Jews probably started to settle in the royal town of Kazimierz in the early medieval times, possibly even in early 11th century[1.1]. Some researchers believe that a Jewish community already existed there during the reign of King Kazimierz Wielki (1333–1370). However, the oldest historical sources mentioning Jews living in Kazimierz Dolny date back to 1406[1.2].

Historical proof confirming the Jewish presence in Kazimierz can be found in the registry of Jewish settlements from 1507. Regardless of whether the first Jews settled there at the beginning of the 16th century or earlier, the kehilla in Kazimierz, together with the communities of Lublin, Chełm and Szczebrzeszyn, is one of the oldest in the Lublin region.

Jews settled in Kazimierz earlier than in other towns because of the advantageous location of the town at the intersection of trade routes and the Vistula crossing, as well as the specific role of the town in the process of trading and transporting grain up the river to Gdańsk.

In 1507, the Jews in Kazimierz paid coronation tax (collected on the occasion of the king’s coronation) together with the Lublin community. In 1531, there were ca. 310 taxpayers in Kazimierz, including nearly 50 Jews[1.3]. In the 1570s, a group of Jews from Kazimierz, looking for a new place to settle, moved to new towns: Janowiec and Lubartów, founded at that time by the Firlej family.

The Jewish settlement in the 16th, 17th and 18th century was regulated by a number of documents, some permitting them to settle and build houses and some defining their rights to produce and sell alcohol and trade in particular goods. Jews living in Kazimierz, just like their counterparts in some other towns, could become its full-fledged citizens; however, this could only be obtained with a high fee that only a few members of the Jewish community could afford.

The Jewish district in Kazimierz, called Na Tyłach (“in the back”), developed around a separate trading square (Mały Rynek) and along Lubelska Street, stretching to the south-east of the main square. The buildings located there, unlike those in Christian district, were mostly made of wood. The first wooden synagogue was most probably built in Kazimierz in mid-16th century; it was destroyed by fire in 1567.

Severe conflicts would break out between the Kazimierz Jews and the Christians in the town on many occasions, mainly relating to economic matters. In 1563, King Zygmunt August called Jews to answer before the town authorities in relation to the infringement of propination law. These disputes were sometimes appeased by entering into agreements, limiting Jewish privileges in certain areas of the economy, and extending them in others.

Before 1622, the wooden synagogue was replaced by a masonry building, most likely built on the same site as the synagogue constructed in in the second half of the 18th century on Lubelska Street, operating until World War II[1.4].

In the second half of the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century, many merchant families gained significant wealth as brokers in the grain trade. Some of these merchants were Jewish, despite the efforts taken by the inhabitants of Kazimierz to exclude them from trading in grain at the market square[1.5]. In the first half of the 17th century, Jews from Kazimierz were prohibited from settling by the main square, but many of them disobeyed the ban[1.6].

The town and the Jewish community suffered during the wars in the second half of the 17th century. In 1656, the town and the castle were burnt down by Czarniecki’s army, which murdered almost all the Jewish inhabitants of Kazimierz. Following these events, in 1661 there were only seven Jewish homes left in the town; however, the Jewish population soon started to revive, with 37 Jews living in the town as early as 1674, and 51 – two years later[1.7].

A document issued by King John III Sobieski on 18 November 1676, granting wide privileges to the Jews in Kazimierz, contributed to the revival of the Jewish community in Kazimierz. It stated that the king, “wanting to restore the town […] to its former glory, hereby grants freedom to non-practicing Jews and […]permits them to […] run inns, trade and conduct other types of commerce, […] to brew […] beer and make honey, to build their own breweries […] [and] all civic and other freedoms which the Jews enjoy in other royal towns. Moreover, they are allowed to purchase plots of land and buildings, repair the old ones in the market square and live in the old square of the town”[1.8]. The king forbade the town authorities to persecute Jews under penalty of hefty fines. Extensive rights and privileges were granted not only to Jews but also to Armenians and Greeks who settled in the decrepit town. The royal edict was confirmed in the parliamentary constitution of 1677 and reconfirmed in 1765. At that time, there were 239 Jews in Kazimierz; they resided in 84 houses[1.9]. The Jewish community, who rapidly became rich, gradually started to replace Christians in the tenement houses around the square.

