by Dr. N. M. Gelber
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
The town of Będzin is located on the Czarna Przemsza River, a tributary of the Wisła [Vistula; Weichsel] in the Dąbrowa-Górnicza mine basin.
During the period of Kazimierz the Great [Casimir III the Great], 65 new towns were established in Poland, half of them by the king himself, a nobles quarter by aristocrats and a church quarter. Będzin (Będzyn, Bendzin)was also amongst the new towns established by the king, who in 1358 granted it German rule and privilege (Przywilej lokacyjny) as a Burggraf [burgrave; a count of a castle or fortified town] served as Verneo. The first town leader (Wojt) in the same year received lands with two gardens, a materials store, meat and shoes in exchange for a commitment that he would participate in each war under the command of the king on a fine horse (dicendi quo) and equipped with armor, a helmet, and weapons.
In the 14th and 15th century the residents of Silesia often attacked neighboring Będzin, looting and plundering its residents. Being that it was a border settlement, a fortress wall was erected in it in 1364. In 1434 negotiations took place here, to put an end to these assaults. Chancellor Zbigniew Olszyński and the king's advisors met together with Silesian representatives the princes Mikołaj Raciborski, Wacław Cieszyński and Wacław Oświęcimski, and after discussions that went on for several days a peace agreement was signed.
In 1464 Będzin received from Kazimierz the Fourth, the privilege to maintain salt warehouses, according to which each wagon driver transporting salt from Silesia had to stay over in Będzin for three days and sell salt there.
Being that it was located close to an intersection of trade routes the town developed quickly: in 1540 there were already 800 residents in it and 100 residential buildings.
Men who carried out a survey in 1564 report that the butchers gave 24 stones of milk: 16 bakers each paying 5 pennies: 10 boot makers each paying 4 pennies. A cellar bringing in 2 grzywny, beer making 2 grzywny: the wooden articles and clay shopkeepers pay market fees of 2 grzywny for 5 markets: drink fees of 1 penny are paid for each barrel of beer of Wrocław [Breslau] manufacture. Leasing fees from the bridge bring in 125 marks to the palace.
During the Zygmunt's kingdoms, Będzin was one of the towns with commodity warehouses, and in 1565 as a market town it received concessions and vast liberties. Traders from abroad came to Będzin and in particular from Breslau and would sell commodities from abroad and bought commodities in Poland.
In 1545 King Zygmunt the First rescinded the commitments to place the town at the behest of the king, his entourage and his clerks, and all those traveling by order of the authorities, and the cavalry at a fixed price, since the town complained to him of the difficulties involved in fulfilling this commitment.
In the 16th century the Arians in the town grew stronger in the town and confiscated the church for themselves, which had already been built in 1365. The Catholics built a new church for themselves; however, after the Arians were wiped out they received the old church back.
On the 9th of March 1589 an agreement was signed in Będzin between Poland and Austria, according to which Zygmunt the Third was crowned as king of Poland. The Archduke Maximilian, brother of Emperor Rudolf the Second, relinquished any claim to the Polish throne and was released from his imprisonment in the Krasnystaw Palace.
At the end of the 16th century a wide range of marketing in beef, poultry products and oil took place from Będzin to Silesia.
During the Polish-Swedish War Będzin suffered greatly and was almost completely destroyed. The Sejm decided to re-establish the town being that it was an important border town.
In 1660 a survey report determined that the palace and its rooms were destroyed. The town had no weavers, since all of them had run away as a result of hostile activities. There were also no salt suppliers, and everyone bought lumps of salt in Wieliczka. There were 2 butchers, and they paid a tax of 10 stones of milk. The furriers do not pay royal taxes. There are 3 boot makers, and each of them pays 4 pennies; all the bakers pay 3 gulden. At present in town there are no metal-workers, barrel-makers, wagon-drivers, wood craftsmen. According to testimony, the municipalities collect 12 pennies from the wagon-drivers and allow them to travel with the salt without staying over in the town, in contradiction to the privilege.
According to the report of 1673 there were 40 houses in the town with 346 residents.
On his way to Vienna, to defend her from the Turks, Jan Sobieski passed through
Będzin on the 20th of August 1683 with his wife Maria Kazimria and ate
lunch with General Karafa, who came to request that he hasten his journey to
In 1789, the last Polish survey was carried out during the period of Stanisław Mieroszewski, according to which 27 gulden and 15 pennies were collected from the town for land taxes, 300 gulden marketing tax from the Catholic residents, 3 gulden from the bakers, 3 gulden from the boot-makers, from the fisherman 24 gulden in exchange for rights to fish in the Przemsza, 3274 gulden rent from the brewery, 576 gulden from the Starosta mills, 253 gulden from the Jewish butchers, 700 gulden from the kehila, 54 gulden from the Jews for the rent of a palace vegetable garden, 339 gulden and 4 pennies for hay in the meadow, in total 5953 gulden and 29 pennies. According to this report the forests near the town were completely neglected. The forest near the border was also in such a state that trees could not be cut down there.
In the same period the houses in the town were built of wood. Only around the palace was the town surrounded by a wall.
In the years 1795-1808 Będzin together with the whole region subject to the Prussian regime and belonged to the Siewierz district. During the Congress Poland period Będzin was included in the Olkusz district Województwo Radom.
During the Warsaw Princedom period Będzin belonged to the Siewierz district, and later to the Pilica district and in 1813 to the Olkusz district.
The development of the town began in the first quarter of the 19th century, when the Polish authorities began taking interest in the utilization of the natural resources: quarries, coal and minerals. Coal mines were found between Będzin and Strzyżów in Grodziec and they began working them. In 1817 brick-kilns were established in order to erect zinc foundries. During the same period import offices were established in Będzin.
In 1863 Będzin was declared a border town, being in the border region of 21 verst, and it was forbidden for Jews to settle in it without a special permit from the government. This prohibition was cancelled in 1867.
In 1827 there were 256 houses and 2,254 residents in the town.
