views updated May 08 2018


POZNAN (Ger. Posen ), city in historical *Great Poland; in Prussia 1793–1807 and 1815–1919; now in Poznan province, W. Poland. One of the most ancient and leading Jewish communities of Poland-Lithuania, it was probably one of those for whom the charter of rights granted by Prince Boleslav the Pious (1264) was intended. Jews are known to have lived in Poznan in 1379; a *blood libel is mentioned in 1399. The development of the community was interrupted in 1447 when a fire ravaged the town, impoverishing the Jews. The first signs of economic recovery appeared during the second decade of the 16th century, inaugurating a period of progress and spiritual efflorescence which lasted until approximately the close of the century. Then one of the largest communities in Poland-Lithuania, with 3,000 persons (about 10% of the city's population) and 137 wooden and stone houses, Poznan became the Jewish center of Great Poland. Its rabbis, among the most prominent authorities of the generation, were recognized throughout the country and the "sages of Poznan" were renowned. Nevertheless this period of prosperity was marked by a severe struggle with the local townspeople and the monks. The townsmen repeatedly (1521, 1523, 1554, 1556) endeavored to hinder the retail trade of the Jews, to restrict the number of houses in the Jewish quarter and beyond it (1532, 1537, 1545), and to expel new Jewish settlers (1549). Students of the Jesuit seminary organized bloody attacks (Schuelergelaeuf, 1575) on the Jewish quarter. During riots in 1577, 20 Jews lost their lives and after a fire in 1590 the Jewish quarter was abandoned for two years.

Through further misfortunes the community began to decline. Jesuit persecutions were renewed in 1607, and in the wake of another fire (1613) the Jews temporarily settled on the outskirts of the town, from where they were expelled in 1620. The plague known as St. Anthony's Fire claimed a number of victims and those who fled at this time did not return. Signs of decline became apparent in the middle of the 17th century with a one-third decrease in the population, although the proportion of Jews within the general population rose to 15%. The burden of taxation became severe and attempts to raise funds by new lease methods did not alleviate the financial plight. There was constant recourse to loans but these were insufficient for the growing needs and settlement of former debts (not finally settled until the middle of the 19th century). As German merchants from Silesia penetrated the region, trade rivalry grew. Jewish traders at the fairs (*Brandenburg, *Gniezno, Frankfurt on the *Oder) met with difficulties that reduced their sources of livelihood. In riots in 1639 some lost their lives and property was destroyed. Famine and plagues following the Swedish War (1655–60) and renewed riots (1687) brought economic ruin and accelerated the depletion of the community. A call for assistance to the communities of Germany and Bohemia (1674) failed to raise sufficient funds for charity or for redemption of the Sifrei Torah, mortgaged in payment of debts (which amounted to 60,000 zlotys to the nobility alone). Economic distress was accompanied by social and cultural decline: Tension prevailed and quarrels became endemic; even education was neglected.

Deterioration continued during the 18th century. In 1709 there was a renewed outbreak of St. Anthony's Fire, and an attack by the army of the so-called Tarnogrod Confederation (1716–17) further depleted the community. A severe fire (1717), the flooding of the Warta River, and a blood libel (1736) had disastrous consequences, and rehabilitation of the community became beyond its means. Growing numbers of Jews left the city, some for Swarzęc, a subsidiary community of Poznan. Those who remained could not halt the process of disintegration in all aspects of Jewish communal, social, and economic life. In 1759 the conquering Prussian army imposed an enormous fine of 2,676 guilders. Another fire in 1764 destroyed 76 houses and claimed many victims. The debts of the community increased to unprecedented figures (686,081 guilders, with 27,800 guilders annual interest). A royal commission failed to solve the problem of the debts. The majority of the members of the community, which numbered 3,000 persons (about 40% of the population) at the end of the 18th century, were poor recent arrivals, unable to bear the burden of taxation and payment of debts.

