The history of Jewish settlement in Biała dates back to the influx of Jews from Western Europe to Silesia (the first wave of migration reached Silesia between the 13th and the 14th centuries. The first historical record of Jews living in Biała comes from 1427, when a Jew from Ziębice named Abraham settled there with his family. When in 1526 Silesia came under the rule of German emperors, the Jewish population of the region also came under the jurisdiction of the Habsburg dynasty.

In 1540, anti-Semitic sentiments led the townspeople and merchants to ask for all Jews to be removed from Biała, but Margrave George Hohenzollern, who ruled over the Duchy of Opole and Racibórz, did not uphold these pleas. In 1543, however, he published a document banning Jews from living in Głubczyce[1.1]. Nine Jewish families subsequently left Głubczyce and settled in Biała Prudnicka[1.2].

In 1562, the sejmik (local parliament) of the Duchy of Opole and Racibórz adopted a resolution obliging Jews to sell their houses, pay their debts, and leave the Duchy within a year[1.3]. The proprietor of Biała Prudnicka, Jan Krzysztof Prószkowski, opposed this resolution and opted for letting Jews stay in the town. As a consequence, Biała became the only place in Opolian Silesia where Jews were free to settle and live. Due to many Jews arriving to the town, Biała soon became known as Judenzüelz (“Jewish Zülz [Biała]” in German).

In 1600, there were 26 Jewish families living in Biała. The local cemetery became the burial place for Jews originating from the entire area of Silesia[1.4].

On 13 April 1601, the local Jewish community was granted a special privilege from Emperor Rudolf II. It obliged Biała's authorities to provide legal protection to Jews[1.5]. The document also allowed Jews to settle in the areas of Nysa, a suburb town located near Biała. Over the course of the following years, local Jews bought houses in Nysa and engaged in small trade. Several years later the new proprietor of Biała, Count Hans Christoph von Proskowski, confirmed the privileges of local Jews. According to researchers, this privileged position of Jewish people stemmed from their strong financial position.

In the second half of the 17th century, the Jewish community of Biała strove to attain the same status of importance as the status given to the Głógów community. In February 1672, the community received a resolution from the Emperor which stated: “Die ZülzerJudensollen den Glogauischengleichgehaltenwerden, wennsię in das Privilegmitbegriffenseien.” In the middle of the 17th century, over 13% of all the building in Biała were owned by Jews. The position of Jews in Biała was effectively regulated by a privilege granted by the Emperor on 17 July 1699. The decree allowed Jews to live in the town and to trade freely on the area of the entire Duchy of Silesia (Ger. HerzogtumSchlesien).

In May 1713, Emperor Charles VI issued the Edict of Tolerance (Ger. Toleranzpatent), allowing Jews to settle in Silesia if they paid a tolerance tax. Jews living in Głogów and Biała Prudnicka were exempt from paying the tax[1.6]. The number of Jews in the local community rose rapidly in the 18th century. By that time, the community was already fully autonomous. It owned a wooden synagogue located on Judengasse Street, a cemetery, and a school. It also hired a rabbi and had an independent court.

In the 18th century, Jews living in Biała had to pay tributes and provide the town with spices. Moreover, every three years they were obliged to send cloth for the cassock to the local priest. Jewish inhabitants of Biała traded in cloth, home utensils, wool, wax, honey, and intricate lace products, which were well-renowned in the area. The volume of trade between the community of Biała and Wrocław was so big that in 1736, the office of the permanent representative of Biała was established in Wrocław. The function was fulfilled by Dawid Mojżesz, knows as the “Shammes of Biała.”

During the First Silesian War, in 1742, most of the territory of Silesia fell under the rule of the Kingdom of Prussia (except for the Cieszyn Silesia and the Duchy of Troppau). In 1742, there were approximately 1,000 Jews living in Biała.

On 22 April 1769, a big fire in Biała completely destroyed the synagogue and the surrounding Jewish houses. In 1774, a new synagogue was built. It was a brick, baroque building located on Karisplatz (currently Wałowa Street). In 1776, the treasury of the town collected 144 thalers as a tax from “accepted and tolerated” Jews (Ger. Toleranzgelder)[1.7].

In 1776, Prussian authorities ordered for all Jews living on the left bank of the Oder River to be resettled to the right river bank (except for the inhabitants of Biała Prudnicka). There, they were only allowed to live in villages. In 1780, Biała had 1001 Jewish inhabitants (which amounted to 49.2% of the entire population). Local Jews owned 40 houses in the town (17% of all the buildings)[1.8].

