Jews began settling in Sosnowiec in the mid-19th century during a time of the city's economic development. Historical documents mention that Abram Blumental moved from Modrzejów to Sosnowiec in 1859, thus becoming the town's first Jew. He worked as a city tax collector and, with the consent of imperial authorities, purchased land next to the Customs Office where he erected the first residential building in Sosnowiec.
In the early 1860s, other Jews began settling in Sosnowiec, living, in most cases, in the neighborhood around the railway station. The most influential amongst them being William Bergman and Adolf Openhaim, merchants from Czestochowa. They belonged to the Będzin kehilla in Będzin, which is also where they buried their deceased. Prayer services were held in private houses and in Hasidic shtibels. Arye Leyb Gitler (died in 1888) was the first rabbi that came to live in Sosnowiec. Because it did not have an independent kehilla, he had to settle for the title of a teacher. [1.1]
In 1880, Sosnowiec had 120 Jews, 1.3% of the population. In 1888 Rabbi Abram Majer Gitler (died 1925), son of the deceased Rabbi Gitler, became a new educator there. In 1893, after the bubonic plague, the city council gave permission to establish a Jewish cemetery. The purchase of the land was financed by the family of Rajcher, a wealthy merchant. The Będzin Jewish community opposed the opening of this cemetery.
Between the years 1894 and 1896, the Great Synagogue was built in Policyjna Street (today 16 Dekerta Street). It served the needs of a growing Jewish population in Sosnowiec. In 1897, 2291 Jews lived in the city, comprising 6.3% of the city’s population. In 1898, an independent Jewish community was established. Abram Majer was appointed Rabbi of Sosnowiec. The community council was headed by three wealthy and well-educated merchants: Stanisław Rajner, Jakob Najfeld and Adolf Openhajm. In 1900, Dawid Sztajnzalc (died 1921) became a new rabbi of Sosnowiec and in 1902, Rabbi Icchak Glikman (died 1929) became a dayan (rabbinical court judge).
From 1906, two Hasidic Jews were members of a 12-member synagogue board. In Sosnowiec, Hasidic rabbis were also active: Alter Abram Bezalel Natan Neta Biderman (died 1933 – his body was taken to Israel), Mordechai Elazar Menachem Biderman (Holocaust victim), Dawid Pardes (died 1922), Eliezer Finkler (died 1937), Pinchas Isschar Finkler (Holocaust victim). Rabbi Szlomo Chanoch Hacohen Rabinowicz was one of the wealthiest people in Poland. He founded 36 yeshivas (religious schools).
In 1907 a private prayer house, which was also used as a cheder, was built in the district of Sielce[1.2].
Between the years 1899 and 1902, the community’s income in Sosnowiec reached 6,502 rubles, the biggest part of which (6,450 rubles) came from taxes (50 rubles per family). The community’s expenses amounted to 6,350 rubles – of which 3,285 rubles were for wages (100 rubles for the rabbi, 400 rubles for two cantors, 355 rubles for three Jewish community officials, 480 rubles for watchmen), 250 rubles for synagogue maintenance, 305 rubles for synagogue renovation works; 1,200 rubles to help the poor, and 1,260 rubles to maintain a Talmud Torah school.
In 1909, kehilla’s income grew to 9,787 rubles, which allowed expenses spent on poor relief to increase. In 1910, the income increased to 12,843 rubles and help for the poor grew to 5,089 rubles. Private individuals also undertook charitable activity within the community. In 1902, merchant Genrich Elionor Rajcher donated 10,000 rubles for the Tomchei Aniyim, an association supporting the poor. In 1907, Linat Tsedek, a hospice for the poorest, was established. In 1912, Dr Abram Perlman paid for a Jewish hospital (currently known as Szpital Kolejowy on Konrada Street), also known as the Perlman Hospital, so named after its first director.
By the end of the 19th century, the majority of Jewish children were studying in a traditional Jewish heder, however, more and more wealthy Jews paid private tutors to teach their sons. In the years 1897-1900, one of Chaim Nachman Bialik was one of the private tutors. In 1902, in Sosnowiec, there were 8 private Jewish schools (annual fee was 5,000). In 1907, a private Jewish school with separate classes for boys and girls was established. In 1908, the kehilla ran a Talmud Torah school (which cost 2,400 rubles annually). In 1913, Icchak Rotner opened a new Talmud Torah school.
