accusations.
A famous trial was carried out against the chevrat kaddisha
in 1854-55; this is what occurred: A Jew from Breslav, Jakob Reichman,
drowned in the river in August 1853. When the deceased was brought for burial
in Będzin, the chevrat kaddisha staff did not take care of him, demanding
130 teller from Wenzel, the son-in-law of the deceased. Hendel Erlich received
the money and the deceased was given a Jewish burial.
This matter caused annoyance in the city; a complaint was filed with to the authorities, and the gabbaim were investigated. Hendel Erlich was ordered to repay the money to the royal treasury, but refused. The Guvernator ordered the district governor to send in an army troop, at Hendel Erlich's expense, until he returned the burial fee. The district governor approached the mayor of Będzin, who had hastened to carry out the order, since he was waiting for the outcome of two trials proceeding against the accused.
And, in fact, on the 28th of January 1855 a trial was carried out against the gabbaim of the chevrat kaddisha, who were found not guilty and released for lack of substantial evidence. The Guvernator ignored the court decision and forcefully demanded the dispatch of an army troop that would force Erlich to return the money.
In the interim, the governor passed away and the mayor was forced to send troops to the deceased's son, Dawid, who had approached the authorities and had proved that his father had reached a compromise with the son-in-law of the accused, Reichman. Thus an account was invented for the outlay for the funeral and the burial a sum of 130 teller, which was the sum stolen by his father and appropriate documents were made up.
In 1856 the mayor announced to his subordinates that the late Hendel Erlich had used the money for the burial and his son-in-law, Wenzel, had consented.
How matters developed from here is unclear, since until now we have referred to the city's ledgers. After Rabbi Langfus passed away, the kehila did not have the strength to look for a rabbi to replace him and wished to make do with a dayan, Rabbi Dawid Shlesinger, who had taught in Będzin from 1849; however, the authorities refused to allow this and demanded that a qualified rabbi be brought.
In 1865, the kehila suggested Rabbi Majer Englrad from Czekochin as the rabbi, but he passed away suddenly. In 1866 Rabbi Itchele Kimelman from Piotrkow was elected rabbi. During his period in office, the following community leaders functioned: Eliezer Rinski, Mordechai Plesner, Mosze Herman and Berisz Sztetler.
During that period Będzin began to develop rapidly, thanks to an increase in production of coal and steel, which were mined in this region. The general population numbered 24,000 people in 1897, of whom 11,000 were Jews.
Rabbi Kimelman passed away on the 30th of June 1893. Following his death, a temporary substitute was elected, the teacher Rabbi Yoshuale Telner.
On the 2nd of September 1893 Rabbi Berisz Graubart was elected as the city's rabbi. The kehila undertook to pay him 1,500 rubles annually, including 800 rubles to cover the transfer from Czedlaz to Będzin and 400 rubles to maintain a teacher in Sosnowiec, which was then considered a village belonging to the Będzin district.
In December 1893 Rabbi Yisscar Berisz Graubart took the rabbinic throne. During the period of this rabbi, who passed away in 1913, the community leaders were: Berisz Sztetler, Reuven Lever, Yoshua Lajb Weingrott, Avremel Trauper and Yiseyahu Rottner.
On the 30th of December 1913 elections were held to choose a new rabbi. There were two candidates: Rabbi Yekutiel Zalman Graubart, son of the late rabbi, and Rabbi Bronstein from Wyszgrod, who was supported by the Sochaczev Hasidim. Of the 1062 men eligible to vote, 707 voted. Rabbi Graubart was elected by a majority of votes: 478 for him and 229 for the second candidate.
Through a complaint to the authorities that the new rabbi was too young, the elections were cancelled and new elections were called for the 20th of June 1914. Once again, Rabbi Graubart received a majority of votes and was elected as rabbi, and he served in this capacity until 1920. He later travelled to America and served to this day as the Rabbi of Brooklyn (he passed away in 1942).
In 1921 Rabbi Tzvi Chanoch Lewin, of blessed memory, was elected as rabbi. (He was the brother-in-law of the admor Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter from Gur and the father of Rabbi Itche Majer Lewin, who was a Knesset member and leader of the Agudat Israel movement in Israel.) He died in 1935, and since then Będzin has remained without a rabbi.
The Aguda nominated the son of the late rabbi, Rabbi Mendel, and the Zionists elected Rabbi Grosman from Gayawa, so that Będzin gained two rabbis who were chosen by their supporters but were not lawfully elected by the kehila and not by election of the Jewish population.
