The first Jews appeared in Zabrze in 1771. The first mention of their existence in the town is related to a baptism which took place on 13 October 1771 in the local St. Andrew Church – a certain Jew was baptised and took on the name of Ignatius Mathias[1.1].

In 1776, the Prussian authorities ordered that all Jews living on the left bank of the Oder River should be resettled to the right bank. There, they were only allowed to settle in villages. After a few years, in September 1779, the authorities changed their decision and ordered that all Jews should leave villages and settle in towns. At the time, Gliwice became the main destination of the resettled Jews. On 17 August 1780, the authorities in charge of the Wrocław District designated fives towns where all Jews were to be resettled – Tarnowskie Góry, Mysłowice, Mikołów, Lubliniec, and Bieruń Stary[1.2]. A note from 1781 mentions two Jewish families moving out of Zabrze. The heads of those families were Jacob Loebel, who moved to Mysłowice, and Elias Benjamin, who ended up living in Gliwice[1.1.1].

In 1787, the Prussian authorities repealed the order obliging Jews to move to designated cities, since their leaving usually resulted in economic damage. Various documents from 1788 mention the marriage of Johan Stein of Mikulczyce with Catharina Elgotowisch, the daughter of Adalbert of Małe Zabrze[1.3]. Jews living in Zabrze are also mentioned in Prussian statistical tables drawn up the same year.

In 1790, Salomon Izaac of Brabant, a mining engineer, worked around the Silesian towns of Zabrze, Chorzów and Ruda Śląska on the recommendation of the Higher Office of Mining in Wrocław. He was a sworn mining expert and a geologist, searching for hard coal beds in the region. Thanks to his work, rich deposits of coal were discovered between Zabrze and Pawłów. In 1791, the first state coal mine in Silesia was established in Zabrze (it was called Königin Luise)[1.4].

A census of Jewish population was carried out in the Silesian Province between October 1812 and November 1815; it did not point to the presence of Jews either in Zabrze or in its immediate vicinity [1.5]. It was not until 1825 that the family of Mojżesz Glaser settled permanently in the village of Zabrze. Glaser was an innkeeper who also dabbled in construction. The local St Andrew Parish commissioned him to do construction work at the parish's farm buildings. Glaser had a cordial relations with the local priest, so much so that he donated an ornate goblet worth 417 thalers to the parish[1.6].

The same year, in 1825, there were twelve Jews living in the villages of Zabrze and Małe Zabrze. Historical records also mention the family of Israel and Paulina Landsberg, who moved from Zabrze to Gliwice in 1836[1.7].

Over the following years, the number of Jews living in the Zabrze area gradually increased. In 1840, there were 20 Jews living in Mikulczyce, 24 – in Małe Zabrze, and 3 – in Zaborze [1.8]. In the years 1840–1845, a branch of the Bytom Jewish Community was established in Zabrze. In total, it comprised 119 Jews living in Biskupice, Mikulczyce, Zaborze, Zabrze, Rokitnice and Poręba. At the time, however, the community did not yet have any rights pertaining to organisations and associations [1.1.8].

In 1854, Jews living in Zabrze, Zaborze, Rokitnice, and Mikulczyce came under the jurisdiction of the Jewish Community of Bytom; until 1871, they also buried their dead on the Bytom cemetery. For the purpose of religious observances, rooms were rented in the private households of Samuel Hoffman and Heinrich Haendler. During important holidays, services were organised in the large hall of the brewery owned by Loebel Haendler. At the time, all religious matters in Zabrze were overseen by Dawid Bamberger[1.9].

By the second half of the 18th century, the Jews of Zabrze had committed themselves to the development of industry. They rapidly became rich and formed a part of the town's educated middle class. Between 1855 and 1856, Jews Silbergleit and Schlesinger established a metalwork called Huta Redena. In 1866, Wilhelm Eisner opened a glasswork which produced bottles and artistic glass used to assemble kerosene lamps. In 1867, Carl Sachs established a grease and industrial fat factory. Jewish merchants invested their capital in the development of multi-branched companies and shops. In 1880, for the annual sum of 4,300 marks, Wilhelm Eisner leased the largest marketplace in the town, located near the railway station. In 1869,  Salomon Lomnitz opened Zabrze's first pharmacy (on the current Dworcowa Street)[1.10].

In 1861, 297 Jews lived in the total area of Zabrze, with the largest number (122) living in Małe Zabrze[1.1.6].

