The first mention of a Jew living in the area of present-day Katowice dates back to 1702. He was supposedly an innkeeper in Kuźnica Bogucka, who paid an annual tax of 150 florins. However, the proper beginning of large-scale Jewish settlement in Katowice should be associated with the tolerance charter (Toleranzpatent) issued by Emperor Charles VI in May 1713, which allowed Jews to settle in Silesia after paying a special tolerance tax.
The first mention of the Jews living in the village of Bogucice (German: Bogutschütz), which is now one of the boroughs of Katowice, dates back to 1733. According to Bogucice parish books, one Jew lived in the nearby village of Katowice in the same period; he ran an inn and a brewery. The protocol of visitation of the Bogucice parish issued in the 1740s mentioned the presence of four Jews, but it is uncertain in which parts of the parish they resided.
During the First Silesian War in 1742, most of Silesia became part of Prussia. Initially, the Prussian authorities were indifferent towards Silesian Jews. However, with the passage of time, the king slowly began to limit the freedoms of the Jewish community. In 1776, the Prussian authorities ordered the resettlement of all the Jews living on the left side of the Oder River to the right riverbank within a month. Having resettled to the other side of the Oder, they were only allowed to live in villages. As early as September 1779, however, the Prussian authorities changed their minds and ordered all Jews to leave villages and settle in towns. At the time, Gliwice was indicated as the main town of residence for the local Jewish population.
On 17 August 1780, the Wrocław Chamber assigned five towns for the settlement of Jews. They were: Tarnowskie Góry, Mysłowice, Mikołów, Lubliniec, and Bieruń Stary. This meant that Jews living in the area of present-day Katowice had to leave their place of residence. Eventually, in 1787, the Prussian authorities withdrew from their decision to resettle the Jewish population to the designated towns due to the economic losses suffered by the localities abandoned by Jews. Thus Jewish people were allowed to return to Katowice.
The records from the visitation of the Bogucice parish which took place in 1792 mention the presence of a Jewish family in the locality: “I have not noted the presence of any religious minorities except one lessee in Katowice, Mojżesz, with his wife and children. Around 1825, the first Jewish family settled in Katowice, which at the time had ca. 800 inhabitants
It was the family of Hirschel Fröhlich (Hirsch Frueih), iron wholesaler who took out a lease on a court at Friedrichsplatz (Ring, now Market Square). An official census conducted in 1825 (published by Johan Georg Knie) recorded the presence of four Jews in the locality
In 1840, 12 Jews lived in Katowice. Among them was the family of Isaak Grätzer, who opened the Welt Hotel in 1848 (the hotel was later called Retzlaff, currently its building houses the Zenit department store), Marianne Fröhlich (widowed by Hirschl Fröhlich in 1826), merchant's assistant Josef Hausdorff (later settled in Mysłowice), and innkeeper Löbel Zernik (employed by Grätzer. In 1844, there were four Jewish families living in Katowice, altogether 17 persons.
Many Jewish businessmen from neighbouring major cities selected Katowice as the principal location of their businesses. Oscar Caro, a resident of Gliwice, bought the ‘Baildon’ ironworks and later merged it with the ‘Julia’ ironworks (in Bobrek, now a borough of Bytom), the ‘Hermin’ ironworks (in Łabędy) and the Heinrich Kern & Co enterprise (wire factory). The merger resulted in the establishment of the Oberschlesische Eisenindustrie A.G. für Bergbau und Hüttenbetrieb company. It was later expanded through the incorporation of the ‘Silesia’ ironworks in Rybnik. Another inhabitant of Gliwice – Fritz Friedländer – owned the ‘Eminenz’ mine near Katowice.
Jewish entrepreneurs of Katowice also actively developed their businesses. The Goldstein brothers were engaged in timber trade. In early 20th century, they erected a palace at today's Plac Wolności. At the site of today's parking lot in front of the municipal office of Katowice, partners Fielder and Glaser founded the largest grain mill in Upper Silesia. Among other prominent Jewish industrialists of the period were Dawid Czwiklitzer, who founded a soap factory in the town, and Maks Kromolowski, a producer of leather goods.
