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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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Province of Prussia, formerly of Austria. Unreliable accounts date the first settlement of Jews in Silesia as early as the eleventh century, when, it is said, a synagogue in Altendorf, near Ratibor, was transformed into a church (1060). Untrustworthy also are the reports of Jewish persecutions in Leobschü tz and Glatz in 1163, and of contributions by the Jews of Bunzlau in 1190 toward the erection of the city walls, although the date of the establishment of the first Jewish community in this province must be placed some time in the twelfth century. The principal Jewish settlements during this and the next century were at Breslau, Lö wenburg, Bunzlau, Schweidnitz, Beuthen, Glogau, Troppau, Mü nsterburg, and Nimptsch. Many of the first Jewish settlers were very poor the Slavonic language was used by them, and the offices of rabbi, teacher, and prayer-leader were held by one man. They were either fugitives from the Crusaders, or immigrants from Bohemia and Poland. Their occupations were chiefly peddling and agriculture some among them, however, owned estates, and the villages of Tynice and Sokohrice were at that time owned by Jews.

Early Enactments.
The Jews of Silesia suffered much during the reign of Duke Henry I., who undertook a crusade against the Prussians. About the same time (latter part of the 12th cent.) a conflagration destroyed part of Breslau the Jews were charged with originating it, and were again made to suffer. Their condition became still worse when Bishop Lorenz imposed upon them not only the Leibzoll , but also tithes (1226). The general spread of German civilization brought prosperity to the country, and when this caused an increased demand for money, the Jews monopolized the business of money-lending. The growth of the communities of Silesia consequent upon the constant influx of German Jews aroused the displeasure of the ecclesiastical authorities. A provincial synod held in Breslau Feb. 9, 1267, accordingly issued strict enactments against the Jews, of which the following are especially noteworthy: (1) Jews and Christians were forbidden to associate at the dance-halls, in the inns, or at the baths (2) Jews were enjoined to wear a special cap when appearing in public (3) a ditch or a fence was to separate the dwelling of a Jew from that of his Christian neighbor (4) Christian nurses or day-laborers were forbidden to stay at night with their Jewish employers (5) Jews were prohibited from dealing in provisions, especially in meat, "in order that they might not poison their Christian customers" (6) Jews were ordered to keep their doors and windows closed on the occasion of every Christian procession (7) only one Jewish house of worship was allowed in each town.

The Privilege of 1270.
These laws, however, were not long to remain valid, for when Duke Henry IV. succeeded to the rulership, he issued (1270) an order regulating the status of the Jews which closely followed one issued for Poland by Ladislaus— itself copied from the Austrian privilege of 1244— and which contained the following chief clauses: (1) in legal matters the Jews shall be under the sole jurisdiction of the duke (2) their vocations shall include only the trade in money, and the lending of money on pledges, notes, deeds, and live stock (3) they shall be assured of safety for their persons, and their movable property shall be secure to them (4) they shall be accorded the same treatment as other subjects (5) they shall not be accused of using human blood. These regulations were later confirmed by Duke Bolko I. of Schweidnitz (1295), and by Duke Henry III. of Glogau (1299).

Synagogues of Breslau.
Upon the division of Silesia into ten dukedoms these privileges were not revoked but the different cities and churches began to issue independent enactments controlling the Jews. Thus, in 1285, Glogau was granted the right to pass judgment upon Jews taken in the act of committing crimes. In 1315 the several cities laid claim to the Jewish poll and land-taxes, and their claims were granted. The beginning of the fourteenth century was marked by many acts of persecution against the Jews of Silesia and in 1315 autos da fé were held in Breslau, Schweidnitz, and Neisse. In spite of the hatred borne toward them, however, Jews in all the larger towns acquired houses and real estate and as their property was generally situated in the same quarter, ghettos were naturally formed, centering about the chief synagogue, which in most cities served as a school also. In Breslau there were three synagogues, located in different parts of the city the oldest existing synagogue dates back to the fourteenth century, and is situated in the present Ursalinerstrasse another was located in the Rö hrgasse, and was mentioned as early as 1349, when it was known as the Neue Judenschul. In 1351 the third synagogue is mentioned as being located in the Gerbergasse. The rabbi was known as the "bishop of the Jews," and his salary consisted of voluntary contributions the first rabbi in Silesia probably was R. Isaac, who held also the title of "Morenu" (Zunz, "Z. G." p. 205). Cemeteries existed only in Breslau, Glatz, Glogau, Gö rlitz, Liegnitz, Neisse, Schweidnitz, and Troppau the one in Breslau was in existence as early as 1246. During the thirteenth century the Jews were allowed to charge interest at the rate of from 10 to 12½ per cent for loans on real estate during the fourteenth century the rate was from 14½ to 18 per cent.

