Bedzin - SS Officer surveys the ruins on Zumkowa Street (USHMM)

Bedzin is located approximately 7 miles northeast of Katowice.The Jewish population of the city was 21,625 in 1931. The German Army entered Bedzin on September 4, 1939 and almost immediately the Germans instituted a reign of terror over the Jewish population living in the city. They set fire to Jewish homes and the synagogue, took hostages - some of them they shot - drafted people for forced labour, plundered Jewish property and cut the Jews off from the city's economic life and from its non-Jewish citizens.

Klaus Udo was named Landrat of Bedzin in 1940, and he formally served in this position until 1945. After February 1941, his deputy Hieronymus Wolff oversaw operations. From the end of 1942, Hans Feldman, the mayor of Czeladz, served in that capacity.

In late September 1939, a Jewish Aid Committee (Judisches Hilfskomitee) was set up to replace the pre-war Jewish Communal Welfare Organisation. Several weeks later, a Jewish Council (Judenrat), headed by an engineer, Gustaw Weinzieher, and Lazar Rubinlicht, was established. The Aid Committee opened public kitchens and provided medical care and social assistance for impoverished Jews. On German instructions a labour centre for Jews was established in a local barracks.

In November 1939, Mojzesz Merin, who was appointed head of the Central Office of Jewish Councils in Eastern Upper Silesia by Hans Dreier, the head of the department of Jewish affairs of the Kattowitz Gestapo, ordered the Judenrat in Bedzin to submit to his authority. The Bedzin Judenrat refused, causing Merin to travel to Bedzin accompanied by three Gestapo officers. The Bedzin Judenrat under duress, submitted to Merin, who demanded a heavy 'contribution' from the Jews of Bedzin. He also restructured the Judenrat. Jakub Erlich, who had been on the old committee, became the new head. Chaim Merin, the brother of Mojzes, served as its administrator.

In August 1941, the Judenrat was reorganized again. Chaim Merin became the president; the vice presidents were M. Laskier (economic affairs) and M. Manela (financial affairs). Other members were M.Gartner, B. Graubart, H. Henenberg, M.Lewin, N. Londner, Chaim Molczadzki, Paradistal, L Rottner, C.H. Szpicberg, H. Sztrochlic, Wygodzki, Dr. J. Zylberszac. The last chairman of the Bedzin Judenrat was Chaim Molczadzki.

The Judennrat was divided into several departments, including social services, heath, food supply, economic, finance and budget, labour, forced labour, housing and archival-statistical. A department of transport and a postal service also functioned in Bedzin. The Judenrat maintained a communal kitchen at Sienkewicz Street 19, a children's home, and a home for the elderly. The latter was directed by Dr. Weinzieher, who had been a representative in the Polish Sejm. During 1942, an infirmary was established in the home for the elderly on Podzamcze Street. There was also a steam bath with a disinfection room. The Judenrat issued free passes for haircuts to the poor. The health department exercised strict control over sanitation measures.

The Bedzin Judenrat was subordinated to the Central Office of Jewish Councils in Eastern Upper Silesia. It constituted a separate unit -Stadtkreis Bedzin, which in October 1940, numbered 25,264 people. Beniamin Graubart served as the Kreis Inspector answerable to the Central Office.

On September 10, 1940, a Jewish police force ( Judischer Ordnungsdienst) was set up by the Judenrat, consisting at first of fifteen officers. The first commandant was Kaufman. He was succeeded by Julek Ferszternfeld and then Romek Goldminc. On August 14, 1941, Chaim Molczadzki. took command. In September 1942, Wolf Izrael Buchweitz took over. The last commandant of the Jewish police in Bedzin was Henryk Barenblatt.

In March 1941, there were 25,171 Jews living in Bedzin. On April 5, 1941, the first group of Jews were resettled from Auschwitz town to Bedzin. Initially they were housed in a Jewish orphanage. Four days later, a second transport arrived; altogether more than 1,000 people. Eventually they were dispersed to private apartments. Thus in July 1941, 27,001 Jews were living in Bedzin.

Jews from Bedzin, like all the Jews of the Regierungsbezirk Kattowitz were placed at the disposal of the Organisation Schmelt. Albrecht Schmelt was appointed as its head in October 1940, and entrusted with sending Jews to forced labour camps and organising their work deployment in the towns of the region. From November 1940, the deportation of Jews to forced labour camps commenced. All men between the ages of 17 and 50, and women from the ages of 16 to 45, who were not working in local workshops or for the Judenrat, had to appear before a medical commission. Following the selections, many were sent to forced labour camps. This same process took place repeatedly until May 1943.

