A Prussian town until 1921, Katowice (Ger., Kattowitz) is now the capital city of the southern Polish province of Silesia. Although Jews were noted in the region as far back as 1733, the first Jews to settle in the village itself arrived in 1825.
In 1840, 12 Jewish people (two families) lived in Katowice; in 1855, the number had grown to 105. The Jews of Katowice were initially under the jurisdiction of the Mysłowice (Ger., Myslowitz) community, of which they formed an official branch in 1847. With rapid growth of the area, the number of Jews and their significance for the region’s economy grew quickly. In 1862, Katowice consecrated its first synagogue, a structure that was enlarged in 1880. Also in 1862, Jews tried unsuccessfully to form an independent community, an achievement they accomplished in 1866. In 1867, the town contained 624 Jews, 13 percent of its total population.
From the early 1880s, Katowice was an important transit point for Jews migrating from Russia and Galicia, a factor that led to an increase in the number of illegal immigrants. Tensions between Polish immigrants from Galicia and the local Jewish population intensified at the late nineteenth century. In 1884, Katowice was the site of the first Ḥoveve Tsiyon conference. By 1895, the Jewish population had risen to 1,760 (5.7% of the town’s total), and by 1910 to 2,975. A new synagogue opened in 1900, with seating for 1,120 people. Katowice became part of Poland in 1922, leading some Jews to emigrate and their proportion of the total population to fall. In 1923, the Jewish population was 2,500.
Delegates to the conference at which the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement was founded, Katowice, Poland, 1884. (Front row, center) Lev (Leon) Pinsker, author of the proto-Zionist manifesto Autoemancipation. (YIVO)
An influx of Jewish settlers from eastern Poland changed the cultural orientation of the community, strengthening the influence of Zionists, Orthodox Jews, and pro-Polish integrationists, even though the German faction led the community until the mid-1930s. In 1931, there were 5,716 Jews in Katowice, representing 4.5 percent of the city’s population. Of these, 3,055 (53%) claimed Polish to be their native language, 1,388 (24%) mentioned Yiddish, and 1,037 (18%) named German. The Jewish press developed rapidly (mainly in the Polish language); there were Jewish schools, a B’nai B’rith lodge, and charitable organizations. The rabbinate, from 1928 headed by Kalman Chameides and Mordekhai Vogelmann, was especially active.
Antisemitic propaganda intensified from the mid-1920s, with boycotts and violence causing the deterioration of the Jews’ economic and social situation. On 4 September 1939, after occupying the town, German troops burnt Katowice’s synagogue. The Jewish population was resettled to Sosnowiec, then transported to Auschwitz between May and August 1942, where they were murdered. After World War II, Katowice was restored to Poland and became an important center of Jewish resettlement. In July 1946, there were 5,731 Jews, mainly repatriates from eastern Poland. Due to intense emigration following the Kielce pogrom in July 1946, only 2,348 remained, and by 1950 the numbers had fallen below 1,000.
Independent Jewish political and cultural organizations were active until 1950, when they were gradually monopolized by the Communists led by Henryk (Ḥayim) Cieszyński. From 1957 to 1959, some 1,150 Jews were repatriated from the Soviet Union, but soon departed. In December 1959, just 850 Jews remained. At present about 250 members are registered in Jewish organizations, though the number of people of Jewish origin is probably several times greater.
Yosef Khrust and Yosef Frankel, eds., Katovits: Periḥatah u-sheki‘atah shel ha-kehilah ha-yehudit (Tel Aviv, 1996); Vilah Orbakh, “Ka’tovitseh / Katowice,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Polin, vol. 3, Galitsyah ha-ma‘arivit ve-Silezyah, pp. 309–315 (Jerusalem, 1984); Marcin Wodziński and Janusz Spyra, eds., Jews in Silesia (Kraków, 2001).
Translated from Polish by Bartek Madejski