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Part I

Jews of Przemysl from the
Beginning until the Partition of Poland in 1772


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Przemysl in the year 1620


Chapter 1

From the History of the Jews of Przemysl[i]

by Prof. M. Schor

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Most of the Jewish communities of Poland were founded in the latter part of the 15th century, except for the communities of Lwow, Krakow, and Poznan, which already existed from the 14th century. This is partly due to the large stream of immigration due to the expulsions of Jews from neighboring countries (Bohemia, Germany, Lithuania) to Poland. This caused the Jewish population to swell by multiples from what it was before this immigration. The first statistical fact about the Jewish population of Przemysl that we have is from the year 1542. According to this list, there were a total of 18 Jewish families in Przemysl, seven of whom lived in their own houses and the remainder in rented houses. The first ones paid an annual tax of four Polish guilders to the representative of the king, and the latter ones – two guilders. In 1565, the number of Jewish householders reached 13. In 1633, there were already 37 Jewish homes, and the number of families grew to 110. In 1671, there were 100 Jewish homes in which approximately 300 families lived.

The beginning of the Jewish community of Przemysl as an organized body was in 1559. On March 29 of that year, King Sigismund August II[a] granted the local Jews their first privilege, which served as the founding charter of the Jewish community. In the preface to this charter (whose pages have not yet yellowed), we read: “Indeed,

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Jews have already been permitted to live in Przemysl for some time, but until now the Jews did not have their own privilege that guarantees them the right of citizens. After the king granted them this privilege and certified for perpetuity that they have the right to live in the city in areas that had already for some time been populated by them, they were not given the right of appeal and the right of purchasing houses from Christians, although their own property would remain their own by legal right of inheritance. Furthermore, they are under the sole jurisdiction of the representative of the king (Starosta) for judicial purposes.” In addition to this it is written: “The Jews in the city of Przemysl will enjoy freedom in business and trade of all types of merchandise, whether products needed for their sustenance, or various other needs – rights which are given as well to all residents of the city.” That king also granted them two additional privileges: one from 1562 which freed them from all taxes except for the border tax, albeit for a brief period; the second one was that matters pertaining to the synagogue and cemetery (basic institutions of a Jewish community) will be adjudicated only before the royal court. It is interesting that a command of that same king to the city council (Magistrate) in Przemysl, dated March 28, 1571, commanded the citizens of the city to not do any injustice to the Jews, for “they participate in all taxes along with you.”

If the privilege of March 29, 1559 has fundamental value in the political, judicial and economic realms of Przemysl Jewry, of no less significance is a second document regarding to the development of the internal life of the Jews. This is the privilege of King Stefan Batory from June 27, 1576, which was issued at the request of the Jews. This privilege includes many regulations and establishes one and for all the internal organization of the Jewish community and its relationship to the national government and the ruler (wojewoda). The most important chapters of this 12-section charter are as follows: Section 5: that the elders of the community are to be selected only by the community. After the elections, the elected representatives must present themselves before the Wojewoda, who must certify the representatives. Section 10: the ruler is does not have the right to appoint the doctor (i.e. the rabbi). Rather, he is to be chosen by the community. Section 11: their judge is not allowed to issue decrees without the participation of the elders of the community. Except for its introduction, this charter is set in a similar fashion to that of the Jewish community of Lwow, and has the same content as the charters granted at the same time to the Jews of Krakow, Poznan, and other large Jewish communities. This has fundamental importance for the history of the development of the Jews of Poland. This charter was a result of the long struggle between the Jewish communities and the government institutions who, during the first half of the 16th century, wanted to impose their influence upon the internal leadership of the Jewish communities by creating a general seniorat – a form of government appointed national rabbinate with great judicial powers (even in maters of litigation). After this attempt failed due to the stubborn opposition of the Jewish communities, the Polish government was content to authorize the aforementioned charters, which granted the communities full autonomy. This influenced the development of the Jews of Poland in a fundamental manner. Autonomy led to organizational independence of all of Polish Jewry by the end of the 16th century. The new organization came in place of the failed seniorat, and found expression with national conventions of prominent rabbis and communal heads in the Council of the Four Lands. These conventions directed religions and social life of Polish Jewry for approximately 200 years (1582-1765) and were composed of a central community organization elected by the people through their own free well, and had an independent significance. This is one of the most interesting phenomena in the history of the Jewish people.

The two fundamental charters, the privilege of King Sigismund August from 1599, and the charter (status) of King Stefan Batory from 1576 were both points of significance in the political, economic and internal development of the Jewish community of Przemysl. However, the social and historical life was also determined by other factors, over and above the privileges and laws – factors stronger than paper and parchment.

Already at that time, the new Jewish community found this city with developed commerce, and various social strata that had definite separations between them. There were the classes of the small-scale nobles, the officials,

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the clergy, and especially the middle class of the citizens of the city (various trade guilds - cechs), with whom the Jewish community had to come into contact.

