Slawkow Rathaus  during the Occupation (Chris Webb Private Archive)

Slawkow is located approximately 15 miles east-northeast of Katowice. According to the 1921, census, there were 610 Jews living in Slawkow. By 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, there were probably some 900 Jews residing in Slawkow.

The German Army entered Slawkow on September 4, 1939. The first reaction of the Jewish population was a mass flight  towards the eastern regions of Poland. But after a few days, the majority of them returned to the town. Shortly after capturing Slawkow, German soldiers shot several dozen Jews, mainly Jewish refugees from Bedzin and Sosnowiec, as they tried to cross bridges in Slawkow on their way back from the east. At the same time in nearby Kozle, the Germans murdered several dozen Jews and threw their corpses into an old mining shaft. As Sara Klein recalled this event: 'The Germans shot around 70 Jews in Kozle. The 'Aktion' lasted a few days. The Germans stood on the bridge and shot every Jew who tried to cross. When the Jews turned back they were thrown alive off the bridge, and drowned. Other SS-men drove a transport wagon around and shot those Jews they encountered.' After a few days, the German authorities called in Makowski, the chairman of the Jewish community, and made him sign a document reporting that the Jews had perished as a result of bombing raids.

German soldiers also desecrated the synagogue in Slawkow. Following the chaos of the initial days of occupation, the German authorities set about removing the Jews from their social and economic positions in the town and limiting their civil liberties. The German military and then the civil administration implemented a series of anti-Jewish measures. Various forms of Jewish and Polish property were subject to confiscation. The Germans took control of Jewish retail and manufacturing shops, blocked Jewish bank accounts, restricted payments, marked Jewish stores, and closed Jewish wholesale trade. They also established a supervisory body - the Haupttreuhandstelle Ost - to oversee Jewish and other confiscated businesses and sell off their assets. 

In November 1939, all Jews had to wear white armbands bearing the Star of David. In September 1941, these were exchanged for yellow patches in the shape of the Star of David on their left breasts. Jewish -owned properties was confiscated by the German Grundstucksgesellschaft.

Kreis Ilkenau was controlled until May 1944, by Kreiskommissar Heinrich Groll. Georg Willing served as the Amtskommissar in Slawkow. In November 1939, local police forces were organised: Leutnant Strauss was in charge of patrols in the town. He was later replaced by Mischock. The police force in Slawkow had 14 officers who served under the Schutzpolizei section in Mikolow. Based in Slawkow, was also a Gendarmerie unit directed by Dahl.

In November 1939, a Jewish Council (Judenrat) was formed with Isidor Laks as its president. The Secretary was Mendel Makowski, and the vice president was Nachman Testiler. There was also a small Jewish police force. The Judenrat was soon subordinated to Mojzesz Merin, who in January 1940, became the head of the Central Office of Jewish Councils in Eastern Upper Silesia. The Jewish community of Slawkow was also supervised by the Kreis Inspectorate in Olkusz, whose head was Dionizy Sobol. In October 1940, the Slawkow Judenrat was in charge of 896 Jews, and by March 1941, after the first transport of Jews to the labour camps, 843 Jews remained.

In January 1940, the Judenrat established a public kitchen for the Jews of the town. Approximately half of the Jewish population ate there. The community also had a medical office in which one doctor and two nurses worked. During 1941, the Judenrat organised locksmith courses to professionalise the occupation and 20 pupils attended.

The Jews of Slawkow, like all the Jews in Regierungsbezirk Kattowitz, in October 1940, came under the jurisdiction of the Albrecht Schmelt Organisation, which was entrusted with sending Jews to labour camps and regulating the available Jewish labour force in the town. From the first months of the occupation the Jewish community had to supply approximately 300 Jews for forced labour. The tasks included cleaning administrative buildings and institutions, clearing snow from the streets, performing street cleaning and maintaining railroad tracks. The Jews also returned to the businesses that they had owned before the war, but now German Kommissars ran the businesses and the Jews were relegated to low-paid employees. Among the seized businesses was the wire factory of the Schein brothers, in which several Jews worked. In the town synagogue, the authorities established a branch of the tin-making workshop of Josef Skopek, where watering cans and toys for children were made. Altogether there were approximately 50 Jews working in these specialty shops.

On October 28, 1940, 50 people aged between 18 to 50 were deported to the labour camp in Geppersdorf. The day before the transport, Mojzesz Merin arrived in Slawkow and persuaded some of the Jews to report for the transport. A series of further round-ups of young Jews to be sent to labour camps in the Reich were conducted over the next two years. Official German records indicate that by August 1942, 122 Jews had been sent from Slawkow to labour camps in the Reich.

In the second half of 1941, the Germans began to create a separate Jewish residential quarter in Slawkow. The ghetto was established on Kilnski, Kosciuszko, Kwartowska, and Podwalna Streets. The Polish people residing in this area were forced to move out. According to Sara Klein, there was severe overcrowding, with several families sharing each house. The above mentioned streets were among the poorest and dirtiest in the town, consisting only of one -storey houses with no pavements. The resettlement into the open- ghetto area was completed by March 1942.

The borders of the ghetto were not enclosed by fences, but were guarded by German police with dogs. There was a curfew enforced in the ghetto from 8:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. Due to the overcrowding, sometimes four or five people had to share one bed. Food rations were so small, initially the Jews bartered items for extra food. Once the ghetto was set up, Jews were not permitted to leave the ghetto area, and this made bartering more difficult. There was no electricity in the ghetto, and people had to obtain coal or wood for cooking and heating during the winter months.

According to German records, on May 1, 1942, there were 924 Jews living in Slawkow. On June 10, 1942, one day after the deportation 'Aktion' in Olkusz, the deportation of the Jews from Slawkow commenced. The Jewish residents was driven into the square on Kilinski Street, where men armed with machine guns surrounded them. From here, the Jews were marched to the town's brewery, where Lindner, an official of the Schmelt Organisation, conducted a selection. The young and able-bodied Jews were sent to various labour camps, such as Blechhammer, while some others were sent to the Strzemieszyce ghetto. The elderly and infirm were deported form the Bukowno Station. They were sent to their deaths at the Auschwiitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp on June 12, 1942.

By the second half of August 1942, only 122 Jews remained in the town, this figure included members of the Judenrat and some skilled workers, who were used to salvage Jewish property. After a few months, they were then sent, along with the Jews of  Strzemieszyce and Dabrowa, to the ghetto in Sosnowiec.


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

Photograph: Chris Webb Private Archive

Holocaust Historical Society, July 25, 2020