The first information about Jews living in Będzin dates back to the end of the 13th century. In the early 14th century, they engaged in trade and money lending and resided along the ramparts of the town, in the area of today’s Zaułek Street, later on Zawała Street, and then around Rybna Street and what is today’s Berka Joselewicza Street. In the second half of the 16th century, a special envoy – Rabbi Israel ben Shmuel (Szmueliwicz, Szmuelowicz) – was sent out from Będzin to Kraków[1.1]. There is also a mention of Jews residing in the Będzin area of Zakamarki dating back to 1564[1.2].
On 21 September 1583, Stefan Batory issued a mandate granting Będzin Jews various rights and freedoms. Thanks to the privilege, a kehilla was created in the town ca. 1583, a wooden synagogue was erected (on today Targowa Street) and a Jewish cemetery, situated in the outskirts of the town, was established (ca. 1592). The walls of the synagogue were decorated with inscriptions citing the twelve provisions of the Jewish court law. All disputes between Jews and Christians were settled by the Jewish court, which included: a rabbi, a legal advisor and jurors. The hearings were also attended by the local governor and held in the synagogue. A prison, financed by the Jewish community, was located right next to the temple.
The Jewish life in Będzin in the 16th and 17th century revolved around the synagogue. The community was headed by the rabbi along with four judges (dayanim), whose task was to manage all social institutions. These included: the chevra kadisha (burial society), the Talmud Torah religious school, the hospital fund, and the Maoz Dal fund for the poor. The kehilla also provided dowry for the poorest brides, clothing for the poor, and philanthropic loans. Seeing that Będzin was located near the national border, Jewish refugees expelled from other countries often flocked to the town. The institutions of the Jewish community, therefore, often had a lot of work to do. Two cheders and a yeshiva were located in close vicinity of the synagogue[1.3].
In 1616, a huge fire destroyed the town. Many Jews lost their homes. It is difficult to determine the number of Jews living in Będzin in the 17th century because the community did not report their true numbers in order to avoid paying high taxes (3 guilders per person). On 20 August 1644, Władysław IV confirmed the rights and privileges of the Jews granted in 1583. At the same, Jewish merchants were given the same rights as Christians. Local Jewish merchants quickly took advantage of these privileges and became involved in foreign trade, as evidenced by the involvement of the merchant Moshe Bendiner from Będzin in a fair organised in 1695 in Leipzig[1.4]. On 20 November 1669, King Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki confirmed the freedoms and rights of Będzin Jews. During this period, the number of Jews in the town was small, though the oldest available sources provide divergent information on the subject. Sources from 1674 mention 85 Jewish inhabitants of the town, whereas according to the data from 1676, there were 51 Jews living in Będzin[1.5].
At the beginning of the 18th century, the most prominent Jews in Będzin were: Herszl and Dawid Aharonowicz, Jakob Lewkowicz, Majer Szapira, Herszl Rubin, Jakob Erlich, Icchak Gitler, Szymon Londner, Lajb Zondlowicz, Wilk and Dawid Brauner.
In the second half of the 18th century, Jews constituted the majority of Będzin’s inhabitants. They ran local slaughterhouses, taverns and owned most market stalls in the town. In 1685, Jan III Sobieski confirmed the rights and privileges of Będzin Jews.
Various historical documents provide information on the following rabbis residing in Będzin: Rabbi Moshe in 1765, Rabbi Meir in 1775, and Rabbi Tuvie and his son Rabbi David in 1783. Over the following 30 years, it was Moshe Hamburger who served as the rabbi of Będzin. In 1765, the Jewish community of Będzin encompassed the inhabitants of the villages of Niwka and Zagórze and the Modrzejów sub-kehilla[1.6].
