Jews began to settle in Cieszyn in the first half of the 16th century. It might have been connected with the fact that the town was incorporated to the Habsburg Empire. The first historical reference dates back to 1531, the year in which a Jew called Jakub bought a house in Cieszyn (he sold the house and left the town the same year) [1.1].
The competition between Jewish and Christian merchants increased in Silesia at the beginning of the 16th century. The fact that the Jews grew rich caused dissatisfaction and tensions among the village people who filed numerous complaints against the Silesian Jews to the imperial authorities in Vienna.
That was one of the reasons why, on 14 September 1559, Emperor Ferdynand I issued an imperial edict ordering that the Jews be expelled from the Habsburg hereditary lands, i.e. the Czech Republic, Moravia and Silesia. From then on, the Jews could not take up official residence in Silesia; however, the imperial edict was not widely applied. The Jews had separate enclaves in which they could live: Głogów and Biała Prudnicka in Silesia and Osobłóda and Opawa Silesia [[refr:"nazwa"|K.Orzechowski, Sprawy ludności żydowskiej w śląskich drukowanych zbiorach prawnych [in:] Śląski Kwartalnik Historyczny Sobótka 1989, no. 1, p. 46 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, vol. V, p. 32.]].
The life of the Jewish community in the Cieszyn borough under the Habsburg control in the 16th century was regulated by so-called land regulations, enacted in 1561, which were lists of common and state laws and resolutions of the local government councils of Silesian duchies. They contained a separate chapter entitled “Von Juden”, which defined the law of settlement on Habsburg lands and set loans given on interest by the Jews to lords and peasants, as well as other things [[refr:"nazwa"|D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, vol. V, p. 31.]].
Cieszyn Duke Wacław Adam (reigned 1579-1617) did not abide by all the imperial edicts and often used the services of Jewish musicians and had a court glazier of Jewish origin called Markus. The duke awarded Markus for his faithful service by issuing, in 1575, a privilege that permitted him to buy a house in the town. Markus, however, ran up debt and the town council sold his house in 1578.
In the years 1582-1584, Emperor Rudolf II confirmed the previous imperial edict stating that the Jews had to leave the Habsburg hereditary lands, excluding specially separated enclaves.
The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) led to the depopulation of many Silesian towns and cities. Striving to improve the financial situation of the country, in 1627, Emperor Ferdinand tempered the policy toward Jews and issued an edict allowing them to resettle in Cieszyn after paying a special charge of 40 thousand gulden. The imperial edict allowed the Jews to conduct conditional trade and craft by a chosen group of privileged Jews (privilegire Juden) who were also called court Jews (Hofjuden). The Emperor permitted them to take out a lease on the collection of duty and taxes. More than that, they had the right to acquire houses as their own properties [[refr:"nazwa"|A.Steinert, Geschichte der Juden in Oppeln, Opeln 1922, p. 23 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, vol. V, p. 33.]]. The same reasons made Elizabeth Lucretia of Cieszyn (reigned in the years 1625-1653) to lease the right to collect a road toll to the Jews.
In 1626, three Jews from Moravia leased the right to collect road toll for three years in Cieszyn, Skoczów, Strumień and Jabłonkowo for 2,100 zlotys per year. Two brothers, Jakub and Mojżesz Singer, who came from Ivančice, near Brno, signed a similar contract in Cieszyn in 1631. After a few years, Mojżesz moved to Pszczyna, and Jakub Singer became the founder of the oldest family of Cieszyn Jews. He enjoyed many rights and could freely conduct goods trade (he did business with Moravia, Hungary, Silesia and Małopolska). Singer also took out a lease on the local market, practiced usury and cooperated with the ducal mint in Cieszyn. On 9 October 1637, Jakub Singer bought a house at Polska Street, near the castle. A few years later, he acquired a bigger house situated at the corner of the Square and Niemiecka Street. The house was called the Jewish House (Jüdisches Haus) and later became the foundation of the extraordinary position of the Singers in Cieszyn Silesia [1.1.1]. Other Jews also started to settle down in Cieszyn at this time. Merchant Lazarus traded with Kraków, and Mojsel Lewel from Morawska Ostrawa and Lewek Mirowicz from Prague cooperated with the Cieszyn mint.