The residents of Będzin took an active part in the Polish Uprising in the years 1830-31.
In the years 1831-57 a degeneration began in the town in all walks of life, social and financial. In 1858 a drastic change took place with the laying of the Ząbkowice-Sosnowiec railway line trade dealings were renewed. In the same year there were 361 houses in the town, of which 121 were mansions, and the number of residents reached 4,140 people.
When the Uprising broke out in 1873 a large percentage of Polish youth were conscripted to the rebel units. In the area around the town there were battles between the rebels and the Russians.
In 1867 Będzin was included as the district town of the Piotrków region.
In the eighteen-seventies there was a considerable advance in the financial development of the town. Apart from government zinc foundries, whose output reached 105,000 pud in 1877, a brick making factory was established. A large portion of the residents were employed in the Ksabri coalmine, near the town; the output from 29 mines rose to 50,000 pud.
As early as 1860 there were 6 workshops for cotton products that employed 19 people.
In 1860 the number of residents rose to 6,090 people and the number of houses to 365, of which 140 were mansions. In the same year the output of the zinc foundries grew. In 1890 there were 9,222 residents, and in 1897 2,375 residents; and in the whole region 244,443 residents.
In Będzin, in which, as was said, there were coalmines, industries developed, the metal industry, in particular steel, cables and bindings from steel and zinc wire, chemical industries, building materials, ceramics and textiles, and at the beginning of the 20th century it already served as a industrial and wholesale trade center and employed a considerable number of laborers and workers.
In 1905 Będzin served as a Polish and Jewish socialist center in revolutionary activities against the Russian authorities.
There were marked changes in the configuration of the town during the World War I period with the inclusion of the villages of Małobądź, Gzichów, Brzozowica, that increased the jurisdiction of the town of Będzin.
After World War One an expansion of the steel companies and with them the metallurgy industry, in which the Jewish industrialists played an important role, in particular the processing of zinc and steel, cable manufacture, screws, nails, copper wires; and also the chemical industry and paints, in particular buttons for the clothing industry, that expanded greatly during the years 1924-31 in Zagłębie.
During the years 1939-44 Będzin was occupied by the Nazis, who called it
The Jewish settlement
Traveling Jewish traders came to the Zagłębie region as early as the 10th century, not as settlers, but as buyers of products from the region in exchange for commodities they brought with them. In the 11th and 12th century refugees from Czechoslovakia arrived, who had run away from there because of severe persecution that was carried out on the Jews. However, it is difficult to determine if they established permanent settlements or continued on into Poland.
In 1226 Jewish families settled in a number of places, like Siewierz, Czeladź, Pilica. Stable Jewish settlement in fact only began in the 14th century, after the granting of patronage by King Kazimierz the Great in 1368. During these years Jewish settlements were established in Siewierz, Wolbrom, Olkusz and also parts of Silesia. The initial Jewish settlement in Będzin began in the second half of the 15th century.
In 1453 King Kazimierz the Fourth (1447-92), following efforts by Jews from
Będzin, granted a privilege to the Zaglembian
according to this status the Jews were subject to the royal rule and its
representatives the Wojewoda or the Starosta, and subject to their
The Jews situation improved from a legal standpoint after the granting of patronage by King Stefan Batory [István Báthory / Stephen Báthory], according to which they were entitled to live anywhere and the Jewish traders were comparable with the Christians. In 1584 Będzin there was already a house near the Roses square owned by the Jew Jósek, and in 1584 there was a second Jewish home owner Jakob. In 1587 a Jew, Jakob-Baruch, bought in the town from the Christian, Marcin Raciborski, and a Jewess, Roza Abrahaman, bought a house with a beer brewery together with a dwelling from Marcin Sieniawski for 700 gulden.
In 1593 the Jew, Marek Wawrzyniec Warmuz bought a house behind the palace.
During this period the number of Jewish homeowners grew in the various streets of the town and also at the center of town, like Icchak Zalman, Roza Lewkowa, Icek (Icchak) Markowicz, Abram Majerowicz, Jakob and Josef Abramowicz, and others. From this we learn that the Jews were entitled to live and trade in the center of the town.
The Jews also assisted in defending the town against the enemy. When in 1587 the armies of Maximilian the Austrian threatened the town, the rabbi Reb Natan Majteles, who ran the yeshiva in the town, collected fifty ducats from amongst the Jews and passed them on to the Starosta of the palace as a donation of the Jews to fortify and reinforce the walls of the town.
In 1592 King Zygmunt the Third ordered the city council to defend the Jews in Będzin from attacks and to look after their rights that had been given them. The Jews built a wooden synagogue near the walls of the town and a cemetery that was in use till 1831. The cemetery also served the villages in the area: Milowice, Sielce, Tychy [Tichau], Chorzów, Bytom. The cemetery was allocated from municipal land and the town paid a tithe to the church, and the kehila had to pay a special tax to the church for each deceased person a burial tax. More than once arguments broke out on this background between the kehila and the local church priest, and even reached court cases, such that in the case that began in 1687 and continued on till 1695, the burial tax for the kehila was cancelled.
Over time the rights of the Jews were restricted in regards to settling in the city center. From an organizational-physical point of view their situation was similar to that of Polish Jewry; they paid the same taxes and levies that were imposed on the Jews in general, and in addition to this there were certain payments to the town, to the clergy and so on.
