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Breslau, Poland

BRESLAU (Polish Wroclaw), city in Silesia, Poland (in Germany until 1945). The ownership by Jews of villages in the vicinity of Breslau (Klein-Tinz and Falkendorf) is recorded (1180–1208). The earliest evidence of Jews in Breslau is a tombstone of 1203. In 1267 a church synod decided to restrict the rights of the Jews in Breslau but Duke Henry IV granted them privileges between 1270 and 1290. In 1347 the community was placed under the jurisdiction of the municipality. The medieval community owned synagogues, a bathhouse, and cemeteries, from which a number of tombstones have survived. In the course of the 14th century, Jews were expelled from Breslau several times (1319, 1349, 1360). In 1453, 41 Jews were burned at the stake and the rest expelled after they had been accused of desecrating the *Host by the Franciscan John of *Capistrano . An imperial privilege de non tolerandis Judaeiis was given to Breslau in 1455 excluding all Jews from the city, excepting those visiting the fair. The prohibition remained in force de jure until 1744.

From the beginning of the 16th century Jews began to visit the city, and sometimes stayed longer periods, in order to attend the fairs, which were important for trading throughout the neighboring countries. The municipal council gradually began extending visiting permits to Jews at other times. The Jews also instituted a special type of communal organization for those attending the fair. The "fair treasurers" (Parnasei ha-Yarid) represented the Jews to the authorities, levied imposts from them, which they assessed in accordance with Jewish law, and took precautions against thieves and swindlers. Associated with them were the "fair arbitrators" (Dayyanei ha-Yarid), two from Poland and one from Moravia, who were empowered to levy fines and impose the ban. The "fair committee" (Va'ad ha-Yarid) supervised dietary requirements for Jews attending the fairs. Functioning "between the fairs" were special officials (the Schammesse – שַׁמָשִׁים) appointed by the Council of the Four Lands. It levied certain sums from Jews attending the fairs, and also farmed out the right to convey etrogim for the Jews in Poland via the Breslau fair. These officials eventually became permanent residents of Breslau, as did a number of other Jews who attended the fairs.

In the late 17th century individual Jews succeeded in obtaining limited rights of settlement in Breslau because of their usefulness to the imperial mint and their importance for trade with Poland and Bohemia-Moravia. The two categories of Schutzjuden ("protected Jews") enjoyed either imperial or municipal protection. They were grouped according to their place of origin in various synagogue congregations (Schulen), forming a loose union without a rabbi or cemetery, since there was officially no community in existence. They combined with the congregations formed from about 1670 in the suburbs of Breslau. One of the oldest institutions of the Breslau community was the burial society, established in 1726.

After the capture of the city by the Prussians in 1741, the new authorities permitted the organization of a community limited to 12 families in 1744, and confirmed the appointment of Bendix Reuben Gomperz (Baruch Wesel) as its first rabbi. The community acquired a cemetery in 1761, replacing the cemeteries of *Lissa , *Dyhernfurth , and *Krotoszyn . The importance of the Jews for trade with Poland led the authorities gradually to increase the number of Jews admitted as residents. These held various degrees of restricted rights, and consisted of the "generally privileged" (Generalprivilegierte), the "privileged," the "tolerated," and the Fix-Entristen, i.e., those paying a regular fee for temporary sojourn, as well as the Schutzgenossen, i.e., persons employed in communal or private service. In 1776, there were nearly 2,000 Jews in Breslau. In 1791 a new regulation divided the Jews into Generalprivile gierte, who formed the "community"; their relatives, Stammnumeranten; and Extra-Ordinaere (i.e., those outside the privileged categories). Although the latter formed the majority, they were not recognized as members of the community. The community was led and controlled by the wealthy "generally privileged" Jews. The leading Breslau families were generally in favor of *Haskalah and *Reform tendencies. Those of this group who stopped short of conversion, either for themselves or their children, attempted to prepare for emancipation by providing what they considered a suitable education for Jews. In order to carry out their ideas, they utilized their connections with tolerant Prussian officials, to establish schools providing a modernized education for the poorer families. Such were the Koenigliche Wilhelmsschule, established in 1791, and the Maedchenschule fuer arme Toechter ("School for Poor Girls," 1801), which were recognized and encouraged by the government. These Haskalah-promoted schools met with resistance from Orthodox Jews.

Modern Community

The division between the majority of the community and its leadership became accentuated after the Prussian Emancipation Edict of 1812. The new communal representatives increasingly tended to work for Reform and assimilation. Their attitude gave rise to serious dissensions within the community. Solomon *Tiktin (d. 1843) and his son Gedaliah (officiated 1843–86) led the Orthodox wing against the Reform wing led by Abraham *Geiger (officiated in Breslau 1840–63). The community, however, remained an "Einheitsgemeinde" (according to the terms of the Statute of March 6, 1856) with two separate religious commissions (Kultuskommission), whose Orthodox and Liberal sections each maintained their own rabbis, synagogues, and schools. The "Storch" synagogue (1829), the first large synagogue building to be constructed in Breslau, and the private synagogues were governed by the Orthodox commission. Both sections of the community led an active Jewish religious and cultural life.

