Kazimierz (Polish pronunciation: [kaˈʑimjɛʂ]; Latin: Casimiria; Yiddish: קוזמיר) is a historical district of Kraków, Poland; best known for being home to a significant Jewish community from the 14th century on until the Holocaust in the Second World War.
The boundaries of Kazimierz are defined by an old island in the Vistula river. The northern branch of the river (Stara Wisła – Old Vistula) was filled-in at the end of the 19th century during the partitions of Poland and made into an extension of ul. Stradomska Street connecting Kazimierz district with Kraków Old Town.
Three early medieval settlements are known to have existed on the island defining Kazimierz. The most important of these was the pre-Christian Slavic shrine at Skałka (“the rock”) at the western, upstream tip of the island. This site, with its sacred pool, was later Christianised as the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in the 11th century and was the legendary site of the martyrdom of St. Stanisław. There was a nearby noble manor complex to the southeast and an important cattle-market town of Bawół, possibly based on an old tribal Slavic gród, at the edges of the habitable land near the swamps that composed the eastern, downstream end of the island. There was also a much smaller island upstream of Kazimierz known as the “Tartar Island” after the Tartar cemetery there. This smaller island has since washed away.
On 27 March 1335, King Casimir III of Poland (Kazimierz Wielki) declared the two western suburbs of Kraków to be a new town named after him, Kazimierz (Casimiria in Latin). Shortly thereafter, in 1340, Bawół was also added to it, making the boundaries of new city the same as the whole island. King Casimir granted his Casimiria location privilege in accordance with the Magdeburg Law and, in 1362, ordered the defensive walls to be built. He settled the newly built central section primarily with burghers, with a plot set aside for the Augustinian order next to Skałka. He also began work on a campus for the Kraków Academy which he founded in 1364, but Casimir died in 1370 and the campus was never completed.
Perhaps the most important feature of medieval Kazimierz was the Pons Regalis, the only major, permanent bridge across the Vistula (Polish: Wisła) for several centuries. This bridge connected Kraków via Kazimierz to the Wieliczka Salt Mine and the lucrative Hungarian trade route. The last bridge at this location (at the end of modern Stradomska Street) was dismantled in 1880 when the filling-in of the Old Vistula river bed under Mayor Mikołaj Zyblikiewicz made it obsolete.
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.
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 1930s, 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.
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.
After the Second World War, devoid of Jews, Kazimierz was neglected by the communist authorities. However, since 1988, now a popular annual Jewish Cultural Festival has drawn Cracovians back to the heart of the Oppidum and re-introduced Jewish culture to a generation of Poles who have grown up without Poland’s historic Jewish community. In 1993, Steven Spielberg shot his film Schindler's List largely in Kazimierz (in spite of the fact that very little of the action historically took place there) and this drew international attention to Kazimierz. Since 1993, there have been parallel developments in the restoration of important historic sites in Kazimierz and a booming growth in Jewish-themed restaurants, bars, bookstores and souvenir shops. Not only that, there are also Jews returning to Kazimierz from Israel and America. Kazimierz with Krakow, is having a booming growth in Jewish population recently.
A Jewish youth group now meets weekly in Kazimierz and the Remuh Synagogue actively serves a small congregation of mostly elderly Cracovian Jews.
- 1. Market Square (Wolnica) with a town hall, now housing an ethnographic museum
- 2. Gothic St Catherine's Church
- 3. Gothic Corpus Christi Church
- 4. Baroque Church on the Rock (Skałka), the site of Saint Stanislaus's martyrdom
- 5. Municipal Engineering Museum
- 6. Old Synagogue, now housing a Jewish History museum
- 7. Remuh Synagogue
- 8. High Synagogue
- 9. Izaak Synagogue
- 10. Kupah Synagogue
- 11. Tempel Synagogue, still active
- 12. Old Jewish Cemetery in Krakow
- Stradomska, ulica (in) Encyklopedia Krakowa. Warszawa – Kraków: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN. 2000. p. 929. ISBN 83-01-13325-2.
- S. M. Dubnow with Simon Dubnow and Israel Friedlaender (2000, translated by Israel Friedlaender). History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Volume 1. Avotaynu Inc. pp. 22–24. ISBN 1-886223-11-4. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
- Francis William Carter, Trade and Urban Development in Poland: An Economic Geography of Cracow, from Its Origins to 1795, Cambridge University Press, 1994, p.71.[verification needed]
- Sacred Destinations , Old Synagogue, Krakow
- The Jewish Krakow, The Old Synagogue: ul. Szeroka 24. Page stored at Internet Archive
- Rebecca Weiner, The Old Synagogue The Virtual Jewish History Tour
- Jewish Krakow, A Visual and Virtual Tour, The Kupa Synagogue: ul. Miodowa 27 from the Internet Archive
- Kazimierz.com. "Kazimierz wczoraj. Introdution". Stowarzyszenie Twórców Kazimierz.com. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
- "Welcome to Kazimierz!". A visual and virtual tour. Jewish Krakow.net. 2011. Retrieved October 27, 2012.
- Bałaban, Majer Przewodnik po żydowskich zabytkach Krakowa Krakow: B'nei B'rith, 1935.
- Bałaban, Majer Historja Żydów w Krakowie i na Kazimierzu, 1304-1868 (Vol. I, II) Krakow: KAW, 1991. (reprint)
- Burek, Edward (ed.) Encyklopedia Krakowa. Krakow: PWM, 2000.
- Michalik, Marian (ed.) Kronika Krakowa. Krakow: Kronika, 2006.
- Simpson, Scott Krakow Cambridge: Thomas Cook, 2006.
- Świszczowski, Stefan Miasto Kazimierz pod Krakowem Krakow: WLK, 1981.
- Jakimyszyn, Anna Żydzi krakowscy w dobie Rzeczypospolitej Krakowskiej Krakow-Budapeszt 2008.
Old Synagogue, 15th century
Remuh Synagogue, 1557
High Synagogue, 1563
Kupa Synagogue, 1643
Izaak Synagogue, 1644
Tempel Synagogue, 1862
Remuh Cemetery established in 1535
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Kazimierz.|
- The Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow
- The Galicia Jewish Museum
- Jewish Community in Kazimierz on Virtual Shtetl