In the years between 1897 and 1898, the first Zionist group was established in Sosnowiec. Among their founders there was Chaim Nachman Bialik, Hebrew teacher. In 1903, a representative from Sosnowiec was elected a delegate to the Zionist Congress. In 1907, on the initiative of the writer Mosze Stebeski, the Hebrew language society Chovevei ha-safa ha-ivri" was established. In 1912, Hazamir association was established which ran Hebrew choir, organized lectures and other cultural activities.
By the end of the 19th century, there was already a Jewish workers movement whose members took part in organizing the first strike in 1894 and, during the events of the 1905 Russian Revolution, Jewish youth joined the protesters. In the years 1906-1908, underground units of the Bund, the Polish National Workers Union, and Poale Zion, the Jewish Socialist Workers Party, were created.
Anti-Semitic incidents occurred in Sosnowiec around that time. For insance, in 1903, during the Rosh Hashanah festival (Jewish New Year), Polish workers threw stones at Jews near the river. Luckily, the police quickly intervened, thanks to which the situation did not turn worse. In July 1911, Jews from Sosnowiec were accused of kidnapping a young Polish woman whose blood was to allegedly to be used for ritual purposes. An infuriated crowd of Poles broke into the synagogues during a service. The police, again, did not allow any escalation of the incident.
During the period of World War I, Sosnowiec was occupied by German armies. In 1915, many Jewish refugees, who were left with nothing to live on, which led to an extremely difficult situation as existing food supplies allowed only 100 grams of bread for one refuge on a daily basis. This caused great suffering and people often starved to death. At that time, Poles were accusing Jews of causing the crisis, while the poor Jewish refugees blamed the wealthy Jewish merchants for preying on people’s poverty and suffering. In 1916, the situation improved thanks to aid received from German and American Jews.
Winning the favor of occupying German authorities, Jews from Sosnowiec engaged in cultural and political life. In 1915, the first modern high school was opened and, in 1916, a library named in honor of Y. L. Peretz was also opened. Zionists organized numerous lectures and meetings. The Jewish sports club Maccabi was established, where in 1917 a conference was held. Also, in 1917, a branch of the Agudat Israel political party was born. In the first elections to the City Council in 1917, members of Poale Zion stood for election on the same electoral register as the Polish Socialist Party, which competed with the National Democrats (Narodowa Demokracja, Endecja). In the elections, 10 out of the 18 Council members elected were Jews.
In the interwar period, in 1921, 13 646 Jews lived in Sosnowiec, making up 15.1% of all inhabitants. Most of them lived off craftsmanship and minor trade. In 1921 Joint carried out incomplete census of Jewish economic and commercial activities in Sosnowiec, which revealed that in the town there were 368 craft and productions workshops, which employed 955 workers.
|Activity||Number of workshops||Number of workers|
|Building and construction||21||27|
In 1924, elections to the kehilla’s committee were held (9 members of the Gush Leumi Zionist block were elected and 1 member from Mizrachi and Agudat Israel parties each). Dr Abram Perlman was elected committee chairman, with his deputy being Leybush Zendel. At that time, 17 prayer houses were in use, which were owned by religious organisations or private individuals. A Hasidic group was also active in the town and was initially led by Alter Abram Bezalel Natan Neta Biderman.
In 1926, Jewish merchants created the Merchant Bank, which often engaged in activities in support of Zionist organizations. In 1927, a group of about 600 small Jewish merchants organized their own trade union which then operated its own credit fund.
After Ze'ev Jabotinsk visited Sosnowiec, a branch of the revisionist Betar was established in 1927. In 1930, its members created the Tel Chai Fund. Around 200 members of the movement from Sosnowiec left for Palestine.
In the 1930’s, a Jewish Middle High Schools Society Gimnasium for Girls (Gimnazjum Żeńskie Towarzystwa Szkół Średnich) was established in Sosnowiec. Numerous Jewish newspapers were published in the city. In July 1921, the Unzer Blat weekly was established (in 1923, it changed its name to Unzer Telefon), whose editor-in-chief became Laybish Szpigelman. In 1937, the Zaglembier Leben weekly was launched.