This impossible situation caused constant friction and scandal in the public Jewish life of Będzin until the beginning of the war, which brought an end to the four-year-old Rabbis War.
Both rabbis who worked in the city were killed together with their people.
by Dr. Szacki
Translated by Rachel Fassler
Donated by Erin Einhorn
In 1914, I met Pinchas Szwajcer in Będzin. I heard from him certain details about his life that concerned the Rebellion of 1831. I asked him to record them and he agreed. His facts are verified by historical sources.
In the days of the Polish Rebellion of 1831 I was six years old, and the
massacres that I saw were deeply ingrained in my memory. One day an order was
decreed in our city to organize a defense group and that Jews should also
participate. After the order was given, the guard staked out the marketplace in
the city. At that time in Będzin, there lived over 300 Jewish families. I
remember that they gave the guards iron swords and with these weapons they
guarded the city streets. The guards were made up of young and old, people with
houses and homeless. It was an unforgettable picture, the Jews leaving their
businesses and studies and wandering around the city, wearing hats that said
security force. Among the Jewish guards (30) Rabbi Anczel was one
of the best. He was a very learned man, his wife was a salt trader, and the
burden of the family was placed on her. After a few weeks all of the Jews were
freed from the service, and there were rumors that it was because it had been
too expensive to keep them in. The Jews of Będzin still remember the guards,
and many families are very proud that they had Jewish soldiers in them.
by Arie Szwajcer
Translated by Rachel Fassler
Donated by Erin Einhorn
Będzin was an industrial city. Most of the Jews were involved in trade, real estate, or other trades like carpentry, sewing, painting, etc Most of them were religious, and were from two groups the Hasidim and Mitnagdim (Objectors). The Hasidim prayed in Shtiblech that were named after their rabbis, like the Hassidim of Gur, Kock, and Krimolow. Towards the holidays, they would leave their families and travel to their rabbis, where they would receive blessings and enjoy themselves. Those who returned to their homes would tell of miracles and legends, and would wait for their next trip.
The Hasidim would give the rabbi a sum of money in return for his blessing and would sit next to the rabbi at the head of the table, and even the commoners, who would bring a very small sum, were granted the same love and respect at the rabbi's table. The Mitnagdim (Objectors) would refrain from attending the classes, they shaved their beards, wore short clothes and neckties just like the non Jews. They were observant, but did not believe in the rabbis. They prayed in the big synagogue, or in the house of prayer called Daitch Shul.
The Hassidim believed that every secular book was trayfe (non kosher). Their sons would learn in the Heder and their daughters were slaves to their fathers' wishes. There were always arguments between the Mitnagdim and the Hasidim.
The rabbi of the city, Rabbi Isachar Berisz Graubart, was a smart Jew, close to the Zionists. He allowed the Zionists to speak from the podium of his shul. Those who were upset by this would always disrupt the speeches, throwing rocks and breaking windows, even destroying holy materials.
I remember that one time Rabbi Icchak Nusbaum, a known Zionist (who died in Warsaw in 1943) came to Będzin. The ultra orthodox planned to give him an unpleasant reception, as usual. When the Zionists found this out, the mitnagdim made their own preparations, and they had the upper hand. The visiting rabbi spoke without interruption.
At that time in the 20th century, Zionism became ingrained in out city, and the Zionists opened their first club and library. The principal of the school Goldschmidt was annoyed by this Zionist awakening, and forbade his students to go to the club, and if they did they would be expelled. I, one of his students, disobeyed him, and would go to the club, but the principal did not dare do anything to me for fear that his school would fall apart.
The economic situation of the Jews in Będzin was much worse than that of the Poles, who were poor working class through and through. The Polish workers lived in the suburbs in miserable conditions, because they wasted most of their salary on alcohol, and we always saw them drunk and neglecting their families. Working conditions were also very difficult. There were no laws protecting the workers in case of an accident. In the coal mines they worked 9 hours a day and in the factories they worked 12. In the battle to improve working conditions the first strike broke out in the iron factory. The demand was an 8 hour work day and minimal social benefits. When the strikers went to the market on their march, their way was blocked by Cossacks on horses carrying guns. They were told to disperse, but the strikers did not. One of them went up on the well in the center of the city, bared his chest, and declared Shoot me! You will never be able to stop us from fighting those who are sucking us dry! Workers, we will continue to march. We are marching they answered. The parade went forward, and nobody tried to stop them.