When Poznan was under Prussian rule (1793–1807), *Prussia's legislation relating to the Jews and its general legislation affected Jewish life in Poznan in many new spheres, e.g., it restricted communal jurisdiction in favor of the local Prussian tribunal. General elementary and secondary schools were opened to Jews. Haskalah and Germanization received considerable impetus. The municipality attempted to induce the new rulers to restrict the numbers and activities of Jews in the city, and seized the opportunity after the fire of 1803, in which the Jewish quarter was severely damaged, to submit proposals for the confinement of the Jews to their original quarter. For hygienic reasons, however, the Prussian government decided not to rebuild the Jewish quarter and to allow the Jews to settle in any part of the town, with the sole reservation that they should have no more houses than they had previously owned. The purchase of houses from Christians was permitted. This decision could not take effect because of the outbreak of the Napoleonic War, and so the Jews of Poznan returned to their quarter and rebuilt a number of houses. A minority, presumably maskilim, settled outside the Jewish quarter.

The situation of Poznan's Jews was certainly not improved during the period of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (1807–13); the maskilim were disillusioned by the abrogation of emancipation (1808), while the general Jewish population was burdened by new taxes (the recruits' tax and the kosher meat tax). The community viewed with suspicion the activities of David *Caro. A member of the Berlin Haskalah and contributor to Ha-Me'assef, he called for reforms in education and Divine Worship and disseminated Haskalah literature. When Prussian rule was reestablished (1815), a conflict broke out within the community over the election of the rabbi. The maskilim were opposed to the candidacy of Jacob Moses Eger, whose scholarly authority and social influence worked against their plans for the closure of the ḥadarim in favor of public schools and the opening of a teachers' seminary. Toward the end of his life (1833), these questions were again raised by the Prussian government in the form of "temporary directives," aimed at achieving a Germanic assimilation to counter the Polish element in the city. The resistance of the community prevented their implementation and the ḥadarim were not replaced until 40 years later. Another article of the "temporary directives" granted equality to that tiny section of the community whose education (knowledge of the German language), length of residence (from 1815), or act of Prussian patriotism entitled them to state citizenship. The overwhelming majority of the Jewish population (85%) was merely "tolerated," a status which was not changed until 20 years later. Germanization of the Jewish community was partially achieved during the 1850s, under the pressure of the Prussian authorities, who forced the German settlers to consent, and in the face of growing hostility of the Poles. When delegates of the Jews were elected to municipal institutions in 1853, Poles for the first time were in the minority. Relations between Germans and Jews improved and, as a result, Germanization was intensified. The ties between the community of Poznan and those of Prussia and central Germany were strengthened while those with communities to the east weakened. The Jewish population increased (about 6,000 in the 1860s) and its economic situation improved. Communal authority confined itself to religious and philanthropic spheres: A magnificent synagogue was built and rabbinical conventions were held there in 1876, 1877, 1897, and 1914.

The defeat of Germany in World War i and the annexation of Poznan by Poland came as a severe blow to the Jews, who had supported Germany in the struggle (1918–19). The renewal of Polish rule was marked by riots and clashes and the community rapidly declined. By the late 1930s, about 2,000 Jews remained in the city.

The Organization of the Community (16th–18th Centuries)

The records of the Poznan community (the memorial volumes and the lists of kesherim ("eligibles")) provide a detailed picture of its organization and of the activities of its institutions (1611–1833). Communal officials were chosen by means of eligible arbitrators or by the community council (there were about 100 delegates every year). The eligible arbitrators were elected by the outgoing community council from among the members of the community and they in turn elected the higher officials by secret ballot and majority vote: the parnasim, the elders, the council, the dayyanim, and the treasurers (about 35 people). The new community council selected the lower officials: the city representatives, the initiators of regulations, various functionaries, the superintendents of the guilds, assessors, the council of the bardan (a specific tax levied partly on food consumption and partly on trade turnover), accountants, and those responsible for relief work (about 65 people). Election procedures followed very elaborate rules designed to fulfill certain halakhic requirements while embodying various methods designed to ensure a moderate oligarchical regime in the community. The salaried community officials – rabbis, preachers, shtadlanim, ḥazzanim, and beadles – were selected by 32 men (13 from the council and 19 from the three classes: the wealthy, the middle class, and the poor) and their term of office was from one to three years, fixed by letter of appointment. As the rabbi of Poznan also acted as rabbi of the province of Great Poland, the arbiters of the province assisted at his election; an inhabitant of Poznan was disqualified from holding this office. Later, after obstruction by the province, the election of the rabbi was entrusted to 32 men. The kesherim also had legislative power, formally in pursuance of their electoral power. Their ordinances were intended as guidance for the higher and lower officials. The overt legislation (the regulations) and the hidden legislation ("secret letters") were decreed by the kesherim themselves at their meetings (these constituted about 85% of the whole legislation), sometimes on the initiative of the "initiators of the regulations." The kesherim advised and passed regulations in the spheres of economy, jurisdiction, relief, and education. Sumptuary regulations were also included. The kesherim also undertook the supervision of the community's institutions. It was considered their task to ensure that the regulations were executed to the full, in letter and spirit. Thus the kesherim became one of the most distinctive and firmest institutions of the Poznan community, but because they were selected annually and about 50% were newcomers every year, they did not become a closed ruling group. Through them the members of the community felt that their leadership was under permanent control and that their selection was a responsible public act.