On 28 June 1766, Stanisław August Poniatowski once again confirmed the privileges and freedoms of Będzin Jews. A census in for the Kraków region carried out in 1789 lists 207 Jews in 44 houses in Będzin. Data from 1790 mentions a Jewish hospital in Będzin, a school and a separate rabbi's house ("school" may have referred to a house of prayer). At the time, a Jewish doctor lived in the town[1.7]. The registry of the Jewish population taken in 1791 lists the names of all 217 Jews living in the town[1.8]. Jarosław Krajniewski notes that the above mentioned censuses were carried out by Polish authorities and may not have included all the Jews living in the kehilla.
In 1795, Będzin came under Prussian rule. This meant that the Będzin Jews came under the jurisdiction of the Prussian law, which from 1791 allowed Jews to establish separate artisan guilds. This was met, however, with strong protests from Christian artisans and merchants, who usually effectively blocked their Jewish competition. On 17 April 1797, Prussian authorities adopted the General-Juden Reglement für Süd und Neu-Ostpreussen – general statute for the Jews, which continued to recognise Jews as a separate group, but granted them partial urban citizenship. The division between protected and tolerated Jews was still maintained[1.9]. On 5 September 1800, a separate decree on Jewish rights was signed by King Frederick William III; it introduced significant restrictions on Jewish settlement and higher taxes[1.10].
In the period of Congress Poland, Tsarist authorities introduced restrictions on Jewish settlement in the border zone (Będzin was located within 21 km from the Austrian and German borders). Jews were not allowed to settle in the town without appropriate permits from Tsarist authorities. Many of them, therefore, lived in nearby rural settlements: Sielec, Modrzejów, Łagisza, Siewierz, Strzemieszyce, Sławków, and others. After the 1831 cholera epidemic, in which over 100 Jews died within two weeks, land for a new Jewish cemetery was purchased on Podzamcze street. Rabbi Hirsch Rozanis was buried there in 1846. An ohel was erected over his grave.
In the 19th century, the town’s Jewish population experienced rapid growth. In 1835, there were 1,200 Jews living in the town, constituting 49% of the total population. In 1839, the gaon and founder of the Sochaczew dynasty, Rabbi Borenstein Avremele, was born in Będzin. His mother was the daughter of Rabbi Mordechai Hirsch Erlich, a resident of Będzin. In 1850, Rabbi Langfus was selected as the town’s rabbi and granted a salary of 180 roubles. During the time of his service, a scandal involving the funeral society occurred in Będzin. In August 1853, Jew Jakob Reichman drowned in a river. When the deceased was brought to Będzin, members of the funeral society (chevra kadisha) demanded payment from the family before taking care of the body of the deceased. His son-in-law, Hendel Erlich, put up the money, and only then could the burial take place. The members of the society were tried in a famous court case (1854-1855)[1.11].
In 1855, there were 2,240 Jews living in Będzin, constituting 68% of the population. In the years 1857-1862, a new wooden synagogue was built at the foot of the castle at a cost of 2,500 roubles. In order to cover the expenses, a loan of 400 zł was taken from the priest of the Grodziec parish[1.12]. When Rabbi Langfus died in 1864, the community did not have enough money to employ a new rabbi. For this reason, they hired a dayan, Dawid Shlesinger, who had been teaching in Będzin since 1849. The tsarist authorities, however, did not accept the nomination and demanded that a qualified rabbi be appointed. In 1865, Majer Englradem was offered the position, but he died suddenly. In 1866, Iczele Kimelman from Piotrków became the new rabbi.
During this period, Będzin developed rapidly, mainly thanks to coal mining and steel production. The Jewish community also benefited from the this economic growth. In 1875, a decision was taken to build a new brick synagogue. Construction work was carried out in the years 1892-1894 on the plot which had previously housed the wooden synagogue. When Rabbi Kimelman died in 1893, he was temporarily replaced by his former deputy rabbi Joszuale Telner. On 2 September 1893, Berisz Graubart was appointed the new rabbi. He received a salary of 1,500 roubles a year. At that time, the Będzin synagogue district covered a large area, and Rabbi Graubart supported the opening of new houses of prayer in order to guarantee access to religious practices for all members of the community. Such houses of prayer were created in Strzemieszyce Wielkie (1899), Niwka (1900), Porąbka (1900), and Czeladź (ca. 1905)[1.13]. In 1897, there were 10,839 Jews living in the town, constituting 80% of the total population.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a number of charities was set up in Będzin; they took over the responsibility for all charitable activities from synagogue districts. In 1901, on the Iinitiative of Rabbi Graubart, the Charitable Society of the Jewish Faith was established in Będzin. The society’s activities focused on maintaining two kindergartens, homes for the elderly, orphanages, and a canteen[1.14].
