16th to mid-17th century
The 16th century witnessed the growth of cities in Poland, as well as a flowering of Renaissance art and architecture.
Most Jews lived in or near the cities and enjoyed many rights and privileges. By the mid-17th century, over 50,000 Jews lived in Poland.
By the 17th century, however, tensions between the various estates of Polish society -- nobles, clergymen, burghers, Jews and other minorities -- were on the rise, as each group struggled for a larger share of economic and political power.
In 1569 Poland entered into a commonwealth with Lithuania,
| its neighbor to
the north, creating one of the largest states in Europe. At its apogee,
the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth comprised some 400,000 square miles
and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million.
1648 to 1795
In 1648 to 1649, Cossacks joined with peasants in an uprising against Polish dominance in the Ukraine and Belorussia. Under the leadership of Bogdan Chmielnicki, they rampaged through
the countryside, murdering Jews and Poles and pillaging and burning cities. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed and some Jewish communities were completely devastated.
The Poles had hardly managed to put down this uprising when the country was invaded by Sweden. The Swedish wars, so damaging that they were referred to as a "deluge," continued until 1660, when Sweden was finally beaten back and a peace was concluded.
The Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth never quite rebuilt its economy. Internal political strife also plagued the state. The Jewish population expanded, but with the economic downturn many Jews had difficulty earning a livelihood. Some left Poland, migrating to Germany and other parts of Western Europe.
Between 1772 and 1795, Poland's powerful neighbors, Russia, Prussia, and Austria, took advantage of Polish weaknesses and annexed its territory, partitioning it into three parts.
the continuing strife
between Czech Protestants and Habsburg rulers, invasions by Saxons and
Swedes, and two
serious outbreaks of plague.
By the 17th century,
however, tensions between the various estates of Polish society -- nobles,
clergymen, burghers, Jews and other minorities -- were on the rise,
as each group struggled for a larger share of economic and political
14th to 15th century
The residence of Polish princes since the 12th century, Krakow became the capital of Poland in 1320.
Jews settled in Krakow from the beginning of the 14th century They came primarily from German lands, arriving with other German settlers to form the majority of Poland's urban population.
The Black Death (1348-1349) led to massacres of Krakow's Jewish community. The Polish kings, however, favored the Jews over the Germans and continued to encourage their settlement.
As commercial competition between Germans and Jews increased,
Jews in Krakow faced growing economic and residential restrictions. Over
the 15th century there were occasional outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence
as the city council and the Polish kings clashed over what policy to adopt
toward the Jews.
In 1495, all Jews were expelled from the city proper. Most moved to Kazimierz, a suburb that had been founded in 1355 as a Jewish neighborhood.
As a result of the ongoing territorial conflict between Poland, Russia, and Austria, Krakow was divided from Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, when the latter was occupied by Austria in 1772. By 1776, however, Kazimierz was back in Polish hands.
Krakow's Jews faced continuing economic restrictions and many moved to Kazimierz, strengthening its already lively Jewish commercial center. By the end of the decade, Kazimierz's business community included 45 bankers and moneylenders, 52 textile merchants, 17 chandlers, 18 innkeepers, and several tailors, bakers, and furriers.
During this era, Hasidism gained many adherents in Krakow and Kazimierz (particularly among poor Jews), despite a ban imposed on the movement by the rabbinical establishment.