After Jakub Singer’s death, one of his sons, Samuel Singer, took over the lease on the Cieszyn road toll. Just like his father, Samuel ran a shop, practiced usury and bought silver coins in Silesia for the imperial mint in Wrocław (he became its official supplier in 1673) with the assistance of his four sons. In 1667, ten Jews, including five members of the Singer family, paid tax on residence in Cieszyn. In 1672, Cieszyn inhabitants accused Samuel Singer of favouring strange Jewish merchants and demanded that those underhand dealings should be stopped and all the Jews staying in the town (except Samuel) should be imposed with town taxes. In 1674, Samuel turned to the emperor for granting a permit to expand the trading activity in the town and for allowing his four sons to conduct trade in Cieszyn. The Cieszyn merchants were opposed to such an idea and filed an appropriate protest to the emperor. Cieszyn landed district administrator Duke Larisch and the Wrocław Chief District Office supported Samuel in the dispute. Finally, in 1675, Emperor Leopold I issued a privilege that forbidden any Jew, excluding the privileged Singer family, to trade or perform religious rites in Cieszyn. Simultaneously, two Singer’s sons, Józef and Hirschel, were granted the right to trade. At the turn of 18th century, the Singer family was granted other privileges, and Simon Goldschmied, Samuel Singer’s son-in-law, joined the group of traders [1.1.1].
In May 1713, Emperor Karol IV issued a tolerance edict (Toleranzpatent), which allowed the Jews to settle in Silesia after paying a special tolerance tax. The imperial edict divided the Jewish community into two groups: (1) those who owned landed properties and those who did not (they paid a lower tax) and (2) tolerated Jews. The Jews from Głogów and Biała Prudnicka were exempted from the tolerance tax[[refr:"nazwa"|P.Maser, A.Weiser, Juden in Oberschlesien Teil 1, Berlin 1992, p. 26 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, vol. V, p. 34.]].
At the same time, the emperor prohibited the Jews from leasing the road tolls and customs and from collecting taxes, which led to the Singer family loosing this lucrative business in 1722. In 1713, the number of Jews in Cieszyn Silesia started to grow rapidly. About as many as 50 Jewish families inhabited the region in 1725. However, the Singer family did everything, and did it successfully, to prevent other Jews from settling in the very town of Cieszyn. Only four other Jewish families, except the Singers, lived in the town in 1720. At this time, the Singer family’s activity cantered on trade in cloth and other products.
In October 1726, the Silesian Chief District Office enacted the “Wegen der Juden” patent, which prohibited Jews to settle in the places that they had previously not been to and houses they had not previously occupied. In this way, new Jews (so-called strangers) were forbidden to settle in Silesia. The patent also introduced the so-called “inkolat rule” – only one son of each Jewish family was given the permission to get marry and was granted the right to take up residence (inkolae). The other sons were considered strangers and, after coming of age, they had to leave the country [[refr:"nazwa"|I.Rabin, Vom Rechtskampf der Juden in Schlesien (1582-1713) [in:] Jahresbericht der judisch-teologischen seminars fur das Jahr 1926, Breslau 1927, p. 50-51 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, vol. V, p. 34.]]. After the edict had been implemented, the Jewish settlement in Silesia increased. However, a distinctive characteristic was the fact that the Jews settling here ran their businesses. It caused the opposition and protests of Christian entrepreneurs and traders, who started to demand that the Jews should be again expelled from the town.
In the 1730s, Mojżesz, Józef’s son (the oldest son of Samuel Singer) became the head of the Singer family. At this time, Józef Jakob (Mojżesz Singer’s brother-in-law) made a living by selling alcohol, while Józef Simon Goldschmied (Samuel Singer’s son-in-law) was granted trading rights in 1734. In 1736, Jakub Hirschel leased from Cieszyn Customs House a profit-making vodka income ledger – one third of inns and taverns from the Duchy of Cieszyn came under the ledger.
