The article offers an overview of Jewish history and the development of Jewish settlement in medieval and early modern Poland from the first recorded mentions of Jewish centers in the 11th century through to the end of the 18th century. As in the neighboring countries of Hungary and Bohemia, the Polish monarchs were also interested in Jewish settlement; the privilege of 1264 and its confirmations created the legal framework for this. Jews were involved in the economic and demographic development of Poland. The Jewish percentage of the urban population also grew, and their formative influence was particularly visible in the south-eastern provinces, which found expression in the concept of the Jewish "shtetl". In modern times, Poland-Lithuania also became a center of Jewish scholarship. The crises and wars in the mid-17th century brought an influx of messianic movements. In the 18th century, the impulses of the Jewish Enlightenment and the emancipation of the Jewish population were the subject of lengthy and lively discussion.
In Jewish culture, Germany and Poland were originally conceived as a common space.1  Although the biblical term "Ashkenaz" had stood for Germany since the Middle Ages, the adjective "Ashkenazic" more generally referred to Jewish culture in Central Europe, from northern Italy and Alsace to Hungary and Lithuania. "Polin" did not establish itself as distinct from Germany until the beginning of the early modern period, and even then, the term did not denote a separate, but rather a complementary space. The compound term "Ashkenaz u-Polin" continued to reflect the spatial unity, but also the shift of cultural centers from the 16th century on.
The first Jewish centers in Poland are mentioned in records dating from the High Middle Ages: around the middle of the 11th century, we find references to a Jewish community in 
deu. Krakau

Krakow is the second largest city in Poland and is located in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship in the south of the country. The city on the Vistula River is home to approximately 775,000 people. The city is well known for the Main Market Square with the Cloth Halls and the Wawel castle, which form part of Krakow's Old Town, a UNESO World Heritage Site since 1978. Krakow is home to the oldest university in Poland, the Jagiellonian University.

, and then, until the end of the 13th century, further isolated evidence of settlements, especially where there were princely seats (
deu. Breslau, lat. Wratislavia, lat. Vratislavia, ces. Vratislav

Wrocław (German: Breslau) is one of the largest cities in Poland (population in 2022: 674,079). It is located in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship in the southwest of the country.
Initially under Bohemian, Piast and at other times Hungarian rule, the Habsburgs took over the Silesian territories in 1526, including Wrocław. Another turning point in the city's history was the occupation of Wroclaw by Prussian troops in 1741 and the subsequent incorporation of a large part of Silesia into the Kingdom of Prussia.
The dramatic increase in population and the fast-growing industrialization led to the rapid urbanization of the suburbs and their incorporation, which was accompanied by the demolition of the city walls at the beginning of the 19th century. By 1840, Breslau had already grown into a large city with 100,000 inhabitants. At the end of the 19th century, the cityscape, which was often still influenced by the Middle Ages, changed into a large city in the Wilhelmine style. The highlight of the city's development before the First World War was the construction of the Exhibition Park as the new center of Wrocław's commercial future with the Centennial Hall from 1913, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006.
In the 1920s and 30s, 36 villages were incorporated and housing estates were built on the outskirts of the city. In order to meet the great housing shortage after the First World War, housing cooperatives were also commissioned to build housing estates.
Declared a fortress in 1944, Wrocław was almost completely destroyed during the subsequent fightings in the first half of 1945. Reconstruction of the now Polish city lasted until the 1960s.
Of the Jewish population of around 20,000, only 160 people found their way back to the city after the Second World War. Between 1945 and 1947, most of the city's remaining or returning - German - population was forced to emigrate and was replaced by people from the territory of the pre-war Polish state, including the territories lost to the Soviet Union.
After the political upheaval of 1989, Wrocław rose to new, impressive heights. The transformation process and its spatial consequences led to a rapid upswing in the city, supported by Poland's accession to the European Union in 2004. Today, Wrocław is one of the most prosperous cities in Poland.


Płock is a city in central Poland with about 100,000 inhabitants. Its history dates back to the 10th century when it was fortified. Situated on the Vistula River, the city has more than once served as a Polish royal residence and regional capital. Among its most notable landmarks are the fourteenth-century Płock Castle and the twelfth-century Płock Cathedral.

