Jewish settlement in Bieruń is connected with the edict, issued in 1627 by Cesar Ferdinand, which allowed Jews to settle in Silesia after the payment of 40.000 guldens. By this edict Cesar hoped to improve the financial situation of the state, which after the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) was very poor. The edict also allowed certain, privileged groups of Jews (privilegire Juden) to trade and work as craftsmen. The group was also referred to as court Jews (Hofjuden). They could lease customs and taxes, as well as buy houses[[refr:"nazwa"|A.Steinert, Geschichte der Juden in Oppeln, Opeln 1922, s. 23 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 33.]].
First Jews, started to settle in Bieruń at the end of the 17th century.

In May 1713, Cesar Karol VI issued the tolerance edict (Toleranzpatent) that allowed Jews to settle in Silesia after a payment of the tolerance tax. The bill divided the Jewish community into two parts: (1) land owners, and those without a property (they paid the lower tax); (2) tolerated Jews. Those excluded from the tax, were Jews from Głogów and Biała Prudnicka [[refr:"nazwa"|P.Maser, A.Weiser, Juden in Oberschlesien Teil 1, Berlin 1992, p. 26 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 34.]].

In October 1726 the Silesian Superior Office proclaimed the patent „Wegen der Juden”, that forbade Jews to settle in the houses and cities where, prior to the act, there were no Jews. In this way the influx of Jews (so called strangers) to Silesia was stopped. The document introduced also “rule of settlement (inkolat)” in every Jewish family. Only one son had permission to marry and settle (inkolae). The others were considered strangers and had to leave the country after reaching adolescence[[refr:"nazwa"|I.Rabin, vom Rechtskampf der Juden in Schlesien (1582-1713) [in:] Jahresbericht der judisch-teologischen seminars fur das Jahr 1926, Breslau 1927, p. 50-51 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 34.]].
Introduction of this law increased Jewish settlement in Silesia. The majority of the newcomers dealt with business activity. This created strong opposition amongst the Christian entrepreneurs and merchants, who started to demand that the Jews be expelled from Silesia. It led to the proclamation of yet another edict of Cesar Karol VI, which ordered Jews without separate privileges to leave Silesia. Those who could stay, had permission to deal with retail and small production, as well as with the production and sale of vodka, based on the lease. At the same time city authorities received permission to expel Jews from the city centers, and turn the Jewish cemeteries and synagogues into Christian sites[[refr:"nazwa"|W.Jaworski, Z dziejów Żydów bieruńskich, Bieruń Stary 1989, p. 4 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 35.]].

During the First Silesian War in 1742, the majority of the region was conquered by the Prussian Kingdom (except Cieszyn Silesia and Opawskie Principality). Silesian Jews were very optimistic about their new ruler. Jewish historian, Rabbi Marcus Brann, described the moods of the community: “oppressed Jews turned towards the young king of Prussia, who entered Silesia in December, full of trust and hoping, the ray of justice and kindness will brighten dark paths of their lives”[[refr:"nazwa"|M.Heitmann, H.Lordick, Przyczynek do historii Żydów na Śląsku [in:] Przebudź się serce moje i pomyśl, Berlin, Opole 1995, p. 52 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 35.]].

At first, Prussian authorities were indifferent towards the Jews. However, in time, Cesar Frederick II strived towards the limitation of Jewish freedom. This policy was carried out by the introduction of new taxes that gave the state additional financial benefits.
The Prussian kingdom enacted the first bill regarding the Jews in 1748. It forced Jews who lived in Silesia for more than one year to pay the tax (10% of the value of their properties) when leaving the country. The biggest restriction regarded the Jews who had unsuccessful businesses. Those who went bankrupt or were charged with fencing lost the right to live in Silesia [[refr:"nazwa"|Archiwum Państwowe w Gliwicach, Akta Miasta Gliwice sygn. 6246, 6247, 6248, 6249 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 35.]].
17th of April 1750, Prussian authorities issued the Prussian Main Regulations and General Privileges that described the financial, legal and political situation of the Jews in a very detailed way. Jacob Jacobson, commented on the regulations: “as in all Germany, this regulation is aimed to limit the number of Jews living in the country, allowing them to run only certain kinds of business activities, at the same time burdening them with higher taxes for protection and tolerance of their presence”[[refr:"nazwa"|J.Jacobson, Die Judenburger-Bucher der Stadt Berlin, Berlin 1962 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 36.]].
Around 1750, an informal Jewish community was established in Bieruń. Along with the cheder, a prayer hall was located in the private house.

