1.1. Oldest News about the Jews in Kraków


3 Tamuz 5781

We are now publishing a chapter by chapter summary of Majer Bałaban’s Historia Żydow w Krakowie i na Kazimierzu 1304-1868 (Kraków, “Nadzieja”, 1931) – History of the Jews in Kraków and in Kazimierz – which will be able to be found under the category “Bałaban” and “History”. We express our hopes that it might be useful.

This is chapter one, tome one, pages three to fifteen, titled “Oldest News about the Jews in Kraków”

The Jewish community in Krakow is, according to the author, not the oldest in Poland. Jews came to what is now Poland both from the West and the East, those in Krakow settling mostly from the West. Jews, however, were in Poland since the end of the 11th century. The oldest document about Jews in Germany is from the 4th century (Cologne). Jews in Krakow are mentioned already in the 10th century. The community in Prague is directly mentioned in the 11th century, when many were forced to be baptised. This was also the first direct wave of Jewish immigration to Poland. After this information about Jewish settlements in Poland became much more frequent. Documents from the 13th century about Jews paying taxes can already be found.

Around this period many place-names in Poland included “Jewish” and in 1304 what is now St. Anne’s Street is directly mentioned as Jewish Street and a street near the former city walls is mentioned as Jewish Alley. Where now the Jagiellonian Library stands, a synagogue stood. The Jewish street reached to the city walls and the gate there was called Gate of the Jews. Right out the walls there was a Jewish cemetery, used until 1495. Jews lived near the Jewish street, but in the company of Christians, especially of traders both of German and Polish origin. Jews and Christians were buying property from each other very often,

These property acts are suddenly no longer drawn. This happens at the same time as the Black Death grips Europe, which goes in parallel with the persecution of the Jews in 1348-9. Jews were blamed for the disease and burn and tortured. Flagellators used to go from town to town, carrying with them mobs that would plunder Jewish property, especially in Germany. Many Jews fled East, taking with them their valuables. The author quotes several examples, among which Breslau, in which 8 Jewish families out of 68 survived the mob. Jews were blamed for poisoning wells.

However, some years later (1350-60) Jews were already settling in Poland with the permission of King Kazimierz. Later historians claimed he was in love with a Jewish woman called Esther, but contemporary authors do not mention this. What is known is that already in 1264 Jews in Greater Poland had Privileges allowing them to trade, which they asked Kazimierz the Great to renew in 1334, which he did. He took the Jews out of city jurisdiction and gave it instead to the Wojewod or to the King depending on the case.

Jews often, because of unpaid debt, took on property, and one must note here that the contracts stipulated that property, when debt was unpaid, could be sold to “Jews or Christians”. In 1347 a law was passed forbidding Jews to lend money to Christians unless with a pawned object, but already in 1364 was an exemption given to Jews of the “whole country”, which was renewed in 1453. Most Jews were actually traders and were not money-lenders. The main money-lenders in the early Middle-Ages were the monasteries and it was only after the Church in the 11th century forbade money-lending by monasteries that Jews began taking on that trade. In Poland in the 13th century most Jews were traders. In the 14th century about 20 Jews were lending money, some of which were usurers, some of which bankers.

opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

Dr. D. Cohen