In Bedzin, Jews worked in several factories and workshops. Towards the end of 1940, Rossner established his tailoring shop, which produced clothing for the Wehrmacht. In October 1941, another firm was established, called 'Galanterie und Lederwaren E.Nawrat Bendsburg' - a fancy goods and leather goods factory. In January 1942, there were 20 Jews working there; one year later there were 400.

In late 1941, on Kollataj Street, the Michatz shop was founded in a building that was the shirt-making factory of the Faldberg brothers before the Second World War. Some 1,000 people worked there, producing shirts, underclothes, and later military uniforms. Women worked in the Loytsche shop which produced ropes and cord. In June 1942, the general textile and iron firm of Rudolf Braun was established in the area. Its first shop was opened in Dabrowa; then others opened in Bedzin and Sosnowiec. The firm produced and repaired shoes.

Several hundred Jews worked in the shop headed by Scherley, an ethnic German who had resettled from Rumania. At several workshops in Bedzin, the firm produced women's purses from oil-cloth, bags and suitcases and parts for bicycles. Scherley took over the pre-war Jewish firms of Rosmarin, who made suitcases, Rottenberg, who produced saddles and seats and Wasz who made bags and purses. There were also smaller businesses in which Jews worked. These included factories on Kollataj Street and at Malachowski Street 22, which both made washing machines; the Gruengrass factory, which produced metal goods; and the shop on Modrzejow Street, which employed 700 to 800 Jews, making uniforms, military overcoats, and other clothing.

From the beginning of 1940, Jews were systematically removed from houses in the centre of the city, namely from Saczewski and Pilsudski Streets. The Jews were removed into apartments on Modrzejow Street, Stary Rynek Street, Podzamcze Street, and Czeladzka Street. A resettlement bureau (Umsiedlungsstab) was established in the town hall to expel Jews from certain streets  and house in their place Germans from Bessarabia and Bukovina. Over time the area in which the Jews were allowed to reside or circulate was limited. In the spring of 1941, the Landrat in Bedzin issued a ban of Jews (Judenbann) which also excluded Jews from parks and recreational areas. The Jews were only permitted to live on Modrzejow Street, in Zawale and near Gorka and in neighbouring areas. The only route of passage was Modrzejow Street,

in May 1942, a Jewish residential quarter, which was not fenced in, but was an open ghetto was established. It consisted of Modrzejowska Street, Stary Rynek, and the smaller streets around it, and the beginning of Kollataj, Czeladzka and Podgorna Streets. Jews were not allowed to live or walk along Malachowski Street, but some resided in annexes of buildings on that street. Therefore a passage had to be dug through the basements so they could exit onto Modrzejow Street.

The process of resettling the Jews of Bedzin from the centre of the city to the quarters of Kamionka and Mala Srodula, where Polish workers resided began in October 1942. It was completed in mid-March 1943. The ghetto was not surrounded by barbed wire and was guarded by Jewish Police. It was therefore easy to enter and leave, as much of the ghetto bordered the Aryan section. The living conditions in the ghetto were very harsh, with filthy cramped homes and a lack of plumbing. A Jewish post office was organised in the ghetto. The Judenrat's construction department built or renovated homes. Several barracks, with plumbing and electricity were constructed for the workers in Rossner's shop.

Ha-Noar Ha-Zioni, a Zionist organisation, remained active in Bedzin during the entire occupation, even in the ghetto. The leaders of the organisation in the Zaglebie Dabrowskie region were Jozef and Boleslaw Kozuchowie, Jan Cymerman, Samuel Majtlis, Israel Diamand, Lola Pomerancenblum, Karola Bojm, and Henryk Lustiger. Also active was the underground organisation Ha-Shomer Ha-Zair, led by Cwi Brandes, Chajka Klinger, Dawid Kozlowski and his sisters Idzia and Irena, Lee Peisachsohn, and Hala Katzenholz. In the spring of 1943, a Ha-Shomer  Ha -Zair kibbutz was established within the ghetto on Huttenstrasse. Its leaders were Cwi Brandes and Chajka Klinger. Some 20 people belonged to the kibbutz. They participated in various forms of organised resistance against the occupier. Gordonia, led in Bedzin by Szlom Lerner and Hanka Borensztejn was also active.