The community determined the number of permanent and temporary residents, as well as the number of dwelling houses in the community. In general they acted according to principles accepted in Jewish society (see *Ḥerem ha-Yishuv) but there were special considerations prevailing in the Poznan community. Acceptance of new settlers was dependent on the agreement of the 32-member committee or a commission acting in its name. Their decision was based on two considerations: the quota of Jewish inhabitants permitted by the municipal council and the number of poor members, which could not be increased. Community membership was granted to a new settler after three years' residence and after payment of special fees. Those living "outside the community" as a result of wars, floods, plagues, and fires became once more full-fledged members when they had equipped themselves with a letter of residence granting its bearer the right to trade in Poznan in exchange for his sharing the burden of taxation. The optimum number of houses in the Jewish quarter was fixed. In 1641 there were 80 wooden houses (40 housing one family, 39 two families, and one three families) and another 57 stone houses (48 housing two families and nine three families). In 1710 the number of houses decreased to 98, but in 1714 it increased to 109. The ownership of many dwellings by the wealthy during the community's period of prosperity and their refusal to rebuild after various calamities resulted in a shortage of houses, a rise in rents, and the demand that rents be paid in advance. Because of the opposition of the municipal authorities it was difficult to find temporary lodging – especially after wars, plagues, and fires – beyond the Jewish quarter. Specialized community institutions dealt with fiscal problems, with the collection and assessment of taxes. The collection of "gifts for the authorities" (to the wojewoda, the ministers, the municipal council, and the monks) was borne by the communal institutions. To achieve greater efficiency in the collection of charity donations and payments for mitzvot, a list of the needy was drawn up and collection methods and procedures for the distribution of allocations were established.

The community intervened in the regulation of trade competition. The kesherim supported the merchants against the craftsmen (butchers, tailors, hatters, furriers, buttonhole makers), the brokers, and the moneylenders. The attitude of the kesherim toward the middleman, i.e., the itinerant broker in the town or at the fair, was based on the extent of his usefulness or the damage caused by his economic activities to commerce and moneylending. The merchant class waged a fierce struggle against the permanent brokers to non-Jews, against the middleman between one non-Jew and another, and against the brokers who acted as messengers or attracted customers from one trader to another. Loans for consumption were not encouraged, but a loan for trading purposes was viewed favorably. A loan which surpassed the means of the borrower was condemned and invalidated. Guarantees for loans were defined (*pledge, agreement by handing over an object (kinyan sudar), mortgage, and *mamram) and a rate of interest was fixed (in towns 22%; at fairs 33%; for squires 15%; for monks 8%). In the legal and judicial field, special and detailed attention was given to procedures, such as summons to court, the actual trial, and the execution of the sentence. The community tried to impose sumptuary laws based on the principles of: "everyone according to his wealth and prevailing conditions"; "a man is only authorized to spend according to his status"; and "the Torah took pity on the money of Israel." These restrictions were applied to clothes and religious celebrations in accordance with financial means (middle class, lower class, and religious officials). The poor were supported by various funds, most important being the charity fund for the poor, and assistance funds for poor brides, the needy aged, guests, youth, the sick, and paupers. The youth of Poznan attended two educational institutions: the bet midrash (or the synagogue) and the yeshivah. In the bet midrash they studied in three classes and the teachers were supervised by the community. In the yeshivah the number of students was predetermined and limited. Adults also studied in these institutions under the guidance of the av bet din, the preacher, the dayyan, and learned laymen. Public religious life was centered around the numerous synagogues. The larger synagogues enjoyed more extensive rights with regard to the status of their treasurers, the selection of ḥazzanim, the distribution of etrogim, and the determination of the seat of the Gaon or preacher.