In the years 1905-1907, during the Russian Revolution, Jewish workers' parties – the Bund and the Poale Zion – started to operate in Będzin. A number of factors contributed to the formation of these Jewish political parties, including the growing wealth inequality among the Jewish population. The growth of industrial production and the dominance of large trading companies in the local market also influenced this process. Among other factors having impact on the formation of Jewish political parties there were: the collapse of religious communities as the sole centre of social life in the late 19th and early 20th century, the birth of the modern national ideology of Zionism in the late 19th century, and the revolutionary sentiment in Congress Poland in the years 1905-1907[1.15].
In 1909, the “Linat Cholim” Association for the Assistance of Poor and Sick Jews was established in the town. The institution ran a maternity clinic and a retirement home. At the beginning of the 20th century, a relatively large group of members of the Jewish intelligentsia in Będzin set up numerous cultural organisations. Prior to 1911, the “Ha-Zamir” (Nightingale) Music and Literary Society was founded. A Jewish lending library was opened the same year. Będzin also became an important centre of Jewish press published in Yiddish. In the years 1911–1939, the weekly Zaglembier Tsaytung, edited by Lejb Szpigielman ,was published regularly. Sports organisations also flourished. In 1914, the “Ha-Koakh” Jewish Gymnastic and Sports Society was established in Będzin[1.16].
On 30 December 1913, Jekutiel Zalman Graubart was appointed the rabbi of the town. The local authorities believed, however, that the new rabbi was too young, which resulted in another election held on 20 June 1914. Rabbi Graubart won again and served as the Będzin rabbi until 1920.
During World War I, the town was occupied by German troops. Their presence had a positive impact on the position of the Będzin Jews – in the neighbouring German Silesia, Jews had already enjoyed full equality. Germans granted Jews full civil and political freedoms after 1915, which led to the development of formalised forms of social life of the Będzin Jews. In this period, the Jewish political parties and trade unions in Będzin were legalised. The Association of the Owners of Houses and Squares was established in 1915. In 1916, the Peasants Bakery Association and the Craft Association were founded in the town. A year later, the Association of Master Tailors was created[1.1.15].
In 1916, a branch of Agudat Shloyme Emune Yisroel (Association of Truely Faithful Jews, later known as the Aguda) was established, and in 1918, the Orthodox Zionist organisation Histadrut Mizrachi was founded[1.1.15]. The “Ezra” Society for Aid was set up during World War I and ceased operating in 1921[1.17].
In the first election to the Będzin City Council, which took place in 1917, the Jewish population submitted three lists: the Jewish Committee, Poale Zion, and the Bund. All 24 seats were won by candidates of the Orthodox-Zionist Jewish Committee block.
The end of World War I brought the rebirth of the independent Polish state, with Będzin incorporated into the newly re-established country.
After Poland regained its independence, Poles sought to dominate local governments. Therefore, citing the dissatisfaction of the Christian community with the Jewish-dominated town council, in 1918 the district authorities ordered that representatives of the Polish population be appointed to the council without an election. This move caused outrage and resignations among councillors. As a result, a temporary local government was formed, with a majority of Poles over the Jews[1.1.15].
