Death and destruction around, you have the wall on the right and left side,
Does your heart bear this? World is like a raging sea, full of deepness
And time is a fragile bridge over it.
The bridge's width is an ell of humanity.
It is true a man is a thing being talked about: "Look, that is something new"

(inscription on one of matzevas on Jewish cemetery in Biała)

Beginnings of the Jewish presence in Biała nearby Prudnik date back to the end of the 14th century although first records come from 1543. In that period there were nine Jewish families living in the town. As the time flew their number gradually increased; first Jews from Silesia area arrived and later on - in the mid of the 17th century - Polish Jews escaping in a fear of Swedish troops. Growth of number of Jews in Biała might be explained by the fact it was one of two (the second was Głogów) places in Silesia where Jews were tolerated and allowed to live in. An appropriate tsar's edict for Jews from Biała was issued on the 13th April 1601. At the beginning Jews settled in the suburbs of Biała from the Nysa side. Only later some of them moved to houses they bought in the town center. There were occupied with detail trade in the town and local markets as well as with mobile trade. The first Jewish community might have been established already in 1562 but preserved records confirm 1600 as the earliest date. Unfortunately there are no records stating whether at that time Jews from Biała had their synagogue or not. Wooden synagogue was built probably towards the end of the 17th century.

In 1724 there were 600 Jews living in Biała and they constituted 30% of all inhabitants. Their number increased systematically and reached 1000 people in 1742 and 1061 in 1782 (in this year there were also 961 Christians). In 1812 number of Moses believers reached its highest point of 1096 people. In the town a Jewish school operated as well as Chevra Kadisha burial society. Jews from Biała were still occupied with trade but its scale increased. In Wrocław they sold silk, handmade lace, Silesian wool, beeswax and honey. Thanks to their mobility they were widely known in other Silesian towns like Jawor, Nysa, Świdnica as well as in Jarosław and Kraków. Economic development of Jews from Biała was followed by high taxes they were not always able to pay.

Increase of number of Jews in Biała forced community to take into consideration idea of building a new prayer house. On the 22nd April 1769 fire destroyed wooden synagogue which speeded up an accomplishment of this project. A new synagogue was built in baroque style. It had blue walls with gold decorations and housed special room where for many years enormous treasure was being gathered - cultic vessels made of noble and base metal. In the shrine there were 250 to 300 places on the ground floor and 100 more in the gallery.

Since 1812 number of Jews in Biała systematically decreased. In the mid of the 19th century dropped to 500 people, in 1910 there were 20 Jews in the town and in 1926 only nine. Despite of this fact Biała always was considered as a point of support for Jews in Upper Silesia. That is way this town was called "Makom Cadik" which means "Town of Just".

A government order from the 15th August 1914 dissolved Jewish community in Biała. All precious items from synagogue were transferred to Prudnik and Jews still living in Biała were taken under administration of community in Prudnik.

It is difficult to definitely state whether there was one or two Jewish cemeteries in Biała. There are assumptions that in the beginning of the 16th century to the north of the town walls, in so called Nysa suburbs, there was the first cemetery. But there is no evidence to prove it. Existing till nowadays, the cemetery on the Kopiec hill (in German Schwedenschanze) was established not later then in 1621. The oldest preserved matzeva dates back to this year. This is the biggest and oldest Jewish necropolis in Opolskie voivodeship.

Necropolis on the Kopiec Hill occupies area of 0,54 ha and has a shape of irregular quadrilateral 188 meters long in the longest part. It is situated on the west slope which faces meadow by the Biała river. The area of cemetery was extended few times thanks to purchase of next parcels of land. Till 1914 the cemetery belonged to the community in Biała and after then was take under administration of kehilla in Prudnik. On the 23rd February 1943 Jews Association in German took it under its care.

Out of approximately 3000 burials only 900 graves survived. The oldest preserved stele belongs to Estera, daughter of Smycha, who died in 5382 which is equivalent to year 1621 or 1622. It is made of sandstone and was found by Jan Woronczak in the bed of Biała river. Inscriptions says: "Here is buried a modest and religious brave lady, Ms. Estera, a daughter of our teacher Mr. Smycha (the just of blessed memory), in 382 (according to the shortened calculus)."

The last burial on Jewish cemetery in Biała Prudnicka took place in 1938.

Since the mid of the 17th century till the very first years after the WW II the cemetery was surrounded with wooden fence leaned against brick posts. Few posts survived till present day. There are also fundaments of a funeral house, some rubble from gravedigger's house built in 1826 and seriously damaged main entrance gate.

In 2002 the cemetry was cleaned up by teenagers who acted within "Antychematy" project.

Town Biała Prudnicka is located in the southern part of Opolskie voivodeship. To reach the cemetery one need to leave the town in the west direction (Prudnik direction) and just behind the park turn right (there is an information plate by that turn).

Acknowledgements for Mr. Jan Jagielski from Jewish Historical Institute.

Text: Małgorzata Frąckowiak
Photos: Stoik

Translation of inscription from Hebrew into Polish: Jerzy Worończak
Translation: Katarzyna Nocek