Within the framework of Jewish autonomy, Będzin belonged to the Kraków-Sandomierz State Committee, and according to this it was included in the Kraków district together with the communities of Olkusz, Chrzanów, Wiśnicz, Sanc, Bobowa, Pilica, Oświęcim, Wolbrom. The relationship between the Jews of Będzin and those in Kraków was very close. Mutual matchmaking was a regular event. The kehila leaders in Kraków had family and relatives in Będzin. They once refused to receive books from Kraków printing presses and this was how it went:
In 1534 the printers, Szmul Aszer and Elijahu Bnei Chaim from Halitz, opened a printing press and published: Sha'arei Doresh and Merkevet Hamishna for Reb Anszel, 2 volumes of Torim for Aszer Ben Jechiel and two volumes of machzorim [prayer books]. During the printing of these they were forced into converting into Christianity by the Cardinal Gamart. When the Jewish public learned of their conversion to Christianity, they refused to purchase the books from the printing house. At their request, King Zygmunt the First compelled the kehila leaders, by a decree of the 31st of December 1539, to buy their books, and 3,350 copies for the sum of 1,680 gulden. On this background, the issue led to a clash with the book sellers who came from Kraków, the books were confiscated and incinerated.
In their difficulty struggle for rights for the kehila, the leaders in
Będzin would always confront the leaders in Kraków and together
they would lobby for their communities. Thus it occurred in 1666 in the issue
of the Asignets. in covering the costs of the army in its war against the
Swedes, when the government imposed a levy on the Jews. In the light of the
assaults and clashes on the part of the army, the Four Lands Council decided to
extract a levy all at once, and to this end it received from the king's
secretary, Kazimier Kowalkowski, a loan to the sum of 26,000 gulden. This sum
was drafted from the kehilot, however the payment was not cancelled. Then the
Four Lands Council publicized on the 3rd of May 1666 an announcement to the
Jews of Poland, that if the debt for 26,000 gulden wasn't paid, Kowalkowski
would be entitled to steal, kidnap, to arrest and to place in jail, publicly
and also privately, we and all the Jews located in the Kingdom of Poland, that
is to say at fairs, markets, on roads and in our homes. Thus (he would be
entitled) to confiscate our merchandise, to lock up synagogues everywhere, to
confiscate homes and put Christians in them and whoever they wanted and hold
onto them till a full payment was made.
This caused an outburst by the Jews
of Będzin, so much so that the town police were brought in. The major,
Israel Salamonowicz, was removed from this position and exiled with his family
from the town.
In 1685 the lobbyists, Szlomo Markowicz and Jonaten Szmuelowicz, managed to receive a kehila privilege from King Jan Sobieski the Third.
Regional committee meetings took place during this period in the main in Wodzisław, Pińczów and Stopnica.
At the end of the 17th century disputes and court cases broke out between Kraków and the branches that had brought about the decision in 1692 the Four Lands Council that Kraków would constitute a special administrative unit. In place of Kraków six small kehilot were prominent Pińczów, Wodzisław, Olkusz, Szydłów and Chądzyny, however prolonged disputes also broke out between them.
Będzin was already a well known commercial center, to which traders came from outside and arranged their businesses. Będzin Jews were in commercial contact with Silesia and Germany. Amongst the visitors to the fairs in Leipzig a Jewish trader, Mosze Bendiner, from Będzin was also prominent, who visited the fair there in 1695. A considerably larger number of Jews visited the fairs in Breslau in the years 1685-96. In 1685 alone amongst the visitors four Jews from Będzin were recorded and they were: Szlomo Juda, Jakob Markus, Mosze Gerstel, Jakob Szymonowicz, and in 1696 Herszl Benjamin. Apart the aforementioned, Hersz from Będzin was located in Wrocław [Breslau] and dealt in the sale of citrons for the Jews of Poland and by this interfered with Mathias Werling from Zolkawa, who dealt by virtue of a privilege that he had received from King Jan Sobieski the Third, in agreement with Jewish leaders of our kingdom (the Four Lands Council) to bring citrons to the Jews of Poland. King Sobieski requested in a letter of the 11th of March 1693 from the Wrocław council, that it protect Mathias Werling from the Jew from Będzin by the name of Hersz living in Wrocław and interfering with his business.
Jews from Będzin leased estates and beer breweries in the Kraków environs. It is known to us that in 1688 Hersz Wolfowicz from Będzin leased the beer brewery in Grabowiec, that was owned by the Starosta, Count Raswicz from Będzin. When Hersz refused to renew the lease agreement for the coming year, the Starosta took all his belongings to the palace, and when that didn't help the Starosta arrested and jailed him in the palace dungeons for a number of weeks. Hersz was also accused of theft, and in spite of the fact that the court acquitted him, the Starosta refused to release him, till he promised not to appeal against him in court. Under pressure, Hersz leased the beer brewery for a further year, and when the contract expired once again, he was arrested once again by the Starosta, who wanted to force him to renew the contract however, Hersz managed to escape and his wife and children were then arrested.
In the 17th century there was a fully organized kehila and the social life spurred the Jewish public to aid and mutual help. In the seventies the Chevrat Kaddisha [burial society] was founded. From its ledger we learn about the varied activities amongst members of the society and for the general public. It filled its tasks in the mitzva of Chevrat Kaddisha, however maintained discipline and the morality of its members so much so, that a member was expelled (in 1767) for expressing himself in unprintable words.
Up until the first quarter of the 19th century apart from the Chevrat Kaddisha, that was connected with the Bikur Cholim [Visting the sick] as in the other kehilot, there was a society that maintained the Maoz Ladal Talmud Torah [ultra-orthodox junior school], a Hachnasat Kalah [Providing for the bride], a Malbish arumim [Dressing the poor], and also a philanthropic fund Halvaot chen [Amiable loans]. These societies acted under the supervision of the kehila. Apart from these societies the kehila also took care of education, and provided not only chadarim [religious primary schools] but also a renown yeshiva [seminary], that was run by the yeshiva leaders and its rabbis.
