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Jewish Families from Biecz, Poland

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This project seeks to collect all of the Jewish families from the town of Biecz, Poland, also known as Beitch, Beitsch, Baych, Baytsh, Beytch.

Gesher Galicia - Biecz

We need your help in building up the towns and villages of Gesher Galicia. Before adding any profiles or information you will need to Join the Project (collaborate). Go to ACTIONS top right of the profile, scroll down and select JOIN PROJECT. Any queries, contact Pam Karp

About the town

Biecz (Polish pronunciation: ['bʲɛt͡ʂ] is a town and municipality in southeastern Poland, in Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Gorlice County and is in the Carpathian Mountains, in the Doły Jasielsko Sanockie, by the Ropa River. Due to its rich history, it is often referred to as "little Kraków" or the "pearl of the Carpathians." The many preserved medieval city walls and buildings have also given rise to the nickname "Polish Carcassonne."

By the mid-16th century, the city was one of the largest in Poland.[2] Being a royal city, Biecz enjoyed an economic and social Renaissance during the 14th and 15th centuries which tapered off into a gradual decline starting during the 17th century. Today, it is a small, picturesque tourist town with numerous historical monuments.

History

The Jewish people appeared in Baytsh relatively late, because the town was the king’s property and it was granted the De non tolerandis Judaies privilege from Zygmunt August, which banned the Jews from settling in Baytsh and in its vicinity, as well as trading in the town on market days] .

Jews were trying to change this situation and filed complaints to the royal court, but their efforts didn’t produce the expected results. The situation changed only during the Saxon times, from which comes the first historical record of an anonymous Jewish dweller of Baytsh brought into town by the starost of Baytsh, Franciszek Szembek, to run an inn. For lack of sources, it can only be inferred that the politics of Baytsh’s inhabitants towards Jews didn’t change until the second half of the 18th century. In spite of the regulation in force, in the year 1765 there were already 31 followers of Judaism living in the town, and in 1780, their number grew to 48. It is assumed that Baruch Frankel Teumim (1760–1828) – father in law of the tzadik Chaim Halberstam from Sącz – was the first to receive official permission from the authorities to settle in the town. Owing to his proficiency in Latin, the municipality employed him to write official letters to the state government. His grandson, Elimelech Goldberg, was the first to hold the office of a rabbi in Baytsh, performing his duty without any remuneration. It was his initiative to build a wooden synagogue in the town.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/photos.geni.com/p13/e1/73/2d/04/5344483ec3f3a551/cemetery_biecz_original.jpg

After the annexation

Since the annexation of Baytsh to the Habsburg Empire, the number of Jews living in Baytsh grew systematically, living mainly on small business and craft. With the discovery of oil in the Gorlice region, in the second half of the 19th century, there also appeared Jewish investors and owners of refineries, as well as ordinary workers, who also settled in Baytsh. In 1890, Jews already constituted 14.5% of the whole population. They also took on such jobs as that of a glazier, mason, baker, bookbinder, tinsmith, tailor or shoemaker. There were also folwark (big farm – transl. note) tenants and farm owners. In 1899, Jada Kruh held the office of the gendarmerie commander.

The growing number of Jews in Baytsh – the effect of their plentiful influx from neighbouring villages and very fast population growth – aroused dissatisfaction among the Catholics leading to the rise of a few pogroms which led to the destruction and robbing of Jewish property. The most tragic events took place in 1898. Bloodshed was prevented thanks to the intervention of Jewish policemen. At the beginning of the 20th century, anti-Semitic mood of the public became more radical, especially under the influence of the Church, which called for boycotting Jewish traders and artisans. There was also an attempt at expelling Jewish representatives from the town council at that time.

Self government

Jews had their own self-government with officers of the community, consisting of Jews from 15 localities. At the turn of the 20th century, Mojżesz Leib Szapira from an honoured family of tzadiks took on the office of the rabbi. In 1902, Aaron Horowitz took over his office. At that time, religious schools thrived but there also appeared secular organisations insisting on the vital need for reforms in the Jewish education system. Also the seed of the Zionist movement was planted. Jakub Goldberg, rabbi Elimelech’s grandson, held the office of the municipality’s chairman and of the vice mayor of Baytsh.

