In the second half of the 17th century, king Stanisław August Poniatowski issued a settlement grant allowing Jewish settlement in Zawiercie. The privilege let Jews reside there as farm workers in a few villages around the town of Pilica. It is possible that from that time forward, Jews settled down and lived in Zawiercie. They conducted small trade and dealt with craft (production of hats, tailoring, carpentry, blacksmithing, shoemaking etc.). When, in the half of the 19th century, Germans engaged to develop industry in Zawiercie, they received support from Jews. When a railway appeared, it prompted the Ginzburg family, Jews from Berlin, to purchase the local cotton spinning-mill in 1875. In the subsequent years they extended the mill, and set up a foundry in 1880. The Ginzburg brothers employed about three thousand workers. The Jews working in the foundry were managers, engineers and office workers. At this time, Bornstein established a publishing house, which contributed to the development of Jewish culture in Zawiercie.
A Jewish community was established at the end of the 19th century. In 1881, a synagogue and a house of prayer were built. In 1887 there were 1,134 Jews in Zawiercie. They made up 22% of the total population of the town . They were subject to the Kromołów kahal, where Israel Leib Gancwajch was a rabbi. There was also a cemetery in Kromołów where the dead from Zawiercie were buried. Towards the end of the 19th century, Haskalah ideas were spreading over the town and the number of assimilationists rose. More and more Jews were well educated, working as wholesale traders, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers and teachers. Some of them considered themselves Polish patriots of Mosaic faith. A sharp dispute arose between the Orthodox and assimilated Jews during the 1890 election for the kahal board. Before 1894 a synagogue was erected in Zawiercie. [[refr:"nazwa"|eds. Bolesław Ciepiela, Małgorzata Sromek, Śladami Żydów z Zagłębia Dąbrowskiego. Wspomnienia, Stowarzyszenie Autorów Polskich Oddział Będziński, Będzin 2009, p. 19.]]
Toward the end of the 19th century, most of the Jewish children in Zawiercie attended a traditional heder (a religious elementary school for boys) and a religious school Talmud Torah. At the beginning of the 20th century, another synagogue and a house of prayer were built. Additionally, a land to build a cemetery was purchased. After rabbi Israel Leib Gancwajch’s death, his son Abraham Gancwajch entered a long-time dispute with Rabbi Mosze Leib Herzbergiem over who was going to inherit the status of a rabbi in Zawiercie. Finally, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Haim Landau, a Zionist, became the rabbi of Zawiercie. In 1910, a yeshiva Migdal Oz was established rabbi Szmuel Aaron Pardes became its principal.There were many Hasids in the town. When Rabbi Abraham Gancwajch became their leader, Rabbi Mendel left Zawiercie. Szlomo Elimelech was appointed new rabbi. He met with many spiteful remarks on the part of the supporters of Rabbi Cvi Arei Frumera from Koziegłowy (they wanted him to be the spiritual leader in Zwiercie).
Toward the end of World War I, the Zawiercie Jews became very interested in Zionist ideas. A Zionist organization Tzeirei Syjon, which raised 457 marks for Jewish agricultural settlements in Palestine, was set up in April 1918. Hachalutz Zionist youth organization, which later changed its name to Hashomer Hatzair, was established the same year. Hamizrachi organization established a new heder called “Heder Metukan”.
On 6 June 1919, a pogrom occurred in Zawiercie after disappearance of a six-year-old catholic boy. The locals spread a rumor that a Jew had killed the child, which had been a ritual murder. Therefore, the local inhabitants organized a pogrom during which they attacked Jewish stores and houses beating every Jews they met on their way. Two Jews were killed and many others were wounded as a result of this incident. Shortly afterwads, the police found the lost boy safe and sound. In March 1921, in a regional court in Sosnowiec, a trial was held against the participants of the 1919 ant-Semitic riots in Zawiercie. Several perpetrators were sentenced to 6-10 months of imprisonment.
However, in 1921, another pogrom took place in Zawiercie and this time it was organized by soldiers from Haller’s troops, who attacked Jews who were waiting for a train at a railway station, and then the riots spread across the whole town. One Jew was killed and many others were wounded. The perpetrators faced court martial for the pogrom.
In 1921, there were 6,095 Jewish residents in the town and they constituted 21% of the total population of Zawiercie. They developed business activities, establishing trade and craft organizations, as well as a workers’ trade union.
During the interwar period the Jewish community in Zawiercie had its branches in Koziegłowy, Łazy, Poręba and Siewierz [[refr:"nazwa"|eds. Bolesław Ciepiela, Małgorzata Sromek, Śladami Żydów z Zagłębia Dąbrowskiego. Wspomnienia, Stowarzyszenie Autorów Polskich Oddział Będziński, Będzin 2009, p. 20.]]