Of the rabbis before the 19th century Reb Natan Majtles is well known, who filled an important position in the 16th century in the community life as well. He passed away at the age of 105. The names of rabbis that served in the kehila rabbinate after him in the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th century are not known. In the 1860's according to the Chevrat Kaddisha ledger Rabbi Reb Mosze served in the rabbinical throne, who was elected in 1765 to president of the gabbai'im [beadles], and after him Rabbi Reb Majer served as the rabbi of Będzin, who was a great Torah scholar, and exchanged letters with the rabbi in Prague Reb Jechezkel Landau known as Noda beyehuda [famous in Judea]. In 5535 (1775), a strange incident occurred in Będzin. The son of a rich family who was not yet twelve years old was matched to the daughter of a scholar and his father gave him a dowry, and the wedding also took place before he had reached the age of twelve, and this young boy blessed the young woman under a chupa [canopy used at Jewish weddings] and with the customary blessings, but they didn't consummate the marriage at all, because the boy was not yet twelve years old. In the meantime altercations and quarrels broke out and the young woman didn't want him. Rabbi Reb Majer and the Bet Din [rabbinical court] approached Rabbi Reb Jechezkel Landau with a question, if the girl wanted could receive a get [divorce] from him. On the 4th of Elul 5535 (1775) Rabbi Landau replied to him and began with a flowery phrase: [untranslatable]. In regards the question he decided on the basis of halacha [Jewish Law] interpretations that, in general, the girl could get married again without a get.
Following Reb Majer, Reb Towja served as rabbi in the 1780's and after him from 1784 1796 his son Reb Dawid served. From 1796 to 1816 Reb Mosze Hamburger sat on the rabbinical throne.
There was no change in the economic situation of the Jews. The main occupation
of the Jews was national retail and wholesale trade.
In the lists of visitors to the Leipzig and Wrocław [Breslau] fairs there were no longer Będzin traders. The overseas Polish wholesale was transferred in the 18th century to the Jews of Kraków, Kielce, Lublin, Brzeziny, and Brody.
The leasing of wineries and beer breweries, mills, and also the trade of the agricultural produce remained in the hands of the Jews. In the town they also dealt in the planting of fruit trees and the growing of vegetables, and they leased pastures from the Starosta. In 1775 they paid a lease of 54 gulden. They also leased the hay harvested in the Starosta fields in exchange for an annual fee of 339 gulden. These were also the same sums according the summary report of 1789.
We only know about a head tax from the year 1717 and it was for a total of 442 gulden and 6 pennies. Apart from taxes, every year the kehila paid the Starosta an annual sum of 700 gulden, the Jewish butchers 253 gulden. As early as the 17th century the kehila paid this sum (700 gulden) to the Starosta as protection money (the protection money was called: tymtowe) for tolerance towards the Jews, and this was apart from the rent paid by the lessees.
In the [second] half of the 18th century there was already a large settlement in the town. Będzin was associated with the Opatów (Apta) area under the framework of the Sandomierz regional committee. In the period between 1746 and1754 the Sandomierz regional committee met for seven sittings. In fact we know of three: In Opatów, Dabrowa and Stopnica. The situation of the Sandomierz regional committee went downhill so much so, that the representatives of the towns and villages approached the Wojewoda [Voivode] Jan Wielopolski with a complaint concerning extortion, irregularities in tax management, money squandered, loan making on the part of the rabbis and town leaders; also the illegal appointment of rabbis as town leaders. Thus, for example, the regional committee paid an annual interest of 15,510 gulden. On the basis of the complaints, the Wojewoda assembled a sitting of the regional committee (congress), in the presence of 2 commissars, in Stopnica on the 6th of September 1754, that continued to the 13th of the month. At this assembly it was determined that the listing of the tax that the kehilot collected from the production of brandy, beer and mead weren't transferred to the government.
Będzin together with its branches had to put in 40 gulden in 1754 and also the sum of 6 gulden given as compensation to the town of Przedbórz, which had suffered greatly from fires. In the committee meeting orders (depositions) were received in 22 branches, in which new arrangements in the field of management, payment of debts, distribution of positions between the rabbi and district leader. To the first, authority was endowed only in religious matters and the second secular matters (item 15). Apart from this, monetary claims of the leaders and rabbis from the district committee of the sum of 22,549 gulden were rescinded. A decision was received in the matter of auditing accounts and payment of kehila debts to the district committee. It was clear that Będzin as a community in the district committee suffered together with other communities.
In giving the reasoning behind the decisions of the regional assembly (1754) in Stopnica it was said emphatically that they had suffered from bad administration. These types of feelings already pointed towards an imminent breakdown of the Jewish autonomy in Poland.
According to the census that was carried out in 1765 the number of Jews in Będzin was 456, amongst which were 219 men, 237 women, together with the babies only the number rose by 31.
Będzin had affiliations with the town of Modrzejów with 25 Jews (14 men and 11 women) and 5 villages: Niwecka Karczma 9 Jews (4 men and 11 women), Zagórze 10 Jews (4 men and 6 women), Długoszyn 11 Jews (4 men and 7 women), Szczakowa 26 Jews (9 men and 17 women), Ciężkowice 22 Jews (14 men and 8 women). All in all in the Będzin kehila (7 settlements) there 268 men and 281 women.
The following numbers are interesting in relation to the Jewish residents: In Będzin there were 113 heads of families amongst the citizens dealing in trades. There were 415 adults (204 men and 211 women) and less than 31 children:
Married men: 14 grandfathers, 103 married fathers a total of 117.
Widowers and divorcees: 1 grandfather, 1 father and 5 of indefinite age a total of 7.
Unmarried men: 75 young men, 7 servants, apprentices and orphans a total of 80.
There were 204 men of all categories.
Married women: 14 grandmothers and 103 mothers a total of 117.
Widows, divorcees and agunot ["chained" women women bound in marriage by husbands who refuse to grant a divorce or who is missing and not proved dead]: 7 grandmothers, 1 mother and 3 of indefinite age a total of 11.
Unmarried women: 70 young women, 13 domestics a total of 63 [translator: should be 83?]
With orphans of all ages, a total of 211.
From the living standards point of view the following figures are known:
In Będzin there were 48 Jewish families of homeowners and 65 families of rent paying apartments.
Of the 48 homes: there were 1-5 tenants in 92 [translator: should be 9] homes, 6-10 tenants in 9 homes and 11-15 tenants in 9 homes and 16-25 tenants in 3 homes.
