The town of Sławków belonged to the bishops of Kraków from the 13th century until 1790. For this reason, Jewish settlement was banned in the town. Despite this ban, a Jewish family leased an inn in 1746 in Sławków on the Biała Przemsza River[1.1]. This shows that the Bishops of Kraków granted privileges for selected Jewish families to settle in the area. A critical moment was the lifting of restrictions on Jewish settlement in the Kingdom of Poland in 1790. Despite this, for a long time, no Jews settled in Sławków.

In 1820, only 20 Jews lived in Sławków. In 1821, they were expelled from the town. However, the banishment did not last long, as several small Jewish traders had settled there by 1826. In 1838, Szlomo Szajn (died 1919) founded a large metal works, which very quickly became one of the largest in the Dąbrowa Basin. After 1850, Michał Zejtler built a thriving wire factory. The development of these Jewish industrial plants was a significant factor in the growth of Jewish settlement in the town. The incoming Jewish population was primarily impoverished and looking for jobs.

In 1865, 64 Jews lived in Sławków, which accounted for 2.4% of the total population. In 1890, their number increased to 246, representing 7% of the total population. They were governed by the kehilla in Olkusz, where they buried their dead. In 1896, a synagogue was built in the town.

At the end of the 19th century, The wire factory in Sławków was taken over by the Szajn brothers, who, in 1924, changed the plant's name to Szajn Brothers, Bolts and Nails Factory, Joint Stock Company based in Będzin (Polish: Bracia Szajn, Fabryka Śrub i Gwoździ, Spółka Akcyjna z siedzibą w Będzinie). There were about 1,200 workers at the factory, of whom about 300 were Jewish. The Szajn brothers financed the construction of the synagogue, Jewish school and mikveh.

In 1900, The Jewish population of Sławków numbered 714. An autonomous Jewish community was established in 1904. The first rabbi was Szulim Zając (died November 1928), son of Mosze Juda Zając. At the same time, a Jewish cemetery was established, and a burial society, Chevra Kadisha, was launched. In 1917, a Jewish library was established, where Hebrew language courses, lectures and literary meetings were regularly held.

In 1921, 610 Jews lived in Sławków, accounting for 16.3% of the population. Most made a living from petty trade and services. In 1927, The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Joint or JDC) established a philanthropic fund Kupat Gmilot Chassidim in the village, which provided low-interest loans for developing Jewish entrepreneurship. The poverty of Sławków's Jewish population contributed to inadequate hygienic and sanitary conditions. For these reasons, the municipal authorities closed down the five local bakeries owned by Jews in 1928. Several major fires in Sławków in 1930 and 1936 left ten Jewish families homeless. Additional hardship due to the financial collapse prompted many Sławków Jews to emigrate to the United States.

Following the death of Rabbi Szulim Zając (1928), Josek Lederman took over religious duties in the community. In 1931, Baruch Gad Hepner became the new rabbi. He was assisted by Rabbi Szlomo Pinchas Markus (d. 1962). The secretary of the kehilla was Icek Berek Makowski, followed by his son Mendel Makowski in 1931. The chairman of its board was Gutman Libermensz.

There were numerous Jewish social, cultural and political organizations in the town. Zionist organizations and parties were particularly active. A training camp was set up in Sławków for those willing to go to Palestine. It was called the Hachshara "Ovadiya" training kibbutz (it belonged to the Ha-Shomer ha-Dati movement). Orthodox circles were also active in the town, initially with the Agudath Israel party and, from 1929, also the Shomer Shabbat we-Daat society.

In 1934, four Jews sat on the Town Council. In 1939, Sławków was home to around 960 Jews. Gutman Libermensz continued to be the chairman of the board. 

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Sławków was captured by the German army on 4 September 1939. The retreating Polish troops then blew up the bridge over the Przemsza River. Many local Jews fled Sławków together with the Polish troops. The Germans erected a makeshift wooden bridge in place of the blown-up bridge guarded by military posts.
When some Jewish refugees tried to return to Sławków after a few days, on 6 September, German soldiers shot 30 Jews (some were from Będzin and Sosnowiec) while they were crossing the destroyed bridge over the Biała Przemsza River. Some captured Jews were told to jump into the river, after which shots were fired at them. On the orders of the German soldiers, the cartman Sośnierz and his son transported the corpses to the local Jewish cemetery. 