In March 1862, some of the area's Jewish residents (inhabitants of Biskupica, Makoszów, Pawłów, Kończyca and Sośnica) came under the jurisdiction of the Jewish Community of Wielkie Łagiewniki (they remained part of the Community until 1865). In 1865, wealthy Jews of Zabrze purchased a plot of land for the construction of a synagogue and began efforts leading to the establishment of their own Jewish Community. From 1867, religious matters in Zabrze were overseen by the Rabbi of Bytom, Dr Ferdinand Rosenthal. A Jewish school was opened in the town in 1867.

In the autumn of 1871, Zabrze became an independent Jewish community [1.11]. It comprised the inhabitants of Biskupice (61 people), Dorota (11), Małe Zabrze (285), Mikulczyce (42), Stare Zabrze (143), and Zabrze (189). Prayer services were conducted in a rented space in Samuel Hoffmann's house, at Kronprinzenstrasse 110 (current Wolności Street), and then at the household of Wienskowitz at Huttenstrasse 1. A room in the restaurant of L. Haendler was rented for the most important occasions and holidays. Still, the rented premises could no longer hold the continuously growing Jewish community, which is why in 1871, the decision to build a synagogue was made. Mateusz Kries was commissioned to design and construct the building. A Jewish cemetery was established in Zabrze the very same year; on 17 February 1870, the Chevra Kadisha Funeral Company was established right next to it[1.12]. The Association of Upper Silesian Synagogue Communities (Oberschlesische Synagogen-Gemeinden) was formed in 1872; among others, it incorporated the community of Zabrze.

The new synagogue in Zabrze was consecrated on 2 April 1873. It was located at the junction of the current Brysza Street and Karłowicza Street. Rabbi Landsberg began the ceremony with religious songs and prayers. Later on, Bytom Orthodox Rabbi Dr Ferdinand Rosenthal delivered the sermon in German.

The end of the 19th century saw the Zabrze Jewish Community gain more and more wealth. At that time, the local Jews were the most educated members of the entire town's community. In 1876, Hotel Silberfeld was erected in the very centre of the city. It regularly held classical music concerts and hosted Jewish religious celebrations. In 1879, the hotel was purchased by Juliusz Kochmann, who opened a renowned liqueur and wine store on the building's ground floor. Kochmann was also the owner of a local winery and liquor factory which, in 1896 and 1897, won gold medals at the Berlin and Magdeburg exhibitions. In 1899, the hotel was renamed as the Kochmann Hotel. It became the most luxurious hotel in the town. Other lodging establishments in the town were the hotel owned by Adolf Schiller, located opposite Kochmann's building, and the Glaser Hotel run by Hugon Glaser. In 1899, another hotel was opened by Ferdynand Fleischer [1.13].

In 1883, Fritz Friedlaender, a Jewish entrepreneur based in Gliwice, established a coke production plant near the "Poręba” mine in Zabrze. This way, he implemented his father's plan for the development of his company, which aimed to boost the coke production industry in Upper Silesia and acquire hard coal by-products. In order to improve the production process, Friedlaender brought in specialists from Westphalia. After two years of trials and experimentation, the company obtained combustible coke of good quality and large amounts of tar and ammonia. A second coke production plant, "Skalley", was soon established in Zabrze. In 1890, the name of the plant was changed to Oberschlesische Kokswerke und Chemische Fabriken[1.14].

In 1885, the Jewish Community of Zabrze had 1,013 members. The first rabbi of the town was appointed in 1895. The function was entrusted to Dr Saul Katz, who, between 1900 and 1907, taught Judaism at the Boys' Middle School in Zaborze. He was one of the first teachers of Judaism working in Prussian schools[1.15].

On 23 September 1888, the representatives of the Jewish Community of Zabrze met at the Schafers Hotel in Gliwice and took the decision to join the Opole Region Union of Synagogue Communities (Synagogen-Gemeinden Verband des Regierungsbezirks Oppeln). In the years 1891–1900, many members of the Zabrze Jewish Community actively provided aid to Russian Jews who had lost everything in pogroms [1.16].

In 1898, during expansion works at the Zabrze synagogue, a second, smaller synagogue was built; its purpose was to store the archives of the community. In 1902, the building was rebuilt and a mikveh was set up in the basement. At the time, there were many active organisations operating within the community; those included the Israeli Choral Society, the S.C.Hakoah Gymnastics Association (chaired by pharmacist Alfred Rosenthal), the “Veritas Loge” Masonic Lodge (presided over by Rabbi Dr Artur Victor), the Jewish Women's Union (headed by Berta Lewin, née Luft), the “Concordia” Choir, the Jewish Burial and Care for the Sick Society (presided over by Isidor Lewin), the Zionist Union of Germany (in 1902, it was headed by Löbmann), the Self-Help Society, and others. In 1901, 1,165 Jews lived in the area currently comprised by Zabrze.

