Sosnowiec

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Sosnowitz Bahnhof During the Occupation (Chris Webb Private Archive)


Sosnowiec is located approximately 4 miles northeast of Katowice. In 1939, the Jewish population stood at approximately 28,000. German forces entered Sosnowiec on Monday, September 4, 1939, and immediately began a reign of terror that included random shootings, abductions, abuse, and destruction of Jewish property. On September 9, 1939, members of the Einsatzgruppe von Woyrsch, named after its commander  Udo von Woyrsch, burned down the synagogue, which was located on Dekert Street.

After the chaos of the first days of the occupation the German authorities began to remove the Jewish population from the economic life, limiting their rights and isolating them from the Aryan population. By the end of 1940, the process was complete, with significant participation by the acting mayor, Schneider, who was the mayor of Walbrzych.

Only the 'Jewish Food Distribution Office' was permitted to buy food for the Jewish population from non-Jewish wholesale shops - and then only with official authorisation. Permitted Jewish stores, bakeries, and artisan workshops, were marked with a Star of David and signs that read, 'Only for Jews.'

Toward the end of October 1939, the Germans sent a transport of 300 Jews from Sosnowitz, the Germanised name to Nisko nad Sanem, where they forced the Jews to cross over into Soviet occupied territory. Several days later on October 27-28, the Jewish communal organisation summoned more than 1,000 people for the purpose of deporting them, but then suddenly the 'Aktion' was cancelled. Towards the end of the autumn of 1939, the Germans brought to Sosnowitz a transport, of several hundred men from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. These men were housed in the Schon factory and put to work on various projects around the city. In July 1940, these Jews were sent to forced labour camps.

The Jewish Council (Judenrat) was established in Sosnowitz on September 6, 1939, on the orders of the German authorities. Mojzesz Merin became its head. In Sosnowitz, the Gestapo appointed the local teacher, Jerzy Olszewski, as the head administrator of the city, with Milke, an ethnic German, as his deputy. After Mojzesz Merin was appointed as the head of the Central Office of Jewish Councils in Eastern Upper Silesia in January 1940, Wladyslaw Boehm took over as head of the Sosnowitz Judenrat. He ran the community together with David Lewartowski, Motek Birman, and David Kon. Boehm was dismissed - probably in May 1942 - and was replaced by Chaim Merin, who was Mozesz's brother.

The Judenrat was made up of a number of departments, including those for social welfare, heath, food supply, economic, financial, labour, forced labour, housing and archival-statistical. In addition, in Sosnowitz there was a department of transportation and a postal service. The Jewish community operated two public kitchens for the poor, which were established on November 27, 1939, in Sudetenstrasse 9, and on October 10,1939, which was located at Schirkerstrasse 9. The Judenrat also established a day nursery for children on February 17, 1940, a home for the elderly, an orphanage, and a hostel, established on September 20,1939. The Jewish community also ran a hospital, which was directed by a Dr Libermann.

The Judenrat was assisted by a Jewish Police force (Judischer Ordnungsdienst), which was established in September 1940. Its first commander was Langer, who was followed by Kronenberg, who in turn was replaced by Henryk Barenblatt. A fire brigade was also established and placed under the authority of the Judenrat. The offices of the Judenrat were located at the corner of Modrzejow and Targowska Streets.

The Sosnowitz Judenrat was directly subordinated to the Central Office of Jewish Councils in Eastern Upper Silesia. It constituted an independent unit - Stadtkreis Sosnowitz - consisting 23,319 people in October 1940, and 24,149 people in March 1941. During April 1941, approximately 2,000 Jews from the town of Auschwitz arrived in Sosnowitz; thus by June 1941, the Jewish community numbered 27,420.

During the period of civil government, Schneider, the mayor of Walbrzych, initially set up the administration. Franz Josef Schonwalder, formerly the mayor of Wroclaw, subsequently served as mayor of Sosnowitz. The Jews of Sosnowitz, like all others living in Regierungsbezrk Kattowitz, from October 1940, came under the jurisdiction of the Albrecht Schmelt's Organisation. Schmelt's organisation was responsible for the selection and deportation of Jews to the labour camps and their assignments to factories and workshops. In practice, all work was directed by Oberinspektor Hentschel. Hentschel's subordinates were SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Heinrich Lindner, Bruno Ludwig and Friedrich Karl Kuczynski. The Organisation Schmelt's headquarters in Sosnowitz, was located at Pieracki Strasse 6. 

