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The Jewish Community of Krzeszowice

קששוביצה

Krzeszowice

במקורות היהודים: קרשוביץ; בגרמנית: Kressendorf

עיירה באזור המטרופוליטני של קרקוב במחוז פולין קטן, פולין.

המקום מתועד לראשונה בשנת 1286 כאשר הוענק לו מעמד של כפר לפי חוקי מגדבורג. בין השנים 1620-1440 המקום היה בבעלות הבישופים של קרקוב. במאה ה-17 נתגלו תכונות רפואיות במעיינות הגופרית במקום. ב-1625 התחילו להשתמש במי הגופרית לריפוי מחלות בעדרי הבקר המקומי. בהמשך המקום התפתח כמקום מרפא בזכות המעינות. בשנת 1788 הוקם אתר מרחצאות שכונה בשם "ארמון ווקסהול" (Vauxhall).

לאחר חלוקות פולין בסוף המאה ה-18 וקונגרס ווינה בשנת 1815, האזור נכלל ב"מדינת קרקוב החופשית" הידועה גם בשם "דוכסות קרקוב". בשנת 1846 "דוכסות קרקוב" סופחה לאימפריה האוסטרית. בשנת 1829 הוקמו קששוביצה מרחצאות, בית חולים ובתי הבראה נוספים. ב-1847 העיירה חוברה אל מסילת הברזל מקרקוב למישלניצה, שלוחה של מסילת הברזל בין קרקוב לווינה.

במחצית השנייה של המאה ה-19 הוקמו בסביבת הכפר מחצבות אבן וסיד, פותחה תעשיית כלי חרס והוקמו מנסרות ומפעל לייצור חביות. בשנת 1918 קששוביצה נכללה בתחומי פולין העצמאית. בשנת 1933 קששוביצה קיבלה  מעמד של עיר.

 

היהודים בקששוביצה

התיישבות היהודים בקששוביצה החלה בסוף המאה ה-18. המשפחה היהודית הראשונה הייתה ככל הנראה משפחתו של חוכר הפונדק. בשנים האלה היהודים היו חלק מקהילת טשביניה (Trzebinia). עד לסיפוחה של קששוביצה לאימפריה האוסטרית בשת 1846, מספר היהודים במקום הגיע ל-19. היהודים שהתגוררו בקששוביצה (Krzeszowice), וכמו כן אלה שליו ביישובים רודאבה (Rudawa), אלוורניה (Alwernia) ואוקלשנה (Okleśna) קיבלו את שירותי הדת שלהם מקהילת אולקוש (Olkusz).

קהילת קששוביצה גדלה עם התפתחות הכפר בתחילת השלטון האוסטרי והקמת מפעלי התעשיה והקמת המרחצאות ובתי ההבראה. היהודים עסקו במסחר זעיר, ברוכלות בכפרי הסביבה ובמלאכה. היו ביניהם גם בעלי משקים חקלאיים בכפרי האזור.

במקום השתקע הרב צבי הירש ברוינפלד, תלמיד חכם. כרב הקהילה מסוף  המאה ה-19 כיהן הרב זיידא קלינגסברג. הקהילה הפעילה מקווה, בית כנסת עבור הגברים (ברחוב וונסקה 4) ובית כנסת עבור הנשים (ברחוב וונסקה 1). לחברת "ביקור חולים" האורתודוקסית, אשר עסקה בעזרה לנזקקים ולטיפול וסיוע לחולים, היה בית תפילה משלהם.

ערב מלחמת העולם הראשונה, ב-1910 היו במקום 472 יהודים אשר היוו 18% מכלל התושבים. בתום מלחמת העולם הראשונה  וכינונה של הרפובליקה הפולנית העצמאית בנובמבר 1918, כפריים מהאזור פרעו ביהודים, התנפלו על דוכני היהודים בשוק, היכו ושדדו את מרכולתם. ההתפרעויות נמשכו עד 1919. במאי ובספטמבר 1919, חיילי הלגיון הפולני של גנרל הלר פרעו ביהודים ביום השוק, פגעו קשה בדוכנים, היכו ושדדו את הסחורה שלהם. רק התערבות השלטונות שמה קץ לפרעות.

בתקופה שבין שתי מלחמות העולם גדלה והתפתחה הקהילה במקביל להתפתחותו של המקום כמרכז תעשייה, קייט ומרחצאות. במפקד באוכלוסין של שנת 1921 נמנו ביישוב 506 יהודים מתוך 2,928 כלל התושבים (17,3%).

במשרת הרבנות כיהן הרב משה חיים קליינברג. ביישוב הייתה פעילות תרבותית, פוליטית וציונית ערה. במהלך הבחירות ל"סיים" (הפרלמנט הפולני) ב-1928, האירגונים הציוניים תמכו ברשימת האיחוד היהודי הלאומי. ב-1926 פרץ סיכסוך בין הציונים לבין היהודים האורתודוקסים סביב לימודי השפה העברית. ילדי האורתודוקסים למדו בחדרים או בתלמוד תורה.

בשנות ה-1920 הוקמו סניפים של "הציונים הכללים", "החלוץ", "בית"ר", "עקיבא", "המכבי הצעיר" וסניף תנועת הנשים "ויצ"ו". אירגון "יהודה" (Yudea)  הקים ספרייה ואירגן קורסים ללימודי העברית. ב-1933 נחנך מועדון משותף לכל האירגונים הציוניים. ב-1935 תנועת הנוער "עקיבא", בהנהלת רינה מהלר- נזר, הקימה בחווה חקלאית על יד קששוביצה, "הכשרה" אשר הכינה את בני הנוער לעלייה לארץ ישראל. בוגרי ה"הכשרה" עלו למושב כפר יהושוע שבשרון.

ב-1939 חיו בקששוביצה כ-570 יהודים מתוך 3,500 תושבים.

 

תקופת השואה

ב-1 בספטמבר 1939 גרמניה הנאצית פלשה לפולין. קששוביצה נכבשת בימים הראשונים של ספטמבר. מיד לאחר הכיבוש, הגרמנים התחילו לחטוף יהודים לעבודות כפייה. כיושב ראש המועצה המקומית הועמד הפולני ברונו קוחנסקי (Kochański) מטרנוב, סמל בדימוס שפוטר בשעתו מהצבא הפולני. על היהודים נאסרה יציאה מהיישוב, פרט ליציאה לעיבוד המשקים החקלאיים שלהם, ונאסרה כל פעילות מסחרית ונדל"ן. היהודים הוכרחו לקוד קידה לפני כל גרמני שפגשו ולמסור את המצעים והרהיטים שלהם לגרמנים. היהודים ניסו להתנגד לגזרות הללו. מנהיגי הקהילה, יו"ר כץ, סגנו פילר והמזכיר, כינסו את נכבדי היהודים בבית הכנסת של האגודה "ביקור חולים". לאחר דיונים סוערים הוחלט שלא למלא את הצווים הללו. כשנודע הדבר, החיילים הגרמנים הקיפו את בית הכנסת, פרצו לתוכו והיכו את הנמצאים בו. למחרת זומנו ראשי הקהילה להתייצב לפני קוחנסקי. היו"ר והמזכיר התייצבו, אך פילר נעדר. קוחנסקי הציב אולטימטום של שעה, בסופו של דבר פילר נמצא במרתף ביתו וזומן למשפט. בגלל המרד הגרמנים הטילו על הקהילה כנס כבד והוגדלו עבודות החובה ליהודים. כץ, פילר והמזכיר נשלחו לכלא מונטלופיך (Montelupich) אשר בקרקוב. המזכיר מת בדרך לאחר שננעל בתא המטען של מכונית הגסטאפו, פילר לאחר חקירה ועינויים קשים מסר 15 שמות של תושבי קששוביצה הקשורים לשילטון הפולני. האנשים האלה נאסרו אף הם על ידי הגסטאפו.

האזור הועבר אדמיניסטראטיבית לגנרלגוברנמן של קרקוב. קבוצת יהודים צעירים הועסקו בשיפוץ ואחזקה של הארמון בקששוביצה שהיה שייך בעבר למשפחת האצילים פוטוצקי. בארמון השתקע מושלה של הגנרלגוברנמן האנס פראנק.

בתחילת 1940 החנויות, המפעלים והמחסנים של היהודים הועברו לרשותם של "נאמנים ארים". במאי 1940 הוקם בסמוך לקששוביצה מחנה עבודה ובו רוכזו יהודים מכל הסביבה. הם עבדו במפעלים ובמשקים חקלאיים. בסוף 1940 קבוצה של 18 צעירים יהודים נשלחה לעבודה במחנה הצבאי הגרמני בדמביצה (Dębica). חלקם חזרו לאחר זמן מה שבורים ורצוצים.

בקששוביצה הוקם סניף ה"יס.ס" האירגון היהודי לעזרה הדדית בקרקוב אשר הושיט סיוע לנזקקים.

ב-1941 רוכזו היהודים בגטו פתוח, אך הגבלות התנועה הוחמרו. ב-1 באפריל 1941 הודיע הנציב הגרמני לנטשל ליהודי קששוביצה שעליהם לעזוב את המקום לגטאות בקרקוב, טרנוב, בוכניה או סקאלה. בסוף 1941 חלק מהיהודים הועברו לגטו בסקאלה (Skała Małopolska). בקששוביצה הושארו כ-150 יהודים. בתחילת יולי 1942 הגרמנים ציוו על היהודים שעבדו במשקים חקלאיים בכפרים קששוביצה (Krzeszowice), לישקי (Liszki), צ'רניחוב (Czernichów), טנצ'ינק (Tenczynek) ונובה גורה (Nowa Góra) להתרכז בסקאווינה. תחילה נאמר ליהודים תושבי הכפרים הנ"ל שהם יכולים להביא איתם לסקאווינה את כל הרכוש הנייד למעט בהמות, עופות וכלים חקלאיים.

ראש המועצה הפולני של קראשוביץ, ברונו קוחנסקי, פיקח אישית על עזיבת היהודים ו"דאג" שאף אחד לא ישאר מאחור. ידוע שהוא במו ידיו הרג כמה יהודים. ב-7 ביולי מכל הכפרים נעו לסקאווינה כ-150 עגלות. שיירות היהודים הגיעו למעבר על נהר הוויסלה בפייקרי (Piekry), שם הועברו על המעבורת לצד השני לכפר טינייץ (Tyniec) ומשם רוכזו בשדה לפני סקאווינה. נערכה בהם סלקציה, כ-140 איש, זקנים, נכים ובלתי כשרים לעבודה נלקחו במשאיות ליער טינייץ (Tyniecki Las), כ-6 ק"מ מהעיר, שם היו כבר חפורים שלושה בורות. היהודים נצטוו להתפשט ונרצחו בתוך הבורות. מגוייסים ל"שרות הבנייה" פולנים כיסו את קברי הנרצחים. בין הנרצחים שם היו גם כמה יהודים מהאינטליגנציה של קרקוב שהסתתרו בכפר בנדקוביצה (Będkowice) ואשר נאסרו עוד בתחילת יולי באקציה שהייתה שם. 200 היהודים שנותרו מהסלקציה בשדה הובאו ב-8 ביולי לגטו סקאווינה. ב-29 באוגוסט 1942 הגרמנים ערכו סלקציה בקרב כ-2,000 היהודים שרוכזו בגטו סקאווינה. הכשרים לעבוד נשלחו למחנה עבודה בפלשוב (Płaszów). כ-180 זקנים, נכים וילדים נרצחו ביער פודבורי (Podbory) שליד סקאווינה, והנותרים נשלחו ב-30 באוגוסט למחנה השמדה בלז'ץ (Bełżec). גם משא האימים האחרון היה רווי בסבל, הרכבת עם הקורבנות עוד נראתה בקרקוב ב-3 בספטמבר 1942.

 

לאחר השואה

הצבא הסובייטי שיחרר את קששוביצה ב-19 בינואר 1945. ידועים בשמותיהם 67 יהודים והמשפחות שלהם, בעלי חנויות ומפעלים אשר נרצחו בשואה, 46 יהודים מהכפר ניצלו וחזרו לכפר, ביניהם משה גוולב (Gewolb), רגינה גינגולד, ריכרד קרומהולץ, אמיל ליפשיץ, עזריאל רבינוביץ', סלומון רבינוביץ', קרולינה סאס, אדוארד סמולאז'. הם לא הצליחו להאחז במקום שוב, הקהילה של קראשוביץ לא התחדשה.

הגרמנים חיללו את בתי הכנסת של הכפר. בית הכנסת של הגברים שימש לאחר המלחמה כמחסן. ב-2001 המקום שופץ ומשמש כבית תרבות. בית הכנסת של הנשים שימש תחילה כתחנת כיבוי אש, בתחילת המאה ה-21 םעלה במקום לפיצריה. בית התפילה של אגודת "ביקור חולים" נהרס על ידי הגרמנים.

Place Type:
Town
ID Number:
21373568
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:

Poland

Rzeczpospolita Polska -  Republic of Poland 

A country in central Europe, member of the European Union (EU).

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 4,500 out of 38,500,000 (0.01%). Main umbrella organization of the Jewish communities:

Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland - Związek Gmin Wyznaniowych Żydowskich w Polsce (ZGWŻP)
Phone: 48 22 620 43 24
Fax: 48 22 652 28 05
Email: sekretariat@jewish.org.pl
Website: http://jewish.org.pl/

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Poland

1096 | Migration of the Heretics

Where did the Jews come to Poland from? Scholars are divided on this question, but many believe that some came from the Khazar Kingdom, from Byzantium and from Kievan Rus, while most immigrated from Western Europe – from the Lands of Ashkenaz.
One of the theories is that the “butterfly effect” that led the Jews of Ashkenaz to migrate to Poland began with a speech by Pope Urban II, who in 1096 called for the liberation of the holy sites in Jerusalem from the Muslim rule. The Pope's call ignited what would come to be known as The Crusades - vast campaigns of conquest by the Christian faithful, noble and peasant alike, who moved like a tsunami from Western Europe to the Middle East, trampling, stealing and robbing anything they could find along the way.
Out of a fervent belief that “heretics” were “heretics”, be they Jews or Muslims, the militant pilgrims made sure not to bypass the large Jewish communities in the Ashkenaz countries, where they murdered many of the local Jews, mostly in the communities of Worms and Mainz on the banks of the Rhine. Following these massacres, known in Jewish historiography as the Massacres of Ttn”u (after the acronym of the year of Hebrew calendar), Jews started migrating east, into the Kingdom of Poland.

1264 | The Righteous Among The Nations from Kalisz.

In the 13th century Poland was divided into many districts and counties, and to rule them all an advanced bureaucratic system was required. In 1264 the Polish prince Boleslav, also known as the Righteous One of Kalisz (Kalisz was a large city in the Kingdom of Poland) issued a bill of rights that granted the Jews extensive freedom of occupation as well as freedom of religious practice. This bill of rights (privilegium, in Latin) allowed many Jews – literate merchants, experts in economy, bankers, coin makers and more – to fill various roles in the administrative apparatus of the kingdom.
At that time, the Catholic Church in Poland was in the habit of disseminating all sorts of blood libels against the Jews. Article 31 of the Prince Boleslav of Kalisz's privilegium tried to rein in this phenomenon by stating: “Accusing Jews of drinking Christian blood is expressly prohibited. If despite this a Jew should be accused of murdering a Christian child, such charge must be sustained by testimony of three Christians and three Jews.”

1370 | From Esther to Esther

It turns out that Esther from the Scroll of Esther was not the only Esther who saved the Jewish people. Legend tells of a beautiful Jewish woman from Poland named Esther'ke who was a mistress of King Casimir II the Great of Poland (1310-1370) and even bore him two daughters.
It is unclear whether it was love that aroused Casimir's sympathy for the Chosen People. What is known is that according to legend, like the Queen Esther from the Purim story, Esther'ke also looked out for her people and asked the King to establish a special quarter for Jews in Krakow (and this quarter is no legend). The King acquiesced to his lover's request and named the quarter for himself – the Kazimierz Quarter. In addition, and this is no legend either, messengers were sent to all Jewish communities in Poland and beyond inviting the Jews to relocate to Krakow, then the capital of the kingdom.
The invitation to come to Poland was like a much-needed breath of air for the Jews of Ashkenaz, for those were the days in which the Black Death ravaged Europe, which for some reason was claimed to have “skipped” the Jews. For the audacity of not contracting the plague, the Jews faced baseless accusations of having poisoned the drinking wells in order to spread the plague.

1520 | A State Within a State

In the early 16th century the center of gravity of Jewish life gradually moved from the countries of Central Europe to locations all over Poland. According to various historical sources, in the late 15th century there were around 15 yeshivas operating throughout Poland. The study of Torah flourished in the large communities and became the central axis of Ashkenazi religious life. It is no surprise, therefore, that the common name for Poland among the Jews who lived there was “Po-lan-Ja” - or in Hebrew: "God resides here".
The status of the Jews in Poland had no equal at the time anywhere in the world. Almost everywhere else in Europe they were persecuted, expelled and subject to various restrictions, whereas in Poland they were granted a special, privileged status.
In the early 16th century there were some 50,000 Jews living in Poland. During these years an interest-based alliance began to form between the Jews and the Polish nobility. The nobles, wishing to avail themselves of the Jews' connections and skills in business management, appointed Jews to various positions in the management of their feudal estates and gave them bills of rights according them special status.
In 1520 the “Council of Four Lands” was established in Poland. This council, which was a sort of “state within the state”, was composed of the representatives of all the Jewish communities of Poland, from Krakow and Lublin to Vilnius and Lithuania (which were then still part of the Polish “Commonwealth”). The main function of the Council was to collect taxes for the authorities, and it enjoyed judicial autonomy based on Jewish halacha. The Council operated for 244 years, and is considered the longest-lasting Jewish leadership in history, at least since the First Temple Era.

1569 | Demon-graphics

In the year 1618 the authorities of Krakow appointed a commission to find the reasons for hostility between Jewish and Christian merchants. The chairman of the commission, an academic by the name of Sebastian Miczynski, found that the reason for the animosity was the rapid increase in the number of Jews in the city, stemming from the fact that “none of them die at war or from plague, and in addition they marry at age 12 and multiply furiously”.
Miczynski's conclusion was not without basis: The growth rate of the Jewish community in Poland, known in research as “The Polish Jewish demographic miracle”, was indeed astounding. By the mid 17th century the number of Jews in Poland reached several hundred thousand – about half of all Jews in the world. By the mid 18th century their numbers reached approximately one million souls.
However, although Miczynski's diagnosis was correct, the reasons he offered for it, which were heavily tainted by anti-Semitism, were unsurprisingly wrong. Various researchers have found that the reason for the relatively rapid growth of Jews in Poland was a low rate of infant mortality among them compared to the Christian population. Among the reasons for this one can offer are the culture of mutual aid prevalent among Jews, the fact that newlywed couples usually lived with the bride's family, which offered better nutrition, and the fact that Jewish religious laws enjoin better hygiene practices than were the norm in the rest of pre-modern Europe.
In 1569 Poland annexed large parts of Ukraine under the Treaty of Lublin. Many Jews chose to migrate to Ukraine, and found a new source of livelihood there – leasing land. This they once again did in conjunction with the Polish nobility. Many of the Ukrainian peasants resented the new immigrants. Not only did the feudal lords tax them heavily, they thought, now they also “enslave us to the enemies of Christ, the Jews.”
During this time some brilliant intellectuals emerged in the Jewish areas of Poland, including Rabbi Moses Isserles (aka “The Rema” after his acronym), Rabbi Shlomo Lurie and Rabbi Joel Sirkis, and the great yeshivas of Lublin and Krakow were founded. The rabbinical elite was also the political elite among the Jewish community, setting the rules of life down to the smallest detail – from the number of jewels a woman may wear to requiring approval by community administrators in order to wed.

1648 | Bohdan The Brute

Had there been a senior class photo of all the worst oppressors the Jewish people have known, Bohdan (also known as Bogdan) Khmelnytsky would probably be standing front and center in it. Khmelnytsky, the leader of the Ukrainian Cossacks who fought for independence against Poland, was responsible for particularly lethal pogroms against the Jews of Ukraine. These pogroms were fueled by a combination of Christian revival and popular protest against Polish subjugation. The Jews, who were seen as the Polish nobility's “agents of oppression” paid a terrible price: Approximately 100,000 of them were murdered in these pogroms.
The Khmelnytsky Massacres, also known in Jewish historiography as “The Ta”ch and Ta”t Pogroms”, left the Jewish community of Poland shocked and bereaved. The community's poets composed dirges and the rabbis decreed mourning rituals. A chilling account of these events can be found in the book “Yeven Mezulah” by Jewish scholar Nathan Hannover, who fled the pogroms himself and described them in chronological order. In time many works were written based on this account. The most famous are “The Slave” by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and the poem “The Rabbi's Daughter” by the great Hebrew poet and translator Shaul Tchernichovski.
Despite the grief and sorrow, the Jewish community of Ukraine soon recovered. Proof of this can be found in the accounts of English traveler William Cox, who wrote 20 years after the massacres: “Ask for an interpreter and they bring you a Jew; Come to an inn, the owner is a Jew; If you require horses to travel, a Jew supplies and drives them; and if you wish to buy anything, a Jew is your broker.”

1700 | A Very Good Name

The year 1700 saw the birth of the man who would reshape Orthodox Judaism and become the founder of one of the most important movements in all its long history: Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer, far better known as the Baal Shem Tov, or The Besh”t for short.
The Baal Shem Tov began his career as a healer with herbs, talismans and sacred names, thus becoming known as a “Baal Shem” - a designation for someone who knows the arcana of the divine names, which he can use to mystical effect.
Rumor of the righteous man who performs miracles and speaks of a different Judaism – less academic and scholarly, more emotional and experiential – soon spread far and wide. Religious discourse soon included terms such as “dvekut”, which means “devotion”, and “pnimiut”, meaning “inner being”. Thus was the Hasidic movement born, emphasizing moral correctness and the desire for religious devotion, placing a high premium on the discipline of Kabbalah. The immense success of Hasidism stemmed from its being a popular movement which allowed entry to any Jew, even if he wasn't much for book smarts.
The Besh”t also set the template for the form of the Hasidic circle: A group of people coalescing around the personality of a charismatic leader who provides each member with personal guidance. Among the most famous Hasidic movement today one can count Chabad/Liubavitch, Ger and Breslov, which was founded by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (the great-grandson of the Besh”t), and is unique in having no single leader or “Rebbe” or Admor, a Hebrew acronym which stands for “Our Master, Teacher and Rabbi”, the title of other Hasidic leaders, as none is considered worthy to carry the mantle of the founder.
Those were also the years in which Kabbalist literature began to spread in Poland, along with various mystical influences, including the Sabbatean movement. One of the innovation of the Kabbalist literature was the way in which the issue of observing commandments was perceived: In establishment rabbinical thought, the commandments were seen as a device for maintaining community structures and the religious lifestyle. The Hasidim, on the other hand, claimed that the commandments were a mystical device through which even a common man may effect changes in the heavenly spheres. In modern terms one may say that the meaning of observing the commandments was “privatized”, ceasing to be the property of the rabbinical elite and becoming the personal business of every common observant Jew.

1767 | What Came First – Wheat or Vodka?

To paraphrase the eternal questions of “what came first – the chicken or the egg?” 18th century Poles asked “What came first – wheat or vodka?” What they meant is, was it the great profitability of grain-based liquor that created mass alcohol addiction, or was it the addiction to alcohol that created the demand for wheat? Either way, the idea of turning wheat into vodka had a magical draw for Jews in the steppes of Poland. In the second half of the 18th century vodka sales accounted for approximately 40% of all income in Poland. The Jews, who recognized the immense financial potential of this trade, took over the business of leasing liquor distilleries and taverns from the nobles. In fact, historians have determined that some 30% of all Jews in the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania had some connection to the liquor business.
But liquor was far from the only field of commerce the Jews of Poland engaged in. They traded all manner of goods. In a sample of data from the years 1764-1767, collected from 23 customs houses, it was found that out of 11,485 merchants, 5,888 were Jews, and that 50%-60% of all retail commerce was held by Jewish merchants.
The reciprocal relations between the Jews and the Magnates, the Polish nobility, became ever tighter. Save for rare phenomena, such as the habit of some nobles to force Jews to dance before them in order to humiliate them, these relations were stable and dignified. Historians note that the Jewish leaser “was not a parasite cringing in fear, but a man aware of his rights, as well as his obligations”.

1795 | The Empires Swallow Poland

Until the partition of Poland, Poland's Jews could live in cities such as Krakow or Lublin, for example, with almost no direct contact with the outside political and legal authorities. Most of them resided in towns or hamlets (“Shtetl”, in Yiddish) where they lived in a closed cultural and social bubble. They spoke their own language, Yiddish, and their children were taught in separate institutions – the cheder for young children and then the Talmud-Torah. The legal system and political leadership were also internal: The tribunals and the Kahal, which operated on the basis of halacha, were the sole court of appeals for the settling of disputes and disagreements.
The only connection most Jews had with the outside world was in their work, which usually involved leasing of some sort from the nobles. Proof of this can be found in the words of Jewish storyteller Yechezkel Kutik, who wrote that “In those days, what was bad for the paritz (the Polish feudal lord) was at least partly bad for the Jews. Almost everyone made their living from the paritz”.
In 1795 Poland was partitioned between three empires – Russia, Austria and Prussia, the nucleus of modern Germany. This brought an end to the shared history of Poland's Jews, and began three distinctly different stories: That of the Jews of the Russian-Czarist Empire, that of the Jews of Galicia under Austrian rule, and that of the Jews of Prussia, who later became the Jews of Germany.
The situation for Jews in Austria and Prussia was relatively good, definitely when compared to that of Jews living under Czarist rule, which imposed various financial edicts upon them and allowed them freedom of movement only within the Pale of Settlement, where conditions were harsh. The nadir was the outbreak of pogroms in the years 1881-1884, which led to the migration of some 2 million Jews to the United States – the place that would come to replace Poland as the world's largest host of Jews. Upon the partition of Poland, most Jews living in that country found themselves under Russian rule. Please see the entry “The Jews of Russia” for further information regarding them.