According to the ledger of the Kraków cardinals from 1787 from the 978
residents in Będzin there were only 250 Jews.
However these numbers
contradict Tadeusz Cacki in his letter to Naruszewicz in 1791, in which it was
said, that the greater half of Będzin was settled by Jews.
During the Kościuszko Uprising (1794) the Jews of Będzin were its supporters. Reb Jakob Natan, who was called the Anonymous Rabbi, collected funds, advocated that the Jews volunteer to the Kościuszko Army, and he himself spied on the Russian positions. After the liquidation of the Uprising and the Prussian occupation he was arrested and imprisoned in jail. In 1807 he was released by the Poles.
The Prussian Regime Period, the Warsaw Princedoms and Congress Poland
In the years 1785-1807 Będzin belonged to Swierz region, which was annexed by the Prussian authorities to the new Silesia. The Prussian authorities determined in the regulations of the 17th of April 1797 (that included 5 chapters, 71 articles) the appropriate settlement for the authorities and the policies of the Berlin government. According to this only the right to settle in new areas was given only to Jews who were already living in them during the occupation and to those with a stable profession. The remainder had to put their name down in special lists and to receive a letter of patronage (Schutzbriefe). The taxes imposed upon them were raised. The Polish head tax was raised from 3 to 10 gulden. Apart from this the Jews were compelled to pay the following levies:
The authority of the rabbinate and the kehilot was limited to religious matters only. The rabbinical court was cancelled. The Jews were obliged to present court actions and claims to government courts. In a special section the number of religious ministrants was determined. The kehilot were forbidden to select their clerks. The authorities determined leaders, like in general institutions (town councils), and chose rabbis and religious ministrants. The Polish and German languages were established as those used for education in the schools. The use of boycott, the imposition of punishments by various means compelling the Jews to obey orders of the kehila was totally forbidden. It was thus determined in the regulations, that the shochetim [ritual slaughterers] could carry out the slaughter and sell the meat something that was up until then the responsibility of the kehila. In fact the Prussians cancelled the kehilot, seeing them as the main obstacle in carrying out their fiscal and economical policies. Indeed the Jews were promised concessions in the event of an improvement in the cultural situation of the Polish regions.
Apart from the administrative principals the Jews were forbidden by regulation to deal in interest, the sale of liquor to farmers by credit, the sale of merchandise that wasn't for agricultural needs, and also pedaling. Commerce and trades were also limited for them, and they were only allowed in the towns and forbidden in the villages. However they were permitted to take part in agriculture with the authority to employ Christians during the first three years.
The regulations recommended encouraging the Jews to work the land, lease estates, beer breweries and the establishment of industrial plants. The regulations were received, of course, amongst the Jewish public with feelings of fear and suspicion. In fact they destroyed the basis of the livelihood of the Jews in Będzin and the village region surrounding it, most of whom were wholesale merchants and peddlers who mainly traded in the nearby towns, and considerable number of tradesmen.
The regulations were announced on the 17th of April 1797. According to its wording, the aim and intention of the regulations was to block an interest which brought a great deal of harm to loyal Christian subjects, to put a end to the deception and to the damage to the moral atmosphere. Jewish representatives saw that this wording presented the Jews as cheats, largely endangering the economic and national religious existence of their fellow people. A particular danger was seen in the limitation of the extent of commerce and trades, and amendments in the field of education. The marriage levy was seen as a clear intention to limit growth in the light of this situation on the 8th of Elul 5557 (30th August 1797) representatives of the Jewish communities assembled in Kleszczewo [?], in order to determine their stance towards the regulations and expected results to the Jewish multitudes. Apart from community leaders, famous rabbis participated in this conference.
The conference decided to request that the king undertake a thorough investigation of the situation of the Jews. A delegation was elected that arrived in Berlin on the 2nd of October 1797, and on the 20th of November 1797 a restrained reply was received that included a number of concessions in favor of the Jews. However over time the clerks understood that the regulations should not be implemented. In fact they ceased deportations from the villages, allowed Jews to settle in all the towns and also to belong to Christian trade unions (tzechs), and eased off in relation to obtaining pedaling licenses in the villages and in the towns. However in 1800 a change was brought into place and Jewish merchants were only village residents.
In contradiction to the promises, orders were brought out that limited the extent of Jewish commerce, pedaling in the villages, and reduced the purchase of agricultural produce. In particular the Jews were caused great detriment by the order keeping them away from beer breweries and drinking bars, the prohibition to produce liquors, and the order to transfer government and noblemen's bars to Christians. However after a great deal of lobbying the implementation of the order was postponed till 1808, and thus Jews could take part in these fields a further number of years.
The kehila in Będzin lobbied at the Prussian authorities to exempt them of
the annual tymtowe (protection) payment to Starosta, since this burdened the
kehila. The authorities saw this as a matter between the Jews and the Starosta
and suggested that they comprise with it and not to bring the matter to a court
ruling. However nothing came out of all of this. According to the agreement
that was signed by the ministry in Breslau [Wrocław] on the 22nd of
December 1802, the kehila continued to pay 116 Prussian thaler and 20 penning,
that were valued at 700 gulden.
Based on the regulations that allowed the Jews to belong to Christian trade unions, Jewish craftsmen from Będzin joined up to them. However in order to maintain their religious interests at the end of Pesach 5667 (1807) the Chevrat Kaddisha [burial society] for tailors was founded, to which in fact apart from the tailors the rest of the Jewish craftsmen belonged, and it filled other functions related to professional and economical interests[40.
Reb Nachum Roznes, who served at the time as a dayan, wrote in the foreword of
the Będzin ledger:
They volunteered to be the Chevra Kaddisha of the tailors and the rest of the tradesmen and they have a book to read each Sabbath and holyday and by virtue of thus each person will help his fellow man if something occurs to them in contradiction to Jewish law.