Hans Held of Berlin established the first workshop for Jews in the city during February 1941. The three branches of the workshop produced underclothing, military uniforms, and corsets and other items of clothing for women. Altogether 4,000 people were employed in the workshops. In the Schwedler leather workshop at Modrzejow Street 28, 1,200 people worked in the production of backpacks for the military, suitcases and leather handbags. Rudolf Braun's shoemakers workshop at Modrzejow Street 16, employed 1,400 people in the production of boots for the military. In the Dietl workshops on Zeromski Street, 3,000 people produced overcoats and fur coats. Wilhelm Goretzki's workshop at Biala Street 2, employed 2,000 Jews producing brushes, baskets and bags from leather scraps. There were two carpentry workshpos: Landa employed approximately 200 workers and Skopko employed 400 Jews. In addition to these large workshops, smaller workplaces operated within the city. In all more than 13,000 people worked in these workshops.

In the period from October 1940, to August 1942, there were periodic transports of Jews from Sosnowitz to various labor camps. Between August 1942, and March 1943, there were three major 'round-ups' in Sosnowitz. More than 2,000 people were rounded up and sent to labour camps as a result. According to German records, 3033 Jews from Sosnowitz were in forced labour camps during August 1942.

Towards the end of 1939, the Germans removed Jews from apartments on the city's main streets: Pieracki and Malachowski Streets and part of May Third Street. Eventually Jews were prohibited from using those streets. In mid-1940, the exclusion of Jews was extended to Breslauerstrasse, Hauptstrasse, and Rathausstrasse, as well as all parks, sports venues, and green spaces.

The process of completely isolating the Jews of Sosnowitz began in October 1942. In numerous meetings, the leadership of the Central Office and Gestapo representatives marked out the boundaries of the new Jewish residential area and set the deadline for closing the ghetto. Sections of the city outside of the centre in the working class districts of Stary Sosnowitz, and Srodula were designated for the Jews of Sosnowitz. In the course of the ongoing resettlement 'aktions,' a problem arose with the relocation of Polish workers from that area to apartments in the city centre that had been vacated by Jews. The solution required effective action on the part of the Central Office, and particularly of the Resettlement Office that had been established alongside it for this purpose, as well as by the Sosnowitz municipal authority.

The resettlement 'aktion' was completed in March 1943, and the Sosnowitz ghetto, which held approximately 20,000 people, was sealed on May 1, 1943. Initially, there were two separate ghettos: the one in Srodula was for young and healthy people- which was closed on March 10, 1943, and the one in Stary Sosnowitz, was for the elderly, the sick, and the handicapped. Towards the end of April, the residents of the Stary Sosnowitz ghetto were moved into the Srodula ghetto, as were Jews from the liquidated ghetto in Dabrowa Gornicza.

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Sosnowitz - Polizei Training Group Photograph (Chris Webb Private Archive)


On May 10, 1943, the Polizeiprasident in Sosnowitz issued a proclamation concerning the ghetto that precisely defined its boundaries. The decree prohibited Jews from leaving the ghetto and forbade members of the Aryan population from entering it. The Central Office was to enforce the observance of these rules; it was required to post signs in two languages barring entry to non-Jews and prohibiting Jews from leaving the ghetto. In addition, the Central Office was to acquaint Jews with the sanctions for violations of these regulations and particularly for maintaining contact with the Polish population.

According to the records maintained by the Judenrat, 27,456 Jews were living in Sosnowitz during May 1942. In April 1942, on the orders of the Gestapo, the Judenrat prepared lists of people - more than 5,000 people altogether for transportation. The list contained the elderly, homeless, unemployed, women, children and refugees. Very few people showed up at the appointed time, so the Gestapo, together with the Jewish Police, accompanied by Merin, supplemented the transport with Jews living at Dekert Street 14, Targowa Street, 2 and 11 and Modrzejowska Street 23. On May 12, 1943, this transport of 1,500 people was sent to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.In the second half of June 1942, the Gestapo organised a second transport, this time approximately 2,000 residents of Panska and Ostrogorska Streets. This transport consisted of the poor, handicapped, children from the orphanage, and hospital patients.

The third and largest deportation took place on August 12, 1942. The Germans used the pretext that they needed to inspect and stamp identity papers. The so-called 'Stadium Aktion' lasted two days. Jews were assigned to one of four groups. Families that included no children and whose members worked were released, after their papers were stamped. Young people who were unemployed and who did not have a special exemption due to their family were designated for transfer to labour camps. Families in which some members worked and others were unemployed, or in which there were children, were assigned to group 3 - their fate was uncertain and was to be considered again later. Elderly people and those who were unemployed or held invalid exemptions were assigned to group 4. This group was destined for transportation.

