BIELSKO (Ger. Bielitz), town in southwest Poland on the river Biala opposite *Biala, amalgamated with Biała in 1950 to form the city of Biała-Bielsko. A community existed in Bielsko in the first half of the 19th century, which was authorized to open a prayer hall in 1831 and a cemetery in 1849. It became an independent community in 1865. The Jewish population numbered 1,977 in 1890 increasing to 3,955 by 1921, and approximately 5,000 in 1939; most were German speaking. According to the 1921 census, 2,737 declared their nationality as Jewish, of whom 513 declared Yiddish as their mother tongue. The Jewsin Bielsko took an important part in the city's commerce and woolen textile industry. Most of the communal institutions were maintained jointly with the Biała community. Michael Berkowicz, Theodor Herzl's Hebrew secretary, taught religious subjects in the secondary school at Bielsko, and attracted many Jews to Zionism. The Hebrew scholar and bibliophile S.Z.H. *Halberstam lived in Bielsko and the scholar Saul *Horovitz officiated as rabbi there from 1888 to 1895.
[Abraham J. Brawer]
Holocaust and Postwar Periods
The approach of the Germans led to mass flight but many had to return to the city when their escape routes were cut off. The German army entered the town on Sept. 3, 1939, and immediately initiated an anti-Jewish reign of terror. On Sept. 4, 1939, the Nazis burned down both synagogues in Bielsko and the Ḥ.N. Bialik Jewish cultural home. A few days later the Germans burned down the two synagogues in nearby Biała, and its Orthodox Jews were forced to throw the holy books into the fire. In the summer of 1940 a ghetto was established in Bielsko. The ghetto was liquidated in June 1942 when the town's remaining Jewish population was deported to the death camp in Auschwitz. Bielsko was amalgamated with *Biała in 1950 to form the city of Bielsko-Biała. After the war a few hundred Jews settled in Bielsko-Biała. A children's home for orphans, survivors of the Holocaust, functioned there for a few years. The Jewish Cultural Society ran a club until June 1967 when the Polish government initiated its antisemitic campaign. After that date almost all the remaining Jews left Poland.
M. Aronsohn, Die israelitische Kultusgemeinde in Bielitz 1865–1905 (1905). HOLOCAUST PERIOD: J. Kermisz, "Akcje" i "wysiedlenia" (1946), index; Megillat Polin (1961), 164; T. Berenstein and A. Rutkowski, in: BŻIH, no. 38 (1961), 3–38, passim; Yad Vashem Archives, 0–3/1251. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: P. Maser et al., Juden in Oberschlesie, I (1922), 87–95.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.