Short history of Kazimierz - the Jewish heart of Krakow
Kazimierz (Casimir) is a unique district of Krakow. Located and founded in 14th century on the outskirts of Krakow by King Kazimierz (Casimir) the Great. Kazimierz was a separate and independent town until 19th century. The history of Krakow's Jews goes back to 11th century. The first location of a Jewish street was mentioned in 1304 where St. Anna Street is now. King Kazimierz the Great granted certain rights and privileges for Jews from Krakow which allowed them to trade and have freedom of religion.
In 1495, Jews were resettled from Krakow to Kazimierz and the area became their home for another few centuries. In one part of the town they created an area called
"Oppidum Iudeorum" (Jewish Town)
. The 16th century was the Golden Era for Krakow and also for the Jewish community. Many immigrants from Bohemia, Germany, Italy as well as from the other countries came to Kazimierz looking for a safe place to live and work. Thus creating a great time of prosperity for the Jewish merchants as well as for academics. The city also had one of the greatest rabbis of the 16th century, Rabbi Moses ben Isserles so-called Remu
who lived and taught in Kazimierz. He is known for his commentaries for the Shulkhan Arukh. In 19th century Kazimierz also became home for Helena (Chaja) Rubinstein
- the famous queen of beauty who was born and lived here for over
twenty years before immigrating to Australia. We also cannot forget about Sara Szenirer, the creator and founder of Beis Yaakow Schools for Orthodox girls.
In Kazimierz there were two interweaving cultures, Jews and Christians living side by side until World War II. Among the churches and monasteries one could see one of the seven synagogues (including a medieval synagogue, the oldest in Poland), numerous former prayer houses, and Jewish cemeteries. Before World War II, there were approximately 64.000 Jews
in Krakow. Now, the Jewish Orthodox community has 120 members and the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) has over 600 members. Kazimierz is one of the best preserved Jewish Quarters in all Europe and is often compared with Prague's Josefov.
After 1990, when Communism collapsed, Poland witnessed a revival of Jewish life. Krakow and Kazimierz are the best examples for that. Numerous institutions like the Centre for Jewish Culture, Galicja Museum Fundation,
Czulent Jewish Association
are some institutions who have helped with this revival. The most active Jewish place in Kazimierz is the Jewish Community
which provides a variety of educational programs for both Jewish members and non-Jewish locals. A community that was once thought to be lost forever is still living.
filmed 1992 in Kazimierz was a catalyst for the Jewish revival in Krakow. Steven Spielberg
shot many of his major scenes in Kazimierz, as well as, at Schindler's Factory
building in the neighbouring district Podgorze. Also every year in late June, since 1988, the Jewish Culture Festival
held what has now become the largest Jewish Festival in Europe in Kazimierz. For several years the JCC has also organized
7@Nite- Night of Synagogues
which is an event that all seven synagogues are open to the public for one night with educational
and cultural programming.
What is Kazimierz now? It is a place that right away takes your heart. It is peaceful and melancholic in the morning, and becomes vibrant and alive at night. You can wander through streets of Kazimierz among the synagogues, old houses, cozy cafes, vintage stores, and art galleries. Apart from its Jewish historical and cultural life, Kazimierz is also the most popular place to hang out for locals, students, and artists.