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[Page 526]

Synagogues in Zaglembie and their Destruction

by M. Hampel

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

All the synagogues in the Zaglembian cities were burnt and destroyed by the Nazis immediately following their invasion into Poland, as the evil began. Horrific and terrible scenes accompanied the incineration of the synagogues. The cruel invaders poured their poisonous rage not only on the wretched Jews, but also on Torah books, prayer houses and cemeteries. They declared a war not only to physically destroy the Jews in Poland, blatantly and till their complete annihilation, but also set out to the task of plundering and destroying all Jewish sacred values.

Zag526.jpg - A Jewish street in Bedzin
A Jewish street in Bedzin
It was incinerated by the German invaders in 1939.
In the background – remnants of the destroyed
synagogue walls, that were completely destroyed
after the fire. Today, nothing remains.

In an official report dedicated to the accessibility of the Jews, in occupied Poland, that was presented by the Center for Information and Documentation of the Polish government in exile in London, in the year 1940, that is to say a year after the outbreak of war, this was the first time information was given about the destruction of the synagogues in Poland, in a documentary book, devoted to the “Persecution of the Jews under the German occupation in Poland”. In this report it stated, apart from other matters, through a need to create a libel, a provocation and in order to cause bloody rioting against the Jews, the Nazis ignited the synagogues, and blamed the Jews, that claimed that they were forced to use these “sanctions” (punishments), in order to punish the Jews for their “resistance” to the occupying regime and because of general security breaches…”Tens of thousands of Jews were tortured and suppressed by the Nazis and martyred, trying to protect the synagogues, the report stated.

In this documentary book, the first article regarding our victims in Poland was written in the following words:

“A hundred Jews were burnt alive together with their synagogue. In Sosnowiec three synagogues were burnt and 250 people arrested.”

In a special edition of the Hebrew weekly “Hadoar” [The mail] (11th of December, 1942), that appeared in America, it was dedicated to the destruction of the Polish Diaspora, and amongst others, Lejb Szpicman[1] related in his article “The sword in the Temple” (the Nazi persecution of the Jewish religion in Poland), that Jews and synagogues had been destroyed in Zaglembia. Szpicman even brought up that in many cities in Poland the Nazis had forced, in their frenzy, Jews to incinerate synagogues by themselves, and later fined them for arson… and further: leaders of “kehilot” in Poland were compelled to sign declarations, that the Jews, themselves, were burning their synagogues.

[Page 527]

Zag527.jpg - The ruins of Bedzin's synagoge
The ruins of Bedzin's synagoge
and the remnants of the surrounding buildings, after being incinerated (1939).

The Nazis desecrated and brutalized everything so severely in the synagogues that they turned into garages and even public toilets.

Dawid Liwer[2] writes in his book “Ir Hametim” [City of the dead] (the destruction of the Jews in the Zaglembian region) the following:

“After five days in control, the Germans incinerated the Great Synagogue in Bedzin, an imposing synagogue and the first in Poland, for which three famous Jewish artists, Apelbaum, Hanft and Cygler[3], did your utmost to make its interior unique and adorned its walls. The burning down operation was organized by the Germans, Imhoff and Piontek, who were also assisted by local people. They poured petrol on the synagogue building and on the Bet Midrash nearby and also on three other buildings owned by Jews were set alight. The apartment dwellers who attempted to run for their lives, were shot and thrown alive into the flames. Sixty victims were buried in a mass grave in the Czeladz cemetery. Most of the bodies were so burnt that they were unrecognizable”.

This barbaric act by the Germans in Bedzin is mentioned in other books dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish community in Zaglembia. For instance, in the ninth volume of the Large Hebrew Encyclopedia (Jerusalem, 1958), in the Bedzin entry (pages 73-74):

“With the entry of the Germans into Bedzin at the beginning of the Second World War began (3rd September, 1939), sixty Jews were murdered straight away, and the synagogue and houses in the Jewish street were burnt down. Those who tried escaping from the burning buildings were shot.”

In 1953 the “Jewish Historical Institute” in Warsaw published important historical documents, essays by the name of “Der Hurban fun Shulen, Batei Midrashim un Beit Hahaymes”, that was written by an eye witness, Rabbi Shimeon Huberband[4]. Rabbi Huberband took on the collection of documentary material for Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum's[5] archives about the loss of the synagogues, desecration of cemeteries, the burning of torahs and other holy artefacts.