When John of Bohemia took over the government of Silesia (1327) he confirmed the old privileges of the Jews. On account of the enormous debts owed by him and his son Charles IV., however, these rulers found themselves compelled to sell to the cities the right of bailiwick, whereby the Jews came entirely under the power of the municipal governments. There were eighteen Jewish communities over which the cities exercised this right. By the sacrifice of large sums of money these communities succeeded in purchasing from the king their liberty, and likewise exemption from all taxation, with the exception of a poll-tax, for a period of ten years. After the lapse of one year, however, the cities were empowered to levy new taxes on the Jews. In 1345 the king permitted the Jewish cemeteries to be violated in order that the tombstones might be used for building purposes. A year before the appearance of the Black Death (1347), which, however, spared Silesia, Charles IV. placed the Jewish communities under the jurisdiction of the municipal councils again in the same year the Flagellant movement caused Jewis persecutions in Gö rlitz, Glatz, and Ober-Glogau.

Breslau Fires of 1349,1360.
The Breslau community suffered severely when a conflagration which took place on May 28, 1349, was laid at the door of the Jews. Sixty heads of families were murdered, and their property was divided between the city and the king, the former securing the real estate and the two synagogues, the latter the cemetery and all outstanding claims. The king issued an order on Feb. 21, 1350, with regard to the punishment of the murderers but it was left to the option of the city officials how they were to proceed against them. In the same year the cities were given the right of granting or refusing admission to the Jews within their limits. This introduced an era of unrest for the Silesian Jews, although incidentally it was the cause of the growth of the communities in the larger cities, especially in Breslau, where 100 families were admitted. The only business which they were allowed to follow was that of money-lending. On July 25, 1360, Breslau was again the scene of a conflagration, the result of which was that some of the Jews were slain and the remainder expelled. Two years later persecutions took place in Brieg, Guhrau, Lö wenburg, and Neisse. Most of the fugitives from these places sought refuge in Schweidnitz, where Bolko II. was duke. This ruler renewed the old privileges, and the community prospered, although the fact that the Jews were excluded from the gilds here also restricted them to money-lending.

The chief representatives of the Jews during the reigns of Bolko II. and his widow Agnes were the Jews' "bishop," Oser, his father-in-law Lazar, and David Falken. The duchess later appointed a committee of four members, called "Die Viere," who acted as the representatives of all the Jews in the duchy. About this time Duke John of Upper Lusitania, which also belonged to Silesia, expelled the Jews from Gö rlitz, and the synagogue of that town was transformed into the Chapel of the Holy Body. Besides the places already mentioned, Jewish communities were established during the fourteenth century in the following towns: Goldberg, Haynau, Namslau, Neumarkt, Strehlen, Hirschberg, Trebnitz, Striegau, Potschkau, Grollkau, Ohlau, Jauer, Ratibor, Reichenbach, Kosel, Preisketscham, and Oppeln.

The Jews' Oath.
The beginning of the fifteenth century again saw the Jews overtaken by misfortune. In 1401 they were accused of desecrating the host, and were expelled from Brieg, Glogau, and Striegau. During the Hussite war, and the factional strifes which followed, they could free themselves from danger only by sacrificing large sums of money. In Breslau the Jews had been readmitted by the end of the fourteenth century, and in Ratibor they had succeeded in freeing themselves from the ceremony of taking an oath while standing in bare feet on a pig's hide. The Breslau Jews had also received the following privileges: (1) exemption from all taxation with the exception of the yearly tax (2) religious liberty (3) security for person and property (4) protection at religious ceremonies (5) exemption from fire-duty, with the exception of the payment of one mark in cases where the fire had been caused by them. When, however, King Sigismund went to Breslau, in 1420, preaching a crusade against Hussites and heretics, a great number of Jews were robbed and murdered.

