Polska / śląskie
|Synagogues, prayer houses and others||Cemeteries||Sites of martyrdom||Judaica in museums||Andere|
|Province:||śląskie / krakowskie (before 1939)|
|County:||miasto na prawach powiatu / bielski (before 1939)|
|Community:||Bielsko-Biała / Bielsko (before 1939)|
|Other names:||Biala-Beilitz [jidysz]; ביילסקו-ביאלה [j. hebrajski]; Bielitz-Biala [j. niemiecki]|
Bielsko-Biała – a town in southern Poland, capital of Bielski District in Śląskie Province. It is located 60 km south of Katowice, 69 km south-west of Kraków, 350 km south-west of Warsaw, 40 km east of the Czech border (Cieszyn) and 50 km north of the Slovakian border (Zwardoń). It is situated by the Biała river.
In fact, the story of Bielsko-Biała, just like the story of Bielsko and Biała, which were two separate municipal centres until 1951, consists in two separate narratives. Bielsko, the older and richer settlement, founded as early as the 11th century, was granted town privileges in 1263. On the other hand, Biała developed as a village of crafts and agriculture situated at the foot of a fortified castle on the right bank of the River Biała. It became an independent crafts village in 1613 and was only granted the status of a town in 1723.
The beginnings of the Jewish settlement in this area are linked with the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which left many Silesian towns depopulated. Aiming to improve the country’s finances, Emperor Ferdinand eased the policy towards Jews in 1627, issuing an edict allowing Jews to settle there after paying a special fee of 40 guldens. The emperor’s edict made it legal to conditionally run trade and craft businesses by a group of privileged Jews (Ger.: privilegierte Juden), who were also called court Jews (Ger.: Hofjuden). The emperor also gave them the permission to lease tax and customs duty collection, as well as to purchase houses.
Jewish people arrived to the area from Moravia and Lower Silesia, bringing along western patterns of social and political life, as well as Jewish customs, religious rituals and the language
The history of Bielsko-Biała is, in fact, a story of two towns – Bielsko and Biała – which were separate municipal centres until January 1951.
In the district now called Stare Bielsko, a fortified town was founded in the 12th century, at a time when a wave of German colonists had settled in the Silesian Foothills. The first historical mention of the Bielsko settlement dates back to 1312, when a forest “between Kamienica and Mikuszowice” was granted to local townspeople. From 1327 on, Bielsko remained under Czech rule and shared the political fate of Silesia. The fact that the town played a significant role on the salt route leading from Kraków to Cieszyn and further onwards to Moravia was confirmed by the renewal of the town's privileges by Duke Bolesław I in 1424. From the 15th century onwards, the town was known for cloth-making. From 1526 onwards, Bielsko fell under Habsburg rule along with the rest of Silesia. In mid-16th century, the strongest Protestant community in Cieszyn Silesia was established in Bielsko, and in 1572, the Bielsko territory was separated from the Duchy of Cieszyn and subsequently turned into a free city-state.
As a part of the Duchy of Oświęcim and later of the Silesian County, Kraków Province, Biała, which was founded around 1560 on the territory of the Lipnik Crown Lands (Starostwo Lipnickie), was located on the right bank of the River Biała. It would develop as a small farming and craft village and exist as a separate municipality from the year 1613 onwards.
Between 1642 and 1660, Bielsko and Biała were destroyed and plundered multiple times by the Swedish Army. In 1659 and 1664, fires ravaged Bielsko, but the town was quickly rebuilt. In 1686, Bielsko received a privilege for free cloth manufacture, and, soon afterwards, cloth from Bielsko was regarded as the best in Silesia and the Czech state. Despite this, strong economic competition had been slowly emerging in the vicinity of Bielsko. In 1710, a customs chamber was created in Biała, and on 9 January 1723, Biał