The Jews had closer contact with the bourgeois class: It was natural that sooner or later, there would be class competition. It was not long in coming. The privilege of 1559 that granted the Jews freedom of commerce equal to that of the citizens certainly did not come without the opposition of the citizens. This competition began to express itself with deeds. Disturbances broke out already in 1561 and were repeated in the following years. There were attacks on the synagogue, the cemeteries, and on private houses. The Jews complained to the king's court, and a royal proclamation from 1571 issued a strong chastisement to the city council, “That wanton and malicious deeds should not be repeated in our country, since it is our will to protect the privileged and the freedoms of every individual.”

The competition of the burghers is the main key to understanding the economic history of the Jews of Poland and other countries during the Middle Ages. Each social class obtained exclusive and comprehensive privileges, and lived its life separate and apart, without taking the environment into account. However, life broke through the boundaries and social interests often were in conflict. The negating of the interests of various classes led to conflict between them, to the point of attempting to kill the negator. The stronger one would win the battle. This social norm left its stamp on the Jewish history of Przemysl on a local scale and on Poland on a national scale.

Pressure between hostile civic classes who benefited from privileges and freedom of commerce, forced the Jews at the outset to utilize means of competition. The result was a constant war, which left its unique mark on Jewish history until the partition of Poland. A sad picture is displayed before the eyes of the research – how could the two sides destroy each other for 200 yeas in their constant war, to the benefit of the nobility who was happy with the tribulations of both sides.

I will deal with the most prominent phases of this struggle only in a general fashion.

After the Jews of Przemysl established their status on the basis of privileges, and after it was evident that the disturbances would not be effective, the citizens were forced to make peace with this fact. The number of Jews grew year by year, as did their economic influence. Therefore, the burghers searched for a modus vivendi with the Jews. The first evidence of improved relations and recognition the judicial rights of the Jewish community can be found in a contract from 1595, according to which the Jews were obligated – “Due to the desire for permanent peace in the city, whose protection they require in an event” – to pay the one-time sum of 600 Polish guilder for the fortification of the city. In return, the city council gave them a plot of land near the walls of the city to set up a hospital and dwellings for the rabbi and the cantor, with the payment of a bi-annual lease of the sum of 6 Polish guilder and 12 groszy. However, this “permanent” peace did not last for very long. Already in 1602, according to the directive of the Starosta, a government official read out to a large crowd of burghers “in all four corners of the marketplace” the privileges that were granted to the Jews from the time of Sigismund August II, and reviewed the punishments that would be imposed on the city council if the freedom of the Jews is impinged upon.

The war renewed itself on one occasion in the judicial area.

In 1608, the city council of Przemysl presented a writ of accusation to the Grodzki Court, stating that Jewish trickery and wiliness “prevent the Christian merchants from purchasing wheat and other merchandise.”; that they evict the merchants and pharmacists by taking over their stores, that they smuggle malmasia wines – and in general, that they are the cause of dangerous competition for the bourgeois merchants who are becoming impoverished, at the time

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when the Jews increase in size and strength from day to day. “They had few small houses on one street only, and today they live in three streets, to the dismay and sorrow of the Christians”. These are the words of the introduction to the court case that lasted for 200 years until the first partition of Poland. With the passage of time the dispute took on stronger tones, and the brutality and decline of both sides increased, due to massive expenditures on the case. The economic battle was abandoned in the wake of the legal case. These two conflicts form the kernel of the external history of the Przemysl Jewry during the 17th and 18th centuries. The court case, or more accurately – the court cases, was conducted with the same diligence by both sides. On the one side, the city council accused the Jews of unbridled competition, and the other side the Jews brought a complaint against the city council for damages to their rights granted by the royal privileges and for breaking the contract. From time to time, the royal court issued new edicts, at time for the benefit of one side, and at times for the benefit of the other. On one occasion they warned the city council not to bother the Jews who have the rights to free commerce, and on another occasion they threatened the Jews with serious punishments for using the freedom granted to them for malicious purposes. It even happened that the Jews and the burghers obtained simultaneous privileges from the royal court that contradicted one another.

Who was guilty in this struggle, that left its mark not only upon the annals of Przemysl Jewry but also on the history of Polish Jewry which conducted this same struggle on a larger scale, in the same fashion and with the same results?

The economic advantage which favored the nobility class over all other social classes caused the exploitation of these classes. The lack of a firm basis for the social status of the Jews marked their life, not only in Poland but in all countries of Europe during the Middle Ages.

This great court case was conducted in Przemysl for 40 years – a court case about rights and general freedoms. The fact that this case was conducted in a religious horizon was the cause of unfortunate events such as the tribulations of 1628, when hooligans attacked Jewish houses, stores, and even the hospital with pillage and plundering. (The Jews demanded damages of 23,000 guilder).

The most tragic expression of this situation was the case regarding the desecration of the host[1] in 1630. The victim was the Jew Moshe (Moszko) Szmukler, who was burned at the stake after frightful torture, which is described in brief[b] in the sources. A Christian woman was accused with stealing the host. During the investigation, she pointed out several Jews, including Moshe Szmukler, who apparently enticed her to carry out the theft. The verdict was issued by the Grodzki court after a short deliberation and without legal basis. The accused was not given the right of appeal, even though he claimed his innocence until his soul departed. This hasty verdict from an unofficial court was the cause of great concern among the Jews of Poland. The issue was discussed in a meeting of the Council of the Four Lands. As a result, on March 16, 1633, the Jews were granted a privilege by King Wladyslaw IV which clearly stated, with references to the case in Przemysl, that issues of libels must be dealt with by authorized courts and that the right of appeal must be granted.