[Dov Avron]

Holocaust Period

At the outbreak of World War ii there were about 1,500 Jews in Poznan. Many of them escaped before the entry of the Germans or in the first weeks of the occupation. Poznan became the capital of the Reichsgau Wartheland under the Nazi occupation. The Jewish community in occupied Poznan existed for only three months. In that time the synagogue was transformed into a stable, Jewish property was systematically plundered, and the Jews were driven out of the better residences. On Nov. 12, 1939, the S.S. and police chief of Warthegau, Wilhelm Cappy, ordered that Poznan be made "judenrein" within three months. On Dec. 11–12, 1939, the Jews were deported to Ostrow Lubelski and other towns of the General Government. Some of the refugees reached Wloszczowa; others went to Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Zyrardow, Wiskitki, and Blĩnie. On April 15, 1940, the Nazi paper Ostdeutscher Beobachter reported the solemn, symbolic, ceremonial removal of the Star of David from the last synagogue in Poznan. From November 1939 until August 1943 Jewish forced labor camps existed in the town and vicinity. The inmates, who came from various towns in Warthegau, worked on road building, land estates, and other work sites.

[Danuta Dombrowska]

Postwar Period

A report issued in 1947 by the Central Committee of the Jews of Poland (set up immediately after the liberation of the country) showed that 224 Jews were living in Poznan in January 1946 (148 men, and 76 women), and 343 in June of the same year (208 men, and 135 women).

No significant Jewish community developed in subsequent years.


M.M. Zarchin, Jews in the Province of Posen (1939), incl. bibl.; B.D. Weinryb, Texts and Studies in the Communal History of Polish Jewry (1950); J. Lukaszewicz, Historisch-statistisches Bild der Stadt Posen (1878); A. Heppner and J. Herzberg, Aus Vergangenheit und Gegenwart der Juden und der juedischen Gemeinden in den Posener Landen (1909); T. Ereciński, Prawo przemysłowe miasta Poznania w xviii wieku (1934); D. Avron, Pinkas ha-Kesherim shel Kehillat Pozna (1966); J. Perles, in: mgwj, 13–14 (1864–65); Berliner, ibid., 17 (1868), 174–8; D. Kaufmann, ibid., 38 (1894), 184–92; 39 (1895), 38–46, 91–96; P. Bloch, ibid., 47 (1903), 153–69, 263–79, 346–56; J. Jacobsohn, ibid., 64–65 (1920–21); T. Nożyński, in: Kronika miasta Poznania, vol. 10; W. Feilchenfeld, in: Zeitschrift der historischen Gesellschaft fuer die Provinz Posen, 10–11 (1895–96); J. Landesberger, in: Festschrift … Dr. Wolf Feilchenfeld (1907), 40–46; idem, in: jjlg, 10 (1912), 361–71; J. Jacobsohn, in: Menorah – juedisches Familienblatt, 7 (1929); F. Kupfer, in: bŻih, no. 2–3 (1953), 56–121. Ḥ.D. Friedberg, Ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Polanyah (19502), 61; L. Lewin, in: Soncino-Blaetter, 1 (1925/26), 171ff. holocaust: Megillat Polin, 5 pt. 1 (1961), 158, 160; I. Trunk, in: Bleter far Geshikhte, 2 no. 1–4 (1949), 78; D. Dabrowska, in: bŻih, no. 13–14 (1955), 122–84, passim.


views updated May 29 2018

Poznań City on the Warta River, w Poland. One of the oldest Polish cities, it became the seat of the first Polish bishopric in 968. It was the centre of Polish power in the 15th–17th centuries. In 1793 it passed to Prussia. The Grand Duchy of Poznań was created in 1815 as part of Prussia, but the area reverted to Poland in 1919. Industries: metallurgy, agricultural machinery, electrical equipment, chemicals, textiles. Pop. (1999) 578,235.