During the second half of 1942, a Jewish cell connected with the Polska Partia Robotnicza (Polish Workers Party) was formed. Its members were Jozef Lubling, Mojzesz Szeinberg, Josef Plotek, and Samuel Waldman. After the Gestapo made some arrests among the leftist youth in March 1943, the groups activities came to an end.

The first mass deportation 'Aktion' in Bedzin took place on May 12, 1942, when approximately 3,200 were deported to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, which was located some 28 miles from Bedzin. On August 12, 1942, another mass deportation took place. On this day the Jews of Bedzin were ordered to gather at two separate locations in the city - the 'Hakoach' sports field on Kosciuszko Street and the 'Sarmacja' sports field on Malobadz - to have their papers stamped. Merin urged everyone to attend, and the Judenbann was even temporarily set aside to facilitate the operation. Some 23,000 Jews reported to these two locations.

Soon, the German Order Police surrounded the two sports fields and were soon joined by members of the Security Police. The ensuing selection went on for three days. When they realised their fate, some Jews fled in panic and were shot; others committed suicide. The youth movements smuggled some children away to safety. In total approximately 5,000 Jews were sent to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Also included were the Jewish populations of the nearby towns of Grodziec, Wojkowice, Dobieszowice, Rogoznik, Bobrowniki, Saczow and Niezdary, who were brought to Bedzin for deportation. Others were selected to work in the forced labour camps.

On May 19, 1943, part of the Bedzin ghetto was surrounded by members of the German Police and the Gestapo. Several thousand people were rounded up and sent to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. On June 22, 1943, at around three in the morning, German Police again surrounded the ghetto in Kamionka and approximately 13,000 people were gathered in the town square . Of the assembled Jews, several thousand were selected under the supervision of a German officer named Dreir, who disregarded the labour permits of some, and sent them to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where most of them were gassed shortly after arrival in the gas chambers in Birkenau.

Among those deported was a large group made up exclusively of workers in the Rossner workshop and those who worked in the institutions of the Judenrat. Then shortly afterwards, in July 1943, several thousand Jews from the liquidated ghetto of Dabrowa Gornicza were resettled into the Bedzin ghetto.

On August 1, 1943, the final liquidation of the Bedzin ghetto took place. Several transports were sent each day for the next three or four days. The final destination was the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. Armed resistance broke out for several days by the young people in the Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Organisation), which was founded in the autumn of 1942, following a visit by Mordechai Anielewicz, from the Warsaw Ghetto, to the region. During the first few days of the 'Aktion' several hundred Jews were shot, including the well-known resistance fighters Frumka Plotnicka, Jozef Kozuch, and Cwi Brandes.

As a result of the liquidation, approximately 12,000 people were deported from Bedzin destined for Auschwitz. From the crowds of Jews gathered for deportation, the head of Rossner's workshop selected 600 to 700 Jews and, with the permission of the Gestapo, kept them behind. At the end of August 1943, only 230 to 280, Jews remained in Bedzin. At the start of January 1944, 200 more Jews were expelled from Bedzin, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. Those left behind, some 50 in number worked in the remaining tailor and furrier workshops. In July 1944, they were sent to a labour camp at Gora Swietej Anny and from there they were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau during October 1944.

More than 200 Jews survived the final liquidation of the ghetto by hiding in bunkers and other hiding places. They were discovered by the German Police and the Gestapo, and used for cleaning up the ghetto. They survived in this manner in Kamionka until April 1944, when they were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp.

Several hundreds of Jews from Bedzin survived the Holocaust, including a number who made it through further selections in Auschwitz and other camps, after Auschwitz was evacuated in January 1945, and the prisoners sent on numerous 'death marches.'

After the Second World War ended several German officials of the Organisation Schmelt were prosecuted. The officials were held responsible for the deportation of the Jewish population from Bedzin in May and August 1942. Friedrich Karl Kuczynski was sentenced to death by the local district court in Sosnowiec on September 23, 1948. Another official of Organisation Schmelt, Heinrich Lindner, was arrested by American forces. He committed suicide in January 1949.

On February 7, 1950, an appellate court sentenced Karol Jenzen to nine years in prison. Jenzen had been the head of the Bedzin branch of the Treuhandstelle and was involved in the deportation of the Jewish population from the city.


The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, USHMM, Indianna University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012.

Photograph: USHMM

Holocaust Historical Society, August 19, 2020