We were, are and will be in Krakow
The Jews have lived in Krakow almost always, being an integral part of the city’s population, determined its position, wealth and size. The history of Krakow’s Jews is colourful and extremely interesting, like the history of Krakow. It should be strongly emphasized that the contribution of the Jewish community to it was disproportionately greater than the size of this group, as evidenced by the material and non-material traces it left behind.
The Cracow Jewish Community is one of the oldest in the Polish lands. The first mention of the Kraków Jews dates back to 1304, and this date is taken as the customary beginning of the Jews’ stay in Kraków, and it is, of course, a great simplification, since all the indications indicate that this took place many years earlier, unfortunately we do not have the source material to prove this thesis. It is estimated that at the end of the 14th century there were about 800 Jews living in Cracow, which constituted about 8% of the city’s population at the time. At that time, the Jewish community of the city of Cracow lived in the area now mostly belonging to the Jagiellonian University, i.e. within Szewska, Wiślna and St. Anna Streets. An interesting fact is that today’s St. Anne’s Street at that time was called Żydowska Street and stretched as far as the city walls, where there was a so-called Jewish gate, through which one could get to the city. In the place where Collegium Maius is now located, there was a synagogue and a mikvah and a school nearby. The oldest Jewish cemetery in Kraków, used until 1495, was located just outside the city walls, in the area of the later settlement of Kawiory.
With varying degrees of luck, Jews lived in this area of Kraków until the end of the 15th century. Their lives were repeatedly disturbed by tumults caused by economic factors and the superstition of ritual murder. When in 1494 almost half of the city burned down as a result of the fire, it became an opportunity for the common people to engage in numerous lootings and assaults, as a result of which many Jews died. These events forced King Jan Olbracht to decide to move them to Kazimierz, which at that time was an independent town with its own quite large group of Jews. Therefore, the Krakow Jews were removed from their town and forced to join the already existing Jewish community in Kazimierz. The grief they felt towards the authorities was so great that almost until the end of the 18th century they made unsuccessful efforts to return to Krakow and reconstruct their community there. History itself “evened out the accounts”. The descendants of the Cracow Jews exiled to Kazimierz formally returned to the city of their ancestors. This happened in 1800, when the Austrians annexed Kazimierz to Krakow.
In spite of that, in the Kingdom of Poland, and even more so in its capital, Krakow, and neighbouring Kazimierz, Jews lived relatively safe in comparison to the commonly prevailing anti-Semitic moods in Europe. Thus, the number of Jewish residents increased rapidly as a result of immigration from Bohemia and Moravia, Germany, Italy and Spain. According to estimates, in the 1670s the population of Jews in Kazimierz was about 2,000, to reach 4,500 in less than a few decades. The relations between the city of Kazimierz and the Jewish community were sanctioned by a number of legal acts defining the boundaries of the Jewish city, which grew systematically. The Jewish town was separated from Kazimierz by a high wall, fragments of which have been preserved to this day at 21 Dajwór, Bartosza 1 and 12 Wąska Street. This wall functioned until the beginning of the 19th century. At the end of the 18th century, the Jewish city had only about 1.8 thousand people and it was caused by the economic and social decline of the city of Krakow and its surroundings. In 1776 the Jews of Cracow were ordered to move to the Jewish city in its entirety, but this order was not fulfilled. It was not until 1800 that the Austrian authorities – this time effectively – ordered all Jews living in Krakow to settle in the Jewish city, thus the number of the city’s inhabitants increased to almost 4.3 thousand. In 1818 the Senate of the Free City of Krakow proclaimed the Statute of the Old People in the Free City of Krakow, which allowed Jews to settle freely within Kazimierz, this was the formal end of the Jewish city. The Jews slowly became fully-fledged residents of the City of Cracow …
The Jews, as the most serious national minority in Poland, welcome the proclamation of a free, united Poland with unfailing joy. Not only because of its fundamental position on the self-determination of all nations, but in the hope that a Poland that is not clumsy, free, unfettered, and decides for itself and its fate, will have neither the need nor the interest in restraining the three million Jews living on its lands in their aspiration to national life. This is what the Kraków Zionists wrote in response to the Regency Council’s manifesto of October 7, 1918 that heralded Poland’s imminent independence. In fact, Kraków was conducive to the Jews, and the Jews conducive to Kraków. It is worth mentioning that almost every fourth inhabitant of Krakow before the outbreak of World War II was a Jew (at that time there were about 65 thousand Jews living in Krakow). Also, many people of Jewish origin or Jews held high municipal functions, writing their names in the history of Krakow. At this point it is worth remembering the most important, but a little in the common consciousness of the forgotten.
Jonatan Warschauer (1820-1888); graduate of the Jagiellonian University. He took up politics just before the outbreak of the Kraków Uprising (1848), which he supported, for which he was severely punished in prison. He was an ardent supporter of Polish independence aspirations, and at the same time promoted the idea of assimilation among Jews. In 1848 and 1866 he was elected to the City Council of Krakow. He was a member of the Academy of Skills and one of the co-founders and president of the Medical Society.