In the "Na Koźle" district (road from Sławków towards Strzemieszyce – the village of Kozioł), the Germans shot 80 Jews and threw their bodies into disused mine workings[1.2]

In the early days of the occupation, the Germans also desecrated the local synagogue. From the very beginning, they persecuted the Jewish population, including cases where Orthodox Jews were forced to shave their beards in public and perform acts they found degrading. The German occupiers confiscated Jewish property and ordered the shutting down of shops. There were also murders committed under the pretext of Jews raising the price of foodstuffs or hiding goods. The German military administrator of Sławków also demanded a hefty ransom from the Jewish community, which was paid within the time limit. From November 1939, Jews were required to wear white armbands with the Star of David (later replaced by yellow stars sewn on the clothes in the chest area).

In November 1939, a Judenrat was established, headed by Izydor Laks, which was subordinate to the Central Office of the Jewish Councils of Elders of Eastern Upper Silesia (Central Judenrat of Eastern Upper Silesia) in Sosnowiec. As of 1 October 1940, Sławków was home to 896 Jews[1.3]. A small Jewish police force of three was also established. The Judenrat quickly opened a kitchen for the poor, which by February 1940 was serving 200 meals each day. During the first winter, the Judenrat provided assistance to 400 destitute people.

On 28 October 1940, the Germans selected a group of 50 Jewish workers and sent them to a forced labour camp set up in the synagogue building. The Blechwaren Fabrik sheet metal workshop was housed there. The other Jews were forced to work in and around the town.

During the war, economic life in Sławków rapidly transformed. Most industrial plants in the area were diverted to arms production. The authorities in Berlin paid urgent attention to Upper Silesia, whose mining, chemical, metal and energy industries were far to the east and thus safe from Allied air raids. To meet the needs of the local industry, the Judenrat arranged metalworking courses, which 20 Jewish workers took. In March 1941, the Judenrat distributed 300 food parcels to the poorest families. At the same time, 25 children received milk each day. The Judenrat also operated a health clinic with a doctor and two nurses.

In the second half of 1941, The Germans created an open ghetto in Sławków (it was not fenced and included only two streets). The imprisoned Jews were forced to work in carpentry, shoemaking and tailoring workshops.

As part of a major displacement effort, on 10 June 1942, SS soldiers, with the help of the police, surrounded the ghetto in Sławków and dragged all the Jews out of their homes. They were locked in the former brewery building for three days and nights. At this time, a selection was made, with some individuals sent to work in the tailoring workshops in Sosnowiec and Będzin. All others were taken to the railway station in Bukowno (6 km away) on 12 June. The elderly and sick were transported by carts. They were then transported to the German Nazi camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. All of them were killed in the gas chambers. 

Only about 20 Jews remained in Sławków: members of the Judenrat and their families. In August 1942, they were deported to one of the ghettos in the Dąbrowa Basin region. They later shared the fate of the others in the German Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Bibliography

  • A. Namysło, Zanim nadeszła Zagłada... Żydzi w Zagłębiu Dąbrowskim w okresie okupacji niemieckiej, Sosnowiec 2008, p. 12
  • D. Rozmus, Żydzi w Sławkowie i ich cmentarz. Zarys problematyki, in: L. Hońdo, D. Rozmus (eds.), Cmentarze żydowskie w Sławkowie Dąbrowie Górniczej, Kraków 2004, pp. 25–27

 

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] S. Witkowski, J. Krajniewski (eds.), Inwentarze i Lustracje Klucza Sławkowskiego z XVII i XVIII wieku,  Dąbrowa Górnicza–Sławków 2013, p. 25.
  • [1.2] D. Rozmus, Żydzi w Sławkowie i ich cmentarz. Zarys problematyki, in: L. Hońdo, D. Rozmus (eds.), Cmentarze żydowskie w Sławkowie Dąbrowie Górniczej, Kraków 2004, pp. 25–27.
  • [1.3] A. Namysło, Zanim nadeszła Zagłada... Żydzi w Zagłębiu Dąbrowskim w okresie okupacji niemieckiej, Sosnowiec 2008, pp. 12, 22.