The tradesmen have unfortunately relationships with arelim [uncircumcised i.e. Christians] and if they make a loss and are caused damage even by virtue of a brotherly relationship any matter relating to G-d fearing and connected to G-d and with people
Members of the society have taken upon themselves to protect and do everything according to the law of the Torah and to behave according to Jewish law and help one another. That one should defend and save his fellow man whatever happens
[not all translated]
The tradesmen who kept an apprentice had to deduct a single groschen [penny] from every gulden for him. An apprentice who didn't agree to these conditions, was not accepted for work in the town and in an area of a half a mile around the town.
The trustees of the society were obliged to supervise, that injustice would not be done to a labor in reckoning what he was deserving of, and the assistants and apprentices had to obey the decisions of the society. Against these the trustee of the society was not entitled to take mortgages, however not contrary to the laws of the Torah and the kehila regulations.
In the 18 articles of the society regulations the obligations and rights of its members were formulated. Every Jew in Będzin had the right to be a member in the tailor's union if he received a majority of votes. He had put in 36 groschen [pennies] and a pot of mead and pay the dayan [rabbinical judge] to be listed in the ledger. The membership was 3 groschen per week and they were collected by the shamash [caretaker], who transferred the fees at the beginning of every month to the society treasurer. An assistant paid 1 groschen for every gulden he earned in a year. Every worker who ate in a workshop paid 1 groschen for each gulden of his wage. A worker who was self-employed paid only half a groschen.
The election of gabbaim [beadles] took place in the days during Passover, customarily in the ballot box of the society. Twice annually (on Shavuot and (Meister)) the society would hold a feast for its members, and the rabbi would give a sermon.
The society was headed by a trustee. Article 7 determined that one trespassing into that of a fellow member would be obliged to pay the wronged tradesman a fine into the society's treasury. According to article 8 it was forbidden for an assistant in the training period to relocate from one tradesman to another; and a punishment was determined for those transgressing this article. A tradesman had the right to employ a laborer and apprentice for only three years after his marriage. Someone bringing clothing from outside for sale and thereby impairing the local tradesmen had to pay a certain fee to the society's treasury. In the event of a dispute, defamation and opposition to the trustee, the antagonist would be removed from the society. Any worker enrolling in a Christian trade union would pay the society 2 gulden. Someone receiving the title of master craftsmen (Meister) from an association had to pay 3 gulden. For each apprentice 1 gulden had to be paid. A member of the society who ordered clothing from a tradesman who wasn't a member of the society, had to place a special payment into the treasury, and if he refused he would be removed from the society. The members had the right to pray on the Sabbath in a minyan as they wished, or in a society minyan if the trustee demanded it from them. Article 18 was particularly special and determined that a laborer coming from outside and didn't want to marry a resident of Będzin, had the right to stay in the town for no more than 3 years. All the members of the society were obliged to help carry out this article.
Since the Jewish tradesmen society had rabbis, it can be assumed that the tailors' society had a rabbi. At the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century Rabbi Reb Nachum Rozenes served [as the town rabbi], and in this position also wrote the entries into the society ledger. The rabbis that followed him also carried out this same task.
In the meantime in the world there were political-military events occurred that also stood to change the face of a condemned Poland. Prussia prepared for war in France in the hope that it would come out victorious. However fate determined differently.
On the 14th of October 1806, Prussia suffered a severe defeat in the battle near Jena [the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt] that broke its supremacy over central-eastern Europe. Jena was the beginning of Napoleon's victorious campaign. On the 27th of October he entered Berlin. The Prussian authorities were given an order to prepare to leave the Polish regions. On the 28th of November the French entered Warsaw. In January 1807 the Warsaw governing committee was founded and it immediately set about organization the government and administration.
On the 17th of July 1807 an agreement was signed at Tilsit between the Tsar
Alexander the First and Napoleon the First, according to which a Warsaw dukedom
was founded in the regions which Prussia had received in the second and third
partitions and King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony was appointed by Napoleon to
the prince of the new state.
According to the constitution of the 25th of June 1807, that was prepared two weeks before the Tilsit agreement, freedom and tolerance towards all religions were declared, with no restrictions towards the Jews. When the constitution was handed over the Jews were released from all special taxes and were given rights equal to those of all residents however not for an extended time. Fourteen months after equal rights to all residents of the state were declared in article 58 of the constitution, article 58 was cancelled on the 17th of October 1807 for a ten year period however, in fact the cancellation remained in force till 1862. According to this Jews were forbidden to purchase and sell lands; it was indeed permitted for a Jew to sell his home and its lands or to bequeath them to his heirs. Traders were allowed to settle in the towns and be homeowners.
In the sitting of the Sejm on the 18th 1809, a special law was proposed in relation to tax on the slaughtering of kosher meat, which was accepted by 95 against 11 votes.
In relation to the increase in the meat tax, the leaders of Łachy Włościańskie [?] and Poznań decided in consultation with Czempin on the 12th of September 1809, to convene the state committee in Czelad on the 18th of October together with representatives of all the kehilot in the Princedom. However the response wasn't consistent. Only representatives of Leszno Inowrocław appeared, and so the sitting was cancelled. In the same period 28 kehila representatives met in Warsaw of the Warsaw department and served a memorandum to the State Council.
Thus the Jews remained from a legal point of view in an inferior status. In particular they suffered from a heavy tax burden: a food tax, a meat tax, a tolerance tax from between 10 to 2 and a half thalers per family according to their financial situation, a marriage tax and other general taxes. The hardest was the kosher meat tax, which on an average a single family paid 84 gulden each year for.
In July 1810 delegates of the kehilot from almost all departments convened in Warsaw and served a memorandum to the Finance Minister about the financial hardship of the Jewish population because of the burden caused by the kosher meat tax. The government did not give an opinion about these memorandums. However in March 1811 negotiations began, in which the Jews suggested an annual meat tax of 1,213,044 gulden which would be distributed amongst the towns and villages according the number of Jewish families in them. The Finance Minister turned down this proposal and announced that he would collect the tax according to the ability of those paying, and the meat tax was contracted out in public tenders. The negotiations continued on without any positive results.
