Będzin (Polish: [ˈbɛɲd͡ʑin] (About this soundlisten); also Bendzin in English; German: Bendzin; Yiddish: בענדין, romanized: Bendin) is a city in Zagłębie Dąbrowskie, southern Poland. It lies in the Silesian Highlands, on the Czarna Przemsza river (a tributary of the Vistula). Even though part of Silesian Voivodeship, Będzin belongs to historic Lesser Poland, and it is one of the oldest towns of this province. Będzin is regarded as the capital of Zagłębie Dąbrowskie.
It has been situated in the Silesian Voivodeship since its formation in 1999. Before 1999, it was located in Katowice Voivodeship (1975–1999). Będzin is one of the cities of the 2.7 million person conurbation - Katowice urban area and within a greater Silesian metropolitan area populated by about 5,294,000 people. The population of the city itself is 58,639 (2008).
Będzin is located 12 km (7 mi) from Katowice and 4 km (2 mi) from the center of Sosnowiec. Together with Sosnowiec, Dąbrowa Górnicza, Czeladź, Wojkowice, Sławków and Siewierz it makes Zagłębie Dąbrowskie, a highly industrialized and densely populated part of western Lesser Poland. Będzin borders the cities of Sosnowiec, Dąbrowa Górnicza, Czeladź, Siemianowice Śląskie, and Wojkowice, as well as the village of Psary. The highest point of the town is St. Dorothy Mountain 382 metres (1,253 feet) above sea level, and the area of Będzin is 37.08 square kilometres (14.32 square miles).
World War II
During the German invasion of Poland, which started World War II, the Wehrmacht entered Będzin on September 4, 1939, and in the following days the Germans committed the first atrocities in the city. On September 6, the Germans murdered 20 Poles, and on September 9, they murdered 100 Jews, set fire to the synagogue and Jewish houses, and then in attempt to blame the Poles they arrested and executed 42 Poles. Local Polish parish priest Wincenty Mieczysław Zawadzki [pl] rescued a group of Jews who escaped the German massacre by opening the gates of the Holy Trinity church to them and giving them shelter. The German police carried out mass searches of Polish houses. Inhabitants of Będzin were also among Poles murdered in Celiny in June 1940. The Będzin Ghetto was established by the German occupational authority in July 1940. During the occupation, the city’s name was changed to a German form, Bendsburg, and it was part of Upper Silesia Province, as the capital of Landkreis Bendsburg.
During the war the city was the base for a working party (E716) of British and Commonwealth prisoners of war, under the administration of Stalag VIII-B/344 at Łambinowice (then known as Lamsdorf). In January 1945, as the Soviet armies resumed their offensive and advanced from the east, the prisoners were marched westward in the so-called Long March or Death March. Many of them died from the bitter cold and exhaustion. The lucky ones got far enough to the west to be liberated by the allied armies after some four months of travelling on foot in appalling conditions. Their sufferings, though severe, pale by comparison to those of the Jews of Będzin. In 1943–1944, the Germans also operated a subcamp of the Auschwitz concentration camp in the present-day district of Łagisza, in which they held and brutalized from 300 to over 700 prisoners as forced labourers.
In August 1943, as the Germans attempted to round up the last Jews still in Będzin, Jewish resistance fighters staged an armed revolt that lasted several days. One of the leaders was a woman, Frumka Plotnicka, who had earlier been a fighter in Warsaw in the ghetto revolt there. All the resistance fighters were killed in the action. More than 1000 Będzin Jews survived the war, several given help by local Poles.
On January 27, 1945, the town was captured by the Red Army. Subsequently, the castle was rebuilt, now housing the Museum of Zagłębie. New districts with blocks of flats were built and new factories were opened, including the Łagisza Power Station.
Jews in Będzin
Until World War II, Będzin had a vibrant Jewish community. According to the Russian census of 1897, out of the total population of 21,200, Jews constituted 10,800 (around 51% percent). According to the Polish census of 1921 the town had a Jewish community consisting of 17,298 people, or 62.1 percent of its total population. In September 1939, the German Army (Wehrmacht) overran this area, followed by the SS death squads (Einsatzgruppen), who burned the Będzin synagogue and murdered 200 Jewish inhabitants. A Będzin Ghetto was created in 1942. Eventually, in the summer of 1943, most of the Jews in Będzin were deported to the nearby German Auschwitz concentration camp. Since Będzin was one of the last Polish communities to be liquidated, there are a relatively large number of survivors from there, and an extensive collection of their personal photographs were recovered, offering photographic insight into the pre-war life there.