The Jewish worker who worked in different places was also taken advantage of. He had a 16 hour work day. There were even cases of abuse. It is no wonder the socialists' idea to improve their working conditions influenced the Jews. I still remember that in the Jewish street in Będzin there were those who blackmailed the poorest workers and instilled fear in everyone. All of the workers unions united against these people and fought back and won control back from these people.
I remember that once on Simchat Torah, the local Rabbi Graubart led dancing and singing from the synagogue to his house. Jewish workers joined in the festivities, singing of how they would be freed from their terrible conditions, and the celebration turned into a Socialist rally. People wanted to call the police, but the Rabbi stopped them. Instead he told them to sing louder.
Alongside the 2 socialist parties that were not Jewish Iskrah and P.P.S that were in the city, the socialist Bund movement was also established, whose motto was there is no redemption for the Jews except in their homeland, and they only had to remove the foreign government from this world and then the Jews would be redeemed. This way not everyone would have to move to Israel, which was an unrealistic idea anyway.
After the seventh Zionist congress in 1905, which divided the Zionists into Territorialists and Israelis, 2 parties rose up in our city Zionist Socialists, who believed that they needed to aquire an autonomous land for the Jews in order to have a socialist society, and the Poalei Zion (Workers of Zion). Both tried to capture the support of the Jewish worker, and often used quite underhanded and dirty methods to do so.
Towards the May 1 celebrations, Poalei Zion prepared to participate in the
general parade, although the members of the Zionist Socialists were opposed to
having Zionist slogans in the parade. The matter was given over to the P.P.S.
to decide, and one Christian student, Lucien Stank, who was one of the leaders
of P.P.S., decided in favor of Poalei Zion, because every enslaved nation must
try to gain freedom and independence in the land of their forefathers.
So, this was the first time that Jewish workers marched in the May 1st parade in the city hand in hand with Polish workers, waving their flag and their Zionist slogans.
Every Zionist movement was illegal. Out of fear of the police, activities were not carried out in the clubs because they were in the middle of the city, but in Bursaot, places where they would argue and attract new members.
The actions taken to improve working conditions were becoming greater and greater. Very often strikes broke out for salary raises or lessening working hours. The group even managed to reach the army and distribute a special pamphlet with revolutionary rhetoric that called for breaking out of the slavish living conditions. The workers in those days were indeed very brave.
In some industries conditions were improved, such as carpentry, but in the seamstress industry nothing changed, because it did not really require much special training to be in this profession. However, eventually conditions improved here as well, and this victory strengthened the support for the Poalei Zion party.
One day somebody came to us from the revolutionary tribunal, a messenger whose name I cannot remember, and he was caught by the city authorities and tortured to death. His corpse was not given over to his friends, and he was buried in an unknown place by the authorities. This terrible event aroused anger in the workers, who vowed revenge. The local revolutionary court decreed that there should be an increase in terror against the authorities. So, here and there were found government workers injured and dead, including Kelges Jakobik, who was a completely uncivilized, anti-Semite who was always committing unspeakable acts.
This is how it happened. One Sabbath, when the Jews were in synagogue praying, Jakobik walked through the streets and when he arrived at the Polish school he was hit by a bomb dropped from the roof of Chaim Dawid Rozenblum's house. The bomb blasted his body and his limbs flew everywhere. The bomber, a Polish student, ran away to the church. Of course this created a situation in the city, and the Cossacks went wild on their horses, trying to find the bomber. The army and police were roaming the streets and shooting everywhere. The Jews were pulled out of synagogue wrapped in their talit for questioning, but were freed for lack of evidence against them. On the same Black Sabbath of 1906 some of the inhabitants of the city were killed. Bystanders reported that the bomber was tall, wore blue glasses and had a red beard. After searching, the glasses were found and so was the red beard, but the bomber managed to get away. Nobody would betray his identity. Everywhere in the country people heard about what had happened in Będzin.
The situation went on for a week. People were afraid to leave their homes. The Jews who had to go out of their homes to work were spared when the police saw their Tzizit, because they assumed that they were not socialists.
The workers continued trying to overthrow the ruling party. There were many strikes and riots. The government did not want any more trouble so they gave in to the demands. However, the workers did not believe the government's promises and refrained from participating in the first Russian Election of 1906. The people that did vote assumed that the Russian parliament would stand for freedom and equality. 12 Jewish representatives were elected to the first Duma, but after a few months this number lessened by the Czar Nicholai II.
