Gdansk (Ger. Danzig), major commercial port in Poland, situated at the estuary of the Vistula on the Baltic. In 1308 the city passed to the Teutonic Order, which prohibited Jewish settlement there. During the first half of the 15th century Jews from Poland and Lithuania frequently visited the town but this tolerance was limited in 1438.
Around 1440, a “Judengasse” (“Jewish Lane”) existed on the bank of the Motława. Toward the end of the 15th century, after the town had been incorporated in Poland, it became the wealthiest city of Poland, and the entrepôt for the large commerce in grain and goods between Western and Eastern Europe. This created many commercial possibilities for Jews. However, their activities were restricted by the autonomous status of Gdansk, which enabled the city to discriminate against them. In 1476, the Polish king recommended the city council to permit two Jews to enjoy equal rights with the other merchants.
A Jewish settlement grew up in Gdansk after 1454 but owing to the opposition of the merchants in 1520 the Jews had to move to the Schottland suburb which was not under municipal jurisdiction. Subsequently, Jews also settled in other places outside the jurisdiction of the city. On the intervention of King Sigismund I in 1531, the council withdrew the regulation prohibiting Jews from trading at the fair, but a resolution of the Sejmik (small parliament) of Prussia prohibited the extension of further rights to the Jews. In retaliation, the Jews of Lithuania boycotted the Gdansk banking house in Kaunas (Kovno) which had to be liquidated, and ousted the merchants of Gdansk from the Lithuanian salt trade.
In 1577, an agreement was concluded between King Stephen Báthory and Gdansk approving the existing restrictions. The citizens also demanded that Jewish residence and trade in the city should be entirely prohibited. Jews were not allowed to hold religious services there and, in 1595, the city council permitted them to stay in Gdansk during fair days only. In 1616, the Gdansk authorities had to pay large indemnities for their arbitrary exclusion of Jewish merchants coming from Polish cities; subsequently Jews were allowed to stay six days in Gdansk against payment of a high poll tax.
Around 1616, about 400 to 500 Jews were living in Gdansk in addition to those settled in lands owned by the gentry or clergy. In 1620 the king permitted Jewish residence in Gdansk. They were permitted to trade in grain and timber in the commercial sector and Langengarten which belonged to the port area and, after these quarters were incorporated into Gdansk in 1626, these rights were extended to the whole of the city. However, the Polish-Swedish wars of the 17th century interrupted the trading activities of the Gdansk Jews.
In the middle of the 17th century, about 50 Jews became apostates to Christianity. One of them, Johann Salama, a teacher in the seminary of Gdansk, carried on missionary activity among Jews. Cramer, the pastor of Gdansk, in a sermon published in 1664, Der verstockte Jude, describes the martyrdom of a Jew who refuses to accept Christianity. During the 18th century, the main opposition to the Jews in Gdansk came from the representatives of small trades and crafts.
The third Northern War, strengthening the position of Catholicism in Gdansk, aggravated the hostility to the Jews, and they were moved away from some of their quarters. However, a ḥevra kaddisha and bikkur ḥolim were founded in the old Jewish quarter in Schottland (Stary Schottland) in 1724. The Jews who had been expelled returned in 1748, although according to a regulation endorsed by the king in 1750, they could only stay temporarily in
Gdansk. There were about 1,098 Jews living in Gdansk in the areas outside the city jurisdiction in 1765, of whom 504 were living in Schottland and Hoppenbruch, 230 in Langfuhr, and 364 in Weinberg. In 1773, 50 families received the rights of citizenship in Gdansk and 160 Jews were permitted to reside there.
After Gdansk was incorporated into Prussia upon the second partition of Poland in 1793, the restrictions on the Jews remained in force. In 1813, Langfuhr and Schottland were destroyed, and the Jews there moved within the city.
Between 1807 and 1814, Gdansk was a Free City, and after its renewed occupation by Prussia the Jews there obtained rights of citizenship by the Prussian liberation decree. There were anti-Jewish incidents during the Hep! Hep! riots in September 1819 and again in August 1821. Thirty-three Jews were received into the merchants’ guild, but by then the city’s commercial importance had declined. Jews were permitted to engage in crafts and, in 1823, the Society for the Promotion of Crafts Among the Jewish Population was founded.