deu. Kalisch

The Polish county seat Kalisz was first mentioned in documents around 150 AD and is therefore called the oldest city in Poland. It is located in the valley of the Prosna River in the Wielkopolska Voivodeship. In the 16th and 17th centuries Kalisz was considered one of the most important cities in the Kingdom. In 1793, in the course of the second partition of Poland-Lithuania, Kalisz became part of Prussia. Between 1807 and 1815 Kalisz belonged to the Napoleonic Duchy of Warsaw, whose territories fell to the Russian Empire in 1815. Kalish became part of the so-called Congress Poland and experienced economic prosperity in the following years. During the First World War the town was almost completely destroyed by German troops. In the 1920s and 1930s, large parts of the city were rebuilt.
During World War II, the city became part of the so-called Wartheland and was subjected to the rigorous Germanization policy of the National Socialist German Reich. On the one hand, the Jewish population, which until then had not been victims of shootings or deportations to concentration or extermination camps, was ghettoized, and later - after the ghetto was dissolved in 1942 - transferred to the Litzmannstadt ghetto. Among other things, large parts of the Polish population were deported to make room for the German population to be resettled here in "Heim ins Reich" actions from the Baltic States, Transylvania or Bukovina.
After the Second World War Kalisz belonged to the People's Republic of Poland, since 1990 to the 3rd Polish Republic.

). Jewish settlement initially developed without the requirement for legal documentation and regulation. Poland had remained largely untouched by the Investiture Controversy; only the progressive stabilization of the Polish constituent principalities as independent territories in the 13th century prompted Duke Bolesław the Pious of Greater Poland to issue a general privilege for the Jews in his domain in 1264. The text of the privilege borrowed indirectly from the charters of Duke Frederick of Austria (1244) and Emperor Frederick II (1236/38), but primarily it formed a response to similar advances by the kings of Hungary (1251) and 
deu. Böhmen, lat. Bohemia, ces. Čechy

Bohemia is a historical landscape in present-day Czech Republic. Together with Moravia and the Czech part of Silesia, the landscape forms the present territory of the Czech Republic. Nowadays, almost 6.5 million people live in the region. The capital of Bohemia is Prague.

 (1262). The similarities between the text and the Bohemian document go so far that the latter is considered a direct model for the Jewish privileges in Great Poland.2  For East-Central European rulers, it was important to present their territories as attractive for Jewish immigration. The charters were part of the policy of land expansion, which recruited colonists – peasants, craftsmen, and merchants – and placed the economy and society on new foundations. The idea was that Jewish immigrants would, above all, advance the credit system; the majority of the economic regulations in the general privilege were devoted to this field, while on the subject of trade, all that had to be stipulated was that Jews had complete and unrestricted freedom of trade, just like Christians.
In East-Central Europe, too, the Church tried to assert its claim to supremacy over the Jews, in opposition to secular rule. At two bishops' assemblies in Vienna and Breslau, under the leadership of a papal legate, a program for the radical exclusion of the Jews was adopted in 1267 – three years after the Great Polish general privilege; the Jews wanted to poison the Christians, whom they considered their enemies, and therefore contact between the two had to be prevented as much as possible. In Breslau, for the first time, there were calls for a wall to be built to separate the houses of the Jews from those of the Christians, and thus to isolate them.
None of this was implemented, however. The Polish rulers made sure that the townspeople, who were the direct economic competitors of the Jews, did not gain legal authority over them. While it can be observed that Jews in Germany were pushed into money lending in the larger cities from the late Middle Ages onward, in Poland they were by and large able to maintain their freedom of trade and commerce.
From the late 12th century, Jews worked as mint masters in the service of various Polish dukes; in the 14th century, King Casimir entrusted the Jew Lewko from Kraków with the management of the salt works in 
pol. Wieliczka, pol. Powiat wielicki

Wieliczka County is located in Lesser Poland Voivodeship, southern Poland, just on the south border of Cracow. Its administrative seat and largest town is Wieliczka.

and, from the 15th century, large numbers of Jews officiated as heads of customs offices, especially in the southeast of the kingdom. The earliest surviving references to Jews as money lenders date from the second half of the 14th century, but as early as the mid-15th century, Jews appeared in the sources more frequently as borrowers (from burghers or nobles) than as lenders. From the end of the 15th century onward, however, conflicts with the bourgeoisie increasingly arose in the large cities. As in the
Holy Roman Empire
lat. Sacrum Romanum Imperium, lat. Sacrum Imperium Romanum, deu. Heiliges Römisches Reich (Deutscher Nation), deu. Heiliges Römisches Reich
, guilds and merchants’ leagues tried to restrict Jewish trade and crafts, but without much success.
For the Jews, another important branch of employment opened up in the 16th century, namely, the practice of “arrende”. In principle, this involved the leasing of monopoly revenues, as had been practiced since the Middle Ages through customs offices, but now it took place on a broader scale, as the leasing of mills, taverns, toll bridges, fishponds, etc., and sometimes entire estate complexes. The nobles to whom these levies were due were not local residents; the Jewish arrendators thus functioned not only as entrepreneurs but also as representatives of the authorities in the rural economy. Jews also fulfilled key functions as craftsmen and merchants in the centers of the estate economy. Aristocratic landlords had no interest in the migration of their serf peasants to the towns on their estate complexes, so Jews formed a kind of "substitute bourgeoisie" (Jacob Goldberg) there.
From this, in the late 17th and 18th centuries, especially in the southeastern parts of 
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
lit. Abiejų Tautų Respublika, pol. Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów, deu. Polen-Litauen, deu. Erste Polnische Republik, lat. Respublica Poloniae, pol. Korona Polska i Wielkie Księstwo Litewskie, lat. Res Publica Utriusque Nationis, deu. Republik beider Völker

As early as 1386, the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were united by a personal union. Poland-Lithuania existed as a multi-ethnic state and a great power in Eastern Europe from 1569 to 1795. In the state, also called Rzeczpospolita, the king was elected by the nobles.

