Old Jewish Cemetery, Museum of Funerary Art
The cemetery in ul Ślężna serves as a burial ground for a variety of eminent figures, including physicians, scientists, social activists and artists.
The Jewish congregation of Wrocław initially purchased three hectares of land to establish a new cemetery in 1854. The burial ground was extended several times throughout its history. The first funeral was held in 1856, the last in 1942. The chapel and the office building were designed by Richard and Paul Ehrlich.
This original and unique tombstone and street furniture complex blends in with carefully tended and beautifully maintained greenery. Over the years, the graves and tombstones underwent a metamorphosis as traditional and densely packed matzevot were supplanted by formally daring and monumental family tombstones. The former are inspired by a variety of styles throughout the centuries, including the Antiquity, the Middle Ages, Art Nouveau and Modernism. Their symbolism, both religious and secular in nature, is equally opulent.
The cemetery served as a burial ground for a variety of eminent figures, including physicians, scientists, social activists and artists.
In 1991, the necropolis was incorporated into into the Museum of Funerary Art, a branch of the Wrocław City Museum
In the Middle Ages, the followers of Judaism were buried in a cemetery at Przedmieście Oławskie.
Jewish cemeteries were also located in today's ul Gwarna, while the cemetery in ul Lotnicza is still in use.
Jewish presence in Wrocław
With more than 800 years of its history, the Jewish community in Wrocław have experienced both harmony and moments of tragedy. In the 13th century, the followers of Judaism were under the jurisdiction of local dukes, who gave a guarantee to protect their personal safety as well as the safety of their property and their cemeteries. Concurrently, Church authorities were trying to restrict the rights of the Jewish community. In 1267, the clergy forced the Jews of Wrocław into a ghetto in the area of today's ul Uniwersytecka, Kuźnicza, Nożownicza, Św. Barbary and Więzienna. Its inhabitants primarily dealt in trade and crafts, but there were also bakers and butchers in the neighbourhood.
In the 14th century, Wroclaw saw first pogroms against its Jewish community, their safety and quality of life on the wane. In 1453, the Franciscan preacher John of Capistrano arrived in Wroclaw. He accused the Jews of sacrilege. Forty-one Jews were burnt at the stake as a result while others had their property confiscated and were exiled from the city. Two years later, Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary prohibited the Jews to settle in the capital of Lower Silesia.
For more than two hundred years, the Jews would visit Wrocław only occasionally, e.g. during large fairs. They returned for good in 1657. In 1772, the Jewish community in Wrocław counted 775 members.
Jewish Theological Seminar
A watershed for the Jews in Wrocław came in 1812, when the Emancipation Act was passed that granted equal rights to all ethnic communities in the Kingdom of Prussia. The 19th century marks the golden age in the history of Wrocław Jews. A large number of institutions, companies, department stores and banks were established at the time. Many Jewish residents joined the social elite of Wroclaw as they became university professors, doctors, lawyers, bankers, civil servants, architects and artists.
W 1854, in then Wallsttrasse (todays's Włodkowica; the area of today's Włodkowica, Ruska, Św. Antoniego and Krupnicza was primarily inhabited by the Jews) the Jewish Theological Seminar was established on the initiative of Rabbi Abraham Geiger. The school provided schooling to prospective rabbis, and was also one of the centres for modern and liberal Judaism.
Kristallnacht and the Holocaust
In 1933, Wrocław was inhabited by over 20 thousand Jews. After Adolf Hitler's rise to power, many Jewish residents decided to emigrate, especially in the wake of the Kristallnacht. In November 1938, the New Synagogue was destroyed in a fire, while hundreds of Jewish residents were imprisoned. Between 1941 and 1944, the majority of Jewish residents of Wrocław were transferred to death and concentration camps.
Lower Silesia as a Promised Land
After World War II, Lower Silesia attracted ca. 80 thousand Jewish settlers, the majority of whom survived the war in the USSR. They had their own institutions, schools, hospitals, sports clubs and a theatre. However, in the aftermath of the Kielce pogrom and the emergence of Israel, a large number of Jewish people left Poland. After the anti-Semitic campaign that the Communist regime instigated in 1968, the Jewish life in Poland, both religiously and socially, disappeared almost completely.
It was not until the 1990s that the Jewish community in Wrocław reclaimed the White Stork Synagogue. Since rabbis began to arrive in the city, the synagogue started to perform its religious functions again. At present, the building also serves a venue for concerts, theatrical performances and film screenings. The Jewish community runs a Jewish school, and the Department of Jewish Studies was established at the University of Wrocław. The Jewish religious community of Wrocław counts ca. 300 members.
The history of the Jewish community is attracting a growing interest in Wrocław. The Jewish residents of then Breslau are now more frequently visiting the city, and the number of people who are passionate about Jewish history is also on the rise. New books, journals, guides and maps are also published.
For instance, a publication by the Wrocław City Museum "Śladami Wrocławskiej Gminy Żydowskiej do czasów Holocaustu" [In the Footsteps of the Jewish Congregation of Wrocław until the Holocaust] can serve as a great introduction into the rich history of the Jewish community in Wroclaw.