On the 9th of January 1812 a decree came out, according to which a new tax was imposed on the Jews a recruits tax at a total of 700,000 gulden per year, and thus the Jews were exempt from army service conscription. It was known that a Jew by the name of Jakob Szpot, from a poor tradesman's family from Będzin had served in the Polish legions and the Polish army of the Warsaw Princedom. In his battalion he achieved the rank of first lieutenant, and according to the testimony of a Polish citizen from Lublin, Hieronim Borowski, who had served together with him in 1808 at the Spanish front, he was amongst the better officers of the Polish Army: he went at the front in battle and patiently commanded his subordinates. He distributed a fourth of his wages amongst his soldiers who had excelled in their bravery and good behavior.
In January 1808 General Chłopicki sent him to conquer the town of Cuenca [Spain], an important military position, in order to provide cover and defend the passage to Saragossa. He had 200 men under his command. After a short time they were surrounded by 3,000 Spanish. In spite of the advantage of the Spanish force, Jakob Szpot forced them to defeat in an intense battle. Many of his company were killed and wounded. He as also wounded in his leg and head. When he learned that the French in his company were in one of the houses and refused to fight, he went out to them, however to no avail: they surrendered to the Spanish. He held his position with 30 of his soldiers till a cavalry unit arrived, that saved him and his few soldiers that had remained. He and his soldiers received a decoration from Napoleon for his bravery. He also took part in the French Army march to Moscow and fell there in 1812.
On the 15th of January 1815 a decree was announced according to which the government cancelled the right of the Jews to deal in commerce, trades and serving liquor.
The fall of Napoleon the First led to all the Warsaw Princedoms to be brought under Russian authority. According to the decision of the Vienna Congress (1814-1815) the region of the Polish Kingdom was transferred to Russia. In the formulation of the constitution signed by the Tsar Alexander the First on the 25th of May 1815, the Jews were promised that their civilian rights would be protected, and special regulations determined the conditions that would make it easier for them to be more satisfied with social benefits.
A Jewish delegation served a memorandum to the Tsar about the number of legal restraints, like the kosher meat tax, the prohibition of selling liquor, the pressure of the taxes and so on. The lobbying did not bring results and there was no improvement in the situation of the Jews.
According to the governor's decree of the 20th of March 1821 instead of the kehilot , synagogue committees were founded with limited authority, who were subject to the government committee in Warsaw for internal affairs, religion and education.
We have thus described the evolution process of the Jewish question in Poland as a background to the history of the Jews of Będzin.
At the head of the committee (in Będzin as well) there were three administrators (supervisors), that were elected for a period of three years. The elections took place in the month of December, and the right to vote was only for taxpayers of four types. The elections required the approval of the Wojewodas [voivode]. The synagogue committee would prepare a budget together with the rabbi to cover the needs of the community for a period of a year and these were: the synagogue, yeshivas, the wages of the rabbi, the dayanim [religious judges], the kehila secretary, the cantor, the shamash [caretaker], guards, and supporting the poor. From 1834 the budget also included the medical costs of the kehila's sick in public hospitals, the hospital maintenance if one existed. The budget was covered by income from the bathhouse, the mikva, payments for weddings, circumcisions, funerals, and also kehila taxes that were imposed on Jewish residents, who were categorized into four types according to their property, livelihood and income. The treasury and the account books were managed by a town council clerk.
The financial situation of the Jews in Będzin was difficult because of the obstacles that the authorities placed on them regarding overseas trade.
According to the law from 1823, that was in force till 1862, foreign Jews were
forbidden and bringing them from outside to settle in the border area (up to 21
versts). This law applied to Będzin, and also regarding the Jews in the
villages affiliated with Będzin: Sielce, Modrzejów, Łagisza,
Gzichów, Siewierz, Strzemieszyce and Sławków.
Jews and the mining plants
During this period mining and foundry plants developed substantially, however the Jews in Będzin encountered many obstacles in this field as well. According to the order of the mining office administration of 1816, Jews were prohibited to maintain bars and inns within proximity of the mines and foundries. Only in 1828 there was some change in this field because of a shortage of manpower for work in the mines.
Minister Lubecki ordered the stepping up of the building of workers' apartments and to plan the expansion of the mines.
In March 1826 Lubecki allowed in order to achieve the required number of workers for the building of the zinc foundry in Będzin, and also the extraction of coal and the renewal of the mine in Ksabir to employ Jews from Będzin. To the queries of the clerks, of how to relate to the Jews of Będzin, a great number of whom were poor and sought work in the mines and in their opinion they could be used to serve the coal mines, the administration in Warsaw ordered that they employ them only as temporary salaried employees with a daily wage and not a weekly wage.
During the years 1825-1830 the Ksabir mine employed 112 laborers and 260 were needed. Due to a shortage of 148 laborers they could supply all the mining requirements.
In the mines themselves Jews from Będzin were employed. In 1869 four young Jews from Będzin, aged 18-19, worked in the Idbecki mine close to Dąbrowa and their names were: Benjamin Rus, Szmul Mamnowicer, Pesach Pinkus and Lewek Bajtner. After three years they stopped working. Rus was conscripted into the army. In 1870 Elijahu Fersztenfeld worked in the Ksabir mine. Jews were also active as bankers and coordinators of coal production.
During the years 1845-1863 contracts were signed between the government plants and the Jews: Aron Chwat, Ajzik Bareli, Icchak Goldman, Mosze Cohen, M. Grinberg, Majer Machenbojm, Israel Szajnweksler, Ajzik Zmigrod, Szmul Etinger, Icchak Zelkowicz. The Zmigrod family was one of the first to take interest in mining. Ajzik Zmigrod from Będzin made a contract with the mining plants management for extracting the wagons from the mine and transporting the coal from the Reden mine to the steam engine belonging to Herszl Goldfeld from Olkusz. Zmigrod's successors began investing their money in plants for utilizing coal.