Liegnitz was at that time the only duchy in which the Jews were permitted to engage in other occupations than money-lending, and even there the duchess Elizabeth soon issued an order (1447) restricting them to the latter calling. The Jews of Breslau had in the meantime prospered they were granted anew the use of the Ohlau cemetery, and they had reorganized their community after the pattern of that of Schweidnitz. Then, in the year 1453, came Capistrano, whose inflammatory speeches brought much misfortune upon the Silesian communities. In Breslau he incited the mob to such an extent that there was brought against the Jews a charge of having purchased nine hosts from a peasant and having pierced them until blood flowed. In addition to this, a converted Jewess accused her former coreligionists of having thrown consecrated wafers into the fire. The town council referred the case to King Ladislaus, who ordered the guilty ones to be burned at the stake (June, 1453), all children over seven to be baptized, and the remainder of the Jews to be expelled. On Aug. 13 of the same year seventeen Jews were burned at the stake in Schweidnitz also. In 1455 a second expulsion from Breslau took place, at the command of Ladislaus and two years later the king granted Schweidnitz the right to exclude Jews the city exercised this prerogative until recently. Similar rights were given to Glogau in 1480, Glatz in 1492, and Oels in 1505. Glogau received the right because Duke John, by the sale of the property of the Jews, hoped to raise an amount of money which he needed.

In the Sixteenth Century.
Of new settlements during the sixteenth century may be mentioned those of Kanth, Frankenstein, Kreuzburg, Pitschen, Oels, Beuthen, Krossen, and Polish Wartenberg. The number of the Jews hereafter decreased so greatly that during the whole of the following century the taxes paid by all the communities throughout Silesia amounted to only 100 gulden, although every native Jew over ten years of age and under twenty paid one gulden, and over twenty, two gulden, while every foreign Jew paid one gulden. Several persecutions took place in the sixteenth century. The Jews were expelled from Frankenstein in 1508, their synagogue being destroyed in 1530 this town received the right of excluding Jews. In Leobschü tz the Jews were accused, in 1543, of the murder of a Christian child, and, although not convicted, they were expelled. In 1563 all Jews were banished from Oppeln. In 1582 Rudolph II. issued an order entirely expelling from Silesia the few Jews that were left. They were ordered to leave with their wives and children, but were permitted to dispose first of their landed property, and to take with them all their movable goods. The Jews evaded this edict by leaving the cities and seeking refuge in the country, placing themselves under the protection of the cloisters.

Concentration in Breslau.
The general financial troubles caused by the Thirty Years' war proved favorable to the Silesian Jews, and in 1630 the authorities of Breslau even requested Jews to settle in that city, after a similar request had been made in the preceding year in Glogau. Through their intercourse with the Jewish merchants of Poland, the Silesian Jews soon monopolized the entire Eastern trade, and in 1689 the imperial treasurer found himself compelled to request the magistrate of Breslau to expel the Jews, against which request, however, the city protested. In 1701 a Jew of Breslau was requested to report as to whether the Jews at any time had had a public synagogue in the city, and as to whether their prayers contained any blasphemy against Jesus. The answer was that the Jews read from the books of Moses, that they held their divine services in private rooms, and that there were ten such rooms in the city, with a total of 140 worshipers. In the course of the eighteenth century the Jewish taxes were farmed to a Jew, which resulted in so great an influx of Jews into Breslau that the city requested the emperor to expel them. The emperor granted the request on July 23, 1738, and on Dec. 9, following, they left the city. During the first occupation of Silesia by Frederick the Great (1744) Jews were again officially readmitted. Frederick, however, issued, on May 6, 1746, a law banishing all Jews from Silesia, excepting twelve families which were granted permission to stay in Breslau. When, in 1749, thirty-six Jews were killed by the explosion of a gunpowder tower, it was necessary to take their corpses to Dyhernfurth, Krotoschin, Lissa, and Zü lz, because the cemetery at Breslau had not yet been opened. The law of Frederick the Great was evaded in many ways. First the Jews received permission to stay longer than three days in Glogau, Auras, and Dyhernfurth and afterward they were admitted to Hundsfeld and Festenberg on payment of twelve thalers each. Their permanent stay in any one city was permitted under the terms "Tolerirte ü ber das Reglement," "Fixentristen," and "Tagesgroschen Entrichtender."

