Wroclaw, located in south-western Poland is the cultural, economic and scientific center of Lower Silesia. The uniqueness of the city is determined by its early medieval origin and rich cultural texture. In its history Wroclaw was possessed and governed by Czechs, Poles, Austrians, Prussians and Germans. Although the first traces of settlements around Wroclaw are dated back to 800 B.C., the city took its shape with establishment of bishopric in the year 1000. The later development was regulated by the location laws issued in Wroclaw in 1242.
Wroclaw Jewish community is one of the oldest on the nowadays Polish territory. Its beginnings are rooted in XII century when Wroclaw was an important trade city, located on the Amber Track and soon developing free trade agreements with Prague, Venice and Karyntia. The life of first Jewish community was focusing around Jewish Street (nowadays Uniwersytecka) where the first synagogue and Jewish school was built.
XV centaury in Europe brought the raise of influence of Catholic Church with its anti-Semitic teachings. In 1455 the Czech king Ladislav, stimulated with fierce anti-Jewish sermons of J.Kapistran, granted Wroclaw the rights privilegia de non tolerandis Judaeis which were in force for the next 200 years. Jews who were involved in wholesale trade were allowed in the town only during fairs. In order to enter the town they had to be marked with yellow patch on their clothing.
The gradual reconstruction of the Jewish community was started in XVII century with Zachary Lazarus from Nahod, who became leaseholder of the Wroclaw mint. In the second half of XVIII century Haskalah reached the city. The movement had many followers among well educated Wroclaw Jews, this promoted also their assimilation with German population. Wilhelm School established in late XVIII century was the first progressive educational institution for Jewish boys. From this moment there was clear division in Wroclaw Jewish community for those following progressive teachings led by Rabbi Abraham Geiger and those following Orthodox faction lead by Rabbi Gedalje Tiktin. As a consequence, two parallel rabbinical offices operated in Wroclaw until the Second World War. In 1812 the equal rights for all the city inhabitants were introduced which perpetuated the growth of Jewish community. In 1829 the White Stork Synagogue was built (Zum Weissen Storch) and in 1872 The New Synagogue (Neue Synagoge). The next great achievement was Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1871 Wroclaw could boast to have the third biggest Jewish community in Germany after Berlin and Frankfurt. Mid XIX century also brought the publication of novel Soll und Haben (Debit and Credit) by Gustav Freytag. It depicted Wroclaw as a place infiltrated by Ostjuden who brought with them dishonesty and deception. Between 1855 and 1922 this book was reprinted 113 times. European anti-Semitism was in raise again.
Late XIX and beginning of XX centaury brought the sudden influx of impoverished Jewish masses from the East. The Wroclaw Jews were engaged strongly in the protection of the German character of the existing community.
In the inter war period, the largest problem was the raising Nazism and anti-Semitism. In the election for Reichstag in November 1932 Nazi Party won support of 40% of all votes from Wroclaw and Lower Silesia. In April 1933 the day of boycott was organized. Jewish shops and property were marked. The implementation of the Nuremberg laws in September 1935 meant that Jews became total outcasts of society. In November 1935 Jews were deprived of German citizenship and in 1938 were forbidden to drive and required to return their licenses. 91 Jews were killed on the streets, property and shops were destroyed during the Crystal Night (Kristallnacht) in November 1938. In that time the largest synagogue, The New Synagogue was set on fire and totally destroyed. During the Holocaust in Wroclaw between 1941 and 1945 the extermination of almost 8000 people was carried out. They were deported to nearby Gross-Rosen Camp or later to Kowno, Terezin and Auschwitz.
Interesting chapter of Jewish history was opened in Wroclaw after WW II. Wroclaw was Polish again. The city became a place of settlement and transit for masses of Jews from the Soviet Union and remnants of Polish Jews. Altogether it is calculated that city accepted around 70.000 Jewish immigrants. Just after WW II there were four synagogues, kosher canteen, mikvah, Talmud-Torah school, printing houses and two cemeteries. This community was gradually shrinking in size as the Communist authorities started their anti minorities politics with the support of some part of the Polish society. The remnants of Wroclaw Jews were forced out of Poland in 1968. Since 1990 there has been a gradual process of re-building of Jewish community life in Wroclaw around The White Stork Synagogue.
Places of interest in Wroclaw:
The White Stork Synagogue
Old Jewish Cemetery
New Jewish Cemetery
Places worth visiting around Wroclaw:
Bierutow - synagogue, two Jewish cemeteries
Brzeg Dolny - synagogue and Jewish cemetery
Dzierzoniow - synagogue and Jewish cemetery
Klodzko - Jewish cemetery
Legnica - Jewish cemetery
Milocice - Jewish cemetery
Olawa - Jewish cemetery
Olesnica - synagogue
Strzegom - synagogue and Jewish cemetery, close to the former Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp
Swidnica - Jewish cemetery
Ziembice - synagogue and Jewish cemetery