[Page 528]

Dr. Ringelblum describes the young rabbi from Warsaw, Rabbi Shimeon Huberband in “Notizen fun Warsawer Ghetto” [Notes of the Warsaw ghetto]:

“Rabbi Shimeon Huberband contributed greatly to the archive work. He collected abounding material on the courtyards of the Jewish population. This documentary material stands out because of its high degree of accuracy and will serve as important documentation for future historical research on this period”.

Rabbi Huberband wrote down the smallest details relating to the destruction of tens of holy communities in Congressional Poland, including: Bedzin, Sosnowiec and Dabrowa. Regarding the synagogues in Sosnowiec he relates that on the 9th of September 1939 a local synagogue was blown up that had been erected at the beginning of the previous century. After the synagogue was blown up, the Jews in Sosnowiec took bricks as mementoes. At Hanukkah they lit candles on these orphaned bricks. “The Jews will save these holy bricks as an eternal memorial for generations to come…”

As Rabbi Huberband wrote at the beginning of the work “To remember for generations”, the Jews truly believed that the horrific war would not last long, and that most of the Jews in Sosnowiec and would remember these holy bricks from their synagogue and they would look after them as they would their own eyes.

Rabbi Huberband's writings were buried in the ground. They were found after the war whilst the Warsaw Ghetto was being excavated and were published, as previously noted, by the Jewish Historical Institute as the first section of Ringelblum's archives. Whist on the subject of Ringelblum, this is a portion of his letter to the International P.E.N. club, to the writer Shalom Asch, the poet Lewick and other writers in America:

“…When the murderous deportation “aktziot” began, an epic of Jewish armed resistance was initiated against the oppressors in Bialystok, Bedzin, Czestochowa and other Jewish communities…”

In Tel Aviv in 1960 a very important book came out, written by David Davidowicz, a famous researcher of ancient synagogues and manager of the Ethnographical and Folklore Museum, by the name of “Synagogues in Poland and their destruction”. In this book the author writes about the synagogues in Zaglembia, and especially the grand and stately synagogue in Bedzin (accompanied by pictures of its interior): “In the final years before the war, Jewish communities approached famous artists, sculptors and renown architects, to decorate the interiors of their synagogues. Amongst these communities it is worthwhile noting the Bedzin community, that before its destruction the synagogue was renovated in accordance with the plans of the artists: Apelbaum, Cygler and Hanft. This synagogue was burned down by the Germans”. In addition, in his second book on synagogues called “Murals in Polish synagogues”, the scholarly author, Davidowicz, notes the synagogue in Bedzin, whose interior was decorated by the above artists.

The holy communities of Zaglembia with all their Jews, her synagogues, cultural buildings and spiritual treasures have disappeared for all eternity.

  1. Lejb Szpicman, was one of the leaders of the “Poeli Zion” (Social Zionists) in Poland. He appeared in the editorial staff of the daily paper “Das Wart”. When war broke out he escaped to Vilna and from there to the US, where he assumed social and cultural activity. He was made manager of the press and information office of the “Yiddisher Kultur Kongress[Jewish culture congress]. He authored research books on the Polish Jews under the Nazi regime and books on other subjects, amongst which the great masterpiece “Chaluzim in Poland” should be mentioned. He died in New York in 1963. In “Pinkas Zaglembia” we have presented his essay “Yidden in Zaglembia bet der Tzweiter Milchuma”. Return
  2. Dawid Liwer, one of the editors of “Pinkas Bedzin”, and one of the leaders of the “Hitachdut” party. He authored a documentary book on the annihilation of the Jews in Bedzin called “Ir Hametim”. We have extracted selections from this book into “Pinkas Zaglembia” in Hebrew and Yiddish. He was active in the Zaglembian Émigrés Organization in Israel. He died in 1968, in Tel Aviv. Return
  3. Apelbaum and Cygler – see articles about them in this book in the section on writers and artists in Zaglembie. Return
  4. Rabbi Shimeon Huberband was an historian. In the war, he partnered with Dr. Ringelblum in establishing the “Oneg Shabbat” (the code word for the archive that was secretly founded in the Warsaw Ghetto). Amongst his writings there remains some twenty research documents and descriptions of Jewish life in the ghettoes and camps. He died in Treblinka in 1942. Return
  5. Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, was an historian and amongst the activists in the “Poeli Zion” movement formerly in Poland. He was one of the leaders of the Jewish underground in the Warsaw Ghetto. He was one of the founders of the “Yiddisher Kultur Organizatzia” (Y.K.A.R) in the Warsaw Ghetto. He earned recognition through this “Oneg Shabbat” project, a secret ghetto archive. He hid out in the Aryan section after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. He was caught and executed, together with his family, in one of the courtyards in Dzelna Street. Return


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