Frumka Płotnicka (1914 – 3 August 1943) was a Polish resistance fighter during World War II; activist of the Jewish Fighting Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa;ŻOB) and member of the Labour Zionist organizationDror. She was one of the organizers of self-defence in the Warsaw Ghetto, and participant in the military preparations for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Following the liquidation of the Ghetto, Płotnicka relocated to the Dąbrowa Basin in southern Poland. On the advice of Mordechai Anielewicz, Płotnicka organized a local chapter of ŻOB in Będzin with the active participation of Józef and Bolesław Kożuch as well as Cwi (Tzvi) Brandes, and soon thereafter witnessed the murderous liquidation of both Sosnowiec and Będzin Ghettos by the German authorities.
Mordechai Anielewicz (Hebrew: מרדכי אנילביץ'; 1919 – 8 May 1943) was the leader of the Jewish Fighting Organization (Polish: Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ŻOB), which led the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; the largest Jewish insurrection during the Second World War, which inspired further rebellions in both ghettos and extermination camps. His character was engraved as a symbol of courage and sacrifice, and to this day his image represents Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.
During the final deportation action of early August 1943, the Jewish Combat Organization in Będzin staged an uprising against the Germans (as in nearby Sosnowiec). The Będzin-Sosnowiec ghetto uprisinglasted for several days even though the SS broke through the main line of defence within hours. Frumka Płotnicka died on 3 August 1943 in one of the Będzin bunkers, fighting against the Germans. Posthumously, she received the Order of the Cross of Grunwald from the Polish Committee of National Liberation in April 1945.
Comrades from the pioneer training commune in Białystok, 1938. Frumka Płotnicka is standing second from the right. (Courtesy of Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, Photo Archive)
Płotnicka was born in Plotnitsa, a village near Pińsk, during World War I, part of the newly reborn Poland since 1919 after a century of foreign Partitions. She relocated to Warsaw in 1938 to assume a position at the headquarters of the Dror Zionist Youth Movement founded on Polish lands in 1915 in the course of the war with imperial Russia.
Following the 1939 invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Płotnicka undertook underground activities as leader of the HeHalutz youth movement. Using false identities and facial disguise, she travelled across General Government territory between Jewish ghettos in German-occupied Poland. She witnessed the Holocaust trains departing from train stations to undisclosed death camps during the extermination of the Jews known as the "Final Solution" ("Endlosung" in German). As a courier ('kashariyot'), she delivered light weapons procured by the Warsaw Ghetto underground, as well as blueprints, drafted by the headquarters, for the manufacture of Molotov cocktails and hand grenades. Among the Jewish communities she visited, Płotnicka was referred to as "Die Mameh", Yiddish for "Mom". She relayed the reports of murderous liquidation of so many ghettos that she began to call herself a "gravedigger".
Jews would flock around her from all sides. One would ask her if he should return home [in the German zone of occupation], or continue his way eastward to the Soviet-dominated provinces. Another would come in search of a hot meal or a loaf of bread for his wife and children. They called her 'Die Mameh' and indeed she was a devoted mother to them all. — Zivia Lubetkin
After the Großaktion Warschau in September 1942 Płotnicka was sent from Warsaw to Będzin in occupied south-western Poland by the Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB) in order to help the self-defence organization there. The seeds of ŻOB were planted in the Warsaw Ghetto only two months earlier, when the German SS headed by Hermann Höfle began the roundups of Jews aimed at deporting 254,000 prisoners to the newly built Treblinka extermination camp. Płotnicka was the first Jewish courier in the Warsaw Ghetto to smuggle weapons from the Aryan part of the city inside sacks of potatoes.