, the so-called "shtetl" developed. These tended to be small towns where Jews, although not living exclusively "among themselves," at least constituted a large enough part of the population to no longer be deemed a "minority." According to a census in 1764, the Jewish population in Poland-Lithuania was 750,000, which constituted 6-7% of the total population. The significant presence of Jews in trade and crafts in the countryside and in small towns is illustrated by the exclamation of a Prussian official in the territories annexed by Poland after 1772: "It’s madness – this place is overrun with Jews! If I want a surgeon, a Jew comes, a carpenter, a Jew, butchers, bakers – they’re Jews too, any kind of craftsman – they’re all Jews!"3  This stood in stark contrast to the
deu. Brandenburg-Preußen
, where, according to official records, in 1750, there were only 162 “ordinary” Jews living in Berlin and 63 “extraordinary” Jews, (so-called Schutzjuden, who lived under special protections). In total, there were about 60,000 Jews in Brandenburg-Prussia around the middle of the 18th century (before the first partition of Poland), but about 90% of them lived outside the regulations of the writ of protection, as communal or domestic servants of Schutzjuden or – as was mostly the case – in legally marginal circumstances.
In the Middle Ages, the centers in the Holy Roman Empire set the tone for religious and communal life in the entire Ashkenazic region. The community ordinances ("taqqanot") of the Rhenish "Shum" communities served as models for the organization of newly emerging communities until well into the early modern period. In the religious sphere, the influence of Regensburg, as the domain of Rabbi Jehuda He-Hasid and the "Pious of Ashkenaz," radiated far into Eastern Europe in the 13th century. There are only a few known rabbis who worked in Poland or Rusʼ during this period, but very many of them maintained intensive contact with Regensburg.
In the late Middle Ages, expulsions in Germany led to a weakening of the old intellectual centers. The simultaneous upsurge of community life in Poland made the cities there attractive for Jewish scholars. Around the mid-15th century, Rabbi Meisterlein of 
Wiener Neustadt
hrv. Bečki Novigrad, hun. Bécsújhely, hrv. Bečko Novo Mjesto

Wiener Neustadt is the second largest city in Lower Austria and is located about 50 km south of Vienna in the so called industrial quarter.

emphasized that Poland was a "safe haven" for Jews. Also around the middle of the 15th century, there was a significant influx of Jewish merchants and scholars in Kraków, especially from Prague. Rabbi Moses Isserles (1520-1570) and his work shaped Jewish legal thought in the Ashkenazic region until beyond the end of the early modern period. Rabbinical schools ("yeshivot") in Poland attracted numerous students from Germany as well. While Jewish rabbis from Poland and Lithuania were leaders primarily in the field of Jewish legal thought ("Halacha"), Jewish mysticism ("Kabbalah") developed within a broader framework in which Sephardic scholars from the Holy Land also had great influence.
The persecutions that took place in the course of the Chmielnicki uprising between 1648 and 1651 reinforced the anticipation among the Jewish population that the world was coming to an end. As the memoirs of Glückl von Hameln show, this not only affected Jews in Poland-Lithuania, but also in Germany. These ideas were fueled by the appearance of a self-proclaimed prophet in the Ottoman Empire: Sabbatai Zwi had declared himself a prophet in 1648 and was proclaimed the Messiah by Nathan of Gaza in 1655. Zwi’s movement quickly found followers throughout the Jewish diaspora until he was arrested by the Ottoman Sultan and converted to Islam. Zwi's ideas centered around the mystical experience of God, while the observance of halakhic rules was declared secondary. His religious ideas were also pantheistic in nature and therefore also aroused interest in Christian circles, such as the Institutum Judaicum in Halle an der Saale, which subsequently undertook targeted missionary work in Poland-Lithuania.
Around the middle of the 18th century, a new self-proclaimed messiah appeared. Jakub Frank from
pol. Podole, ukr. Поділля, deu. Podolien, ukr. Podìllâ, rus. Podolʹe, rus. Подолье, tur. Podolya, ron. Podolia, rus. Podolye, yid. Podolia, yid. פאדאליע, fra. Podolie