1819 | The Jews of Galicia

The image of the “Galician Jew” was and still is a code not only for a geographic identity, but mostly for a unique Jewish identity which combined a multicultural-ethnicity with a cunning, humorous, warm and sympathetic folklore figure. The “Galician Jew” could be a devout Hasid, an enlightened educated person, a Polish nationalist or a Zionist activist, a great merchant or a vendor trudging from door to door. This Jew was weaned on several different cultures and could gab in several tongues – German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian and Polish.
Galicia extended over the south of Poland. Its eastern border was Ukraine, but the Austrian empire ruled over it from 1772 to the end of WW1. In the second half of the 19th century Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph granted the Jews fully equal rights. The city of Lvov became a magnet for educated Jews from all over Europe. Yiddish newspapers, including the “Zeitung”, operated there at full steam, commerce flourished and Zionist movements, among them Poalei Zion, played a central role in reviving Jewish nationality.
At the same time the Hasidic movement also flourished in Galicia, branching out from several Hasidic courts and dynasties of “Tzadiks”. Among the best known of these Hasidic sects were those of Belz and Sanz, which preserved the traditional Hasidic lifestyle, including dress and language, and maintained tight relations with the “Tzadik” who headed the court.
Galicia was also the soil from which the writers of the age of Haskala (the Jewish Enlightenment movement) grew – from Joseph Perl, the pioneer of Hebrew literature, who in 1819 wrote “Megale Tmirin” (“Revealer of Mysteries”), the first Hebrew novel, and ending with Yosef Haim Brenner and Gershon Shofman, who lived in Lvov and skillfully described Jewish life there in the early 20th century.
The multicultural, equal-rights idyll ended for the Jews of Galicia against the backdrop of cannon shells and flames of WW1. The region of Galicia passed from hand to hand between the Austrian and Russian armies, and the soldiers of both massacred the Jews again and again. This is what S. (Shloyme) Ansky, author of “The Dybbuk” and the writer who commemorated the fate of Galician Jews during the war, wrote on the subject: “In Galicia an atrocity beyond human comprehension has been committed. A large region of a million Jews, who but yesterday enjoyed all human and civil rights, is surrounded by a fiery chain of iron and blood, cut off and set apart from the world, given to the rule of wild beasts in the form of Cossacks and soldiers. The impression is as though an entire tribe of Israel is becoming extinct.”

1862 | The Siren Call of HaTsefira

While the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment movement, was born in Western Europe, its echoes soon reached the eastern part of the continent as well, and Poland in particular. One of the seminal events illustrating the roots put down by the Haskala movement in Poland was the founding of the periodical “HaTsefira” in Warsaw. “HaTsefira” became one of the most highly-regarded Hebrew newspapers and sought to take a real part in the process of secularizing the Hebrew language and turning it from a liturgical tongue to a living, everyday medium.
The newspaper gained steam in the late 1870s, when the editorial board was joined by Nachum Sokolov, journalist, author and Zionist-national thinker, who in his latter years served as President of the World Zionist Organization. Sokolov gradually reduced the emphasis of “HaTsefira” on popular science, giving it a serious journalistic and literary character instead. Under his leadership the periodical became a daily in 1886, and soon stood out as the most influential Hebrew newspaper in Eastern Europe, until it died out in the decades between the World Wars.
All of the most prominent Hebrew writers of those days published their works in HaTsefira: Mendele Mocher Sforim, Y.L.Peretz and Shalom Aleichem in the 19th century, Dvorah Baron, Uri Nissan Genessin, Shalom Ash and Yaacov Fichman in the early 20th century, and just before WW1 it was home to the works of a few promising youngsters, including Nobel-winning authour Shmuel Yosef Agnon and acclaimed nationalist poet Uri Zvi Greenberg.

1900 | Warsaw

In the first decade of the 20th century Warsaw became the capital of the Jews of Poland and a global Jewish center. The city was home to the headquarters of the political parties, many welfare institutions, trade unions, and Jewish newspapers and periodicals published in a variety of languages. Prominent in particular was juggernaut of literary and publishing activity in this city from the 1880s to the eve of WW1.
Among the most famous literary institutions of the period were the Ben Avigdor Press, which ignited the realist “New Movement” in Hebrew literature; Achiassaf Press, founded by the tea magnate Wissotzky, which operated in the spirit of Achad Haam and published books of a Jewish-historical nature; the HaShiloach newspaper, which was copied from Odessa and was edited for a year by Chaim Nachman Bialik (later anointed national poet of the State of Israel), the newspapers “HaTsofeh” and “HaBoker” and more.
All these and many others were produced at hundreds of Hebrew printing presses which popped up like mushrooms after a rain. This industry attracted Jewish intellectuals who found work writing, editing, translating and doing other jobs required by publishing and the press. In his essay “New Hebrew Culture In Warsaw” Prof. Dan Miron wrote that: “All the Hebrew writers of the time passed through Warsaw, some staying for years and others for a short time”.
Also famous were the “literary tribunals”, especially that of author Y.L. Peretz, who held a sort of salon or court at his home which was frequented by eager literary cubs. These would submit their callow works to the revered giant of letters and tremblingly await his verdict. The Peretz court was far from the only one, though. Jewish writers and intellectuals arrived from all over Russia to “literary houses”, “salons” and other establishments, convened mostly on Sabbaths and holidays to discuss matters of great import. One of the most famous of these was the home of pedagogue Yitzchak Alterman, whose lively Hanukkah and Purim parties drew many intellectuals. These, we assume, served as inspiration for little Nanuchka, the host's son, later to become famous as poet Nathan Alterman.

Jewish Demographics In Warsaw

Year | Number of Jews
1764 1,365
1800 9,724
1900 219,128
1940 393,500
1945 7,800


1918 | The First Jewish Party in Poland

Upon the end of WW1 the Jews of Poland also fell victim to the game of monopoly played by Poland against its neighbors, particularly Soviet Russia. The Poles accused the Jews of Bolshevism, the Soviets saw them as capitalists and bourgeoisie, and these accusations turned into dozens of pogroms and tens of thousands of Jewish murder victims.
In 1921, after 125 years under various occupiers, Poland once again became a sovereign and independent state. At first the future seemed bright. The new Polish constitution guaranteed the Jews full equality and promised religious tolerance. However, like many of the supposedly democratic states formed between the two world wars, the regime in Poland also swayed between the values of Enlightenment and equality and an ethnic-based nationalism.
This was the unstable reality under which the Jews of Poland lived for 18 years, until the start of WW2. During these years the Jews experienced some bad times, during which for example they were banned from public office, and were discriminated against in matters of taxation and higher education admissions, where quotas were set limiting the number of Jews at the universities. At other times, mostly under the reign of Jozef Pilsudski (1926-1935), who was known for his relative opposition to anti-Semitism, the edicts issued against the Jews were eased.
During the Pilsudski era the Jewish parties combined to form a joint list for the legislative elections, winning 6 seats in the Sejm (lower house of the Polish parliament) and 1 in the senate, which made them the sixth-largest party. This was a mere 11 years before the outbreak of WW2 and the Holocaust of Polish Jewry.
One of the most influential figures among Jewish political leadership in Poland was Yitzhak Gruenbaum (Izaak Grünbaum), leader of the General Zionists Party, who foresaw the rise of dictatorial elements in the Sejm and made aliyah in 1933. He was right. From 1935 until the German invasion Poland was ruled by an openly dictatorial, anti-Semitic regime. During these four years some 500 anti-Semitic incidents took place, the system of “ghetto benches” was put in place, separating Jewish and Polish students at universities, and the employment options of Polish Jews were limited to such a degree that the Jewish community of Poland, numbering over three million people at the time, was considered the poorest diaspora in Europe.

1939 | The Holocaust of the Jews of Poland

September 1st, 1939, the day the Nazis invaded Poland, was etched into the collective Jewish memory in infamy. Of 3.3 million Jews who lived in Poland on the eve of the Nazi invasion, only around 350,000 survived. Some 3 million Polish Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust.
The annihilation of the Jews of Poland took place step by step. It began with various decrees, such as the gathering of Jews in ghettos, the obligation to wear an identifying mark, the imposition of a curfew in the evenings, the marking of Jewish-owned stores and more – and ended with the execution of the “Final Solution”, a satanic plan of genocide, which culminated in the deportation of the Jews of Poland to the extermination camps of Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sobibor, Chelmno and Treblinka – all located on Polish soil.
One of the best known expressions of resistance by the Jews of Poland to the Nazi plan of annihilation was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The revolt symbolized a triumph of spirit for the Jews of the ghetto, who embarked on it although they knew that their chances of winning or even surviving were nil.
Alongside the armed resistance by the Jews of the ghetto there was also cultural resistance. In October 1939 Emanuel Ringelblum – a historian, politician and social worker – started the “Oneg Shabbat” (“Sabbath Delight”) project in the ghetto, in which he was joined by dozens of intellectuals including authors, teachers and historians. This collective produced many works of writing on various facets of life in the ghetto, and thus became an archive and think tank dealing with current events while documenting them for future historians' reference.
In August 1942, in the midst of the deportation of the Jews of Warsaw, the archive was divided in three and each part buried for safe-keeping. Two of the three parts, secreted in metal crates and two milk jugs, were found after the war. These two parts, located in 1946 and 1950, serve to this day as imported first-hand sources on Jewish life in the ghetto, and also as testament to the courage and spiritual strength of the intellectuals whose only weapons were the pen and the camera.

2005 | Jewish Renaissance in Poland?

At the end of WW2 there were some 240,000 Jews living in Polish territories, 40,000 of them who survived the camps and another 200,000 refugees, returning from the Soviet Union territories. The displaced Jews lived in poverty and cramped conditions, and were treated with hostility by the general population despite their attempts to integrate into Polish society. In July 1946, just a year after the war ended, this hostility erupted in a pogrom in the city of Kielce. The pretext for the murder of 42 out of 163 Holocaust survivors in the city, and the wounding of most of the rest? The ancient blood libel about matza and Christian children.
This is where the Zionist movement swung into action, managing to smuggle about 100,000 of the remaining Jews in Poland to Israel under the “Bricha”, or “Escape” movement.
After WW2 Poland became a Communist country, which it remained until 1989. 1956 saw the start of the “Gomulka Aliyah” (named after Wladislaw Gomulka, Secretary General of the Polish Communist party), which lasted for a few years and brought some 35,000 more Jews to Israel from Poland. In 1967 Poland cut off relations with Israel and in 1968, amidst an anti-Semitic incitement campaign, another few thousand Jews made aliyah. This practically brought an end to the Jewish community of Poland.
At the start of the new millennium, Poland was considered the greatest mass grave of the Jewish people. The numbers speak for themselves: Before WW2 there were around 1,000 active Jewish communities in Poland, but in the year 2000 only 13 remained. Before the war Warsaw was home to almost 400,000 Jews. In 2000 only 1,000 Jews remained.
And then, at the start of the new century, a so-called “Jewish Renaissance” took place in Poland, and is still going on today. In 2005 a museum was opened across the street from the Warsaw Ghetto, where 1,000 years of Jewish history in Poland are on display. Once a year a Jewish festival is held in Krakow, exposing thousands of curious visitors from all over the world to Jewish songs and dance, kleizmer music and Yiddishke food. The Jewish theater is thriving (although it includes but one Jewish actor), and around the country “dozens of “Judaica Days” and symposiums on Jewish topics are held annually.

* All quotes in this article, unless otherwise stated, are from “From a People to a Nation: The Jews of Eastern Europe, 1772-1881”, Broadcast University Press, 2002

Krakow

Cracow

A district city in Western Galicia, south Poland.

Its situation on the Vistula river and the commercial route to Prague attracted an influx of immigrants from Germany, with whom the first Jews arrived in 1257.


Early days

In 1335 King Kazimiez the Great founded the town of Kazimierz near the southern end of ancient Krakow and it was there that the Jews settled. For over four centuries the Jews of Kazimierz struggled for the right to work and trade in Krakow proper. At the end of the fourteenth century construction was begun of a large synagogue in Gothic style. It was completed in 1407 and became known as the Alte Shul in Yiddish and Stara Boznica in Polish. It is the oldest medieval synagogue in Poland which is still preserved. In the early fifteen century Jacob Pollack settled there and established the first Yeshiva.

In the early 16th century many Jews from Bohemia Moravia [similar to today's Czech Republic] settled in the town but some of their customs differed from those of the Polish Jews causing disputes between the two groups. Quiet returned only when the rabbis of both groups died. In the succeeding years of the 16th century further immigrants arrived from Germany, Italy. Others came from Spain and Portugal, no doubt including some new-Christians who had decided to revert to Judaism after the Spanish had continued to persecute them. This group included a number of wealthy Jews and physicians who had been enticed by special financial privileges from the king of Poland. It was only in 1563, after appeals from community leaders, that the king stopped this practice. The 16th and first half of the 17th century was a period of cultural advance by the Jews of Krakow-Kazimierz. By 1644 there were seven synagogues including the Alte Shul and the Rema Synagogue named after the Moses Isserles. A number of yeshivot were founded in the town- they made Krakow an important centre of Jewish learning. From 1650 Yomtov Lippman Heller was the rabbi. In 1666 the community was deeply influenced by the Shabbatean messianic movement. By the end of the 16th century the community was controlled by a small number of wealthy families. The leadership known as a minor sanhedrin consisted of 4 rashim [leaders], 14 council member plus five rabbis. The actual duties of administration were assumed in rotation; each of the rashim was Parnas Hahodesh [leader of the month].


17th-18th Centuries

In the 1630s many Jews fleeing from the devastation of the 30 Years War in Germany arrived in Krakow, while in the 1648-9 many others came from Ukraine to escape the Chmielnicki massacres. The community suffered serious damage during the Swedish invasion of Poland in 1655-1660 ["the Deluge"] – many shops were looted and property damaged. When Polish rule was restored the Jews were accused of collaboration with the enemy and attacks on Jewish property resumed, mainly by students and local hooligans. The kings who had previously protected the Jews were now powerless to intervene. There were s number of blood libels and in 1663 Mattathias Calahora was burned at the stake. In 1667 some one thousand Jewish residents died of the plague and most of the Jewish quarter was abandoned. The community was unable to pay its taxes and was saved only when they were granted a moratorium on the payment of their taxes and debts to the state. The non-Jewish majority was not so easy to placate. They demanded the banning of Jews from doing business in the town. Jews were also forbidden to enter the town on Sundays or Christian festivals.

The nobility and the townsfolk were increasingly hostile to the Jews as the religious tolerance that dominated the mentality of the previous generations of Commonwealth citizens was slowly forgotten. The rise of the group of wealthy Jewish families (Oligarchs) was accompanied by worsening economic conditions amongst the majority of the community and therefore be increased social tensions between the two sections. The costs incurred in the struggle against the non-Jewish elements who were continuing bringing libel cases against the Jews and the need to provide financial support for increasing numbers of impoverished Jews forced the community to take out loans from wealthy Christians and the church. During the troubles of 1722-1768 the Jews of Kazimierz suffered both at the hands of the Polish and Russian armies. Known as the `Confederacy of the Bar', it was marked by violence perpetrated against the Jews by both the Russians and the Poles who regarded the Jews as their enemies. Jews were hung on branches of trees and both sides demanded that the Jews provide them with food, housing and help with espionage. In 1772-1776 Kazimierz became part of Austria while Krakow remained in Poland. Then in 1776 Kazimierz was returned to Poland. However Jews were still forbidden to do business in Krakow and a heavy tax was imposed on the community of Kazimierz. Many Jews left the area for Warsaw or other more hospitable towns. During the 1780s Chasidism began to influence the Jews of Krakow. The movement gained many adherents especially amongst the poorer members of the community. Special synagogues were opened up by the Hassidim but the Mitnagdim imposed a ban [Herem] on them in 1785 and 1797.


19th Century

In 1795 Krakow and the surrounding areas were again annexed by Austria and in 1799 the Austrian authorities ordered all Jewish businesses to be removed from Krakow proper (i.e. not from Kazimierz). From 1800 the government determined that the exercise of civil and voting rights were dependent on the payment of a Candle tax- a tax which hit hardest the poorer people. In 1809 Krakow became part of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Some, but not all, of the restrictions and special taxes imposed by the Austrians were cancelled. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 the Republic of Krakow was established. It survived until 1846. Jews were permitted to reside outside of Kazimierz if they had received a high standard of secular education, if they wore “modern” clothing and if they owned property valued at more than 5000 zloty. (In 1848 just 198 Jews out of 13,000 met these qualifications). In addition the communal organization was abolished and replaced by a committee for Jewish affairs headed by a Christian chairman. From 1832 the rabbi of Krakow was Dov Berush Meisels. He was widely respected despite opposition from the Hassidim headed by Rabbi Saul Raphael Landau. In 1844 the first Reform Synagogue was established in the town.

In 1846 Krakow was returned to Austria. The Jews of Vienna started to raise funds to assist the needy Jews of Kazimierz. As a result of the revolution two years later which granted civil and voting rights to all, Jews were for the first time elected to the Greater Krakow municipal council, with a programme of greater social justice within the community. They demanded the abolition of the tax levied on kosher meat, proposing instead a tax on poultry which was consumed mainly by the wealthy. The Jews demanded also that the inflated salaries of communal officials be reduced, that the communal hospital by run by the community itself instead of by the Hevra Kadisha. The demanded also that the privileges of the leading wealthy families ("The Oligrarchs") be abolished.

In the 1848 elections to the Austrian parliament in Vienna Rabbi Meisels was returned as the deputy for Krakow. As a Jewish element in the 1848 revolutionary ferment there was established the 'Society for the Spiritual and Material Assimilation of the Jews', which was intended to establish Jews as an integral part of Polish society. When Rabbi Meisels was appointed to a position in Warsaw, he was replaced by Rabbi Simeon Schreiber-Sofer, a strict traditionalist who frequently clashed with the Reform/Assimilationist congregation in the town lead by Joseph Ettinger and Rabbi Simon Dankovitch. After the granting of full emancipation to the Jews of Krakow in 1867-8 they were for the first time permitted to live anywhere in Krakow or Kazimierz. In place of traditional communal organizations a new Jewish religious council was established in which the assimilationist intelligentsia had the upper hand. In 1869 a total of 26 Jewish students were studying that the law faculty and the medical school of the University of Krakow and a further ten at the town's technical college. In the following decade some 200 Jewish pupils attended the municipal secondary schools and teachers' training college. The first Hebrew school, headed by Av Beth Din Chaim Arieh Horowitz, was established in 1874. The first secular Hebrew lending library was opened in Krakow in 1876. The Jewish education system in the town included chadarim and Yeshivot as well as elementary and secondary schools with Polish and German as the languages of instruction.

Towards the end of the 19th century the Zionist movement came to Krakow. To a major degree this was in response to increased anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish pogroms which made many of the Jews feel insecure. They often joined the waves of Polish emigrants to the USA. Others, especially those who spoke German, went to live in Vienna. Those who remained were the Zionists. The first Chovevei Zion society was established in Krakow by Simeon Sofer and and Aaron Markus in the 1880s and the Sfat Emet society was started there in 1892. HaHevrah LeIvrit LeTarbut (the Hebrew culture society) was also active. From 1897 political Zionism led by Osias Thon and Julius Schenwetter started to attract support. Other communal organizations included an academic society Shachar, news magazine Der Yiddishe Arbeiter, the organ of HaPoalei Zion, which was published between 1905 and 1914. In 1900 an independent group established itself in order to fight for civil equality for the Jews. This group was headed by Ignaz Landau and Adolf Gross. Krakow was the centre of all Zionist activity in western Galicia.


Between the Two World Wars

The rise of Polish nationalism, the upheavals in the aftermath of World War I brought widespread unemployment and famine to the area coupled with vicious anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitic party, Endecja, attempted to direct the discontent of the Polish masses against the Jews. The Jewish youth of Krakow, led by Jacob Billik and Y.Alster, tried to organize self-defence measures which succeeded in stopping riots started by followers of the Polish anti-Semitic general Haller in 1918- and 1919.

In 1921 the Jewish population of Krakow was estimated to be 45,000 while in 1931 it had risen to 57,000 out of some 220,000. At the beginning of World War II the Jewish population had risen to 60,000. Between the two world wars Krakow remained an important centre of Jewish political and social life. The Polish language Zionist daily newspaper Nowy Ziennik was published there and most Zionist organizations continued to be active. The Bundist magazine, Walka, was published between 1924 and 1927. The poorer segments of the community continued to live in Kazimierz.


The Holocaust

A few days after the outbreak of war in September 1939 the Germans entered Krakow and the persecution of the Jews began. The Jewish Community Council building and several synagogues were destroyed. A Judenrat with 24 members was appointed in November under Dr Mark Bieberstein and Wilhelm Goldblatt. In the summer of 1940 the two were arrested by the Gestapo. In April 1940 the Germans ordered 75% of the Jews to leave the town. In March 1941 a ghetto was erected and 20,000 Jews were forced to live within its confines. In June 1942 some 6,000 Jews were sent to the Belzec death camp wile a further 300 were shot inside the ghetto. Among the victims were the writer Mordechai Gebirtig and the new head of the Judenrat Arthur Rozenzweig. In October 1942 another 7,000 were sent to their deaths at Belzec. In March 1943 the remainder were sent to Auschwitz.

The Jewish underground began to organize in 1940 and by 1942 they were known as the Jewish Combat Organization headed by Heshek Bauminger, Aharon Liebeskind, Gola Mira, Shimshon Drenger and Abraham Leibowitz-Laban. The organization was in contact with Jewish partisans on the area and also the Warsaw Ghetto. Probably the most famous of their exploits was the attack on the Cyganeria coffee house in the town centre which was a popular meting place for German soldiers. They were also responsible for sabotage on local railway lines. After the liquidation of the ghetto in Krakow the group was active in the Plaskow labour camp. In the Zablocie district of Krakow Oscar Schindler had a factory which he used to save 1,098 Jews from Plaszow.

Some 2,000 survivors returned to the town in 1945-6 after the war, most had been living in Russia. Fearing a pogrom they made no attempt to reestablish the Jewish quarter in Kazimierz. In 1968 the last of the Jews left Kazimierz, the oldest synagogue, the Hoyche Shul became a Jewish museum and only the cemetery was restored with contributions from American and Canadian Jews. After the exodus of 1967-9 just 700 Jews remained in the town but only about 200 identify themselves with the Jewish community.

In 1997 there were 8,000 Jews living in Poland, most of them in the capital Warsaw, a few hundred in Krakow.

Trzebinia

A town in Chrzanów County, Lesser Poland, Poland/

Trzebinia, recorded as a village in the 13th century, was in the area that Austria annexed during the third division of Poland. In the course of time, with the discovery of silver and lead ores in the vicinity, industrial and manufacturing plants were established, around which a town sprang up. The development of Trzebinia occurred after it was linked to the railroad line between Vienna and Cracow. Following World War I (1914-1918) it was once again included within the boundaries of Poland. In 1931 Trzebinia (the town and the village) was granted the status of a city.

Jews settled in Trzebinia at the end of the 17th century. Until the beginning of the 19th century they belonged to the Chrzanow Jewish community, and only later became an independent community. At that time Rabbi Israel Kloger officiated as rabbi of the community. His son, Rabbi Haim Kloger, author of Pri Haim (Fruit of Life) succeeded him, followed by Rabbi Moshe Yonah Levy. His son, Rabbi Yaakov Levy, was appointed rabbi after him. The latter was blessed with many children, and one of them, Rabbi Israel, officiated as the community's judge during his father's term as rabbi. With the death of Rabbi Yaakov Levy in 1923, there Rabbi Benjamin Levy and Rabbi Dov Berish Weidenfeld. The latter was chosen. He served as head of the famous yeshiva Kohav Meyaakov (Star of Jacob), wrote the book of responsa, questions and answers on matters of Jewish law Dovev Miyashrim and was known as the Gaon of Trzebinia (the genius of Trzebinia). Rabbi Weidenfeld spent World War II in Russia, later settling in Israel, where he established the yeshiva Kochav Meyaakov in Jerusalem. Rabbi Akivah, son of Rabbi Yehezkel Gross, founded in Trzebinia the Torah Crown yeshiva of the Domask Hasidim.
In 1921 out of a total population of 1,317, there were 915 Jews residing in the town. That same year an additional heder (religious elementary school) was opened for the town's children. In 1932 the admor (Hasidic leader) of Bobowa, Rabbi Benzion son of Rabbi Halberstam, settled there.

During the second half of the 19th century, with the development of the mines and expansion of local industry, Jewish settlement grew until almost all the inhabitants of Trzebinia were Jews, and in 1914 a Jew, Rabbi Issar Mandelbaum, served as its mayor. On the Sabbath the whole town life came to a standstill, and on Passover it was impossible to obtain bread there.

Early in November 1918, with the end of World war I and the renewal of Poland's independence, the authorities prevented the Jews of Trzebinia from taking part in the celebrations. Fearing an outbreak of antisemitism, the Jews formed their own militia for self-defense. The head of the town's Polish militia disarmed the Jewish organization and just a few days later pogroms indeed began. The rioters attacked Jews, beat them, plundered their shops, broke into the synagogue and desecrated the torah scrolls. An army unit from the district city Cracow refrained from interfering and only a Pole, Adam Tzerlog, came out against the rioters.

The Jews of Trzebinia dealt in petty trade, crafts and peddling in neighboring villages. A few were suppliers for the local industry. In the period between the two world wars, the local Jewish settlement suffered from economic stagnation, and after the war it was in need of aid from the Joint Distribution Committee, which augmented the funds of the local Free Loan Society, thus enabling it to give substantial help to the needy. In the years of the worldwide Great Depression (1929-1931) the women's league ran a people's kitchen. After the court of the admor of Bobowa was established in Trzebinia (1932) with thousands of Hasidim pouring into the town, more opportunities for the local Jews became available.

The first group devoted to Zionist activity was organized in Trzebinia in 1912, a library and lecture hall were also erected at the same time. Between the two world wars the Heatid club of the General Zionists organized evening classes for studying Hebrew and Judaism, and opened an additional library. At the same time, the youth movements Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, the Hebrew Youth subsequently the Zionist Youth and Akivah were active.

The Jews of Trzebinia took part in the 1935 elections to the Zionist Congress, most of them voting for the General Zionist.

In 1939 more than 1,300 Jews were living in Trzebinia.


The Holocaust Period

At the end of August 1939 a number of Trzebinia Jews were drafted into the Polish army and a few of them participated in the preparation of the city's anti-aircraft defenses. Already on September 1st, with the outbreak of war, the German air force bombed the city and its inhabitants began a mass flight, many Jews joining those fleeing eastward in an attempt to cross the border into the Soviet Union. In the meantime, German army units cut off the routes eastward and the Jews stopped in east Galicia, and suffering from want, gradually began to return to Trzebinia. A few of them were murdered on the way, and about 70 of them were executed by German soldiers who ambushed them on the road from Trzebinia to Kashanov. They were murdered there and on the football field and buried in mass graves on the sites of the slaughter. Two years later, with permission of the authorities, they were given a Jewish burial in the Jewish cemetery in Kashanov.

During the first days of the conquest the German soldiers, the Volksdeutsche (Germans born in Poland) and the Polish rabble plundered the stores and homes of the Jews.

