The large villages of Zaglembie: Będzin and Sosnowiec
By, Shlomo Necer
In the south-west of Poland, in the Zaglembie region, there were two large cities and many smaller towns, between the two world wars. More than half the people living in the area were Jews, some 50,000 people, who lived in the two large cities of Będzin and Sosnowiec. The first was built in the middle ages as a town around a fortress (Zamek) built by the first Polish kings. Jews in that city are recorded as far back as 1564 and were about 20 percent of the city dwellers. They made their living through finance, wholesale and retail commerce.
During the 19th century, the Zaglembie area developed after coal and iron were found and mined. There were 3,800 Jews in Będzin in 1880 that were 70 percent of the city's population. Sosnowiec (Sosnovetz in Yiddish) near it where in 1897out of 36,289 citizens 3,802 were Jews. That was the result of internal immigration within Zaglembie, as people started to leave the villages and settle in the two major cities of Sosnowiec and Będzin, especially due to the need to make a better living. And thus, various Jewish families were scattered in the Zaglembie area and its various villages. In 1938, there were 28,893 Jews in Sosnowiec, who were 22.3% of the city population at the time. For example, my father, Leibusz Szancer who came from the village of Lazy, married Lea Danciger from Pilica and they built a manufacturing workshop in Sosnowiec that supplied various craftsmen, among them tailors, hatters (Hittle Macher in Yiddish) and shoemakers who made winter shoes made of camelhair. They had commercial ties with Warsaw, Łódź, Białystok and Bielica. Members of my family lived in various Zaglembie villages, similar to other Jewish families. Sosnowiec bustled with economical activity: Jewish Merchants and craftsmen, some of them members of my family, bought material and lining fabrics they used to make various garments from.
Jews lived in the streets crossing from the large Sosnowiec train station at the crossroads of 3 Maja along Modrzejowska and other streets crossing it, where the Polish gentile doormen, who kept everything neat and clean also served as "Shabbeth Goy" - the gentile who is allowed, according to Jewish law, to perform deeds Jews are forbidden to carry out on the holy day. Miners and craftsmen from Silesia arrived on Sundays by train in order to do their shopping. They were referred to the various Jewish stores by "Refers". The local police officers, who were in charge of enforcing the law that forbade any commercial transactions on Sundays, looked the other way. The law, passed by the Sejm – the Polish Parliament – insisted on a Sunday as a day of rest for all, despite Jewish objection but in reality, commerce was carried out in back yards for concession the Jews paid the authorities to enable it.
Będzin was singular as a Jewish center, where the Zaglembier Zeitung – The Zaglembie newspaper - appeared. Among its editors was my uncle Iszaja (Szaja) Lewkowicz (Ben Amoc in Hebrew). Other less known papers appeared as well. A group of authors and artist established the Young Zaglembian and showed their art. Some of them some had connections with the Jewish Artistic Institute in Wilno (Vilnius). Dr. Shlomo Weincier, Major Deputy of Będzin and a parliament representative to the Polish Sejm won great support for his varied and wide public activity.
It is appropriate to mention the wide political activity that was enhanced by many envoys and leaders passing through the area. Among others are the activities carried out by youth movements that reached its unexpected apex during the holocaust. Yoske (Romek), member of the Zionist Youth, was the first to escape a labor camp and continued his activity under Arian (false) papers. Miriam, a Beith Jaacov graduate and active in the Hashomer Hatzair (Young Guard) was highly impressed by Mordechaj Anielewicz, who visited Zaglembie and became the underground signal operator. They were among those who looked for ways to escape through Slovakia, went through the country and all the way to Eretz Yisrael and are with us up until now.
In 1941 I worked with Schmatloch, a Volks Deutche from Bessarabia, who opened a battery factory. In the summer of 1941 a few of his workers were taken to the Sosnowiec train station, me among them, to fill the quota of the transportation to the forced labor camps.