Lack of accurate data makes it impossible to follow the changes in the occupational structure of Jews in Będzin in the interwar period. It is estimated that 63% of the local Jewish population were employed in trade. During the Great Depression, Jewish merchants suffered less than their Polish counterparts. They ran family businesses and sourced supplies directly from manufacturers, thereby reducing their own costs and therefore being able to lower the prices of their products. This allowed Jewish merchants to survive the worst years of the crisis. What troubled small Jewish businesses, however, was the expansion of industrial production, whose products dominated the market. This resulted in a significant decrease in the number of craftsmen, who at the time constituted 22% of the Jewish population.
In 1919, a branch of the Jewish Workers' Union of the Leather Industry was established in the town. Jewish tailors established a branch of the Trade Union of Needle Workers in 1920. In the same year, the Trade Union of Bakery Workers and Apprentices was set up. In 1921, Jewish workers employed in trading companies formed a branch of the Central Trade Workers’ Union, while people working in the sector of goods delivery set up the Porters’ Trade Union. At the beginning of the 1920s, a branch of the Trade Union of Workers of Wood Industry was established. Jewish trade unions organised numerous strikes in defence of the economic and social rights of their members[1.18].
In the years 1918-1939, the cooperative movement started to develop. In 1919, the Crafts Association set up a cooperative with its own shops and canteen. The Food Cooperative was founded in 1920. In the same year, the Israel Food Association and the Sholem cooperative were also established[1.1.16].
In the first years of the interwar period, Będzin Jews played an important role in the political life of the town. In 1919, in the first election to the City Council after independence, the Jewish population submitted five electoral lists, including a Polish-Jewish list. The 26-member council included 21 Jews, among whom six were probably representatives of the Poale Zion, while two were from the Bund. The vice-president of the town was a Jew. In the years from 1919-1927, Będzin Jews also had a representative in the Polish parliament – Dr Solomon Weinzieher. In 1919, he ran for the position on the National Minorities list. Officially, he was not a member of any political party, but up to the outbreak of World War I he had close ties to the Orthodox community, and later to the Zionists.
In the years 1917-1922, the Jewish working-class parties were thoroughly transformed. The Communists and Social Democrats started to gain much greater importance in the workers’ movement. In 1920, Poale Zion suffered a split; the more radical activists formed the Jewish Social Democratic Workers' Party – Poale Zion-Left. In the interwar period, the party cooperated with the Polish Communist Party. It had no official structures in Będzin. In 1919, a branch of Poale Zion was formed in the town by moderate Jewish labour activists with a Zionist-socialist attitude, stemming in part from the Tseirai Zion. In 1920, it was transformed into a branch of Poale Zion Right. Changes also took place within the Bund. In the years 1919-1922, the ideological division appeared in the party, eventually resulting in a schism. Some activists set up a branch of the “Kom-Bund” Communist Union of Jewish Workers, which in 1922 became a member of the regional organisation of the Polish Communist Party. In 1923, a strong branch of the revived Bund was formed; three years later, it was transformed into a regional party committee. Up until the outbreak of World War II, it cooperated with the Polish Socialist Party. Jewish workers' parties had considerable influence on trade unions. In 1922, a branch of the Zionist Organisation (General Zionists) was formed in Będzin, and in 1925 the “Hitachdut” Zionist Labour Party was established[1.19].
In 1921, 18,210 Jews resided in Będzin, constituting 60% of the total population. In that year, Tzvi Hanoch Levin became the new rabbi. Numerous Jewish political, social, cultural and charitable organisations operated in the town. In 1922, the “Ahavat Chased” Jewish Mutual Aid Association was established; it ran a free dormitory. Among the charitable organisations active in the town in the years 1918-1939 there was the “Malbish Arumin” Będzin Jewish Association for Assistance to the Poor and the “Beys Lechem” Society Against Exceptional Poverty. Cultural and sports-related organisations played an important role in the life of Będzin Jews. In 1921, the “Muza” Association of Jewish Performing Arts Lovers was formed in the town; it ran amateur dramatic groups. In 1926, a branch of the Kultur-Liga Association, remaining under the influence of the socialist Bund, was opened. Its aim was to promote secular Jewish culture. In the mid-1920s, a branch of the Friends of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem was set up with the aim of collecting funds for the university. At the end of the 1920s, a branch of the Jewish Heritage Association was formed[1.20].