Podolia is a historical region in south-western Ukraine and in the north-east of the Republic of Moldova. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Podolia was fought over between various Ruthenian principalities and the Golden Horde. In the 14th century, Podolia became part of Lithuania, with the west soon becoming a Polish fiefdom. Even after the personal union of Poland and Lithuania in 1366 and the establishment of the joint state of the two countries in 1569, Podolia was exposed to Tartar and Ottoman attacks.
From 1434, Podolia formed its own voivodeship. During the Khmelnytsky Uprising, Podolia was largely depopulated and state power was severely weakened. Finally, during the Ottoman-Polish War of 1672-1676, the Ottoman Empire conquered Podolia, which fell back to Poland-Lithuania after 27 years. From then on, Russia in particular tried to dispute the territory of the dual monarchy and finally incorporated the majority of Podolia in the Third Partition of Poland in 1793, while its western part was already partially occupied by Austria during the First Partition in 1772.
In 1919, the western section of Podolia became part of Poland, while the rest remained in the Soviet Union. Between 1941 and 1944, Romania occupied the whole region, which was later reconquered by the Soviet Union and divided between Ukraine and Moldova.

(southeastern Poland) declared that he was the Messiah after a trip to the Ottoman Empire. He received support from Sabbatian circles and proclaimed the "overcoming of the dividing lines" between religions. In 1759 he converted to Christianity, with the Polish King August III acting as godfather. Even after his conversion, however, Frank continued to refer to himself as the Messiah and was subsequently interned in the Czestochowa Monastery. After the first partition of Poland, he left the country and was finally accepted in Offenbach, where he resided in Isenburg Castle until the end of his life in 1791.
Both messianic movements were basically confined to elitist circles that did not have a broad impact. Among the early modern religious movements in Polish-Lithuanian Jewry, so-called "Hasidism" came to have the widest influence. The name itself was based on older traditions, which were characterized above all by ascetic piety. Modern Hasidism as a social movement did not form until the turn of the 19th century, but its foundations can be traced back to the work of R. Israel ben Eliezer, known as "Baal Shem Tov" [BeShT]. R. Israel was born around 1700 in Ukraine and died some time after 1760 in Międzybóż in Podolia. There are few contemporary sources about his life; most of the information only came to light after his death and was reshaped as legend in the "Tales of the Baal Shem Tov" [Shivhe ha-BeShT]. For R. Israel ben Eliezer, the way to seek closeness to God was not ascetic detachment from the world (perishut), but trust in the Lord (bitahon), who communicates himself to people through Hasidim. It is clear from his letters and the Shivhe ha-BeShT that a group of followers also made his teachings known beyond Międzybóż.
In 1772, there was a break between the new and traditional Hasidim: R. Elijah ben Salomon Salman (the so-called Gaon of Vilna, often referred to by the Yiddish term Vilner Gaon) proclaimed a ban on the followers of the BeShT and later had their writings publicly burned. The followers of the Vilner Gaon were subsequently referred to as Mitnagdim ("opponents") and laid the foundations for the new Jewish Orthodoxy of the 19th century. They opposed the new Hasidism as well as attempts to reform Judaism in the spirit of the Enlightenment. The new Hasidism, like the new Orthodoxy and Reform Judaism, shaped the religious development of Judaism in the 19th century.
The ideas of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah) gained widespread attention in Poland-Lithuania in the course of the reform debates after the First Partition and especially in the context of the Four-Year Diet of 1788-1792. Among the Jewish publicists, reformers influenced by the French Revolution such as Zalkind Hurwitz and Mendel Satanower advocated the abolition of all legal barriers between Jews and non-Jews – and sometimes also included the abolition of the Jewish communal constitution.  The representatives of the Jewish communities ("Shtadlanim"), in turn, contrasted the non-Jewish ideas of "integrating the Jews into the nation" with the vision of contractual regulations, which offered solutions to problems with thoroughly "modern" state-economic arguments while at the same time retaining the traditional basis of corporative negotiation processes.
During the deliberations of the Four-Year Diet, the ideas of radical equality ("emancipation") of the Jews in the context of the French Revolution also now began to be heard and respected. However, the debates were dominated by more traditional approaches: The proposals of most non-Jewish deputies revolved around the assignment of Jews to the "urban class", whereby the extent of future opportunities for political participation remained controversial. Their thinking was that the Jews should assimilate to their non-Jewish surroundings. Whether this was to be achieved as a result of legal and political equality (e.g. Mateusz Butrymowicz), or whether equality – if at all – could only be achieved as a result of social, cultural and, if possible, religious "assimilation", remained controversial. The implementation of the reform concepts was prevented by the further partitions in 1793 and 1795; in the following decades, each of the partitioning powers pursued its own policy towards the Jewish population (see the article by Anke Hillbrenner).
English translation: William Connor

Siehe auch