The development of Jewish enterprise caused violent objections and protests on the part of the Christian entrepreneurs and merchants, who started to demand that the Jews should be again expelled from Silesia. It led to the situation in which Emperor Karol VI issued, in 1738, an edict demanding that all the Jews who did not have special privileges leave Silesia. The Jews who were allowed to stay were granted permission to conduct only small trade and to product and sell vodka after taking out a lease on the inns. At the same time, the town authorities were given the permission to displace the Jews from the town center to suburban districts and to transform the Jewish cemeteries and synagogues into Christian structures and buildings [[refr:"nazwa"|W.Jaworski, Z dziejów Żydów bieruńskich, Bieruń Stary 1989, p. 4 [in:] D.Walerjański, Z dziejów Żydów na Górnym Śląsku do 1812 roku [in:] Pismo Muzealno-Humanistyczne Orbis, Muzeum Miejskie w Zabrzu, Katowice 2005, vol. V, p. 35.]]. The edict considerably limited the possibility of the development of Jewish initiatives in Silesia. After Mojżesz Singer’s death in 1742, the family inheritance went to his children with his second wife, Lea Singer. At this time, her brother, Jakub Hirschel, was becoming more and more influential [1.1.1].
In December 1746, there were eight Jewish families (22 people over 15 years of age) in Cieszyn, including three privileged families: the ones of Lea Singer (Mojżesz Singer’s second wife) with her children, of inn keeper Jakub Hirschel and of Józef Goldschmied. In 1748, the Cieszyn authorities appointed Jakub Hirschel as the permanent collector of Jewish taxes. In 1752, Empress Maria Teresa issued the Tolerance Patent, which allowed a limited number of 88 Jewish families to stay in Cieszyn Silesia. The regulations stipulated that only the oldest son, after his father’s death, could stay, whereas the remaining children had to leave the country after coming of age. The enclosure of the Patent permitted 12 Jewish families (57 people) to take up residence in Cieszyn. All of them had the status of tolerated Jews. When Jakub Hirschel died in 1751, Józef Goldschmied became the new collector of Jewish taxes. In 1754, Empress Maria Teresa confirmed the family privileges owned by Lea Singer’s family and allowed Endel Oppenheim (Lea Singer’s daughter) and her husband (Jakub Oppenheim) to run another shop in the town (but only until their death).
The first official census conducted in 1754 listed eight tolerated Jewish families (35 people) in Cieszyn. At this time, the Cieszyn Customs House preferred to cooperate with the non-tolerated Jews, to whom it could dictate its conditions. It led to the competition of the tolerated and non-tolerated Jews. As the result, six non-tolerated Jewish families took up residence in the suburbs of Cieszyn, where they ran their businesses. From 1766, the Singer family company leased the tobacco sales in the Duchy of Cieszyn – a network of 57 Jewish tobacco sellers (so-called kiosk keepers) came under the company in 1776. From 1760 to 1765, the function of the Jewish tax collector was performed by Jakub Oppenheim, in 1765-1766 - by Hirschel Mojżesz Singer, and then by Zachariasz Gerson Lazarus (Oppenheim’s son-in-law). Simon Lobel became a leaseholder of the income ledger of the Cieszyn Customs House [1.1.1].
In the 1770s, the authorities liberalized the attitude toward Jews and wanted to stimulate the growth of Cieszyn through Jewish trade, as well as to accelerate the integration of Galicia and the rest of the monarchy. For this reason, international Cieszyn fairs were initiated in 1775. To make the contacts between traders easier, a special wayside inn was opened for Jewish traders from the east. The result of the fairs was that the trade contacts between Cieszyn and Galicia intensified. In 1776, Józef Löwi took over tobacco sales in the Duchy of Cieszyn from the Singers who ran up debt.
As many as 16 tolerated Jewish families (88 people) lived in Cieszyn in 1780. The local Jews made a living by trading and providing services. The Tolerance Patent, issued in 1781 for the Jews from Austrian Silesia, officially allowed the tolerated Jews to practice their religion in private but no to own synagogues and rabbis. The Patent obliged all the Jews to learn German and opened a possibility of education in Christian schools and universities. In 1787, Emperor Józef II ordered that all the Jews should assume German names, which became a very important factor in the assimilation of the Cieszyn Jews.