Trzebinia was in the territory annexed to the German Reich (in eastern upper Silesia) and the decrees of the Nazi racist laws were already imposed on the Jews at the beginning of October 1939. They were ordered to wear the yellow patch, their movement in town was limited, and they were placed under curfew. Their valuables were taken away, Jewish businesses were closed down, some of them being given to loyal Aryans, and only a few were left to serve the local Jewish population. The Jewish community was required every day to supply workers for forced labor, and to pay ransom from time to time. Jews were seized in the streets and whoever was found disobeying the German orders was liable for transfer to the Auschwitz extermination camp.

In 1940 many young Jews secretly left the city in order to cross the border into the Soviet Union. Those who succeeded met with difficulty in finding employment and housing and some of them were even exiled to distant regions of the Soviet Union.

At the end of 1940 and beginning of 1941 the Germans began seizing Jewish men for forced labor in Germany and fortifying the frontier with the Soviet Union. Many died because of the back-breaking work and the inhuman conditions at the beginning of 1941 the Jews of Trzebinia were concentrated in several streets which became a ghetto. At first the ghetto was open, but gradually the Jews were forbidden to leave it, and their distress grew.

Within the ghetto members of the community developed mutual aid, set up a public kitchen for the needy and took care of the children's education by secretly operating classes on a variety of subjects.
On the 13th of Sivan 5702 (July 1942) S.S. units and German policemen surrounded the ghetto. The Jews were ordered to come to the cattle market square (Targowica) where a selection was held. One group of young men were sent to labor camps in Germany, another to the nearby city, Kashanov, to work in enterprises of vital importance to the Germans, and on the 22nd of Sivan 5702, the rest were sent to the Auschwitz death camp. Only a few of the Jews of Trzebinia remained alive at the end of the war.

In the summer of 1986 members of the Jewish community who visited the city found the Jewish cemetery broken into and in ruins. The few tombstones remaining in place had been shattered. The main synagogue, which had been turned into a garage by the Germans, was destroyed by the Poles after the war, and on the site an apartment building had been put up. The synagogue Chevrat Bikur Cholim was turned into a carpenter's shop for making coffins. This matter was brought to the attention of the ministry of religion in Israel.

In 1990 the Israel organization of former Trzebinia residents arranged for the restoration of the Jewish cemetery, and on August 13, 1990 a monument in memory of the Holocaust victims was unveiled. The survivors of the Trzebinia community and representatives of Jewish institutions and of the government participated in the ceremonies.

Chrzanów 

Hshanov, in Jewish sources

A town and seat of the Chrzanów County n the Lesser Poland Voivodeshi, Poland.

Chrzanow was mentioned as an urban center under private ownership in documents dating from 1393. During the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries it was known as a junction on the "salt route" that led from Krakow to Silesia. After the partition of Poland in 1772, Chrzanow like all of Galicia, came under the rule of the Austrian Empire. During the 19th century there was increased economic activity in the town because of its location close to the lead and tin mines and the establishment of factories in the town and its environs. from the middle of the 19th century the town became an important transportation junction in south western Poland.


it is assumed that some Jews resided in Chrzanow as early as the 17th century. In the middle of the 18th century there were 60 Jewish families in the town. Their number increased in the 19th century. During the first half of the 19th century the Jews established their community organizations and were under the jurisdiction of the Krakow community. In 1866 the Jewish community became independent.

A great fire during the 1870’s was a landmark for the Jewish community which dated events as occuring before the great fire or after it.

Most of the Jews in the town were religious, a minority were secular. there were Hasidim of the Sanz, Radomsk, Bobov, Belz, Gur, Zalishitz, Krimilov, Grodziak, Husiatin and other dynasties who supported their own prayer houses (Stiblach), other Jews prayed in the regular synagogues. There were about 30 prayer-houses and synagogues in the town, among them the great synagogue where rabbi Leibish Meisels was the Hazzan (Cantor) and the large study-house where rabbi Hersh Leib Bakon served as Hazzan.

The first rabbi to serve in the town was rabbi Shlomo Buchner. He served the community until his death in 1820. After his death, for a period of twenty years there was only a Dayan (Jewish judge). Meantime the influence of the Sanz Hasidim increased and rabbi David Halverstam of the Sanz dynasty was appointed to the position of town rabbi. During his tenure there was discord between the Sanz Hasidim and the Radomsk Hasidim. After his death in 1895 there were two rabbis serving in Chrzanow. The last rabbi in the town was rabbi Mendel, the son of rabbi Naphtali, and during his tenure the rabbinate was unified.

Rabbi Mendel was killed in the Holocaust. In the period between the two World Wars, two chairmen of the Jewish community council were Bobov Hasidim, which demonstrated their important position in Chrzanow. The two largest Yeshivot in the town were also Hasidic, the "Keter Torah" Yeshiva of the Radomsk Hasidim, headed by rabbi Haim Tobias, and the "Ets Haim" Yeshiva of the Bobov Hasidim, headed by rabbi Ziskind Gottlieb and rabbi Haim Yaacov Weissblum.

In spite of the fact that there were anti-semitic disturbances in the town in 1898 and some families left for Krakow, the Jewish population grew and was 50% of the general population. In 1900 there were 5504 Jews who were 54% of the general population. Half the members of the town council were Jews. In the elections of 1910, the poles led by the priest Kaminsky who agitated for economic measures against the Jews, tried to reduce the Jewish representation in the council. The Austrian authorities invalidated the elections but in the new elections in 1912 the Jews again succeeded in receiving their due representation.

Public groups in all spheres of life, religion and tradition, charity and culture, began to organize at the beginning of the 19th century. The "Mahazikei Limud" society published a periodical "The Jewish Religious Worker” and organized a lending library for Hebrew, Polish and Yiddish books. They also supported a drama group that performed plays.

The Jewish elementary school established by Baron Hirsch was active from 1902. In 1903 an orphanage supported by the Jewish community council was opened. Besides the traditional Jewish schools there was a general elementary school. After World War I a girls' school "Beth Yacob” was founded. The number of Jewish children who studied in the general school system also increased.

Charitable institutions and interest-free loan societies were active.

On November 5, 1918 there were riots against the Jews. Shops were looted, Jews were beaten and injured and two were killed. Those Jews who tried to organize self-defense were arrested and their arms confiscated. In 1919 the soldiers of the Polish General Haller, an avowed anti-semite, attacked the town. They beat Jews, looted their property and used the study-house as a stable for their horses.

During the entire period between the two World Wars, the Jews of Chrzanow were victims of anti-semitic attacks by the gangs who were active in the town and surrounding area. The authorities did nothing to prevent the attacks on the Jewish population. In 1935 a gang of Fascist Poles rioted in the town and desecrated the Jewish cemetery.

Chrzanow was mainly a center of commerce and crafts even though there were coal mines in the area. Thursday was market day.

In the second half of the 18th century the Jews earned their living from tailoring and hat making. There were also goldsmiths and silversmiths. In the 19th century the economy expanded and Jews traded in furs and food products even beyond the borders of the state. Towards the middle of the 19th century the number of Jews who engaged in retail trade and small industry grew. The clothing industry started to develop mostly under Jewish ownership. The tailors of Chrzanow who emigrated to Berlin laid the foundations of the garment industry there.

Until World War I some Jews found their living in upper Silesia, which was then under Prussian rule. Another source of income for the Jews was money changing.

Jewish scholars in Chrzanow worked to make a living. There were tailors, cobblers and coachmen among them. The well known Magid of Chrzanow, rabbi Moshe Hochbaum was the son of a cobbler who himself worked as a pastry baker.

World War I destroyed many sources of income and caused great economic distress among the Jews. Jewish organizations in Krakow, Katowice and Vienna and the regional aid committee, whose center was in Krakow, helped the community. Loans were granted by the Joint Distribution Committee to Jewish merchants and owners of factories and workshops.

In 1928 the "Jewish Folksbank" and the "Yad Harutzim" society of Jewish craftsmen were founded.


The first Zionist group "Bnei Zion" began to organize in 1893 and started its activities in 1898 after the first Zionist Congress in 1897. The first members were the students in the study-house who concealed their Zionist activities from their families. The first Zionist families were those of Leibel and Fanny Zipper and Mordecai Shaul and Hanna Schwarzbart. Their sons Dr. Shmuel and Dr. Yitzhak (Isadore) Scwarzbart were known for their Zionist activities in the period preceding World War I (1914-1918), a period of political and cultural assimilation. Dr. Zipper, a lawyer by profession, served as vice- chairman of the town council and fought for the rights of the Jews. After World War I Dr. Schwarzbart served as general secretary of the Zionist organizations in western Galicia and Silesia. In 1921 he was appointed editor of the polish newspaper "Nowy Dziennik". He was a delegate to most of the Zionist congresses and during the 30’s was a member of the Polish parliament (Sejm).

At the beginning of the 20th century there were branches of Agudat Israel and the Bund (Jewish socialist party) besides the Zionist organizations. In 1908 a branch of Poalei-Zion was organized and became the center of Zionist and cultural activity in the town. After the war the party was divided and the Hitahdut Zionist party with its youth movement Gordonia took the center of the stage. In 1912 a youth group "Jugeng" and a women group "Yehudit" were formed. During the years 1910-1914 a society called "Rachel" organized a center to prepare girls of the Zionist youth groups for work in Eretz Israel. They also spread the Zionist message. Their library encouraged cultural activity. The branch of Ha-Mizrachi in the town was active in combating anti- Zionist propaganda. Their youth group Hashomer Hadati was active.

In the period between the two World Wars there were branches of all the Zionist organizations and their affiliated youth groups in Chrzanow. They organized courses in Hebrew and founded libraries which conducted various cultural activities. In 1928 the Zionist sport group Maccabi was founded. The women’s organization WIZO was also active in the town.


In 1921 there were 6,328 Jews in Chrzanow, 56% of the total population of 11,392.


The Holocaust period

Several days before the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) many residents fled the town, among them Jews. Most of the Jews returned after several days. On September 4, the town was occupied by the Germans and on that same day Jews were imprisoned in the synagogue. On September 8, the Germans seized 30 Jews from Chrzanow near Trzebinia and murdered them. Refugees from the town who succeeded in reaching the Soviet Zone were later deported to the interior of the Soviet Union at the end of June 1940.

In October the Germans appointed a Judenrat (Jewish council) whose task was to register the Jewish population, to supply the Germans Forced Labour, to collect “contributions" from the Jewish community and to hand over to the Germans goods and valuables. In order to guarantee the execution of their orders, the Germans seized hostages from among the important members of the Polish and the Jewish communities. A young Jew and a young Pole were executed on the pretext that they had committed sabotage against the German occupying forces.

In December 1939 the Jews were ordered to wear identifying badges on their arms, ribbons with the star of David. Now they were at the mercy of the Germans who harassed them on the town streets. Every day Jews were seized on the streets until the day’s quota of Forced Labour was filled. Jews were beaten sometimes till their death.

In March 1940 Bezalel Zucker was appointed chairman of the Judenrat. The Judenrat tried to ease the suffering of the Jews by sponsoring activities and distributing meals. The children were centered under the supervision of teachers and nursemaids. A youth club organized cultural and educational activities. The health department opened a clinic. The Judenrat earned the respect of the community, succeeded in bribing the heads of the German police and were able to prevent cruel acts against the Jews. They reopened the Jewish public baths and held public services on the high holidays.

In October 1940 the central Judenrat of Sosnowice seized 300 Jews from Chrzanow and sent them to the Labor Camps in Gogolin and Sakrau in upper Silesia.

In order to prevent the deportation of the young people to work-camps the Judenrat looked for places of work in the town itself. In the end they found working places for Jews in the rubber factory nearby Trzebinia and the mines near the town. At the end of 1940 the Jews were forced to leave the mixed neighborhoods and were concentrated in one area, prepared as a ghetto. The center of the town was declared Judenrein (free of Jews) and Jews were forbidden to go there.

At the beginning of 1941 Jewish firms were taken over by Aryans, the Jewish owners were forced to appoint German managers. In the spring of 1941 Jews who had been deported from Oswiecim (where the Death Camp Auschwitz had been built) were brought to Chrzanow. On May 9 the Jews were assembled in the square near the gymnasium and their work permits were examined. Hundreds of Jews without permits were sent to Labour Camps in upper Silesia. The conditions in the camps were harsh. On May 25 hundred of Jews were seized in the town and sent to Forced Labour Camps. Many young Jews evaded the round-ups and the central Judenrat in Sosnowice, which did not trust the local Judenrat to comply fully with the German demands, sent their own Jewish police to seize men for the Labour Camps.

At the beginning of 1942 the chairman of the Judenrat Bezalel Zucker and other members were interrogated cruelly, accused of disobedience and sabotage and sent to the Death Camp in Auschwitz.

At the end of April 1942 seven Jews were hung publicly in the town square accused of smuggling food. At the beginning of May in that same year additional Jews were sent to Auschwitz. After that there were "actions" to expose "food offenders". Those caught were also sent to the Death Camp in Auschwitz.

In the "action" on May 30 1942 a selection was carried out in the place where the Jews were assembled. They were divided into three groups. One group was left to work in the town, the second group was sent to Labor Camps and the third group which included about 3,000 people, mostly elderly sick people, women and children were sent to Auschwitz. In June that year additional groups were sent to Labour Camps. At the end of July or the beginning of August 1942 hundreds of Jews were sent to Auschwitz.

In September 1942 some workshops were set up in the town. More than 1,000 Jews of the remaining survivors of the community worked there. They did everything to remain in work in the hope to be saved from Auschwitz.

In February 1943 the shops were the only concentration of Jews in the town.

In the middle of February 1943 the Jews were again called for a population count and as a result many were sent to Auschwitz. About 550 Jews, mostly men, were sent to the Labour Camps in Markstadt. After an additional group of Jews were sent to Auschwitz, Chrzanow was declared Judenrein. Only a few Jews remained who prepared the transport to Germany of the property the Jews had left behind. When their work was finished, they were sent to the ghetto in Sosnowice.


At the end of the war (1945) only a few hundred Jews of Chrzanow survived, among them 300 who had been in the Soviet Union. Others had returned from the Labour Camps. About 15,000 Jews who had passed through Chrzanow during the war period perished. This number included Jews from upper Silesia, Katowice, Oswiecim, Trzebinia and small villages in the vicinity.

In 1948 a memorial book of Chrzanow, written in Yiddish by Mordechai Buchner, was published. In 1989 an English translation was published in New York. A translation of the English version into Hebrew was published in Israel in 1994 by the association of the sons of Chrzanow.

Olkusz

A town in Krakow province, Poland

There was a Jewish settlement in Olkusz by the time of Casimir the Great (1333- -70) who expropriated the gold and silver mines in Olkusz belonging to his Jewish banker Levko. In 1374, however, Olkusz obtained the "privilege de non tolerandis judaeis"; Jews were debarred from residing there and left for Cracow.

During the reign of John Casimir (1648--69), a Jew, Marek Nekel, was granted the first concession to quarry in the hills and was allowed to trade in metals (1658). An agreement between the Jews and the municipality concluded in 1682 granted Jews domiciliary and trading rights on condition that they helped to defray the town debts; they were accordingly granted the customary privileges by John Sobieski (December 3, 1682) to enable their settlement.

The Olkusz community came under the jurisdiction of the Cracow community, but in 1692, the community of Olkusz and other towns in the district seceded from Cracow, a decision endorsed by the Council of the Four Lands. In 1764 there were 423 Jews living in Olkusz. The economic position of the town deteriorated in the 18th century after copper mines in the district had been ruined by the Swedish invasion.

A blood libel involving the Jews in Olkusz in 1787 was the last such case to occur in Poland before its partition. The principal Jew accused, a tailor, was sentenced to death, but the leaders of the community managed to obtain the intervention of King Stanislas Poniatowski and secure a reprieve. Under Austrian rule (1796--1809), the number of Jews living in Olkusz diminished, and when it was annexed to Russia the prohibition on Jewish settlement in border districts applied. However, there were 746 Jews living in Olkusz in 1856 (83.4% of the total population), 1,840 in 1897 (53.9%), 3,249 in 1909 (53%), 2,703 in 1921 (40.6%), and in 1939 about 3,000.

The Holocaust Period
The Germans entered the town on September 5, 1939 and subjected the Jews to beating and tormenting, plundering of property, kidnapping in the streets for hard labor, and religious persecution. The "Judenrat", created in October 1939, had to take care particularly of 800 deportees who came from other localities in upper Silesia. Transports of men to labor camps in the Reich commenced in October 1940 with the dispatch of 140 Jews. A second transport with 130 Jews left Olkusz in January 1941; the third, composed of 300 women, left in August 1941. In the spring of 1942, shortly before the liquidation of the community, the number of transports increased. In March 1942 150 women were shipped out, followed on April 20, 1942 by 140 men. One month later during "Shavuot" (21-23 May 1942) about 1,000 Jews, including women, were sent out. The victims of these transports were mainly the poor, particularly refugees and deportees; those with means could temporarily avoid such transports. By the end of 1941, a ghetto was established in a suburb. It was open and probably not fenced off, but leaving the ghetto was forbidden and the entrances were watched by German and Jewish police. There were, together with the new arrivals, about 3,000 Jews interned in the ghetto. In the last few months prior to the liquidation, transports to labor camps increased, and the German police on March 6, 1942, publicly hanged three Jews for illegally leaving the ghetto and smuggling food. Local Jews were forced to build the gallows and carry out the hanging. The final liquidation took place in June 1942. A "selekcja" was carried out to separate the able-bodied men for labor camps from the rest of the inhabitants, among them the local rabbi; the latter were all sent to Auschwitz. A group of some 20 Jews was left to clear up the ghetto; they were afterward deported and exterminated.

The community was not reconstituted after the war.

Galicia

Yiddish: גאַליציע (Galitsye); Polish: Galicja ; German: Galizien; Ukranian: Галичина (Halychyna); Russian: Galitsiya; Hungarian: Gácsország; Romanian: Galiţia; Czech, Slovak: Halič

Geographically part of east Europe, in S.E. Poland and N.W. Ukraine. Galician roots derive from the name of the Ukrainian town Halicz (in Ukranian: Halych), in the Middle Ages part of the Kyivan Rus.
 

21st Century

The special life and culture of the Galician shtetl of the olden days remain with us in the history, in the shtetls of the past, and in Hassidic stories and books.

The Galicia Jewish Museum in Kazimierz established in 2004 commemorates the victims of the Holocaust and holds on to Jewish Galician culture.

 

History

Galicia had great significance in the history of the Jewish European Diaspora. The Jews of Galicia formed a bond between the Jews of East and West Europe.

The Kingdom of Galicia was first established on land given to the Habsburg Empire with the first partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of 1772. Six towns amongst them Brody, Belz and Rogatin were close to entirely Jewish populated. Previous to the 1772 partition, Galicia was the Little Poland. The Galician Kingdom as such lasted until the early 20th century. The first chief rabbi (Oberlandesrabbiner) of Galicia was Aryeh Leib Bernstein with seat in Lemberg. After 1772 further lands were acquired to the Kingdom, and extended Galicia to the north and north west. The small Republic of Krakow joined the Kingdom in 1846 with the territory encompassing over an area of 20,000 square miles and this remained as such until the end of the Kingdom (1918). The 1860’s saw efforts toward democratic changes ensued by a period of an autonomous Galicia from 167-1918. Galicia was covered in the Emperor Joseph II (Josef Benedikt Anton Michel Adam), Holy Roman Emperor, statutes for the betterment of Jewish life. Amongst others, Jews were to take on German family names and governmental schools were set for the education of Jews. 

Galicia had historically during its existence under the Habsburg regime, been the land with one of the highest percentages of Jewish populations worldwide. At the time of the region's annexation to the Habsburg Empire in 1772, the Jewish population numbered 224,980 (9.6% of total), in 1857 448’971 (9.7%) and 871,895 (10.9%) in 1910. Distinguishing them from the rest of the Habsburg population was their Orthodox Judaism with distinctive mannerism, clothes and language. Their communities established commercial and trading platforms. In the towns, also smaller ones, Jews occupied retailing and craftsmanship work for household and garment ware such as textile, tailoring, hatters and furriers. Foreign trade was largely Jewish business with Russia, Turkey and Germany.

The last decades of the 18th century already saw the beginnings of the Haskalah with flourishing social and cultural Jewish life in those days and early 19th centuyr with its golden days from 1815-mid 19th century in Galicia with its center in Brody. Euducation and literature blooming in the 19th century, formed Galicia into a center for Judaism in creation and intellect while traditional Jewish learning was nevertheless not neglected in that century. Those days did see struggles between Hassidim and Mitnaggedim, Hassidim and Haskalah. Prominent figures came from the Belz dynasty, Zanz and Ruzhin. In the large cities Reform synagogues were sacred, the Lvov leadership placed a Reform Rabbi Abraham Kohn in the late 1830s who however faced severe adversity in 1848. There were Jewish schools with German as language of instruction and the 1830 and 1840s saw growth and increased influence of Maskilim. This twin striving for Haskalah and assimilation towards German culture took a change in the 60s and 70s, with the reigns shifting to more university oriented representatives alongside a trend accompanied by the strongly Orthodox to an absorption to more local Polish culture and policy. In the revolutionary parliament of 1848 sat a few Jews from Galicia. At the time some adverse policies were revoked by the government. In parallel there was an amelioration in the economic situation of Jews which also saw a heightened shift of Jews into the farming sector including the development of experimental Jewish farms.

From the late 1860s a separation occurred of the Aggudat Ahimm, the Polish assimilationists, from the German assimilationists. The former adherents of Orthodoxy brought together a rabbinical conference in Lvov which ruled that community voting was dependent upon adherence of members to the Shulhan Arukh. In that century there were several weekly and monthly periodicals published in Galicia in Hebrew and Yiddish. There occurred also from the 1860-1880s an anti-assimilationist tendency and new directions in Haskalah. This was greatly influenced by Peretz Smolenskin a Zionist and Hebrew writer. He was concerned with the Halaskah movement, an early and strong proponent of Jewish nation-state building and rejectionist of Judaism’s westernization. A first society for Palestine settlement was established in 1875 in Przemysl, south-east Poland and in the 1880s the Hovevei Zion gained ground. This was accompanied by increasing antisemitism on Polish territory with the assimilationist Aguddat Ahim halting publication in 1884 of written materials and going insofar as declaring the only Jewish future as emigration of Palestine or conversion to Christianity. Early Zionist organizations were established and publications were issued in the region of Lvov. In the early 1890s economic boycotts were imposed on Jews from exclusion on trade in agricultural goods and merchandize, alcohol and more. The Jewish population in Galicia faced poverty. Nevertheless, Zionist movements continued their efforts.

Alongside, the early 20th century saw the development of neo-romantic Yiddish literature mostly coming from the area of Lvov and influenced by a corresponding phenomenon in Vienna. One prominent writer was Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970) who would come to monument the Galician shtetls. Those days also saw the translation into the Yiddish of foreign literature. Such representatives were the Oscar Wilde, of which one of his most famous works are the humorous ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. World War I saw many Galician Jews flee to Hungary, Bohemia and Vienna, and in particular educated Galician Jews find refuge in Vienna. Those remaining suffered greatly under the Russians entry into Galicia. Ensuing in 1918 with the Polish-Ukranian war the unfortunate situation of minorities on Polish land increasingly led to the crumbling of the once Jewish-inspired Kingdom of Galicia. The Polish Republic took over the Galician land. Notwithstanding, deference to German and Polish culture and to the Polish nation, Hassidism and Zionist striving continued to sprout in the years until 1939, inklings of the Galician world remained with Hassidic communities as in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and New York. 

Galicia had historically during its existence under the Habsburg regime, been the land with one of the highest percentages of Jewish populations worldwide. Distinguishing them from the rest of the population were their Orthodox Judaism with distinctive mannerism, clothes and language. Their communities established commercial and trading platforms. With the mid-19th century nevertheless this population saw beginnings of wearing out. Those were the days of the onset of the Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment) with family life adhering to Orthodox Judaism while modernizing outwardly and seeing an improved standing in society and economy and reduced isolation. The trend was of assimilation of Galician Jews to Germans and then to Poles. This trend of the last decades of the 19th century amongst Galician Jews went in parallel to the Marxist striving for a workers’ revolution.

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The Jewish Community of Krzeszowice

קששוביצה

Krzeszowice

במקורות היהודים: קרשוביץ; בגרמנית: Kressendorf

עיירה באזור המטרופוליטני של קרקוב במחוז פולין קטן, פולין.

המקום מתועד לראשונה בשנת 1286 כאשר הוענק לו מעמד של כפר לפי חוקי מגדבורג. בין השנים 1620-1440 המקום היה בבעלות הבישופים של קרקוב. במאה ה-17 נתגלו תכונות רפואיות במעיינות הגופרית במקום. ב-1625 התחילו להשתמש במי הגופרית לריפוי מחלות בעדרי הבקר המקומי. בהמשך המקום התפתח כמקום מרפא בזכות המעינות. בשנת 1788 הוקם אתר מרחצאות שכונה בשם "ארמון ווקסהול" (Vauxhall).

לאחר חלוקות פולין בסוף המאה ה-18 וקונגרס ווינה בשנת 1815, האזור נכלל ב"מדינת קרקוב החופשית" הידועה גם בשם "דוכסות קרקוב". בשנת 1846 "דוכסות קרקוב" סופחה לאימפריה האוסטרית. בשנת 1829 הוקמו קששוביצה מרחצאות, בית חולים ובתי הבראה נוספים. ב-1847 העיירה חוברה אל מסילת הברזל מקרקוב למישלניצה, שלוחה של מסילת הברזל בין קרקוב לווינה.

במחצית השנייה של המאה ה-19 הוקמו בסביבת הכפר מחצבות אבן וסיד, פותחה תעשיית כלי חרס והוקמו מנסרות ומפעל לייצור חביות. בשנת 1918 קששוביצה נכללה בתחומי פולין העצמאית. בשנת 1933 קששוביצה קיבלה  מעמד של עיר.

 

היהודים בקששוביצה

התיישבות היהודים בקששוביצה החלה בסוף המאה ה-18. המשפחה היהודית הראשונה הייתה ככל הנראה משפחתו של חוכר הפונדק. בשנים האלה היהודים היו חלק מקהילת טשביניה (Trzebinia). עד לסיפוחה של קששוביצה לאימפריה האוסטרית בשת 1846, מספר היהודים במקום הגיע ל-19. היהודים שהתגוררו בקששוביצה (Krzeszowice), וכמו כן אלה שליו ביישובים רודאבה (Rudawa), אלוורניה (Alwernia) ואוקלשנה (Okleśna) קיבלו את שירותי הדת שלהם מקהילת אולקוש (Olkusz).