The rights and privileges of Jews from Kazimierz were re-confirmed in 1717, following the destructions brought about by the Northern War. Thanks to these rights and privileges, the Jewish community was able to quickly re-emerge. In 1723, the kehilla paid 100 guldens of poll tax, and in 1732-1733 – 600 guldens. Historical documents from 1792 mention “merchants purchasing domestic goods – four Christians, eleven Jews.” At the same time, 29 out of 31 of the most impressive houses in the town were owned by Jews.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Hasidic movement gained popularity in Kazimierz, which up until then mainly followed traditional rabbinical Judaism. Around 1816, or according to other sources, – around 1827, Tzaddik Ezechiel ben Zvi-Hirsch Taub, a disciple of the Seer of Lublin, settled there (he died in 1856 or 1857)[1.10]. The Hasidic community of the town was centered around the manor house owned by the tzaddik, who was famous for his joyful singing and affirmation of life. Descendants of Rabbi Taub went on to found Hasidic dynasties in central Poland, all having a common doctrine based on the teachings of their master. After the death of Ezechiel, his son Efraim became the tzaddik in Kazimierz, the other son – David Zvi, was the head of the Hasidic Jews from Jabłonna, the third, Samuel Elijahu, was the head of the Hasidic community of Zwoleń. Moshe Aron Taub was active in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki, Chaim Taub in Warsaw and Mława, and Eliezer Shlomo in Wołomin.

In 1925, one of the descendants of the famous tzaddik, Shmuel Elijahu Taub of Dęblin, left for Palestine with a group of followers and set up an agricultural settlement there.

Mordechaj Twerski, a representative of the Hasidic dynasty of Czarnobyl and the son of Abraham Magid of Murzysko, settled in Kazimierz in the 1880s; however, in 1905 he moved to Warsaw with his followers[1.11].

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Jews of Wąwolnica split from the Kazimierz kehilla to form a separate community[1.12].

In 1810, Jews constituted 33% of the total of 2,216 residents of Kazimierz; most of them were tradesmen and craftsmen. Almost a hundred years later, in 1907, Jews constituted 89% of the town’s total population of 3,000[1.13].

After World War I, the number of Jewish residents in Kazimierz fell to 1,382, about 40% of the total population. In 1927, the whole Jewish community, i.e. Kazimierz and neighbouring villages, had ca. 2,300 members.

The interwar period was a time of rapid social and cultural development of Kazimierz Jews. The kehilla had its own bath and ritual slaughterhouse[1.14]. Jewish political parties and social organisations were engaged in cultural and social initiatives, establishing a Jewish library, two Jewish sports clubs – “Maccabi” and “Shtern” – and the Gemilas Chesed relief fund[1.15]. Private Jewish schools were opened in the town as well[1.1.11]. Frst political parties were established in Kazimierz even before the outbreak of WWI; among them were: the socialist Bund, Zionist Poale Zion and Mizrachi. The Zionists were a particularly strong faction in the community of Kazimierz in the 1920s. In 1927, they founded a Hebrew school in the town[1.16]. The conservative Agudath also operated in Kazimierz.

In the 1930s, two films popular with the Jewish communities worldwide were filmed in the town and its surrounding area: The Dybbuk (Yiddish: Der Dibuk) and Yiddle with His Fiddle (Yiddish: Jidl mitn fidl).

On the eve of the outbreak of World War II, Kazimierz had 4,641 residents, ca. 2,500 of which were Jews, constituting 64% of the total population.

During the Nazi occupation, Kazimierz and other towns situated on the right bank of the Vistula River were a part of Lublin District belonging to the General Government. In October 1939, all Jews aged 14-60 worked as forced labourers. In November, they were ordered to wear armbands with the Star of David. The symbol also had to appear on the front walls of all businesses belonging to Jews. Jewish deposits and bank accounts were blocked. Their right to unemployment, retirement and disability benefits as well as social insurance was taken away.