In 1847, the Jewish community of Katowice voluntarily joined the Jewish community in Mysłowice, which allowed them to use its mikvah and bury their dead at the local Jewish cemetery.
From 1850, common prayers were also conducted in Katowice, in private houses or rented apartments, in particular in the private houses of Sommer (today’s Press House at the Market Square), Adolf Fröhlich (rented court property, now the Skarbek department store), Solomon Goldstein (now Warszawska Street), and at the Hotel de Prusse at Friedrichsplatz (currently non-existent building at the Market Square).
In 1855, 105 Jews lived in Katowice. They wanted for a small synagogue to be opened in the town. The building was to be erected on the initiative of Heimann Fröhlich, on the plot he owned at today's Mariacka Street. These plans, however, never came to fruition. Nonetheless, the Jews of Katowice persisted in their efforts to build their own synagogue, and as early as 1861, the community purchased a square forming part of the Tiela-Winckler estate (at the junction of today's 3 Maja and Słowackiego streets) for the purpose of constructing the future synagogue. The building was designed by a Katowice-based architect, Ignatz Grünfeld, and was consecrated on 4 September 1862.
At the same time, the Jewish community was seeking to become independent and to separate itself from the Mysłowice kehilla. On 5 February 1862, a request in the matter was lodged at the Royal District Office in Bytom. On 5 October 1864, after lengthy negotiations, the authorities issued a decision confirming that, as of 1 January 1866, the Jews living in Katowice, Katowicka Hałda (German: Kattowitzer Halde, today the area between the city centre and Brynów) and in Brynów (German: Brynow) would leave the synagogue district of Mysłowice and create a separate community. Soon afterwards, the elections to the board of the newly formed community took place, and the community institutions started to be created. Until the selection of the first rabbi in 1871, issues concerning religious matters were handled by Israel Bornstein.
In 1865, when Katowice gained town rights, Jewish settlement in the city started to grow rapidly. At the time, 573 Jews lived in Katowice, constituting 12% of all inhabitants of the town. Due to the growing size of the local Jewish population it became necessary to build new religious facilities.
In 1867, a mikvah was erected next to the synagogue. It was also designed by Ignatz Grünfeld. The Jewish cemetery was consecrated in 1868. It survived to this day and is currently located at Kozielska Street. On 6 October 1871, the Jewish community of Katowice chose its first rabbi, Dr Jacob Cohn. He assumed the position on 6 January 1872. Rabbi died on 23 April 1916 in Zabrze (Hindenburg) and was buried on 26 April in Katowice.
In 1872, the Union of Upper Silesian Synagogue Communities (Verband der Oberschlesischen Synagogen-Gemeinden) was established. It included the Katowice Jewish Community. At the beginning of 1870s, the jurisdiction of the Katowice community was expanded through the incorporation of the Jewish communities from Załęże, Bedersdorf and Ignatzdorf in 1872. In 1873, due to the increasing number of members of the Jewish community in Katowice, an additional service was introduced in the local synagogue. The community was further expanded in 1876 with the incorporation of the village of Dąb. Two years later, the towns of Josefsdorf and Hohenlohütte joined the Katowice community, followed by Bogucice and Zawodzie in 1884.
Thanks to the abolishment of the discriminatory decree of 3 August 1781, which had limited the number of Jewish merchants and craftsmen allowed to settle in the town, the Katowice community started to grow even faster, both demographically and economically, and it gained a strong position in the region towards the end of the 1880s.
In 1880, the Community Board in Katowice decided to expand the synagogue. The design was prepared by Carl Häusler, and construction work was carried out in the years 1880-1883. The official re-opening ceremony was held on 20 April 1883. Apart from the Progressive Jewish community, there were also various Hasidic communities in Katowice, having their own prayer houses in private homes.
The Katowice Jews also took an active part in the socio-political life of the town. They sat in the Town Council and the Municipal Board.