קהילת קששוביצה גדלה עם התפתחות הכפר בתחילת השלטון האוסטרי והקמת מפעלי התעשיה והקמת המרחצאות ובתי ההבראה. היהודים עסקו במסחר זעיר, ברוכלות בכפרי הסביבה ובמלאכה. היו ביניהם גם בעלי משקים חקלאיים בכפרי האזור.

במקום השתקע הרב צבי הירש ברוינפלד, תלמיד חכם. כרב הקהילה מסוף  המאה ה-19 כיהן הרב זיידא קלינגסברג. הקהילה הפעילה מקווה, בית כנסת עבור הגברים (ברחוב וונסקה 4) ובית כנסת עבור הנשים (ברחוב וונסקה 1). לחברת "ביקור חולים" האורתודוקסית, אשר עסקה בעזרה לנזקקים ולטיפול וסיוע לחולים, היה בית תפילה משלהם.

ערב מלחמת העולם הראשונה, ב-1910 היו במקום 472 יהודים אשר היוו 18% מכלל התושבים. בתום מלחמת העולם הראשונה  וכינונה של הרפובליקה הפולנית העצמאית בנובמבר 1918, כפריים מהאזור פרעו ביהודים, התנפלו על דוכני היהודים בשוק, היכו ושדדו את מרכולתם. ההתפרעויות נמשכו עד 1919. במאי ובספטמבר 1919, חיילי הלגיון הפולני של גנרל הלר פרעו ביהודים ביום השוק, פגעו קשה בדוכנים, היכו ושדדו את הסחורה שלהם. רק התערבות השלטונות שמה קץ לפרעות.

בתקופה שבין שתי מלחמות העולם גדלה והתפתחה הקהילה במקביל להתפתחותו של המקום כמרכז תעשייה, קייט ומרחצאות. במפקד באוכלוסין של שנת 1921 נמנו ביישוב 506 יהודים מתוך 2,928 כלל התושבים (17,3%).

במשרת הרבנות כיהן הרב משה חיים קליינברג. ביישוב הייתה פעילות תרבותית, פוליטית וציונית ערה. במהלך הבחירות ל"סיים" (הפרלמנט הפולני) ב-1928, האירגונים הציוניים תמכו ברשימת האיחוד היהודי הלאומי. ב-1926 פרץ סיכסוך בין הציונים לבין היהודים האורתודוקסים סביב לימודי השפה העברית. ילדי האורתודוקסים למדו בחדרים או בתלמוד תורה.

בשנות ה-1920 הוקמו סניפים של "הציונים הכללים", "החלוץ", "בית"ר", "עקיבא", "המכבי הצעיר" וסניף תנועת הנשים "ויצ"ו". אירגון "יהודה" (Yudea)  הקים ספרייה ואירגן קורסים ללימודי העברית. ב-1933 נחנך מועדון משותף לכל האירגונים הציוניים. ב-1935 תנועת הנוער "עקיבא", בהנהלת רינה מהלר- נזר, הקימה בחווה חקלאית על יד קששוביצה, "הכשרה" אשר הכינה את בני הנוער לעלייה לארץ ישראל. בוגרי ה"הכשרה" עלו למושב כפר יהושוע שבשרון.

ב-1939 חיו בקששוביצה כ-570 יהודים מתוך 3,500 תושבים.

 

תקופת השואה

ב-1 בספטמבר 1939 גרמניה הנאצית פלשה לפולין. קששוביצה נכבשת בימים הראשונים של ספטמבר. מיד לאחר הכיבוש, הגרמנים התחילו לחטוף יהודים לעבודות כפייה. כיושב ראש המועצה המקומית הועמד הפולני ברונו קוחנסקי (Kochański) מטרנוב, סמל בדימוס שפוטר בשעתו מהצבא הפולני. על היהודים נאסרה יציאה מהיישוב, פרט ליציאה לעיבוד המשקים החקלאיים שלהם, ונאסרה כל פעילות מסחרית ונדל"ן. היהודים הוכרחו לקוד קידה לפני כל גרמני שפגשו ולמסור את המצעים והרהיטים שלהם לגרמנים. היהודים ניסו להתנגד לגזרות הללו. מנהיגי הקהילה, יו"ר כץ, סגנו פילר והמזכיר, כינסו את נכבדי היהודים בבית הכנסת של האגודה "ביקור חולים". לאחר דיונים סוערים הוחלט שלא למלא את הצווים הללו. כשנודע הדבר, החיילים הגרמנים הקיפו את בית הכנסת, פרצו לתוכו והיכו את הנמצאים בו. למחרת זומנו ראשי הקהילה להתייצב לפני קוחנסקי. היו"ר והמזכיר התייצבו, אך פילר נעדר. קוחנסקי הציב אולטימטום של שעה, בסופו של דבר פילר נמצא במרתף ביתו וזומן למשפט. בגלל המרד הגרמנים הטילו על הקהילה כנס כבד והוגדלו עבודות החובה ליהודים. כץ, פילר והמזכיר נשלחו לכלא מונטלופיך (Montelupich) אשר בקרקוב. המזכיר מת בדרך לאחר שננעל בתא המטען של מכונית הגסטאפו, פילר לאחר חקירה ועינויים קשים מסר 15 שמות של תושבי קששוביצה הקשורים לשילטון הפולני. האנשים האלה נאסרו אף הם על ידי הגסטאפו.

האזור הועבר אדמיניסטראטיבית לגנרלגוברנמן של קרקוב. קבוצת יהודים צעירים הועסקו בשיפוץ ואחזקה של הארמון בקששוביצה שהיה שייך בעבר למשפחת האצילים פוטוצקי. בארמון השתקע מושלה של הגנרלגוברנמן האנס פראנק.

בתחילת 1940 החנויות, המפעלים והמחסנים של היהודים הועברו לרשותם של "נאמנים ארים". במאי 1940 הוקם בסמוך לקששוביצה מחנה עבודה ובו רוכזו יהודים מכל הסביבה. הם עבדו במפעלים ובמשקים חקלאיים. בסוף 1940 קבוצה של 18 צעירים יהודים נשלחה לעבודה במחנה הצבאי הגרמני בדמביצה (Dębica). חלקם חזרו לאחר זמן מה שבורים ורצוצים.

בקששוביצה הוקם סניף ה"יס.ס" האירגון היהודי לעזרה הדדית בקרקוב אשר הושיט סיוע לנזקקים.

ב-1941 רוכזו היהודים בגטו פתוח, אך הגבלות התנועה הוחמרו. ב-1 באפריל 1941 הודיע הנציב הגרמני לנטשל ליהודי קששוביצה שעליהם לעזוב את המקום לגטאות בקרקוב, טרנוב, בוכניה או סקאלה. בסוף 1941 חלק מהיהודים הועברו לגטו בסקאלה (Skała Małopolska). בקששוביצה הושארו כ-150 יהודים. בתחילת יולי 1942 הגרמנים ציוו על היהודים שעבדו במשקים חקלאיים בכפרים קששוביצה (Krzeszowice), לישקי (Liszki), צ'רניחוב (Czernichów), טנצ'ינק (Tenczynek) ונובה גורה (Nowa Góra) להתרכז בסקאווינה. תחילה נאמר ליהודים תושבי הכפרים הנ"ל שהם יכולים להביא איתם לסקאווינה את כל הרכוש הנייד למעט בהמות, עופות וכלים חקלאיים.

ראש המועצה הפולני של קראשוביץ, ברונו קוחנסקי, פיקח אישית על עזיבת היהודים ו"דאג" שאף אחד לא ישאר מאחור. ידוע שהוא במו ידיו הרג כמה יהודים. ב-7 ביולי מכל הכפרים נעו לסקאווינה כ-150 עגלות. שיירות היהודים הגיעו למעבר על נהר הוויסלה בפייקרי (Piekry), שם הועברו על המעבורת לצד השני לכפר טינייץ (Tyniec) ומשם רוכזו בשדה לפני סקאווינה. נערכה בהם סלקציה, כ-140 איש, זקנים, נכים ובלתי כשרים לעבודה נלקחו במשאיות ליער טינייץ (Tyniecki Las), כ-6 ק"מ מהעיר, שם היו כבר חפורים שלושה בורות. היהודים נצטוו להתפשט ונרצחו בתוך הבורות. מגוייסים ל"שרות הבנייה" פולנים כיסו את קברי הנרצחים. בין הנרצחים שם היו גם כמה יהודים מהאינטליגנציה של קרקוב שהסתתרו בכפר בנדקוביצה (Będkowice) ואשר נאסרו עוד בתחילת יולי באקציה שהייתה שם. 200 היהודים שנותרו מהסלקציה בשדה הובאו ב-8 ביולי לגטו סקאווינה. ב-29 באוגוסט 1942 הגרמנים ערכו סלקציה בקרב כ-2,000 היהודים שרוכזו בגטו סקאווינה. הכשרים לעבוד נשלחו למחנה עבודה בפלשוב (Płaszów). כ-180 זקנים, נכים וילדים נרצחו ביער פודבורי (Podbory) שליד סקאווינה, והנותרים נשלחו ב-30 באוגוסט למחנה השמדה בלז'ץ (Bełżec). גם משא האימים האחרון היה רווי בסבל, הרכבת עם הקורבנות עוד נראתה בקרקוב ב-3 בספטמבר 1942.

 

לאחר השואה

הצבא הסובייטי שיחרר את קששוביצה ב-19 בינואר 1945. ידועים בשמותיהם 67 יהודים והמשפחות שלהם, בעלי חנויות ומפעלים אשר נרצחו בשואה, 46 יהודים מהכפר ניצלו וחזרו לכפר, ביניהם משה גוולב (Gewolb), רגינה גינגולד, ריכרד קרומהולץ, אמיל ליפשיץ, עזריאל רבינוביץ', סלומון רבינוביץ', קרולינה סאס, אדוארד סמולאז'. הם לא הצליחו להאחז במקום שוב, הקהילה של קראשוביץ לא התחדשה.

הגרמנים חיללו את בתי הכנסת של הכפר. בית הכנסת של הגברים שימש לאחר המלחמה כמחסן. ב-2001 המקום שופץ ומשמש כבית תרבות. בית הכנסת של הנשים שימש תחילה כתחנת כיבוי אש, בתחילת המאה ה-21 םעלה במקום לפיצריה. בית התפילה של אגודת "ביקור חולים" נהרס על ידי הגרמנים.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Galicia
Olkusz
Chrzanow
Trzebinia
Krakow
Poland

Galicia

Yiddish: גאַליציע (Galitsye); Polish: Galicja ; German: Galizien; Ukranian: Галичина (Halychyna); Russian: Galitsiya; Hungarian: Gácsország; Romanian: Galiţia; Czech, Slovak: Halič

Geographically part of east Europe, in S.E. Poland and N.W. Ukraine. Galician roots derive from the name of the Ukrainian town Halicz (in Ukranian: Halych), in the Middle Ages part of the Kyivan Rus.
 

21st Century

The special life and culture of the Galician shtetl of the olden days remain with us in the history, in the shtetls of the past, and in Hassidic stories and books.

The Galicia Jewish Museum in Kazimierz established in 2004 commemorates the victims of the Holocaust and holds on to Jewish Galician culture.

 

History

Galicia had great significance in the history of the Jewish European Diaspora. The Jews of Galicia formed a bond between the Jews of East and West Europe.

The Kingdom of Galicia was first established on land given to the Habsburg Empire with the first partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of 1772. Six towns amongst them Brody, Belz and Rogatin were close to entirely Jewish populated. Previous to the 1772 partition, Galicia was the Little Poland. The Galician Kingdom as such lasted until the early 20th century. The first chief rabbi (Oberlandesrabbiner) of Galicia was Aryeh Leib Bernstein with seat in Lemberg. After 1772 further lands were acquired to the Kingdom, and extended Galicia to the north and north west. The small Republic of Krakow joined the Kingdom in 1846 with the territory encompassing over an area of 20,000 square miles and this remained as such until the end of the Kingdom (1918). The 1860’s saw efforts toward democratic changes ensued by a period of an autonomous Galicia from 167-1918. Galicia was covered in the Emperor Joseph II (Josef Benedikt Anton Michel Adam), Holy Roman Emperor, statutes for the betterment of Jewish life. Amongst others, Jews were to take on German family names and governmental schools were set for the education of Jews. 

Galicia had historically during its existence under the Habsburg regime, been the land with one of the highest percentages of Jewish populations worldwide. At the time of the region's annexation to the Habsburg Empire in 1772, the Jewish population numbered 224,980 (9.6% of total), in 1857 448’971 (9.7%) and 871,895 (10.9%) in 1910. Distinguishing them from the rest of the Habsburg population was their Orthodox Judaism with distinctive mannerism, clothes and language. Their communities established commercial and trading platforms. In the towns, also smaller ones, Jews occupied retailing and craftsmanship work for household and garment ware such as textile, tailoring, hatters and furriers. Foreign trade was largely Jewish business with Russia, Turkey and Germany.

The last decades of the 18th century already saw the beginnings of the Haskalah with flourishing social and cultural Jewish life in those days and early 19th centuyr with its golden days from 1815-mid 19th century in Galicia with its center in Brody. Euducation and literature blooming in the 19th century, formed Galicia into a center for Judaism in creation and intellect while traditional Jewish learning was nevertheless not neglected in that century. Those days did see struggles between Hassidim and Mitnaggedim, Hassidim and Haskalah. Prominent figures came from the Belz dynasty, Zanz and Ruzhin. In the large cities Reform synagogues were sacred, the Lvov leadership placed a Reform Rabbi Abraham Kohn in the late 1830s who however faced severe adversity in 1848. There were Jewish schools with German as language of instruction and the 1830 and 1840s saw growth and increased influence of Maskilim. This twin striving for Haskalah and assimilation towards German culture took a change in the 60s and 70s, with the reigns shifting to more university oriented representatives alongside a trend accompanied by the strongly Orthodox to an absorption to more local Polish culture and policy. In the revolutionary parliament of 1848 sat a few Jews from Galicia. At the time some adverse policies were revoked by the government. In parallel there was an amelioration in the economic situation of Jews which also saw a heightened shift of Jews into the farming sector including the development of experimental Jewish farms.

From the late 1860s a separation occurred of the Aggudat Ahimm, the Polish assimilationists, from the German assimilationists. The former adherents of Orthodoxy brought together a rabbinical conference in Lvov which ruled that community voting was dependent upon adherence of members to the Shulhan Arukh. In that century there were several weekly and monthly periodicals published in Galicia in Hebrew and Yiddish. There occurred also from the 1860-1880s an anti-assimilationist tendency and new directions in Haskalah. This was greatly influenced by Peretz Smolenskin a Zionist and Hebrew writer. He was concerned with the Halaskah movement, an early and strong proponent of Jewish nation-state building and rejectionist of Judaism’s westernization. A first society for Palestine settlement was established in 1875 in Przemysl, south-east Poland and in the 1880s the Hovevei Zion gained ground. This was accompanied by increasing antisemitism on Polish territory with the assimilationist Aguddat Ahim halting publication in 1884 of written materials and going insofar as declaring the only Jewish future as emigration of Palestine or conversion to Christianity. Early Zionist organizations were established and publications were issued in the region of Lvov. In the early 1890s economic boycotts were imposed on Jews from exclusion on trade in agricultural goods and merchandize, alcohol and more. The Jewish population in Galicia faced poverty. Nevertheless, Zionist movements continued their efforts.

Alongside, the early 20th century saw the development of neo-romantic Yiddish literature mostly coming from the area of Lvov and influenced by a corresponding phenomenon in Vienna. One prominent writer was Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970) who would come to monument the Galician shtetls. Those days also saw the translation into the Yiddish of foreign literature. Such representatives were the Oscar Wilde, of which one of his most famous works are the humorous ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. World War I saw many Galician Jews flee to Hungary, Bohemia and Vienna, and in particular educated Galician Jews find refuge in Vienna. Those remaining suffered greatly under the Russians entry into Galicia. Ensuing in 1918 with the Polish-Ukranian war the unfortunate situation of minorities on Polish land increasingly led to the crumbling of the once Jewish-inspired Kingdom of Galicia. The Polish Republic took over the Galician land. Notwithstanding, deference to German and Polish culture and to the Polish nation, Hassidism and Zionist striving continued to sprout in the years until 1939, inklings of the Galician world remained with Hassidic communities as in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and New York. 

Galicia had historically during its existence under the Habsburg regime, been the land with one of the highest percentages of Jewish populations worldwide. Distinguishing them from the rest of the population were their Orthodox Judaism with distinctive mannerism, clothes and language. Their communities established commercial and trading platforms. With the mid-19th century nevertheless this population saw beginnings of wearing out. Those were the days of the onset of the Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment) with family life adhering to Orthodox Judaism while modernizing outwardly and seeing an improved standing in society and economy and reduced isolation. The trend was of assimilation of Galician Jews to Germans and then to Poles. This trend of the last decades of the 19th century amongst Galician Jews went in parallel to the Marxist striving for a workers’ revolution.

Olkusz

A town in Krakow province, Poland

There was a Jewish settlement in Olkusz by the time of Casimir the Great (1333- -70) who expropriated the gold and silver mines in Olkusz belonging to his Jewish banker Levko. In 1374, however, Olkusz obtained the "privilege de non tolerandis judaeis"; Jews were debarred from residing there and left for Cracow.

During the reign of John Casimir (1648--69), a Jew, Marek Nekel, was granted the first concession to quarry in the hills and was allowed to trade in metals (1658). An agreement between the Jews and the municipality concluded in 1682 granted Jews domiciliary and trading rights on condition that they helped to defray the town debts; they were accordingly granted the customary privileges by John Sobieski (December 3, 1682) to enable their settlement.

The Olkusz community came under the jurisdiction of the Cracow community, but in 1692, the community of Olkusz and other towns in the district seceded from Cracow, a decision endorsed by the Council of the Four Lands. In 1764 there were 423 Jews living in Olkusz. The economic position of the town deteriorated in the 18th century after copper mines in the district had been ruined by the Swedish invasion.

A blood libel involving the Jews in Olkusz in 1787 was the last such case to occur in Poland before its partition. The principal Jew accused, a tailor, was sentenced to death, but the leaders of the community managed to obtain the intervention of King Stanislas Poniatowski and secure a reprieve. Under Austrian rule (1796--1809), the number of Jews living in Olkusz diminished, and when it was annexed to Russia the prohibition on Jewish settlement in border districts applied. However, there were 746 Jews living in Olkusz in 1856 (83.4% of the total population), 1,840 in 1897 (53.9%), 3,249 in 1909 (53%), 2,703 in 1921 (40.6%), and in 1939 about 3,000.

The Holocaust Period
The Germans entered the town on September 5, 1939 and subjected the Jews to beating and tormenting, plundering of property, kidnapping in the streets for hard labor, and religious persecution. The "Judenrat", created in October 1939, had to take care particularly of 800 deportees who came from other localities in upper Silesia. Transports of men to labor camps in the Reich commenced in October 1940 with the dispatch of 140 Jews. A second transport with 130 Jews left Olkusz in January 1941; the third, composed of 300 women, left in August 1941. In the spring of 1942, shortly before the liquidation of the community, the number of transports increased. In March 1942 150 women were shipped out, followed on April 20, 1942 by 140 men. One month later during "Shavuot" (21-23 May 1942) about 1,000 Jews, including women, were sent out. The victims of these transports were mainly the poor, particularly refugees and deportees; those with means could temporarily avoid such transports. By the end of 1941, a ghetto was established in a suburb. It was open and probably not fenced off, but leaving the ghetto was forbidden and the entrances were watched by German and Jewish police. There were, together with the new arrivals, about 3,000 Jews interned in the ghetto. In the last few months prior to the liquidation, transports to labor camps increased, and the German police on March 6, 1942, publicly hanged three Jews for illegally leaving the ghetto and smuggling food. Local Jews were forced to build the gallows and carry out the hanging. The final liquidation took place in June 1942. A "selekcja" was carried out to separate the able-bodied men for labor camps from the rest of the inhabitants, among them the local rabbi; the latter were all sent to Auschwitz. A group of some 20 Jews was left to clear up the ghetto; they were afterward deported and exterminated.

The community was not reconstituted after the war.

Chrzanów 

Hshanov, in Jewish sources

A town and seat of the Chrzanów County n the Lesser Poland Voivodeshi, Poland.

Chrzanow was mentioned as an urban center under private ownership in documents dating from 1393. During the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries it was known as a junction on the "salt route" that led from Krakow to Silesia. After the partition of Poland in 1772, Chrzanow like all of Galicia, came under the rule of the Austrian Empire. During the 19th century there was increased economic activity in the town because of its location close to the lead and tin mines and the establishment of factories in the town and its environs. from the middle of the 19th century the town became an important transportation junction in south western Poland.


it is assumed that some Jews resided in Chrzanow as early as the 17th century. In the middle of the 18th century there were 60 Jewish families in the town. Their number increased in the 19th century. During the first half of the 19th century the Jews established their community organizations and were under the jurisdiction of the Krakow community. In 1866 the Jewish community became independent.

A great fire during the 1870’s was a landmark for the Jewish community which dated events as occuring before the great fire or after it.

Most of the Jews in the town were religious, a minority were secular. there were Hasidim of the Sanz, Radomsk, Bobov, Belz, Gur, Zalishitz, Krimilov, Grodziak, Husiatin and other dynasties who supported their own prayer houses (Stiblach), other Jews prayed in the regular synagogues. There were about 30 prayer-houses and synagogues in the town, among them the great synagogue where rabbi Leibish Meisels was the Hazzan (Cantor) and the large study-house where rabbi Hersh Leib Bakon served as Hazzan.

The first rabbi to serve in the town was rabbi Shlomo Buchner. He served the community until his death in 1820. After his death, for a period of twenty years there was only a Dayan (Jewish judge). Meantime the influence of the Sanz Hasidim increased and rabbi David Halverstam of the Sanz dynasty was appointed to the position of town rabbi. During his tenure there was discord between the Sanz Hasidim and the Radomsk Hasidim. After his death in 1895 there were two rabbis serving in Chrzanow. The last rabbi in the town was rabbi Mendel, the son of rabbi Naphtali, and during his tenure the rabbinate was unified.

Rabbi Mendel was killed in the Holocaust. In the period between the two World Wars, two chairmen of the Jewish community council were Bobov Hasidim, which demonstrated their important position in Chrzanow. The two largest Yeshivot in the town were also Hasidic, the "Keter Torah" Yeshiva of the Radomsk Hasidim, headed by rabbi Haim Tobias, and the "Ets Haim" Yeshiva of the Bobov Hasidim, headed by rabbi Ziskind Gottlieb and rabbi Haim Yaacov Weissblum.

In spite of the fact that there were anti-semitic disturbances in the town in 1898 and some families left for Krakow, the Jewish population grew and was 50% of the general population. In 1900 there were 5504 Jews who were 54% of the general population. Half the members of the town council were Jews. In the elections of 1910, the poles led by the priest Kaminsky who agitated for economic measures against the Jews, tried to reduce the Jewish representation in the council. The Austrian authorities invalidated the elections but in the new elections in 1912 the Jews again succeeded in receiving their due representation.

Public groups in all spheres of life, religion and tradition, charity and culture, began to organize at the beginning of the 19th century. The "Mahazikei Limud" society published a periodical "The Jewish Religious Worker” and organized a lending library for Hebrew, Polish and Yiddish books. They also supported a drama group that performed plays.

The Jewish elementary school established by Baron Hirsch was active from 1902. In 1903 an orphanage supported by the Jewish community council was opened. Besides the traditional Jewish schools there was a general elementary school. After World War I a girls' school "Beth Yacob” was founded. The number of Jewish children who studied in the general school system also increased.

Charitable institutions and interest-free loan societies were active.

On November 5, 1918 there were riots against the Jews. Shops were looted, Jews were beaten and injured and two were killed. Those Jews who tried to organize self-defense were arrested and their arms confiscated. In 1919 the soldiers of the Polish General Haller, an avowed anti-semite, attacked the town. They beat Jews, looted their property and used the study-house as a stable for their horses.

During the entire period between the two World Wars, the Jews of Chrzanow were victims of anti-semitic attacks by the gangs who were active in the town and surrounding area. The authorities did nothing to prevent the attacks on the Jewish population. In 1935 a gang of Fascist Poles rioted in the town and desecrated the Jewish cemetery.

Chrzanow was mainly a center of commerce and crafts even though there were coal mines in the area. Thursday was market day.

In the second half of the 18th century the Jews earned their living from tailoring and hat making. There were also goldsmiths and silversmiths. In the 19th century the economy expanded and Jews traded in furs and food products even beyond the borders of the state. Towards the middle of the 19th century the number of Jews who engaged in retail trade and small industry grew. The clothing industry started to develop mostly under Jewish ownership. The tailors of Chrzanow who emigrated to Berlin laid the foundations of the garment industry there.

Until World War I some Jews found their living in upper Silesia, which was then under Prussian rule. Another source of income for the Jews was money changing.

Jewish scholars in Chrzanow worked to make a living. There were tailors, cobblers and coachmen among them. The well known Magid of Chrzanow, rabbi Moshe Hochbaum was the son of a cobbler who himself worked as a pastry baker.

World War I destroyed many sources of income and caused great economic distress among the Jews. Jewish organizations in Krakow, Katowice and Vienna and the regional aid committee, whose center was in Krakow, helped the community. Loans were granted by the Joint Distribution Committee to Jewish merchants and owners of factories and workshops.

In 1928 the "Jewish Folksbank" and the "Yad Harutzim" society of Jewish craftsmen were founded.


The first Zionist group "Bnei Zion" began to organize in 1893 and started its activities in 1898 after the first Zionist Congress in 1897. The first members were the students in the study-house who concealed their Zionist activities from their families. The first Zionist families were those of Leibel and Fanny Zipper and Mordecai Shaul and Hanna Schwarzbart. Their sons Dr. Shmuel and Dr. Yitzhak (Isadore) Scwarzbart were known for their Zionist activities in the period preceding World War I (1914-1918), a period of political and cultural assimilation. Dr. Zipper, a lawyer by profession, served as vice- chairman of the town council and fought for the rights of the Jews. After World War I Dr. Schwarzbart served as general secretary of the Zionist organizations in western Galicia and Silesia. In 1921 he was appointed editor of the polish newspaper "Nowy Dziennik". He was a delegate to most of the Zionist congresses and during the 30’s was a member of the Polish parliament (Sejm).