Several rabbis of Breslau were distinguished scholars. Noted among the Orthodox section were Joseph Jonas Fraenkel (1705–1793), Isaiah b. Judah Leib *Berlin (Pick), Ferdinand Rosenthal (1887–1921), Moses Hoffmann (1921–38), and B. Hamburger (1938 until his deportation to Poland in 1943). Liberals included besides Abraham Geiger, Manuel *Joel (1863–90), Jacob *Guttmann (1891–1919), Hermann *Vogelstein , and Reinhold Lewin (1938 until his deportation to Poland in 1943). Alongside the talmudic scholars, there gathered a literary circle (Breslauer Dichterschule) of Hebrew essayists and authors (Mendel Broese, Marcus Friedenthal, Raphael Fuerstenthal, Moses Koerner, Joel *Loewe-Brill , Heinrich Miro, Solomon *Pappenheim , Suesskind Raschkow, and David Samoszc). A "Bruedergesellschaft" was founded before 1800.

The study and reading circle Israelitischer Lehr- und Leserverein was established in 1842, its library later belonging to the community. The first modern Jewish theological seminary, the Juedisch-Theologisches Seminar, was established in Breslau by Zachariah *Frankel in 1854. With its celebrated library it became a center of Jewish scholarship and spiritual activity until 1938. It also published the first comprehensive Jewish learned journal, *Monatsschrift fuer Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums (MGWJ). The first Jewish students' fraternity, Viadrina, was founded in Breslau in 1886, as a reaction to the antisemitic tone of the general student bodies. The Juedisches Volksblatt, later renamed Juedische Zeitung fuer Ostdeutschland, was published in Breslau from 1895 to 1937, and the Breslauer Juedisches Gemeindeblatt from 1924 to 1938. The *Blau-Weiss youth movement was founded in Breslau by Joseph Marcus in 1912. Jewish cultural activities expanded after World War I. A Jewish elementary school was established in 1921, followed two years later by a Reformrealgymnasium, both of conservative orientation. The "Neuer Juedischer Schulverein" established a school of Liberal orientation. A youth institute and a home for the aged was opened in 1930. Two outstanding personalities of the Breslau community were the historian Heinrich *Graetz , of the theological seminary, and Ferdinand *Lassalle , one of the founders of the German workers movement.

The Jewish population of Breslau numbered 3,255 in 1810; 7,384 in 1849; 13,916 in 1871; 19,743 in 1900; 20,212 in 1910; 23,240 in 1925; 20,202 in 1933; and 10,309 in 1939.

Under Nazi Germany and After

In November 1938, Jewish educational, cultural, and social activities were disrupted. All prayer houses, including the "New Synagogue" (completed in 1872), as well as schools, were destroyed. The "Storch" synagogue was the sole house of worship still standing after November 1938. Beginning in September 1941, Breslau Jews were driven from their homes and crowded into "Judenhaeuser," to be deported a few months later to Gruessau, Tormersdorf, and other places in Silesia, and from there to *Auschwitz . From April 1942 the remaining Jews in Breslau were deported directly to Auschwitz, *Sobibor , *Riga , or *Theresienstadt . By 1943 only partners of mixed marriages and some children remained of the Breslau community. Of the 3,800 deported to Theresienstadt, only 200 survived. Most of the others who were deported also perished. The oldest cemetery, consecrated in 1761, was destroyed. The communal archives, founded in 1924, were preserved in a cemetery building. They were transferred to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw in 1945.

After the war a community in Breslau was established by Jews from Poland, with the "Storch" as its synagogue. In 1960 there were about 1,200 Jewish families living in Breslau, and there were three Jewish producers' cooperatives. In 1967 a Yiddish state elementary school, that also provided secondary education, functioned in the city. After the Six-Day War most of the Jews who lived in the city immigrated to Israel. About 70 remained in 1990.

Hebrew Printing

Some 190 Hebrew books were printed in Breslau between 1719 and the end of the 19th century. Toward the end of the 18th century the Grassche Stadt-Buchdruckerei was active in face of fierce opposition from the privileged *Dyhernfurth printers. When the Dyhernfurth monopolies lapsed, Loebel Katzenellenbogen-Sulzbach, who had served his apprenticeship in Dyhernfurth, set up a press in 1814, with his son Hirsch as partner from 1825 and sole owner from 1836 to 1877, when it was sold to T. Schatzky.



M. Brann, Geschichte der Juden in Schlesien, 6 vols. (1896–1917), passim; idem, in: Jahrbuch zur Belehrung und Unterhaltung, 39 (1891), 75–81 (list of Hebrew books printed in Breslau); Germ Jud, 2 (1968), 127–33; Freudenthal, in: MGWJ, 37 (1893), 43ff.; L. Lewin, Geschichte der israelitischen Krankenverpflegungsanstalt Breslau 1726–1926 (1926); A. Heppner, Juedische Persoenlichkeiten in und aus Breslau (1931); Bronsztein, in: JJSO, 7 (1965), 246–75; B. Brilling, Geschichte der Juden in Breslau von 1454–1702 (1960); M. Freudenthal, in: MGWJ, 37 (1893), 41ff.; J. Landsberger, ibid., 32 (1883), 543–63; R.F. Schaeffer, in: BLBI, 10 (1967), 298–308.

[Bernhard Brilling]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.