Welcome to World Jewish Heritage
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|Location 50°03′06″N 19°56′41″E|
|Open to visitors yes|
|Need appointment no|
|Handicap accessibility no|
|Geographical Coordinates 50.05158,19.94443|
Jewish Kazimierz Renaissance Old Synagogue (Kraków).
Jews had played an important role in the Kraków regional economy since the end of 13th century, granted the freedom of worship, trade and travel by Bolesław the Pious in his General Charter of Jewish Liberties issued already in 1264. The Jewish community in Kraków had lived undisturbed alongside their Christian neighbours under the protective King Kazimierz III, the last king of the Piast dynasty. Nevertheless, in early 15th century pressured by the Synod of Constance some dogmatic clergy began to push for less official tolerance. Accusations of blood libel by a fanatic priest in Kraków led to riots against the Jews in 1407 even though the royal guard hastened to the rescue.
As part of the re-founding of the Kraków university, starting in 1400, the Academy began to buy out buildings in the Old Town. Some Jews moved to the area around modern Plac Szczepański. The oldest synagogue building standing in Poland was built in Kazimierz at around that time, either in 1407 or 1492 (the date varies with several sources). It is an Orthodox fortress synagogue called the Old Synagogue. In 1494 a disastrous fire destroyed a large part of Kraków. In 1495 the Polish king Jan I Olbracht transferred the Jews from the ravaged Old Town to the Bawół district of Kazimierz. The Jewish Qahal petitioned the Kazimierz town council for the right to build its own interior walls, cutting across the western end of the older defensive walls in 1553. Due to the growth of the community and influx of Jews from Bohemia, the walls were expanded again in 1608. Later requests to expand the walls were turned down as redundant.
The area between the walls was known as the Oppidum Judaeorum, the Jewish City, which represented only about one fifth of the geographical area of Kazimierz, but nearly half of its inhabitants. The Oppidum became the main spiritual and cultural centre of Polish Jewry, hosting many of Poland’s finest Jewish scholars, artists and craftsmen. Among its famous inhabitants were the Talmudist Moses Isserles, the Kabbalist Natan Szpiro, and the royal physician Shmuel bar Meshulam. Interior of the Old Synagogue of Kazimierz before 1939.
The golden age of the Oppidum came to an end in 1782, when the Austrian Emperor Joseph II disbanded the kahal. In 1822, the walls were torn down, removing any physical reminder of the old borders between Jewish and Christian Kazimierz.
In 1791, Kazimierz lost its status as a separate city and became a district of Kraków. The richer Jewish families quickly moved out of the overcrowded streets of eastern Kazimierz. Because of the injunction against travel on the Sabbath, however, most Jewish families stayed relatively close to the historic synagogues in the old Oppidum, maintaining Kazimierz’s reputation as a “Jewish district” long after the concept ceased to have any administrative meaning. By the 1930's, Kraków had 120 officially registered synagogues and prayer houses scattered across the city and much of Jewish intellectual life had moved to new centres like Podgórze. Jewish children in front of Corpus Christi church sometime before 1939.
In a tourist guide published in 1935, Meir Balaban, a Reform rabbi and professor of History at the University of Warsaw, lamented that the Jews who remained in the once vibrant Oppidum were “only the poor and the ultra-conservative.” However, this same exodus was the reason why most of the buildings in the Oppidum are preserved today in something close to their 18th century shape.
Views of pre-war Kazimierz can be seen in the opening scenes of the classic, Yiddish movie, Yidl mitn Fidl, or Yidl with His Fiddle (Yiddish: יידל מיטן פֿידל), which was filmed in 1936, directed by Joseph Green and Jan Nowina-Przybylski, and stars Molly Picon.
During the Second World War, the Jews of Krakow, including those in Kazimierz, were forced by the Nazis into a crowded ghetto in Podgórze, across the river. Most of them were later killed during the liquidation of the ghetto or in death camps. Further information: Kraków Ghetto, Operation Reinhard in Kraków, and Jewish ghettos in German-occupied Poland