Beuthen

General information: First Jewish presence: 13th century; peak Jewish population: 3,600 in 1925; Jewish population in 1933: 3,200
Summary: The modern Jewish community of Beuthen (in present-day Poland) developed during the period of Swedish rule, when large numbers of Jews from Lesser Poland moved to Beuthen. Jews initially conducted services in private prayer halls, but in 1809 a synagogue was inaugurated in the city. The Jewish cemetery, acquired in 1735, was used until 1870. Although the community experienced rapid growth during the first half of the 19th century, most Jews remained poor, because the discriminatory policies of the local guilds prevented them from becoming craftsmen or skilled professionals. Several Beuthen Jews did, however, succeed in entering the salt, beer, liquor and saltpeter industries. Jews also participated in the life of the general community: a Jew was elected to the town council in 1808—later, in 1872, another served as a district judge—and eight local Jews fought in the Napoleonic wars. In 1869, the prospering community built a new synagogue in the Moorish architectural style. The Jews of Bethuen also maintained an elementary school, an old-age home, a Talmud Torah, an Orthodox cheder (elementary school) and several private religious schools. After World War I, various social and welfare associations, e.g., the Association of Jewish Artisans, the Jewish Historical and Literary Society, Zionist groups and an organization for Eastern European Jews, were established in Bethuen. Markus Kopfstein (1889-1924), the congregational rabbi, wrote a full history of the community in which he describes the post-war proliferation of social-minded organizations. Although Beuthen Jews were, until 1937, protected by the League of Nations convention on minority rights, acts of anti-Semitic violence often broke out during the 1920s and 1930s: Jews were assaulted on the streets as early as 1923; others were forced to carry humiliating placards (“I’m Going to Palestine,” for example); and in 1932, Nazi sympathizers tried to kill a local merchant by tossing hand grenades into his home. (Angry demonstrations took place in Beuthen after one of the culprits was convicted.) In 1938, as in the rest of Germany, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe were expelled from Beuthen. Several weeks later, on Pogrom Night, the synagogue was set on fire, approximately 70 Jewish-owned stores were destroyed and many Jewish householders were arrested, after which some were sent to Buchenwald. In 1942, 1,300 still lived in Beuthen; of these, approximately 50, all married to non-Jews, were spared deportation. After the war, survivors established a new Jewish community in Beuthen; they never built a synagogue, but did maintain an office and a prayer hall. In 1993, a memorial plaque was unveiled the Jewish cemetery.
Photo: View of the Torah Ark in the synagogue of Beuthen. Courtesy of: The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, 7355/50.
Author / Sources: Harold Slutzkin
Sources: EJL, LJG
Located in: Silesia