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The Jewish Community of Katowice

Katowice

German: Kattowitz

A city in southwestern Poland. Part of Prussia until 1921.

As of 2011 there were 120 people officially registered as members of the Jewish community of Katowice. The actual numbers of Jews in the city, and in the surrounding area, are thought to be much higher because of the Polish phenomenon of "hidden Jews." "Hidden Jews" are those who, whether as a consequence of the Holocaust, communism, or postwar anti-Semitism, became completely disconnected from Judaism and their Jewish roots. A growing number of these "hidden Jews" are both discovering their Jewish roots and seeking to reconnect with their Jewish heritage.

In 2011 Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis, who was born in Kansas City, MO, and received his rabbinic ordination from the Shehebar Sephardic Center, was appointed as the city's chief rabbi. His stated goals upon taking office were to expand Jewish activities throughout Poland, and to attempt to discover and reach out to the (presumed) thousands of "hidden Jews" and aid them in reconnecting with their Judaism.

HISTORY

There is information about the Jewish communities in the vicinity of Katowice as far back as 1733, but the first Jews to live in Katowice itself arrived around 1825. By 1840 there were 12 Jews in the city. This number rose to 102 in 1855.

Following the industrial development of the city, Jews played an increasing role in the economic life of Katowice and the city's economic growth spurred more Jews to settle there. When Katowice was declared a city in 1867 there were 624 Jews in the city (13% of the total population).

Beginning in 1850, religious services were held in small prayer houses. This lasted until 1862, when the first synagogue was built; the building was expanded in 1880 and a second synagogue was built in 1900. An independent community was organized in 1866. A cemetery opened in 1868 and the first community rabbi was appointed in 1872. As the community grew, it became increasingly active. The first Chovevei Zion conference was held in Katowice in 1884.

The city became an important transit point for the large numbers of Jews migrating from Russia to Galicia, leading to tensions between the local Jewish population and the Polish immigrants from Galicia, who significantly changed the ideological makeup of the community. Although the pro-German Jews led the community until the mid-1930s, the large numbers of Jews from eastern Poland who settled in the city were generally pro-integration with Poland. They also strengthened the influence of Zionism and Orthodox Judaism within the city. The Jewish community benefited from a Jewish press (that published mostly in Polish) and a Bnai Brith lodge. There were Jewish schools, including one named after the Jewish hero in the Polish army, Berek Joselewicz, and a Hebrew school that was established in 1935. A new community building was erected in 1937, and served as a Jewish cultural and communal center.

In 1899 the Jewish population had jumped to 2,216; in 1910 there were 2,979 Jews in the city, which swelled to 9,000 in 1932. The non-Jewish population grew at a much faster rate, rising from 14,000 in 1888 to 130,645 in 1930. Before the Holocaust, Rabbi Chamejdes was an active figure in the Jewish life of the city, and in 1937 he was appointed as the advisor on Jewish affairs in the municipal courts.

Starting in the mid-1920s and '30s, anti-Semitism in Katowice sharply increased. In 1937 there were a number of pogroms, and Jewish-owned shops were firebombed. This had a severe economic effect on the Jewish community, as did an anti-Jewish boycott. A number of professional associations introduced articles to their charters that restricted or expelled their Jewish members. As a result of the increase in anti-Semitism, many Jews left Katowice; by 1939 there were 8,587 Jews remaining in the city (6.3% of the total population).

Days after the Germans occupied the city, German troops burned the city's synagogue. Within the first three months of the German occupation the entire Jewish population was forced to leave. The majority settled in nearby Sosnowiec, where they shared the fate of Sosnowiec's Jews and were transported to Auschwitz.

After World War II about 1,500 Jews, almost all of whom were from other parts of Poland and had spent the war years in the Soviet Union, returned to settle in Katowice, which by that point had been restored to Poland. A Jewish community for Upper Silesia was established. After the Kielce pogrom of 1946, most of the Jews who had attempted to resettle in Poland emigrated elsewhere; by 1950 there were less than 1,000 Jews left in Katowice.

A chapter of the communist-led Jewish Cultural and Social Society was active until 1967, when the Polish authorities initiated an official campaign of anti-Semitism. This led to a further depletion of the Jewish community of Katowice, as more Jews left Poland.
Place Type:
City
ID Number:
172124
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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The Jewish Community of Katowice
Katowice

German: Kattowitz

A city in southwestern Poland. Part of Prussia until 1921.