Jewish traders could run their businesses more freely and the fact prompted the decline of the Singers who left Cieszyn in 1788. In 1785, all the tolerated Jews from Cieszyn Silesia bought a private cemetery previously owned by the Singers. According to the 1790 census, Cieszyn and the surrounding villages had 46 Jewish inhabitants. In 1801, a house of prayer was established in a rented basement at Mennicza Street. Juda Glücklich headed the meetings. In this way, the first informal Jewish kehilla was called into being in Cieszyn. In 1802, Heimann Holläder, born in Cieszyn, became a doctor of medicine at the University of Frankfurt (Oder) [1.1.1].
In 1812, there were 98 Jews in Cieszyn, and in 1837 – as many as 327 Jews, who constituted 5.2% of the whole town population. In 1840, 17 tolerated Jewish families lived in the town, while other 13 such families inhabited the surrounding villages. The enterprise register from 1829-1848 lists 56 Jewish initiatives in Cieszyn – including 20 ones concerning trade, 10 – craft, 8 – leasing and selling alcohol, 7 – various kinds of services. Goldschmidt and Löbestein owned a vinegar factory[1.1.1]. In 1838, a synagogue was constructed according to the design of architect Karl Jilg. The synagogue was erected in the area of today's Bożnicza Street (it was located on the site of the present sports field of Elementary School No. 1). A cantor, synagogue servant and shochet were employed to serve in the temple.
Gradually, more and more Jews started to arrive in Cieszyn in the first half of the 19th century. The preoccupied inhabitants of Cieszyn filed a complaint in 1844 against the not-tolerated Jews who settled in the town. After an investigation, in April 1848, the Town Council of Cieszyn ordered 10 not tolerated Jews to leave the town. The events of the European Revolutions of 1848 caused the Jews of Austria to be granted political rights, thanks to which Max Ritter became, in 1850, the first Jewish town councillor in Cieszyn. In 1848, Dr Abraham Schmiedl became the first official rabbi of Cieszyn (called district rabbi – Kreisrabbiner), and Dr Josef Guggenheimer took over his duties in 1853. A boys’ choir was active at this time in the synagogue. A 2-grade Jewish elementary school operated in the years 1850-1859; however, it was closed down due to the lack of funds and students.
The representative of the Cieszyn Jews in the Town Council during the 1861 elections was a wine trader, Ferdinand Ziffer. From 1864, four or five Jews entered the Council on a regular basis. Because of the strong assimilation, the local Jews appeared in the common political camp with German liberals (German Party) opposing the Polish national camp. The Basic Laws from 1867 made all the Austrian citizens equal and granted them equal civil and political rights irrespective of religion. Since 1866, the Cieszyn kehilla functioned on the basis of the authorized charter. The kehilla was represented by the Department consisting of 15 people and the Board including five members, with a president at its head. The Department and Board were elected every three years. In 1872-1876, Daniel Tugendhat was appointed the first president of the Board. Then, between the years 1876-1888, the president was Bernhard Glesinger, and from 1888 to 1894 – Siegmund Kohn. The kehilla owned a synagogue and a cemetery. A Charity Women Association was also active in Cieszyn. In 1867, a Jewish religious school started to operate, and in September 1876, it was transformed into a Talmud-Torah school (the building at 30 Michejdy Street). Works aimed at the reconstruction of the synagogue, which could no longer hold the growing number of the kehilla members, started in 1877. The renovation works finished om September 1878[1.1.1].
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Jews started to play an important role in the economic life of the town. Many Jewish business firms and factories were brought into being. Most of the Jews dealt with production of alcoholic beverages. Moritz Fasal was the owner of the “Moritz Fasal’s liqueur and soda water factory in Cieszyn”. The most popular Jewish firms dealt with wood acquisition and processing, for example the firm belonging to J. Ph. Glesinger and a bentwood furniture factory owned by Josef and Jacob Kohn. In 1890, there were 4,622 Jews in the entire kehilla, including 1,313 people in Cieszyn. In 1893, Dr Adolf Leimdörfer from Boskovice became the new rabbi of Cieszyn. The subsequent kehilla chairmen were: J. Ph. Glesinger - 1894-1909, Jacques Silberstein - 1909-1912 and Dr Leopold Silberstein - 1912-1919.
