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The Wadowice Community


First Chapter

The history of the Wadowice Community (historical sketches)

Dr. David Jakubowicz

Translated by Sara Mages

The beginnings of the Jewish settlement in Wadowice

The history of Wadowice's Jews is very short[1]. The beginning of their settlement started in the second half of the 19th century. Until then, the Jews weren't allowed to settle in the city limit or trade there. This ban was based on a special law enacted on 6 November 1754 by King Augustus III of Poland and elector of Saxony, and was approved by Kaiser Franz in a law from 28 May 1793[2].

Presumably, the purpose of the law from 1754 was to continue the legal situation that prevailed until then. This assumption is expressed in the “Jewish Encyclopedia” edited by Dr. L. Katznelson[3]. According to this opinion, the law “Privilegium de non tolerandis Judaeis” [privilege of excluding the Jews] already existed for some time in Wadowice. Presumably, the reason for the renewal of the ban was related to the fear that the Jews will flow to the city on the grounds of obsolescence of the law. In Pinkas Va'ad Arba Arazot[4], that contains decisions from1580-1764, and list the communities who paid state taxes during that period, there is no information about Wadowice. Jewish communities and settlements in the western part of Krakow Voivodeship, meaning, in the districts of Wedowice, Biała, Myślenice, and Żywiec, don't appear in the map of Polish Jewry for the period of 1667-1764 (which is attached to the same notebook).Only the cities of Oświęcim and Kazanów, and Jewish communities and settlements in remote and isolated places appear there.

This bizarre situation stems from the fact, that in the Middle Ages the districts listed above (Księstwo, Oświęcimskie and Zatrorskie), except for Myślenice, didn't belong to the Jagiellonian Kingdom but to the Piast Dynasty, who in contrast to the kings of Poland carried an anti-Semitic policy, and only allowed the Jews to live in the cities of Oświęcim and Zator.

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This tradition of intolerance towards the Jews also continued after the annexation of the aforementioned principalities to the Kingdom of Poland in 1564. As a result, it was very rare to see Jews in these cities during the 17th and 18th centuries, except for Jewish travelers. Even the settlement of Jews in the villages wasn't welcomed[5].

However, the residents of these cities didn't accept this de facto situation of intolerance towards the Jews, and tried to get laws from the kings totally prohibiting the settlement of Jews, as it was done by the municipality of Wadowice.

We need to remember, that in 1754 it was very easy to get such a ban in Poland. This period excelled with brutal persecutions against the Jews, and if we take out the days of the Cossack revolt led by Khmelnytsky and the invasion of the Swedes (the decrees of 5408/09 – 1648/49), we will find that there were no such persecutions in Poland. In the years 1736-1753, there were many “blood libel” trials all over Poland. These trials resulted in a huge number of innocent victims who perished in great torture.[6] Every Christian child who died from unclear reasons such as an accident, a vague criminal act and the like, was a “Corpus delicti” [body of crime] in a “blood libel” trial again a Jew, who to our great tragedy lived close to where the incident occurred.

The author Jędrzej Kitowicza, who lived during that period, wrote in his book “Opis obyczajów za Panowanie Augusta III” [customs during the reign of August III], that according to the terms of that time, it was impossible to describe the freedom of the nobles without “Liverum veto” [I freely forbid]. So was the whole Polish nation, apart from a small group who was convinced that Jewish Matzos weren't baked with Christians' blood.

In this atmosphere, it was easy for the governors of various Polish cities to get all sorts of privileges from the king. These privileges gave them the freedom to “break free”[7] from the Jews. No wonder, that the city of Wadowice announced this ban on the pretext that the Jews were unwanted citizens within its borders, because they were accused across the country for using Christian blood for their religious rituals.

Sometimes, for economic reasons, Jewish individuals were forced to live temporarily in a city, and received a special permit for this purpose. For example: when they had to execute their right to sell alcohol. In the first half of the 19th century, this commercial industry was largely held by the Jews. On this basis, the liquor merchant, Sini Schiffer, received a temporary permit to live in Wadowice. HaRav Shmuel Avraham Zeltenreich writes about it in great details in his article - “The Rabbinical period in Wadowice and lines to the image of Rabbi Anshel Yitzchak Zeltenreich.”

The law forbidding the settlement of Jews in Wadowice existed until the second half of the 19th century. In 1860, before the Jews settled in the city limit[8], they lived in the nearby villages of

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Chocznia, Tomice, Radocza, Klecza, Dolna and Górny. Most of them lived in the Groble suburb near the outskirts of the city on the side of Tatsaniska Street. The Groble suburb, which during our time belonged to the Mikołaj estate and the Krowitzki family, wasn't included in the city proper. Therefore, a large number of Jews lived in this neighborhood and built a house of prayer there.

