[Yiddish, Varshe, Varsha, Varshoy] - The earliest Jewish settlement in Warsaw dates back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In the first half of the fifteenth century, Warsaw had a "Jewish Street", synagogue and cemetery. The first mention of Jews being expelled from the city dates back to 1483. In 1527, Sigismund I the Old confirmed Warsaw's de non tolerandis Judaeis privilege, which had been granted earlier by the Mazovian princes. From that time, Jews had been settling in Warsaw illegally, or in "jurisdictions" (private holdings belonging to magnates and not subject to the magistrate), as was the case in Pociejow or Marywil. They were allowed to be present in the city while the Sejm was in session and take part in markets and fairs.

In 1765, there were approximately 2,500 Jews living in Warsaw. Their numbers increased significantly when Sejm legislation passed in 1775 gave them the right to engage in trade, run pubs and live in the Praga district of Warsaw. In 1780, King Stanislaw August Poniatowski, at the request of Szmul Zbytkower, allowed the Jews to establish a Jewish cemetery in Brodno; that same year, he agreed to allow Jewish settlement in Goledzinow, adjacent to Praga. As a result, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Praga became the center for Jewish life: it had synagogues, a cemetery and a school. The Community there grew rapidly, despite a massacre carried out by A. Suvorov in 1794: in 1796, the Community had approximately 1,500 members.

In 1792, there were 6,666 Jews living in all of Warsaw (8.3% of city's total population). By 1810, this figure was 14,061 (18.1%). This growth was due to the fact that the Prussian authorities took control of the city and allowed all Jews residing there in 1796 to legalize their status. They were obliged to pay a yearly tax for the right to live there, which was later changed to biletowe (�ticket�) (Jews' legal status).

In 1807, the first decree expelling Jews from the nicest neighborhoods and streets was issued, which was kept and then expanded by the government of the Duchy of Warsaw in March 1809 as well as by the Russian authorities. Jews lived in areas that were known as the "Jewish rewir"; towards the late nineteenth century, it began to be called the "northern neighborhood".
Despite the restrictions, which were lifted only in 1862 (emancipation), the city's number of Jewish residents grew steadily: in 1865, 77,200 were Jews living in Warsaw (31.7% of the total population); by 1900, this figure was 249,900 (36.4%).

In the mid-nineteenth century, Warsaw became the largest and one of the most important centers of Jewish cultural and religious life, for both Orthodox Jews as well as for those supporting assimilation. The special nature of this center is demonstrated by the fact that during the nineteenth century, a separate Warsaw dialect of Yiddish had developed. Chasidim from Gora Kalwaria had their seat in Warsaw, as did those from Warka and elsewhere. Numerous synagogues and houses of prayer were built in Warsaw, as well as baths; two large cemeteries were established, in Brodno and on Okopowa Street, founded in 1806. The first progressive synagogues were opened, and there was an Orthodox hospital, traditional and modern religious schools, as well as ones that also taught secular subjects (schools, School of Rabbis).
In the nineteenth century, Warsaw became a main center for Jewish publishing. There was an assimilationist press (Jutrzenka [Morning Star], Izraelita [The Israelite]), and the first Yiddish-language newspaper, Varshoyer Yidishe Tsaytung (Warsaw Jewish Newspaper, 1867-68). Jews were active as writers, in the theater (in both Polish and Yiddish), and in music and the visual arts. Warsaw plutocrats of Jewish extraction patronized a great many artists, and also helped fund scholarship (donors included J. G. Bloch, L. Kronenberg, and H. Wawelberg).

By the turn of the century, the main political groups had crystallized. During the 1905 revolution, the workers' movement developed, and the Bund and Fighting Organization of the Polish Socialist Party (Organizacja Bojowa Polskiej Partii Socjalistycznej) cooperated, staging demonstrations, strikes and bombings. Later, they organized the nascent trade unionist movement.