Jews played an important role in the economic life of the town. Jewish manufacturers were shareholders in the steel industry and the owners of chemical plants. In 1925, the main shareholder of the Zinc Industry Plant was Szymon Fürstenberg, who rebuilt and modernised the enterprise, transforming it into one of the largest such companies in Poland. In 1924, the there were six passenger cars (G. Weinzieher, S. Fürstenberg, J. Gutman (2), Juda Kriegsztajn and Jan Szperling) and 23 trucks in the town. The Jewish Timber Industry Guild was established in Będzin in the 1930s[1.1.16].
In the interwar period, Będzin was also an important centre for Jewish press published in Yiddish. In the years 1911-1939, Lejb Szpigielman edited the weekly Zaglembier Tsaytung. In 1919, the weekly Unzer Telefon was first published. Lejb Berkowicz and Mosze Ch. Kaminer edited the weekly Dos Yidishe Vokhnblat (1925–1932). Among the other notable titles there were also the daily Unzer Folksblat (1924-1928), the daily Nayer Arbeter Veg (1931–1932), the weekly Zaglembier Lebn (1938–1939) and the daily Unzer Ruf (1939)[1.21].
In the subsequent council elections, held on 30 August 1925, the Jewish population submitted six lists. Poale Zion Left, Poale Zion Right and the Bund submitted their separate lists, while Orthodox Jews and the Zionists formed a joint electoral bloc; there were also two non-partisan lists. 10 Orthodox-Zionist candidates and one Poale Zion Right candidate won seats in the city council. On 23 September 1925, Dr Salomon Weinzieher was appointed head of the council and Lejzor Rubinlicht was selected as his deputy. However, on 1 October, the socialist councillor Franciszek Żebrowski became the new chairman, with Jan Gęborski working as his deputy.
Around 1925, a Jewish branch of the Association of Small Merchants was established in Będzin. Jewish master bakers formed the Bakery and Pastry Guild in the mid-1920s.
Despite such large influence in the town, most of the Jews from Będzin grew poorer. Wealth inequality in the community was becoming more and more marked. In the years 1926-1929, the percentage of poor Jews living in Będzin increased to 59.9%, while the percentage of the wealthy fell from 8.8% to 4.2%[1.22].
Wealthier Jews engaged in charitable activities. For example in 1929 Szymon Fürstenberg founded a well-equipped Jewish coeducation secondary school, located on today’s Teatralna Street.
Towards the end of the 1920s and at the beginning of the 1930s, an official split took place in the Zionist Organisation. Its radical members formed the “Brit ha-Zohar” Revisionist Zionist Organisation[1.23]. The “Ha-Poel” Gymnastics and Sports Association was also created in the early 1930s[refr:|Jaworski W., Żydzi będzińscy – dzieje i zagłada, Będzin 1993, p. 20.]].
In 1931, about 24,000 Jews were living lived in Będzin, constituting 44% of the total population. In 1932, the Jewish community submitted eleven lists for the local election and won 17 out of 32 seats. The elected Jewish councillors were representatives of the following parties: general Zionists (6), Orthodox (6), Poale Zion Left (2), Poale Zion Right (1), Hitachdut (1) and non-aligned (1).
In the local elections in 1934, the Orthodox Zionist bloc won eight seats, non-aligned representatives won five, and Poale Zion Left and Poale Zion Right won one seat each[1.1.15].
When Rabbi Lewin died in 1935, the town did not have a chief rabbi. Members of the Aguda selected Rabbi Mendel, while the Zionists chose Rabbi Grosman. There were therefore two rabbis working in Będzin at the same time, although neither of them was selected in accordance with the law of the kehilla. This situation resulted in numerous disputes and quarrels. The proverbial "war of the rabbis" lasted until the outbreak of WWII[1.24].