Economic downturn and rise of anti-semitism

A huge fire, which consumed 50 houses in the town, deprived the Jews of 20 buildings, a synagogue and a library. With the generous financial support from the Diaspora in the United States and from the neighbouring communities, the synagogue was rebuilt a few years later. As a result of the deteriorating economic situation and due to the outbreak of the First World War, many Jew migrated. Baytsh suffered serious losses from the war. The Jewish community was also affected, as trade exchange almost ceased to exist, and nutrition and basic necessities were lacking. Jews cooperated with Catholics in a civil committee which was called into being to alleviate the effects of extreme poverty and famine in the town.

Unfortunately, soon after the end of the war, attacks on members of the Jewish community took place. The anti-Semitic attitudes became more radical, especially with the arrival of General Józef Haller’s soldiers, who committed acts of violence on the Jewish people – they cut off their sidelocks and destroyed their shops and workshops. Later, members of the National Democratic Party, especially students, committed numerous acts of vandalism and published offensive articles in newspapers.

The Jewish community wasn’t among the most affluent in the inter-war period, though occupying almost all of the houses in the market square. The situation worsened even more after 1933, when a fire consumed many Jewish houses, a candle plant, an apothecary, and numerous shops. Joint came to the aid, supporting financially the neediest members of the community by the agency of „Gemilut Chased”.

In spite of their financial difficulties, Jews from Baytsh took an active part in the public life of the town. In 1920, a Hebrew school was established, which 75 boys and 69 girls attended in 1923. In 1924, a Talmud Tora was opened, and later, a cheder near it. A secular public library functioned from 1922. After the First World War, numerous political parties were reactivated. Almost all fractions of Zionists were active in Baytsh. General Zionists, the Mizrachi, the Hitachdut, all kinds of revisionists and, from 1933, a women’s Zionist organisation. The youth organised themselves in Akiva and Ha-Szomer ha-Cair. Also religious Jews created a strong political movement. The most influential among them was Agudas Isroel. Jewish representatives also played an important role in the local government. They typically constituted the third part of the town council, occasionally even holding the office of the vice mayor. Yet, throughout the mid-war period, the community preserved its autonomy manifesting itself, among other things, in language and clothes.

The persecution of Jewish people started almost directly after the annexation of Baytsh by German forces on the 7th of September 1939. Some of the inhabitants tried to leave the town beforehand, but they were forced to return by the approaching Nazis. Already in September they got down to confiscating Jewish possessions and recruiting workers for forced labour. Two beth midrashes were seized and turned into a warehouse and a cinema. In the winter of 1939/1940, 500 Jews from Łódź were brought to the town, enhancing the population to 1,300 people.

Ghetto established

At the beginning of 1940, the Germans established a Judenrat led by a tradesman, Mordechaj Peler, subject to the Judenrat in Jasło. Salomon Getz was appointed his deputy.

In October 1940, a ghetto was created in Baytsh, which was finally closed between March and April 1942. Only three members of the Judenrat were allowed to go out. In July 1942, 1,700 people found themselves in the ghetto. During all that time, executions of accidental people went on. The action of the ghetto’s annihilation started on the 22nd of July 1942. All the men between 18 and 35 years old were gathered in the market square. 170 people were directed to work camps in Karków-Płaszów. The second stage of extermination was conducted on the 14th of August 1942. The town was surrounded by German and Ukrainian policemen and the Jews were again gathered in the square. About 150 elderly and ailing people were shot on the spot and their bodies were buried on the Jewish cemetery. The rest, about 1,000, were kept in sheds for four days without food or drink, near the town hall. During that time, Local Polish police were helping to comb through the area in search of hiding Jews. On the 17th of August, everybody was sent to the extermination camp in Bełżec. There were another 40 slave workers of a bakery called “Ulreich” remaining in the town. In October 1942, they were sent off to the work camp in Przemyśl, and later exterminated. A few people hiding in the neighbouring villages managed to survive.

It should be mentioned here that in 1947 the court of Gorlice sentenced a Polish policemen, Jantorowski – made famous for his exceptional eagerness in helping the Germans to eliminate Jewish inhabitants of Baytsh – to death penalty.

As soon January 1945, a small number of surviving Jews returned to Baytsh and made attempts at reactivating the community. Unfortunately, the attempts were unsuccessful as a result of anti-Semitic moods among the local community and problems with recovering the two synagogues. Shortly after Baytsh’s liberation, three Jewish citizens were murdered and the rest emigrated near the end of the 1940s, mainly to the United States and Israel.

Sources

Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities. Poland, vol. III, Western Galicia, Silesia, ed. Abraham Wein, Aharon Weiss, Jerusalem 1984, p. 90.

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