In independent Poland, despite the fact that the Jewish population was growing, the proportion of Jews overall in Warsaw was diminishing as the result of a large influx of non-Jewish residents. In 1918, 320,000 Jews were living in Warsaw (42.2% of the total population; by 1921, this figure was 310,300 (33.1%); in 1931 - 352,600 (30.1%), in 1938 - 368,400 (29.1%).

Warsaw nevertheless remained the largest center of Jewish cultural, economic and political life in Europe. Warsaw had the largest number of publishing houses (36.2% of all Jewish periodicals and books published in Poland); there were Jewish theaters (including Eldorado, Bagatela, Ermitage, Centralny, Nowosci and Elizeum); famous choirs (such as that of the Great Synagogue on T�omackie Street, directed by D. Ajzensztadt, or the Grosser Choir, founded by Bund members). There was the Jewish Musical Society, amateur and professional groups, and music courses. Jewish painters and sculptors worked in Warsaw under the aegis of the Jewish Society for the Advancement of the Fine Arts.

Warsaw was also an important center for Jewish academic life and schools; most of the school headquarters were located in Warsaw, and from 1928, courses were offered at the Institute of Judaic Studies.

Most of the political parties and groups moved their headquarters to Warsaw after 1918. International charitable, self-help and emigration organizations (such as B'nai B'rith and Joint) also had their headquarters in Warsaw.

The heyday of Jewish culture in Warsaw was ended by the outbreak of the Second World War and the German occupation. Beginning in September 1939, Jews were systematically repressed. In September 1940, the largest ghetto in the Polish lands was created (in 1940, three hundred sixty thousand people were crowded there; in 1941, it had 450,000 residents), separated from the rest of the city by a wall. A. Czerniakow was head of its Judenrat.

Despite hunger, disease and the high mortality rate, political parties continued their activities underground, organizing civil resistance. In the ghetto, cultural life took the shape of concerts, theaters and exhibitions; there were secret courses, and an underground press. Jewish scholars tried to continue their research, and a ghetto archive was founded (E. Ringelblum).

In July 1942, when deportations to the death camps began, youth organizations began preparing for an uprising. It broke out on April 19, 1943, and was the first armed resistance against the Nazis in occupied Europe. After it was suppressed, on May 16, the Germans blew up the Great Synagogue on T�omackie Street. The liquidation of the ghetto lasted until August. Many Jews hid on the "Aryan side", and some did not leave the city after the fall of the Warsaw uprising, hiding in the ruins until the liberation.

In 1947, Warsaw became the administrative center for Jewish life as it began anew, but its cultural centers were in Lodz and Lower Silesia. Warsaw was no longer the most important Jewish center after the war as the result of waves of emigration in 1946, 1949 and 1956-57, forced assimilation and repression on the part of the communist authorities. Warsaw's role as the center of Jewish life in Poland completely withered, however, only after the anti-Semitic campaign in 1968 (March 1968).
Warsaw currently has one synagogue, a kosher cafeteria and butcher shop, the E. R. Kaminska Jewish State Theater and the Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH). Jewish organizations also have their headquarters there; these include the Social and Cultural Society of Jews in Poland, the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland and Joint. There is also a Union of Jewish Students and a sports club, as well as four publications: Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego (Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Institute), Dos Yidishe Vort - Slowo Zydowskie (The Jewish Word), Yidele [Yiddish, Little Jew] and Midrasz.

Among those few Jewish buildings and historical sites that have survived, the most important are the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street (formerly Gesia Street); the cemetery in Brodno (ruined only after the war); the building of the Judaic Library of the Institute of Judaic Studies (which currently houses the Jewish Historical Institute); the Nozyk Synagogue on Twarda Street, dating back to the early twentieth century; the student dormitory of the "Auxilium Academicum Judaicum" Association; and the building of the Jewish Religious Community trade school, which currently houses the "Baj" theater in Warsaw's Praga district.

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Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Mokotowska 25, 00-560 Warsaw tel. (48-22) 44 76 100,
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