The Jews of Przemysl would recall the memory of this martyr through a fast on the 30th of Adar and the recitation of a special Selicha.

A compromise was reached in 1645 after a lengthy deliberation. On April 30, the mayor, members of the city council, all heads of the guilds, six elders of the Jewish community, and the “Szkolnik” appeared at the city hall after being summoned by the ringing of bells and signed in good conscience a mutual contract containing 18 sections, outlining the areas in which Jews were entitled to engage in all branches of commerce. This contract established the foundation of the economic status of the Jews of Przemysl from that time until 1772, the year that Przemysl transferred to Austrian rule.

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The seal of the guilds on one of the contracts with the Jews


After the introduction which promises great things comes 17 sections whose content testifies more to restrictions rather than rights. Thus, for example, peddlers are only permitted to do business on Jewish streets. Tailors are only permitted to work for Jewish customers, with defined restrictions. Jewish pharmacists are forbidden from selling medication to Christians (“god forbid”). Jewish bath attendants are forbidden to perform bloodletting on ill Christians. These enactments and the rest of the details clearly demonstrate the lack of value of the fundamental privilege of 1559, according to which the Jews had the rights to conduct business as freely as the Christians. In practice, the Christian guilds placed bounds on Jewish merchants and tradesman at every step of the way and prevented them from developing their businesses. The Jews were even required to purchase this restricted freedom at a high price. This agreement of 1645 also remained on paper. The Jews were not able to follow the severe details and were forced to circumvent the sever restrictions. New laws and fees were added to these restrictions during the following decades.

The bloody Chmielnicki revolution (1648-1649) brought terrible destruction upon the Jews of Poland. The storm skipped over the city of Przemysl and its Jews. Indeed one of Chmielnicki's commanders laid a siege on the city, but the Polish nobleman Karol Korniakt who lived in Zurawica, succeeded in gathering several thousand men, force the besieging army to retreat and free the city. This event, with the seal of the savior, is mentioned by the Jewish chronicler

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of that time, Nathan Nota Hanover, in his book “Deep Mire” [“Yeven Metzulah” – ed.]. He took that opportunity to nickname Przemysl “a city of scholars”. The Jews were also not affected in the war between the Poles and the Swedes (1656-1657), despite the fact that the city was besieged twice, for the enemy that was threatening the city retreated. An interesting fact from an additional source from that era tells that a number of Jewish divisions defended the entrance to the city on the banks of the San River along with the Polish army. According to another German source, a Jew served in the rank of colonel (Oberst). Despite everything, the Jews suffered greatly from the soldiers that passed through the city, laid their hands on the loot and pillaged the Jewish houses.

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(Star of David) - The synagogue
III - the gate which was defended by a Jewish detachment

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With respect to the financial situation of the community at that time, an edict proclaimed by King Jan Kazimierz in 1661 states: “With respect to the impoverishment of the Jews” we permit them to receive hypothetical loans for the synagogue from the nobility or the clergy in order to give them the possibility of discharging taxes and levies.

A lone list in the registration book of 1662 describes the professional composition of Przemysl Jewry. According to it, there were 80 merchants, mostly small scale, a few jewelry merchants and pharmacists, and one arms dealer.

During the last decades of the 17th century and during the entire 18th century, the economic situation of the Jews declined significantly as a result of the political and economic decline of the city in general as well as the country. The community's debt grew because the Jews were force to purchase their freedoms, limited as they were, by paying taxes

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and levies. To their ill fortune, a large fire broke out in 1678 that destroyed the entire Jewish quarter. The community was no longer able to meet its debts and was forced to ask for an extension, which was once again connected with great expenses. The situation reached the point where the Jews considered leaving the city. This is hinted to in the ordinance of King Jan Sobieski from 1692.

The situation did not improve during the 18th century. The conventional permits from the various privileges that were issued at the time of the ascension to the throne of Kings August II, August III and finally Stanislaw Poniatowski were of no avail. The economic situation of the city declined from day to day. Court cases once again took place due to the non-fulfillment of contracts or the non-payment of arrears of loan repayments. The community was also required to pay its taxes. Many left the Jewish quarter and moved to live in the houses of the noblemen or the clergy in order to avoid payment of the communal tax. In 1752, the Wojewoda of that time, Duke Czartoryski, was even forced, under the influence of the heads of the community, to force Jews back into the Jewish ghetto with the threat of serious punishments. Evidence of the serious economic decline of the community can be seen from the list of the first year of Austrian rule (1773), according to which the claims of the Christian creditors against the community reached to a sum of nearly 150,000 Polish zloty. This sum is a thousandfold greater than the sums listed in the archival data of the 18th century, the content of which relates mainly to court cases about arrears in debt repayment.