The Orthodox Jews who started to settle in Cieszyn more often towards the end of the 19th century constituted a minority among the Cieszyn Jews. They lived for the most part in Frysztackie Przedmieście and Saska Kępa, near the railway station. They owned a few houses of prayer, two of which (at Frysztackie Przedmieście and Saska Kępa) were formally in operation. A group of Orthodox Jews, headed by merchant Izaak Amsterdam, registered the “Machsike Hadas” Religion Reinforcement Association in 1911. In 1912, they built a house of prayer at 1 Benedyktyńska Street according to the design of Karl Friedrich. The local mikveh (ritual bathhouse) was adjacent to the house of prayer. Moreover, the “Schomre Schabos” Association of Prayer and Charity was called into being. Other houses of prayer included, for example the ones of Brünner, Leiner, Zehngut, Klappholz’s [1.1.1].
During World War I, a wave of Jewish refugees who fled from Galicia for the fear of pogroms of Russian soldiers arrived in Cieszyn in 1915. The Cieszyn kehilla started to offer them help and assistance. When in the years 1918-1920 conflicts started between Poland and Czechoslovakia over Cieszyn Silesia, the Jews tried to remain neutral; their cultural and economic ties, however, made them to be favorably inclined toward Germans – and for this reason they liked more Czechoslovakia, which they saw as more developed and more democratic than Poland. When Cieszyn was divided into the Polish and Czechoslovakian parts, a number of Jews moved to Czechoslovakia (in 1922, a separate kehilla was created in Czech Cieszyn), Austria and Germany. The social structure of the Cieszyn kehilla changed after these events. There were no longer any big Jewish firms in Cieszyn, and many Jews worked as public attorneys and doctors. In 1921, Cieszyn had 1,591 Jews who constituted 10.4% of the whole town population. The number gradually decreased and in 1930, there were 1,404 Jewish inhabitants, making up 8% of the town population.
In the interwar period, the Cieszyn Jews were very engaged in the political life of the town. The Town Council had five Jewish representatives (out of the total number of 36 members). At first, they came from circles assimilated with the Germans, yet, the number of Polish Jews gradually increased. In 1919-1925, the Cieszyn kehilla president was Dr Ludwig Müller, and then, from 1926 to 1930, the function was performed by Ignacy Klein. Sharp conflicts between the Zionists and Orthodox Jews occurred in Cieszyn between the years 1930-1931. The disagreements led to the dissolution of the representation of the Cieszyn kehilla and to the appointment of a commissioner – Dr Emil Adler. In 1931, Dr Müller again became the president of the kehilla, and in 1934-1939, Dr Dawid Sandhaus performed the duties.
In 1930, the Orthodox Jews built their own Shomre-Shabos synagogue in Cieszyn. The building was erected at 16 Bożka Street according to the design of Eduard David. A few synagogues and houses of prayer operated in Cieszyn at this time. In 1931, Dr Aron Eisenstein became the new rabbi of Cieszyn – he was the first rabbi to be brought up in Polish tradition.
A few openly anti-Semitic manifestations took place in the interwar period. In 1924, 1931 and 1934, right-wing activists of the Polish National Democracy along with the students from the University of Natural Sciences came out against the Jews. In the 1930s another problem appeared, namely a strict economic boycott of Jewish shops, factories and products.
When the Polish and Czechoslovakian parts of Cieszyn were united in 1938, there were about 2,800 Jews in the town (about 1,500 in the Polish part and about 1,300 in the Czechoslovakian one). Refugees from Austria, Czech Republic and Moravia began arriving in the town very quickly. This heralded the persecutions of Jews by the Nazis.
The German army started the occupation of Cieszyn during in September 1939. As early as 13 September, the Germans burnt down the Cieszyn synagogue and closed down all prayer houses (later, all of them were also burnt down) and cemeteries. In October 1939, within the framework of the “Nisko Action”, most men were transported to the General Government, on the San River. The remaining Jews were forced to work and placed in barracks in a few forced labor camps situated in the town, from where they were gradually transported to ghettos and labor camps in Upper Silesia (Górny Śląsk) and Lesser Poland (Małopolska). By the end of 1943, only few Jews remained in Cieszyn [1.1.1].
In 1945, as few as 44 Jews from Cieszyn registered in the Jewish Committee in Bielsko, and only 53 Jews returned to Czech Cieszyn. Even the Congregation of Moses was established in Cieszyn, but most of its members emigrated by 1951.