In the second half of the 19th century, there was a strong Zionist movement in Katowice. In 1884, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Moses Montefiore, a Jewish philanthropist and social activist, an international conference of Hovevei Zion (Hebrew: Lovers of Zion) was held in the town. The conference came to be known in the history of the movement as the Katowice Conference. During the event, its participants discussed the internal organisation of Hovevei Zion and adopted a declaration of support for the Jewish settlement in Palestine.
As the Katowice community continued to grow in size and importance, the number of Jewish inhabitants of Katowice itself was quickly increasing, which sparked the discussion on the construction of a new, larger synagogue. The new synagogue was designed by Max Grünfeld of the Ignatz Grünfeld Baugeschäft studio. The opening ceremony of the Great Synagogue took place on Wednesday, 12 September 1900.
The end of World War I brought significant changes to Upper Silesia. The reestablishment of the Polish state (the Second Republic of Poland) on 11 November 1918 caused an increase in pro-Polish sentiments among the Silesian population. This led to a conflict with the German community and the outbreak of three subsequent Silesian uprisings. The Silesian Jews found themselves in the midst of historic turmoil that swept through Silesia. The majority of the local Jews were decisively on the pro-German side. At that time, since 1919, the Jewish community in Katowice was headed by Bruno Altman.
On 20 March 1921, a plebiscite was held in Upper Silesia. Most of the Jewish community voted for Upper Silesia to be part of Germany. In Katowice, 85.4% of the votes were cast for the town to remain in Germany and 14.6% for its incorporation into Poland. Despite of the outcome of the vote, the Polish community instigated another Silesian uprising and forcefully negated the results of the plebiscite.
After Katowice was incorporated into Poland in 1922, most of the local Jews migrated to Germany. They identified themselves with Germans and did not agree to change their nationality. Most of them settled in Bytom (Beuthen) and Wrocław (Breslau), both of which still belonged to Germany. After 1922, they started to be replaced by Polish Jews, arriving in throngs to the territories of Polish Silesia. They came mostly from the Dąbrowski Basin, but also from the former territory of Congress Poland. Their arrival partially compensated for the outflow of German Jews and enabled the survival of the Jewish communities in Silesia. The newcomers, however, were often approached with hostility, both on the part of the local authorities and on the part of the Jews who had lived in the area for a long time. The negative reception of the new Jewish townsmen resulted from the fact that the former Congress Poland was perceived by most inhabitants of Upper Silesia as backward, poor, and culturally inferior. This perception was extrapolated to the incoming Polish Jews. They were considered a threat in terms of the increased competition and strengthening of pro-Polish sentiments in the area. These conflicts also had an impact on the relations within the Jewish communities and negatively affected their development.
In the years 1924-1928, the rabbi of Katowice was Ezekiel Lewin, whose brother, Aaron, was the rabbi of Rzeszów and a deputy to the Polish Sejm representing the conservative Agudath party. When Rabbi Ezekiel Lewin moved to Lviv in 1928, the function of the rabbi of Katowice was performed by Kalman Chamenides, who graduated from the Rabbinical Seminary in Katowice. At the same time, the community was forced to temporarily appoint another rabbi, Mordechai Vogelman from Galicia, because Chamenides did not speak Polish, which was one of the obligatory requirements to be fulfilled by a candidate to the office. Vogelman ended up holding his post for many years, sharing his rabbinical responsibilities with Chamenides until 1939. Both rabbis, prominent speakers and scholars, were deeply involved in the life of the local community, serving in numerous charitable organisations and engaging in matters related to education and social care. After the outbreak of war, Mordechai Vogelman and his family managed to reach Palestine, where he was a rabbi in Kiryat Motzkin until his death. After the outbreak of the war, Rabbi Chamenides, along with other rabbis from Silesia, fled to Lviv, which at the time remained under Soviet occupation.
In 1931, almost 60% of all 5,716 Jews living in Katowice were newcomers from different areas of the Republic of Poland. At the same time, the mounting national economic crisis significantly weakened the position of local industrial plants, causing an increase in unemployment rates. This situation caused a lot of tensions among Jews of Katowice, although the community spared no efforts in helping the newcomers and undertook numerous activities aimed at facilitating their assimilation into the local community.