Two ledgers were in the possession of the community: the ledger of the judges – that is the archives of the Jewish court, and the uncommon ledger entitled “the tailor's ledger”, both of them from 1689. Registries were entered into them until the middle of the 19th century. The fundamental source for researching the cultural life of the Jews of Przemysl, called the archives of the vice Wojewoda, which remained closed with a key in the Great Synagogue in accordance with section 2 of the ancient charter of the community from the year 1576, was lost in the wild attack of the students of the Jesuit School in 1746. Thus, the most important source about the cultural life of the Jews of Przemysl was lost from before our eyes.

According to the local tradition, the synagogue was apparently erected by two wealthy Sephardic Jews from Turkey whose names are not known. They also left behind a fund for the maintenance of the synagogue after their deaths. The documents do not confirm this tradition. Furthermore, no evidence supporting this tradition is found in the ancient cemetery. However, we cannot look upon this tradition of having no basis, for we know that the well-known Jewish vizier in the court of Sultan Selim II (during the middle of the 16th century) Don Joseph the Prince, had wide business dealings with Poland. He also owned large wine storehouses and owned large business agencies in Lwow and its environs. In relation to this, a number of Turkish Jews settled in the city. It is possible that some of these wealthy Jews also established their place of residence in Przemysl.

The Jewish cemetery is already mentioned in the oldest privileges. The oldest inscriptions on the important gravestones are from the 17th century, and are published by Sh. Lazar in “Asif” volume 3.

In 1683, the Jewish community of Przemysl was granted (one year after the entire Jewish quarter burnt down) a privilege, according to which 26 small communities (przykahalki) were annexed to the community of Przemysl. The community of Przemysl[2] was declared as a principal community, and all of the annexed communities had to pay a yearly payment to the principal community for the right to conduct prayer services in the local places and to have burials in the Przemysl cemetery. From that time, the Rabbi of Przemysl bore the title of Head of the Rabbinical Court of the Holy Community of Przemysl and its Region, and received three guilders from each lessee of a tavern in the area. He was also the second registrar in matters of rabbinical courts.

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Przemysl was also the location of a Yeshiva, in the form of a Talmudic academy, as is testified to by the standard title “Head of the rabbinical court and head of the Yeshiva of the holy community of Premisla”. The names of the rabbis and heads of the community of Przemysl appear beside the representatives of other large communities of Poland in the minutes of the meetings of the Council of the Four Lands.

The Renaissance movement of the 16th century left its mark upon the Jews of Poland, who began to play an active role in cultural life. This movement resonated deeply in the hearts of the Jews of Przemysl.

In 1581, the medical doctor Marcus Neiger (Swartz) served as head of the community. Like the rest of the physicians among Polish Jewry in the 16th century, he earned his degree in the University of Padua or in some other Italian university. It is interesting that that man, who is mentioned two years earlier in the royal privilege from 1569 as a lofty and sublime holder of a degree (honestus), is described as being persecuted by the Jews, therefore, he removed himself from Jewish legal jurisdiction and gave himself over to the authority of the Wojewoda. Nevertheless, he was required to pay all of the taxes like the rest of the Jews. In the reason given in the privilege it states: “He excels in deep knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, and in Hebrew and Roman literature. Similarly he displays admiration for the Catholic religion.” Apparently there is exaggeration in these words, a fact which is testified to by his election as head of the community two years later. In any case, this document is interesting from a cultural historical perspective as a sign of the times. Later on we do not stumble across a Jewish doctor, except for one time. That is Dr. Henzel the son of Rivka in a document of 1659.

With the oppression of Protestantism and Humanism as a result of the strong ascendancy of Catholicism during the time of King Sigismund III (1587-1632), the Jews of Poland were also pushed into the walls of the ghetto until the end of the 18th century. We should point out that in 1682, one of the greatest Jews of that generation, the doctor of philosophy and medicine Yitzchak Lionel Winkler, settled in Przemysl. He was among those who were deported from Vienna in 1670 and found refuge in Poland. He was one of the scholars in Przemysl aside from the rabbis who were active in literature. It is fitting to point out in particular the well-known author of the mourning selicha of 1630, Shabtai Sofer. We will discuss him in this book.



A copy of the privileges

A map of a Jewish estate


Original Footnote

  1. Based on “The Annals of the Jews of Przemysl” by Professor Moshe Schor, published by R. Lövit, Vienna, 1915. Translated in abridged form from the German edition by Josef Altbauer. Back

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The 'host' refers to the communion wafer. A popular medieval libel against the Jews was to accuse a Jew of 'desecration of the host'. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Host_desecration. Back
  2. There is a footnote in the text here as follows: “See new details in the chapter “About the life of the Jews of Przemysl in the Past”. Back

Coordinator's Footnotes

  1. In Polish, king Zygmunt August II (Sigismund August II) is more often called just king Zygmunt August (Sigismund August). Of all Sigismunds only the last one is numbered – Zygmunt III Waza (Sigismund III Vasa). First is called Zygmunt Stary (Sigismund the Old). Back
  2. In fact, the tortures are not described “in brief”, there are very detailed and lengthy minutes of the questioning in the church sources. Back

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Chapter 2

Life of Przemysl Jews in the Past
(A summary of historical literature)

A. Prior to the Firm Rule of the Poles

by D. N.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

When and Upon what was the city Founded?

