Beuthen / Bytom

When Werner attended the Hindenburg Gymnasium in the 1920s, the city of Beuthen was in German Upper Silesia. Today, the city is called Bytom, it is situated in Poland, and Polish is the main language spoken.

Brief historical background

The history of the ‘German’ town my family knew began around 1526, when Beuthen came under the rule of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy; German soon became the main language. Beuthen was incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia in 1742, and into the German Empire in 1871.

Bytom, May 2016 – looking for the old buildings of Beuthen. Pers. archive, C Weissenberg, copyright retained

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the city expanded rapidly. According to the 1905 Prussian census, Beuthen had a population of 60,273: 59 percent spoke German, 38 percent spoke Polish, and 3 percent were bilingual.

The city has an institute of mining, and silver, coal, zinc, and lead have all been mined in this area. Key products have included iron and steel, silver, heavy machinery, and furniture.

Bytom, May 2016 – looking for the old buildings of BeuthenPers. archive, C Weissenberg, copyright retained

After World War I, in the 1921 Upper Silesian plebiscite, 75 percent of Beuthen’s population voted to remain in Germany, and 25.3 percent voted to become part of Poland. Beuthen thus remained in Germany, as part of the Province of Upper Silesia.


Jewish Beuthen

Different sources suggest the Jewish population of Beuthen during the inter-war period was between 3,500 and 5,000. Many left Beuthen between 1933 and 1939.

Any Jews who were unable to leave the area were deported in the round-ups across Nazi-occupied Poland from 1939 onwards. In Upper Silesia most of these rounds-ups took place in 1942.

Today, JewishGen estimates, there are around 20–30 Jews living in Bytom, most of whom originate from other places (https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Beuthen/beuthen.html).


Image, Synagogue, Beuthen. Source: Woerl’s Reisebücherverlag in Leipzig, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

The most recent synagogue in Beuthen was built in 1869 on Friedrich Wilhelmplatz (now Plac Grunwaldzki).

On 7 November 1938 Joseph Goebbels gave a speech calling for ‘vengeance’ against Jews, who were forced to stand for hours in front of their burning synagogue during ‘Kristallnacht’ on 9–10 November 1938.  

Postcard, Image edited, Friedrich Wilhelmplatz and synagogue, Beuthen, early 1900s. Source unknown.

A memorial plaque at the site of the synagogue was placed on 9 November 2007.


According to Virtual Shtetl (https://sztetl.org.pl/en/towns/b/419-bytom/99-history/137151-history-of-community),

"In Bytom, the National Socialists burnt down the synagogue and demolished around 70 Jewish shops. 370 Bytom Jews were arrested, ca. 200 out of whom were temporarily jailed in the Jewish school in Langestrase, which was converted into a prison. After two days, they were transported to the concentration camp in Buchenwald, from where they came back after several months."

Yad Vashem notes that the first documented deportation of the Beuthen Jewish community took place on 15 February 1942.

Virtual Shtetl (link as above) adds some further detail about this transport:

"In winter 1941/1942, the Gestapo arrested a number of Jews, charging them with minor offences. On 15 February 1942, they were placed in the first transport of prisoners sent to the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration camp. 

Immediately after their arrival, they were all executed in a gas chamber at ... Auschwitz I."

Looking at the Yad Vashem records, the final transport left Beuthen left on 29 June 1942 (https://deportation.yadvashem.org).


The Weissenberg family in Beuthen

At the time Werner Weissenberg and his family were living in Upper Silesia, Beuthen was one of the six city districts of Oppeln. The others were Kattowitz, Gleiwitz, Königshütte, Oppeln, and (since 1904) Ratibor.

The district capital of Oppeln had a direct road connection to Berlin; the cities of Gliwice and Ratibor were connected to Leignitz (now Legnica, in southwest Poland).

Google Earth Pro map – Edited to show Bytom and some key family locations, and (in black) the railway network. Pers. archive, C Weissenberg, copyright retained


To date, I don’t know how long the family had roots in Beuthen, as it was then. Albert and Bettina Weissenberg, my great-grandparents, lived here, and are buried at the Jewish cemetery.

Bytom / Beuthen Jewish cemetery, Upper Silesia, Poland. Pers. archive, C Weissenberg, copyright retained


Else and Leopold were here for a short time before moving to Pleß in 1910, and Leopold’s sisters, Hedwig and Clara Weissenberg, lived in what had been their parents’ apartment at Virchowstrasse 16 (now Ulica Batorego Stefana).

Virchowstraße, Beuthen, 1930s – detail from a map at Fotopolska.eu. Edited, pers. archive, C Weissenberg, copyright retained

Werner attended the Hindenburg Gymnasium in Beuthen, and during term time stayed at the apartment with his aunts, Clara and Hedel (the family name for Hedwig).


Prior to deportation in 1942, Clara and Hedwig had to leave the family apartment and move to a ‘Jew house’ at Gleiwitzer Straße 13, from where they were deported, ‘probably to Auschwitz’.


The Gruschka family in Beuthen

Our other connection to Beuthen was through the Gruschka family. Jakob Gruschka married Rosa Bloch – Else’s sister. Their daughter, Margot Gruschka, was Werner’s cousin.

Bytom, May 2016 – looking for signs of the old buildings of Beuthen. Pers. archive, C Weissenberg, copyright retained

Piotr Hnatyszyn, a historian at Zabrzu Museum, found a newspaper announcement about Rosa and Jakob’s engagement. Piotr has been researching Upper Silesian archives and registry offices, as well as German and Israeli digital sources, since 2014. His website is Słownik Żydów w Zabrzu (http://www.muzeum-miejskie-zabrze.pl/slownik-zydow-w-zabrzu.php) – ‘Lexicon of Jews in Hindenburg’. He explores the lives of Jewish citizens who were born in Zabrzu, as well as those who only lived there for a short time.

Source: https://muzeumzabrze.pl. Jakob Gruschka and Rosa Bloch, Engagement announcement.

Instead of cards.

I have the honour to report my engagement with the utmost devotion to Rosa Bloch.

Kottlischowitz / Kotliszowice      Rokittnitz / Martinau (1936–45) / Zabrze

Jakob Grusckha, Department store

There is also a description on the entry, which roughly translates as follows:

Gruschka Rosa nee Bloch born 1892 Schodnia (Schodnia district of Opole) –
died May 8, 1935 Branitz (Branice, Głubczyce district) 

Parents: the inn owner Joseph Bloch and Hermine Bloch nee Kohn wife / 
Husband: the merchant Jakob Gruschka 
Children: Margot Gruschka, later Kornfeld 
Born 1 June 1915 Rokittnitz (Rokitnica) 
Professional activity / place: Rokittnitz (Rokitnica)

Bytom, May 2016 – looking for the old buildings of Beuthen. Pers. archive, C Weissenberg, copyright retained

Jakob’s last known address before deportation was Ring 6, Beuthen – located as shown in the map below.

Map extract, Plan Miasta Bytomia z roku 1926, Beuthen, Plan der Stadt, Fotopolska, Rafał Eckiert (Beuther). Edited image, pers. archive, C Weissenberg