At the beginning of the 20th century there were branches of Agudat Israel and the Bund (Jewish socialist party) besides the Zionist organizations. In 1908 a branch of Poalei-Zion was organized and became the center of Zionist and cultural activity in the town. After the war the party was divided and the Hitahdut Zionist party with its youth movement Gordonia took the center of the stage. In 1912 a youth group "Jugeng" and a women group "Yehudit" were formed. During the years 1910-1914 a society called "Rachel" organized a center to prepare girls of the Zionist youth groups for work in Eretz Israel. They also spread the Zionist message. Their library encouraged cultural activity. The branch of Ha-Mizrachi in the town was active in combating anti- Zionist propaganda. Their youth group Hashomer Hadati was active.

In the period between the two World Wars there were branches of all the Zionist organizations and their affiliated youth groups in Chrzanow. They organized courses in Hebrew and founded libraries which conducted various cultural activities. In 1928 the Zionist sport group Maccabi was founded. The women’s organization WIZO was also active in the town.


In 1921 there were 6,328 Jews in Chrzanow, 56% of the total population of 11,392.


The Holocaust period

Several days before the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) many residents fled the town, among them Jews. Most of the Jews returned after several days. On September 4, the town was occupied by the Germans and on that same day Jews were imprisoned in the synagogue. On September 8, the Germans seized 30 Jews from Chrzanow near Trzebinia and murdered them. Refugees from the town who succeeded in reaching the Soviet Zone were later deported to the interior of the Soviet Union at the end of June 1940.

In October the Germans appointed a Judenrat (Jewish council) whose task was to register the Jewish population, to supply the Germans Forced Labour, to collect “contributions" from the Jewish community and to hand over to the Germans goods and valuables. In order to guarantee the execution of their orders, the Germans seized hostages from among the important members of the Polish and the Jewish communities. A young Jew and a young Pole were executed on the pretext that they had committed sabotage against the German occupying forces.

In December 1939 the Jews were ordered to wear identifying badges on their arms, ribbons with the star of David. Now they were at the mercy of the Germans who harassed them on the town streets. Every day Jews were seized on the streets until the day’s quota of Forced Labour was filled. Jews were beaten sometimes till their death.

In March 1940 Bezalel Zucker was appointed chairman of the Judenrat. The Judenrat tried to ease the suffering of the Jews by sponsoring activities and distributing meals. The children were centered under the supervision of teachers and nursemaids. A youth club organized cultural and educational activities. The health department opened a clinic. The Judenrat earned the respect of the community, succeeded in bribing the heads of the German police and were able to prevent cruel acts against the Jews. They reopened the Jewish public baths and held public services on the high holidays.

In October 1940 the central Judenrat of Sosnowice seized 300 Jews from Chrzanow and sent them to the Labor Camps in Gogolin and Sakrau in upper Silesia.

In order to prevent the deportation of the young people to work-camps the Judenrat looked for places of work in the town itself. In the end they found working places for Jews in the rubber factory nearby Trzebinia and the mines near the town. At the end of 1940 the Jews were forced to leave the mixed neighborhoods and were concentrated in one area, prepared as a ghetto. The center of the town was declared Judenrein (free of Jews) and Jews were forbidden to go there.

At the beginning of 1941 Jewish firms were taken over by Aryans, the Jewish owners were forced to appoint German managers. In the spring of 1941 Jews who had been deported from Oswiecim (where the Death Camp Auschwitz had been built) were brought to Chrzanow. On May 9 the Jews were assembled in the square near the gymnasium and their work permits were examined. Hundreds of Jews without permits were sent to Labour Camps in upper Silesia. The conditions in the camps were harsh. On May 25 hundred of Jews were seized in the town and sent to Forced Labour Camps. Many young Jews evaded the round-ups and the central Judenrat in Sosnowice, which did not trust the local Judenrat to comply fully with the German demands, sent their own Jewish police to seize men for the Labour Camps.

At the beginning of 1942 the chairman of the Judenrat Bezalel Zucker and other members were interrogated cruelly, accused of disobedience and sabotage and sent to the Death Camp in Auschwitz.

At the end of April 1942 seven Jews were hung publicly in the town square accused of smuggling food. At the beginning of May in that same year additional Jews were sent to Auschwitz. After that there were "actions" to expose "food offenders". Those caught were also sent to the Death Camp in Auschwitz.

In the "action" on May 30 1942 a selection was carried out in the place where the Jews were assembled. They were divided into three groups. One group was left to work in the town, the second group was sent to Labor Camps and the third group which included about 3,000 people, mostly elderly sick people, women and children were sent to Auschwitz. In June that year additional groups were sent to Labour Camps. At the end of July or the beginning of August 1942 hundreds of Jews were sent to Auschwitz.

In September 1942 some workshops were set up in the town. More than 1,000 Jews of the remaining survivors of the community worked there. They did everything to remain in work in the hope to be saved from Auschwitz.

In February 1943 the shops were the only concentration of Jews in the town.

In the middle of February 1943 the Jews were again called for a population count and as a result many were sent to Auschwitz. About 550 Jews, mostly men, were sent to the Labour Camps in Markstadt. After an additional group of Jews were sent to Auschwitz, Chrzanow was declared Judenrein. Only a few Jews remained who prepared the transport to Germany of the property the Jews had left behind. When their work was finished, they were sent to the ghetto in Sosnowice.


At the end of the war (1945) only a few hundred Jews of Chrzanow survived, among them 300 who had been in the Soviet Union. Others had returned from the Labour Camps. About 15,000 Jews who had passed through Chrzanow during the war period perished. This number included Jews from upper Silesia, Katowice, Oswiecim, Trzebinia and small villages in the vicinity.

In 1948 a memorial book of Chrzanow, written in Yiddish by Mordechai Buchner, was published. In 1989 an English translation was published in New York. A translation of the English version into Hebrew was published in Israel in 1994 by the association of the sons of Chrzanow.

Trzebinia

A town in Chrzanów County, Lesser Poland, Poland/

Trzebinia, recorded as a village in the 13th century, was in the area that Austria annexed during the third division of Poland. In the course of time, with the discovery of silver and lead ores in the vicinity, industrial and manufacturing plants were established, around which a town sprang up. The development of Trzebinia occurred after it was linked to the railroad line between Vienna and Cracow. Following World War I (1914-1918) it was once again included within the boundaries of Poland. In 1931 Trzebinia (the town and the village) was granted the status of a city.

Jews settled in Trzebinia at the end of the 17th century. Until the beginning of the 19th century they belonged to the Chrzanow Jewish community, and only later became an independent community. At that time Rabbi Israel Kloger officiated as rabbi of the community. His son, Rabbi Haim Kloger, author of Pri Haim (Fruit of Life) succeeded him, followed by Rabbi Moshe Yonah Levy. His son, Rabbi Yaakov Levy, was appointed rabbi after him. The latter was blessed with many children, and one of them, Rabbi Israel, officiated as the community's judge during his father's term as rabbi. With the death of Rabbi Yaakov Levy in 1923, there Rabbi Benjamin Levy and Rabbi Dov Berish Weidenfeld. The latter was chosen. He served as head of the famous yeshiva Kohav Meyaakov (Star of Jacob), wrote the book of responsa, questions and answers on matters of Jewish law Dovev Miyashrim and was known as the Gaon of Trzebinia (the genius of Trzebinia). Rabbi Weidenfeld spent World War II in Russia, later settling in Israel, where he established the yeshiva Kochav Meyaakov in Jerusalem. Rabbi Akivah, son of Rabbi Yehezkel Gross, founded in Trzebinia the Torah Crown yeshiva of the Domask Hasidim.
In 1921 out of a total population of 1,317, there were 915 Jews residing in the town. That same year an additional heder (religious elementary school) was opened for the town's children. In 1932 the admor (Hasidic leader) of Bobowa, Rabbi Benzion son of Rabbi Halberstam, settled there.

During the second half of the 19th century, with the development of the mines and expansion of local industry, Jewish settlement grew until almost all the inhabitants of Trzebinia were Jews, and in 1914 a Jew, Rabbi Issar Mandelbaum, served as its mayor. On the Sabbath the whole town life came to a standstill, and on Passover it was impossible to obtain bread there.

Early in November 1918, with the end of World war I and the renewal of Poland's independence, the authorities prevented the Jews of Trzebinia from taking part in the celebrations. Fearing an outbreak of antisemitism, the Jews formed their own militia for self-defense. The head of the town's Polish militia disarmed the Jewish organization and just a few days later pogroms indeed began. The rioters attacked Jews, beat them, plundered their shops, broke into the synagogue and desecrated the torah scrolls. An army unit from the district city Cracow refrained from interfering and only a Pole, Adam Tzerlog, came out against the rioters.

The Jews of Trzebinia dealt in petty trade, crafts and peddling in neighboring villages. A few were suppliers for the local industry. In the period between the two world wars, the local Jewish settlement suffered from economic stagnation, and after the war it was in need of aid from the Joint Distribution Committee, which augmented the funds of the local Free Loan Society, thus enabling it to give substantial help to the needy. In the years of the worldwide Great Depression (1929-1931) the women's league ran a people's kitchen. After the court of the admor of Bobowa was established in Trzebinia (1932) with thousands of Hasidim pouring into the town, more opportunities for the local Jews became available.

The first group devoted to Zionist activity was organized in Trzebinia in 1912, a library and lecture hall were also erected at the same time. Between the two world wars the Heatid club of the General Zionists organized evening classes for studying Hebrew and Judaism, and opened an additional library. At the same time, the youth movements Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, the Hebrew Youth subsequently the Zionist Youth and Akivah were active.

The Jews of Trzebinia took part in the 1935 elections to the Zionist Congress, most of them voting for the General Zionist.

In 1939 more than 1,300 Jews were living in Trzebinia.


The Holocaust Period

At the end of August 1939 a number of Trzebinia Jews were drafted into the Polish army and a few of them participated in the preparation of the city's anti-aircraft defenses. Already on September 1st, with the outbreak of war, the German air force bombed the city and its inhabitants began a mass flight, many Jews joining those fleeing eastward in an attempt to cross the border into the Soviet Union. In the meantime, German army units cut off the routes eastward and the Jews stopped in east Galicia, and suffering from want, gradually began to return to Trzebinia. A few of them were murdered on the way, and about 70 of them were executed by German soldiers who ambushed them on the road from Trzebinia to Kashanov. They were murdered there and on the football field and buried in mass graves on the sites of the slaughter. Two years later, with permission of the authorities, they were given a Jewish burial in the Jewish cemetery in Kashanov.

During the first days of the conquest the German soldiers, the Volksdeutsche (Germans born in Poland) and the Polish rabble plundered the stores and homes of the Jews.

Trzebinia was in the territory annexed to the German Reich (in eastern upper Silesia) and the decrees of the Nazi racist laws were already imposed on the Jews at the beginning of October 1939. They were ordered to wear the yellow patch, their movement in town was limited, and they were placed under curfew. Their valuables were taken away, Jewish businesses were closed down, some of them being given to loyal Aryans, and only a few were left to serve the local Jewish population. The Jewish community was required every day to supply workers for forced labor, and to pay ransom from time to time. Jews were seized in the streets and whoever was found disobeying the German orders was liable for transfer to the Auschwitz extermination camp.

In 1940 many young Jews secretly left the city in order to cross the border into the Soviet Union. Those who succeeded met with difficulty in finding employment and housing and some of them were even exiled to distant regions of the Soviet Union.

At the end of 1940 and beginning of 1941 the Germans began seizing Jewish men for forced labor in Germany and fortifying the frontier with the Soviet Union. Many died because of the back-breaking work and the inhuman conditions at the beginning of 1941 the Jews of Trzebinia were concentrated in several streets which became a ghetto. At first the ghetto was open, but gradually the Jews were forbidden to leave it, and their distress grew.

Within the ghetto members of the community developed mutual aid, set up a public kitchen for the needy and took care of the children's education by secretly operating classes on a variety of subjects.
On the 13th of Sivan 5702 (July 1942) S.S. units and German policemen surrounded the ghetto. The Jews were ordered to come to the cattle market square (Targowica) where a selection was held. One group of young men were sent to labor camps in Germany, another to the nearby city, Kashanov, to work in enterprises of vital importance to the Germans, and on the 22nd of Sivan 5702, the rest were sent to the Auschwitz death camp. Only a few of the Jews of Trzebinia remained alive at the end of the war.

In the summer of 1986 members of the Jewish community who visited the city found the Jewish cemetery broken into and in ruins. The few tombstones remaining in place had been shattered. The main synagogue, which had been turned into a garage by the Germans, was destroyed by the Poles after the war, and on the site an apartment building had been put up. The synagogue Chevrat Bikur Cholim was turned into a carpenter's shop for making coffins. This matter was brought to the attention of the ministry of religion in Israel.

In 1990 the Israel organization of former Trzebinia residents arranged for the restoration of the Jewish cemetery, and on August 13, 1990 a monument in memory of the Holocaust victims was unveiled. The survivors of the Trzebinia community and representatives of Jewish institutions and of the government participated in the ceremonies.

Krakow

Cracow

A district city in Western Galicia, south Poland.

Its situation on the Vistula river and the commercial route to Prague attracted an influx of immigrants from Germany, with whom the first Jews arrived in 1257.


Early days

In 1335 King Kazimiez the Great founded the town of Kazimierz near the southern end of ancient Krakow and it was there that the Jews settled. For over four centuries the Jews of Kazimierz struggled for the right to work and trade in Krakow proper. At the end of the fourteenth century construction was begun of a large synagogue in Gothic style. It was completed in 1407 and became known as the Alte Shul in Yiddish and Stara Boznica in Polish. It is the oldest medieval synagogue in Poland which is still preserved. In the early fifteen century Jacob Pollack settled there and established the first Yeshiva.

In the early 16th century many Jews from Bohemia Moravia [similar to today's Czech Republic] settled in the town but some of their customs differed from those of the Polish Jews causing disputes between the two groups. Quiet returned only when the rabbis of both groups died. In the succeeding years of the 16th century further immigrants arrived from Germany, Italy. Others came from Spain and Portugal, no doubt including some new-Christians who had decided to revert to Judaism after the Spanish had continued to persecute them. This group included a number of wealthy Jews and physicians who had been enticed by special financial privileges from the king of Poland. It was only in 1563, after appeals from community leaders, that the king stopped this practice. The 16th and first half of the 17th century was a period of cultural advance by the Jews of Krakow-Kazimierz. By 1644 there were seven synagogues including the Alte Shul and the Rema Synagogue named after the Moses Isserles. A number of yeshivot were founded in the town- they made Krakow an important centre of Jewish learning. From 1650 Yomtov Lippman Heller was the rabbi. In 1666 the community was deeply influenced by the Shabbatean messianic movement. By the end of the 16th century the community was controlled by a small number of wealthy families. The leadership known as a minor sanhedrin consisted of 4 rashim [leaders], 14 council member plus five rabbis. The actual duties of administration were assumed in rotation; each of the rashim was Parnas Hahodesh [leader of the month].


17th-18th Centuries

In the 1630s many Jews fleeing from the devastation of the 30 Years War in Germany arrived in Krakow, while in the 1648-9 many others came from Ukraine to escape the Chmielnicki massacres. The community suffered serious damage during the Swedish invasion of Poland in 1655-1660 ["the Deluge"] – many shops were looted and property damaged. When Polish rule was restored the Jews were accused of collaboration with the enemy and attacks on Jewish property resumed, mainly by students and local hooligans. The kings who had previously protected the Jews were now powerless to intervene. There were s number of blood libels and in 1663 Mattathias Calahora was burned at the stake. In 1667 some one thousand Jewish residents died of the plague and most of the Jewish quarter was abandoned. The community was unable to pay its taxes and was saved only when they were granted a moratorium on the payment of their taxes and debts to the state. The non-Jewish majority was not so easy to placate. They demanded the banning of Jews from doing business in the town. Jews were also forbidden to enter the town on Sundays or Christian festivals.

The nobility and the townsfolk were increasingly hostile to the Jews as the religious tolerance that dominated the mentality of the previous generations of Commonwealth citizens was slowly forgotten. The rise of the group of wealthy Jewish families (Oligarchs) was accompanied by worsening economic conditions amongst the majority of the community and therefore be increased social tensions between the two sections. The costs incurred in the struggle against the non-Jewish elements who were continuing bringing libel cases against the Jews and the need to provide financial support for increasing numbers of impoverished Jews forced the community to take out loans from wealthy Christians and the church. During the troubles of 1722-1768 the Jews of Kazimierz suffered both at the hands of the Polish and Russian armies. Known as the `Confederacy of the Bar', it was marked by violence perpetrated against the Jews by both the Russians and the Poles who regarded the Jews as their enemies. Jews were hung on branches of trees and both sides demanded that the Jews provide them with food, housing and help with espionage. In 1772-1776 Kazimierz became part of Austria while Krakow remained in Poland. Then in 1776 Kazimierz was returned to Poland. However Jews were still forbidden to do business in Krakow and a heavy tax was imposed on the community of Kazimierz. Many Jews left the area for Warsaw or other more hospitable towns. During the 1780s Chasidism began to influence the Jews of Krakow. The movement gained many adherents especially amongst the poorer members of the community. Special synagogues were opened up by the Hassidim but the Mitnagdim imposed a ban [Herem] on them in 1785 and 1797.


19th Century

In 1795 Krakow and the surrounding areas were again annexed by Austria and in 1799 the Austrian authorities ordered all Jewish businesses to be removed from Krakow proper (i.e. not from Kazimierz). From 1800 the government determined that the exercise of civil and voting rights were dependent on the payment of a Candle tax- a tax which hit hardest the poorer people. In 1809 Krakow became part of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Some, but not all, of the restrictions and special taxes imposed by the Austrians were cancelled. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 the Republic of Krakow was established. It survived until 1846. Jews were permitted to reside outside of Kazimierz if they had received a high standard of secular education, if they wore “modern” clothing and if they owned property valued at more than 5000 zloty. (In 1848 just 198 Jews out of 13,000 met these qualifications). In addition the communal organization was abolished and replaced by a committee for Jewish affairs headed by a Christian chairman. From 1832 the rabbi of Krakow was Dov Berush Meisels. He was widely respected despite opposition from the Hassidim headed by Rabbi Saul Raphael Landau. In 1844 the first Reform Synagogue was established in the town.

In 1846 Krakow was returned to Austria. The Jews of Vienna started to raise funds to assist the needy Jews of Kazimierz. As a result of the revolution two years later which granted civil and voting rights to all, Jews were for the first time elected to the Greater Krakow municipal council, with a programme of greater social justice within the community. They demanded the abolition of the tax levied on kosher meat, proposing instead a tax on poultry which was consumed mainly by the wealthy. The Jews demanded also that the inflated salaries of communal officials be reduced, that the communal hospital by run by the community itself instead of by the Hevra Kadisha. The demanded also that the privileges of the leading wealthy families ("The Oligrarchs") be abolished.

In the 1848 elections to the Austrian parliament in Vienna Rabbi Meisels was returned as the deputy for Krakow. As a Jewish element in the 1848 revolutionary ferment there was established the 'Society for the Spiritual and Material Assimilation of the Jews', which was intended to establish Jews as an integral part of Polish society. When Rabbi Meisels was appointed to a position in Warsaw, he was replaced by Rabbi Simeon Schreiber-Sofer, a strict traditionalist who frequently clashed with the Reform/Assimilationist congregation in the town lead by Joseph Ettinger and Rabbi Simon Dankovitch. After the granting of full emancipation to the Jews of Krakow in 1867-8 they were for the first time permitted to live anywhere in Krakow or Kazimierz. In place of traditional communal organizations a new Jewish religious council was established in which the assimilationist intelligentsia had the upper hand. In 1869 a total of 26 Jewish students were studying that the law faculty and the medical school of the University of Krakow and a further ten at the town's technical college. In the following decade some 200 Jewish pupils attended the municipal secondary schools and teachers' training college. The first Hebrew school, headed by Av Beth Din Chaim Arieh Horowitz, was established in 1874. The first secular Hebrew lending library was opened in Krakow in 1876. The Jewish education system in the town included chadarim and Yeshivot as well as elementary and secondary schools with Polish and German as the languages of instruction.

Towards the end of the 19th century the Zionist movement came to Krakow. To a major degree this was in response to increased anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish pogroms which made many of the Jews feel insecure. They often joined the waves of Polish emigrants to the USA. Others, especially those who spoke German, went to live in Vienna. Those who remained were the Zionists. The first Chovevei Zion society was established in Krakow by Simeon Sofer and and Aaron Markus in the 1880s and the Sfat Emet society was started there in 1892. HaHevrah LeIvrit LeTarbut (the Hebrew culture society) was also active. From 1897 political Zionism led by Osias Thon and Julius Schenwetter started to attract support. Other communal organizations included an academic society Shachar, news magazine Der Yiddishe Arbeiter, the organ of HaPoalei Zion, which was published between 1905 and 1914. In 1900 an independent group established itself in order to fight for civil equality for the Jews. This group was headed by Ignaz Landau and Adolf Gross. Krakow was the centre of all Zionist activity in western Galicia.


Between the Two World Wars

The rise of Polish nationalism, the upheavals in the aftermath of World War I brought widespread unemployment and famine to the area coupled with vicious anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitic party, Endecja, attempted to direct the discontent of the Polish masses against the Jews. The Jewish youth of Krakow, led by Jacob Billik and Y.Alster, tried to organize self-defence measures which succeeded in stopping riots started by followers of the Polish anti-Semitic general Haller in 1918- and 1919.

In 1921 the Jewish population of Krakow was estimated to be 45,000 while in 1931 it had risen to 57,000 out of some 220,000. At the beginning of World War II the Jewish population had risen to 60,000. Between the two world wars Krakow remained an important centre of Jewish political and social life. The Polish language Zionist daily newspaper Nowy Ziennik was published there and most Zionist organizations continued to be active. The Bundist magazine, Walka, was published between 1924 and 1927. The poorer segments of the community continued to live in Kazimierz.


The Holocaust

A few days after the outbreak of war in September 1939 the Germans entered Krakow and the persecution of the Jews began. The Jewish Community Council building and several synagogues were destroyed. A Judenrat with 24 members was appointed in November under Dr Mark Bieberstein and Wilhelm Goldblatt. In the summer of 1940 the two were arrested by the Gestapo. In April 1940 the Germans ordered 75% of the Jews to leave the town. In March 1941 a ghetto was erected and 20,000 Jews were forced to live within its confines. In June 1942 some 6,000 Jews were sent to the Belzec death camp wile a further 300 were shot inside the ghetto. Among the victims were the writer Mordechai Gebirtig and the new head of the Judenrat Arthur Rozenzweig. In October 1942 another 7,000 were sent to their deaths at Belzec. In March 1943 the remainder were sent to Auschwitz.

The Jewish underground began to organize in 1940 and by 1942 they were known as the Jewish Combat Organization headed by Heshek Bauminger, Aharon Liebeskind, Gola Mira, Shimshon Drenger and Abraham Leibowitz-Laban. The organization was in contact with Jewish partisans on the area and also the Warsaw Ghetto. Probably the most famous of their exploits was the attack on the Cyganeria coffee house in the town centre which was a popular meting place for German soldiers. They were also responsible for sabotage on local railway lines. After the liquidation of the ghetto in Krakow the group was active in the Plaskow labour camp. In the Zablocie district of Krakow Oscar Schindler had a factory which he used to save 1,098 Jews from Plaszow.

Some 2,000 survivors returned to the town in 1945-6 after the war, most had been living in Russia. Fearing a pogrom they made no attempt to reestablish the Jewish quarter in Kazimierz. In 1968 the last of the Jews left Kazimierz, the oldest synagogue, the Hoyche Shul became a Jewish museum and only the cemetery was restored with contributions from American and Canadian Jews. After the exodus of 1967-9 just 700 Jews remained in the town but only about 200 identify themselves with the Jewish community.

In 1997 there were 8,000 Jews living in Poland, most of them in the capital Warsaw, a few hundred in Krakow.

Poland

Rzeczpospolita Polska -  Republic of Poland 

A country in central Europe, member of the European Union (EU).

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 4,500 out of 38,500,000 (0.01%). Main umbrella organization of the Jewish communities:

Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland - Związek Gmin Wyznaniowych Żydowskich w Polsce (ZGWŻP)
Phone: 48 22 620 43 24
Fax: 48 22 652 28 05
Email: sekretariat@jewish.org.pl
Website: http://jewish.org.pl/

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Poland

1096 | Migration of the Heretics

Where did the Jews come to Poland from? Scholars are divided on this question, but many believe that some came from the Khazar Kingdom, from Byzantium and from Kievan Rus, while most immigrated from Western Europe – from the Lands of Ashkenaz.
One of the theories is that the “butterfly effect” that led the Jews of Ashkenaz to migrate to Poland began with a speech by Pope Urban II, who in 1096 called for the liberation of the holy sites in Jerusalem from the Muslim rule. The Pope's call ignited what would come to be known as The Crusades - vast campaigns of conquest by the Christian faithful, noble and peasant alike, who moved like a tsunami from Western Europe to the Middle East, trampling, stealing and robbing anything they could find along the way.
Out of a fervent belief that “heretics” were “heretics”, be they Jews or Muslims, the militant pilgrims made sure not to bypass the large Jewish communities in the Ashkenaz countries, where they murdered many of the local Jews, mostly in the communities of Worms and Mainz on the banks of the Rhine. Following these massacres, known in Jewish historiography as the Massacres of Ttn”u (after the acronym of the year of Hebrew calendar), Jews started migrating east, into the Kingdom of Poland.

1264 | The Righteous Among The Nations from Kalisz.

In the 13th century Poland was divided into many districts and counties, and to rule them all an advanced bureaucratic system was required. In 1264 the Polish prince Boleslav, also known as the Righteous One of Kalisz (Kalisz was a large city in the Kingdom of Poland) issued a bill of rights that granted the Jews extensive freedom of occupation as well as freedom of religious practice. This bill of rights (privilegium, in Latin) allowed many Jews – literate merchants, experts in economy, bankers, coin makers and more – to fill various roles in the administrative apparatus of the kingdom.
At that time, the Catholic Church in Poland was in the habit of disseminating all sorts of blood libels against the Jews. Article 31 of the Prince Boleslav of Kalisz's privilegium tried to rein in this phenomenon by stating: “Accusing Jews of drinking Christian blood is expressly prohibited. If despite this a Jew should be accused of murdering a Christian child, such charge must be sustained by testimony of three Christians and three Jews.”