The Jewish socialist parties also boycotted and disrupted the elections. I remember the Norodova Democratic Party in Będzin, made up of respected members of the city gathered in the Dem Polsky hall to take part in the elections. Suddenly they heard an explosion and all of the people ran for their lives. The Poalei Zion members had taken part in this explosion, and one of them now lives in Israel.
At the same time, a suspicious group of people from Poalei Zion gathered in the
studying place of the Hasidim of Gur (Gerer Shtibl), located on a side street.
Somebody stood guard at the entrance to warn the members in case of police. In
the middle of the guest's speech, Jakob Kaner, who came especially for this
meeting, there were knocks at the door and calls in Russian Open
up! The lights were turned off and the door was forced open by the
police. The people started to disperse, and jumped out of windows in order to
The police and soldiers that surrounded the building shot left and right, but
it was completely dark outside, and the people managed to escape to the
cemetery, and from there, once the shooting stopped, they managed to get to
their homes. It was later discovered that this uproar had been caused by a
rival group telling the police about the meeting, and this was considered a
valid way to fight the political war.
And so, some of my friends and I decided to make aliyah, but how were we to do
this when we had no money? I was dependent on my parents, who thought that I
would be going to a desert filled with alligators, snakes and scorpions. I
refrained from all pleasures in order to save money, and as I started to save,
my hopes grew.
When the first group from Będzin was organized to make aliyah to Israel (Eliezer Hampel and his sisters, Malka and Rachel Sara Blatt, brothers Szlomo and Dawid Sznajderman, Chana Sznajderman Arieli, Josef Kluznicki (Arieli), Mosze Sztajnfeld-Shoham, and myself), my friends refused to include me because they were afraid that I, being the youngest, would not survive in Israel's climate and difficult conditions.
My family fears started to influence me, and from the minute that I knew my friends would not take me, I became even more passionate about going. Without my parents' knowledge, I obtained a border pass to cross the border, thanks to a small correction in my passport and a bribe. I left what was most dear to me, my flesh and blood, and without saying goodbye to my parents, with one ambition; to start a new life. I crossed the German border and continued on to Vienna. My brother in law, who secretly followed me, upon realizing there was no stopping me, gave me quite a large amount of money. We parted, and from then on I did not see him or my family, who died in the Holocaust.
When I arrived in Vienna, I went to the Zionist Union to discuss my aliyah. They did not really believe my intentions because I looked so young, and they tried to convince me that my time would come. They told me that the ship Mariah Teresa was about to set sail for Trieste, Italy on its way to Israel.
I arrived in Trieste, and to my surprise I met my friends from Będzin, who had left some time before me, but this time I was accepted in their ranks. The boat sounded its horn and sailed towards the Mediterranean. After a few days we arrived in Port Said, Egypt. Here we got off the boat and continued on a small boat to Jaffa. This trip which lasted one night was the worst because the sea was so rough. We were thrown from side to side and threw up the entire trip.
With the dawn's light we came closer to Israel, and saw Jaffa from afar. Did we really arrive in the land we had so dreamed about? Little boats sailed towards us to bring us to shore. The port workers, polite people, all Arabs, came up and grabbed the boat. We grabbed on and went into the boats with our stuff. I had the feeling that I was diving into the depths of the sea, but I peacefully reached land. My eyes lit up and my face glowed to see the land of my fathers, my homeland.
These events that I have spoken about took place 50 years ago. From then on,
Będzin, my birthplace, that I was used to seeing, dreams past and memories of
my childhood, was and is no more.
by Jakob Lasker
(Memories from 40 years ago)
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
Even during the period that the borders were closed because of World War One, seven boys from Bedzin came together: Iser Birencwajg-Beeri (died in Israel), Israel Openhajm (Haifa), Kuba Zmigrod (Germany), Icchak Handelsman-Knani, Sender Lubling, Dawid Majteles (killed) and the writer of this article and decided to answer an internal voice in our hearts, to path our way to the Land of Israel in the manner we were educated in Hechalutz.
It is clear, that this matter was carried out in complete secrecy, and our parents didn't know about this, since they were against our aliyah that seemed to them as an exploit in those wild days, in a world that was in flames.
