THE ERBE FAMILY - MANUFACTURERS FROM ZAWIERCIE
The end of the nineteenth century saw the development of Czestochowa-Sosnowiec industrial region, located at the border of Germany and the Kingdom of Poland, which was then a part of the Russian Empire. The main branches of industry represented in the area were coal mining, metallurgy, textile and machine production. One of its important centers was the town of Zawiercie, situated at the Warsaw-Vienna railway. Like other towns of the Kingdom, it was often chosen to settle in by enterprising immigrants from Bohemia and Germany, seeking career opportunities. The article presents the history of the Lutheran German family of Erbe and their factory. The family's ancestor, Ernst Erbe, came to Zawiercie in 1886. He started with a small smithy, employing 10 people. In 1892, his forge was one of the first in Poland to start producing cast-iron. At the turn of the twentieth century both the output and the employment of the enterprise grew considerably (48 employees in 1898, 270 in 1909) and its products found purchasers in all the European part of the Russian Empire. In 1918 the business came into the ownership of Ernst's son, Alexander. In independent Poland the factory prospered, excluding the 1929-1935 period of depression. It was a major exporter of cast-iron, selling its products to Germany, Britain, Belgium, Peru, India and many other countries, and employing up to 600 people. During the Nazi occupation in the years 1939-1945 the factory was still in the possession of Alexander Erbe and it worked for the 'Wehrmacht'. After WW II, in 1946, it was nationalized. The article shows the history of not only the plant, but also the family, which gradually integrated with the Polish environment. Ernst Erbe was mostly concerned with developing his enterprise, accumulating fortune and building a magnificent residence - a palace located next to the factory. He was not engaged in any social organizations, which were quite active in Zawiercie. In the early 1920s he went to Germany, where he died in 1935. His heir, Alexander, who spoke Polish and Russian as well as German, was unlike his father in this respect. He belonged to the town's cultural elite, and was active in the Lutheran Church, the local musical society, political parties and the town council. He was also a generous philanthropist. He was preparing his son Edwin to take over the family enterprise. After Zawiercie was liberated from the German occupation, the Erbe family was arrested. Alexander died in prison in 1945. His wife and son were released and rehabilitated, and later moved to Warsaw, where their descendants have been living until today.
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