The presence of Jews in Świdnica is first mentioned in the second half of the 13th century, when in 1285 the Jews obtained their first privilege: Henryk IV Probus relieved them from the basic communal rent for landed property and some other dues ordinarily paid by townspeople[1.1]. In 1295, the Świdnica Jewry obtained a privilege from Prince Bolko I, which laid the groundwork for a Jewish settlement in the town.
The Jewish community in Świdnica was among the largest and most important in Silesia. In 1370 Princess Agnieszka issued a protective letter in which she proclaimed that the cemetery in Świdnica would be the only necropolis in her principality, to be used by Jews from surrounding towns, Dzierżoniowo, Jawor, Niemcza and Strzegom, and perhaps also Ząbkowice and Ziębice[1.2]. Since 1380 there was also a synagogue in Swidnica, located in 'Kupferschmiedegasse'.[1.3]
The medieval Jewish district was located between Zakonnic (now Siostrzana) and Bednarska (today Teatralna) Streets and ran parallel to the northern frontage of the Main Square and the beginning of Wysoka (today Pułaskiego) Street. The second concentration of Jews was on Garncarska, called Jewish (today Budowlana) Street. Principality and, beginning in 1379, a Talmudic school operated there.
The Jewish community in Świdnica enjoyed a special status: as an institution, it had extensive administrative-organizational and religious autonomy. Eminent Jewish scholars and rabbis, including learned Ozer and rabbi Dawid, settled in Świdnica. A center for Talmudic studies was located there[1.4].
In 1453 the Jews were accused of poisoning a well, which allegedly led to the outbreak of an epidemic. This resulted in the burning at the stake of 17 Jews, who were also charged with the profanation of the Host. Property belonging to the other Jews was confiscated and they were expelled from the town. All this happend after a speech of the anti-Jewish monk Capistrano.[1.5] The demolition of their cemetery, whose tombstones were used as building material, accompanied the destruction of their community.
Świdnica was given the privilege of a permanent ban on Jewish settlement in 1457, which was in force until the late 18th century. From 1457 to 1799, not a single Jew lived there.
Following the emancipation edict of 1812, Jews again began to settle in Świdnica. First they had only a room for prayer in house next to the market. Since the 1870s the Jewish community planed to build a new synagogue and in 1877 the synagogue (located at 'Sedanplatz') was inaugurated.[1.1.5]
In 1933 the Jewish community had 146 members, including 59 full members of the Synagogue Community[1.6]. Its Council was made up of Albert Cohn, Paul Landsberg and Erich Cohn, and community representatives were Eduard Eisenberg, Juliusz Schlesinger, Felix Brock, M. Groß and E. Kohn. There was a kosher butcher, and 12 children received religious instruction[1.1.6].
Following Hitler’s accession to power, the situation of the Jews in Świdnica worsened significantly. Beginning in 1933 the public rights of the Jewish population became limited: Jews were shut out of the civil service by a law of 7.4.1933 reorganizing the bureaucratic cadres. Members of the free professions, such as lawyers and patent and tax clerks, and later doctors and students, were subjected to similar restrictions[1.7]. Jewish officials in Świdnica also suffered repressions: fiscal inspector Fuß was “retired” early, and in 1933 two police workers, chief police sergeant Pusch and the secretary of the criminal department Gazecki, were forced to leave their jobs[1.8].
A boycott of Jewish enterprises, shops and merchandise, as well as legal and medical practices, followed shortly. The Nuremberg Laws passed in 1935 set out to sanction inequality before the law according to criteria of “blood and race.” With them in place, the Jews were completely deprived of their rights[1.9]. Ministerial directives, which were implemented by the municipal authorities, aimed to eliminate representatives of the Jewish community from commerce. Shops and other businesses were to be confiscated and handed over to new Aryan owners. The Schlesinger grain-trade enterprise in Świdnica was taken over by the Christian businessman Josef Feige, and engineer Webner bought the Tikotin recycled wool factory. After completing the formalities of the sales, Schlesinger and Tikotin emigrated[1.1.8].
On Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938, anti-Semitic incidents took place in Świdnica. A group of SA and SS members burned the synagogue after pouring gasoline all over its interior. The building burned to the ground as passersby gathered and watched; none dared intervene[1.1.8]. On the same night, several Jewish-owned shops (Pinkus Laufer’s shop, the Gallewski clothing shops owned by Erich Kohn and Emil Laqueur’s shop in the Main Square) were destroyed. The Jewish cemetery was not spared: grave stones were overturned and subsequently, in 1941-1942, were used to pave streets[1.10]. On 10.11.1938 several Świdnica Jews, including Dr. Martin Adamkiewicz who had been awarded the Iron Cross First Class for fighting in World War I, were arrested. This was only the beginning of repressions directed against the Jewish population.
In 1938 following an order from the Interior Ministry, Jews had to adopt additional, typically Jewish, names: Sara for women and Israel for men. Beginning in 1940, it became difficult for Jews to rent apartments and, after 1941, also to use public transportation or travel outside their place of residence without a special police permit. In 1941 persons of Jewish origin were also to wear the Star of David.
Some of the Jews of Świdnica decided to emigrate, mostly to the United States, some even by a roundabout route via Shanghai. One of those who ended up in Chile was a well-known doctor, Dr. Adamkiewicz. Some of the Świdnica Jews settled in Israel after the War. Only a small group remained in Świdnica, and in 1940 and 1941 they were placed in the so-called Jewish house on the Main Square at then-number 27, which had belonged to the last chairman of the Jewish community, Erich Kohn[1.11].
