The Jewish cemetery at 59 Wyzwolenia Street in Biała was established in 1849. It was probably built due to the regulation issued on 10 November 1849 by the National Government in Lwów, which ordered the construction of Jewish cemeteries in towns that had many Jewish residents for sanitary reasons. The document stipulated that the sites should be constructed away from houses and properly secured[1.1].
The necropolis was located by the road to Hałcnów, on the border between Biała and Lipnik. Its western edge constituted a tall scarp, with a military cemetery from the second half of the 18th century located at its feet. It was the resting place of Austrian and Russian soldiers. The Jewish cemetery was situated 309-315 metres above sea level. The plot of land belonged to the cadastral community of Lipnik – plot no.4365/4, land register no. 25 Lipnik[1.1.1]. It was a property passed down from the nobility and belonged to the descendants of Jerzy Thomke. It is probable that Jewish elders leased the ground from them but there is no document to prove it.
In 1858, the estate, along with the cemetery located within its limits, was purchased by Duke Albrecht Habsburg. Sympathetic towards the Jewish community, he let them prolong the lease agreement. The Jews paid the rent of 40 florins per year, which was not an excessive sum. In the same time, a subplot was marked out (no. 509 Lipnik) on the cemetery grounds for the purpose of constructing a funeral burial house. It was built between 1849 and 1873, based on a design of an unknown architect. The building was small, rectangular and made of brick, with an annex to the north side. It was located at the junction of Hałcnowska and Kolejowa Streets, but did not have a gate. The house was destroyed in 1926 and we no illustration or a picture of its design has been preserved. In that period, the cemetery occupied the surface of 74 x 24 m[1.1.1].
In 1902, the Jewish Community of Lipnik-Biała bought the ground from Archduke Charles Stephen of Austria from Żywiec, heir of Albrecht Habsburg. The land register number was then changed to 689 Lipnik[1.1.1].
At the turn of 20th century, the cemetery area began to be too crowded, so the community put forward a motion to enlarge it. The plans were to include the fragments of neighbouring plots belonging to Hermina Rost, who was an heiress to the famous architect and builder Emanuel Rost from Bielsko. The expansion finally took place on 24 July 1919. Three new plots were created under the agreement, the owner of which was now the Chevra Kadisha association from Biała. The necropolis was shaped like an irregular diamond of 109 x 13 m[1.2]. Eventually, under Section 20 of the Burial Society's charter, the Jewish Community of Lipnik-Biała became the owner of the necropolis, with the Society as its administrator. Cemetery fees were to be spent on its maintenance only.
In the 1930s, a conflict arose between Chevra Kadisha and the local community, which wanted to regain control over the finances of the cemetery. Due to the involvement of some personal factors, however, they did not manage to take over the property. The Society probably still managed the cemetery finances after the outbreak of WWII[1.3].
In 1925, as a result of administrative changes, the cemetery found itself within the borders of Biała. It was now located between the newly built industrial buildings to the west and residential buildings to the east. In the 1920s, the graveyard was fenced with a wall made of standard concrete slabs to the side of Graniczna Street. The funeral house was demolished and a new one was built in its place. It was an impressive, oriented and extended building with a mansard roof; it was adjacent to Graniczna Street and designed by an unknown local architect. The house was damaged during WWII and eventually torn down in the 1950s.
In May 1936, unknown delinquents pulled out several matzevot from the graves and threw them over the fence. After that incident, Chevra Kadisha chairman Ignacy Perl and the Community Board demanded that a barbed wire be placed at the top of the fence.
During the war the cemetery was in use until 1942. No evidence of mass graves in the necropolis has been found and we do not know of any instances of Nazi murders here.
On 1 January 1956, under the Decree on Abandoned and Post-German Property, the government became the owner of the cemetery. On 26 June 1962, under the decision issued by the District Court of Bielsko-Biała, the cemetery (both its burial site and buildings) entered the land register as a property belonging to the State Treasury. After the closure of the necropolis was announced in May 1966, the ground received new cadastral boundaries. Its main part was located in a plot belonging to "Polsport", the other on the ground belonging to "Befa". The Jewish Congregation repeatedly appealed against the decision to close down the cemetery. Despite that, the Department of Public Utilities put up an announcement calling the families of those buried in the cemetery to file an application for exhumation within the deadline of two weeks. The Congregation and the Social-Cultural Jewish Society in Poland (Towarzystwo Społeczno-Kulturalne Żydów w Polsce, TSKŻ) opposed to the idea, as the period was too short to contact the relatives of the people buried there, especially seeing that most of them lived abroad. On 31 May 1966, the Congregation defined the conditions for the exhumation, which, as it was stipulated, could only be carried out by night, but not on Jewish holidays, nor on the nights from Friday to Saturday. The bodies were to be moved to a new part of the cemetery in Cieszyńska Street and all the work was to be done in the presence of people authorised by the Congregation. These people were, among others, Adolf Herman – chairman of the Congregation, Maksymilian Metzendorf, Leopold Klein, Dawid Piller, Szymon Tintenfisz, Mojżesz Ryder, and Franciszek Edelman[1.4].
In the years 1966-1967, during a hasty exhumation, some of the matzevot were moved to the cemetery in Cieszyńska Street, but only 170 out of over 1,700 tombstones survived. Many were used to regulate the bed of the River Niwka. Some were also said to have been put in the industrial yard of today's Factory of Sport Equipment "Polsport"[1.5].
We know little about the people taking care of the necropolis. It is certain that Jakob Friedner (1806-1887) was the gravedigger in the 1850s. He lived with his wife Elsa in the house no. 16 in Lipnik. Samuel Karach, the cemetery caretaker, lived in the same building; he died in 1893 at the age of 63. After WWII and up until the closure of the site, the duties of the caretaker were performed by Józef Kruczek.
In the area of 0.1 ha no tombstone has been preserved. The area is not fenced and there is no indication of where the cemetery begins and where it ends. The entrance is open from the side of a public road and the ground is still in the direct neighbourhood of industrial and residential buildings.
On 13 December 1996, a monument commemorating the cemetery was unveiled. It has the shape of a matzevah with an inscription in Hebrew and Polish: "In this place there was a Jewish cemetery, established in 1849, closed down in 1966 by the decision of the authorities".
- [1.1] J. Proszyk, Cmentarz żydowski w Bielsku-Białej, Bielsko-Biała (2002), p. 120.
- [1.1.1] [a] [b] [c] J. Proszyk, Cmentarz żydowski w Bielsku-Białej, Bielsko-Biała (2002), p. 120.
- [1.2] J. Proszyk, Cmentarz żydowski w Bielsku-Białej, Bielsko-Biała (2002), p. 122.
- [1.3] J. Proszyk, Cmentarz żydowski w Bielsku-Białej, Bielsko-Biała (2002), p. 122.
- [1.4] J. Proszyk, Cmentarz żydowski w Bielsku-Białej, Bielsko-Biała (2002), p. 129.
- [1.5] P. Klajmon, Historia zapisana na macewach (cmentarze żydowskie między Olzą a Rabą i parę słów o historii tamtejszych Żydów) [online] http://www.olszowka.most.org.pl/teksty/histmac.rtf [Accessed 6 March 2014].
- [1.6] J. Proszyk, Cmentarz żydowski w Bielsku-Białej, Bielsko-Biała (2002), pp. 124-126.
- [1.7] J. Proszyk, Cmentarz żydowski w Bielsku-Białej, Bielsko-Biała (2002), p. 123.