Eight of the Boys were from Bedzin, a town in Zaglebie Dabrowskie, in southern Poland. Two more Honorary Boys joined the group in London. It is one of the oldest towns in the province and today has a population of around 56,000. Its neighbouring towns include the former mining city of Katowice and industrial Sosnowiec.
Until World War II, Bedzin had a vibrant Jewish community. In 1938, the town’s Jewish population numbered around 22,500.
The town became the centre of Jewish and Polish socialist activity and during the 1905 Russian Revolution, when it was part of the Russian empire, it was a base for Jewish workers parties such as the Bund and Po'alei Zion.
After World War I, Bedzin Jews worked in iron-ore mining and metallurgy, as well as metal production. Most Jews earned their livelihoods as merchants and craftsmen. They also owned chemical works and factories making paints, candles, and buttons.
LIFE IN THE GHETTO
On 5 September 1939, the German Army entered Bedzin. The SS burned down the Great Synagogue, murdering 200 Jews inside, and surrounding Jewish homes went up in flames. Those trying to escape were burned alive or shot.
In early 1940, a ghetto was established in the town, housing 30,000 Jews. However, as Jews were frequently used as forced labour, Germans did not establish a fully closed-off ghetto immediately.
Several thousand Jews from the district were expelled from their homes and sought refuge in the Bedzin ghetto, including the Jews from Oswiecim (Auschwitz in German), who arrived in April–May 1941, before the construction of the Auschwitz- Birkenau concentration and extermination camp. This brought the town’s Jewish population to 27,000.
In May and June 1942, the first deportations took place. In August 1942, about 8,000–10,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz. In May 1943, the ghetto was officially closed off and in summer 1943, the final deportations took place. In total, about 30,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz from Bedzin.
The Jewish underground resistance in Bedzin became active at the beginning of 1940. In August 1943, during the last deportation, Jewish resistance fighters staged an armed revolt that lasted several days. One of the leaders killed in the uprising was leading female Jewish partisan, Frumka Plotnicka, who had earlier been a fighter in the Warsaw ghetto uprising. All the resistance fighters were killed in the action.
In the summer of 1943, most of the Jews in Bedzin were deported to Auschwitz. The Bedzin ghetto was liquidated by 8 August 1943. Only a small group of Jews were kept behind, forced to clean up, sort through abandoned property and search for hiding Jews. The last inhabitants remained in the ghetto until January 1944, when about 1,000 people were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Since Bedzin 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 personal photographs survives.
In January 1945, Bedzin was taken over by Soviet troops. Jews began to come back to the area, some intending to return to their homes.
More than 1,000 Bedzin Jews survived the war, some by hiding, given help by local Poles.
In 1946, the Jewish population of Bedzin numbered 150 people. Although some Jewish survivors resettled after the war, all of them left after some time for Palestine or the West. By the 1970s, there was little to no Jewish life remaining.