Also in other cities, where the “de non tolerandis Judaeis” law was applicable, the Jews tried to break the ban by settling in the estates of nobles and priests, who were in the city limit but weren't subjected to city's rules. That's what they have done in the cities Drohobych, Sambir and others. In Piotrków, the Jews were able to obtain permission from King Jan Sobieski (1679), which allowed them to live in a city suburb and trade there.

On this background, a severe struggle took place between the Jews and the municipal authorities from the middle of the 17th century to the end of the 18th century. Eventually, the struggle ended in favor of the Jews. In Wadowice, there weren't any estates that belonged to nobles or priests and the municipal rule, which was unlimited, applied to the entire city. There weren't any separate places of this kind (“enclaves”), and there was a large desolated space between the Groble suburb and the city's first buildings. Therefore, all attempts to invade the city were in vain, and it was impossible to cancel the prohibition of 1754.

To understand why this law, that greatly humiliated the Jews, was also present after the partition of Poland and existed for a hundred years or so during the days of the Austrian Empire, we need to read the history of Judaism in the Habsburg Empire. Apart from the period of 1849-51, in which under the pressure of the freedom movements (Spring of Nations 1848), a constitution was published in the city of Olomouc that gave the Jews equal civil rights, but it was re-cancelled two years later. Until 1859, Austria sank into the laws of the Middle Ages that limited the civil rights of Jews such as: the division of Vienna's Jews into unbearable and bearable, a prohibition on settlement in the Alps (Tyrol, etc.), the prohibition of buying property in certain districts, and employing non-Jewish servants.

However, from 1859, there was a change for the better after the defeat in the Italian War (Solferino 1859) and the Prussia War (1866). In order to save its existence, the Austrian government started to publish liberal laws. The Jews enjoyed these laws to a large extent, because by then they suffered from discrimination more than other nations. From now, a constitutional period started. In 1867, a law that abolished the remaining reactionary decrees from the previous royalist's period was published. The “Konfessionsgesetz” law from 1868 promised equality to all nations and religions, including the Jews of Galicia[9].

Indeed, it's not surprising, that until 1867 the residents of the city of Wadowice claimed that the previous royal laws, including the prohibition of Jewish settlement, were still valid, since they weren't eliminated and didn't violate the spirit of the general laws of the Austrian government.

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This situation suppressed the Jews who lived in the surrounding villages because there wasn't even a Jewish doctor in the city.

For the same reason, Jewish communities weren't established in the adjacent cities mentioned above: Biała, Myślenice, and Żywiec[10].

However, thanks to the legal reforms that were made in1867/68, the struggle of Austria's Jews in general, and Galicia in particular, ended successfully, and the ban on settlement in our city was automatically canceled as it stood against the new constitution.

It is clear, that Wadowice's Christian residents weren't happy with the new situation, and a vigorous struggle was needed, at least from one Jew, to break their opposition, enter the city by force and pave the way for other Jews.

The powerful man, who managed to revoke the ban without taking legal steps, was Baruch Stieberg. Details about his action and the moral and political evidence that he used are brought below in the memoir of Dr. Wilhelm Kluger, the last community leader. From them we realize that the operation was carried out after the year 1863, because Stieberg took part in the 1863 Polish revolt against Russia, and from this he derived his strength to fight the Christian residents in Wadowice to achieve his goal.[11]

Wadowice appears in the 1880 census, which was held in Galicia once every 10 years, with 404 Jews (about 75 families). Therefore, we can assume that the first Jews settled in Wadowice between 1864 and 1879, and by 1880 they reached the number listed above.

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According to this count, the Jewish quota didn't reach 10% in 3 out of 125 cities in Galicia[12]. Since there were only 8.1% Jews in Wadowice at that time (see Table #2 below), is clear that our city was one of the three cities with the smallest percentage of Jewish population.

The establishment of the Jewish community at such a late period, and its short existence of 60 years (roughly), greatly influenced the delay in its development.

First of all, Wadowice didn't manage to obtain the number of Jewish residents who lived in similar communities. In 1939, at the end of its existence, it barely reached 2000 persons. 105 Polish cities are listed in the book “Landsmanshaftn in Yiśroel”[13]. Most of them were similar in structure to Wadowice, meaning, each had a police station, a court house and a military camp, and all of them had more Jews than Wadowice. No wonder that the residents of other cities always wondered why there were few Jews in our city despite its great legal importance. The answer is in the data mentioned above – in its very short existence.

Yisraeli, one of the first residents of the city, worked for the establishment of the community and for its legal foundation. Unfortunately, we lost his first name. The regulations of the community were composed by Doctor Daniel Isidor, who settled in the city around 1880 (see the chapter, Personalities and Public Figures, below). The first community leader was Herman Reich.