In 1909, the largest men's and boys' fashion retailer in Upper Silesia operated in Zabrze. It belonged to Heinrich Sonnenfeld. In February 1911, the business was taken over by Brunon Cohn, who turned it into a department store for women. Cohn was also famous for printing postcards featuring views of Zabrze. In 1912, Löebel Cohn opened a car showroom, located on the ground floor of his tenement building at 3 Maja Street. Dagobert Kaiser published a local newspaper called "Zabrzer Anzeiger” (issued for the last time in 1919). Some of the most popular Jewish shops were located on the city's most important street – Kronprinzenstrasse; these were owned by Max Goldstein, Benjamin Mienskowitz, Josef Herzberg, Philip Glaser, Georg Cohn, Max Thau, Fanny Scheyer, Max Münzer, Hugo Wolf, Karl Wolf, Max Angress, Theo Kallmann, Louis Danziger, Paul and Max Meyer, and Wilhelm Schlesinger[1.17].

During WWI, many Jews of Zabrze volunteered for the Prussian Army, willing to fight for their homeland. 51 Jews from Zabrze died on various war fronts. On 8 December 1823, two commemorative marble tablets were affixed to the exterior walls of the Zabrze synagogue; they featured the names of Jewish soldiers who died during WWI[1.18].

The end of World War I brought major changes to Upper Silesia. On 11 November 1918, the Polish State (the Second Polish Republic) was revived, which led to an intensification of pro-Polish attitudes amongst the Silesian population. This resulted in conflicts with the German community and, eventually, the outbreak of three Silesian Uprisings. Most Jews decidedly supported the German side of the debate. In a plebiscite held on 20 March 1921, the majority of the Jewish community voted for Upper Silesia to remain within Germany. 45,219 votes (51.1% of the population) votes were cast in favour of staying in Germany, while 43,261 people (48,9%) voted for Silesia being annexed to Poland. Following the results of the plebiscite, the town remained within Germany.

Dr Artur Victor of Rastenburg became the new rabbi in 1927. In 1931, ca. 1,200 Jews lived in Zabrze (1% of the population). On 6 May 1932, a group of Jewish sportsmen from Zabrze took part in a large rally of youth living in Upper Silesia. The event took place in Taciszów. Groups from Gliwice, Strzelce Opolskie, Bytom, Opole, Koźle, and Raciborz also participated in the rally, which in total amounted to ca. 250 people. The culminating moment was a speech delivered by Dr Ochs, the Rabbi of Gliwice, who spoke of the worsening situation of Jewish youth in Germany. He appealed to the young people not to give up on their goals and to overcome all difficulties they might encounter. During the rally, the German homeland was lauded with cries of "Long Live!" and the whole event ended with the participants singing the national anthem "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles...”[1.19].

In the years 1932–1933, the repressions of the Jewish community of Zabrze intensified. On 1 April 1933, similarly to other parts of Germany, an anti-Jewish boycott took place in the town. Members of the SA were placed in front of Jewish stores, offices of Jews lawyers and waiting rooms of Jewish doctors. Their presence scared most people away.

On 31 March 1933, Franz Bernheim was dismissed from his employment in a Jewish department store in Gliwice. On 12 May 1933, he appealed to the League of Nations in Geneva, which appointed a special committee to investigate the matter. In its final decision, the League provided the Jewish minority living in Upper Silesia with legal protection until the termination of the 1922 Polish-German Convention. August von Keller, the representative of the Third Reich, stood before the League on 6 June 1933 and declared that the legal status of Upper Silesia from before 1 April 1933 would be restored. This way, the Jewish inhabitants of Upper Silesia retained their full rights as citizens until 1937[1.20]. On 15 July 1937, Poland and Germany decided not to renew the convention protecting ethnic minorities in Upper Silesia. This meant that the anti-Semitic laws of the Third Reich would now apply to the German area of Upper Silesia.

The night of 9 November 1938 is known as the Kristallnacht. It was the first pogrom of Jews initiated by the German government and the first instance of systemic and organised anti-Semitic persecution. During that night, the synagogue in Zabrze was burnt down and numerous Jewish shops were wrecked [1.21]. The small synagogue was turned into a music school. 350 Jews were arrested; 114 of those were held in a temporary jail in the building belonging to the Jewish school. Two days later, they were transported to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Even though they returned to Zabrze after a few months, they had no illusions about how their life would look like in the Nazi Germany.

In the autumn of 1938, 740 German Jews still remained in Zabrze, along with 44 Jewish people of foreign origin [1.22]. At the end of 1938, new Nazi regulations banned Jews from entering theatres, cinemas, public baths and municipal parks. Jews could no longer use train sleeper wagons nor could they possess radios. In Zabrze, Jews were only hired to work in the least prestigious professions, for example sweeping streets.