In 1937, the board of the Jewish community consisted of: Eliezer Rubinlicht (chairman of the community committee), Awraham Liwer (deputy chairman), Szlomo Icchak Rinski (chairman of the community council) and Nuta Londner (deputy chairman)[1.25].
In the last local election held before the outbreak of World War II, the Orthodox-Zionist bloc won nine seats, non-aligned candidates and Poale Zion Left won two seats each, and the Bund won one seat. In the years 1934-1939, the town council of Będzin consisted of 40 members][1.1.15].
German troops entered Będzin on 4 September 1939. The persecution of the Jewish population began. There were cases of forcing Orthodox Jews to publicly shave their beards and perform humiliating acts. Jewish property was seized, shops were closed, and Jews were murdered, which was often explained as a retaliation for Jews raising the prices of food or hiding goods[1.26].
On 5 September 1939, Germans took the first Jewish and Polish hostages, who were held at an army compound located in the seat of the local authorities. On the next day, they were transferred to the barracks and forced to do hard physical labour. where they were had to do hard labor. On 8 September 1939, two Jews were shot on the street because they dared to raise the price of bread[1.27].
On the night of 8 September 1939, the Germans burned down the synagogue together with 200 Jews who were praying inside. At the same time, the Jewish quarter was set on fire, in particular the houses situated in Kołłątaja, Kościelna, Bożnicza, Plebańska and Zamkowa streets. Germans did not allow fire fighters to interfere. Soldiers fired guns at Jews fleeing from the fire. Those who tried to remove the Torah and religious books from the burning synagogue were also shot. Fourteen people were killed this way[1.28].Jews captured on the street were forced by the Nazis into barrels filled with tar and set on fire[1.29]. Szai Płużnik describe these events as follows: "On Saturday evening, 9 September 1939 at 7-8 a.m, I was at home. My neighbour from the third floor, Gutman, came running to me and called me over to him as he had noticed a fire. We ran to his apartment and discovered that the synagogue was on fire. That night, the district inhabited by Jews was burned down, and in particular the streets Kołłątaja, Kościelna, Bożnicza, Plebańska and Zamkowa. Germans did not let the Jews out, shooting those who tried to escape. Jews were burned alive or shot while trying to escape"[1.30]. Jews and Poles were accused of setting fire to the synagogue. In consequence, a group of 40 Jewish and Polish hostages was shot on 9 September in the courtyard of the district authority office.
At the beginning of 1940, a ghetto was created in Będzin. It encompassed the streets: Modrzejowska, Stary Rynek, the beginning of Kołłątaja, Czeladzka, Podgórna, and several streets on Kamionka. At the same time, Jews were expelled from the main streets in the town centre. 30,000 people were gathered in the ghetto. As Jews were frequently used as free labour, Germans did not establish a fully closed-off ghetto for a long time[1.31].
The Będzin Judenrat was created in early 1940; it was subordinate to the Central Jewish Council of Elders of the Eastern Upper Silesia in Sosnowiec. In October 1940, Beniamin Graubart became the head of the Judenrat. On 1 October 1940, there were 25,254 Jews living in Będzin[1.32].
In October 1940, the forced labour of Będzin Jews was overseen by Albrecht Schmelt, Special Representative of the SS Reichsführer and Chief of the German Police for Employment of Foreign Nationalities in Upper Silesia. To organise and group the quotas of Jewish workers, a special Forced Labour Department was opened; it was headed by Majer Brzeski up to until mid-1941. Young Jews were then transported to forced labour camps in the Katowice and Opole districts[1.33].
In 1940, SS ReichsführerHeinrich Himmler established the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. It was to become a source of slave labour for the Upper Silesian Industrial Region and the Dąbrowskie Basin. The first transports from Będzin to Auschwitz-Birkenau were sent out in October 1940. Up to May 1942, the Germans deported 4,000 Jews from the town. The only way to avoid deportation was to find employment in one of the few dozen workshops. These included the workshops of Albert Rosner, Ewa Nawrat, Michatz, the Hodl brothers, Loytsche and Scherley. Among the smaller plants there was the Szwajcer washing machine factory on Kołłątaja street, the washing machine and hangers factory at 22 Małachowskiego St., the Gruengrass bath tubs and sheet metal products factory, the workshop of Viktor Kachel and the shoe factory and furniture factory of Franz Wagner[1.34].