However in spite of all the conspiracy the matter was known about in the town and our families were caused embarrassment. One of the mothers, Mrs. Birencwajg, chased after and caught up with us, whilst we were in L'viv [Lwów / Lemberg] and brought her son back. We stayed, however, the six who weren't deterred and continued onwards.
We left the warm home of our fathers and mothers and left the town on foot on the 30th of October 1918. In our sacks we took with a few clothes and food, and began walking by foot in the direction of the town of Szczakowa [Chrzanów], that was on the border between the occupied Austrian region in Poland and Austria.
Thanks to the efforts of a man from our town, Majer Klajman, we crossed the border with the assistance of smugglers in exchange for 100 Krones. On that same evening we were on the fast train going to L'viv.
When we reached Kraków we learned, that an uprising against the Austrians had broken out and in the railway station we saw Polish legionnaires, pupils and students dressed in civilian clothes, armed, taking away weapons from the Austrian soldiers.
The next day we reached Przemyśl, however here we learned, that the train wouldn't continue on, since the Ukrainians had conquered the area between Przemyśl and L'viv.
Our spirits were perturbed, however through lack of choice we were delayed in the town, and we sought advice on how to get through the blockade and break a way through for ourselves.
In the town there was great panic, without an organized administration, the Austrian army food warehouses were looted by the hungry masses. Shots were heard from every direction and it was dangerous to walk the streets, which were mainly deserted.
We approached the Tze'irei Zion [Young Zionists] party there and requested
their assistance, however they didn't respond, since they didn't have any way
of helping us because of the situation that had evolved. We then approached the
rabbi of the town, Rabbi Gedalia Szmelkes zl. After he had heard about
our mission he received us warmly and with complete understanding.
|The three first pioneers of the Third Aliyah
Standing: Israel Openhajm (Haifa) and
David Majteles (died in the Holocaust)
The next day we walked to the railway station to try our luck, to possibly find a way of extracting ourselves from this situation and continue on our way. And indeed, luck shone upon us. Exactly then a transport train stopped that was carrying Russian prisoners of war, completely full, where even the roofs were taken up by civilians,
In a hope that we would be able to make a way for ourselves, each of us jumped on a carriage that we happened upon. The Ukrainians fired at the train whilst it was going along and many were killed by bullets as they jumped off the roofs, in order to save themselves.
Since we, the six, were separated from each other, none of us knew of the fate of his friends. Only after we reached the last station in the town of Zimna Woda, near L'viv did all of us reunite, safe and sound.
The train stopped here and we continued on by foot to L'viv, where a battle between the Poles and the Ukrainians was taking place. We found ourselves in the Ukrainian zone and they arrested us. We were gripped with fear, lest they imprison us in the jail, or send us back to our homes. Since on our caps (Polish school caps where we studied) the Eagle symbol was glued, the Polish symbol, the Ukrainians suspected us of espionage. When they searched our clothes, they found a Ukrainian map with one of us, and this increased their suspicion. We were then led to the army headquarters and interrogated. Luckily for us there were several letters of recommendation from the renown Dr. Bikles (now in Israel), who was at the time a medical officer in the Austrian army, that were intended for several people which included amongst them the late Dr. Leon Rajch. When we were asked what the meaning was of these letters we explained, that we were Zionists going to the Land of Israel. We were released and were attached to the Jewish defense for keeping the peace in the Jewish quarter. We were in the militia around ten days, and through this we received an embarkation permit from the Ukrainian authorities to continue on our way to Odessa.
And indeed, after several days of drifting on foot, in wagons and a train, we arrived in Odessa, and here as well there was a complication, since the Germans were planning to leave the city, since the Bolshevik army had overcome it. We approached members of the Zionist organization for assistance, however they were not very enthusiastic, since they didn't believe that there was a likelihood of continuing on to the Land of Israel under these circumstances.
Therefore, we approached Ushiskin personally, who would assist us with good advice and receiving a permit to sail by ship to Constantinople, however he also explained to us, that he wasn't able to help, since it wasn't a good time to make aliyah and pressured us to go back entirely. When he was convinced, that we stubbornly stood by our views and weren't leaving there, Ushiskin sent us a sum of money several days later for the expenses along the way and for the ship ticket, however this time we refused to receive money from him
Whilst wandering the streets we met several Land of Israel people and we joined with them and they promised that they would also take care of us and at the first opportunity we would sail together with them. How great was our delight!
