Bedzin Old Jewish Cemetery
The second Jewish cemetery in Będzin was founded in 1831 after a cholera outbreak, which caused the old cemetery to run out of burial places. The 0.5 hectares area was bought from the city for 300 guldens. The cemetery was located at the northern slope of Castle Hill by Podzamcze Street. There are approximately 300 fully preserved tombstones with inscriptions in Hebrew and Yiddish, and about 500 broken tombstone fragments, the oldest of which dates to 1831. Rabbi Hirsz Rozanis was buried in the cemetery and an ohel was erected over his grave.
The cemetery was in active use until the end of the 1870s. It was destroyed by the Germans during World War II. It was used as a site for carrying out executions, and victims of several mass executions were buried in mass graves in the cemetery. Currently the area is wooded. Fragments of the stone wall and the ohel’s foundations—most likely that of Rabbi Baruch Hercygier—are preserved. The main entrance has a new gate. At the local Zagłębie Museum there is also a fragment (decorated with the image of the Polish Republic eagle) of the tombstone of Jakub Natan, a rabbi and patriot who aided in the Polish fight for independence.
The first mention of the village of Będzin dates to 1301. The city was founded under Polish law and then Magdeburg law in the 14th century. The first mention of Jewish settlement in the village dates to 1564, though individual Jewish residents were likely present in the village toward the end of the 13th century. In accordance with a by-law signed by King Stefan Batory in 1583, an autonomous kehilla (organized Jewish community) was founded, with a synagogue, beit din (halachic court), two cheders, a yeshiva, and a cemetery. Due to a fire in the city in 1616, the Jewish population decreased, and only began to grow again at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1676 there were 51 Jewish residents, and in 1787 the number increased to 250. In 1839 Rabbi Awremele Borenstein, the founder of the Sochaczew Hasidic dynasty, was born in Będzin. The Jewish community significantly grew after 1862 when the Tsar removed all restrictions on Jewish settlement.
By the end of the 19th century Jewish residents comprised 80% of the city’s population, being 10,839 in total. In 1921, there were 18,210 Jewish residents, comprising 60% of the total population. They were the majority group on the city council and had representatives in the Polish government (such as Dr. Salomon Weinzieher). In September 1939, the Germans burned down the synagogue with 200 Jews praying inside. The entire Jewish quarter was also set on fire. A ghetto was established at the beginning of 1940, in which 30,000 Jews were confined. Most Jews were used for forced unpaid labour. From October 1940, Jews from Będzin were gradually transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most of them died. After the war, approximately 1,300 Jewish residents returned to the city, though a large number subsequently immigrated to Palestine. The Kielce pogrom in 1946 and the rise of antisemitism until 1968 led an increase in Jewish emigration, and by the 1970s the Jewish community in Będzin was practically non-existent.