In 1930, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager (died in 1954) became a new rabbi of Sosnowiec. He was also a Ha-Mizrachi delegate to the Zionist Congress. Because of his Zionistic activism the orthodox groups did not accept him and elected another rabbi of the city, Yeshayahu Englard. As a result, there were two rabbis of the town of Sosnowiec.
In 1931, Jews comprised 19% of the city’s populace. They lived mainly in the commercial district – area enclosed by a square made of Warszawska, Małachowskiego, Sienkiewicza and Kościelna Streets. Also, in 1931, kahal council elections were held – 5 members of Ha-Mizrachi, 4 members of the Zionist Histadrut, 2 members of the orthodox Agudat Israel movement, 2 persons from the electoral register of merchants and 3 others were elected. Mordechai Klajnberg became the chairman, while Icchak Sztajn was his deputy. The Council was dissolved two years later due to irregularities in account books and missing PLN 192,000. A new temporary council was then appointed, consisting of eight members and headed by Berysz Tenzer. In 1935, kahal budget reached PLN 337,175 (56,000 of which consisted of overdue taxes or were collected from people who had earlier been exempted from paying communal taxes). In that same year, the kahal paid off its debts amounting to PLN 30,000.
In November 1931, a group of about 3,000 young Polish nationalists organized an anti-Semitic demonstration in Sosnowiec during which two Jews were beaten. Due to rapid intervention of the police, the situation did not take a turn for the worse.
In 1933, the Yung Zagłębie (Young Zagłębie) organization, was established, gathering Jewish plastic artists and writers.
In the second half of the 1930’s, the anti-Semitic trends were on the increase . In 1935, unidentified offenders planted a home-made bomb in a Jewish house of prayer. When it exploded, two Jewish youths were injured. In July 1936, a bomb was discovered in the Bristol Hotel, which was owned by a Jewish family. Luckily, the bomb was successfully deactivated. In February 1938, a 16-year old yeshiva student was brutally beaten. One month later, a prayer house was broken into and Jews, who were praying there, were beaten up. When the police arrived there, attacker managed to escape. In November 1938, another bomb in a prayer house was planted. This time, police commenced investigation that effectively led to apprehension of five members of right-wing parties who pleaded guilty.
In February 1936, next elections to the kahal board were held, which were won by the orthodox by a large majority of votes. In 1938, the kahal budget amounted to PLN 200,000, out of which 45,000 were allocated for synagogue, school and maintenance of other public buildings; 8 000 for education, 6,000 for medical supplies for the poor; 8,000 for matzoh for the deprived and 2,500 to help immigrants.
During local government elections in 1938 and 1939, the Jewish blocs got 9 seats. In January 1939, the last local government elections took place in which the orthodox wing did much better than last time. Szalom Lajzerowicz became new head of board with his deputy Josef Majtlis (after a few days, he resigned and was replaced by Moshe Meryn).
On the 4 September 1939, the Germans occupied Sosnowiec. According to the census of 1939, 26,000 Jews lived in the city. Already on the first day of occupation, the Nazis carried out public and individual executions, as a result of which many Jews and Poles were killed (among them about 30 Jews). The Germans plundered Jewish property and subjected Jews to forced labor. There were also some situations in which orthodox Jews were forced to cut and shave their beards in public.
On 9 September, they burnt a synagogue on Dekerta Street and then destroyed all objects of religious cult for Jews. At the end of October, all Jews up to the age of 55 were obliged by law to perform forced labor. In November, white armbands with a blue David Star were compulsory.
A Judenrat of Sosnowiec was appointed, headed by Moshe Merin. The first Judenrat comprised 24 members: Ignacy Majtlis, Antony Kohn, Dawid Lewartowski, Icchak Sztajnfeld, Fanny Czerna and others. It had seven departments of employment, healthcare, law, finances, property, supplies and management. It was in charge of kitchen and provisions for Jewish refugees resettled in Sosnowiec. The healthcare department was managed by a Jewish hospital in Zagłębie, the only one in the whole area of Zagłębie.
At the beginning of November 1939, Germans arrested 100 wealthiest and most important Jews in Sosnowiec and Będzin, for whose release they demanded a high ransom.
After payment of the required amount, they were released at the beginning of December. Meanwhile, Jewish property was being systematically confiscated by Germans who raided the homes of affluent Jews, located along main streets (such as Pierackiego, Małachowskiego and part of 3 Maja Streets), as well as their parlors and shops. German settlers that were moved from the Reich were settling down at homes and apartments formerly owned by Jews. In 1940, 2,592 Germans settled down in Sosnowiec and, in 1942, the number reached 10,749 - 10% of all inhabitants.