Hermann Höfle (19 June 1911 – 21 August 1962) was an Austrian-born SS commander and Holocaust perpetrator during the Nazi era. He was deputy to Odilo Globočnik in the Aktion Reinhard program, serving as his main deportation and extermination expert. Arrested in 1961 in connection with these crimes, Höfle committed suicide in prison before he could be tried. Höfle personally oversaw the deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto, the so-called Großaktion Warschau. The operation was preceded on 20 and 21 July 1942 by a spree of randomly killing actions along the streets of the Ghetto and by the arrest and brutal imprisonment of many others taken as hostages among counselors, department managers and those connected in a way or another tothe Judenrat (the Jewish Council). All this was to intimidate and soften the Judenrat to the new upcoming measures. The day after, in the morning of 22 July, SS SturmbannführerHöfle, accompanied by an entourage of SS and government officials, arrived at the Judenrat in the Warsaw Ghetto and announced to the chairman, Adam Czerniaków, that the Jews, regardless of sex or age and with but a few exceptions, were to be evacuated to the East (the Treblinka extermination camp). The exceptions were workers in German factories who had valid work permits, Judenrat employees, the Jewish Order Service, hospital patients and employees, and the families of the exempt. The deportees were allowed to carry with them 15 kg of baggage, food for three days, money, gold, and other valuables. The order also called for 6,000 Jews to report to the Umschlagplatz every day by 4 p.m. to board the trains for deportation.
Płotnicka was issued a Paraguayan passport issued by the Ładoś Group. The Ładoś Group, Bernese Group (Polish: grupa berneńska or grupa Ładosia, French: groupe bernois) is a name given to a group of Polish diplomats and Jewish activists who during Second World War elaborated in Switzerland a system of illegal production of Latin American passports aimed at saving European Jews from the Holocaust.
Będzin Ghetto Uprising
2 Jewish girls in the Będzin Ghetto
In the Będzin Ghetto the Jewish underground cell was formed in 1941. The ghetto was never surrounded by a wall, even though it was tightly guarded by the German and the Jewish Ghetto Police. In March 1941 there were 25,171 Jews in Będzin; this increased to 27,000 after the ominous expulsion of the Jewish community of Oświęcim, the location of the Auschwitz II Birkenau redevelopment. In May 1942 deportations to Auschwitz began with the first transport of 3,200 Będzin Jews loaded onto Holocaust trains at the Umschlagplatz. On the advice of Mordechai Anielewicz who stayed in Dąbrowa Basin temporarily in mid-1942, Płotnicka, Brandes and the Kożuch brothers, organized a local chapter of ŻOB. On 3 August 1943, during the final deportation action, the partisans launched an uprising which lasted for several days. Płotnicka was killed in a bunker at Podsiadły Street on the same day.
Frumka Płotnicka who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at age 29, led the uprising in the Będzin Ghetto during Operation Reinhard During the final deportation action of early August 1943, the Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB) in Będzin staged an uprising against the Germans (as in nearby Sosnowiec). Already in 1941 a local chapter of ŻOB was created in Będzin, on the advice of Mordechai Anielewicz. Weapons were obtained from the Jewish underground in Warsaw. Pistols and hand-grenades were smuggled in perilous train rides.
Edzia Pejsachson was caught and tortured to death. Using patterns supplied by the headquarters the Molotov cocktails were being manufactured. The bombs that the Jews produced – according to surviving testimonies – were comparable with those of the Nazis. Several bunkers were dug out within the ghetto boundary to produce and hide these weapons. The attitude of the Judenrat in Będzin to the resistance was negative from the start, but it changed during the ghetto liquidation.
The revolt was a ultimate act of defiance of the ghetto insurgents who fought in the neighbourhoods of Kamionka and Środula. A group of partisans barricaded themselves in the bunker at Podsiadły Street along with their female leader, Frumka Płotnicka (pl), age 29, who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising several weeks earlier. All of them were killed by the German forces once they run out of bullets, but the fighting, which began on 3 August 1943, lasted for several days. Most of the remaining Jews perished soon thereafter, when the ghetto was liquidated, although the deportations had to be extended from a few days to two weeks and the SS from Auschwitz (45 km distance) was summoned to assist.
Posthumously, Frumka Płotnicka received the Order of the Cross of Grunwald from the Polish Committee of National Liberation on 19 April 1945.
Syenite block located at the intersection of Niska and Dubois streets in Warsaw commemorating the life and martyrdom of Frumka Płotnicka
The engraved Syenite commemorative plaque, located at the intersection of Niska and Dubois streets in Warsaw, is dedicated to her memory. The memorial stone is part of an innercity Memory Trail of the Struggle and Martyrdom of the Jews (pl), inaugurated in 1988, extending from the intersection of Zamenhof and Anielewicz streets to the intersection of Dzika and Stawki streets. Płotnicka was registered by Yad Vashem as victim of the Holocaust in 1957.