Kazimierz Dolny

Yiddish: Kuzmir

Tourist Attractions
The ruins of the royal castle with a 14th-century tower, the parish church (1586-1589, extended 1610-1613) housing an ancient organ (1607-1620); the houses from the turn of the 18th century, with late Renaissance and Mannerism decorations, such as Kamienice Przybylowskie (1615), Kamienica Celejowska (1635); the Baroque monastery of the Reformed Franciscan Order (1630-1690) rebuilt in 1762-1768); on the Vistula: the former hospital together with St Anne's Church (1649-1670), the 17th-century late Renaissance granaries; the villas from the 19th and 20th centuries (the Potworowski villa from 1910, Zofia Kuncewicz's house from 1936, and others).

Warsaw's favourite summer resort has always been connected with Jewry, with a community existing here as early as 1406. The 16th and 17th centuries were a time of great prosperity for the town situated near a ford across the River Vistula and the port from which grain was shipped to Gdansk. This was particularly beneficial for the Jewish community engaged in trade, services and brewing. Shmul Jakubowicz, a Warsaw financier also known as Zbytkower the royal banker, was one of the owners of the local granaries. The 18th century brought aperiod of economic boom and the development of a new religious movement, Chasidism.

At the outbreak of the Second World War Jews made up 50% of the local population. Almost all of them perished in March 1942. Berek Cytryn managed to save his life by hiding first in Bochotnica and then in Warsaw. One of the Lihzons, a local family of chemists, also survived, as he spent the war in Russia. Afterwards he lived in Lodz and by emigrating in 1968 he brought the history of the Kazimierz Jews to an end.

Kazimierz, photo: A.Olej&K. Kobus:

The Jewish quarter, also called Na Tylach (At the Back), with its own market square (Maly Rynek), stretched from the south-east part of the main square. One of the main streets was ul. Lubelska which, unlike the Christian part of town, was made up of wooden houses.

The Castle
Strictly speaking, the ruins of the 14th century castle and tower do not have anything to do with Jewish culture, but they are linked to the legend of King Casimir the Great and his Jewish lover Esther from Opoczno.

The Castel, photo: A.Olej&K. Kobus:

According to various people, including the early historian Jan Dlugosz, Casimir the Great and Esther had asteamy love affair, the background to which was the town of Kazimierz and neighbouring village of Bochotnica, where the ruler put his Jewish beauty in a specially erected castle. He went to her each night through asecret underground passage which ran from Kazimierz. The result of their passion (apart from two sons, Pelka and Niemir, and two daughters raised in the Jewish faith) was a wide range of rights which the king granted the Jewish people. Sceptics say that this legend is strangely similar to the biblical story of Esther, but it was without doubt a cause of pride for pre-war Kazimierz Jews. As Aleksander Janowski wrote in 1901 in his book Trips around the Country, "Berek, like all the poor people of the town, associates the buildings and legends with the epoch of King Casimir. What kind of king he was, when, where and over whom he ruled, is hard to tell, but anyway he was a great king, a good king, and, of course, the protector of Esther. These two names are the alpha and omega of the town's tradition". All over Poland, Esther was asymbol of the beauty of the Jewish women from Kazimierz. As Janowski wrote, "The tradition of the beautiful Esther is still alive in all attractive women, and the memory of the royal lover and protector of the people lives on in the minds of the local Jews. Even on the festival of Sukkot they say prayers to her memory".

Around the year 1827, a former merchant from Plonsk, Ezekiel ben Tzvi-Hirsh Taub (d. 1857), one of the disciples of the Seer of Lublin, was drawn to Kazimierz anda Chasidic court was formed around him. One can say that Taub's views corresponded to the "artistic" atmosphere which prevailed in Kazimierz. He advocated the affirmation of life, nature and the Lord. His motto: "Icannot feel the joy of the Sabbath without a new melody", was a call for the creation of new Chasidic songs. Many of the tunes composed by Taub have survived to this day. The tzaddik is buried in the old cemetery (now a school playground). His beautiful tomb, along with the cemetery, did not survive the Second World War. Ezekiel ben Tzvi Taub founded a Chasidic group known as Kuzmir Chasidim and the Taub dynasty created several branches in central Poland, all linked by a common doctrine. David Tzvi (d. 1882) was leader of the Jablonowo Chasids and Shmul Eliyahu (d. 1888) leader of those from Zwolen. Moshe Aaron Taub (d. 1918) operated in Nowy Dwor Mazowiecki, Chaim Taub (d. 1942) in Warsaw and Mlawa and Eliezer Shlomo (d. 1938) in Wolomin. Many of the Kazimierz Chasids emigrated from Poland and survived the Second World War. Ezekiel Taub from Jablonowo left for Palestine together with a group of followers as early as 1925. There they founded an agricultural settlement. The last Kazimierz tzaddik was Shmul Eliyahu Taub of Deblin (1905'1984). After the war he moved to Tel Aviv.

The Jewish Quarter
To get to the former Jewish quarter from the castle it is best to take ul. Lubelska which will lead you to the part of town called Na Tylach. Many buildings here, for example houses No 8 and 10, as well as the very typical 11 and 17, are characteristic of the town's past. On the right hand side you can see the synagogue in Maly Rynek. Take the steps and go down.

