Kazimierz (Latin: Casimiria; Yiddish Kuzmir) is a historical district of Kraków (Poland), best known for being home to a Jewish community from the 14th century until the Second World War.

Early History

The district of Kazimierz in Krakow is defined by the old shores of an island in the Vistula river. The northern branch of the river (Stara Wisła - Old Vistula) was filled in at the end of the 19th century, connecting Kazimierz with Krakow proper.

Three early medieval settlements are known to have existed on the island. The most important of these was the pre-Christian Slavic shrine at Skałka (“the rock”) at the western, upstream tip of the island. This site, with its sacred pool, was later Christianised as the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in the 11th century and was the legendary site of the martyrdom of St. Stanisław. There was a nearby noble manor complex to the southeast and an important cattle-market town of Bawół, possibly based on an old tribal Slavic gród, at the edges of the habitable land near the swamps that composed the eastern, downstream end of the island. There was also a much smaller island upstream of Kazimierz known as the “Tartar Island” after the Tartar cemetery there. This smaller island has since washed away.

On 27 March 1335, King Casimir III of Poland ("Kazimierz" in Polish) declared the two western settlements to be a new city named "Casimiria" (later “Kazimierz”) after him. Shortly thereafter, in 1340, Bawół was also added, making the new city’s boundaries the same as the island. King Casimir gave his city streets in accordance with Magdeburg law and, in 1362, defensive walls. His settled the newly-built central section primarily with burghers, with a plot set aside for the Augustinian order next to Skałka. He also began work on a campus for the Cracow Academy he founded in 1364, but Casimir died in 1370 and the campus was never completed.

Perhaps the most important feature of medieval Kazimierz was the "Pons Regalis", the only major, permanent bridge across the Vistula for several centuries. This bridge connected Krakow via Kazimierz to the Wieliczka Salt Mine and the lucrative Hungarian trade route. The last bridge at this location (at the end of modern Stradom Street) was dismantled in 1880 when the filling in of the Old Vistula river bed made it obsolete.

Jewish Kazimierz

Jews had played an important role in the Kraków region economy since the end thirteenth century. The Jewish community in Kraków had lived undisturbed alongside their Christian neighbours under the protective King Kazimierz III. By the reign of King Jogaila (reigned in Poland 1386-1434), however, relations had deteriorated and pogroms began to occur with increasing frequency. As part of the re-founding of the Cracow Academy, starting in 1400, the Academy began to buy out buildings in the old Jewish district. The Jewish community moved to the area around modern Plac Szczepański. During the last decade of the fifteenth century anti-Semitism led many Jews to move out of Kraków to nearby KazimierzFrancis William Carter Trade and Urban Development in Poland: An Economic Geography of Cracow, from Its Origins to 1795
Cambridge University Press, 1994, p.71] . In 1494 a disastrous fire destroyed a large part of Kraków. Raging populace soon attacked the Jews, blaming the fire on them. In 1495 the Polish king John I Albert of Poland expelled all Jews from Kraków, resettling them to the old Bawół district of Kazimierz. For its own defence against Christian raids, the kahal petitioned the Kazimierz town council for the right to build its own interior wall, cutting across the western end of the older defensive walls in 1553. Due to the growth of the community, the walls were expanded again in 1608. Later requests to expand the walls were turned down.

The area between the walls was known as the "Oppidum Judaeorum", the Jewish City, which represented only about one fifth of the geographical area of Kazimierz, but nearly half of its inhabitants. The Oppidum became the main spiritual and cultural centre of Polish Jewry, hosting many of Poland’s finest Jewish scholars, artists and craftsmen. Among its famous inhabitants were the Talmudist Moses Isserles, the Kabbalist Natan Szpiro, and the royal physician Shmuel bar Meshulam.

The golden age of the Oppidum came to an end in 1782, when the Austrian Emperor Joseph II disbanded the kahal. In 1822, the walls were torn down, removing any physical reminder of the old borders between Jewish and Christian Kazimierz.