Dlugosz, the Polish historian from the 15th century, tells about an ancient tradition that Czech Prince Przemyslaw founded Przemysl in the middle of the 8th century and called it Przemysl. This tradition is apparently a legend lacking any basis in the eyes of the historians.

The first historical date with respect to the city that makes sense is found in the chronicles of the Kiev monk Nestor from around 1113. He tells about times that he does not remember himself, but about which he had heard information from earlier chronicles. According to him, the great Prince of Kiev, Wladymir, conquered the fortresses in Red Russia in 981 – Przemysl, Czerwien and others, which at the time were in the hands of the Lechs, a tribe that he apparently identified with the Poles. This date (981) can be connected with the legend of the founding of the city in the middle of the 8th century.

The Polish historiography changed its previous outlook in the latter years: There are some who believe the founding by the Czech and who dispute the conquest in 981. In the article by Andrzej Poppe that was published in the “Booklet for Debate about the Ancient Slavic Dictionary”[1], it mentions the existence of Czech influence in the region of Przemysl for a long time prior to 981, without saying from where it came. This was indeed a paper of dispute, without the academy certifying its facts. However, the article was published without reservation from its side – a sign that doubts existed about this matter.

The opposition to the idea that the city was conquered in 981 by Wladymir is caused by many factors. According to the words of “The Association of Friends of the Sciences” in Przemysl, the opinion based on Polish historiography (as presented by the historian Professor [Stefan Maria] Kuczynski) is that Prince Wladymir of Kiev was never in Przemysl, and the city was never conquered by his army. The source of the opinion is a misunderstanding by Nestor. Apparently, they read before him about the “Grod” Peremyl in Wolyn (east of Czerwien) that was destroyed by Wladymir in 981 and not restored, and Nestor (in 1113) who knew about the existence of Przemysl as an important “Grod” thought that a mistake was made about the identity of the city , and he “fixed” the name to “Premysl”. Apparently, in 981, the war spread to the border of the Ruthenian duchies in the young state of Poland in Wolyn, at the mouth of the upper Bug River, closer to Kiev than Przemysl. The Lech Tribe lived in that area at the time, but did not yet live near Przemysl. Later on, all of the Poles were called Lechs by the Ukrainian-Ruthenians. The attack of the Lechs in 981 did not reach Przemysl.

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In opposition to the aforementioned theory of “The Association of Friends of the Sciences” in Przemysl, we received information in January 1963 from a different Polish academic that Professor Kuczynski, who has great authority in the field of Polish historiography, believes that the version in the chronicles of Nestor describing the conquest of Przemysl by Wladymir of Kiev in 981 is based on a misunderstanding, and is therefore incorrect. However, this opinion has a number of opponents in Polish historiography.

Poppe writes about the ancientness of Przemysl, stating that the archeological evidence uncovered to this date (1958) indicates that there was human settlement in this area prior to 1000 B.C.E. In the excavations that took place from 1960 and onward in the Zamek castle mountain in Przemysl, remnants of a stone building wall 14x43 meters with an attached rotunda was uncovered. This ruin is identified by its form (bricks and with a rotunda) and its dimensions with the ruins in the Lednica Lake in Greater Poland, whose castle is thought to have belonged to the first ruler of Poland Mieszko I, and was built around 980. The building in Przemysl also apparently belonged to a ruler and was apparently modeled after that aforementioned castle. We can surmise that it was not built in that year, but rather later on, at the beginning of the 11th century.

It has already been known for some time that two transcontinental routs went out from Western Europe. The route went from southern Spain through France (Verdun) to Mainz on the Rhine, from where it continued to Regensburg on the Danube River. There it split into two trunks. One trunk went through Prague, Krakow and Przemysl, and from there through the former city of Sutiska[a] to Luck, and from Luck to Kiev. From there it continued through the Khazar kingdom to central Asia. There it again split into two branches – one to India and the other to China. The second trunk went through the Danube from Regensburg to Hungary, and from there it traversed several passes in the Carpathian Mountains to Przemysl, where it reunited with the trunk that went from Regensburg to Prague, Krakow, and Przemysl. These routes are described in detail by the Arab writers Ibn Hordova (in the middle of the 9th century) and especially by El-Adrisi (in 1154). These explicitly describe Przemysl as a stop. Professor Tadeusz Lewicki traces these transcontinental routes in his many books, especially in his book “Arab sources for the History of the Slavic Area”[2] (pages 141-151. The use of these routes began during the early Middle Ages. Among the travelers of these routes, the well known Jewish merchants called the “Radhanites” stand out. We will discuss them later. Poppe as well stresses in his aforementioned article that Przemysl, on the Regensburg-Kiev line, was included already in the 10th century in the transcontinental business area, and became a center of labor and commerce during the 10th and 11th centuries. It was also an important military point during the wars between the princes of Kiev with Poland regarding the hegemony over the upper mouth of the Boh [Piwdennyj Buh – ukr.] and the Carpathian foothills.