The Synagogue and Butchers' Stalls
The synagogue in Maly Rynek, built of local limestone, dates from the second half of the 18th century. It is rectangular in shape (14.8m by 16.9m) with the main hall on the south-western side and the prayer rooms for women to the north. The interior was once richly decorated with wall paintings. The vaulting composed of eight parts was covered with paintings depicting animal themes and the representation of the grave of Rachel and the Wailing Wall.

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The Synagogue, photo: A.Olej&K. Kobus:

Local Jewish tradition attributed many legends to this synagogue. It was said to have been founded by King Casimir the Great as a gift for Esther. The stones in the wall were alleged to have come from the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The ark curtains were said to be the work of Esther herself. The synagogue was partly destroyed in 1944 and vandalised after the war. It was rebuilt in 1953 but without any decoration. At that time the arcades were walled up, and did not return to their original form until 1995. Since its reconstruction, the synagogue has been used as a cinema, which makes visiting somewhat difficult. You will find a commemorative plaque on one of the walls.

"Horses, deer, castles, flowers, geese, scales, doves and symbolism in all its richness hovers over the crowd deep in prayer." This is how around 1900 Aleksander Janowski described his impressions of the synagogue. "The elevation with a wooden balustrade, brass candelabra with numerous arms, an embroidered silk curtain, enormous books on pulpits and several splendid silver-bearded types. This is the east - hot and fanatical. The east, in their long flowing garments and silver adornments on their foreheads. These nostalgic, passionate songs full of simplicity and woe, these sighs for the land once lost, for Mount Zion and the tomb of David, for the waters of Jordan and the cedars of Lebanon..."

The wooden stalls, photo: A.Olej&K. Kobus:

Nearby, in the middle of Maly Rynek, there are some unique wooden stalls, very few of which remain in Poland to this day. At present they house agallery and the offices of the nearby bazaar.
The Maly Rynek almost touches the south-east side of the Kazimierz main market square. You can get into the synagogue building when the cinema is open and visit the butchers' stalls during the working hours of the galleries and the little shops which are there now.

The Site of the Former Cemetery
From the Little Market Square go back up the steps to ul. Lubelska and take a walk down this street. On the bend you will see the school. The playground surrounded by a stone wall is on the site of the Old Cemetery dating from 1568. Not a single trace of it has remained, although the matzevot may have ended up in the local lapidarium. If you turn right here, you will cut across to ul. Nadrzeczna and head straight for ul. Czerniawy (the road to Opole Lubelskie). After aquarter of an hour you will come to the new Jewish cemetery in ul. Czerniawy.

The New Jewish Cemetery
The cemetery in ul. Czerniawy was established in 1851 on land belonging to Motek Herzberg. It is now situated behind Poland's most interesting lapidarium, the creation of Tadeusz Augustynek, completed in 1985 and built from the remains of 600 matzevot. Some of the gravestones may have come from the old cemetery in ul. Lubelska.

The lapidarium, photo: A.Olej&K. Kobus:

They were saved by Polish workers, who put the matzevot meant for paving the streets face down, against the instructions of the Nazis who had ordered the removal of all engravings and inscriptions. Through a "crack" in the memorial you can enter avery beautiful cemetery. Be sure to take agood look at each of the headstones, as many of them show traces of paintings and the refined forms create atrue gallery of Jewish sepulchral art.
It is interesting to note that lamps still burn there on Saturdays. One can also find kvitlech in Polish. The cemetery is not fenced off and you can enter without any problem.

By the River
You may want to end your walk around Kazimierz with a stroll by the Vistula, as the valley of this river is extraordinarily pretty here. An added attraction is the opportunity to take a boat to Janowiec on the opposite bank, where you can find the ruins of the Firlej and Lubomirski castle.
Before the war these trips were the domain of the ferrymen, who formed a sizeable group among Kazimierz Jews. The writer Shalom Ash is alleged to have said to the famous Polish playwright and painter S.I. Witkiewicz (also known as Witkacy): "In Kazimierz the Vistula speaks to me in Yiddish". The names of some of them, such as the Bendit family or Abram Tantzerman, are remembered to this very day. Janowski described the latter as follows: "Abram Tantzerman, the Kazimierz gondolier, a true child of the Vistula, arobust, swarthy, handsome lad; his body, as if made of bronze, burnt by the sun and hardened by the river winds, peers through the tattered sleeves of his shirt". Zusman Segalowicz described another ferryman in his beautiful poem entitled In Kazimierz on the Vistula: "The old, silver-haired ferryman by the Vistula prays / Silent, his kingly pride in my mind Ikeep / He looks like a High Priest standing in this place / Pouring his pain down to the deep..." Maybe Segalowicz had seen someone who looked like the famous Chaim from Wojszyn, immortalised by Shalom Ash in the novel Shtetl and a favourite model for the painters staying at the summer resort.


Dear Sir,

I was looking at the Internet page:, where you mention my
grandfather, Stanislaw Lichtson, who owned the pharmacy on the square in
Kazimierz Dolny. There are a couple of mistakes in this text. My grandfather's name was Lichtson, not "Lihzon", as you have written. The entire family survived in Russia during the war: my grandparents, my mother Anna and her brother Aleksander. The information about our living in Lódz
after the war is correct. The entire family lived there: my grandparents, my
family and the family of my mother's brother. My mother emigrated to Sweden
in 1969, as did her brother in 1971--not in 1968, as you have written. I hope you will correct these couple of mistakes on that interesting page.

J. Piotr Starski
Associate Professor
Microwave Electronics
Chalmers University of Technology

You are welcome to discuss about "Kazimierz Dolny"
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