Town in southern Poland, from 1945 in the province of Silesia. The development of Biała was closely tied to that of neighboring Bielsko (situated in what was the Austrian part of Silesia), and was mainly related to textile production and cross-border trade. The presence of Jews in Biała was documented in 1697, when a robber from the nearby mountains confessed that about three years earlier he had sold stolen goods to a Jewish broker in Biała. A reference to a Jewish leaseholder is dated 1715.
In 1723, Jews owned four of the town’s fifty houses. After 1738, Jewish settlement was concentrated in the adjoining district of Lipnik, an area exempt from Biała’s municipal jurisdiction. Conflicts between Jews supported by the steward of Lipnik and non-Jewish townspeople intensified in the 1750s: after a series of riots, a royal commission in 1765 gave Biała the right of de non tolerandis Judaeis. Within two hours of the announcement of this edict, Jewish property was looted, the cemetery was completely vandalized, and Biała’s Jews—about 300 in all—were expelled. Some Jews then seem to have moved to the neighboring village of Komorowice. By the end of the eighteenth century, Jews began to resettle in Lipnik, and after 1805 some had returned to Biała proper. Nonetheless, the prohibition on Jewish settlement existed formally until 1848, and townspeople asked for its renewal as late as 1851.
Despite the prohibitions, in 1810 Joachim Adler established Biała’s first textile factory. The cemetery was founded in 1849, followed by a synagogue in 1889. In 1872, the Jews of Biała formally separated from the kahal of Oświęcim, creating the community of Biała-Lipnik. In 1870, approximately 260 Jews lived in Biała, along with 700 in Lipnik. In 1880, there were 754 Jews in Biała (representing 10.4% of the total population), while Lipnik was home to just 433; the population rose in 1890 in Biała to 822 (10.8%), in 1900 to 1,088 (13.2%), and in 1910 to 1,274 (14.7%).
Despite a constant dominant pro-German integration trend, Orthodoxy gained influence in Biała during the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1889, Aharon Halberstam of the Sandz (Nowy Sącz) Hasidic dynasty became the town rabbi’s deputy and dominated many of the community’s institutions, especially those involved with education. In the 1920s and 1930s, the influence of Mizraḥi increased, mainly due to the encouragement of Biała’s rabbi, Shemu’el Hirschfeld. The Communist Party also enjoyed considerable influence.
In 1921 there were 1,355 Jews in Biała (forming 17.5% of the total population). In 1931, there were 2,903 (12%; at that time municipal boundaries were changed), and in 1938 the numbers had risen to 3,943 (13%). Between 1935 and 1939, antisemitism intensified and numerous outbreaks of violence were noted. During the Holocaust, Biała shared the same fate as neighboring Bielsko; after the war, the two cities were united.
“Beyelsko-Beya’lah (Bielsko-Biała),” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Polin, vol. 3, Galitsyah ha-ma‘arivit ve-Silezyah, pp. 78–88 (Jerusalem, 1984); The History of the Jews from Bielsko-Biala (Tel Aviv, 1987); Elijahu Miron, ed., Bilits Byala (Bielsko Biyala): Pirke ‘avar (Tel Aviv, 1973); Jerzy Polak and Janusz Spyra, eds., Żydzi w Bielsku, Białej i okolicy: Materiały z sesji naukowej odbytej w dniu 19 stycznia 1996 r. (Bielsko-Biała, Pol., 1996), summaries in English.
Translated from Polish by Bartek Madejski