The history of Bedzin Jews dates back to the 13th century, although the oldest written sources state the year 1564. At the beginning the Jews had to live outside the town and it was not until the end of 15th century that they began to settle in the boundaries of the town (they obtained a formal permission in the second half of the 16th century); they inhabited mainly the vicinity of Berka Joselewicza and Rybna streets. Since the beginning of their presence in Bedzin they took an active part in town's life; it was simplified by privileges granted to them by successive kings of Poland. During the reign of King Zygmunt I Stary they were made equal with Christian traders, in the reign of King Zygmunt III Waza town authorities were obliged to defend Jewish population against any aggresion. The act of Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki granted Jews the right to all kinds of trade in the town. In the half of 19th century Jews were owners of 60 % shops in the town as well as share holders of many industrial plants. In the period after World War I the situation did not change. In 1917 all councillors in town council were Jews. The vice-president of the town was also of Jewish descent. There existed plenty of Jewish cultural organisations, political parties, sports clubs, press.
The economic and social development was accompanied by the growing number of Jewish citizens of the district. In 1787 the number of Jewish citizens in Bedzin was 250 people, in 1835 - 1200 people, in 1880 - it was already 3800 and in 1910 - 37 000. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries the Jews made up 80 per cent of the population of the town. However, on the eve of the outbreak of the war their number decreased to 'only' 25 000 citizens.
The period of World War II meant almost complete extermanation of Bedzin Jews. At night 8/9 September The Germans burnt a synagogue with a group of about two hundred Jews praying inside. Gradually the Jews were deprived of their possessions, they were displaced from the town center to ghettos in Bedzin Warp and Srodula in Sosnowiec. The first mass deportations to KL Auschwitz-Birkenau were in 1941 and the liquidation of the ghetto took place from 1st to th August 1443. After the war about nine hundred Jews came back to Bedzin, but most of them left the town as a result of politics run by PRL authorities.
Three Jewish cemeteries existed in Bedzin. The first one was founded in 16th century in the vicinity of Zawale Street. It functioned till the half of 19th century and existed till the interwar period. Nowadays there is an empty square in this place. After the outbreak of a cholera epidemic in 1831 there was a need of building a new cemetery and then it was decided to bury the departed on Podzamcze - the northern hillside of Góra Zamkowa. This necropolis still exists. The third cemetery came into existance at the end of 19th century in Warpn near Sielecka Street but it was damaged during World War II. At present this place is covered with asphalt.
During works on the cemetery 850 headstones or their parts were discovered, the oldest ones date from 1831. In the middle of the necropolis there was an ohel, but at present it is impossible to establish who had been buried there, because only some parts of a foundation remained. The most righteous person buried in Podzamcze is Rabbi Jacob Natan, on whose headstone there is the eagle of the Republic of Poland (probably for his services for the Kosciuszko Insurrection). Nowadays a part of this headstone is in the Museum of Zagłębie in Bedzin. The Bedzin necropolis is overgrown with a forest, a part of headstones slided down the hillside, many of them are knocked over. The cemetery isn't clearly seperated into male and female parts. The place is unusual, filled with the atmosphere of a nearby castle, partial shade from trees makes everyone reflect upon the fate of people who had passed away . As the necropolis is situated on the hillside, it is exceptional and it stands out from other town cemeteries.
It is worth to add that the parish priest of Church of the Holly Trinity Mieczysław Zawadzki was posthumously decorated with a Medal of ' Righteous among the Nations' for saving Bedzin Jews (also during the tragic night 8/9 September 1939). The history of Bedzin Jews was told in a film by Wojciech Grabowski 'Memories from Bedzin', which was partly based on prose by Stanisław Wygodzki, who rescued from the Holocaust.
At present the renovation works are being prepared, also a project of surrounding the necropolis with an openwork fence has been worked out.
In 2007 Jeffrey K. Cymbler published the book "The Cemetery of the Jewish Communities of Będzin and Czeladź Poland". This book is available for purchase from www.jarden.plWe are inviting to visit a website Jews in Bedzin
Text: Małgorzata Frąckowiak
Photos: Maciej Śmieszny
Translated by: Joanna Kołdras