As of 2011 there were 120 people officially registered as members of the Jewish community of Katowice. The actual numbers of Jews in the city, and in the surrounding area, are thought to be much higher because of the Polish phenomenon of "hidden Jews." "Hidden Jews" are those who, whether as a consequence of the Holocaust, communism, or postwar anti-Semitism, became completely disconnected from Judaism and their Jewish roots. A growing number of these "hidden Jews" are both discovering their Jewish roots and seeking to reconnect with their Jewish heritage.

In 2011 Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis, who was born in Kansas City, MO, and received his rabbinic ordination from the Shehebar Sephardic Center, was appointed as the city's chief rabbi. His stated goals upon taking office were to expand Jewish activities throughout Poland, and to attempt to discover and reach out to the (presumed) thousands of "hidden Jews" and aid them in reconnecting with their Judaism.

HISTORY

There is information about the Jewish communities in the vicinity of Katowice as far back as 1733, but the first Jews to live in Katowice itself arrived around 1825. By 1840 there were 12 Jews in the city. This number rose to 102 in 1855.

Following the industrial development of the city, Jews played an increasing role in the economic life of Katowice and the city's economic growth spurred more Jews to settle there. When Katowice was declared a city in 1867 there were 624 Jews in the city (13% of the total population).

Beginning in 1850, religious services were held in small prayer houses. This lasted until 1862, when the first synagogue was built; the building was expanded in 1880 and a second synagogue was built in 1900. An independent community was organized in 1866. A cemetery opened in 1868 and the first community rabbi was appointed in 1872. As the community grew, it became increasingly active. The first Chovevei Zion conference was held in Katowice in 1884.

The city became an important transit point for the large numbers of Jews migrating from Russia to Galicia, leading to tensions between the local Jewish population and the Polish immigrants from Galicia, who significantly changed the ideological makeup of the community. Although the pro-German Jews led the community until the mid-1930s, the large numbers of Jews from eastern Poland who settled in the city were generally pro-integration with Poland. They also strengthened the influence of Zionism and Orthodox Judaism within the city. The Jewish community benefited from a Jewish press (that published mostly in Polish) and a Bnai Brith lodge. There were Jewish schools, including one named after the Jewish hero in the Polish army, Berek Joselewicz, and a Hebrew school that was established in 1935. A new community building was erected in 1937, and served as a Jewish cultural and communal center.

In 1899 the Jewish population had jumped to 2,216; in 1910 there were 2,979 Jews in the city, which swelled to 9,000 in 1932. The non-Jewish population grew at a much faster rate, rising from 14,000 in 1888 to 130,645 in 1930. Before the Holocaust, Rabbi Chamejdes was an active figure in the Jewish life of the city, and in 1937 he was appointed as the advisor on Jewish affairs in the municipal courts.

Starting in the mid-1920s and '30s, anti-Semitism in Katowice sharply increased. In 1937 there were a number of pogroms, and Jewish-owned shops were firebombed. This had a severe economic effect on the Jewish community, as did an anti-Jewish boycott. A number of professional associations introduced articles to their charters that restricted or expelled their Jewish members. As a result of the increase in anti-Semitism, many Jews left Katowice; by 1939 there were 8,587 Jews remaining in the city (6.3% of the total population).

Days after the Germans occupied the city, German troops burned the city's synagogue. Within the first three months of the German occupation the entire Jewish population was forced to leave. The majority settled in nearby Sosnowiec, where they shared the fate of Sosnowiec's Jews and were transported to Auschwitz.

After World War II about 1,500 Jews, almost all of whom were from other parts of Poland and had spent the war years in the Soviet Union, returned to settle in Katowice, which by that point had been restored to Poland. A Jewish community for Upper Silesia was established. After the Kielce pogrom of 1946, most of the Jews who had attempted to resettle in Poland emigrated elsewhere; by 1950 there were less than 1,000 Jews left in Katowice.

A chapter of the communist-led Jewish Cultural and Social Society was active until 1967, when the Polish authorities initiated an official campaign of anti-Semitism. This led to a further depletion of the Jewish community of Katowice, as more Jews left Poland.
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People