When the poet Chaim Nachman Bialik learned, that several pioneers from Bedzin which he had known about from the several years he had settled in Sosnowiec, he came to Odessa, invited us to visit him, and were warmly received and made welcome. He supported our idea and treated us kindly and thus raised our spirits and encouraged us.
And indeed, we waited patiently, and after several days the Land of Israel people informed us, that there was an opportunity to sail to Constantinople, they took care of all the required documentation for us and we boarded the ship called Tiger, that was sailing for Turkey.
After four days we reached Constantinople and we approached, on reaching there, the Zionist organization, in a place where we met many Jews from the Land of Israel, exiled by Jamal Facha [head of the Turkish army in the Land of Israel].
We were delayed there for about ten days. The Zionist organization took care of the aliyah of the Land of Israel people, and including us. We were glad that there was no border to cross when we finally boarded the ship. We sailed in a transport ship, in which the conditions were very poor. The meal, which we received once a day, was a moldy slice of bread, cheese and olives that we couldn't eat. Diseases broke out in the ship because of the poor sanitary conditions, and when we arrived in Jaffa (December 12th, 1918) after 13 days of travel I was taken to the Hadassah hospital, in Tel Aviv, sick with typhoid, and lay there for more than a month.
We were received affectionately in the Land of Israel, we were all happy, and parties were organized for us and in the newspapers it was written, that we were the six from Bedzin and we were like a swallow announcing a large aliyah, to the land that was so yearned for after the destruction and dispersion, that was caused as a result of the war and the hostile Turkish administration.
We were sent by the Poalei Hatzair [Young Workers] party to the kvutzot
[collective farmstead] of Degania and Kinneret.
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
On the desolate Jaffa beach once again there is life and activity: A French steam ship is anchored beyond the rocks and a blue and white flag is fluttering on his flag post, and from the ship Jews are disembarking, familiar faces, that the fate of time has flung them and dispersed them to every place and corner. And here they are assembling, coming together, returned like doves to their chimneys; and amongst those returning there are also new faces, youths, almost children, that the influence of their distant homeland is still on their faces and on their clothes.
From Bedzin they came, from a Poland presently in disarray, from the chaos of the shuffling of administrations. They made aliyah and found their way to the Land of Israel; they came as pioneers. They were members of the pioneering organization Tze'irei Zion [Youth of Zion], labored for a year in working the land, preparing themselves for aliyah. When they heard, that in the Land of Israel everything was ready there, they said to themselves: Are we here at present, in Bedzin, in the predatory teeth of the Polish people? Lets make aliyah!
And they made aliyah. They were six friends. They left Bedzin for Austria. They crossed the borders of countries in turmoil and fighting, they reached Przemyśl, from there they wanted to go to L'viv but couldn't find a train, the way was halted. In Przemyśl the Poles were in control and in L'viv the Ukrainians, and they walked on foot for six kilometers. They reached L'viv at night. Part of the city was still under the control of the Poles and a unit of the Polish Legion delayed them. By various ruses they were released, crossed over to a different street and here a unit of the Ukrainian Legion stopped them. They were arrested, their pockets searched and membership cards of Tze'irei Zion were found. The officer in charge of the unit was familiar with the Star of David on the card, that they were Zionists and let them go.
In L'viv they joined the Jewish militia, which existed there and worked in it for ten days, after which they received permission from the Ukrainian government to travel onwards. Zionist activists in every place looked at them as if they were crazy, however they continued on their way with great stubbornness. From L'viv onwards they once again went by foot, when there wasn't a train, and when they finally reached a railway station, they were trains loaded with Russian prisoners of war, who were returning home, each of them traveled on a train and they met up again at one of the stations. When they reached Odessa after many adventures, they went to U. (the implication is to Ushiskin the copywriter), who had heard about them, since he was elected as a Land of Israel minister.
He looked at them with astonished eyes:
How did you get here? Where do you want to go to? To the Land of Israel, are you crazy, there is no way! They requested from him that he endeavor to obtain a permit to travel to Kostau [Kostów] from the Ukrainian government, however he didn't want to hear anything about this, saying that there was no way of traveling.
However they obtained this option by themselves, they obtained a permit and traveled. On reached Kostau they met with English people that were already there, and a number of days later they received an opportunity to travel to the Land of Israel between the exiles.
This is only an abstract of this long and wonderful story.
(Ha'aretz Veha'avoda [The Land and Labor], 5th of Shevat, 5679 [6th January
|Part of the northern wall of the synagogue,
painted by Apelbaum and Cygler
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