Of the 25,000 people gathered at the Unia Stadium, approximately 8,000 were selected and deported over the course of three days to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. During this 'Aktion' several hundred people were shot, or died from stress and exhaustion, or committed suicide. On August 20, 1942, there were 20,936 Jews residing in Sosnowitz.

In May 1943, in order to supplement a transport to Auschwitz Concentration Camp of Jews from the liquidated Modrzejow and Czeladz ghettos, the Gestapo added approximately 1,000 people - mainly children- from Sosnowitz. A second 'Aktion' of this type took place in June 1943, in which 2,000 people, among them patients from the Jewish hospital, were sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

The final liquidation of the Sosnowitz ghetto began on the night of August 1, 1943. Police companies from Sosnowitz, Maczki, Kattowitz, Bytom, and Gilwice arrived for the 'Aktion,' as were training, factory, and reserve police detachments, for a total force of 22 officers and 775 men, armed with machine guns and grenades. Lieutenant- Colonel Schadow, the chief of the Sosnowitz police, directed the 'Aktion' in which approximately 10,000 Jews were deported to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, whilst some 400 people were shot, when they resisted or tried to escape. On August 2, 1943, a group of 300 people - mainly officials of the Judenrat, the Central Office, and the Jewish Police - were sent to the labour camp at Gora Swietej Anny. The 'Aktion' lasted until August 15, 1943.

Jewish youth movements continued to operate through the entire occupation period - even in the ghetto- especially active were Ha-Noar Ha-Zioni, headed by Jozef and Boleslaw Kozuch, and Ha-Shomer Ha-Zair which had 200 members and was directed first by Kalman Tencer and then by Cwi Dunski. Other youth organisations active in the region included Gordonia, Poalei Zion, and Hitachdut. In January 1943, Frumka Sultanik established a group connected to the Communist movement.

In June 1942, Mordechai Anielewicz, traveled illegally from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Zaglebie region. As a result of his visit, a branch of the ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organisation) was established in Sosnowitz. Eliezer Geller, a representative of Gordonia, also visited Sosnowitz. Young people distributed flyers and attempted to secure weapons. With the help of couriers Ina Gelbardt and Hela Szancer, they made contact with the ghettos in Warsaw, Bedzin, and Chrzanow and obtained false documents that might prevent young Jews from being sent to labour camps. Dunski organised an assassination attempt on Mojzesz Merin that ultimately failed. In February 1943, with the assistance of Merin, who relentlessly opposed the Jewish underground resistance in the region, the Germans arrested Dunski and Lipek Minc, another resistance member. Both men were executed in April 1943.

Members of the resistance built underground bunkers in and around the ghetto. During the ghettos liquidation in August 1943, some members of the youth movements and a few adults offered armed resistance, while many people sought to hide. As a result, the deportation 'Aktion' lasted two weeks, instead of the two days planned by the SS. Several hundred members of the youth organisations managed to escape across the border into Slovakia and Hungary, where many of them survived the war.

During the August 1943, deportations, the Gestapo kept back several hundred Jews, including members of the Jewish Police, who were employed sorting Jewish property left behind. The Gestapo systematically added to this group Jews discovered in bunkers or other hiding places. Altogether more than 1,000 Jews remained in Sosnowitz. They were accommodated in a few houses in the Srodula ghetto, in the so-called 'Liquidation Camp.' In mid-December 1943, approximately 800 people were deported to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and another 600 were sent to the same place during January 1944.

In 1946, 2,300 Jews were living in Sosnowiec, including 400 pre-war residents, but most emigrated in the next few years. After the Second World War ended several officials of the Organisation Schmelt were brought to trial, for among other things, the expulsion of the Jewish population of Bedzin in May and August 1942. The District Court in Sosnowiec sentenced Friedrich Karl Kuczynski to death on September 23, 1948. Heinrich Lindner was arrested by the American authorities and he committed suicide during January 1949.

Oskar Bruno Tschammler, an official of the Organisation Schmelt who was active in round-ups, selections for labour camps, and the liquidation of the ghetto, was sentenced to death by the District Court of Sosnowiec on November 5, 1948, and was hanged on April 28, 1949. Konrad Schiefele, an appraiser of property left by the Jews, was sentenced by District Court of Sosnowiec to a life sentence on July 13, 1948.


Sources

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

Photographs: Chris Webb Private Archive

Holocaust Historical Society, August 26, 2020