The most important legal document regulating Jewish situation in Silesia was „Juden Reglement”, issued on the 2nd of December 1751. It obligated the magistrates and land owners to inform the district county and tolerance office about every case of Jewish settlement within 14 days. It created a system of control of the Jewish influx. Prussian authorities did not tolerate Jewish beggars and vagabonds[[refr:"nazwa"|D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 35.]].
In 1752 a consecutive bill prohibited Jews property acquisition. In 1754 new tax system was introduced, including “tolerated – accepted” Jews (Toleranzgelder).

During the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) Prussia was facing a difficult economic situation. In order to ease the impact of economic crisis, Prussian authorities granted special privileges to the richest Jewish manufacturers and entrepreneurs. They received naturalization permission (naturalisationspatente). These privileges were restricted only to a very small group.
In September 1768 the authorities forbade the establishment of new cemeteries and synagogues without payment of a special concession. Successive regulations allowed Jews to settle only in villages, working as inn owners, craftsmen, bakers, and lessees of court breweries. In 1776 all Jews living on the left side of the Odra River were ordered to resettle to the right side. All of the regulations were not rigidly followed and Jews still lived in Bieruń. It is there that in 1778 a Jewish cemetery was established, located at the suburbs of Wit.

In September 1779 authorities changed their mind, ordering all the Jews to move from the villages to the cities. Gliwice was chosen as the main city for the Jewish settlements. On the 17th of August 1780 Wroclaw Kamera assigned five cities for the Jewish resettlement: Tarnowskie Góry, Mysłowice, Mikołów, Lubliniec, and Bieruń Stary[[refr:"nazwa"| W.Jaworski, Z dziejów Żydów bieruńskich, Bieruń Stary 1989, p. 5 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [w:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 36.]].
In 1787 the relocation orders were cancelled, since the cities from which Jews moved out sustained big economic losses.

In 1791 Jews were allowed to establish their own craft guilds, this met with the big opposition from the Christian counterparts that successfully blocked Jewish competition.
In the 2nd part of the 18th century, Jews from Upper Silesia had to buy certificates, allowing them to settle. It was called Toleranz Accise and Nahnung Geld or Toleranz Zettel.

Between 1789-1799, the French Revolution was igniting European consciousness. The ideals of equality and brotherhood were spreading across the continent with the soldiers of Napoleon. This vitalized the Jewish enlightment (Haskala) that strived for Jewish emancipation. Influenced by the new ideals of the period, Prussian authorities implemented social and economical changes that would directly improve the Jews' situation.
On the 17th of April 1797 General Jewish Status was declared (General-Juden Reglement für Süd und Neu-Ostpreussen). It still recognized Jews as a separate class, yet allowed them partial city citizenship. However, the division between privileged and tolerated Jews was kept[[refr:"nazwa"|A.Eisenbach, Emancypacja Żydów na ziemiach polskich 1785-1870, Warszawa 1988, p. 128-129 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 37.]].
In February 1808 all the guilds' and cities' feudal privileges were cancelled, including De non tolerandis Judaeis. Since then, Jews could settle in all the cities of Silesia and purchase real estate.

On the 11th of March 1812 King Frederick Wilhelm proclaimed the Edict on Citizens Relations (Edict die Burgerlichen Berhaltnisse der Juden), also known as Emancipation Edict. It gave Jews equal rights with other citizens of the Prussian Kingdom. Since that moment Prussian Jews were called the country citizens (Statsbürger, Inländer). The condition for receiving citizenship was accepting a Germanic name and surname as well as speaking German. Jews were given diplomas to certify their citizenship.
Jews had the right to settle freely, choose their professions, freedom for religious practices and real estate acquisition. Since then, Jews could also study at the universities and work as academics. They also had a duty to serve in the army (since 1813 were subjected to the obligatory army conscription). The king reserved the decision regarding Jews willing to work in the public state administration. The new regulations eliminated the Jewish judiciary system, proclaiming Jewish Communities as the civil law associations. According to Selma Stern, the Edict of 1812 was the beginning of the economical, cultural and later political emancipation of Jews. It also contributed to the creation of liberal Jewish communities, on top of the conservative ones, especially in the industrialized Silesian cities[[refr:"nazwa"|S.Stern, Der preusische und die Juden, Erste Abteilung Darstellung, Tubingen 1971 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 39.]].
In 1812 a synagogue was built in Bieruń and the Jewish Community was officially established.

