Jewish Community of Krasnik, Poland

The below information is taken from Krasnik: The Chassidic Route.

Krasnik is a town located in Lubelskie province and is inhabited by 36,000 people. Its history dates back to the 13th Century; at the time Krasnik was a small fair settlement, developing thanks to the favorable location on a trade route from Kracow to Kiev. It was granted with the town rights in 1377, after King Louis I (the king of Hungary and Poland) had donated Krasnik to Dymitr and Ivan Gorayski.

Krasnik remained the property of the Gorayski family until 1405, when the Teczynskis took it over and owned until the middle of the 16th Century. The Teczynskis strengthened the town walls, erected fortified gates and towers. At the time Krasnik gained the largest number of privileges. The town was later inherited subsequently by the Sluckis, the Ossolinskis, and ultimately it became the property of the Grand Chancellor of the Crown Jan Zamoyski, who incorporated it into Zamosc in 1604.

The First Jews in Krasnik

The first references to the presence of Jews in the town date back to the 1530s. Documents say that already in 1531 two Krasnik Jews, Mojzesz and Salomon, had commercial relations with Gdansk, and that in 1530 and 1531, Jews from Krasniktransported wax and silk through customs in Lublin.

In the 16th Century, Krasnik obtained the de non tolerandis Judaeis right, which prohibited Jews from settling in its area. However, it is unclear whether the town was granted with the privilege at the time of its location or afterwards. The de non tolerandis Judaeis right was in effect in many Polish and European towns and served as one of ways of protecting Christian inhabitants from the competition of Jewish merchants. Nonetheless, not every authority obeyed the right: it is confirmed that Jews lived in Krasnik even when there was a formal ban on their settling in the town.

The de non tolerandis Judaeis right was lifted in 1584. Jews were officially allowed to reside in Krasnik and obliged to pay taxes in the amount of one Red Gulden and one Hard Thaler for a whole plot, and half Red Gulden and half Hard Thaler for half of a plot. Jewish bailiffs, who did not have any real estate, had to pay the same tax as the owners of half of a plot. In the 16th Century (the exact date is unknown) the oldest Jewish cemetery in Krasnik, located in the area of the contemporary Podwalna St.,was established.

Although taxes paid by Jews were a significant source of income for the owners of the town, it was not the only reason for lifting the de non tolerandis Judaeis right. Magnates expected that the presence of Jews would contribute to the development of the trade and the economy of the town, as Jewish merchants were helpful in establishing landed estates and exporting corn.

The Krasnik Jews had the right to sell goods in retail and wholesale from 1584. They traded in industrial and food products, owned breweries and distilleries. They were also allowed to live and own stalls in the Market Square. They were not subordinated to regulations limiting their settling or trading, which was still very unusual at the time.

The Development of the Jewish Community

Remaining documents say that at the turn of the 16th and the 17th centuries, the Krasnik Jews used to reside at the Market Square and in surrounding Lubelska St. and Zydowska St. ("Zydowska" stands in Polish for "Jewish"), as well as in houses by the town walls. Six or seven (out of 27) houses at the Market Square belonged to Jews: Aron, Dawid, Zelman, Liman, Marek, Eliasz, and Jozef. A wooden synagogue stood probably close to the market; however, no precise information about it has survived. The house of the rabbi was next to it. There was also a Jewish hospital within the town walls, serving at the same time as a hostel for travelers. The cantor lived nearby. There was also a mikvah (a ritual bath) in Krasnik. Rich Jews used to build private ones: in 1648, Jakub Heliaszowicz bought a small building by the Wyznica River, close to the public mikvah, in order to organize a bath in it.

At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, Jews played a significant role in the economic life of Krasnik. They worked as artisans, producers and traders. They were also leaseholders of mills, markets, ponds, distilleries and breweries in Krasnik as well as in other towns like Zamosc. The economic situation of the Jewish families was various. Apart from prosperous merchants and independent craftsmen (butchers, musicians, bakers, wine and other alcohol producers, brewers, tailors and furriers), the town was inhabited by simple workers, stallholders, coachmen and carriers. Some of them were merchants and producers on a large scale, like Jakub Kozka, who owned numerous properties in the town. In the 17th Century, the Krasnik Jews had also jobs connected with the religious cult: there are numerous references in documents about cantors and melameds (religious teachers). There is very little information on the internal structure of the Krasnik Jewish community before the middle of the 17th Century. A kehilla (a religious community) with a rabbi, a cantor and the elders obviously existed there. The latter represented the community in front of the owner of the town and the local authorities. They were also in charge of the finances of the community, managed its properties and looked after widows and orphans.

In the 17th Century, the town entered into many economic contracts with the kehilla, mainly concerning taxes and the right to inhabit and keep stalls by Jews in certain streets. The elders of the community sometimes concluded contracts only on behalf of concrete groups, like butchers or other merchants, and mediated in the agreements on taxes, butchery rental charges and guild membership.