Poppe gives no reasons for the strategic importance of Przemysl, but he notes the many wars related to this city, during the 11th century as well, and especially its conquest by the Polish King Boleslaw Chrobry (the Brave) in 1018, by the Prince from Kiev Jaroslaw the Wise in 1031, and by Boleslaw Smialy (the Bold) during the same century. This Polish conqueror remained in the fortress with his entire army throughout an entire winter. There was enough food there to feed the large camp. Przemysl, as a route from the Carpathians to the plain by the San, also had strategic value in ancient times, before the use of gunpowder in weapons, as well as in the Polish era during the use of such weapons. It always served as an important fortress. Austria also built a very important fortress there in 1878.

From these points we come to the conclusion that even if the place was not conquered by Wladymir of Kiev in 981, by the 10th century a center of settlement already existed as a fortress on the two international routes for transcontinental commerce. This conclusion, apparently, was accepted by the Polish historian who gave his approbation for the millennium celebration of the existence in the city that took place in 1961 as well as the millennium celebration of the establishment of the Kingdom of Poland.

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Who Ruled the City Until the Middle of the 14th Century?

The stone castle whose ruins were found during the excavations in 1960 on the mountain of the castle proves its almost complete resemblance with the castle in the Lednica Lake. This permits us to surmise that there was a joint rulership in Przemysl and Gniezno by the first ruler of the Kingdom of Poland. Nevertheless, we cannot establish this conclusively, for the facts have not yet been completely worked over. In any case, Boleslaw Chrobry conquered Przemysl from the Ruthenians after he returned from the war in Kiev in 1018. Boleslaw died in 1025, and the status of the Kingdom of Poland descended with him. This permitted the great prince Jaroslaw the Wise to return and conquer Przemysl (1031). It is unclear if he sufficed himself with the conquest and the booty of war, or if he also re-annexed Przemysl to Reisin. In any case, after some years, Boleslaw the Bold (Smiely) was urged to reconquer the city, which passed from hand to hand, and re-annex it to Red Reisin. It remained attached to that country for close to 300 years.

In 1084, a large area in southwest Red Reisin, to which Przemysl had been annexed, became a new duchy. Its capital was Przemysl, and the Roscislawiczes ruled it. The great prince of Kiev and the princes of Wolhyn declared war on this new national entity. They were supported by Hungary and Poland. Nevertheless, this coalition did not succeed in expelling the Roscislawiczes from Przemysl. In a large battle near Przemysl in 1099, a prince from the house of Roscislaw defeated all of his opponents, and remained the ruler of the city and the duchy. However, in 1145, one of his heirs, Wolodomyrko [or Wlodymyrko – ed.], a scion of that dynasty, transferred his capital to Halicz, which was apparently also under in the area of his sovereignty. For several years, Przemysl lost its special character as a capital of the duchy. It once again became the capital of the duchy in the region of Przemysl for a few yeas. In 1245, after a battle near Przemysl, this region was annexed by Prince Daniel Romanowicz to the united duchy of Halicz – Wolodimir. During the middle of the 14th century, the sovereignty of this duchy, along with Przemysl – after the death of its last ruler Boleslaw Trojdenowicz [or Trojdenowic – ed.] – moved over to the hands of the Polish King Kazimierz the Great. He took it over partly as an inheritance and partly through a conquest that lasted for a number of years. Characteristic of the importance of Przemysl within Red Reisen, which was taken over in this manner by Kazimierz the Great, is the fact that the Województwo (Palatinate) that the Polish ruler set up in this large area of land was called the Przemysl Palatinate. Only in 1434 was the palatinate called Ruthenian. (According to Balinski, Lipinski in “Early Poland” Warsaw, 1845)[b]. Despite the fact that after the death of Kazimierz (1370), the rule of Red Reisin transferred temporary to Ludwig king of Hungary, the rule of Red Reisin, including Przemysl, transferred to back to Poland, since this Ludwig transferred it to his daughter Jadwiga in 1382, who was coronated as the Queen of Poland and became the wife of the Lithuanian ruler Wladyslaw Jagiello (1386). Thus, Przemysl remained within the bounds of Poland.


Did Jews live in Przemysl before Kazimierz the Great?

We must recall that the city was only under Polish rule for a few years prior to the rule of Kazimierz. We cannot learn anything from this, for indeed after that time, it was often part of a different country. Between the years of 1084 and 1245, the city was almost constantly a part of the Duchy of Przemysl, even though it was not always its capital. Before and after this period, the Duchy of Przemysl did not exist, but rather the city belonged to larger Ruthenian national entities. This is especially the case after 1245 when it belonged to the united duchy of Halicz-Wolodymyr. This duchy existed until the end of the 13th century. Perhaps even prior to this time, the city of Lwow developed very quickly into a center of commerce and business. A large Jewish community existed in that city, during the middle of the 11th century, at the beginning of the rule of Kazimierz the Great. Meir Balaban, the greatest historian of Polish Jewry, establishes in his article “When and From Where did

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the Jews come to Poland?”[3] that, “When Kazimierz the Great conquered Red Reisin, he found two Jewish communities there – in Lwow and in Przemysl”. He adds, “This proved the spreading out of the Jews from east to west.”