In 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, some migrants decided to return to Upper Silesia due to the anti-Semitic persecution in the Third Reich. The number of returning Jews must have been significant, because the Silesian Provincial Office issued a permit for the Israeli Communities Authority in Katowice to carry out a fundraiser aimed at supporting the Jewish repatriates. Money was collected in all synagogue communities of the Śląskie Province in the period of 1-30 June 1933[1.1].
In the second half of the 1930s, as a result of the deteriorating economic predicament of the Jewish community, wealth inequalities between various groups of the Jewish population were largely exacerbated. Among the Jews living in Katowice there was a group of ca. 250 rich families of bankers, industrialists, monopolists in grain and timber trade, as well as owners of luxury hotels and shops and ca. 1,000 families involved in small trade, but there was also a growing number of very poor people devoid of any income. The community tried to counteract the negative effects of social processes by organising aid for the poorest, running a free diner, a clinic, and organising holiday trips for children from impoverished families. In 1936, the Jewish employment agency was opened.
The deteriorating economic conditions in the 1930s, as well as the growing activity of Nazi organisations in Katowice, brought about a wave of anti-Semitic sentiments and persecutions against Jews living in Upper Silesia. In 1933, anti-Jewish incidents took place in Katowice, and in 1936, a propaganda campaign in the local press was launched to close the kosher slaughterhouse. As a result of new legal regulations introduced in the years 1937-1938, many Jewish craftsmen, including hairdressers and tailors, were banned from working in their profession. In 1937, a number of pogroms took place in the area, Jewish trade was boycotted, many shops were set on fire, and several people lost their lives in the disturbances. As a consequence of the growing anti-Semitic persecution, many Jews left the city in the second half of the 1930s. Just before the outbreak of the war, there were only 8,587 Jews in Katowice, that is about 6.3% of the total population. Next to the Great Synagogue, there was a beth midrash, a mikvah, and a Jewish cemetery, all supervised by the Jewish community. There were also numerous Jewish schools as well as a Jewish kindergarten in the town. It was planned to build a hospital, a nursing home, an orphanage, and a new synagogue.
In 1937, a new five-storey building was erected next to the Great Synagogue. It housed the administrative institutions of the community and at the same time served as a cultural centre and a seat of numerous organisations. The community also put much emphasis on education. In the interwar period, besides the Talmud-Torah, there was the Berek Joselewicz school and a Hebrew school in the town. In early 1932, the Katowice community started to publish its own newspaper.
On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland, thus starting World War II. As early as 3 September, the German army entered Katowice. After the seizure of the city, Germans plundered Jewish homes and set fire to the Great Synagogue. The ruins of the synagogue were dismantled, while the Gestapo set up their local headquarters in other buildings of the community.
Shortly afterwards, Katowice was incorporated into the Third Reich, where it became the capital of the Province of Upper Silesia. During the first three months of the occupation, most of the Jews in Katowice (about 11,000-12,000 people, both permanent residents and incoming refugees) were forced to leave the city and move to the General Government. Some of them fled to the areas under Soviet occupation, some were relocated to nearby towns, among others to Sosnowiec. At the end of 1939, only ca. 900 Jews remained in the city.
In early 1940, the authorities of Nazi Germany prepared a plan for the conquered Poland – Generalplan Ost, which envisaged the gradual extermination of the Jewish and Roma population, followed by the expulsion of a large part of Poles to the east. The remaining Poles were to be a slave labour force in the German industry and agriculture. The first stage of the implementation of the plan took place in Greater Poland, Pomerania, and Silesia. Initially, it was planned to deport all Jews from Upper Silesia to the General Government, but after its authorities refused to accept all newcomers, it was decided to create ghettos instead. At the beginning of 1940, the largest ghettos were established in Będzin and Sosnowiec. They served as de facto ‘labour force reserves,’ supplying workers to forced labour camps set up throughout the Silesian territory. In May and June 1940, Jews from Katowice were deported to Chrzanów (ca. 600 people), Szczakowa (ca. 150 people), as well as to Sosnowiec and Będzin, where they shared the fate of the members of the local communities.
