Sosnowiec is an industrial city in southern Poland, in the Silesian Voivodeship not far from the mining town of Katowice. The first Jews settled in the city in the 19th century.
It was home to six of the Boys but many more of them passed through the ghetto and labour camps.
In 1939, about 30,000 Jews lived in Sosnowiec, 20% of the town’s population.
As it was an industrial city, Jews were active in trade unions. They played an important role in the 1905 Russian Revolution, as the city was then part of the Russian empire.
Jews were represented in all social classes and active in civic and commercial life as well as in the professions.
There was a lively cultural and religious life in Sosnowiec. There was a strong Zionist movement and Hebrew cultural life. In 1926, Jewish merchants created the Merchant Bank, which supported Zionist organizations.
Sosnowiec which was close to the Polish-German border was occupied within days of the German invasion in September 1939. The Great synagogue was burned down a week later.
A ghetto was established in March 1943. Many Jews from the surrounding area were brought into the ghetto which was linked to the ghetto in neighbouring Bedzin. As an industrial city Sosnowiec played an important part in the German war effort and the Jews in the ghetto were used as forced labourers.
The vast majority of the Jews held in the ghetto, approximately 35,000 people were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp in the summer of 1943. Jews from Sosnowiec had been victims of murder at Auschwitz from its inception in 1940.
Among those who were deported to Auschwitz in 1943 was Motek Grzmot, who was selected to work when the train arrived in Birkenau.
Although there had been considerable antisemitism before the war and a bomb at been placed in the Jewish owned Hotel Bristol, some local Poles notably offered assistance to Jewish families and among those hidden was Rosa Turek, who came to the UK as part of the first group of the Boys.
As the ghetto was being liquidated the Jewish underground staged an uprising with the Jews in nearby Bedzin ghetto. Most of the 400 Jewish fighters perished.
The ghetto uprising is remembered in Sosnowiec where a street is named after the fighters.
PRESENT DAY SOSNOWIEC
After the war about 700 of the city’s Jews returned but were met with considerable antisemitism. Many survivors from further east settled after the war in the parts of Silesia that had been incorporated into the new Polish state, as there were empty properties that had belonged to the expelled German community.
As Zionist youth movements had played a major role in pre-war Jewish politics and most survivors were young people, it is not surprising that Sosnowiec became a centre where young survivors gathered before leaving Poland to travel illegally to the British controlled Palestine Mandate.