The case of the conservation of the town walls became at the time the reason for a conflict between the town and the Jewish community. Jews often lived close to the walls and erected outbuildings adjacent to them, which met with strong opposition of the town. The authorities demanded very high charges for the conservation of the walls. After the fire in the town in 1637, a Jew named Boruch was accused of the arson. Following that event, the owner of Krasnik, Tomasz Zamoyski, probably at prompting of the municipal and Church authorities, prohibited Jews to rebuild their houses and stalls at the Market Square. Special residential areas were sectioned off for Jews outside the town center. It was not until 1661 that the decree by Zamoyski was issued.

During the fire in 1637, the Krasnik wooden synagogue burnt. The Jewish community started to build a new one, made of bricks, today called "the Big" or "the Great" (as opposed to the Small Synagogue, erected nearby in the 19th Century). It was built to the south of the Market Square, at the town wall, in the current Boznicza St.


At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, Jews of privately owned towns had to subsidize for the country, for the owner of the area where they lived, and often for the municipal and Church authorities. The Krasnik Jews paid the State treasury the so-called Jewish poll tax, introduced in 1549, and many other taxes according to the State regulations. As the right to reside was subject to charges, every Jew used to pay the town's owner the tax comprising of the rent and the spice tax, and Jews who lived in the center of the town were additionally obliged to pay the bath tax. The houses of rabbis and cantors were tax-free.

There was also a habit in Krasnik, that each year on Easter, Jews donated a certain amount of spices (at the time very rare and expensive and imported from abroad, like pepper, cinnamon, and cloves) to the authorities of the town. They did that because Christians often used to attack Jewish houses on the night between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. On the order of the town's owner, the authorities strengthened guard on that night, and were given expensive spices in exchange.

Jews also paid the town for the opportunity of running the stalls. In the 1650s, the municipal authorities, who leased butcheries to Jews, started to charge them with fees in the amount of 24 Zlotys per year as well as in kind (2 pounds of pepper on Christmas). The Town Council declared in exchange to keep order around the butcheries.

The Downfall and the Boom

The disasters, which struck Poland in the middle of the 17th Century, like the Hetman Khmelnitsky rebellion (1648-1654) and the Swedish invasion called "The Deluge" (1657), ruined the economy of Krasnik.

In 1606, the town was inhabited by 808 people, and in 1674 -- only by 604. The number of Jews diminished, too: in 1661, there were 114 of them in the town (which made 14% of all the inhabitants) and 13 years later -- 52 (8% of the total).

In the 18th Century, the town started to rise up from ruins. Following the general growth of the local population, the number of Jews also grew: in 1765 there were 921 of them and in 1787 they made up 64% of all the inhabitants. Jews owned almost all the houses in the town center and their community became one of the largest and most important in the Lublin region. In 1799, there were 405 houses in Krasnik, which were inhabited by 387 Christian and 209 Jewish families. Jews resided mainly within the former town walls, especially at the Market Square and close to the synagogue, while Christians, who mostly earned their living as farmers, had their houses and farms in suburbs.

After the third partition of Poland in 1795 by Russia, Prussia and Austria, Krasnik was incorporated into the Austrian Empire, and in 1815 -- into the Congress Kingdom of Poland, a puppet state under Russian imperial rule. The town met a significant economic boom, which improved the situation of local Jews. In the first half of the 19th Century, a second, smaller house of prayers, also still existing, was erected close to the 17th Century synagogue. During the 19th Century, the population of Krasnik grew from 1,385 in 1810 to about 7,000 at the end of the century. The number of Jews also rose, reaching half of the town population at the beginning of the the 20th Century. Krasnik was inhabited by 3,261 Jews (49% of all the residents).

The Religious Life

In the 19th Century, Kraƛnik became a significant Chassidic center. Tere were two major groups of the Chassidim in the town: the supporters of the Tzadik of Gora Kalwaria and the supporters of the Lublin tzadik dynasty of the Eigers. The power of the Chassidic community was so big, that in the middle of the 19th c., they attempted to take over rule in the kehilla. In 1867, the Chassidic fights for electing a rabbi led to serious riots in the town, including arsons. The Russian authorities launched an official inquiry and rabbis from Kracow and Warsaw tried to conciliate the belligerent parties.

In the end of the 19th Century, the Chassidim from Lublin started to play a major role in the town. It was the result of the activity of Abraham Eiger, son of Judah Lejb Eiger, a Lublin tzadik and the founder of the dynasty of the Eigers. It was in Krasnik that Abraham Eiger took his first steps as a Chassidic leader and established his first court. After death of his father, he moved to Lublin and took over leadership of all the Lublin Chassidim.


Remember Jewish Krasnik