The religious and cultural character of the city

Almost all of the first inhabitants of Wadowice were advanced Jews who spoke fluent German, unlike the Jews in other Galician cities whose language was Yiddish and Polish. Most of them came from nearby Silesia and from villages on its borders where a strong German influence prevailed. Here, they continued their relationship with Silesia, and kept the “traditions” that they brought with them. Their dress was modern European, and on the Shabbat, holidays and state assemblies, they came to the synagogue dressed in a tailcoat and a top hat. Shtreimels and kaftans weren't seen and weren't found. On the Sabbath, the Jews who followed them from Galicia appeared in Wadowice's streets dressed in a Shtreimel. Polish teenagers threw stones at them because this dress was foreign to them.

Almost all the first Jews in Wadowice only read books and newspapers in German, and they had no knowledge of Hebrew and Yiddish literature. Even the names of their children were registered in German in their birth certificates, and the inscriptions on the tombstones in the cemetery were inscribed in German with a poor addition in the holy language. The German culture continued to influence because they had to travel to Beelitz, which was a German city at that time, to take care of their commercial affairs. By the way, in the 19th century the authorities' main offices were located in Vienna

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No wonder, that the Jews of our city were able to maintain the purity of the German language for many years after the foundation of the community.

The German character of the community was also reflected in the style of the synagogue and in the version of the prayers. The temple was built in the modern style of Western Europe (see the chapter, Synagogue, below). The architect wanted to set up a special cubicle for a women's chorus, and to install an organ in the reform tradition. The prayers were done in the Ashkenazi version. At the beginning, the Gabaim protested vigorously against those who dared to add the Sephardic version of “V'yatsmakh purkaney vikareyv mshikhey” [May His redemption sprout forth, and may His messiah come soon] to the Kaddish. They also rebelled against the infiltration of the Hassidic atmosphere into the synagogue. Only after a fierce struggle, the ultra-Orthodox managed to add the “Hallel[14] to the Ma'ariv prayer service of Passover night. According to the advanced Jews, the prayer should only be read during the “Seder”, in the middle of the “Haggadah”.

Over time, there have been important changes in this situation, when a population started to flow to the city from the nearby Galician cities and villages like: Kazanów, Oświęcim, Zator and Limanowa - cities where the German culture was alien and the spoken languages ?? were Polish and Yiddish. These Jews, who were imbued with the spirit of Galician Hassidut, brought changes to community's traditional way of life and the traditional clothing, such as long silk kaftans, velvet hats, Shtreimels and sandals with white socks. Over time, Beit Midrash, where the prayers were held in the Sephardic style, was established for this new religious population. In the first synagogue they continued to maintain the Ashkenazi version to the end. It is possible, that this put an end to the settlement of advanced Jews, who left the city and moved to Beelitz or to other German cities. In 1917/18, at the end of the Austrian Monarchy, the Hasidim constituted the largest part of the city's Jews

The new face of the Jewish community was also reflected in the elections to the community council, and the impact of the growing Hasidic population increased. While the former community leaders, Herman Reich, Dr. Isidor Daniel, Huppert, Zachariah Kluger, Dr. Apollinari Zimerspitz, were advanced Jews, the community leaders who served after them, Mathias Jakubowicz, Yehiel Balamut, Avraham Yakov Reifer, were orthodox Jews, except for the last community leader Dr. Wilhelm Kluger.

Our community's rabbis had the same fate. The first rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Rotenberg, who usually used the German language, was accepted by all the social circles. In 1912, when Rabbi Rotenberg left our city and moved to Antwerp, a stubborn war for the Rabbinate chair broke out between the advanced Jews and the Hassidim. Five candidates were invited after the posting of the bid, 2 advanced and 3 with a significant religious lifestyle, to carry their sermons in the synagogue on Saturdays. So if there will be differences of opinion concerning the selection of a rabbi in the community council, they can leave, in accordance with the regulations, the decision to a referendum that will determine which of the candidates is best suited for this role. Eventually, after a long struggle, the candidacy of the Hassidic rabbi, Rabbi Asher-Anshel Yitzchak Seltenreich, won.

Also in the following years, the percentage of Hassidim continued to rise constantly. At the end of 1939, there were 450 families in the community with only 10 to 15 percent advanced Jews.

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In this manner, the city drastically changed within 60 years of its existence. The settlement of Hassidic Jews in our city was slow as long as there were no religious institutions based on their spirit. When the regulations were set, Beit-Hamidrash was built, the Rabbinate was founded and the rest of the religious needs were provided, the Hassidim started to settle in large numbers and the nature of the community completely changed.

No wonder, that until the First World War, Wadowice was called a “refuge city', because residents from various places migrated to it and established a new community.

In the nearby cites, like Oświęcim and Kazanów, Jews lived for many generations, and even .if a new population flowed to them it was swallowed within the older population. On the other hand, in Wadowice the residents kept to their former habits, and gathered in associations according to their former places of residence, that is to say: the association of Kazanów's Jews, Zator's Jews, and the like. This solidarity was also reflected in the social and commercial relationships, and also in the local elections.

