The beginnings of Jewish settlement in Legnica are not completely clear. According to Legnica history researchers Friedric Emanueul Fischer and Carl Friedrich Stuckardt, Jews settled in Legnica ca. 1170. On the other hand, Marcus Brann, who researches the history of Silesian Jews, found this information very questionable. It was not until 1301 that any documented references confirmed the presence of Jews in the town. One of these documents, dated 1314, mentions “a Jewish town” of Legnica on the “Czarna Woda River.” That Jewish settlement encompassed a few streets, starting at the old castle bridge, along Nowa Street, across the castle square, reaching deep inside the castle garden and then beyond Głogowska Gate. It had a synagogue, a Jewish school and a cemetery. An account from 1338 mentions a Jewish street situated by the coal market.
The first document on the Jews of Legnica dates back to 1447. Duchess of Legnica Elżbieta granted the town full authority (all rights and courts) which her ancestors had held over the Jewish street situated in front of the castle. In 1447, a dispute arose between Duchess Elżbieta and Jewish bankers, who demanded that she repay a loan. The case resulted in a pogrom of Jews and the burning down their district. In the mid-15th century, a series of pogroms aimed at the Jewish population took place in Silesia as a result of the preachings of a famous Franciscan monk,John of Capistrano. In the sermon delivered in 1453 in Wrocław, he accused the Jews of theft and of desecrating the Host. A series of trials followed. Jews from many Silesian cities found themselves officially indicted and executions took place in Wrocław, Legnica, and Świdnica. On 5 August 1453, Jews were burned at the stake in Legnica. Jewish property was confiscated and the 318 Legnica Jews who had survived persecution were expelled from the town. These events brought an end to the medieval Jewish community of Legnica.
Jews only returned to the town in the 19th century. The Prussian King's Edict of Tolerance, proclaimed on 1 June 1755, permitted Jews to settle in Legnica, Głogów, and Wrocław. This, however, only applied to well-off individuals who had at least 1,000 ducats. Their wives and children were not included.
Jews did not begin to settle in Legnica until the next edict was issued in 1812. Jews from Głogów and other towns in Lower Silesia and Greater Poland began arriving in the city. One of the first settlers was banker Meier Neumann Prausnitz.
Initially, the Jewish community of Legnica came under the supervision of the Jewish community of Głogów, which was where Rabbis Abraham Titkin and Fischel Caro came from. The Jewish community became fully autonomous on 12 December 1818. During the first years of its activity, its spiritual leaders were Marcus Levin and Ascher Sammter PhD, who authored chronicles of Legnica. Jews form Złotoryja, Chojnów, Jawor, and Lwówek Śląski belonged to the Jewish community of Legnica. From 1818, the community had a burial place (two more were created in 1838 and around 1925), and from 1847, it owned a new synagogue.
In 1854, Moritz Landsberg, a doctor of philosophy educated in Berlin, became the Rabbi of Legnica. He was born in 1824 in Rawicz and held his rabbinic position until his death on 26 December 1882. In 1883, Moritz Peritz (1856-1930) was nominated as his successor.
The second half of the 19th century was a period of prosperity for the Jewish community of Legnica. While Legnica had only 12 Jewish residents in 1812, their number had increased to 1,005 by 1905. The following years brought a steady decrease in the number of Jews. On the eve of World War II, only 236 Jews lived in Legnica.
In 1933,the Board of the Legnica Jewish Community comprised:
- S. Jablonski,
- L. Haurwitz,
- Eugen Fränkel,
and its representatives were:
- Prosecutor Pick,
- M. Baeck,
- Adolf Mannheim,
- Rabbi Josef Schwarz,
- senior cantor and teacher M. Sommerfeld,
- cantor and teacher J. Feblowicz.
The community had a mikveh and a facility for ritual slaughter.
During the events of Kristallnacht on the night of 9 November 1938, the synagogue was burned down and Jewish shops were looted. By October 1942, most of the Jews had been ordered to leave the city.
After World War II, Legnica, which today is within the Polish borders, became one of the centres of Jewish settlement in Lower Silesia. Numerous Jewish social and educational institutions also operated in Legnica. Jewish life in the town ceased to exist after March 1968. However, some institutions, such as the Congregation of the Jewish Faith (and since 1993, the Jewish Religious Community) and the local branch of the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland (TSKŻ), still operate.
- Liegnitz, [in] Alicke K.-D., Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum, vol. 2, München 2008, in. 2521–2523.
- Legnica, [in] Borkowski M., Kirmiel A., Włodarczyk T., Śladami Żydów. Dolny Śląsk, Opolszczyzna, Ziemia Lubuska, Warsaw 2008, pp. 35–37.