The human resources for the building of the Jewish community in Przemysl were provided to some degree by the community of Kiev, which disbanded in the 13th century. This was not just Kiev, for Kiev was only a transit point for the waves of Jewish immigration from the south and the southeast. Professor B. Mark writes in his book, “The History of the Jews in Poland” (Warsaw 1957), “During the early Middle Ages, there was a constant immigration of the Jews of Babylonia to Eastern Europe” (page 64). During the time of the Arab invasions of the 7th century, the masses of the Jews of Babylonia and especially of Persia began to immigrate for economic and religious reasons to the northwest direction primary – to Caucasus, the Volga region, ancient Reisin (Kievan Rus), and from there apparently westward. Thus writes the chronicler Josef HaKohen in “Emek Habacha” in the section dedicated to the year 690: “The Ishmaelits entered Persia… and many Jews fled from Persia… and they went from nation to nation… and they came to the land of Russia” (page 82)… “When the decline of the Caliphate began during the 10th century and the first half of the 11th century, especially when the Seljuks invaded those lands, the waves of Jewish immigration from Iraq and Persia were renewed to the land of the Khazars, and from there westward.” “Byzantine Jewry was faced with serious destruction during the 8th-10th centuries, and only mass immigration during those years to the Slavic lands, especially to the region of the Volga, saved them.” (Page 97 of that book.)

These words demonstrate that many Jews were found in Red Reisin, including Przemysl.

There exists a theory that to the masses of Jews who left the lands of Asia and Byzantia, there were added Jewish refugees from the Khazar kingdom, which was destroyed for the most part in the latter half of the 10th century, and completely during the 11th century. Among them were Khazars who converted to Judaism. We do not have information about the percentage of Khazars who converted to Judaism. There are historians who believe that only the royal family and upper class of the Khazars converted. It is also not clear if the immigration went westward to Red Reisin. In connection to this we should note that the rulers of the Kahzars converted to Islam during the 10th century and to Christianity during the 11th century. We cannot determine definitively if the west absorbed a portion of those who left the Khazar state along with the Jews who streamed westward to other countries. In any case, there were many Jewish immigrants to Red Reisin, and during the 10th century they met up with the stream of Jewish immigration from Western Europe in Reisen and in the western areas


The Radhanite Caravans[4]

The Radhanites were Jewish merchants, partly of Sephardic extraction and partly of French or west German extraction. Starting from the early Middle Ages, they traveled long distance over land, rivers and seas for the purpose of international trade. They traveled through France, and the lands of the eastern German Rhine, through routes that traversed Przemysl and went on to Kiev and Atil (Astrakhan) to central Asia, and from there to India or China. These Jews stemmed from Western Europe. It is possible that merchants, tradesmen, and food workers also joined on these caravans to Prague, Krakow, Przemysl and Kiev. In his book “The Book of Routes and Kingdoms” that appeared in the middle of the 9th century, the Arab Ibn Khordadbeh, a high official of the caliph in Baghdad, describes some details about the Radhanites. He mentions that they did not only speak Persian and Arabic that was required in Asia, but that they also spoke Andulasian, Frankish, Roman, and Slavic which was required as they passed through the routes of Europe[5]. In his book “The History of the Jews of Poland” (pages 174/5 and onward), professor Mark proposes the theory that the Radhanites set out on their long journeys – especially in the Slavic lands –

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maintained many factories on their intermediate stops. These were apparently designated not only for the barter of beasts of burden and for the purchase of food, but also for the healing of members of the caravan or of animals, or leaving them at the stop for additional medical care, for fixing wagons, for bringing in tradesmen who were needed along the way (tailors, butchers) or clergymen (especially shochtim) (in the event that such people had not traveled with the caravan from the west), for replenishing stocks of merchandise, and for bringing aboard armed guards, guides, etc. This reasoning makes sense, even if there is no clear proof of this. Professor Mark also brings down the bold theory that the Radhanites brought with them from their native lands not only people to serve as guides and guards for their factories, but also people to settle in the places where they maintained factories, as a form of “commercial colonization” of Eastern Europe. Professor Mark mentions Przemysl a few times as one of the places where such factories existed, and one of the places where this commercial colonization took place. He also claims that these stations served in part as a final destination for the exchange of merchandise. He surmises that factories already existed in the 9th century along the paths that he describes. In this vein, he always mentions Przemysl and “other Jewish merchants”. According to Professor Mark, these trade routes were shortened starting from the 11th century, and their target was various lands of Eastern Europe rather than Asia. The attractive force was the landowners who had become wealthy and had developed great needs. He also theorizes that there was a large settlement of Jews in southern Poland already by the second half of the 11th century. We must relate with caution to all of these bold claims, especially to the extent of colonization from the west. However, there is no doubt that a Radhanite factory existed in Przemysl at the latest by the 10th century, if not already in the 9th. This testifies to the existence of a Jewish community.