Growth of Breslau.
Especially remarkable was the growth of the Breslau community. The twelve families originally allowed there were augmented by steady immigration, and the community grew from 300 to 3,000 the Zü lz, Lissa, Krotoschin, and Glogau schools flourished anew in the city. The Mendelssohnian movement found adherents there, while it was condemned in other parts. Thus in Krotoschin the writings of Mendelssohn were put under the ban on New-Year's day, 1787, by R. Lö busch ben Mordecai. After the visit to Breslau of Frederick William II. (1786) the chief representatives of the community planned to reorganize the internal as well as the external affairs of the Silesian Jews. Among the more prominent men who took part in this work were Simon Hirsch, Lippman Meier, and Zimmermann, royal controller and assessor of the Jewish community of Breslau, who, in 1791, published in Breslau a "Geschichte und Verfassung der Juden in Herzogthum Schlesien." Zimmermann, together with the prorector of the Elisabeth Gymnasium, liḳ ewise founded the Jewish Wilhelmschule, which was opened on March 15, 1791, and was not closed until 1848. Special mention should be made of Jonas Frä nkel, who left, among other philanthropic legacies, one for the founding of the rabbinical seminary.

The following is a list of Silesian "Landesrabbiner": Naphtali ha-Kohen (1712-16) Samuel ben Naphtali (1716-22) Ḥ ayyim Jonah Te' omim (1722-1727) Baruch b. Reuben Gomperz (1733-54) Joseph Jonas Frä nkel (1754-93) Jeremiah Lö w Berliner (1793-99) Lewin Saul Frä nkel (1800-7) Aaron Karfunkel (1807-16) Abraham ben Gedaliah Tiktin (1816-20).

The Prussian province of Silesia numbers (1905) 47,593 Jews in a total population of 4,668,405. It is divided into two districts, those of Breslau (with Liegnitz) and Oppeln. The former has thirty-six Jewish communities, of which the following are the most important: Breslau — 18,440 Jews, 11 synagogues, 37 educational societies, and 23 charitable societies. Glogau — 780 Jews, 12 charitable societies, and 23 institutions. Gö rlitz — 650 Jews and 7 benevolent societies. Liegnitz — 1,085 Jews and 3 societies.

The district of Oppeln has twenty-five communities, including: Beuthen — 3,260 Jews, a Jewish primary school supported by the city, a religious school, 13 charitable societies, and 4 institutions. Gleiwitz — 2,106 Jews and 10 societies. Kattowitz — 2,500 Jews and 6 societies. Myslowitz — 1,050 Jews, 7 societies, and 66 legacies. Ratibor — 1,150 Jews and 7 societies. Zabrze — 1,200 Jews and 4 societies.

Bibliography : Die Ausweisung der Juden aus Schlesien im Jahre 1582 , in Brü ll's Jahrb. 1879, pp. 48-50 Zur Gesch. der Juden in Schlesien , in Jü d. Lit. 1885, pp. 32-33, 35-37 Ginsberg, Gesch. der Juden in Breslau von Ihrer Niederlassung bis zum Neuesten Zeit , vol. i. Volkskalender fü r Israeliten auf das Jahr 5605 , pp. 5-23 Oelsner, Zur Gesch. der Juden in Schlesien , in Jahrbuch des Deutschen Volkskalender fü r Israeliten , 1862, pp. 83-89 (ed. Liebermann, Brieg contains registers of over 21 Silesian cities) Ueber die Juden in Beuthen , in Orient, Lit. 1848, No. 1 Brann, Gesch. des Schlesischen Landesrabbinates , in Grä tz Jubelschrift , pp. 218-278, Breslau, 1887 idem, Gesch. der Juden in Schlesien bis 1437 , Breslau, 1901 et seq. M. Freudenthal, Die Ersten Emancipationsbestrebungen der Juden in Breslau , Breslau, n.d.J. S. O.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Silesia'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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