1370 | From Esther to Esther

It turns out that Esther from the Scroll of Esther was not the only Esther who saved the Jewish people. Legend tells of a beautiful Jewish woman from Poland named Esther'ke who was a mistress of King Casimir II the Great of Poland (1310-1370) and even bore him two daughters.
It is unclear whether it was love that aroused Casimir's sympathy for the Chosen People. What is known is that according to legend, like the Queen Esther from the Purim story, Esther'ke also looked out for her people and asked the King to establish a special quarter for Jews in Krakow (and this quarter is no legend). The King acquiesced to his lover's request and named the quarter for himself – the Kazimierz Quarter. In addition, and this is no legend either, messengers were sent to all Jewish communities in Poland and beyond inviting the Jews to relocate to Krakow, then the capital of the kingdom.
The invitation to come to Poland was like a much-needed breath of air for the Jews of Ashkenaz, for those were the days in which the Black Death ravaged Europe, which for some reason was claimed to have “skipped” the Jews. For the audacity of not contracting the plague, the Jews faced baseless accusations of having poisoned the drinking wells in order to spread the plague.

1520 | A State Within a State

In the early 16th century the center of gravity of Jewish life gradually moved from the countries of Central Europe to locations all over Poland. According to various historical sources, in the late 15th century there were around 15 yeshivas operating throughout Poland. The study of Torah flourished in the large communities and became the central axis of Ashkenazi religious life. It is no surprise, therefore, that the common name for Poland among the Jews who lived there was “Po-lan-Ja” - or in Hebrew: "God resides here".
The status of the Jews in Poland had no equal at the time anywhere in the world. Almost everywhere else in Europe they were persecuted, expelled and subject to various restrictions, whereas in Poland they were granted a special, privileged status.
In the early 16th century there were some 50,000 Jews living in Poland. During these years an interest-based alliance began to form between the Jews and the Polish nobility. The nobles, wishing to avail themselves of the Jews' connections and skills in business management, appointed Jews to various positions in the management of their feudal estates and gave them bills of rights according them special status.
In 1520 the “Council of Four Lands” was established in Poland. This council, which was a sort of “state within the state”, was composed of the representatives of all the Jewish communities of Poland, from Krakow and Lublin to Vilnius and Lithuania (which were then still part of the Polish “Commonwealth”). The main function of the Council was to collect taxes for the authorities, and it enjoyed judicial autonomy based on Jewish halacha. The Council operated for 244 years, and is considered the longest-lasting Jewish leadership in history, at least since the First Temple Era.

1569 | Demon-graphics

In the year 1618 the authorities of Krakow appointed a commission to find the reasons for hostility between Jewish and Christian merchants. The chairman of the commission, an academic by the name of Sebastian Miczynski, found that the reason for the animosity was the rapid increase in the number of Jews in the city, stemming from the fact that “none of them die at war or from plague, and in addition they marry at age 12 and multiply furiously”.
Miczynski's conclusion was not without basis: The growth rate of the Jewish community in Poland, known in research as “The Polish Jewish demographic miracle”, was indeed astounding. By the mid 17th century the number of Jews in Poland reached several hundred thousand – about half of all Jews in the world. By the mid 18th century their numbers reached approximately one million souls.
However, although Miczynski's diagnosis was correct, the reasons he offered for it, which were heavily tainted by anti-Semitism, were unsurprisingly wrong. Various researchers have found that the reason for the relatively rapid growth of Jews in Poland was a low rate of infant mortality among them compared to the Christian population. Among the reasons for this one can offer are the culture of mutual aid prevalent among Jews, the fact that newlywed couples usually lived with the bride's family, which offered better nutrition, and the fact that Jewish religious laws enjoin better hygiene practices than were the norm in the rest of pre-modern Europe.
In 1569 Poland annexed large parts of Ukraine under the Treaty of Lublin. Many Jews chose to migrate to Ukraine, and found a new source of livelihood there – leasing land. This they once again did in conjunction with the Polish nobility. Many of the Ukrainian peasants resented the new immigrants. Not only did the feudal lords tax them heavily, they thought, now they also “enslave us to the enemies of Christ, the Jews.”
During this time some brilliant intellectuals emerged in the Jewish areas of Poland, including Rabbi Moses Isserles (aka “The Rema” after his acronym), Rabbi Shlomo Lurie and Rabbi Joel Sirkis, and the great yeshivas of Lublin and Krakow were founded. The rabbinical elite was also the political elite among the Jewish community, setting the rules of life down to the smallest detail – from the number of jewels a woman may wear to requiring approval by community administrators in order to wed.

1648 | Bohdan The Brute

Had there been a senior class photo of all the worst oppressors the Jewish people have known, Bohdan (also known as Bogdan) Khmelnytsky would probably be standing front and center in it. Khmelnytsky, the leader of the Ukrainian Cossacks who fought for independence against Poland, was responsible for particularly lethal pogroms against the Jews of Ukraine. These pogroms were fueled by a combination of Christian revival and popular protest against Polish subjugation. The Jews, who were seen as the Polish nobility's “agents of oppression” paid a terrible price: Approximately 100,000 of them were murdered in these pogroms.
The Khmelnytsky Massacres, also known in Jewish historiography as “The Ta”ch and Ta”t Pogroms”, left the Jewish community of Poland shocked and bereaved. The community's poets composed dirges and the rabbis decreed mourning rituals. A chilling account of these events can be found in the book “Yeven Mezulah” by Jewish scholar Nathan Hannover, who fled the pogroms himself and described them in chronological order. In time many works were written based on this account. The most famous are “The Slave” by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and the poem “The Rabbi's Daughter” by the great Hebrew poet and translator Shaul Tchernichovski.
Despite the grief and sorrow, the Jewish community of Ukraine soon recovered. Proof of this can be found in the accounts of English traveler William Cox, who wrote 20 years after the massacres: “Ask for an interpreter and they bring you a Jew; Come to an inn, the owner is a Jew; If you require horses to travel, a Jew supplies and drives them; and if you wish to buy anything, a Jew is your broker.”

1700 | A Very Good Name

The year 1700 saw the birth of the man who would reshape Orthodox Judaism and become the founder of one of the most important movements in all its long history: Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer, far better known as the Baal Shem Tov, or The Besh”t for short.
The Baal Shem Tov began his career as a healer with herbs, talismans and sacred names, thus becoming known as a “Baal Shem” - a designation for someone who knows the arcana of the divine names, which he can use to mystical effect.
Rumor of the righteous man who performs miracles and speaks of a different Judaism – less academic and scholarly, more emotional and experiential – soon spread far and wide. Religious discourse soon included terms such as “dvekut”, which means “devotion”, and “pnimiut”, meaning “inner being”. Thus was the Hasidic movement born, emphasizing moral correctness and the desire for religious devotion, placing a high premium on the discipline of Kabbalah. The immense success of Hasidism stemmed from its being a popular movement which allowed entry to any Jew, even if he wasn't much for book smarts.
The Besh”t also set the template for the form of the Hasidic circle: A group of people coalescing around the personality of a charismatic leader who provides each member with personal guidance. Among the most famous Hasidic movement today one can count Chabad/Liubavitch, Ger and Breslov, which was founded by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (the great-grandson of the Besh”t), and is unique in having no single leader or “Rebbe” or Admor, a Hebrew acronym which stands for “Our Master, Teacher and Rabbi”, the title of other Hasidic leaders, as none is considered worthy to carry the mantle of the founder.
Those were also the years in which Kabbalist literature began to spread in Poland, along with various mystical influences, including the Sabbatean movement. One of the innovation of the Kabbalist literature was the way in which the issue of observing commandments was perceived: In establishment rabbinical thought, the commandments were seen as a device for maintaining community structures and the religious lifestyle. The Hasidim, on the other hand, claimed that the commandments were a mystical device through which even a common man may effect changes in the heavenly spheres. In modern terms one may say that the meaning of observing the commandments was “privatized”, ceasing to be the property of the rabbinical elite and becoming the personal business of every common observant Jew.

1767 | What Came First – Wheat or Vodka?

To paraphrase the eternal questions of “what came first – the chicken or the egg?” 18th century Poles asked “What came first – wheat or vodka?” What they meant is, was it the great profitability of grain-based liquor that created mass alcohol addiction, or was it the addiction to alcohol that created the demand for wheat? Either way, the idea of turning wheat into vodka had a magical draw for Jews in the steppes of Poland. In the second half of the 18th century vodka sales accounted for approximately 40% of all income in Poland. The Jews, who recognized the immense financial potential of this trade, took over the business of leasing liquor distilleries and taverns from the nobles. In fact, historians have determined that some 30% of all Jews in the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania had some connection to the liquor business.
But liquor was far from the only field of commerce the Jews of Poland engaged in. They traded all manner of goods. In a sample of data from the years 1764-1767, collected from 23 customs houses, it was found that out of 11,485 merchants, 5,888 were Jews, and that 50%-60% of all retail commerce was held by Jewish merchants.
The reciprocal relations between the Jews and the Magnates, the Polish nobility, became ever tighter. Save for rare phenomena, such as the habit of some nobles to force Jews to dance before them in order to humiliate them, these relations were stable and dignified. Historians note that the Jewish leaser “was not a parasite cringing in fear, but a man aware of his rights, as well as his obligations”.

1795 | The Empires Swallow Poland

Until the partition of Poland, Poland's Jews could live in cities such as Krakow or Lublin, for example, with almost no direct contact with the outside political and legal authorities. Most of them resided in towns or hamlets (“Shtetl”, in Yiddish) where they lived in a closed cultural and social bubble. They spoke their own language, Yiddish, and their children were taught in separate institutions – the cheder for young children and then the Talmud-Torah. The legal system and political leadership were also internal: The tribunals and the Kahal, which operated on the basis of halacha, were the sole court of appeals for the settling of disputes and disagreements.
The only connection most Jews had with the outside world was in their work, which usually involved leasing of some sort from the nobles. Proof of this can be found in the words of Jewish storyteller Yechezkel Kutik, who wrote that “In those days, what was bad for the paritz (the Polish feudal lord) was at least partly bad for the Jews. Almost everyone made their living from the paritz”.
In 1795 Poland was partitioned between three empires – Russia, Austria and Prussia, the nucleus of modern Germany. This brought an end to the shared history of Poland's Jews, and began three distinctly different stories: That of the Jews of the Russian-Czarist Empire, that of the Jews of Galicia under Austrian rule, and that of the Jews of Prussia, who later became the Jews of Germany.
The situation for Jews in Austria and Prussia was relatively good, definitely when compared to that of Jews living under Czarist rule, which imposed various financial edicts upon them and allowed them freedom of movement only within the Pale of Settlement, where conditions were harsh. The nadir was the outbreak of pogroms in the years 1881-1884, which led to the migration of some 2 million Jews to the United States – the place that would come to replace Poland as the world's largest host of Jews. Upon the partition of Poland, most Jews living in that country found themselves under Russian rule. Please see the entry “The Jews of Russia” for further information regarding them.

1819 | The Jews of Galicia

The image of the “Galician Jew” was and still is a code not only for a geographic identity, but mostly for a unique Jewish identity which combined a multicultural-ethnicity with a cunning, humorous, warm and sympathetic folklore figure. The “Galician Jew” could be a devout Hasid, an enlightened educated person, a Polish nationalist or a Zionist activist, a great merchant or a vendor trudging from door to door. This Jew was weaned on several different cultures and could gab in several tongues – German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian and Polish.
Galicia extended over the south of Poland. Its eastern border was Ukraine, but the Austrian empire ruled over it from 1772 to the end of WW1. In the second half of the 19th century Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph granted the Jews fully equal rights. The city of Lvov became a magnet for educated Jews from all over Europe. Yiddish newspapers, including the “Zeitung”, operated there at full steam, commerce flourished and Zionist movements, among them Poalei Zion, played a central role in reviving Jewish nationality.
At the same time the Hasidic movement also flourished in Galicia, branching out from several Hasidic courts and dynasties of “Tzadiks”. Among the best known of these Hasidic sects were those of Belz and Sanz, which preserved the traditional Hasidic lifestyle, including dress and language, and maintained tight relations with the “Tzadik” who headed the court.
Galicia was also the soil from which the writers of the age of Haskala (the Jewish Enlightenment movement) grew – from Joseph Perl, the pioneer of Hebrew literature, who in 1819 wrote “Megale Tmirin” (“Revealer of Mysteries”), the first Hebrew novel, and ending with Yosef Haim Brenner and Gershon Shofman, who lived in Lvov and skillfully described Jewish life there in the early 20th century.
The multicultural, equal-rights idyll ended for the Jews of Galicia against the backdrop of cannon shells and flames of WW1. The region of Galicia passed from hand to hand between the Austrian and Russian armies, and the soldiers of both massacred the Jews again and again. This is what S. (Shloyme) Ansky, author of “The Dybbuk” and the writer who commemorated the fate of Galician Jews during the war, wrote on the subject: “In Galicia an atrocity beyond human comprehension has been committed. A large region of a million Jews, who but yesterday enjoyed all human and civil rights, is surrounded by a fiery chain of iron and blood, cut off and set apart from the world, given to the rule of wild beasts in the form of Cossacks and soldiers. The impression is as though an entire tribe of Israel is becoming extinct.”

1862 | The Siren Call of HaTsefira

While the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment movement, was born in Western Europe, its echoes soon reached the eastern part of the continent as well, and Poland in particular. One of the seminal events illustrating the roots put down by the Haskala movement in Poland was the founding of the periodical “HaTsefira” in Warsaw. “HaTsefira” became one of the most highly-regarded Hebrew newspapers and sought to take a real part in the process of secularizing the Hebrew language and turning it from a liturgical tongue to a living, everyday medium.
The newspaper gained steam in the late 1870s, when the editorial board was joined by Nachum Sokolov, journalist, author and Zionist-national thinker, who in his latter years served as President of the World Zionist Organization. Sokolov gradually reduced the emphasis of “HaTsefira” on popular science, giving it a serious journalistic and literary character instead. Under his leadership the periodical became a daily in 1886, and soon stood out as the most influential Hebrew newspaper in Eastern Europe, until it died out in the decades between the World Wars.
All of the most prominent Hebrew writers of those days published their works in HaTsefira: Mendele Mocher Sforim, Y.L.Peretz and Shalom Aleichem in the 19th century, Dvorah Baron, Uri Nissan Genessin, Shalom Ash and Yaacov Fichman in the early 20th century, and just before WW1 it was home to the works of a few promising youngsters, including Nobel-winning authour Shmuel Yosef Agnon and acclaimed nationalist poet Uri Zvi Greenberg.

1900 | Warsaw

In the first decade of the 20th century Warsaw became the capital of the Jews of Poland and a global Jewish center. The city was home to the headquarters of the political parties, many welfare institutions, trade unions, and Jewish newspapers and periodicals published in a variety of languages. Prominent in particular was juggernaut of literary and publishing activity in this city from the 1880s to the eve of WW1.
Among the most famous literary institutions of the period were the Ben Avigdor Press, which ignited the realist “New Movement” in Hebrew literature; Achiassaf Press, founded by the tea magnate Wissotzky, which operated in the spirit of Achad Haam and published books of a Jewish-historical nature; the HaShiloach newspaper, which was copied from Odessa and was edited for a year by Chaim Nachman Bialik (later anointed national poet of the State of Israel), the newspapers “HaTsofeh” and “HaBoker” and more.
All these and many others were produced at hundreds of Hebrew printing presses which popped up like mushrooms after a rain. This industry attracted Jewish intellectuals who found work writing, editing, translating and doing other jobs required by publishing and the press. In his essay “New Hebrew Culture In Warsaw” Prof. Dan Miron wrote that: “All the Hebrew writers of the time passed through Warsaw, some staying for years and others for a short time”.
Also famous were the “literary tribunals”, especially that of author Y.L. Peretz, who held a sort of salon or court at his home which was frequented by eager literary cubs. These would submit their callow works to the revered giant of letters and tremblingly await his verdict. The Peretz court was far from the only one, though. Jewish writers and intellectuals arrived from all over Russia to “literary houses”, “salons” and other establishments, convened mostly on Sabbaths and holidays to discuss matters of great import. One of the most famous of these was the home of pedagogue Yitzchak Alterman, whose lively Hanukkah and Purim parties drew many intellectuals. These, we assume, served as inspiration for little Nanuchka, the host's son, later to become famous as poet Nathan Alterman.

Jewish Demographics In Warsaw

Year | Number of Jews
1764 1,365
1800 9,724
1900 219,128
1940 393,500
1945 7,800


1918 | The First Jewish Party in Poland

Upon the end of WW1 the Jews of Poland also fell victim to the game of monopoly played by Poland against its neighbors, particularly Soviet Russia. The Poles accused the Jews of Bolshevism, the Soviets saw them as capitalists and bourgeoisie, and these accusations turned into dozens of pogroms and tens of thousands of Jewish murder victims.
In 1921, after 125 years under various occupiers, Poland once again became a sovereign and independent state. At first the future seemed bright. The new Polish constitution guaranteed the Jews full equality and promised religious tolerance. However, like many of the supposedly democratic states formed between the two world wars, the regime in Poland also swayed between the values of Enlightenment and equality and an ethnic-based nationalism.
This was the unstable reality under which the Jews of Poland lived for 18 years, until the start of WW2. During these years the Jews experienced some bad times, during which for example they were banned from public office, and were discriminated against in matters of taxation and higher education admissions, where quotas were set limiting the number of Jews at the universities. At other times, mostly under the reign of Jozef Pilsudski (1926-1935), who was known for his relative opposition to anti-Semitism, the edicts issued against the Jews were eased.
During the Pilsudski era the Jewish parties combined to form a joint list for the legislative elections, winning 6 seats in the Sejm (lower house of the Polish parliament) and 1 in the senate, which made them the sixth-largest party. This was a mere 11 years before the outbreak of WW2 and the Holocaust of Polish Jewry.
One of the most influential figures among Jewish political leadership in Poland was Yitzhak Gruenbaum (Izaak Grünbaum), leader of the General Zionists Party, who foresaw the rise of dictatorial elements in the Sejm and made aliyah in 1933. He was right. From 1935 until the German invasion Poland was ruled by an openly dictatorial, anti-Semitic regime. During these four years some 500 anti-Semitic incidents took place, the system of “ghetto benches” was put in place, separating Jewish and Polish students at universities, and the employment options of Polish Jews were limited to such a degree that the Jewish community of Poland, numbering over three million people at the time, was considered the poorest diaspora in Europe.

1939 | The Holocaust of the Jews of Poland

September 1st, 1939, the day the Nazis invaded Poland, was etched into the collective Jewish memory in infamy. Of 3.3 million Jews who lived in Poland on the eve of the Nazi invasion, only around 350,000 survived. Some 3 million Polish Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust.
The annihilation of the Jews of Poland took place step by step. It began with various decrees, such as the gathering of Jews in ghettos, the obligation to wear an identifying mark, the imposition of a curfew in the evenings, the marking of Jewish-owned stores and more – and ended with the execution of the “Final Solution”, a satanic plan of genocide, which culminated in the deportation of the Jews of Poland to the extermination camps of Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sobibor, Chelmno and Treblinka – all located on Polish soil.
One of the best known expressions of resistance by the Jews of Poland to the Nazi plan of annihilation was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The revolt symbolized a triumph of spirit for the Jews of the ghetto, who embarked on it although they knew that their chances of winning or even surviving were nil.
Alongside the armed resistance by the Jews of the ghetto there was also cultural resistance. In October 1939 Emanuel Ringelblum – a historian, politician and social worker – started the “Oneg Shabbat” (“Sabbath Delight”) project in the ghetto, in which he was joined by dozens of intellectuals including authors, teachers and historians. This collective produced many works of writing on various facets of life in the ghetto, and thus became an archive and think tank dealing with current events while documenting them for future historians' reference.
In August 1942, in the midst of the deportation of the Jews of Warsaw, the archive was divided in three and each part buried for safe-keeping. Two of the three parts, secreted in metal crates and two milk jugs, were found after the war. These two parts, located in 1946 and 1950, serve to this day as imported first-hand sources on Jewish life in the ghetto, and also as testament to the courage and spiritual strength of the intellectuals whose only weapons were the pen and the camera.

2005 | Jewish Renaissance in Poland?

At the end of WW2 there were some 240,000 Jews living in Polish territories, 40,000 of them who survived the camps and another 200,000 refugees, returning from the Soviet Union territories. The displaced Jews lived in poverty and cramped conditions, and were treated with hostility by the general population despite their attempts to integrate into Polish society. In July 1946, just a year after the war ended, this hostility erupted in a pogrom in the city of Kielce. The pretext for the murder of 42 out of 163 Holocaust survivors in the city, and the wounding of most of the rest? The ancient blood libel about matza and Christian children.
This is where the Zionist movement swung into action, managing to smuggle about 100,000 of the remaining Jews in Poland to Israel under the “Bricha”, or “Escape” movement.
After WW2 Poland became a Communist country, which it remained until 1989. 1956 saw the start of the “Gomulka Aliyah” (named after Wladislaw Gomulka, Secretary General of the Polish Communist party), which lasted for a few years and brought some 35,000 more Jews to Israel from Poland. In 1967 Poland cut off relations with Israel and in 1968, amidst an anti-Semitic incitement campaign, another few thousand Jews made aliyah. This practically brought an end to the Jewish community of Poland.
At the start of the new millennium, Poland was considered the greatest mass grave of the Jewish people. The numbers speak for themselves: Before WW2 there were around 1,000 active Jewish communities in Poland, but in the year 2000 only 13 remained. Before the war Warsaw was home to almost 400,000 Jews. In 2000 only 1,000 Jews remained.
And then, at the start of the new century, a so-called “Jewish Renaissance” took place in Poland, and is still going on today. In 2005 a museum was opened across the street from the Warsaw Ghetto, where 1,000 years of Jewish history in Poland are on display. Once a year a Jewish festival is held in Krakow, exposing thousands of curious visitors from all over the world to Jewish songs and dance, kleizmer music and Yiddishke food. The Jewish theater is thriving (although it includes but one Jewish actor), and around the country “dozens of “Judaica Days” and symposiums on Jewish topics are held annually.

* All quotes in this article, unless otherwise stated, are from “From a People to a Nation: The Jews of Eastern Europe, 1772-1881”, Broadcast University Press, 2002

Olkusz

Olkusz

A town in Krakow province, Poland

There was a Jewish settlement in Olkusz by the time of Casimir the Great (1333- -70) who expropriated the gold and silver mines in Olkusz belonging to his Jewish banker Levko. In 1374, however, Olkusz obtained the "privilege de non tolerandis judaeis"; Jews were debarred from residing there and left for Cracow.

During the reign of John Casimir (1648--69), a Jew, Marek Nekel, was granted the first concession to quarry in the hills and was allowed to trade in metals (1658). An agreement between the Jews and the municipality concluded in 1682 granted Jews domiciliary and trading rights on condition that they helped to defray the town debts; they were accordingly granted the customary privileges by John Sobieski (December 3, 1682) to enable their settlement.

The Olkusz community came under the jurisdiction of the Cracow community, but in 1692, the community of Olkusz and other towns in the district seceded from Cracow, a decision endorsed by the Council of the Four Lands. In 1764 there were 423 Jews living in Olkusz. The economic position of the town deteriorated in the 18th century after copper mines in the district had been ruined by the Swedish invasion.

A blood libel involving the Jews in Olkusz in 1787 was the last such case to occur in Poland before its partition. The principal Jew accused, a tailor, was sentenced to death, but the leaders of the community managed to obtain the intervention of King Stanislas Poniatowski and secure a reprieve. Under Austrian rule (1796--1809), the number of Jews living in Olkusz diminished, and when it was annexed to Russia the prohibition on Jewish settlement in border districts applied. However, there were 746 Jews living in Olkusz in 1856 (83.4% of the total population), 1,840 in 1897 (53.9%), 3,249 in 1909 (53%), 2,703 in 1921 (40.6%), and in 1939 about 3,000.

The Holocaust Period
The Germans entered the town on September 5, 1939 and subjected the Jews to beating and tormenting, plundering of property, kidnapping in the streets for hard labor, and religious persecution. The "Judenrat", created in October 1939, had to take care particularly of 800 deportees who came from other localities in upper Silesia. Transports of men to labor camps in the Reich commenced in October 1940 with the dispatch of 140 Jews. A second transport with 130 Jews left Olkusz in January 1941; the third, composed of 300 women, left in August 1941. In the spring of 1942, shortly before the liquidation of the community, the number of transports increased. In March 1942 150 women were shipped out, followed on April 20, 1942 by 140 men. One month later during "Shavuot" (21-23 May 1942) about 1,000 Jews, including women, were sent out. The victims of these transports were mainly the poor, particularly refugees and deportees; those with means could temporarily avoid such transports. By the end of 1941, a ghetto was established in a suburb. It was open and probably not fenced off, but leaving the ghetto was forbidden and the entrances were watched by German and Jewish police. There were, together with the new arrivals, about 3,000 Jews interned in the ghetto. In the last few months prior to the liquidation, transports to labor camps increased, and the German police on March 6, 1942, publicly hanged three Jews for illegally leaving the ghetto and smuggling food. Local Jews were forced to build the gallows and carry out the hanging. The final liquidation took place in June 1942. A "selekcja" was carried out to separate the able-bodied men for labor camps from the rest of the inhabitants, among them the local rabbi; the latter were all sent to Auschwitz. A group of some 20 Jews was left to clear up the ghetto; they were afterward deported and exterminated.

The community was not reconstituted after the war.

Chrzanow

Chrzanów 

Hshanov, in Jewish sources

A town and seat of the Chrzanów County n the Lesser Poland Voivodeshi, Poland.

Chrzanow was mentioned as an urban center under private ownership in documents dating from 1393. During the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries it was known as a junction on the "salt route" that led from Krakow to Silesia. After the partition of Poland in 1772, Chrzanow like all of Galicia, came under the rule of the Austrian Empire. During the 19th century there was increased economic activity in the town because of its location close to the lead and tin mines and the establishment of factories in the town and its environs. from the middle of the 19th century the town became an important transportation junction in south western Poland.


it is assumed that some Jews resided in Chrzanow as early as the 17th century. In the middle of the 18th century there were 60 Jewish families in the town. Their number increased in the 19th century. During the first half of the 19th century the Jews established their community organizations and were under the jurisdiction of the Krakow community. In 1866 the Jewish community became independent.

A great fire during the 1870’s was a landmark for the Jewish community which dated events as occuring before the great fire or after it.

Most of the Jews in the town were religious, a minority were secular. there were Hasidim of the Sanz, Radomsk, Bobov, Belz, Gur, Zalishitz, Krimilov, Grodziak, Husiatin and other dynasties who supported their own prayer houses (Stiblach), other Jews prayed in the regular synagogues. There were about 30 prayer-houses and synagogues in the town, among them the great synagogue where rabbi Leibish Meisels was the Hazzan (Cantor) and the large study-house where rabbi Hersh Leib Bakon served as Hazzan.