A Religious Question and Answer from the First Half of the 11th Century

Rabbi Yehuda the son of Rabbi Meir HaKohen lived in Mainz (western Germany) during the first half of the 11th century. He was a member of the rabbinic court that was headed by Rabbi Gershom “The Light of the Exile”. Starting from 1020, Rabbi Yehuda became known as a rabbinical decisor. His book “The Book of Laws” primarily includes questions and responsa. Today, all that remains of it is the portions that are included, among other things, in the books of Rabbi Eliezer the son of Yoel HaLevi (Rabia) and Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Moshe of Vienna (known by his prime book, “Or Zarua”). Among other things, in the books of these two sages, there is a response that is almost identical to the question that was asked of Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen with respect to the requirement of chalitza[6] for a young widow. The important question with respect to this is whether the city “Primut” in the country of “Poloni” that is mentioned twice in the question as the place of the event, is identical with “Przemysl” in the country of “Poland”. If that is the case, Jewish Przemysl existed already during the period when Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen acted as a decision (approximately 1020-1040). Since the problem of chalitza was raised with respect to a time of emergency, this might have been during the war in which Przemysl was conquered, i.e. in 1018 or in 1031. It is more likely that it was 1018, for a number of years, perhaps even 10 years, had passed from the time of the conquest of the city to the death of the young widow.

The first person who apparently turned the attention of Jewish historians to the importance of this question with respect to the annals of the Jews of Poland and Reisin was J. Brutzkus, in his book in the Ukrainian Language[7] that was published in Berlin in 1928, and was also published in Yiddish.

The aforementioned revelation had a great impact on Jewish historians and also scientific researchers of the books of the aforementioned rabbinical decisions. Many articles were published on this topic. Only one researcher claimed that the identity was not Przemysl, but rather Fuerth (Fiurda) in Germany. All the rest of the researchers agree that the identity of “Primut” is

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Przemysl, and push aside the idea of the identity being Fuerth, especially since a transliteration error of this nature is inconceivable even for smaller cities in Germany (this was prior to the invention of printing), for the books of German decisors were copied in Germany, and the transcribers in Germany knew of the existence of Fuerth.

From 1956, the issue of if identifying Primut with Przemysl was renewed in the Polish book of F. Kupfer and Professor T. Lewicki titled “Hebrew Sources from the 11th-13th Centuries for Events of the Slavs and Several Other Central and Eastern European Nations”[8]. From an Academic and linguistic perspective, and based on the foundation of the extensive literature on this topic, the consensus is that Primut is Przemysl. P. Kupfer sheds light on our question by stating that all of the scholars agree to this scientific consensus, with the exception of the sole aforementioned opponent. In the “History of Poland”, published starting from 1957 as a national academic publication, this identity is confirmed, and the existence of a Jewish settlement in Przemysl during the first half of the 11th century is used as proof of the existence of Przemysl as a city during this era. (See the article of Aleksander Gieysztor “On the Ancient Feudal Society and its Economic Foundations”, section 1, volume 1, page 148). Even the Polish historian Stanislaw Frankowski takes the same stance in his book “How Was Poland Established?”[9]. We only know of one opposing opinion to identifying Przemysl with Primut, which was not even put in print. That is the opinion of Professor Mark, the director of the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw. It is based on a different principle, that if Przemysl was not founded in the 9th century, then it was in the 10th century. (See above about the factories of the Radhanites and their commercial colonization.)

Translator's Footnotes

  1. There is a footnote in the text here: Published by the Polish Academy of the Sciences in 1958. [Słownik starozytnosci slowianskich. Zeszyt Dyskusyjny; Ossolineum, Wroclaw 1958 – ed.] Back
  2. There is a footnote in the text here: Published by the Polish Academy of the Sciences, Wroclaw and Krakow, 1956. Back
  3. There is a footnote in the text here as follows: Miesiecznik Zydowski, volume I, page 17, Lodz 1931. Back
  4. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radhanite Back
  5. There is a footnote in the text here as follows: Details about the identity of those languages are found in the aforementioned book of Professor T. Lewicki, “Arabic Sources for Slavic Events”, (Wroclaw-Krakow, 1956), pages 75, 120, 121. Back
  6. Chalitza is the biblically ordained ceremony, consisting of removing of a shoe and spitting in front of a her brother-in-law, that is performed by a woman to a man who refused to enter into a levirate marriage (a marriage of a man to his deceased brother's wife when the brother died childless). If the levirate marriage is not to be performed, the chalitza ceremony must be performed as a release. Nowadays, and even as early as the period under discussion in this article, the levirate marriage was no longer performed at all, and chalitza has to be performed in such a case. Back
  7. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: Published by the Ukrainian Academy of the Sciences in volume 16 of Naukovi Zbirnik. Back
  8. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: Published in Wroclaw and Warsaw by the Polish Academy of the Sciences and the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw. [Zrodla hebrajskie do dziejow Slowian i niektorych innych ludow srodkowej i wschodniej Europy. Wyjatki z pism religijnych i prawniczych XI-XIII w., Wroclaw-Warszawa 1956 – ed.] Back
  9. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: Published by Wiedza Powszechna, Warsaw, 1959. Back

Coordinator's Footnotes

  1. We were not able to find the place called Sutiska; it could be “the city at the Sutiska pass”, or “through the city that passed by Sutiska” – ed. Back
  2. Michal Balinski, Tymoteusz Lipinski, „Starożytna Polska pod względem historycznym, jeograficznym i statystycznym opisana”, v. I-III. Back


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