In May 1942, Germans organised a mass transport of Silesian Jews to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Jews from Zabrze were sent there in “death trains”, headed straight to gas chambers.

An Auschwitz-Birkenau sub-camp was set up in Zabrze in August 1944. It was located at the Donnersmarck Steel Mill and operated until January 1945.

The history of post-War Jewish life in Zabrze begins in the summer of 1945. This is when the Jewish Committee was established in the town, which was a branch of the Provincial Jewish Committee in Katowice. In 1946, the local community was headed by Jakub Weiselberg [1.23]. In the years 1946–1949, the number of Jews in Zabrze fell from 819 to 314 people; apart from the summer of 1946, the Jewish population never exceeded 400 people[1.24]. In the mid-1950s, all Jewish committees in Poland were dissolved as a result of the change in the governmental policy towards minorities. That date marks the end of the organised Jewish life in Zabrze. In the following years, several branches of the Jewish Social and Cultural Society were opened in various Upper Silesian towns, such as Katowice, Sosnowiec or Bielsko-Biała, but no such initiative was taken in Zabrze.

 

Bibliography:

  • Jaros J., Wiadomości o Żydach czynnych w Polskim przemyśle węglowym, „Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego" 1987, No. 7.
  • Jaworski W., Żydzi na Górnym Śląsku w latach 1945–1970, Sosnowiec 2001.
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Translated by Natalia Kłopotek

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Walerjański D., Dzieje Żydów w Zabrzu największej wsi w Europie do 1922 roku, [in] Żydzi na wsi polskiej: sesja naukowa, Szreniawa, 2627 czerwca 2006, ed. W. Mielewczyk, U. Siekacz, Szreniawa 2006, p. 42.
  • [1.2] Walerjański D., Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku, „Orbis Interior: Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne" 2005, no. 5, p. 36.
  • [1.1.1] Walerjański D., Dzieje Żydów w Zabrzu największej wsi w Europie do 1922 roku, [in] Żydzi na wsi polskiej: sesja naukowa, Szreniawa, 2627 czerwca 2006, ed. W. Mielewczyk, U. Siekacz, Szreniawa 2006, p. 42.
  • [1.3] See: Archiwum Państwowe w Gliwicach, SRBL, file number 69.
  • [1.4] Jaros J., Wiadomości o Żydach czynnych w Polskim przemyśle węglowym, „Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego" 1987, no. 7; Walerjański D., Udział Żydów w przemyśle górniczo-hutniczym na terenie Górnego Śląska na przełomie XVIII–XX w., [in] Studie z dejin hornictvi – Agricolovi zaci, ed. M. Zarybnicki, M. Mancarowa, H. Cisarowa, Praha 1995.]]. The documentation of the Zabrze estate drawn up in 1793 mentions a leaseholder named Judel Baruch, who was as a distiller at the local court[[refr:|Walerjański D., Dzieje Żydów w Zabrzu – największej wsi w Europie do 1922 roku, [in] Żydzi na wsi polskiej: sesja naukowa, Szreniawa, 26–27 czerwca 2006, ed. W. Mielewczyk, U. Siekacz, Szreniawa 2006, p. 42
  • [1.5] Walerjański D., Dzieje Żydów w Zabrzu największej wsi w Europie do 1922 roku,[in:] Żydzi na wsi polskiej: sesja naukowa, Szreniawa, 2627 czerwca 2006, ed. W. Mielewczyk, U. Siekacz, Szreniawa 2006, p. 42.
  • [1.6] Walerjański D., Dzieje Żydów w Zabrzu – największej wsi w Europie do 1922 roku, [in] Żydzi na wsi polskiej: sesja naukowa, Szreniawa, 26–27 czerwca 2006, ed. W. Mielewczyk, U. Siekacz, Szreniawa 2006, p. 43
  • [1.7] Archiwum Państwowe w Gliwicach, Akta Miasta Gliwice, file number 5817. Walerjański D., Dzieje Żydów w Zabrzu największej wsi w Europie do 1922 roku, [in] Żydzi na wsi polskiej: sesja naukowa, Szreniawa, 2627 czerwca 2006, ed. W. Mielewczyk, U. Siekacz, Szreniawa 2006, p. 43.
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  • [1.1.8] Walerjański D., Dzieje Żydów w Zabrzu największej wsi w Europie do 1922 roku, [in] Żydzi na wsi polskiej: sesja naukowa, Szreniawa, 2627 czerwca 2006, ed. W. Mielewczyk, U. Siekacz, Szreniawa 2006, p. 43.
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