Bielsko-Biała (Bielsko) Jewish Cemetery
Until the middle of the 19th century, Jews from Bielsko were buried in the cemetery in Cieszyn. The cholera epidemic and the ban on transporting dead bodies issued in 1849 enabled the community to build its own cemetery, which was located in the Aleksandrowice district. In 1868, the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) was established to maintain the cemetery. In 1885, a funeral house in the neo-Romanesque-Moorish style with unique polychromes on the ceilings, designed by Karol Korn, was built in the southern part of the cemetery. The oldest discovered tombstone is dated September 3, 1849, although it is known that funerals took place there from July 31, 1849. Among the graves in the cemetery are the graves of Michael Berkowitz – a secretary of Teodor Herzl, Salomon Pollak, Karol Korn, and four Muslim soldiers who died during World War I. There is also a section for Jewish soldiers who died World War I along with a monument erected in their honour in 1929. A section for Orthodox Jews was established in the 1930s. In the interwar period, the cemetery was expanded to the west, though it was not fully in use until the war. The cemetery survived World War II, though it required significant restoration work. Many tombstones were stolen. The oldest part of the cemetery, the tombs, and the avenue along which prominent Jews were buried suffered the most.
After the war, by order of the authorities, fragments of inscriptions in German were removed from some tombstones, and some tombstones were turned over to protect the inscriptions. In the 1960s, the fence and the entrance gate were renovated. Major renovation work only began in the 1990s. In 1963, the cemetery became the property of the State Treasury. In 1983, it was declared a historical monument. In 1997, the cemetery became the property of the Jewish Religious Community in Bielsko-Biała. About 1,200 tombstones have survived in the area of 2.4 hectares (for an estimated minimum of 3,000 burials). In the western, unused part of the cemetery, ashes and some tombstones were brought there from the liquidated cemetery in Biała. The layout of the tombs and alleys is clear, and the area is covered with old trees. The cemetery is still in use. In 2000, a monument dedicated to the memory of the Jews of Bielsko-Biała who died during World War II was erected. In 2009, a plaque commemorating the first rabbis of Bielsko as well as Aleksander Marten (Marek Tennenbaum), a director and actor, and a matzevah made of black oak honoring Salomon Halberstam were unveiled. The cemetery is regularly maintained.
Bielsko (which has been part of the town of Bielsko-Biała since 1951) was granted town rights in 1263. In the 16th century, it was a centre for Protestantism. A major cloth and linen centre also operated in the town. In 1627, Jewish settlement in the town was made possible by an edict issued by Emperor Ferdinand II. The first mentions of Jews in Bielsko dates to 1653. Following pressure from Christian merchants, in 1713, the “edict of tolerance” was issued which restricted Jewish settlers in the town and their commercial activities. In 1726, under the Wegen der Juden patent, Jews were forbidden to settle in houses where they had not previously lived. In 1738, under another edict issued by Charles VI, Jews without separate privileges had to leave Silesia. In 1752, Empress Maria Teresa limited the number of families in the town to 88. An independent Jewish community was established in 1864. In 1880, Jews constituted 12.7% of the population (1,660 people). At other times, Jews constituted between 8% and 20% of the population. Jews played an important part in the town’s financial elite. After the German occupation in 1939, many Jews was forced to move to the USSR. A ghetto was established in the town in the summer of 1941 and operated until June 1942, when its inhabitants were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In 1945, about 1,500 people Jews to the town. In 1951, during the merger of Bielsko and Biała, 3,366 Jews lived there. In 1955, an independent Jewish Community was established in Bielsko-Biała. The anti-Semitic witch-hunt and the events of March 1968 led most Jews to leave the town. The community was re-established in 1993. In 1995, it regained the status of an independent Jewish community.