In 1791, Kazimierz lost its status as a separate city and became a district of Kraków. The richer Jewish families quickly moved out of the overcrowded streets of eastern Kazimierz. Because of the injunction against travel on the Sabbath, however, most Jewish families stayed relatively close to the historic synagogues in the old Oppidum, maintaining Kazimierz’s reputation as a “Jewish district” long after the concept ceased to have any administrative meaning. By the 1930s, Kraków had 120 officially registered synagogues and prayer houses scattered across the city and much of Jewish intellectual life had moved to new centres like Podgórze.

In a tourist guide published in 1935, Meir Balaban, a Reform rabbi and professor of History at the University of Warsaw, lamented that the Jews who remained in the once vibrant Oppidum were “only the poor and the ultra-conservative.” However, this same exodus was the reason why most of the buildings in the Oppidum are preserved today in something close to their 18th century shape.

Views of pre-war Kazimierz can be seen in the opening scenes of the classic, Yiddish movie, "Yidl mitn Fidl", or " [http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt0027231/ Yidl with His Fiddle] " (Yiddish: יידל מיטן פֿידל), which was filmed in 1936, directed by Joseph Green and Jan Nowina-Przybylski, and stars Molly Picon.

During the Second World War, the Jews of Krakow, including those in Kazimierz, were forced by the Nazis into a crowded ghetto in Podgórze, across the river. Most of them were later killed during the liquidation of the ghetto or in death camps.

Post-War Kazimierz

After the Second World War, Kazimierz, mostly abandoned by its pre-war Jewish population, was now settled by the poor and the criminal elements, becoming a backwater area with a reputation for being unsafe at night. Many old buildings were not repaired after the war devastation and became empty shells. At least one synagogue building was torn apart by scavengers seeking hidden Jewish treasure.

However, since 1988, a popular annual Jewish Cultural Festival has drawn Cracovians back to the heart of the Oppidum and re-introduced Jewish culture to a generation of Poles who have grown up without Poland’s historic Jewish community. In 1993, Steven Spielberg shot his film "Schindler's List" largely in Kazimierz (in spite of the fact that very little of the action historically took place there) and this drew international attention to Kazimierz. Since 1993, there have been parallel developments in the restoration of important historic sites in Kazimierz and a booming growth in Jewish-themed restaurants, bars, bookstores and souvenir shops.

A Jewish youth group now meets weekly in Kazimierz and the Remuh Synagogue actively serves a small congregation of mostly elderly Cracovian Jews.


Christian part

1. Market Square (Wolnica) with a town hall, now housing an ethnographic museum
2. Gothic St Catherine's Church
3. Gothic Corpus Christi Church
4. Baroque Church on the Rock (Skałka), the site of Saint Stanislaus's martyrdom

Jewish part

6. Old Synagogue, now housing a Jewish History museum
7. Remuh Synagogue, still active
8. High Synagogue
9. Izaak Synagogue
10. Kupah Synagogue
11. Tempel Synagogue, still active
12. Old Jewish Cemetery in Krakow


*Bałaban, Majer "Przewodnik po żydowskich zabytkach Krakowa" Krakow: B'nei B'rith, 1935.
*Bałaban, Majer "Historja Żydów w Krakowie i na Kazimierzu, 1304-1868" (Vol. I, II) Krakow: KAW, 1991. (reprint)
*Burek, Edward (ed.) "Encyklopedia Krakowa". Krakow: PWM, 2000.
*Michalik, Marian (ed.) "Kronika Krakowa". Krakow: Kronika, 2006.
*Simpson, Scott "Krakow" Cambridge: Thomas Cook, 2006.
*Świszczowski, Stefan "Miasto Kazimierz pod Krakowem" Krakow: WLK, 1981.



Skałka, 1751


Old Synagogue, 15th century
Remuh Synagogue, 1557
High Synagogue, 1563
Kupa Synagogue, 1643
Izaak Synagogue, 1644
Tempel Synagogue, 1644


Remuh Cemetery established in 1535

ee also

*Kraków Ghetto

External links

* [http://www.jewishfestival.pl/index.php?lang=e/ The Jewish Cultural Festival] in Krakow
* [http://www.galiciajewishmuseum.org/ The Galicia Jewish Museum]

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