[Yiddish: Krake, Kroke, Krakoy] - The oldest
information the Jews' arrival in Krakow comes from an account by Ibrahim
ibn Jakub dating back to 965-966. In it, he mentions merchants trading
in eastern goods and slaves. A permanent settlement had existed there
since the late twelfth century. The Community's population probably
increased during the rule of Kazimierz III the Great, who in 1334 issued
a privilege for the Jews in Malopolska. Many Jews fleeing persecution
in the German lands also arrived at that time.
During this period, the first conflicts between Jews and the Krakow
burghers also occurred. In 1369, a memorandum was issued in which
Krakow's residents complained to the king that Jews were breaking town
laws and falsifying lists of debtors.
The Jewish quarter was situated around what is today St. Anne's (sw.
Anny) Street, which at that time was called "Jewish Street" (Zydowska)
and was first mentioned in 1304. Synagogues and a cemetery also existed.
In the fourteenth century, the Krakow Community probably already had
its own internal organization including elders and a court.
Krakow's Jews were involved in granting loans, and in crafts and
trade, both local and long-distance. The city was an important center
for trade with Silesia, Moravia, Bohemia and Ruthenia. The trade route
which brought eastern goods to Western Europe passed through Krakow.
Some of Krakow's Jews, such as Lewko, played an important role as royal
customs collectors, purveyors and bankers.
In 1469, Jews were forced to move to the area around Szpiglarska
Street (currently called St. Thomas Street, sw. Tomasza), though many
continued to live in other areas of Krakow. The area they had previously
inhabited was given to the university. In 1494, most of the Jewish
quarter burned, with the fire spreading to the Christian part of the
city as well. This event prompted Jan Olbracht to issue a decree in 1495
ordering Jews to leave Krakow. At this time, Jews began moving to the
Krakow suburb of Kazimierz (now one of Krakow's constituent
From the late fifteenth century to the early nineteenth century,
although no Jewish Community existed in Krakow, a Jewish presence in the
city persisted. Jews continued to trade in rented shops and stalls.
Many lived in buildings rented from Christians. This practice was
sanctioned by a privilege issued by Stefan Batory in 1576.
Most burghers were opposed to the activities and economic position
of Krakow's Jews, which also became a subject of the anti-Jewish
literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In 1802, the Austrians annexed Kazimierz to Krakow, but only a few
Jews were permitted to live outside the Jewish quarter in Kazimierz.
These included Jews with considerable property holdings who had adopted
the European manner of dress. It was only when Jews were granted equal
rights in 1867 that they acquired the right to live wherever they wished
in Krakow. At that time, the Israeli Religious Community was founded;
its jurisdiction did not, however, include issues related to the law or
These changes meant Jews began moving the center of town, which was
attractive in terms of trade. The intelligentsia also preferred to live
there. Many Jews settled in Stradom, located between Kazimierz and the
center of Krakow.
In the nineteenth century, Krakow became one of
the largest Orthodox, Chasidic and Haskalah cultural centers.
Assimilationism grew in popularity. Many Jews, particularly assimilated
ones, began playing an important role in the city's political, economic
and cultural life. These included A. Gumplowicz (bibliophile), M.
Gottlieb (painter) and M. Datner (chairman of the municipal Chamber of
Commerce and Industry).
In 1900, over 25,000 Jews lived in Krakow (28% of the total
population). Most were involved in small-scale trade, but they were also
strongly represented in the free professions: they comprised 21% of
doctors (52 people) and 43% of lawyers (47 people). The Jewish Community
gained a number of important institutions, including a hospital, a
network of schools, among which was a Beis Yakov girls' school. Jewish
newspapers were published in several languages and numerous cultural
organizations existed. The Zionist movement became very popular, thanks
to the efforts of men like A. O. Thon and J. Schenweter.
During the years 1905 to 1914, Der Yidisher Arbeter [Yiddish, The
Jewish Worker] was published, an organ of Poale Zion. Attempts were made
to unite the Zionist movement; in 1905, under the leadership of J.
Margulies, the Committee of the Representatives of Zionist Organizations
in Eastern Galicia was founded.
During the interwar period, Krakow played an important role in the
political and cultural life of Polish Jews. Numerous newspapers were
published, including the Zionist Nowy Dziennik (Polish, New Daily) and
the Bundist Walka (Polish, Struggle). There were also many cultural
organizations, such as theaters, and sports clubs.
Chasidic influences remained strong, particularly among Kazimierz's
poorer residents. The tzaddik of Bobowa had many followers. In 1931,
nearly 57,000 Jews lived in Krakow (26% of the city's total population).
Many (47%) were involved in trade, and 31% were employed in industry
and crafts. By 1939, the Jewish population had grown to 60,000.
After the Germans took Krakow in September 1939, mass persecution
began. The Jews were forced to pay heavy contributions, and several
synagogues were destroyed. In April 1940, Jews were ordered to leave the
city; about 15,000 were granted permission to stay. On March 21, 1941, a
ghetto was created in Podgorze, which held approximately 16,000 of
Krakow's Jews. In the autumn, about 8,000 people from surrounding
Communities were resettled there from towns that had been annexed to
The Jews tried to create a substitute for a normal existence. Three
hospitals were founded, as well as orphanages and old people's homes;
three synagogues functioned, as did a pharmacy run by a Pole. As early
as 1940, illegal organizations began operating as well. Among them was
Akiva, founded by the Zionist youth, which published an underground
weekly in Polish; later it merged with the Jewish Combat Organization
(in Polish, Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa). Several sabotage actions were
carried out. On December 22, 1942, for example, a group of German
officers were attacked in the "Cyganeria" club. Zegota, the Council for
Aid to the Jews, also operated in Krakow.
In 1942, mass extermination began: in June and
October, approximately 14,000 people were sent to death camps in Belzec;
many people, particularly the elderly, were killed on the spot. After
the deportation actions, the size of the ghetto was reduced, and it was
divided into two parts: A - for those who worked, and B - for those who
did not. In early 1943, the Kinderheim was created, for children under
fourteen. In March 1943, liquidation of the ghetto began. Residents of
part A (about 3,000) were moved to the labor camp in Plaszow. The rest
were sent to Auschwitz; several hundred died on the spot.
After the war, about 3,000 Jews returned to Krakow, including some
who had survived in the Soviet Union. They lived in various parts of the
city and did not form a compact group. A few tried to continue cultural
and religious traditions. A Voivodship Committee of Jews in Poland was
created in 1945; in 1950, it became the Krakow branch of the Social and
Cultural Society of Jews in Poland. There was also a Jewish Religious
Union (in Polish, Zwiazek Religijny Wyznania Mojzeszowego), founded in
1949. During the entire postwar period, one synagogue, with its own
cantor, also continued to operate. There was also a functioning cemetery
on Miodowa Street. Numerous pilgrims visited the grave of Moshe
The rebuilding of Jewish cultural and religious traditions in
Kazimierz began during the 1990's. The Jewish Cultural Center was
founded, and Krakow's Jewish community was appointed its own rabbi.
Numerous buildings and other sites of historical importance also began
to be renovated at that time.