In the spring of 1940, some 2,000 Kazimierz Jews were resettled to a ghetto formed in the traditional Jewish district, i.e. in Lubelska Street and Mały Rynek. Jews from neighbouring villages and a part of the Jewish population of Puławy were soon relocated to the Kazimierz Ghetto[refr:|Kazimierz Dolny, [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, vol. 2, Jerusalem – New York 2001, p. 610.]]. Many refugees from larger towns settled in Kazimierz, believing they had a bigger chance of survival by staying in villages[1.17]. Due to the difficult living conditions and the outbreak of a typhoid epidemic, the mortality rate in the ghetto was high, many Jews were also executed. A forced labour camp was established in the buildings of the former brewery at 50 Puławska Street in 1940.

Soon after seizing of the town the occupants began to destroy the Jewish cemeteries in Kazimierz. Matzevot were used to pave the area of the Franciscan monastery, which at that time served as the Gestapo headquarters. They were also used to pave the route to the outhouses by the buildings occupied by the Nazis.

In the spring of 1941, the authorities of Lublin District decided to create a holiday resort for Nazi soldiers and administrative employees in Kazimierz. In March, a total re-settlement of Jews from the town to Opole Lubelskie was decreed. Implementation of the decree was postponed; however, a group of roughly 200 – 300 Jews, mostly immigrants, were forced to leave the town.

From around April 1940, the Help Committee for Refugees and the Poor was established and then transformed into the Jewish Self-Help Society. The aim of the organisation was to feed the inhabitants of the ghetto and camp prisoners. Nonetheless, the situation of people in the ghetto was dramatic. There was not enough space to house so many people and many suffered from starvation. A typhoid epidemic broke out and clothing and footwear were scarce. In June or July 1941, a part of Jews living in the ghetto was displaced; 300-500 people left Kazimierz. The final displacement took place in March 1942. The first group went on foot to the ghetto in Opole Lubelskie, and then to the rail station in Nałęczów. At the same time, the next group of people went straight on foot to the Nałęczów rail station.

On 1 April 1942 (Passover) at 4AM, a transport of Jews from Kazimierz and Wąwolnica left the Nałęczów train station and headed for Bełżec[1.18]. Only prisoners of the labour camp in Puławska Street in Kazimierz, who had to dismantle the wooden buildings of the closed-off district, managed to avoid the transportation. Once the work was completed, the camp was liquidated, and the prisoners were taken out of the town; their destination is unknown. The Nazis shot the last group of craftsmen in the fall of 1943 at the Jewish cemetery in Czerniawy[1.19].

In all likelihood, only one person survived from the Kazimierz Ghetto – Berek Cytryn. He went into hiding, taking on the name of Bronisław Zieliński. He first went to Bochotnica and then to Warsaw. After the war, he got married in Puławy and emigrated to Switzerland. Other residents of Kazimierz who took cover outside the town also survived the war[1.20] Among them were Jewish children from Kazimierz rescued by Christian families, as mentioned in the remembrance book of Kazimierz[1.21]. Kazimierz Jews who spent the war time in Russia also survived. One fo them was Naftali Fajersztajn and a member of the local pharmaceutical family, Stanisław Lichtson.

The tragic fate of Kazimierz Jews is commemorated by a plaque on the wall of the former synagogue. It has the following inscription:

In memory of three thousand Polish citizens of Jewish origin, former residents of Kazimierz Dolny, murdered by the Nazi occupant during the World War II.

Bibliography:

  • Adamczyk-Grabowska M., Kazimierz vel Kuzmir. Miasteczko różnych snów, Lublin 2006.
  • Chruszczewski A., “Kupcy zbożowi i handel zbożem w Kazimierzu Dolnym w drugiej połowie XVI wieku,” Roczniki Humanistyczne 1958, vol. 6, pp. 87–191.
  • De Mezer-Sobotkowska K., Sobotkowski Z., Kazimierz Dolny, Warsaw 1996.
  • Husarski W., Kazimierz Dolny, Warsaw 1957.
  • Kazimierz Dolny, [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, vol. 2, Jerusalem – New York 2001, p. 610.
  • Kiełboń J., Migracje ludności w dystrykcie lubelskim w latach 1939 – 1944, Lublin 1995.
  • Kubicki R., Wijaczka J., Żydzi w Janowcu i Kazimierzu Dolnym w XVI-XVIII wieku, [in] Historia i kultura Żydów Janowca nad Wisłą, Kazimierza Dolnego i Puław. Fenomen kulturowy miasteczka – sztetl. Materiały z sesji naukowej „V Janowieckie Spotkania Historyczne” Janowiec nad Wisłą 28 czerwca 2003 roku, ed. F. Jaroszyński, Janowiec nad Wisłą 2003, pp. 13–32.
  • Piątkowski S., Żydzi Janowca, Kazimierza i Puław w larach wojny i okupacji (1939-1945), [in] Historia i kultura Żydów Janowca nad Wisłą, Kazimierza Dolnego i Puław. Fenomen kulturowy miasteczka – sztetl. Materiały z sesji naukowej „V Janowieckie Spotkania Historyczne” Janowiec nad Wisłą 28 czerwca 2003 roku, ed. F. Jaroszyński, Janowiec nad Wisłą 2003, pp. 199–214.
  • Sygowski P., “Nieco informacji o Żydach, bożnicach i cmentarzach żydowskich Kazimierza Dolnego,” Brulion Kazimierski 2001, no. 2, pp. 48–55.
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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Kazimierz Dolny, [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, vol. 2, Jerusalem – New York 2001, p. 610.
  • [1.2] Kubicki R., Wijaczka J., Żydzi w Janowcu i Kazimierzu Dolnym w XVI-XVIII wieku, [in] Historia i kultura Żydów Janowca nad Wisłą, Kazimierza Dolnego i Puław. Fenomen kulturowy miasteczka – sztetl. Materiały z sesji naukowej „V Janowieckie Spotkania Historyczne” Janowiec nad Wisłą 28 czerwca 2003 roku, ed. F. Jaroszyński, Janowiec nad Wisłą 2003, p. 22.
  • [1.3] Husarski W., Kazimierz Dolny, Warsaw 1957, p. 96.
  • [1.4] Kubicki R., Wijaczka J., Żydzi w Janowcu i Kazimierzu Dolnym w XVI-XVIII wieku, [in] Historia i kultura Żydów Janowca nad Wisłą, Kazimierza Dolnego i Puław. Fenomen kulturowy miasteczka – sztetl. Materiały z sesji naukowej „V Janowieckie Spotkania Historyczne” Janowiec nad Wisłą 28 czerwca 2003 roku, ed. F. Jaroszyński, Janowiec nad Wisłą 2003, pp. 22–23.
  • [1.5] Chruszczewski A., “Kupcy zbożowi i handel zbożem w Kazimierzu Dolnym w drugiej połowie XVI wieku,” Roczniki Humanistyczne 1958, vol. 6, pp. 87–191.
  • [1.6] Husarski W., Kazimierz Dolny, Warsaw 1957, p. 21.
  • [1.7] Kubicki R., Wijaczka J., Żydzi w Janowcu i Kazimierzu Dolnym w XVI-XVIII wieku, [in] Historia i kultura Żydów Janowca nad Wisłą, Kazimierza Dolnego i Puław. Fenomen kulturowy miasteczka – sztetl. Materiały z sesji naukowej „V Janowieckie Spotkania Historyczne” Janowiec nad Wisłą 28 czerwca 2003 roku, ed. F. Jaroszyński, Janowiec nad Wisłą 2003, p. 23.