In 1787, the project of resettling Jews in specified towns was abandoned by Prussian authorities. It turned out that the economic situation of the towns from which Jews were relocated from started to worsen. At the time, 1366 Jews lived in Biała (48% of all Silesian Jews). According to data provided in General Tablets  issued by Prussians, Biała had its own synagogue.

Following the implementation of the Edict of Emancipation in 1812, the Jewish community of Biała started to grow smaller. Many local Jews moved into more developed regions of Silesia[1.1.4].

In 1828, there were 1109 Jews living in Biała. It was the hometown of many Jewish doctors: Jacob Preiss (born 1804, lived in Wodzisław around 1835, moved to Gliwice in 1836 and then to Prudnik in 1837) and Ludwig Preiss (moved from Ujazd to Gliwice in 1839)[1.9].

In 1856, only 411 inhabitants of Biała were Jewish. According to the research of J.G. Knie, in the 1840s, Jews constituted 28.4% of the town's population and owned 120 market stalls. In the middle of the 19th century, a Hebrew printing press operated in the town.

In the following decades, more and more Jews from Biała migrated to larger towns and ultimately, the Jewish community disappeared completely (in 1910, the town had 20 Jewish inhabitants, and in 1926 – only nine). On 15 August 1914, the Jewish community of Biała was liquidated and came under the jurisdiction of the community of Prudnik. All religious items and Torah scrolls from the synagogue were transferred to Prudnik. In 1925, only 14 Jews lived in Biała. An address book published in 1928 does not contain information on any Jewish organisations based in the town. In 1935, there were still 12 Jewish people in Biała[1.10].

During the so-called Crystal Night (Ger. Kristallnacht) (9/10.11.1938), the Nazi burned down the synagogue in Biała.

Little is known of the fate of the last Jews living in Biała. They were most probably sent to a forced labour camp and then transferred to one of the Nazi concentration camps on a “death train”.

After the end of the Second World War, Jews never came back to Biała. Currently, the town does not have any Jewish inhabitants.

 

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] ArchiwumPaństwowe w Opolu, AMG, sign. 31: Przywilej margrabiego Jerzego udzielony Głubczycom, dotyczący nietolerowania Żydów, issued in Opole on 17 August 1543; Hofrichter R., Heimatkunde des KreisesLeobschűtz, vol. 2, part 2, Leobschűtz 1911, p. 180.
  • [1.2] Walerjański D., Z dziejówŻydównaGórnymŚląsku do 1812 roku, „Orbis Interior: pismo muzealno-humanistyczne” 2005, vol. 5, p. 29.
  • [1.3] Kwak J., Żydzi w miastachgórnośląskich w XVII–XVIII w., „ŚląskiKwartalnikHistorycznySobótka” 1989, nr 1, p. 46; Walerjański D., Z dziejówŻydównaGórnymŚląsku do 1812 roku, „Orbis Interior: pismomuzealno-humanistyczne” 2005, vol. 5, p. 32.
  • [1.4] Zuelz, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before & During Holocaust, vol. 3., red. E. Wiesel, G. Wigoder, S. Spector, New York 2001, p. 1520.
  • [1.5] Walerjański D., Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku, „Orbis Interior: pismomuzealno-humanistyczne” 2005, vol. 5, p. 32.
  • [1.6] Maser P., Weiser A., Juden in Oberschlesien, vol. 1, Berlin 1992, p. 26; Walerjański D., Z dziejówŻydównaGórnymŚląsku do 1812 roku, „Orbis Interior: pismomuzealno-humanistyczne” 2005, vol. 5, p. 34.
  • [1.7] Rabin I., Die Juden in Zülz, in: Geschichte der StadtZülz in Oberschlesien, red. J. Chrząszcz, Zülz 1926, pp. 117–160; Maser P., Weiser A., Juden in Oberschlesien, vol. 1, Berlin 1992, p. 30; Walerjański D., Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku, „Orbis Interior:pismo muzealno-humanistyczne” 2005, vol. 5, p. 37.
  • [1.8] Osiem wieków miasta w zarysie, in: Miasto i GminaBiała [online] https://biala.gmina.pl/85/564/osiem-wiekow-miasta-w-zarysie.html [Accessed: 22.026.2020].
  • [1.1.4] Zuelz, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before & During Holocaust, vol. 3., red. E. Wiesel, G. Wigoder, S. Spector, New York 2001, p. 1520.
  • [1.9] Nadolski P., Historia osadnictwa Żydów w Gliwicach – sytuacja prawnaŻydów na Śląsku do I wojny światowej, in: Żydzi gliwiccy, red. B. Kubit, Gliwice 2006, p. 57.
  • [1.10] Zuelz, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before & During Holocaust, vol. 3., red. E. Wiesel, G. Wigoder, S. Spector, New York 2001, p. 1520.