The Jewish community in Wałbrzych was established after the implementation of the so-called Emancipation Edict, issued on 11 March 1812 by King Frederick Wilhelm III. The document made Jews fully-fledged citizens of the Kingdom of Prussia. The first known Jew to have lived in Wałbrzych was Moses Lax.
A branch of the Jewish kehilla in Świdnica was established in Wałbrzych in 1859; it had jurisdiction over all Jewish residents of the town itself as well as eleven families living in the nearby localities. In 1861, the number of Jewish inhabitants of the entire district increased to 189. In 1834, the Jewish community bought a plot of land for establishing a cemetery. Nonetheless, the graveyard was never opened and the Wałbrzych Jews were forced to bury their dead in Świebodzice, Kamienna Góra or Świdnica. It was not until the 1860s that the Jewish community in Wałbrzych established its own cemetery at Hermsdorfer Chaussee (near present 1 Maja Street). About 40 years later, the community was forced to discontinue further burials at the site due to significant industrialisation of its neighbourhood (coal mines). In 1902, Jews began to bury their dead in a new cemetery at Friedländer Chaussee (now Moniuszki Street). Initially, Jews from Wałbrzych gathered for prayers in rented rooms at the Market Square. In 1882, a synagogue was built at Wasserstraße (now św. Jadwigi). The opening ceremony took place on 20 September 1883.
As the number of its members increased, the community started to gain more independence. Following a series of disputes with the Świdnica community in the years 1875–1878, the Royal Government (Königliche Regierung) allowed for the establishment of an independent Jewish community in Wałbrzych in 1878. Its first statute dates back to 27 May 1879. The members of the community board were A. Raschkow, Salomon Böhm, and Benno Lax. It was a period of prosperity of the Wałbrzych community. In 1880, it had 328 members. Ten years later, this number fell to 253.
At the end of the 1920s, there were 220 Jewish people living in Wałbrzych. In 1933, 195 Jews lived in the town itself, while 127 resided in other localities in the same district. At the time, Alfred Basch, S. Philippsberg and Leo Künstlinger were members of the Board of the Synagogue Community in Wałbrzych, while some of its representatives were Adolf Meyer, Dr Leo Cohn, and Hermann Wieser. First attacks on Jewish shops and merchants took place in Wałbrzych even before the National Socialists seized power in the country. Over time, the number of such incidents intensified, which prompted many local Jews to migrate.
During the Kristallnacht (9–10 November 1938), riots took place in the town, Jewish shops were destroyed and the synagogue was set on fire. In mid-1939, 28 Jews lived in Wałbrzych, and 38 in the entire Wałbrzych District. Those who stayed in the town were deported to camps and ghettos at the turn of 1941.
After the end of World War II, as early as mid-May 1945, first Jews returned to Wałbrzych. It was a group of former prisoners of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp and its branches, located near the town. By June, nearly 100 Jewish people had arrived to the town. Soon, Wałbrzych became the third largest Jewish centre in Lower Silesia, after Wrocław and Dzierżoniów. A total of 7,466 Jewish settlers were sent to the town, but many of them did not intend to stay there permanently. Many of them hailed from other European countries and sought to return to their homelands. People from the former eastern territories of the Second Polish Republic were also resettled to Lower Silesia, among them many Jewish repatriates.
In December 1946, there were as many as 10,200 Jews living in Wałbrzych, constituting 17.9% of the total population. In April 1947, only 4,891 Jews lived in the town, including 2,607 women and 2,284 men. In 1948 – according to the estimates of the Provincial Jewish Committee in Wrocław – there were 6,744 Jews living in Wałbrzych.
Three Jewish schools were opened in the town, as well as two semi-boarding houses, dormitories for the youth, daycare centres, libraries, public eateries and canteens. Jewish political parties had their own branches in the town. Wałbrzych was also the seat of the local Jewish Committee and the Congregation of the Mosaic Faith. According to data from the Yad Vashem Archive, three rabbis worked in Wałbrzych: Chaskiel Grubner (Chief Rabbi of Wałbrzych), Elkune Zoberman, and Mojżesz Halbersberg. In 1950, the Congregation employed 22 people and administered a cemetery, a synagogue, a ritual bath, and a kosher kitchen. It also organised religious courses for students.
A Jewish theatre called “The Renaissance” was established in Wałbrzych, which greatly contributed to the development of the local cultural life – many artists were invited to the town, lectures, concerts and literary meetings were organised frequently.
The development of Jewish life in Wałbrzych was halted at the end of 1949 with the liquidation of Jewish organisations and institutions. At the beginning of the 1950s, there were ca. 9,000 Jews living in Wałbrzych. However, most of them eventually left the town. Jewish life in Wałbrzych came to an end after 1968, although the Congregation of the Mosaic Faith (now a branch of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Republic of Poland) was still active in the town. To this day, a branch of the Social and Cultural Society of Jews in Poland still operates in Wałbrzych; in 2012, it had 50 members. The ZGWŻ (the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Republic of Poland) branch and the TSKŻ (the Social and Cultural Society of Jews in Poland) branch are located at 13/15 Moniuszki Street. Wałbrzych is home to one of the three active Jewish cemeteries in the Dolnośląskie Province.
- Sula D., “Repatriowana ludność żydowska na Dolnym Śląsku w latach 1945-49,” Rocznik Województwa Wałbrzyskiego 1992-1993, Wałbrzych 1994.
- Szaynok B., “Odbudowa życia żydowskiego w Polsce na przykładzie osadnictwa żydowskiego na Dolnym Śląsku,” [in] Żydzi w polskim i czeskim społeczeństwie obywatelskim, eds. J. Tomaszewski and J. Valenta, Wrocław 1999, pp. 153-171.
- “Waldenburg (Schlesien),” [in] Alicke K.-D., Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum, vol. 3, Gütersloh 2008, pp. 4262-4264.