  • [1.8] Kubicki R., Wijaczka J., Żydzi w Janowcu i Kazimierzu Dolnym w XVI-XVIII wieku, [in] Historia i kultura Żydów Janowca nad Wisłą, Kazimierza Dolnego i Puław. Fenomen kulturowy miasteczka – sztetl. Materiały z sesji naukowej „V Janowieckie Spotkania Historyczne” Janowiec nad Wisłą 28 czerwca 2003 roku, ed. F. Jaroszyński, Janowiec nad Wisłą 2003, p. 24.
  • [1.9] Kubicki R., Wijaczka J., Żydzi w Janowcu i Kazimierzu Dolnym w XVI-XVIII wieku, [w:] Historia i kultura Żydów Janowca nad Wisłą, Kazimierza Dolnego i Puław. Fenomen kulturowy miasteczka – sztetl. Materiały z sesji naukowej „V Janowieckie Spotkania Historyczne” Janowiec nad Wisłą 28 czerwca 2003 roku, ed. F. Jaroszyński, Janowiec nad Wisłą 2003, pp. 24–25.
  • [1.10] Sygowski P., “Nieco informacji o Żydach, bożnicach i cmentarzach żydowskich Kazimierza Dolnego,” Brulion Kazimierski 2001, no. 2, p. 54.
  • [1.11] Sygowski P., “Nieco informacji o Żydach, bożnicach i cmentarzach żydowskich Kazimierza Dolnego,” Brulion Kazimierski 2001, no. 2, p. 55.
  • [1.12] Sygowski P., “Nieco informacji o Żydach, bożnicach i cmentarzach żydowskich Kazimierza Dolnego,” Brulion Kazimierski 2001, no. 2, p. 54.
  • [1.13] Janowski A., Wycieczki po kraju, 3, Puławy, Kazimierz, Janowiec, Nałęczów, Warsaw 1907, p. 33.
  • [1.14] National Archive in Lublin, Lublin Provincial Office 1918-1939, Political and Social Department, ref. no. 814, p. 2.
  • [1.15] National Archive in Lublin, Lublin Provincial Office 1918-1939, Political and Social Department, ref. no. 485, fol. 14.
  • [1.1.11] Sygowski P., “Nieco informacji o Żydach, bożnicach i cmentarzach żydowskich Kazimierza Dolnego,” Brulion Kazimierski 2001, no. 2, p. 55.
  • [1.16] Kazimierz Dolny, [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, vol. 2, Jerusalem – New York 2001, p. 610.
  • [1.17] Piątkowski S., Żydzi Janowca, Kazimierza i Puław w larach wojny i okupacji (1939-1945), [in] Historia i kultura Żydów Janowca nad Wisłą, Kazimierza Dolnego i Puław. Fenomen kulturowy miasteczka – sztetl. Materiały z sesji naukowej „V Janowieckie Spotkania Historyczne” Janowiec nad Wisłą 28 czerwca 2003 roku, ed. F. Jaroszyński, Janowiec nad Wisłą 2003, pp. 203–206.
  • [1.18] Piątkowski S., Żydzi Janowca, Kazimierza i Puław w larach wojny i okupacji (1939-1945), [in] Historia i kultura Żydów Janowca nad Wisłą, Kazimierza Dolnego i Puław. Fenomen kulturowy miasteczka – sztetl. Materiały z sesji naukowej „V Janowieckie Spotkania Historyczne” Janowiec nad Wisłą 28 czerwca 2003 roku, ed. F. Jaroszyński, Janowiec nad Wisłą 2003, p. 212; Kiełboń J., Migracje ludności w dystrykcie lubelskim w latach 1939 – 1944, Lublin 1995, p. 165; Kazimierz Dolny, [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, vol. 2, Jerusalem – New York 2001, p. 610.
  • [1.19] Piątkowski S., Żydzi Janowca, Kazimierza i Puław w larach wojny i okupacji (1939-1945), [in] Historia i kultura Żydów Janowca nad Wisłą, Kazimierza Dolnego i Puław. Fenomen kulturowy miasteczka – sztetl. Materiały z sesji naukowej „V Janowieckie Spotkania Historyczne” Janowiec nad Wisłą 28 czerwca 2003 roku, ed. F. Jaroszyński, Janowiec nad Wisłą 2003, p. 213.
  • [1.20] De Mezer-Sobotkowska K., Sobotkowski Z., Kazimierz Dolny, Warsaw 1996, pp. 23–24.
  • [1.21] Adamczyk-Grabowska M., Kazimierz vel Kuzmir. Miasteczko różnych snów, Lublin 2006, p. 36.