The first rabbi to serve in the town was rabbi Shlomo Buchner. He served the community until his death in 1820. After his death, for a period of twenty years there was only a Dayan (Jewish judge). Meantime the influence of the Sanz Hasidim increased and rabbi David Halverstam of the Sanz dynasty was appointed to the position of town rabbi. During his tenure there was discord between the Sanz Hasidim and the Radomsk Hasidim. After his death in 1895 there were two rabbis serving in Chrzanow. The last rabbi in the town was rabbi Mendel, the son of rabbi Naphtali, and during his tenure the rabbinate was unified.

Rabbi Mendel was killed in the Holocaust. In the period between the two World Wars, two chairmen of the Jewish community council were Bobov Hasidim, which demonstrated their important position in Chrzanow. The two largest Yeshivot in the town were also Hasidic, the "Keter Torah" Yeshiva of the Radomsk Hasidim, headed by rabbi Haim Tobias, and the "Ets Haim" Yeshiva of the Bobov Hasidim, headed by rabbi Ziskind Gottlieb and rabbi Haim Yaacov Weissblum.

In spite of the fact that there were anti-semitic disturbances in the town in 1898 and some families left for Krakow, the Jewish population grew and was 50% of the general population. In 1900 there were 5504 Jews who were 54% of the general population. Half the members of the town council were Jews. In the elections of 1910, the poles led by the priest Kaminsky who agitated for economic measures against the Jews, tried to reduce the Jewish representation in the council. The Austrian authorities invalidated the elections but in the new elections in 1912 the Jews again succeeded in receiving their due representation.

Public groups in all spheres of life, religion and tradition, charity and culture, began to organize at the beginning of the 19th century. The "Mahazikei Limud" society published a periodical "The Jewish Religious Worker” and organized a lending library for Hebrew, Polish and Yiddish books. They also supported a drama group that performed plays.

The Jewish elementary school established by Baron Hirsch was active from 1902. In 1903 an orphanage supported by the Jewish community council was opened. Besides the traditional Jewish schools there was a general elementary school. After World War I a girls' school "Beth Yacob” was founded. The number of Jewish children who studied in the general school system also increased.

Charitable institutions and interest-free loan societies were active.

On November 5, 1918 there were riots against the Jews. Shops were looted, Jews were beaten and injured and two were killed. Those Jews who tried to organize self-defense were arrested and their arms confiscated. In 1919 the soldiers of the Polish General Haller, an avowed anti-semite, attacked the town. They beat Jews, looted their property and used the study-house as a stable for their horses.

During the entire period between the two World Wars, the Jews of Chrzanow were victims of anti-semitic attacks by the gangs who were active in the town and surrounding area. The authorities did nothing to prevent the attacks on the Jewish population. In 1935 a gang of Fascist Poles rioted in the town and desecrated the Jewish cemetery.

Chrzanow was mainly a center of commerce and crafts even though there were coal mines in the area. Thursday was market day.

In the second half of the 18th century the Jews earned their living from tailoring and hat making. There were also goldsmiths and silversmiths. In the 19th century the economy expanded and Jews traded in furs and food products even beyond the borders of the state. Towards the middle of the 19th century the number of Jews who engaged in retail trade and small industry grew. The clothing industry started to develop mostly under Jewish ownership. The tailors of Chrzanow who emigrated to Berlin laid the foundations of the garment industry there.

Until World War I some Jews found their living in upper Silesia, which was then under Prussian rule. Another source of income for the Jews was money changing.

Jewish scholars in Chrzanow worked to make a living. There were tailors, cobblers and coachmen among them. The well known Magid of Chrzanow, rabbi Moshe Hochbaum was the son of a cobbler who himself worked as a pastry baker.

World War I destroyed many sources of income and caused great economic distress among the Jews. Jewish organizations in Krakow, Katowice and Vienna and the regional aid committee, whose center was in Krakow, helped the community. Loans were granted by the Joint Distribution Committee to Jewish merchants and owners of factories and workshops.

In 1928 the "Jewish Folksbank" and the "Yad Harutzim" society of Jewish craftsmen were founded.


The first Zionist group "Bnei Zion" began to organize in 1893 and started its activities in 1898 after the first Zionist Congress in 1897. The first members were the students in the study-house who concealed their Zionist activities from their families. The first Zionist families were those of Leibel and Fanny Zipper and Mordecai Shaul and Hanna Schwarzbart. Their sons Dr. Shmuel and Dr. Yitzhak (Isadore) Scwarzbart were known for their Zionist activities in the period preceding World War I (1914-1918), a period of political and cultural assimilation. Dr. Zipper, a lawyer by profession, served as vice- chairman of the town council and fought for the rights of the Jews. After World War I Dr. Schwarzbart served as general secretary of the Zionist organizations in western Galicia and Silesia. In 1921 he was appointed editor of the polish newspaper "Nowy Dziennik". He was a delegate to most of the Zionist congresses and during the 30’s was a member of the Polish parliament (Sejm).

At the beginning of the 20th century there were branches of Agudat Israel and the Bund (Jewish socialist party) besides the Zionist organizations. In 1908 a branch of Poalei-Zion was organized and became the center of Zionist and cultural activity in the town. After the war the party was divided and the Hitahdut Zionist party with its youth movement Gordonia took the center of the stage. In 1912 a youth group "Jugeng" and a women group "Yehudit" were formed. During the years 1910-1914 a society called "Rachel" organized a center to prepare girls of the Zionist youth groups for work in Eretz Israel. They also spread the Zionist message. Their library encouraged cultural activity. The branch of Ha-Mizrachi in the town was active in combating anti- Zionist propaganda. Their youth group Hashomer Hadati was active.

In the period between the two World Wars there were branches of all the Zionist organizations and their affiliated youth groups in Chrzanow. They organized courses in Hebrew and founded libraries which conducted various cultural activities. In 1928 the Zionist sport group Maccabi was founded. The women’s organization WIZO was also active in the town.


In 1921 there were 6,328 Jews in Chrzanow, 56% of the total population of 11,392.


The Holocaust period

Several days before the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) many residents fled the town, among them Jews. Most of the Jews returned after several days. On September 4, the town was occupied by the Germans and on that same day Jews were imprisoned in the synagogue. On September 8, the Germans seized 30 Jews from Chrzanow near Trzebinia and murdered them. Refugees from the town who succeeded in reaching the Soviet Zone were later deported to the interior of the Soviet Union at the end of June 1940.

In October the Germans appointed a Judenrat (Jewish council) whose task was to register the Jewish population, to supply the Germans Forced Labour, to collect “contributions" from the Jewish community and to hand over to the Germans goods and valuables. In order to guarantee the execution of their orders, the Germans seized hostages from among the important members of the Polish and the Jewish communities. A young Jew and a young Pole were executed on the pretext that they had committed sabotage against the German occupying forces.

In December 1939 the Jews were ordered to wear identifying badges on their arms, ribbons with the star of David. Now they were at the mercy of the Germans who harassed them on the town streets. Every day Jews were seized on the streets until the day’s quota of Forced Labour was filled. Jews were beaten sometimes till their death.

In March 1940 Bezalel Zucker was appointed chairman of the Judenrat. The Judenrat tried to ease the suffering of the Jews by sponsoring activities and distributing meals. The children were centered under the supervision of teachers and nursemaids. A youth club organized cultural and educational activities. The health department opened a clinic. The Judenrat earned the respect of the community, succeeded in bribing the heads of the German police and were able to prevent cruel acts against the Jews. They reopened the Jewish public baths and held public services on the high holidays.

In October 1940 the central Judenrat of Sosnowice seized 300 Jews from Chrzanow and sent them to the Labor Camps in Gogolin and Sakrau in upper Silesia.

In order to prevent the deportation of the young people to work-camps the Judenrat looked for places of work in the town itself. In the end they found working places for Jews in the rubber factory nearby Trzebinia and the mines near the town. At the end of 1940 the Jews were forced to leave the mixed neighborhoods and were concentrated in one area, prepared as a ghetto. The center of the town was declared Judenrein (free of Jews) and Jews were forbidden to go there.

At the beginning of 1941 Jewish firms were taken over by Aryans, the Jewish owners were forced to appoint German managers. In the spring of 1941 Jews who had been deported from Oswiecim (where the Death Camp Auschwitz had been built) were brought to Chrzanow. On May 9 the Jews were assembled in the square near the gymnasium and their work permits were examined. Hundreds of Jews without permits were sent to Labour Camps in upper Silesia. The conditions in the camps were harsh. On May 25 hundred of Jews were seized in the town and sent to Forced Labour Camps. Many young Jews evaded the round-ups and the central Judenrat in Sosnowice, which did not trust the local Judenrat to comply fully with the German demands, sent their own Jewish police to seize men for the Labour Camps.

At the beginning of 1942 the chairman of the Judenrat Bezalel Zucker and other members were interrogated cruelly, accused of disobedience and sabotage and sent to the Death Camp in Auschwitz.

At the end of April 1942 seven Jews were hung publicly in the town square accused of smuggling food. At the beginning of May in that same year additional Jews were sent to Auschwitz. After that there were "actions" to expose "food offenders". Those caught were also sent to the Death Camp in Auschwitz.

In the "action" on May 30 1942 a selection was carried out in the place where the Jews were assembled. They were divided into three groups. One group was left to work in the town, the second group was sent to Labor Camps and the third group which included about 3,000 people, mostly elderly sick people, women and children were sent to Auschwitz. In June that year additional groups were sent to Labour Camps. At the end of July or the beginning of August 1942 hundreds of Jews were sent to Auschwitz.

In September 1942 some workshops were set up in the town. More than 1,000 Jews of the remaining survivors of the community worked there. They did everything to remain in work in the hope to be saved from Auschwitz.

In February 1943 the shops were the only concentration of Jews in the town.

In the middle of February 1943 the Jews were again called for a population count and as a result many were sent to Auschwitz. About 550 Jews, mostly men, were sent to the Labour Camps in Markstadt. After an additional group of Jews were sent to Auschwitz, Chrzanow was declared Judenrein. Only a few Jews remained who prepared the transport to Germany of the property the Jews had left behind. When their work was finished, they were sent to the ghetto in Sosnowice.


At the end of the war (1945) only a few hundred Jews of Chrzanow survived, among them 300 who had been in the Soviet Union. Others had returned from the Labour Camps. About 15,000 Jews who had passed through Chrzanow during the war period perished. This number included Jews from upper Silesia, Katowice, Oswiecim, Trzebinia and small villages in the vicinity.

In 1948 a memorial book of Chrzanow, written in Yiddish by Mordechai Buchner, was published. In 1989 an English translation was published in New York. A translation of the English version into Hebrew was published in Israel in 1994 by the association of the sons of Chrzanow.

Trzebinia

Trzebinia

A town in Chrzanów County, Lesser Poland, Poland/

Trzebinia, recorded as a village in the 13th century, was in the area that Austria annexed during the third division of Poland. In the course of time, with the discovery of silver and lead ores in the vicinity, industrial and manufacturing plants were established, around which a town sprang up. The development of Trzebinia occurred after it was linked to the railroad line between Vienna and Cracow. Following World War I (1914-1918) it was once again included within the boundaries of Poland. In 1931 Trzebinia (the town and the village) was granted the status of a city.

Jews settled in Trzebinia at the end of the 17th century. Until the beginning of the 19th century they belonged to the Chrzanow Jewish community, and only later became an independent community. At that time Rabbi Israel Kloger officiated as rabbi of the community. His son, Rabbi Haim Kloger, author of Pri Haim (Fruit of Life) succeeded him, followed by Rabbi Moshe Yonah Levy. His son, Rabbi Yaakov Levy, was appointed rabbi after him. The latter was blessed with many children, and one of them, Rabbi Israel, officiated as the community's judge during his father's term as rabbi. With the death of Rabbi Yaakov Levy in 1923, there Rabbi Benjamin Levy and Rabbi Dov Berish Weidenfeld. The latter was chosen. He served as head of the famous yeshiva Kohav Meyaakov (Star of Jacob), wrote the book of responsa, questions and answers on matters of Jewish law Dovev Miyashrim and was known as the Gaon of Trzebinia (the genius of Trzebinia). Rabbi Weidenfeld spent World War II in Russia, later settling in Israel, where he established the yeshiva Kochav Meyaakov in Jerusalem. Rabbi Akivah, son of Rabbi Yehezkel Gross, founded in Trzebinia the Torah Crown yeshiva of the Domask Hasidim.
In 1921 out of a total population of 1,317, there were 915 Jews residing in the town. That same year an additional heder (religious elementary school) was opened for the town's children. In 1932 the admor (Hasidic leader) of Bobowa, Rabbi Benzion son of Rabbi Halberstam, settled there.

During the second half of the 19th century, with the development of the mines and expansion of local industry, Jewish settlement grew until almost all the inhabitants of Trzebinia were Jews, and in 1914 a Jew, Rabbi Issar Mandelbaum, served as its mayor. On the Sabbath the whole town life came to a standstill, and on Passover it was impossible to obtain bread there.

Early in November 1918, with the end of World war I and the renewal of Poland's independence, the authorities prevented the Jews of Trzebinia from taking part in the celebrations. Fearing an outbreak of antisemitism, the Jews formed their own militia for self-defense. The head of the town's Polish militia disarmed the Jewish organization and just a few days later pogroms indeed began. The rioters attacked Jews, beat them, plundered their shops, broke into the synagogue and desecrated the torah scrolls. An army unit from the district city Cracow refrained from interfering and only a Pole, Adam Tzerlog, came out against the rioters.

The Jews of Trzebinia dealt in petty trade, crafts and peddling in neighboring villages. A few were suppliers for the local industry. In the period between the two world wars, the local Jewish settlement suffered from economic stagnation, and after the war it was in need of aid from the Joint Distribution Committee, which augmented the funds of the local Free Loan Society, thus enabling it to give substantial help to the needy. In the years of the worldwide Great Depression (1929-1931) the women's league ran a people's kitchen. After the court of the admor of Bobowa was established in Trzebinia (1932) with thousands of Hasidim pouring into the town, more opportunities for the local Jews became available.

The first group devoted to Zionist activity was organized in Trzebinia in 1912, a library and lecture hall were also erected at the same time. Between the two world wars the Heatid club of the General Zionists organized evening classes for studying Hebrew and Judaism, and opened an additional library. At the same time, the youth movements Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, the Hebrew Youth subsequently the Zionist Youth and Akivah were active.

The Jews of Trzebinia took part in the 1935 elections to the Zionist Congress, most of them voting for the General Zionist.

In 1939 more than 1,300 Jews were living in Trzebinia.


The Holocaust Period

At the end of August 1939 a number of Trzebinia Jews were drafted into the Polish army and a few of them participated in the preparation of the city's anti-aircraft defenses. Already on September 1st, with the outbreak of war, the German air force bombed the city and its inhabitants began a mass flight, many Jews joining those fleeing eastward in an attempt to cross the border into the Soviet Union. In the meantime, German army units cut off the routes eastward and the Jews stopped in east Galicia, and suffering from want, gradually began to return to Trzebinia. A few of them were murdered on the way, and about 70 of them were executed by German soldiers who ambushed them on the road from Trzebinia to Kashanov. They were murdered there and on the football field and buried in mass graves on the sites of the slaughter. Two years later, with permission of the authorities, they were given a Jewish burial in the Jewish cemetery in Kashanov.

During the first days of the conquest the German soldiers, the Volksdeutsche (Germans born in Poland) and the Polish rabble plundered the stores and homes of the Jews.

Trzebinia was in the territory annexed to the German Reich (in eastern upper Silesia) and the decrees of the Nazi racist laws were already imposed on the Jews at the beginning of October 1939. They were ordered to wear the yellow patch, their movement in town was limited, and they were placed under curfew. Their valuables were taken away, Jewish businesses were closed down, some of them being given to loyal Aryans, and only a few were left to serve the local Jewish population. The Jewish community was required every day to supply workers for forced labor, and to pay ransom from time to time. Jews were seized in the streets and whoever was found disobeying the German orders was liable for transfer to the Auschwitz extermination camp.

In 1940 many young Jews secretly left the city in order to cross the border into the Soviet Union. Those who succeeded met with difficulty in finding employment and housing and some of them were even exiled to distant regions of the Soviet Union.

At the end of 1940 and beginning of 1941 the Germans began seizing Jewish men for forced labor in Germany and fortifying the frontier with the Soviet Union. Many died because of the back-breaking work and the inhuman conditions at the beginning of 1941 the Jews of Trzebinia were concentrated in several streets which became a ghetto. At first the ghetto was open, but gradually the Jews were forbidden to leave it, and their distress grew.

Within the ghetto members of the community developed mutual aid, set up a public kitchen for the needy and took care of the children's education by secretly operating classes on a variety of subjects.
On the 13th of Sivan 5702 (July 1942) S.S. units and German policemen surrounded the ghetto. The Jews were ordered to come to the cattle market square (Targowica) where a selection was held. One group of young men were sent to labor camps in Germany, another to the nearby city, Kashanov, to work in enterprises of vital importance to the Germans, and on the 22nd of Sivan 5702, the rest were sent to the Auschwitz death camp. Only a few of the Jews of Trzebinia remained alive at the end of the war.

In the summer of 1986 members of the Jewish community who visited the city found the Jewish cemetery broken into and in ruins. The few tombstones remaining in place had been shattered. The main synagogue, which had been turned into a garage by the Germans, was destroyed by the Poles after the war, and on the site an apartment building had been put up. The synagogue Chevrat Bikur Cholim was turned into a carpenter's shop for making coffins. This matter was brought to the attention of the ministry of religion in Israel.

In 1990 the Israel organization of former Trzebinia residents arranged for the restoration of the Jewish cemetery, and on August 13, 1990 a monument in memory of the Holocaust victims was unveiled. The survivors of the Trzebinia community and representatives of Jewish institutions and of the government participated in the ceremonies.

Krakow

Krakow

Cracow

A district city in Western Galicia, south Poland.

Its situation on the Vistula river and the commercial route to Prague attracted an influx of immigrants from Germany, with whom the first Jews arrived in 1257.


Early days

In 1335 King Kazimiez the Great founded the town of Kazimierz near the southern end of ancient Krakow and it was there that the Jews settled. For over four centuries the Jews of Kazimierz struggled for the right to work and trade in Krakow proper. At the end of the fourteenth century construction was begun of a large synagogue in Gothic style. It was completed in 1407 and became known as the Alte Shul in Yiddish and Stara Boznica in Polish. It is the oldest medieval synagogue in Poland which is still preserved. In the early fifteen century Jacob Pollack settled there and established the first Yeshiva.

In the early 16th century many Jews from Bohemia Moravia [similar to today's Czech Republic] settled in the town but some of their customs differed from those of the Polish Jews causing disputes between the two groups. Quiet returned only when the rabbis of both groups died. In the succeeding years of the 16th century further immigrants arrived from Germany, Italy. Others came from Spain and Portugal, no doubt including some new-Christians who had decided to revert to Judaism after the Spanish had continued to persecute them. This group included a number of wealthy Jews and physicians who had been enticed by special financial privileges from the king of Poland. It was only in 1563, after appeals from community leaders, that the king stopped this practice. The 16th and first half of the 17th century was a period of cultural advance by the Jews of Krakow-Kazimierz. By 1644 there were seven synagogues including the Alte Shul and the Rema Synagogue named after the Moses Isserles. A number of yeshivot were founded in the town- they made Krakow an important centre of Jewish learning. From 1650 Yomtov Lippman Heller was the rabbi. In 1666 the community was deeply influenced by the Shabbatean messianic movement. By the end of the 16th century the community was controlled by a small number of wealthy families. The leadership known as a minor sanhedrin consisted of 4 rashim [leaders], 14 council member plus five rabbis. The actual duties of administration were assumed in rotation; each of the rashim was Parnas Hahodesh [leader of the month].


17th-18th Centuries

In the 1630s many Jews fleeing from the devastation of the 30 Years War in Germany arrived in Krakow, while in the 1648-9 many others came from Ukraine to escape the Chmielnicki massacres. The community suffered serious damage during the Swedish invasion of Poland in 1655-1660 ["the Deluge"] – many shops were looted and property damaged. When Polish rule was restored the Jews were accused of collaboration with the enemy and attacks on Jewish property resumed, mainly by students and local hooligans. The kings who had previously protected the Jews were now powerless to intervene. There were s number of blood libels and in 1663 Mattathias Calahora was burned at the stake. In 1667 some one thousand Jewish residents died of the plague and most of the Jewish quarter was abandoned. The community was unable to pay its taxes and was saved only when they were granted a moratorium on the payment of their taxes and debts to the state. The non-Jewish majority was not so easy to placate. They demanded the banning of Jews from doing business in the town. Jews were also forbidden to enter the town on Sundays or Christian festivals.

The nobility and the townsfolk were increasingly hostile to the Jews as the religious tolerance that dominated the mentality of the previous generations of Commonwealth citizens was slowly forgotten. The rise of the group of wealthy Jewish families (Oligarchs) was accompanied by worsening economic conditions amongst the majority of the community and therefore be increased social tensions between the two sections. The costs incurred in the struggle against the non-Jewish elements who were continuing bringing libel cases against the Jews and the need to provide financial support for increasing numbers of impoverished Jews forced the community to take out loans from wealthy Christians and the church. During the troubles of 1722-1768 the Jews of Kazimierz suffered both at the hands of the Polish and Russian armies. Known as the `Confederacy of the Bar', it was marked by violence perpetrated against the Jews by both the Russians and the Poles who regarded the Jews as their enemies. Jews were hung on branches of trees and both sides demanded that the Jews provide them with food, housing and help with espionage. In 1772-1776 Kazimierz became part of Austria while Krakow remained in Poland. Then in 1776 Kazimierz was returned to Poland. However Jews were still forbidden to do business in Krakow and a heavy tax was imposed on the community of Kazimierz. Many Jews left the area for Warsaw or other more hospitable towns. During the 1780s Chasidism began to influence the Jews of Krakow. The movement gained many adherents especially amongst the poorer members of the community. Special synagogues were opened up by the Hassidim but the Mitnagdim imposed a ban [Herem] on them in 1785 and 1797.


19th Century

In 1795 Krakow and the surrounding areas were again annexed by Austria and in 1799 the Austrian authorities ordered all Jewish businesses to be removed from Krakow proper (i.e. not from Kazimierz). From 1800 the government determined that the exercise of civil and voting rights were dependent on the payment of a Candle tax- a tax which hit hardest the poorer people. In 1809 Krakow became part of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Some, but not all, of the restrictions and special taxes imposed by the Austrians were cancelled. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 the Republic of Krakow was established. It survived until 1846. Jews were permitted to reside outside of Kazimierz if they had received a high standard of secular education, if they wore “modern” clothing and if they owned property valued at more than 5000 zloty. (In 1848 just 198 Jews out of 13,000 met these qualifications). In addition the communal organization was abolished and replaced by a committee for Jewish affairs headed by a Christian chairman. From 1832 the rabbi of Krakow was Dov Berush Meisels. He was widely respected despite opposition from the Hassidim headed by Rabbi Saul Raphael Landau. In 1844 the first Reform Synagogue was established in the town.

In 1846 Krakow was returned to Austria. The Jews of Vienna started to raise funds to assist the needy Jews of Kazimierz. As a result of the revolution two years later which granted civil and voting rights to all, Jews were for the first time elected to the Greater Krakow municipal council, with a programme of greater social justice within the community. They demanded the abolition of the tax levied on kosher meat, proposing instead a tax on poultry which was consumed mainly by the wealthy. The Jews demanded also that the inflated salaries of communal officials be reduced, that the communal hospital by run by the community itself instead of by the Hevra Kadisha. The demanded also that the privileges of the leading wealthy families ("The Oligrarchs") be abolished.

In the 1848 elections to the Austrian parliament in Vienna Rabbi Meisels was returned as the deputy for Krakow. As a Jewish element in the 1848 revolutionary ferment there was established the 'Society for the Spiritual and Material Assimilation of the Jews', which was intended to establish Jews as an integral part of Polish society. When Rabbi Meisels was appointed to a position in Warsaw, he was replaced by Rabbi Simeon Schreiber-Sofer, a strict traditionalist who frequently clashed with the Reform/Assimilationist congregation in the town lead by Joseph Ettinger and Rabbi Simon Dankovitch. After the granting of full emancipation to the Jews of Krakow in 1867-8 they were for the first time permitted to live anywhere in Krakow or Kazimierz. In place of traditional communal organizations a new Jewish religious council was established in which the assimilationist intelligentsia had the upper hand. In 1869 a total of 26 Jewish students were studying that the law faculty and the medical school of the University of Krakow and a further ten at the town's technical college. In the following decade some 200 Jewish pupils attended the municipal secondary schools and teachers' training college. The first Hebrew school, headed by Av Beth Din Chaim Arieh Horowitz, was established in 1874. The first secular Hebrew lending library was opened in Krakow in 1876. The Jewish education system in the town included chadarim and Yeshivot as well as elementary and secondary schools with Polish and German as the languages of instruction.

Towards the end of the 19th century the Zionist movement came to Krakow. To a major degree this was in response to increased anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish pogroms which made many of the Jews feel insecure. They often joined the waves of Polish emigrants to the USA. Others, especially those who spoke German, went to live in Vienna. Those who remained were the Zionists. The first Chovevei Zion society was established in Krakow by Simeon Sofer and and Aaron Markus in the 1880s and the Sfat Emet society was started there in 1892. HaHevrah LeIvrit LeTarbut (the Hebrew culture society) was also active. From 1897 political Zionism led by Osias Thon and Julius Schenwetter started to attract support. Other communal organizations included an academic society Shachar, news magazine Der Yiddishe Arbeiter, the organ of HaPoalei Zion, which was published between 1905 and 1914. In 1900 an independent group established itself in order to fight for civil equality for the Jews. This group was headed by Ignaz Landau and Adolf Gross. Krakow was the centre of all Zionist activity in western Galicia.


Between the Two World Wars

The rise of Polish nationalism, the upheavals in the aftermath of World War I brought widespread unemployment and famine to the area coupled with vicious anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitic party, Endecja, attempted to direct the discontent of the Polish masses against the Jews. The Jewish youth of Krakow, led by Jacob Billik and Y.Alster, tried to organize self-defence measures which succeeded in stopping riots started by followers of the Polish anti-Semitic general Haller in 1918- and 1919.

In 1921 the Jewish population of Krakow was estimated to be 45,000 while in 1931 it had risen to 57,000 out of some 220,000. At the beginning of World War II the Jewish population had risen to 60,000. Between the two world wars Krakow remained an important centre of Jewish political and social life. The Polish language Zionist daily newspaper Nowy Ziennik was published there and most Zionist organizations continued to be active. The Bundist magazine, Walka, was published between 1924 and 1927. The poorer segments of the community continued to live in Kazimierz.