In 1814 a meeting of the Upper Silesia Jewish Communities took place in Gliwice. The debates were headed by the member of the city council in Pszczyna, Abraham Muhr (1780-1874). The memorial was proclaimed on the unification of the Jewish communities in their religious activities as well as in mutual help[[refr:"nazwa"|D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 38.]].

In June 1821 Prussian authorities forbade Jews from signing in Hebrew. German language was obligatory for all formal issues from that year on.

By 1840, 103 Jews lived in Bieruń. In the community, there were 254 members, coming from the local villages: Bojszowa (8), Chełm Mały and Wielki (20), Cielmice (10), Dziećkowice (31), Imielin (25), Jedlina (2), Kopciowice (10), Kosztowy (29), Krasowy (5), Lędziny (37), Porąbek (8), Urbanowice (3), Wesoła (10) i Zabrzeg (63). The Jewish community of Bieruń had the whole western region of the pszczyński under its jurisdiction[1.1].

In October 1847 King Fredrick Wilhelm IV issued the law die Verhättuisse der Juden, which gave the Jews equal political and civic rights. It also regulated many legal aspects regarding Jewish communities, such as determining the range of the synagogue districts.
In 1850 parliament proclaimed a new constitution that ultimately confirmed all the civil rights granted to the Jews. Willy Cohn wrote that the constitution finished the long struggle for rights. A Silesian Jew, whose existence for fifty years was threatened, could now work freely in a country that became his homeland [[refr:"nazwa"|D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, t. V, p. 39.]].
Policies of religious tolerance resulted in near total assimilation. In a cultural and lingual sense, Jews merged with the German population. The only distinguishing factor was religion. This phenomenon applied also to the starobieruń Jews that can be seen in the German inscriptions on the tombstones.

On the 28th of January 1855 the Stary Bieruń Community Council proclaimed the Bylaws of the Jewish Community. The board of the community was to comprise of 5 people, and the council of 15 people. However since the community was shrinking, the numbers were changed to 3 and 9 respectively. The change took place on the 28th of January 1876. Board members from that year were Abraham Wachsner, Israel Staub and Lőbel Tichauer[1.1.1].

In 1872 the Union of Upper Silesian Synagogue Communities was established (Oberschlesische Synagogen-Gemeinden). The Bieruń Jewish Community was also a member.

In the middle of the 19th century, a railway from Wroclaw to Krakow was built. It lead to the collapse of the trade route crossing through Bieruń. As a result, the city lost its economic importance and Jewish inhabitants started to migrate west. In 1885, 93 Jews lived in the city, in 1910 only 15. In 1909 there were four Jewish families in the city: Walf’s Blumenfeld’s, Amalia’s Weichmann’s, maiden name Ehrlich, Salomon’s Tichau’s and Martin’s Weisenberg’s. All of them were merchants.

The crucial moment in the history of Bieruń Jews was annexing Bieruń to Poland, in 1922. Local Jews were strongly assimilated with the German society, therefore majority left the city. Since all the community board members left the provisionary board was elected, in July 1922, the members were: Jacob Rűbner and Ludwig Schaal.

In June 1923 the community council was elected, composing of: Herman Frey, Markus Hercko, Jegi Heiner, Herman Schaal and Isidor Siechner. In August the board was elected, the President was Jacob Rűbner, vice President - Ludwig Schaal, and the Treasurer -Nathan Grűnpeter. In 1923 there were only 2 Jews left in the city, the community had 84 members. Since the small number of Jews the synagogue was used very sporadically, mainly during the holidays and funerals, the services were lead by the visiting rabbis from Katowice.

During the 2nd World War, in 1940, Germans deported all the local Jews to the displacement camp in Oświęcim. In April 1941 they were taken to the Sosnowiec Ghetto, and later taken to the concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] http://www.gimnazjum1.bierun.pl/publikacje/emalecka/start.html [stan na 13 VII 2009 r.].
  • [1.1.1] http://www.gimnazjum1.bierun.pl/publikacje/emalecka/start.html [stan na 13 VII 2009 r.].