The 20th century Print

 

By the late 19th century, the Jews of Gliwice had become quite assimilated. They perceived themselves as German citizens, actively participating in the political, economic and cultural development of Gliwice as well as the Prussian and German state.

 


 

During World War I, more than 50 Jewish soldiers from Gliwice and the surrounding region were killed. A monument at the center of the cemetery at Poniatowskiego Street commemorates them.

Shortly after Hitler’s accession to power in 1933 the official harassment of Germany’s Jews began.  One such incident in Gliwice opened a unique chapter in the history of Upper Silesian Jewry.  Franz Bernheim, one of the employees of the Gliwice branch of the “DEFAKA” department store company, was dismissed because of his Jewish origin. Because the region had been partitioned between Germany and Poland in 1922, it stood under a League of Nations protectorate guaranteeing the rights of national minorities.

After the “Bernheim Petition” was filed on his behalf at the League of Nations in Geneva, a resolution was passed ordering Germany to apply those same protections to the Jews of Upper Silesia. This forced the Nazi authorities to formally cease their anti-Jewish activities in German Upper Silesia’s plebiscite region until the protectorate expired in July of 1937.  As a result, Jewish children could remain in the public schools, kosher slaughter was still permitted and Jews could continue their economic and social lives within the larger community.


 

 

In the 30’s the majority of Gliwice’s Jews emigrated. The deportation of Gliwice’s Jews to Auschwitz began in May 1942; by the end of June, most of the deportations, about 635 in all, had been carried out. Arthur Kochmann was the last one deported in December of 1943. Jews who were married to Gentiles were not deported and managed to survive the Holocaust.

During 1944 there were four sub-camps of the Auschwitz – Birkenau concentration camp operating in Gliwice; several thousand prisoners, most of them Jews from all over Europe, were forced to work in local industrial enterprises. On 18 January 1945 those prisoners were transferred to camps further to the west in Germany.

 

 

Moreover, one of two major evacuation routes that the prisoners of Auschwitz were forced to take in January of 1945 toward the war’s end – the so-called “death march” – led through Gliwice. Approximately 16,000 prisoners marched along this route. Those who arrived alive in Gliwice were loaded onto trains. Many of those who died were buried at the Jewish cemetery at Poniatowski Street and the Central Cemetery where a monument honors their memory.

In the beginning of 1945, Jews from the central and eastern parts of the former Republic of Poland began immigrating to Gliwice. During this period Jewish institutions included the prayer house, a kosher canteen offering meals free of charge to community members, a ritual slaughterhouse and a Jewish dormitory providing a place of temporary residence to new arrivals. The Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland was established, initially located at Zwycięstwa Street, then at Rynek.

 
 

Only a small portion of the highly active postwar Jewish community remains.  Many members emigrated in the late 1940s, after the Kielce pogrom; others, in 1967-1968.  At present, the Jewish community in Gliwice – actually a branch of the Katowice community –comprises only 20 members.  The Jewish cultural society is currently situated in a house on Górnych Wałów Street that once belonged to Salomon Lubowski.

In 2003 a plague was unveiled commemorating the pre-war Jewish community in Gliwice and the synagogue that had existed in the city prior to Kristallnacht. The event was attended by residents of Poland and other countries, including members and descendants of the pre-war Jewish community.

 
In 2005 the Gliwice Museum presented the first major exhibition about the rich history and heritage of the Jews of Gliwice. The exhibition, conference and publication of conference materials serve as a reliable foundation for further research and study of Gliwice and its Jews.