In November 1939 In November 1939 gestapo in Katowice appointed Moshe Merin head of the entire Jewish community within Katowice and Opole districts. In December 1939, Germans established the Central Jewish Council of Elders from Eastern Upper Silesia chaired by Moshe Merin who was to create and organize new governing bodies in Jewish communities within the regierungsbezirk, an administrative region in Germany. Chaim, Moshe Merin's brother, became a now president of Sosnowiec Judenrat. At the end of 1939 Jewish police in Sosnowiec started to operate (in 1941 it numbered 200 policemen.) The original German plan foresaw that all the Jews from the Silesia region be displaced, however, the GG Governor, Hans Frank, refused to accept thousands of new Jews under his jurisdiction. For that reason, it was decided that all Silesia Jews should be gathered in towns in the eastern part of the Zagłębie region and use them as slave labor force. In the spring of 1940, the Germans deported over 5,000 Jews from Silesia to Zagłębie. As a result, hundreds of them found themselves in Sosnowiec. The Judenrat endeavored to provide new families with housing and food. In 1940, the number of Jews in Sosnowiec was 22,407, and in 1941, it grew to 24,249.
In October 1940 Wolf Böhm was appointed the president of Judenrat. There were 23,319 Jews living in Sosnowiec as of 1 October 1940[1.3].
Albrecth Schmelt, a high ranking SS officer directly responsible to Hitler, was in charge of organizing work for Silesian Jews. He ordered the Sosnowiec Judenrat to prepare lists of all Jews that were capable of working classifying them according to trades they did. In autumn 1940, a transition camp "Dulag," was established, were gathering of Jews before they were sent to labor camps took place. Wooden bunk beds were installed in classrooms, and the school was then encircled with barbed wire. In October 1940, a group of around 500 young Jewish workers was transported from Sosnowiec to forced labor camps in Będzin. At the end of 1940, 2,880 Jewish prisoners were working in camps such as this one. The majority of them worked in quarries or were building motorways which was to link the Silesia region with the Reich.
In March 1941, next groups of Jewish workers were deported from Sosnowiec. One of these groups participated in the construction of the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Many of the Sosnowiec Jews avoided being sent to forced labor camps by finding employment in production workshops in Sosnowiec that produced clothes and shoes for German army in the Eastern front. In spring 1942 ca. 2,000-3,000 Jews were employed in the wokshops.
Germans decided to exterminate the Jews from the Zagłębie region. The first stage was a system of controlled selection which was intended to identify the ones capable of working who were later sent to labor camps or SS factories. At the end of April 1942, the Sosnowiec Judenrat called upon 6,200 Jews to prepare themselves to leave the city for labor camps. Those being resettled were permitted to take with them 25kg of baggage as well as enough food for three days. Rumor had it in Sosnowiec that they were being sent to Theresienstadt. On the assembly day (10 May 1942), only 300 Jews appeared. In the afternoon, SS soldiers surrounded buildings in Targowa Street and searched apartments, throwing all the Jews out on the street. Over the next two days, Jewish policemen gathered 3,600 Jews who were all transported by train to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Among victims was rabbi Englard.
In June 1942, deportations from the Zagłębie region started again. This time, SS soldiers, with the help of Jewish policemen, carried out unexpected raids on homes and gathered Jews in a nearby school. Residents of a Jewish old people’s home, children from the orphanage and patients from the hospital were also joined the transported groups. Overall, over 2,000 Jews were taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
In that manner, from May to June in 1942 about 10% of Jews were deported from Sosnowiec. At the same time, the production workshops increased their output, trying to persuade Jews of the necessity of maintenance. Despite that, the Judenrat was ordered to gather all Jews for selection on the 12 August. Above all 7,000 Jews who were resettled from Sosnowiec to Upper Silesia without their IDs were in the biggest danger of being transported. Despite appeals from Jewish youth organizations to ignore the Judenrat’s order, over 22,000 Jews appeared. They were divided into four groups: (1) members of the Judenrat and its workers, as well as Jewish policemen, (2) young people aged 16-24, (3) people who had work permission and (4) families with children and elderly people. Selecton took the entire day. People in the first group (Judenrat) and the third group (those with work permissions) were permitted to go home. The youth in the second group were taken to a nearby displacement camp. The fourth group was selected for deportation and was imprisoned in four houses in Targowa and Kołątaja Streets. On 15 August 1942, the group, made of around 4,000 Jews, was transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. This became known as "The Great Deportation".
