Jews wearing armbands are forced to sweep a street.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 24990
Circa 1939 - 1940
- Bedzin, [Zaglebie; Katowice] Poland ?
- Variant Locale
- Photo Designation
GHETTOS (MAJOR) -- BEDZIN/DABROWA/SOSNOWIEC -- Public Humiliation
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Benny Hershkowitz
Jews wearing armbands are forced to sweep a street.
- Event History
- Bedzin, Sosnowiec, and Dabrowa Gornicza are three neighboring towns located in the Zaglebie district in southwest Poland. On the eve of World War II, Bedzin and Sosnowiec supported Jewish communities of approximately 28,000 each, while Dabrowa had 5,000. The Germans occupied the towns on September 4, 1939. Five days later they set fire to the Great Synagogue in Bedzin. The flames quickly spread and engulfed fifty adjacent houses. Physical attacks were accompanied by repressive economic legislation which forced the Jewish population to relinquish their businesses and personal property. In the first days of the occupation, separate Jewish Councils were appointed in Bedzin and Sosnowiec, but early in 1940 the Bedzin council was subordinated to the Zentrale der Juedischen Aeltestenraete (Central Office of the Jewish Councils of Elders in Upper Silesia), established in Sosnowiec and headed by the increasingly autocratic Moshe Merin. This council represented some forty-five communities in the area and operated its own Jewish police force.
During 1940-41 the situation in Bedzin, Sosnowiec and Dabrowa was considered somewhat better than elsewhere in occupied Poland. There, the Jews resided in open ghettos and their lives retained a semblance of normalcy. As a result, thousands of Jews from central Poland sought refuge there. In addition to this influx, several thousand Jews from the district were forcibly resettled in Bedzin and Sosnowiec at this time, among them the Jews from Oswiecim, who arrived in the spring of 1941 prior to the opening of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Sosnowiec Jewish Council was responsible for drawing up lists of local Jews to be sent to forced labor camps in Germany and Eastern Upper Silesia established under the Organisation Schmelt program. Jews selected for forced labor had to report to the local transit camp, known as the "Dulag." Failure to comply resulted in their arrest and the withdrawal of their family's ration cards. Transports to labor camps began in 1940 but were greatly expanded in the spring of 1941, after Himmler decided to use labor from the Organisation Schmelt camps for constructing large factories to support German war production. The Jewish Council was also involved in establishing German-owned workshops which employed Jews. The largest of these was the Rosner Fabrik, a network of workshops which produced military uniforms and other goods and services for the German army. From a workshop employing a few dozen people, it grew into a factory complex with three thousand workers. Those fortunate enough to get positions in these enterprises were exempt (for the time being) from deportation to labor camps. Unlike the typical German overseer, Rosner treated his employees with respect and fought to protect them. He even warned them of impending actions. The Rosner Fabrik remained in operation until Rosner's arrest and execution in January 1944. When the schools were closed the local Zionist youth organizations took over the task of instructing the children. They also engaged in agricultural training on small plots on the outskirts of town. In Bedzin the local Zionist youth were allocated a hundred acre plot which was known as the "Farma" and became a focus of youth activity. The first round of deportations to death camps occurred in May 1942, when 1500 Jews were sent to Auschwitz. The following month another 2,000 were deported. Then, on August 12, all the remaining Jews in the three towns were ordered to report to the soccer field in Sosnowiec, ostensibly to have their papers revalidated. Instead, a large selection ensued resulting in the deportation of 8,000 to Auschwitz. The youth movements under the leadership of Hashomer Hatzair activist Zvi Dunski, conducted a campaign urging their fellow Jews not to report for the deportations. They also began to organize underground resistance units. The "Farma" became the headquarters of the Jewish underground and was the site of clandestine meetings with Mordechai Anielewicz, Arie Wilner and other leaders of the Jewish Fighting Organization in the Warsaw Ghetto. The underground concentrated its efforts on acquiring weapons and constructing bunkers in preparation for a revolt. But opinions were divided between those who favored resistance in the ghetto and those who stressed the search for escape routes out of the ghetto. In the spring of 1943, the remaining Jews in Bedzin were confined to a ghetto set up in Kamionka, while those remaining in Dabrowa and Sosnowiec were concentrated in Srodula. The two sites bordered on one another and operated as a single ghetto. On August 1, 1943 the final liquidation of the ghetto began. Zionist youth offered armed resistance in several bunkers which hampered the Germans and forced them to spend almost two weeks clearing the ghetto. Some one thousand Jews remained after the liquidation. Most were settled in the Sosnowiec labor camp, established on the site of the Srodula ghetto. These Jews labored in workshops as tailors, cobblers and carpenters. The camp was finally liquidated on January 13, 1944 and its prisoners sent to Auschwitz.
- Zindel (now Benny) Hershkowitz is the son of Yehiel and Esther Hershkowitz. He was born in Farmagusta, Cyprus on March 8, 1948. Yehiel was born in Stropnice Poland in April 1918 and later moved to Bedzin where he lived next to the Great Synagogue. In September 1939 his house was destroyed when the Great Synagogue was burned down. He was sent to a total of fifteen different labor and concentration camps. He ended up in Buchenwald where the Americans liberated him in May 1945. After recuperating for six weeks in a hospital, he returned to Bedzin and joined Kibbutz Magshimim, a Bnai Akiva religious Zionist hachshara. Among the members was Esther Urman who had spent three years in Gleiwitz before returning to Bedzin. The kibbutz went to Aschbach Germany in 1946 and then made their way to Italy where they boarded the Shabbetai Lewinski. After the ship landed in Ashdod on March 12, 1947, British soldiers arrested some of the immigrants including Yehiel and Esther. They were deported to an internment camp in Cyprus. Esther and Yehiel married the following July and immigrated legally to Palestine in April 1948 shortly after the birth of their son, Zindel. Almost of Yehiel's family were murdered including his parents Israel Josef and Nissel Hershkowitz and his siblings Mordechai Pinchas, Frimet and Rochma Beila. Esther's father Zindle Urman died of natural causes in the ghetto and her mother Lea also perished.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Benny Hershkowitz
Record last modified: 2001-04-16 00:00:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1105630