During the years 1876-1886 Zendl Zmigrod was already managing together with Maczimi Stichleski the Aleksander, Antony and Kazimierz mines, which annually produced from 500 to 5000 ton coal and employed 118 laborers. From 1880 onwards they extracted 1000 ton with a steam engine.
After his death the Kazmierz mine which didn't operate for two years remained with his successors. Following the establishment of two drying machines in 1890, production was resumed. In 1891 the annual output already reached 3000-5000 ton.
In 1893 the mine was transferred
to the converted Jews Werthajm from Warsaw, as a consequence of the law
of the 28th of April 1892, according to which Jews in Congress Poland were
forbidden to deal in mining. The law was cancelled only during the First World
War period. In spite of the prohibition the Jews used ruses to transfer the
mines, as it were, to Christians, who managed them for them. The Zmigrod
family also used this ruse.
During the 1830-31 rebellion period
The Jews of Będzin underwent severe riots during the period of the1830-1831 Polish Rebellion. The difficult situation was expressed in the Chevra Kaddisha ledger:
[untranslatable]In the town a cholera plague broke out. In a period of two weeks, up until the 22nd of Menchem-Av [Hebrew month of Av], more than a hundred Jews died. The cemetery was inadequate and they were forced to bury the dead in the new cemetery whose land had been purchased from the townspeople for 300 gulden, in addition to an annual payment of 20 gulden. An incident was described there noting the attitude to the dead on Shabbat [Sabbath] eve of the Christians: there was no way of burying them before Shabbat came in before it became dark, and during the Shabbat they remained lying in the field. The Christians came, tied the legs of the dead with rope, and carried and dragged them stripped of shrouds and threw them (two women, a boy and two men) together into a grave, and severely beat the Jewish guards, who for all that had not desecrated the Shabbat. The following day they were brought for burial. Despite this attitude, representatives of the Województwo [voivodeship or province] Krakow participated in the kehilot conference, which was convened by order of the Civil Public Security committee on the 11th December 1830 by the manager of the department for religious matters, Bogdanski, and was held on the 15th in Wadislaw with the aim of discussing how the Jews will want to assist the homeland common to us all.
The committee convened in the evening in the government house, so that all the
representatives of the kehilot could get there on time. Bogdanski opened the
conference with a speech in which he explained its purpose, which was later
read translated into Yiddish by the Pińczów representative, Cohen.
A four member committee was elected, one representative from each district, for
consultation, in which way the Jews could help with donations of their own will
for the purpose of the rebellion.
After the committee received details and suggestions from the civil committee representatives, two hours were requested for consultation with all the representatives. After consultation in two meetings with all the representatives, who were willing to sacrifice victims for the homeland, to which they related with feelings of devoted support. Later on they began handing over their donations. In the name of the Będzin kehila its representatives Szlomo Brauner and Berek Herciger announced that they were donating 200 gulden in cash and 25 new sheep hides.
The forestry supervisor (nadleśni) Wacław Gaszynski spoke at the conclusion of the conference. He described to the audience the situation in the country [Israel], encouraged the Jewish youth to form a group of Jewish volunteers, and called upon them to chose between the sword or a heroic death for the sake of the homeland, so that their names would be engraved in the memories of future generations. At the end of his talk he requested from the kehilot that he represent them in their synagogues and homes to motivate the youths into enlisting and equip the volunteers with uniforms and weapons.
The representatives present unanimously replied, that they were enthusiastic about this call to spur the youth to enlist, and that they would willingly equip the enlistees with uniforms and weapons.
In the protocol and report Bogdanski noted the patriotic atmosphere that prevailed in the conference and the donations of the kehilot, which could not be increased because of the poor situation of the Jews. It is worthwhile noting that it was emphasized in the report that the Jews did this for the issue out of willingness and devotion. In addition, the call to conscript and equip the youth was received unanimously and enthusiastically.
In January 1831 the civil committee of the Województwo Krakow announced that the Jews didn't take part in the guard troop, and that they needed to take part in the defense of the country in another way. Indeed the Województwo decided that the Jews were not released from service in the guard, though they still had to pay the recruitment tax. Pinchas Szwajcer, who participated in the 1863 Uprising relates: I remember what my father told me during my childhood. During the Polish Uprising in 1932 an order was received to establish a security troop in the town and to include Jews as well. About 300 Jewish residents served in the troop in Będzin thirty of whom were armed with picks (pickes) and stood guard in the center of the town. Amongst the guards were homeowners and poor people, adults and youths, bearded orthodox in Jewish garb, who left their trades and the yeshivas and came to serve armed and with frills on their hats in the Polish style. In particular Reb Anszel stood out amongst them, being a learned and a famous Torah scholar. His wife had a salt sore and she provided for the large family. Reb Anszel boasted that he had no idea about money, and he was terrible in arithmetic and uneducated in trade, and was suddenly forced to leave the Gemara and be a guard in the center of the town. After a number of weeks all the Jews were released, as was told in the town, in exchange for a great deal of money.
The commander of the guard also endeavored to release them. In the light of this situation, the representatives of the kehila approached the government with a request to release the Jews from service in the guard and from all types of personal services, apart from the security guard, since they had to pay all the government taxes and the special levies that only applied to the Jews. On the 24th of January 1831 the representatives of all the kehilot, including the Będzin kehila, delivered a declaration at the conference that took place in Wadislaw, of their obligation to increase the recruitment tax that was imposed on them. However they demanded that it would be entered in the protocol that the doubling of the tax was only for the war period. When the collection of the taxes was late and reminders didn't help, the kehilot were threatened, that if what was owing was not collected, wealthy families would be conscripted into the guard.
The Jews finally paid the double recruitment tax.
It is interesting to note that the national government generously presented a number
of licenses for maintaining bars and inns. Amongst them was Hendel Erlich who
received a license of this type on the 28th of January 1831.
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