Józef Oettinger (1818-1895); graduate of the Jagiellonian University. Throughout his life he took part in social activities, acting on behalf of the inhabitants of the city of Cracow. He was a Polish patriot. He advocated equality of rights and duties. He demanded the extension of freedoms in Krakow and Galicia, while advocating the constitutional monarchy. He was a member of the Municipal Department and a member of the City Council of the City of Krakow. He was a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the Krakow Scientific Society.
Antoni Rosner (1831-1896); graduate of the Jagiellonian University. One of the pioneers of Polish dermatology and, at the same time, an outstanding didactician. In 1862 he was the first in the history of the Faculty of Medicine of the Jagiellonian University to receive his habilitation in dermatology and venereology. He was later appointed to the post of assistant professor of dermatology at the Jagiellonian University. It was only in 1894 that he received his full professorship. He was one of the last doctors to be admitted to the historic hospital of the Holy Spirit. The Rosners’ House was known in Cracow at that time, and the professor was considered not only an excellent diagnostician and experienced therapist, but also an adornment of the society. He had close, even friendly relations with the Princes Czartoryski family, of which he was a house doctor for many years. He was eagerly welcomed, and he himself was also happy to make friends and acquaintances.
Szymon Samuelsohn (1814-1881); graduate of the Jagiellonian University. Member of the Krakow National Committee. Then he worked as a court trainee in Kraków, and from 1858 he was one of the first Jews in Kraków to run his own law firm. For two terms of office he was a member of the Galician National Sejm.
Izaak Schwarzbart (1888-1961); graduate of the Jagiellonian University. Member of the Sejm, member of the National Council of the Republic of Poland in exile, president of the Zionist Organization of Western Małopolska and Silesia. In the years 1921-1925, editor-in-chief of the Zionist “Nowy Dziennik” in Cracow. He sat on the Krakow City Council. He belonged to the Administrative Committee of the World Jewish Congress. In 1946, he left for the United States, where he became involved in international Jewish organizations. At the Jad Waszem Institute there is a collection of about 300 folders connected with Schwarzbart’s activities. He died in 1961 in New York.
Józef Reinhold (1884-1928); professor of criminal law at the Jagiellonian University. While atolls are given to non-government people secretly and by mutual consent, a criminal politician has to ask himself whether it is advisable to protect criminal law in the interest of what legal good,” he wrote. His pioneering deliberations have had a positive effect in the Criminal Code of 1932, which was one of the first in Europe to abolish the criminalisation of homosexuality. Also on the issue of adultery, Reinhold’s voice was heard, who in the early 1920s wrote on the subject as follows: From a criminal-political standpoint, one should consider whether the punishment of adultery is an effective protection of marriage? Sentencing one spouse to punishment at the request of another will certainly not help to strengthen conjugal loyalty.
Józef Sare (1850-1929); architect, vice-president of Krakow from 1905 until his death (he also stopped his professional activity at that time). He was the first Jewish architect in Krakow who managed to make a great career. He designed many of Krakow’s buildings, and it was on his initiative that the city bought the Wolski Forest, which was assigned to a public park. He was awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta in 1926. He is buried in the New Jewish Cemetery in Cracow. More important projects: Surgical and Ophthalmology Clinic, Psychiatric Clinic on Kopernika Street, building I LO B. Nowodworski on Groblach Square, building II Sobieskiego Secondary School on Sobieskiego Street, building V A. Witkowski Secondary School on Studencka Street, building of the Department of Forensic Medicine of the Jagiellonian University on 16 Grzegórzecka Street.
Henryk Lamensdorf (1876-1928); a graduate of the Faculty of Construction of the Krakow School of Industry, graduated in 1902. His tenements show a high standard of architectural solutions in interiors and staircases and are equipped with lifts, which was rare at the time. Major projects: a tenement house at the corner of Kleparski Square and Krzywa Street, Bidermanowska Tenement House, Turkish House, Deiches Synagogue in Krakow, Szejrit Bne Emuna Synagogue in Krakow, tenement house at 6 Dunajewskiego Street, tenement house at 38 Piłsudskiego Street, tenement house at 12 Powiśle Street, seat of the Jewish Community – 12 Skawińska Street, tenement house at 7 Krakowska Street.
Władysław Kleinberger (born 1872); architect with an engineering degree. Since 1926 he belonged to the Jewish organization B’nai B’rith. He graduated from the Karków Industrial School. Major projects: pre-burial house at 55 Miodowa Street, Garrison Hotel, building at 71 Starowiślna Street, building at 17 Ariańska Street, building at 32 Długa Street, building at 9 Bożego Ciała 5/Miodowa Street.