In October 1940, the Special Representative of the Reichsführer-SS and the Head of the German Police for the Employment of Alien Nationalities in Upper Silesia, Albrecht Schmelt, organised forced labour of the Silesian Jews. A special Department of Forced Labour, headed by Majer Brzeski until mid-1941, was founded for the purpose of organising and grouping Jewish workers. Contingents of young Jews were then transported to forced labour camps in the administrative districts of Katowice and Opole. In 1940, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler established the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. It was to become a source of slave labour for the Upper Silesian Industrial District and the Dąbrowski Basin. Most of the Jews from Katowice, after brief stays in various ghettos in the Basin area, were eventually sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In the winter of 1942/43, following the change in the dynamic on the Eastern Front brought about by the defeat of Germans in the battle of Stalingrad, the industrial area of the Rhine experienced heavy Allied bombing, which meant that the Upper Silesian industry started to play a key role in the German war economy. Soon, up to 50% of German armaments were produced there. The authorities demanded constant increases in the volumes of coal mined in Silesia and sought non-investment expansion of the production of arms, but the personnel shortages were starting to become a serious issue. For this reason, it was decided to create forced labour camps at industrial plants.
As early as March and April 1942, the head administrator of the concentration camps, SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl, determined the rules concerning the exploitation of forced labourers. In the summer of 1942, it was decided to include concentration camps in the efforts to increase the economic potential of the Third Reich. In September 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered the creation of new labour camps in the immediate vicinity of industrial plants. From this point on, branches of concentration camps began to be established so that its prisoners could be used as slave workers in factories and plants supporting the German economy. In the years 1943-1944, there was a number of forced labour camps in Katowice, the prisoners of which were primarily Jews from Western Europe, including ca. 900 Jews from France.
After the war, ca. 1,500 Jews settled in Katowice, but very few of them were original residents of the town. Instead, most of the new Jewish inhabitants of Katowice were people from other regions of the country who had fled to the Soviet Union. A Jewish Committee for Upper Silesia was established in the town, helping thousands of Jewish refugees passing through Katowice on their way to the West.
In 1950, a local branch of the Jewish Social and Cultural Society in Poland has been established; it continues to be active until the present day. Immediately after the war, in 1946, the Congregation of the Mosaic Faith was established in Katowice. In 1993, it was transformed into the Jewish Religious Community. After the start of the anti-Semitic campaign of 1968, most Jews living in Katowice left Poland. In 1969, only a few Jewish families remained there.
- Eshel-Kaufmann A., Kehila ktana ve-toseset, [w:] Katowic. Perihata ve-szekijata szel ha-kehila ha-jehudit. Sefer Zikaron, ed. J. Chrust, J. Frankel, Tel Aviv 1996, p. 37
- Kirshenboim S. L., Krakowski S., Katowice, [in:] The Encyclopedia Judaica, ed. M. Berenbaum, F. Skolnik, vol. 12, Detroit 2007, p. 6.
- Małusecki B., Rodziny gliwickich przemysłowców pochodzenia żydowskiego – ich udział w życiu i rozwoju miasta, [in:] Żydzi Gliwiccy, Gliwice 2006, p. 64.
- Sikora A., Śladami Żydów w Katowicach, „Gazeta Uniwersytecka UŚ” [online] http://gu.us.edu.pl/node/258851 [Accessed: 03.01.2021]
- Schmitz R. P., Ha-kehila ha-jehudit be-Katowic, [w:]Katowic. Perihata ve-szekijata szel ha-kehila ha-jehudit. Sefer Zikaron, ed. J. Chrust, J. Frankel, Tel Aviv 1996, s. 10
- Śladami Żydów z Zagłębia Dąbrowskiego. Wspomnienia, Będzin 2009, p. 24
- [1.1] National Archives in Katowice, Municipal records of Tarnowskie Góry, ref. no. 3311, fol. 75; Gwóźdź K., “Żydzi w okresie międzywojennym”, [in] Historia Tarnowskich Gór, ed. J. Drabina, Tarnowskie Góry 2000, p. 434.