OSWIECIM (Ger. Auschwitz), town in S. Poland and site of the notorious death camp. In the Middle Ages it was the capital of the duchy of that name, which in 1457 was purchased by Poland. Fairs, which attracted widespread interest, were held there in the 16th century. That Jews were living in Oswiecim as early as 1563 is attested by a charter of privileges granted by King Sigismund II Augustus which denied them residence rights near the marketplace or in the main streets and barred new Jewish settlers from the city. In 1564, when the Oswiecim regional council was undergoing reorganization, the Jews declared to the authorities concerned that the city had been inhabited by Jews since its foundation. In 1588 the community built a synagogue on grounds acquired from a burgher and established a cemetery. The transaction was confirmed by the royal chancellery. The Jews in Oswiecim suffered severely during the war between Sweden and Poland, 1656–58. Twenty houses are recorded in Jewish ownership in 1666, the number being equally small in the 18th century. According to a census of 1765 there were 133 Jewish residents. The community (kahal) of Oswiecim, whose jurisdiction extended over all the Jewish population in the area of the former duchy, had a membership of 862. In matters of Jewish communal administration it was subordinate to the kahal of Cracow. In 1773 Oswiecim came under Austrian rule. The tax levied on the community was so high that for a considerable time it was unable to meet its obligations. Two synagogues in Oswiecim, among other buildings, were destroyed by a fire in 1863. The last Austrian census in 1910 records 3,000 Jews residing in Oswiecim. The number had increased to 4,950 in 1921 (40.3% of the total population). The community was destroyed in World War II. For details of that period, see *Auschwitz.
M. Berson, Dyplomataryusz (1910), 69; M. Balinski and T. Lipinski, Starożytna Polska, 2 (1843); S.A. Bershadski, Russko-Yevreyskiy Arkhiv, 3 (1903), 228–30; M. Balaban, Dzieje żydów w Galicji (1914), index.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.