Jewish circles of Zawiercie took an active part in the self-government election in March 1924. “Mizrachi” party received four mandates, whereas the Zionist and Hassidic electoral registers won two mandates each. In 1926, Bornstein became the first mayor of Zawiercie. In 1925, two Jewish banks were established in the town, “The Trader Bank” and “Folks Bank”. A Hebrew school “Tarbut” and a Jewish kindergarten were opened in 1928 and 1932 respectively. However, most Jewish children from non-Zionist families attended regular public schools. The youth from assimilated families attended a Polish junior secondary school in Sosnowiec.
A special fund called “Benevolence Fund”, offering low interest loans for the poorest Jews, was set up in 1930. When, in 1934, right-wing circles of the National Democrtas [Pol. Narodowa Demokracja, endecja] started to boycott Jewish stores and products in Zawiercie, many Jewish traders faced serious financial difficulties. The deteriorating economic situation forced many Zawiercie Jews to emigrate to the United States. Once they reached America, every Jew donated 150 dollars for the American Jewish Distribution Committee, which, in the summer of 1939, transferred the money to Zawiercie, thanks to which the Benevolence Fund had the opportunity to play an important role in supporting Jewish inhabitants of Zawiercie.
Zawiercie had an big Jewish library open throughout the interwar period. In June 1937, a Polish historian Tadeusz Zadrecki gave a lecture in the Town Hall entitled “If people know Talmud”, which profoundly impressed both Polish and Jewish listeners. In 1939, there were about seven thousand Jews in the town.
During World War II, on 4 September 1939, German troops seized the town of Zawiercie. As early as 27 September, the Germans demanded from Zawiercie Jews 300,000 zlotys of ransom and threatened that if they did not receive the money, the entire Jewish community would be punished. Despite many difficulties, the community managed to raise the demanded amount and gave it to the Germans in time. From the very beginning of the occupation Jews were beaten, publicly humiliated and forced to cut off their beards and sidelocks.
Jewish stores, craft workshops, factories and banks were confiscated at the start of 1940. Most of them were handed over to local businessmen whose names were included in the Volksdeutsch lists (those of German descent.)
In April, 1940 600 Jewish refugees were deported from Silesia to Zawiercie. In July 1940 all Jews from Zawiercie were made to move to an open ghetto located in the poorest town district. There were about 10,000 people in the ghetto. The newly established Judenrat was ordered to select a group of young people eligible for work in labor camps in Silesia. In November 1940 another group was selected. For ghetto dwellers the winter of 1941 turned out to be a very difficult time – bad sanitary conditions, overcrowded houses, undernourishment and coldness finally brought about a bubonic plague. Despite all this, the Germans demanded that Jews give away all winter clothes, fur coats, boots and jewelry, after which Judenrat had to get rid of all desks and typewriters.
At the end of 1941, the Germans closed the ghetto, encircled in barbed wire and employed guards (German guard and Polish police.) At the beginning of 1942 the president of the Zawiercie Judenrat, Ignacy Buchner, received an order from Germans, delivered by Mosze Marin, the president of the Zagłębie Judenra, to hand them a list with names of ill Jews. When Buchner refused to do it, Marin informed the Germans about it, adding some information on Buchner’s Zionistic past. The Germans arrested Buchner together with his family and sent them to the concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. M. Widman was appointed new president of the Judenrat.
In August, 1942, the Germans conducted the first part of the dissolution of the Zawiercie ghetto. With the help of Polish police officers, the SS and Gestapo soldiers selected two thousand Jews who were taken to a railway station and then transported to the Auschwitz extermination camp. Some time later German air force was in need of labor force to establish in Zawiercie a production plant of air force uniforms, where ca. 2,500 Jews were hired in the early 1943.
The situation of the Jews from Zawiercie worsened in April, 1943, when an uprising in the Warsaw ghetto broke out. Germans start to organize deportation to labor camps almost every day, houses were constantly searched for the hidden weapon and random Jews were executed.
In August 1943, the Germans carried out another plan of dissolution of the Zawiercie ghetto. Helped by the Polish police officers, the soldiers of the SS, Gestapo and German gendarmerie, displaced all Jews from their houses and searched the entire ghetto looking for those gone into hiding. The Judenrat members were executed, which was witnessed by a all the crowd present there. Then, about 6-7 thousand Jews were taken to the railway station and sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Two German air force officers, Gerbrecht and Teichert, managed to separate a group of about 500 Jews who were to continue their work in the uniform factory. Soon afterwards, the Gestapo sent a group of Polish workers to the factory, but their work slowed down the production. Therefore, the factory management board demanded that the Jewish workers be still employed, which saved their lives. . Nevertheless, in October 1943, all the remaining 500 Jews were gathered and sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. However, Gerbrecht, the German air force officer, managed to separate seven Jewish workers whom he secretly took aside and managed to harbor. They survived until the end of the war[1.1].
- [1.1] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_poland/pol7_00192.html (accessed on 14 June 2009)