The first deportations from Regierungsbezirk Breslau began in 1940. A few Świdnica Jews were taken to Wrocław and then to transition camps for Jews from Lower Silesia. Wilhelm Friedmann found himself in Tormersdorf, from where on 26.7.1942 he was transported to Theresienstadt[1.12]. Inmates in the Grüssau camp included Thekla Bielschowsky and Otto David Eisenberg, later taken to Theresienstadt, and Paula Friedmann and Martha Mendelssohn, who on 3.5.1942 were deported to an unknown death camp “in the east.” Ida Fuchs and Else Siegel were both imprisoned in Riebnig, and on 26.7.1942 deported to Theresienstadt. But Theresienstadt was not their last stop, as they were sent to other concentration and death camps.
Some Jews from Świdnica landed in ghettos in Minsk (Adele Gappe, who was deported from Berlin on 14.11.1941) and Riga (Elsa Kiewe, deported from Berlin on 15.8.1942 and died on 18.8.42 in Riga-Jungfernhof). Erna Rosa Laqueur and Margarete Zolki were deported in 1942 to an unknown destination[1.13].
After World War II Świdnica became one of the localities in the so-called Jewish Settlement in Lower Silesia. A large group of Jews who arrived in the Western Territories by special transport settled in the town, many of them as early as August 1945. In June 1946, there were about 2,400 persons of Jewish nationality in Świdnica, but because of this group’s high mobility and migration, only about 1,200 remained into the first half of 1949.
According to the data of the Provincial Jewish Committee in Wrocław, 1,342 Jews resided in Świdnica in February 1948[1.14].
The dynamic development of Jewish life in Świdnica and the rest of Lower Silesia halted toward the end of 1949, when the Polish government began to close down Jewish organizations and institutions. It then dissolved Jewish parties and organizations, the independent cooperative movement and Jewish and Hebrew schools.
By 1960-1961, about 300 Jews were left in Świdnica. The next wave of emigration came in the wake of 1968. By 1970, 109 persons of Jewish nationality were left. The Social-Cultural Society of the Jews in Poland, which had existed since 1950, remained the only active Jewish organization.
- [1.1] M. Goliński, “Ze studiów nad Żydami świdnickimi w średniowieczu” (Studies about Świdnica Jewry), in K. Matwijowski, ed., Z historii ludności żydowskiej w Polsce i na Śląsku (The history of the Jewish population in Poland and Silesia) (Wrocław, 1994), p. 14.
- [1.2] F. Rosenthal, “Najstarsze osiedla żydowskie na Śląsku” (The oldest Jewish settlements in Silesia), Biuletyn ŻIH (Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Institute), 34 (1960), pp. 15-16.
- [1.3] Klaus-Dieter Alicke, Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum, vol. 3, München 2008, p. 3752.
- [1.4] M. Goliński, “Ze studiów nad Żydami świdnickimi w średniowieczu” (Studies about Świdnica Jewry), in K. Matwijowski, ed., Z historii ludności żydowskiej w Polsce i na Śląsku (The history of the Jewish population in Poland and Silesia) (Wrocław, 1994), p. 30.
- [1.5] Klaus-Dieter Alicke, Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum, vol. 3, München 2008, p. 3753.
- [1.1.5] Klaus-Dieter Alicke, Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum, vol. 3, München 2008, p. 3753.
- [1.6] B. Schlesinger, ed., Führer durch die Jüdische Gemeindeverwaltung und Wohlfahrtspflege in Deutschland 1932-1933, (Berlin, 1933), p. 95.
- [1.1.6] B. Schlesinger, ed., Führer durch die Jüdische Gemeindeverwaltung und Wohlfahrtspflege in Deutschland 1932-1933, (Berlin, 1933), p. 95.
- [1.7] F. Połomski, Ustawodawstwo rasistowskie III Rzeszy i jego stosowanie na Górnym Śląsku (The Third Reich’s racist legislation and its uses in Upper Silesia) (Katowice, 1970), p. 51 and n.
- [1.8] T. J. Mann, Geschichte der Stadt Schweidnitz, (Reutlingen, 1985).
- [1.9] K. Jonca, “Noc Kryształowa” i casus Herschela Grynszpana (Kristallnacht and the case of Herschel Grynszpan) (Wrocław, 1998), p. 66 and n.
- [1.1.8] [a] [b] T. J. Mann, Geschichte der Stadt Schweidnitz, (Reutlingen, 1985).
- [1.10] H. Adler, Schweidnitz in alten Ansichten (Zaltbommel, 1993).
- [1.11] H. Adler, Materialien zu einer Geschichte der Juden in Schweidnitz im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, “Mitteilungen des Verbandes ehemaliger Breslauer in Israel E. V.,” p. 21.
- [1.12] A. Konieczny, Tormersdorf, Grüssau, Riebnig. Obozy przejściowe dla Żydów Dolnego Śląska z lat 1941-1943, (Wrocław, 1997), pp. 95, 112, 116, 118, 129, 150 and 163.
- [1.13] www.bundesarchiv.de/gedenkbuch (Schweidnitz) (as of 20.8.2008).
- [1.14] B. Szaynok, Ludność żydowska na Dolnym Śląsku w latach 1945-1950 (The Jewish population in Lower Silesia in 1945-1950) (Wrocław, 2000), p. 178.