Some Hebrew printing was done there in the 16th century in connection with Phillip Wolff’s Spiegel der Juden. In 1843, the printing house of Rathke and Schroth issued the Mishnah with the Tiferet Yisrael commentary by Israel Lipschuetz, who was rabbi at Danzig. They also published some works of Ẓevi Hirsch Edelmann from 1844 to 1845, including an edition of his Passover Haggadah, Leil Shimmurim. Abraham Stein, an adherent of Reform and later preacher in Prague, was rabbi of Schottland from 1850 to 1864.
In 1888, the communities of Schottland, Langfuhr, Weinberg, Mattenbunden, and Breitegasse were amalgamated. The Jewish population numbered 3,798 in 1816, 2,736 in 1880 (2.4% of the total), 2,390 in 1910 (1.4%), and 4,678 in 1924.
In 1920, Gdansk was again declared a Free City, having a population of approximately 356,000. There were 7,292 Jews living in the territory of the Free City in 1923, and 9,230 in 1924, of whom 53.4% lived in Gdansk itself.
A large number of Jewish emigrants passed through the port on their way to the United States and received assistance from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and HIAS. The community had four synagogues and various Jewish organizations. The “Jung-Juedischer Bund-Danzig” was founded in 1920. A communal organ, Juedisches Wochenblatt, was published from 1929 to 1938.
The Jews in Gdansk engaged in commerce and the liberal professions; more than 150 Jews were employed in crafts. Adjoining Sopot was a popular summer and sea resort for many Polish Jews between the two world wars. It also attracted a number of Jewish émigrés from Soviet Russia.
Despite large Nazi gains in the elections of 1933 and 1935, civil and economic order was upheld by Hermann Rauschning, president of the senate, until 1937, when the minority rights provided for under the League of Nations lapsed. Albert Forster, the Nazi gauleiter, dismissed almost all Jews from practice in the liberal professions.
In October 1937, a full-scale pogrom was initiated. Half of the Jews left Gdansk within a year, the Polish government offering them no protection. Between November 12 and 14, 1938, two synagogues were burned down and two others were desecrated. Shops and homes were looted. The Jewish community decided to organize emigration and many left. By September 1939, barely 1,700 remained, mostly elderly persons and, by early 1941, just 600.
The last group to leave sailed for Palestine on the ill-fated Patria, which was sunk by the British in Haifa port. Of those who remained, 395 were deported during February and March 1941 to Warsaw and 200 from the Jewish old age home were sent to Theresienstadt. Twenty-two Jewish partners of mixed marriages who remained in Gdansk survived the war. After the city reverted to Poland in 1945, a number of Jews settled there.
Today, the Jewish population is estimated to number no more than 50.
P. Simson, Geschichte der Stadt Danzig, 4 vols. (1913–18); E. Keyser, Danzig’s Geschichte (1923); A. Stein, Die Geschichte der Juden zu Danzig (19332); Gdańsk, przeszłość i teraźniejszość (1928); M. Aschkewitz, Zur Geschichte der Juden in Westpreussen (1967); i C.J. Burckhardt, Meine Danziger Mission 1936–1939 (1960); MGWJ, 6 (1857), 205–14, 241–50, 321–31, 401–11; K. Sander, in: Unser Danzig, 12 (1960), 21–24; Zeitschrift fuer Demographie und Statistik der Juden, 4 (1927), 126–7; E. Cieślak and C. Biernat, Dzieje Gdańska (1969); S. Echt, Die Geschichte der Juden in Danzig (1973) E. Soidekat, BLBI, 8 (1965), 107–49; T. Loevy, ibid., 9 (1966), 190–2; AJYB, 32 (1930/31), 249–51; D. Weinryb, in: PAAJR, 19 (1950), 1–110 (Heb. sect.); Halpern, Pinkas, index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Stern, Koroteihemshel Yehudei Danzig me-az ha-Emanẓipaẓiyah ve-ad ha-Gerush bi-Mey ha-Shilton ha-Naẓi (1978); M. Andrzejewski, “Terror w Wolnym Miescie Gdansku w 1937–1939,” in: BŻIH, 141 (1962), 111–27; E. Lichtenstein, Die Juden der Freien Stadt Danzig unter der Herrschaft des Nationalsozializmus (1973); E. Stern, Yehudei Danzig 1840–1943 (1983); Jewish Life, 1, 420.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.