In March 1941, there were 25,171 Jews living in Będzin, but due to the resettlement of the Jewish population from Oświęcim, the number rose to 27,000[1.35].
In May 1942, the Germans began a large operation to deport Silesian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On 12 May, they carried out a mass deportation in the Zagłębie region, which included 3,200 Jews from Będzin.
In the first days of August 1942, the Germans posted notices calling on Jews to stamp their identity cards so that a register of those fit for work could be drawn up. On 8 August, the majority of Jews gathered with their families to stamp the IDs, which the Germans used to perform a selection. This resulted in 2,000 Jews from Będzin being sent to their death in Auschwitz-Birkenau[1.36]. From August 1942 until June 1943, 5,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz.
In the autumn of 1942, Germans began preparations for closing off of the ghetto in Będzin. Beforehand, however, a selection was conducted among the Jewish population and deportations were carried out. Where the Jews were sent depended on their fitness for work. The young and physically strong labourers were sent to Kamionka and Środula, where they were forced into exhausting slave labour. Those unable to work were kept in Mała Środula and Stary Sosnowiec. The resettlement of families lasted from December 1942 to March 1943. On 1 May 1943, the ghetto in Będzin was closed off (Kamionka and Mała Środula). The living conditions of the Jews closed in the ghetto deteriorated significantly[1.1.31].
On 22 June 1943, the Germans surrounded the ghetto in Kamionka and gathered all its inhabitants in the main square. The selection process lasted for three days and resulted in 5,000 people being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the same time, ca. 2,000 Jews from the ghetto in Środula were sent to Auschwitz[1.37].
In July 1943, German authorities systematically resettled Jews from the liquidated ghetto in Dąbrowa Górnicza to Będzin. This way, several thousand people were resettled. On the night of 31 July 1943, Germans began to liquidate the ghetto. Over the first three days of the liquidation process, 8,000 Jews were sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. A small uprising broke out at that time in Kamionka and Środula. A group of the members of the Jewish Fighting Organisation, with Frumka Płotnicka at the forefront, defended themselves in a bunker at Podsiadły Street. They were all killed.
The Będzin Ghetto was liquidated by 8 August 1943. Only a small group of Jews remained in the area; they were forced to clean up and sort through abandoned property. They were also tasked with looking for Jews hiding in cellars and closets. The last inhabitants remained in the ghetto until January 1944, when about 1,000 people were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Only 50 Jewish labourers remained at the site of the former Będzin ghetto. They were working at the blacksmithing and tailoring workshops. In July 1944, they were transported to a forced labour camp for Jews at Góra Św. Anny (next to Leśnica), and then to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp[1.38].
In the period from September 1943 to September 1944, KL Lagischa, a sub-camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, operated on the grounds of the Walter thermal power plant in Będzin-Łagisza (Energieversorgung Oberchlesien-Kraftwerke Walter In Lagischa). It had ca. 1,000 prisoners, who were used as slave labour in laying foundations, construction and installation works, and maintenance of lifts and narrow-gauge railway. About 70% of the prisoners were Jews; the rest were Poles, Germans, Italians, French and Roma people[1.39]. The owner of the power plant was the company Energie-Versorgung Oberschlesien AG.
In January 1945, Będzin was taken over by Soviet troops. At the turn of February 1945, Jews started to return to Dąbrowskie Basin. Some of them were former residents of Będzin who were trying to return to their homes. Some came out of various hiding places in the region. From April 1945, they were joined by Jewish repatriates from the USSR (mostly from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan). In consequence, the number of Jews in Będzin increased to 1,304 in June 1945[1.40].