The Holocaust

A few days after the outbreak of war in September 1939 the Germans entered Krakow and the persecution of the Jews began. The Jewish Community Council building and several synagogues were destroyed. A Judenrat with 24 members was appointed in November under Dr Mark Bieberstein and Wilhelm Goldblatt. In the summer of 1940 the two were arrested by the Gestapo. In April 1940 the Germans ordered 75% of the Jews to leave the town. In March 1941 a ghetto was erected and 20,000 Jews were forced to live within its confines. In June 1942 some 6,000 Jews were sent to the Belzec death camp wile a further 300 were shot inside the ghetto. Among the victims were the writer Mordechai Gebirtig and the new head of the Judenrat Arthur Rozenzweig. In October 1942 another 7,000 were sent to their deaths at Belzec. In March 1943 the remainder were sent to Auschwitz.

The Jewish underground began to organize in 1940 and by 1942 they were known as the Jewish Combat Organization headed by Heshek Bauminger, Aharon Liebeskind, Gola Mira, Shimshon Drenger and Abraham Leibowitz-Laban. The organization was in contact with Jewish partisans on the area and also the Warsaw Ghetto. Probably the most famous of their exploits was the attack on the Cyganeria coffee house in the town centre which was a popular meting place for German soldiers. They were also responsible for sabotage on local railway lines. After the liquidation of the ghetto in Krakow the group was active in the Plaskow labour camp. In the Zablocie district of Krakow Oscar Schindler had a factory which he used to save 1,098 Jews from Plaszow.

Some 2,000 survivors returned to the town in 1945-6 after the war, most had been living in Russia. Fearing a pogrom they made no attempt to reestablish the Jewish quarter in Kazimierz. In 1968 the last of the Jews left Kazimierz, the oldest synagogue, the Hoyche Shul became a Jewish museum and only the cemetery was restored with contributions from American and Canadian Jews. After the exodus of 1967-9 just 700 Jews remained in the town but only about 200 identify themselves with the Jewish community.

In 1997 there were 8,000 Jews living in Poland, most of them in the capital Warsaw, a few hundred in Krakow.

Poland

Poland

Rzeczpospolita Polska -  Republic of Poland 

A country in central Europe, member of the European Union (EU).

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 4,500 out of 38,500,000 (0.01%). Main umbrella organization of the Jewish communities:

Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland - Związek Gmin Wyznaniowych Żydowskich w Polsce (ZGWŻP)
Phone: 48 22 620 43 24
Fax: 48 22 652 28 05
Email: sekretariat@jewish.org.pl
Website: http://jewish.org.pl/

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Poland

1096 | Migration of the Heretics

Where did the Jews come to Poland from? Scholars are divided on this question, but many believe that some came from the Khazar Kingdom, from Byzantium and from Kievan Rus, while most immigrated from Western Europe – from the Lands of Ashkenaz.
One of the theories is that the “butterfly effect” that led the Jews of Ashkenaz to migrate to Poland began with a speech by Pope Urban II, who in 1096 called for the liberation of the holy sites in Jerusalem from the Muslim rule. The Pope's call ignited what would come to be known as The Crusades - vast campaigns of conquest by the Christian faithful, noble and peasant alike, who moved like a tsunami from Western Europe to the Middle East, trampling, stealing and robbing anything they could find along the way.
Out of a fervent belief that “heretics” were “heretics”, be they Jews or Muslims, the militant pilgrims made sure not to bypass the large Jewish communities in the Ashkenaz countries, where they murdered many of the local Jews, mostly in the communities of Worms and Mainz on the banks of the Rhine. Following these massacres, known in Jewish historiography as the Massacres of Ttn”u (after the acronym of the year of Hebrew calendar), Jews started migrating east, into the Kingdom of Poland.

1264 | The Righteous Among The Nations from Kalisz.

In the 13th century Poland was divided into many districts and counties, and to rule them all an advanced bureaucratic system was required. In 1264 the Polish prince Boleslav, also known as the Righteous One of Kalisz (Kalisz was a large city in the Kingdom of Poland) issued a bill of rights that granted the Jews extensive freedom of occupation as well as freedom of religious practice. This bill of rights (privilegium, in Latin) allowed many Jews – literate merchants, experts in economy, bankers, coin makers and more – to fill various roles in the administrative apparatus of the kingdom.
At that time, the Catholic Church in Poland was in the habit of disseminating all sorts of blood libels against the Jews. Article 31 of the Prince Boleslav of Kalisz's privilegium tried to rein in this phenomenon by stating: “Accusing Jews of drinking Christian blood is expressly prohibited. If despite this a Jew should be accused of murdering a Christian child, such charge must be sustained by testimony of three Christians and three Jews.”

1370 | From Esther to Esther

It turns out that Esther from the Scroll of Esther was not the only Esther who saved the Jewish people. Legend tells of a beautiful Jewish woman from Poland named Esther'ke who was a mistress of King Casimir II the Great of Poland (1310-1370) and even bore him two daughters.
It is unclear whether it was love that aroused Casimir's sympathy for the Chosen People. What is known is that according to legend, like the Queen Esther from the Purim story, Esther'ke also looked out for her people and asked the King to establish a special quarter for Jews in Krakow (and this quarter is no legend). The King acquiesced to his lover's request and named the quarter for himself – the Kazimierz Quarter. In addition, and this is no legend either, messengers were sent to all Jewish communities in Poland and beyond inviting the Jews to relocate to Krakow, then the capital of the kingdom.
The invitation to come to Poland was like a much-needed breath of air for the Jews of Ashkenaz, for those were the days in which the Black Death ravaged Europe, which for some reason was claimed to have “skipped” the Jews. For the audacity of not contracting the plague, the Jews faced baseless accusations of having poisoned the drinking wells in order to spread the plague.

1520 | A State Within a State

In the early 16th century the center of gravity of Jewish life gradually moved from the countries of Central Europe to locations all over Poland. According to various historical sources, in the late 15th century there were around 15 yeshivas operating throughout Poland. The study of Torah flourished in the large communities and became the central axis of Ashkenazi religious life. It is no surprise, therefore, that the common name for Poland among the Jews who lived there was “Po-lan-Ja” - or in Hebrew: "God resides here".
The status of the Jews in Poland had no equal at the time anywhere in the world. Almost everywhere else in Europe they were persecuted, expelled and subject to various restrictions, whereas in Poland they were granted a special, privileged status.
In the early 16th century there were some 50,000 Jews living in Poland. During these years an interest-based alliance began to form between the Jews and the Polish nobility. The nobles, wishing to avail themselves of the Jews' connections and skills in business management, appointed Jews to various positions in the management of their feudal estates and gave them bills of rights according them special status.
In 1520 the “Council of Four Lands” was established in Poland. This council, which was a sort of “state within the state”, was composed of the representatives of all the Jewish communities of Poland, from Krakow and Lublin to Vilnius and Lithuania (which were then still part of the Polish “Commonwealth”). The main function of the Council was to collect taxes for the authorities, and it enjoyed judicial autonomy based on Jewish halacha. The Council operated for 244 years, and is considered the longest-lasting Jewish leadership in history, at least since the First Temple Era.

1569 | Demon-graphics

In the year 1618 the authorities of Krakow appointed a commission to find the reasons for hostility between Jewish and Christian merchants. The chairman of the commission, an academic by the name of Sebastian Miczynski, found that the reason for the animosity was the rapid increase in the number of Jews in the city, stemming from the fact that “none of them die at war or from plague, and in addition they marry at age 12 and multiply furiously”.
Miczynski's conclusion was not without basis: The growth rate of the Jewish community in Poland, known in research as “The Polish Jewish demographic miracle”, was indeed astounding. By the mid 17th century the number of Jews in Poland reached several hundred thousand – about half of all Jews in the world. By the mid 18th century their numbers reached approximately one million souls.
However, although Miczynski's diagnosis was correct, the reasons he offered for it, which were heavily tainted by anti-Semitism, were unsurprisingly wrong. Various researchers have found that the reason for the relatively rapid growth of Jews in Poland was a low rate of infant mortality among them compared to the Christian population. Among the reasons for this one can offer are the culture of mutual aid prevalent among Jews, the fact that newlywed couples usually lived with the bride's family, which offered better nutrition, and the fact that Jewish religious laws enjoin better hygiene practices than were the norm in the rest of pre-modern Europe.
In 1569 Poland annexed large parts of Ukraine under the Treaty of Lublin. Many Jews chose to migrate to Ukraine, and found a new source of livelihood there – leasing land. This they once again did in conjunction with the Polish nobility. Many of the Ukrainian peasants resented the new immigrants. Not only did the feudal lords tax them heavily, they thought, now they also “enslave us to the enemies of Christ, the Jews.”
During this time some brilliant intellectuals emerged in the Jewish areas of Poland, including Rabbi Moses Isserles (aka “The Rema” after his acronym), Rabbi Shlomo Lurie and Rabbi Joel Sirkis, and the great yeshivas of Lublin and Krakow were founded. The rabbinical elite was also the political elite among the Jewish community, setting the rules of life down to the smallest detail – from the number of jewels a woman may wear to requiring approval by community administrators in order to wed.

1648 | Bohdan The Brute

Had there been a senior class photo of all the worst oppressors the Jewish people have known, Bohdan (also known as Bogdan) Khmelnytsky would probably be standing front and center in it. Khmelnytsky, the leader of the Ukrainian Cossacks who fought for independence against Poland, was responsible for particularly lethal pogroms against the Jews of Ukraine. These pogroms were fueled by a combination of Christian revival and popular protest against Polish subjugation. The Jews, who were seen as the Polish nobility's “agents of oppression” paid a terrible price: Approximately 100,000 of them were murdered in these pogroms.
The Khmelnytsky Massacres, also known in Jewish historiography as “The Ta”ch and Ta”t Pogroms”, left the Jewish community of Poland shocked and bereaved. The community's poets composed dirges and the rabbis decreed mourning rituals. A chilling account of these events can be found in the book “Yeven Mezulah” by Jewish scholar Nathan Hannover, who fled the pogroms himself and described them in chronological order. In time many works were written based on this account. The most famous are “The Slave” by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and the poem “The Rabbi's Daughter” by the great Hebrew poet and translator Shaul Tchernichovski.
Despite the grief and sorrow, the Jewish community of Ukraine soon recovered. Proof of this can be found in the accounts of English traveler William Cox, who wrote 20 years after the massacres: “Ask for an interpreter and they bring you a Jew; Come to an inn, the owner is a Jew; If you require horses to travel, a Jew supplies and drives them; and if you wish to buy anything, a Jew is your broker.”

1700 | A Very Good Name

The year 1700 saw the birth of the man who would reshape Orthodox Judaism and become the founder of one of the most important movements in all its long history: Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer, far better known as the Baal Shem Tov, or The Besh”t for short.
The Baal Shem Tov began his career as a healer with herbs, talismans and sacred names, thus becoming known as a “Baal Shem” - a designation for someone who knows the arcana of the divine names, which he can use to mystical effect.
Rumor of the righteous man who performs miracles and speaks of a different Judaism – less academic and scholarly, more emotional and experiential – soon spread far and wide. Religious discourse soon included terms such as “dvekut”, which means “devotion”, and “pnimiut”, meaning “inner being”. Thus was the Hasidic movement born, emphasizing moral correctness and the desire for religious devotion, placing a high premium on the discipline of Kabbalah. The immense success of Hasidism stemmed from its being a popular movement which allowed entry to any Jew, even if he wasn't much for book smarts.
The Besh”t also set the template for the form of the Hasidic circle: A group of people coalescing around the personality of a charismatic leader who provides each member with personal guidance. Among the most famous Hasidic movement today one can count Chabad/Liubavitch, Ger and Breslov, which was founded by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (the great-grandson of the Besh”t), and is unique in having no single leader or “Rebbe” or Admor, a Hebrew acronym which stands for “Our Master, Teacher and Rabbi”, the title of other Hasidic leaders, as none is considered worthy to carry the mantle of the founder.
Those were also the years in which Kabbalist literature began to spread in Poland, along with various mystical influences, including the Sabbatean movement. One of the innovation of the Kabbalist literature was the way in which the issue of observing commandments was perceived: In establishment rabbinical thought, the commandments were seen as a device for maintaining community structures and the religious lifestyle. The Hasidim, on the other hand, claimed that the commandments were a mystical device through which even a common man may effect changes in the heavenly spheres. In modern terms one may say that the meaning of observing the commandments was “privatized”, ceasing to be the property of the rabbinical elite and becoming the personal business of every common observant Jew.

1767 | What Came First – Wheat or Vodka?

To paraphrase the eternal questions of “what came first – the chicken or the egg?” 18th century Poles asked “What came first – wheat or vodka?” What they meant is, was it the great profitability of grain-based liquor that created mass alcohol addiction, or was it the addiction to alcohol that created the demand for wheat? Either way, the idea of turning wheat into vodka had a magical draw for Jews in the steppes of Poland. In the second half of the 18th century vodka sales accounted for approximately 40% of all income in Poland. The Jews, who recognized the immense financial potential of this trade, took over the business of leasing liquor distilleries and taverns from the nobles. In fact, historians have determined that some 30% of all Jews in the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania had some connection to the liquor business.
But liquor was far from the only field of commerce the Jews of Poland engaged in. They traded all manner of goods. In a sample of data from the years 1764-1767, collected from 23 customs houses, it was found that out of 11,485 merchants, 5,888 were Jews, and that 50%-60% of all retail commerce was held by Jewish merchants.
The reciprocal relations between the Jews and the Magnates, the Polish nobility, became ever tighter. Save for rare phenomena, such as the habit of some nobles to force Jews to dance before them in order to humiliate them, these relations were stable and dignified. Historians note that the Jewish leaser “was not a parasite cringing in fear, but a man aware of his rights, as well as his obligations”.

1795 | The Empires Swallow Poland

Until the partition of Poland, Poland's Jews could live in cities such as Krakow or Lublin, for example, with almost no direct contact with the outside political and legal authorities. Most of them resided in towns or hamlets (“Shtetl”, in Yiddish) where they lived in a closed cultural and social bubble. They spoke their own language, Yiddish, and their children were taught in separate institutions – the cheder for young children and then the Talmud-Torah. The legal system and political leadership were also internal: The tribunals and the Kahal, which operated on the basis of halacha, were the sole court of appeals for the settling of disputes and disagreements.
The only connection most Jews had with the outside world was in their work, which usually involved leasing of some sort from the nobles. Proof of this can be found in the words of Jewish storyteller Yechezkel Kutik, who wrote that “In those days, what was bad for the paritz (the Polish feudal lord) was at least partly bad for the Jews. Almost everyone made their living from the paritz”.
In 1795 Poland was partitioned between three empires – Russia, Austria and Prussia, the nucleus of modern Germany. This brought an end to the shared history of Poland's Jews, and began three distinctly different stories: That of the Jews of the Russian-Czarist Empire, that of the Jews of Galicia under Austrian rule, and that of the Jews of Prussia, who later became the Jews of Germany.
The situation for Jews in Austria and Prussia was relatively good, definitely when compared to that of Jews living under Czarist rule, which imposed various financial edicts upon them and allowed them freedom of movement only within the Pale of Settlement, where conditions were harsh. The nadir was the outbreak of pogroms in the years 1881-1884, which led to the migration of some 2 million Jews to the United States – the place that would come to replace Poland as the world's largest host of Jews. Upon the partition of Poland, most Jews living in that country found themselves under Russian rule. Please see the entry “The Jews of Russia” for further information regarding them.

1819 | The Jews of Galicia

The image of the “Galician Jew” was and still is a code not only for a geographic identity, but mostly for a unique Jewish identity which combined a multicultural-ethnicity with a cunning, humorous, warm and sympathetic folklore figure. The “Galician Jew” could be a devout Hasid, an enlightened educated person, a Polish nationalist or a Zionist activist, a great merchant or a vendor trudging from door to door. This Jew was weaned on several different cultures and could gab in several tongues – German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian and Polish.
Galicia extended over the south of Poland. Its eastern border was Ukraine, but the Austrian empire ruled over it from 1772 to the end of WW1. In the second half of the 19th century Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph granted the Jews fully equal rights. The city of Lvov became a magnet for educated Jews from all over Europe. Yiddish newspapers, including the “Zeitung”, operated there at full steam, commerce flourished and Zionist movements, among them Poalei Zion, played a central role in reviving Jewish nationality.
At the same time the Hasidic movement also flourished in Galicia, branching out from several Hasidic courts and dynasties of “Tzadiks”. Among the best known of these Hasidic sects were those of Belz and Sanz, which preserved the traditional Hasidic lifestyle, including dress and language, and maintained tight relations with the “Tzadik” who headed the court.
Galicia was also the soil from which the writers of the age of Haskala (the Jewish Enlightenment movement) grew – from Joseph Perl, the pioneer of Hebrew literature, who in 1819 wrote “Megale Tmirin” (“Revealer of Mysteries”), the first Hebrew novel, and ending with Yosef Haim Brenner and Gershon Shofman, who lived in Lvov and skillfully described Jewish life there in the early 20th century.
The multicultural, equal-rights idyll ended for the Jews of Galicia against the backdrop of cannon shells and flames of WW1. The region of Galicia passed from hand to hand between the Austrian and Russian armies, and the soldiers of both massacred the Jews again and again. This is what S. (Shloyme) Ansky, author of “The Dybbuk” and the writer who commemorated the fate of Galician Jews during the war, wrote on the subject: “In Galicia an atrocity beyond human comprehension has been committed. A large region of a million Jews, who but yesterday enjoyed all human and civil rights, is surrounded by a fiery chain of iron and blood, cut off and set apart from the world, given to the rule of wild beasts in the form of Cossacks and soldiers. The impression is as though an entire tribe of Israel is becoming extinct.”

1862 | The Siren Call of HaTsefira

While the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment movement, was born in Western Europe, its echoes soon reached the eastern part of the continent as well, and Poland in particular. One of the seminal events illustrating the roots put down by the Haskala movement in Poland was the founding of the periodical “HaTsefira” in Warsaw. “HaTsefira” became one of the most highly-regarded Hebrew newspapers and sought to take a real part in the process of secularizing the Hebrew language and turning it from a liturgical tongue to a living, everyday medium.
The newspaper gained steam in the late 1870s, when the editorial board was joined by Nachum Sokolov, journalist, author and Zionist-national thinker, who in his latter years served as President of the World Zionist Organization. Sokolov gradually reduced the emphasis of “HaTsefira” on popular science, giving it a serious journalistic and literary character instead. Under his leadership the periodical became a daily in 1886, and soon stood out as the most influential Hebrew newspaper in Eastern Europe, until it died out in the decades between the World Wars.
All of the most prominent Hebrew writers of those days published their works in HaTsefira: Mendele Mocher Sforim, Y.L.Peretz and Shalom Aleichem in the 19th century, Dvorah Baron, Uri Nissan Genessin, Shalom Ash and Yaacov Fichman in the early 20th century, and just before WW1 it was home to the works of a few promising youngsters, including Nobel-winning authour Shmuel Yosef Agnon and acclaimed nationalist poet Uri Zvi Greenberg.

1900 | Warsaw

In the first decade of the 20th century Warsaw became the capital of the Jews of Poland and a global Jewish center. The city was home to the headquarters of the political parties, many welfare institutions, trade unions, and Jewish newspapers and periodicals published in a variety of languages. Prominent in particular was juggernaut of literary and publishing activity in this city from the 1880s to the eve of WW1.
Among the most famous literary institutions of the period were the Ben Avigdor Press, which ignited the realist “New Movement” in Hebrew literature; Achiassaf Press, founded by the tea magnate Wissotzky, which operated in the spirit of Achad Haam and published books of a Jewish-historical nature; the HaShiloach newspaper, which was copied from Odessa and was edited for a year by Chaim Nachman Bialik (later anointed national poet of the State of Israel), the newspapers “HaTsofeh” and “HaBoker” and more.
All these and many others were produced at hundreds of Hebrew printing presses which popped up like mushrooms after a rain. This industry attracted Jewish intellectuals who found work writing, editing, translating and doing other jobs required by publishing and the press. In his essay “New Hebrew Culture In Warsaw” Prof. Dan Miron wrote that: “All the Hebrew writers of the time passed through Warsaw, some staying for years and others for a short time”.
Also famous were the “literary tribunals”, especially that of author Y.L. Peretz, who held a sort of salon or court at his home which was frequented by eager literary cubs. These would submit their callow works to the revered giant of letters and tremblingly await his verdict. The Peretz court was far from the only one, though. Jewish writers and intellectuals arrived from all over Russia to “literary houses”, “salons” and other establishments, convened mostly on Sabbaths and holidays to discuss matters of great import. One of the most famous of these was the home of pedagogue Yitzchak Alterman, whose lively Hanukkah and Purim parties drew many intellectuals. These, we assume, served as inspiration for little Nanuchka, the host's son, later to become famous as poet Nathan Alterman.

Jewish Demographics In Warsaw

Year | Number of Jews
1764 1,365
1800 9,724
1900 219,128
1940 393,500
1945 7,800


1918 | The First Jewish Party in Poland

Upon the end of WW1 the Jews of Poland also fell victim to the game of monopoly played by Poland against its neighbors, particularly Soviet Russia. The Poles accused the Jews of Bolshevism, the Soviets saw them as capitalists and bourgeoisie, and these accusations turned into dozens of pogroms and tens of thousands of Jewish murder victims.
In 1921, after 125 years under various occupiers, Poland once again became a sovereign and independent state. At first the future seemed bright. The new Polish constitution guaranteed the Jews full equality and promised religious tolerance. However, like many of the supposedly democratic states formed between the two world wars, the regime in Poland also swayed between the values of Enlightenment and equality and an ethnic-based nationalism.
This was the unstable reality under which the Jews of Poland lived for 18 years, until the start of WW2. During these years the Jews experienced some bad times, during which for example they were banned from public office, and were discriminated against in matters of taxation and higher education admissions, where quotas were set limiting the number of Jews at the universities. At other times, mostly under the reign of Jozef Pilsudski (1926-1935), who was known for his relative opposition to anti-Semitism, the edicts issued against the Jews were eased.
During the Pilsudski era the Jewish parties combined to form a joint list for the legislative elections, winning 6 seats in the Sejm (lower house of the Polish parliament) and 1 in the senate, which made them the sixth-largest party. This was a mere 11 years before the outbreak of WW2 and the Holocaust of Polish Jewry.
One of the most influential figures among Jewish political leadership in Poland was Yitzhak Gruenbaum (Izaak Grünbaum), leader of the General Zionists Party, who foresaw the rise of dictatorial elements in the Sejm and made aliyah in 1933. He was right. From 1935 until the German invasion Poland was ruled by an openly dictatorial, anti-Semitic regime. During these four years some 500 anti-Semitic incidents took place, the system of “ghetto benches” was put in place, separating Jewish and Polish students at universities, and the employment options of Polish Jews were limited to such a degree that the Jewish community of Poland, numbering over three million people at the time, was considered the poorest diaspora in Europe.

1939 | The Holocaust of the Jews of Poland

September 1st, 1939, the day the Nazis invaded Poland, was etched into the collective Jewish memory in infamy. Of 3.3 million Jews who lived in Poland on the eve of the Nazi invasion, only around 350,000 survived. Some 3 million Polish Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust.
The annihilation of the Jews of Poland took place step by step. It began with various decrees, such as the gathering of Jews in ghettos, the obligation to wear an identifying mark, the imposition of a curfew in the evenings, the marking of Jewish-owned stores and more – and ended with the execution of the “Final Solution”, a satanic plan of genocide, which culminated in the deportation of the Jews of Poland to the extermination camps of Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sobibor, Chelmno and Treblinka – all located on Polish soil.
One of the best known expressions of resistance by the Jews of Poland to the Nazi plan of annihilation was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The revolt symbolized a triumph of spirit for the Jews of the ghetto, who embarked on it although they knew that their chances of winning or even surviving were nil.
Alongside the armed resistance by the Jews of the ghetto there was also cultural resistance. In October 1939 Emanuel Ringelblum – a historian, politician and social worker – started the “Oneg Shabbat” (“Sabbath Delight”) project in the ghetto, in which he was joined by dozens of intellectuals including authors, teachers and historians. This collective produced many works of writing on various facets of life in the ghetto, and thus became an archive and think tank dealing with current events while documenting them for future historians' reference.
In August 1942, in the midst of the deportation of the Jews of Warsaw, the archive was divided in three and each part buried for safe-keeping. Two of the three parts, secreted in metal crates and two milk jugs, were found after the war. These two parts, located in 1946 and 1950, serve to this day as imported first-hand sources on Jewish life in the ghetto, and also as testament to the courage and spiritual strength of the intellectuals whose only weapons were the pen and the camera.

2005 | Jewish Renaissance in Poland?

At the end of WW2 there were some 240,000 Jews living in Polish territories, 40,000 of them who survived the camps and another 200,000 refugees, returning from the Soviet Union territories. The displaced Jews lived in poverty and cramped conditions, and were treated with hostility by the general population despite their attempts to integrate into Polish society. In July 1946, just a year after the war ended, this hostility erupted in a pogrom in the city of Kielce. The pretext for the murder of 42 out of 163 Holocaust survivors in the city, and the wounding of most of the rest? The ancient blood libel about matza and Christian children.
This is where the Zionist movement swung into action, managing to smuggle about 100,000 of the remaining Jews in Poland to Israel under the “Bricha”, or “Escape” movement.
After WW2 Poland became a Communist country, which it remained until 1989. 1956 saw the start of the “Gomulka Aliyah” (named after Wladislaw Gomulka, Secretary General of the Polish Communist party), which lasted for a few years and brought some 35,000 more Jews to Israel from Poland. In 1967 Poland cut off relations with Israel and in 1968, amidst an anti-Semitic incitement campaign, another few thousand Jews made aliyah. This practically brought an end to the Jewish community of Poland.
At the start of the new millennium, Poland was considered the greatest mass grave of the Jewish people. The numbers speak for themselves: Before WW2 there were around 1,000 active Jewish communities in Poland, but in the year 2000 only 13 remained. Before the war Warsaw was home to almost 400,000 Jews. In 2000 only 1,000 Jews remained.
And then, at the start of the new century, a so-called “Jewish Renaissance” took place in Poland, and is still going on today. In 2005 a museum was opened across the street from the Warsaw Ghetto, where 1,000 years of Jewish history in Poland are on display. Once a year a Jewish festival is held in Krakow, exposing thousands of curious visitors from all over the world to Jewish songs and dance, kleizmer music and Yiddishke food. The Jewish theater is thriving (although it includes but one Jewish actor), and around the country “dozens of “Judaica Days” and symposiums on Jewish topics are held annually.

* All quotes in this article, unless otherwise stated, are from “From a People to a Nation: The Jews of Eastern Europe, 1772-1881”, Broadcast University Press, 2002