Jacob Egit and the Jewish Community after 1945

September 14th, 2014
Jacob Egit

Jacob Egit

Who or what made so many thousands of Jewish concentrations camp survivors come to Reichenbach / Rychbach after the armistice of May 8, 1945 and create a thriving Jewish community there?

Thanks to a tip by someone whose roots reach back to the Jewish community of Reichenbach, we finally are able to give a definitive answer to this question.

The common assumption among past and present residents of Dzierżoniów that after their liberation by the Red Army, thousands of Jewish concentration camp survivors from the Außenlager of the concentration camp of Groß Rosen, doing forced labour in the factories of Bielawa and other nearby towns, and in the camps of Hitler’s huge project Riese in the Góry Sowie mountains / Eulengebirge streamed into Reichenbach, then called Rychbach, because it was the city closest to these camps and not destroyed by bombs or war.

As we now know, this was not a spontaneous movement of survivors. The survivors followed the call of Jacob Egit, a Jewish Soviet soldier who was born in 1908 in Borysław.


Rychbach - Office of Bund

Rychbach – Office of Bund

In 1945, Egit began a project to create a settlement of 50,000 Jews in and around the town of Rychbach (formerly Reichenbach and, later and until the present, Dzierżoniów).

Egit’s motivation was to “exact retribution and justice by making the former German territory a Jewish settlement.” Initially, with Soviet Communist support, Egit’s plan developed quickly. Starting with a small group of concentration camp survivors, the settlement grew to encompass Jewish schools, hospitals, farming colonies, orphanages, theatre and newspapers and a book publisher. However, when it became clear that Egit strove to create a Jewish Yishuf in Lower Silesia, a semi-autonomous Jewish settlement modeled after the future state of Israel, but with Yiddish as its language of communication – actually the only attempt to recreate Jewish community life in postwar Poland – the Communist government in Warsaw withdrew its support. Egit was sent to jail and the Jewish citizens of Dzierżoniów subsequently emigrated mainly to Israel, the USA and to South America.


Grand Illusion

Grand Illusion

After his release from jail in 1950, Egit became the editor of a Yiddish magazine in Warsaw. In 1957, he emigrated to Canada, where he became a prominent member of Toronto’s Jewish community. In 1991, he published his autobiography Grand Illusion, the only historical record of the Jewish city of Rychbach / Dzierżoniów. He died in 1996 in Toronto.

Unfortunately, Grand Illusion is out of print. Some members of the Beiteinu Chaj – 2004 Foundation are pursuing the plan of re-publishing the book in English, Polish and German.

© John Koch 2009

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