In 1945, the Provincial Jewish Committee in Katowice was established, having been initially established in Sosnowiec, and came under the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. Będzin was home to a Jewish district committee with welfare, cultural, and other departments. Difficult living conditions of Jews caused the Będzin district committee to provide financial support to the newly formed Tailoring Cooperative, providing jobs to the unemployed. A workers’ canteen was also organised. In the years 1946-1947, a free dormitory for Jewish repatriates operated in Będzin. A branch of the TOZ Society for the Health of the Jewish Population in Poland also operated in Będzin[1.41].
In 1945, a Jewish religious association was established in Będzin, which later changed its name to the Jewish religious congregation. It was headed by an elected board. In 1945-1947, Izaak Parasol was the rabbi in Będzin, and after him, the function was performed by cantor Lejb Rodał[1.1.41].
The majority of Jews residing in Będzin treated their stay in the Dąbrowski region as a mere stopover on the way to the West or to Palestine. Emigration intensified after the Kielce pogrom (6 6 July 1946) and several anti-Semitic incidents in the region. During their stay in Będzin, Jews relied heavily on the benefits system.
Nevertheless, the first Jewish political organisations began to operate in Będzin in the spring of 1945: the “Ichud” Union of Zionist-Democrats, Jewish Polish Workers’ Party Faction, Poale Zion Left, Jewish Workers' Party, Poale Zion Right, Jewish Socialist Workers’ Party. In 1947, the Poale Zion United Jewish Workers' Party was formed. There were also other Jewish Zionist, youth and women’s organisations operating in the town. They encouraged and prepared young people for migrating to Palestine, and, after 1948, to Israel[1.42]. During this time, the main route for illegal Jewish emigration, which was nonetheless informally approved by the authorities, led through Lower Silesia. Jews travelled through Czechoslovakia to the American and British occupation zone in Germany, where they waited for entry visas to other countries in DP camps[1.43].
At the turn of 1950, communist authorities closed down or nationalised most of the Jewish institutions in Poland. At the same time, Będzin’s Jewish organisations and political parties, as well as other institutions and cooperatives, were liquidated as well[1.44].
In 1957, the Polish government signed a repatriation agreement with the Soviet Union, which resulted in new transports of Jews arriving in Lower Silesia. Congregations and branches of the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland (TSKŻ) were still active and were engaged in activities targeted primarily at children and youth in the early 1960s. However, the situation deteriorated following the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War in 1967, and the mass emigration after 1968. At the beginning of the 1970s, there was hardly any trace of Jewish life in Będzin or in the entire region of Silesia[1.45].
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- [1.11] Stein A. Sh., A Memorial to the Jewish Community of Bendin, Association of Former Residents of Bedzin in Israel, Tel Aviv 1959, p. 218.
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- [1.18] Jaworski W., Żydzi będzińscy – dzieje i zagłada, Będzin 1993, pp. 12–13.
- [1.1.16] [a] [b] Jaworski W., Żydzi będzińscy – dzieje i zagłada, Będzin 1993, p. 13.
- [1.19] Jaworski W., Żydzi będzińscy – dzieje i zagłada, Będzin 1993, pp.12–18.
- [1.20] Jaworski W., Żydzi będzińscy – dzieje i zagłada, Będzin 1993, pp. 10, 20.
- [1.21] Jaworski W., Żydzi będzińscy – dzieje i zagłada, Będzin 1993, p. 22.
- [1.22] Jaworski W., Żydzi będzińscy – dzieje i zagłada, Będzin 1993, pp. 12–18.
- [1.23] Jaworski W., Żydzi będzińscy – dzieje i zagłada, Będzin 1993, pp. 12–18.
- [1.24] Stein A. Sh., A Memorial to the Jewish Community of Bendin, Association of Former Residents of Bedzin in Israel, Tel Aviv 1959, p. 218.
- [1.25] Ciepiela B., Sromek M. (ed.), Śladami Żydów z Zagłębia Dąbrowskiego. Wspomnienia, Będzin 2009, p. 158.
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