After that deportation the Judenrat president, Chaim Merin, understood that the only people who had any chance of surviving were those with work permits. In 1942, he created two labor camps in Sosnowiec and Będzin (Arbeits-Kommando Lager), which employed displaced people who did not possess any documents. In Sosnowiec, around 4,000 people were employed at workshops in 1943.
In the autumn of 1942, Germans began to create a ghetto in the Środula district, which was being prolonged due to problems with evacuation of Polish inhabitants that were to be replaced by Jewish displaced persons. That is the reaseon why it was not until 15 March 1943, when 14,000 Jews were confined in a ghetto in Środula. At the same time, another smaller ghetto was established in Stary Sosnowiec, where 6,000 people were gathered. It was not surrounded but any person who left it was punished with death penalty. Judenrat founded a new orphanage, hospital and soup kitchens there.
In June 1943, the Germans took the decision to finally annihilate all the Jews from Zagłębie. Between 22 and 24 June 1943, around 1,200 Jews were transported from Sosnowiec to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
On the 1 August, 1943, a second deportation was initiated. According to the plan about 30,000 Jews were to be transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau from Sosnowiec and Będzin. In reality the whole procedure prolonged until 8 August. During the deportation the members of Jewish Combat Organization members were fighting a losing battle against almost 800 German soldiers and policemen. During deportation, about 400 Jews who resisted it or tried to escape died. About 10 thousand people were taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
In Sosnowiec, a small group of Jewish workers remained. They took bodies away from the streets, cleaning desolate houses sorting out remaining possessions. On 7 December 1943, a group of 800 laborers was sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. The last transport (400 people) Sosnowiec to Auschwitz-Birkenau was dispatched on the 15 January 1944.
Only a handful of Jews who managed to hide from Germans survived and remained in Sosnowiec.
- Jaworski W., Żydzi w Zagłębiu Dąbrowskim. Zarys dziejów, Sosnowiec 2006, s. 26
- Namysło A., Zanim nadeszła Zagłada... Żydzi w Zagłębiu Dąbrowskim w okresie okupacji hitlerowskiej, Sosnowiec 2008, ss. 8–12, 15–17, 20–23.
- Namysło A., Zanim nadeszła Zagłada... Położenie ludności żydowskiej w Zagłębiu Dąbrowskim w okresie okupacji niemieckiej, Katowice 2009, s. 22.
- Studencki Z., ABC sosnowieckich Żydów, Sosnowiec 2008, s. 11
- Sosnowiec – Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities in Poland, t. 7: Poland, [w:] JewishGen [online] https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_poland/pol7_00327.html [dostęp: 01.07.2021]
- Rozmus D., Witkowski S., Cmentarz żydowski w Sosnowcu, [w:] Kompleks cmentarzy w Sosnowcu przy ulicy Smutnej, red. D. Rozmus, S. Witkowski, Sosnowiec 2009, s. 101.
- Urbański K., Almanach gmin żydowskich województwa kieleckiego w latach 1918–1939, Kielce 2007, s. 141.
- Woźniczka Z, Powojenne dzieje Żydów w Polsce i ich wpływ na losy społeczności żydowskiej w Zagłębiu Dąbrowskim, [w:] Z dziejów Żydów w Zagłębiu Dąbrowskim, red. D. Rozmus, S. Witkowski, Sosnowiec 2006, ss. 121–125
- [1.1] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_poland/pol7_00327.html [accessed on June 1, 2016].
- [1.2] ed. Bolesław Ciepiela, Małgorzata Sromek, Śladami Żydów z Zagłębia Dąbrowskiego. Wspomnienia, Polish Authors Society, Będzin Division, Będzin 2009, p. 19.
- [1.3] Bolesław Ciepiela, Małgorzata Sromek, Śladami Żydów z Zagłębia Dąbrowskiego. Wspomnienia, Stowarzyszenie Autorów Polskich Oddział Będziński, Będzin 2009, p. 23