Bielsko-Biała (Biała) Jewish Cemetery
The Jewish cemetery in Biała was established in 1849 on the road to Hałcnów, on the border of Biała and Lipnik. In its first years, the Jews leased the area of the cemetery and bought it in 1902. In the second half of the 19th century, the community built a funeral house, which survived until 1926. By 1919, the cemetery was nearly full, so the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) purchased and managed an additional three plots. Towards the end of the 1920s, the cemetery was surrounded by a brick and concrete fence. A new funeral house was built to replace the previous funeral house and it survived until the 1950s. Burials in the cemetery continued to take place during and after World War II. By 1955, about 2,000 people were buried in the cemetery.
In 1956, the cemetery was abandoned and subsequently became the property of the State Treasury, which designated the land for industrial development. In 1958, the “Befa” Fittings Factory was built in the western part of the cemetery. During the construction work, the first bodies were exhumed and reburied at Cieszyńska Street. Despite Jewish protests and judicial interventions, in 1966, after the liquidation of Chevra Kadisha, the minister of municipal economy decided to liquidate the cemetery and allocate the area for the expansion of the “Polsport” Sports Equipment Factory. A decision was made to exhume the bodies, giving the families only two weeks to organize. Ultimately, only about 130 graves were exhumed at the expense of “Polsport,” and the remaining 1,500 were transferred to a shared grave. Single exhumations financed by individual families (approximately 30–40) also took place in the following years. Almost one third of the tombstones preserved from the destroyed cemetery (180 matzevot) were moved to Cieszyńska Street. The remaining ones were stolen or used for construction purposes such as for rubble and hardening the Niwka stream bed and the “Polsport” factory yards. Some were likely taken to a landfill near the railway station. The land of the cemetery was leveled. On December 13, 1996, a monument commemorating the cemetery was unveiled.
In 2017, the City Council of Bielsko-Biała adopted a spatial development plan allowing for the possibility of building a housing estate on the site of the former Jewish cemetery. The collapsing “Polsport” factory is considering selling the land to developers. An architectural plan for the development has already been created. In 2021, the future of the cemetery is still under threat.
Until the 18th century, Biała (which has been a part of the town of Bielsko-Biała since 1951) was a village and a craft settlement located near Bielsko. It was granted town rights in 1723. The beginnings of Jewish settlement date back to the end of the 17th century. In 1710, a customs office was established in Biała which resulted in the development of trade. By this time, several Jews already lived in the settlement. In 1752, over 100 Jews lived in Biała and Lipnik, constituting about 20% of the total population. They likely had their own kehilla (organized Jewish community), and owned a cemetery and synagogue. Competition in trade led to an escalation in the conflict with the Christian population. As a result, the court ordered the expulsion of Jews from the town in 1765. The ban was formally in force until 1848, however as early as 1805, individual Jewish families were resettling in the town. By 1870, 270 Jews were living in Biała, and 3,942 by 1938.
During World War II, a ghetto was established in the town, the inhabitants of which were deported in stages to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942 and 1943. In 1945, about 1,500 Jews returned to the town. In 1951, during the merger of Bielsko and Biała, 3,366 Jews lived in the town. In 1955, an independent Jewish Community was established in Bielsko-Biała. The anti-Semitic witch-hunt and the events of March 1968 led most Jews to leave the town. The community was re-established in 1993, and in 1995 it regained the status of an independent Jewish community.