Józef Lustgarten (1889-1973); lawyer, studied law in Vienna and then in Cracow, where he later worked as a legal advisor. During the struggle for independence he fought in the 2nd Brigade of Legions in the 3rd Infantry Regiment. Left liaison officer, left helper, Cracovia goalkeeper. After the war he organized football in Cracow almost independently. A long-term football referee in Poland, as well as an international referee. He co-created the statute of the Polish Football Association, of which he was later also the honorary secretary. All his sporting life he was associated with Cracovia, he was its honorary president.
Józef Klotz (1900-1941); defender of Jutrzenka Kraków. It was he who on 28 May 1922, in the 23rd minute of the match from the penalty kick, scored the first goal for Poland in an international competition.
Leon Sperling (1900-1941); graduate of the secondary school of commerce. Left-winged, an outstanding football technician. A pupil of Jutrzenka Kraków, considered to be one of the best Polish football players of the period. In the colours of KS Cracovia he played between 1921 and 1934, played 131 matches, scoring 19 goals. In the national applause he played between 1921-1930, playing 16 matches. He scored 2 goals.
Ludwik Gintel (1899-1973); architect. He was raised on the Tomorrow’s Day. Right defender, attacker. In the colours of KS Cracovia he played between 1916-1930, played 328 matches, scoring 30 goals. The king of Polish league scouts in 1928 (28 goals). In the national colours he played between 1921 and 1925, playing 12 matches
Abraham Ozjasz Thon (1870-1936); he studied philosophy and received his rabbinical diploma. Already in Berlin, he made contact with Theodor Herzel, which resulted in convening the Zionist Congress in Basel. In 1897, as a very young man, he was appointed a rabbi of the Tempel Synagogue in Kraków. From the very beginning, he was characterized by an uncompromising pursuit of his goal. His activity went far beyond the framework of the rabbi’s work – he became the personality of Krakow. In 1918, he became a delegate of the Jewish National Council. The following year he represented the Polish Jewish community on the Committee of Jewish Delegations at the Versailles Peace Conference, where he strove for Jews to be recognised as a national minority, which guaranteed them equal rights. From 1919 he was president of the Zionist Organization of Western Malopolska and Silesia. At the same time he was active in politics as a member of the Sejm between 1919 and 1935. Thon was the author of numerous works on the Zionist movement, philosophy and social sciences. He wrote in Polish, Hebrew, Yiddish and German. He published mainly in the Jewish press, mainly in the “Nowy Dziennik”, which he founded.
Isaac Bauminger (1868-1930); merchant and manufacturer, senator of the first term of the Senate of the Second Republic. He graduated from a folk school and received home education. From the end of the nineties of the nineteenth century he worked in philanthropic organizations. He was a member of Agora. He was a senator of the first term 1922-1927. He took the oath on September 11, 1925. He entered the Senate as a deputy senator from list no. 16, Warsaw province, Jehuda Lejb Kowalski, who died on 26 July 1925. He was a member of the Jewish Committee (Aguda faction – Members and Senators of the Orthodox Jewish Organization). In the years 1922-27, deputy from the state list no. 16 to the Senate. He was the vice-president of the Council and Board of the Jewish Community in Cracow.
Maurycy Maksymilian Laser (1884-1941?); member of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland on behalf of the National-Jewish Union in Małopolska, member of the Jewish Circle. In the interwar period he worked as a lawyer in Lviv. Secretary General of the Zionist Organisation of Eastern Małopolska in Lviv. Head of the Jewish Society of the People’s and Secondary Schools, president of the Tarbut organization in Lviv. His election as an MP resulted in demonstrations of All-Polish Youth in Lviv on 5-7 March 1928. Arrested by the NKVD on 29 April 1940, he probably died in prison in exile.
On November 11, 1918, after 123 years of captivity, the Polish state was reborn, becoming a modern state structure meeting all the criteria of the then democracies, and at the same time a huge conglomerate of nationalities and religions. On May 14, 1948, the Jews fulfilled their dreams and rebuilt their state, thus beginning a new chapter in their beautiful history. It has been 100 and 70 years since these events respectively. It should therefore be remembered, even from a local Krakow perspective, how much the two peoples have in common, how they have permeated each other, creating an unforgettable heritage which we witness every day. In our common history there have been moments of sublime and those that we would not want to remember. It is not for us to judge now whether it was a marriage for reason or for love, but the offspring that it spent, surely, need not be ashamed.
Szymon Rudnicki, Jews in the Parliament of the Second Polish Republic, Warsaw 2015.
Ozjasz Thon. Kazan 1895-1906, Cracow 2010.
Scientists of Jewish origin in the contemporary history of the Jagiellonian University, Cracow 2014.
Barbara Zbroja, City of the Dead. Public architecture of the Jewish Religious Community in Kraków in the years 1868-1939, Kraków 2005.
The Jews of Krakow in the interwar period. Selection of documents, selection and elaboration. Czesław Brzoza, Kraków 2015.