The History of the Dąbrowa Górnicza Jewish Community before the Holocaust
The Dąbrowa Górnicza Jewish Community until the end of WWI
Dąbrowa Górnicza was established in the region during ancient times on the margins of the Roman Empire, and suffered frequent invasions and fires. At the end of the 18th century, coal deposits were discovered in the area, and a coal mine was established, with the town of Dąbrowa Górnicza alongside it – a small settlement with some 180 residents. Many Jews worked in different branches of trade and light industry, as a result of which they were allowed to settle only in municipal settlements to whose economic activities they could contribute. By order of the mine's administration, a few Jews were permitted to settle close to the mines as tenants of bars or inns. Even after this, Dąbrowa Górnicza was still considered a village, and it was difficult for Jews to obtain permission to settle there.
At the beginning of the 19th century, iron casting factories were built in Dąbrowa Górnicza. Jews were given permission to work in the mines due to the increasing need for laborers. These were the first Jews allowed to work there outside of the traditional Jewish fields of labor. Two Jewish families, Rozencwajg and Nathan, moved into the settlement; a few years later other Jews from Bedzin were given permission to live in Dąbrowa Górnicza and trade there.
In 1841, the settlement was given permission to hold market days every week, and Jewish merchants from Bedzin came to sell their wares. Some settled in old Dąbrowa; most provided services for the laborers of the area as well as the mine administrators.
In 1860, some 600 residents were living in Dąbrowa Górnicza, including laborers from across Poland and even Germany. In the years that followed, professionals connected to the local industries began to move in. At the end of the 19th century, the settlement boasted tens of thousands of residents, including some 2,500 Jews. Many of the Jewish residents made a living through trade, peddling and handicrafts – mostly tailors, butchers and metal workers – but also watchmakers, bakers, wagon drivers and a few manual laborers. In 1902, a group of young Jews established a savings and loans register. In 1910, the community was given permission to open its own cemetery. Before this, the Jews had buried their dead in Bedzin.
On the eve of WWI, Polish business owners and members of the clergy petitioned the Russian authorities to expel the Jews from the settlement, claiming that their residency was illegal. Following an appeal by community leaders to the Interior Ministry in Warsaw and the authorities in St. Petersburg, the expulsion was prevented.
In 1911, the settlement was damaged by fire. However, in 1915, during the Austrian occupation, it was given the status of a town. During this period, Zionist sympathizers opened a Jewish public library and established the first synagogue in the town. Until then, the Jews had held prayer quorums in private homes in old Dąbrowa, under the supervision of the authorities, who registered all of the participants. A year later, the community was granted official recognition by the Austrians, and work on the main synagogue was completed.
During WWI, the Jews of the town were helped by the German Jewish Aid Committee in Berlin, and at the end of the war – also by the American JDC. Public kitchens and health clinics were established, which also extended aid to non-Jews. In 1917, four Jewish representatives were chosen in the first elections to the town council.
The first Zionist youth movements began activity in Dąbrowa Górnicza at the end of WWI. A group of educated youth held seminars on social and economic issues, resulting in the establishment of a Hashomer Hatzair branch in the town.