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Poznan Jews
Thursday, 25 February 2010 17:06
Poznan had a Jewish community for nearly 700 years, during which time they had an enormous impact on the city’s development. Today, Poznan’s Jews are just a memory, but one can still observe the many traces of their glorious history in the city.

The oldest privilege in Wielkopolska granted to the Jewish community dates back to 1264. In accordance with this privilege, Wielkopolskan Jews could, in the first place, deal in trade and monetary transactions, mainly via loans with pledges. The Jewish community was then under the constant legal care of the prince.
The city’s first Jewish residents began settling in Poznan in the north-eastern part of the then city, and one may find traces of that period even today, on ul. Żydowska and ul. Wroniecka. The first reference to a synagogue in Poznan dates back to the middle of the 14th century. By that time, a Jewish commune had been present in the Wielkopolskan capital for at least several decades. The Jewish population then constituted 10 to 20 percent of all Poznan’s inhabitants.
For centuries the Jewish commune in Poznan was governed by several dozen rabbis, including rabbis known not only in Poland, but across Europe too. At the end of the 16th century, Judah Loew ben Bezalel – who was born in Poznan several decades earlier – also known as the Maharal of Prague, was elected Chief Rabbi of Poland. He later went down in history as the creator of the legendary Golem of Prague, a clay creature that he is said to have given life to during an early tenure in Prague.
He later met with Emperor Rudolph II, who was fascinated by Jewish mysticism. Rabbi Loew’s tomb still stands today in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague.
The history of European culture and Jewish history also mentions another rabbi from Poznan, Akiva Eger. He was the rabbi of the Poznan commune in the first half of the 19th century when Poznan was part of the Kingdom of Prussia. Akiva Eger became famous as a champion of orthodoxy and opponent of Judaic reform. He battled the regulations imposed by the Prussian authorities that were burdensome to the Poznan commune’s members, and defied quarantine orders to tend to the sick during the great cholera epidemic of 1831. This act in particular was recognised by King Frederick William II, who expressed his recognition of the rabbi’s selflessness in a special letter. Rabbi Akiva Eger’s tomb lie near the grounds of the Poznan International Fair in the remains of a Jewish cemetery.
The seven hundred year presence of the Jewish commune in Poznan was crowned with the construction of a new synagogue on ul. Stawna at the beginning of the 20th century, which still stands today – as a swimming pool. This drastic transformation was effected in 1940 by the Nazi authorities, but several years ago, following the establishment in Poznan of a branch of the Association of Jewish Religious Communes in Poland, the idea was born to turn the building of the former synagogue into a Jewish Culture Centre. Currently, funds are being raised to fulfil this purpose.
The history of the Poznan Jews ends in the first half of the 20th century when many Jews who identified themselves as Germans left Poznan after Poland regained independence. Also, many Jewish residents – including Lilli Palmer, later a film star in Hollywood – fled the capital of Wielkopolska with Hitler’s ascendancy. Palmer went on to star in many films, including several directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Right before the outbreak of the war, the Jewish population had constituted only 2 3 % of all the city’s inhabitants, but with the outbreak of the Second World War the Nazi authorities practically forced all Jews out, to the east, in the Lublin area.