These “regional” differences disappeared just before the Holocaust. However, until the community's bitter end, the elders were named after their place of origin, such as “Kashnower Yid” and the like.


  1. Wadowice received an official city status in 1430. It was named after Marci Wadowita (1567-1641) a native of the city. He was a famous theologian who served as a priest in “Saint Florian Church” in Krakow, (Gutenberg Encyclopedia, Warsaw, volume xviii page 25). Starting from 1819, Wadowice was a district city. For details about its development see the following chapter: The contribution of the Jews to the development of the city. Return
  2. Polish Geographic Dictionary (Słownik Geograficzny Polski, pages 212, 232). Dr. J. Putek, O zbojnickich zamkach, heretyckich zborach i oswiecimskiej Jerozolimie, Krakow 1938. Dr. Majer Bałaban: “The history of Galicia's Jews” (1772-1868), page 6. Return
  3. Encyclopaedia Judaica 1916, volume V page 266. Return
  4. The Notebook of the Congress of Four States, Halperin, the Bialik Institute Publications, Jerusalem 1945. Return
  5. In the 1776 census there were 1,047 Jews in these districts compared to the overall number of 171,596 Christians (0.6%), and 51 Jewish homes compared to the overall number of 27,991. This was the smallest percentage of Jews in comparison with the 18 districts in Galicia (Dr. J. Putek's book, pages 211, 232 , 241). Return
  6. The famous trials in - Poznań (1736), Zaslov (1747), Shepetivka (1748), Zhytomyr
    (1753), Yampol (1756), Przemyśl (1759), and Wojsławice (1760). In these trials a considerable number of Jews were tortured to death. (Dubnow “World History of the Jewish people” the German addition, volume vii, pages 140-150). Return
  7. There page 131. Return
  8. The Jewish Encyclopedia (Katznelson) page 266. Return
  9. Dubnow: The equal rights of the Jews of Austria, “The History of the Jewish people”, German addition, volume ix page 379. Return
  10. The Jews were expelled from Biała in 1765 and moved to the nearby villages: Lipnik and Krumlowice. In 1808 only 3 Jewish families lived in Biała. When they gradually returned, they didn't establish a community but belonged to the community of Oświęcim. The Jewish community was established in 1872, meaning: during the constitution period (Encyclopaedia Judaica – Klatzkin, Berlin 1928, volume iv page 464. Dr. Józef Putek, - O Zamkach zborach ss. 1938).
    About the late establishment of the community of Myślenice (the settlement ban was already issued in 1804 by the Austrian Government). It is described below in the “Myślenice Book”.
    Jews didn't live in Żywiec until 1939. The ban on settlement was based on the decision of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa (1740-1780). It is understandable that since 1867/68 the ban was only De facto, but the city's residents kept it so firmly and stubbornly, that in 1900, when the law expert, Dr. Lazar, rented a furnished room in the city limit, he was attacked by the residents and was forced to leave the city (Encyclopedia – Katznelson, volume vii, page 576). The community was established in the village of Żywlocia, and the Jews only lived there and in the nearby villages: Lipowa, Sporish, Isp and the like.
    However, in Zator, which belonged to the Wadowice district, there are evidences that Jews lived there in the 16th century. In the city's archive there is a document stating that in 1547 the residents objected the lease of municipal property to the Jews. Also 92 Jewish tax payers appear in the city's 1765 census (Polish Geographic Dictionary, volume xiv; Encyclopedia – Katznelson, volume vii page 683).
    There is an absolute approval to all these data in the book “The Wadowice District”;
    J. Edlen von – Der Wadowicer Kreis im Königreich GalizienMehoffer (Vienna 1843). The author traveled the length and breadth of the area around 1840. He writes that there are only two Jewish communities in the whole district – the main community in Oświęcim with a district rabbi and a synagogue, and a chapter in Zator with a teacher. He mentions that there are only 6,500 Jews in the district out of 350,000 residents. He stresses that the Jewish settlement in this district (1.86%) is the smallest in all of Galicia (page 23). Return
  11. The penetration of Jews to our city is described in a few words in Majer Bałaban's book mentioned above: “When the industrial law was published in 1859, the law banning the settlement lost validity, and despite the vigorous opposition the Jews began to settle in the cities of Wadowice, Bochnia and the like”. Return
  12. Yakov Leszczynski; “The urban population of Jews in Poland” New York 1943. Return
  13. Published by the Association of Polish immigrants in Israel, Tel-Aviv 1961. Return
  14. Hallel – Praise – A Jewish prayer - a verbatim recitation from Psalms 113–118, which is used for praise and thanksgiving. It is recited by observant Jews on Jewish holidays. Return


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