Jewish Gdańsk

Jewish Gdańsk
The incomplete, at times unfair and most certainly oversimplified image of the stereotypical Gdańsk Jew as a shrewd businessman loved and hated in equal measures by the city's non-Jewish population started with the arrival of the first small community of German, Yiddish-speaking Jewish merchants in the city in the 11th century. Distrusted by the city's burghers for trading goods at low prices and loved by Polish kings for the very same reason (their commercial skills putting much needed money into the royal coffers), the Gdańsk (or Dansig as the city was known to its Jewish population) Jews did however play an important part in the city's development, notably in its agricultural sector, becoming by the start of the 17th century skilled traders in among other commodities grain and timber. Despite constant discrimination under both Polish and German rule, Gdańsk's Jewish population managed to build five separate communities just outside the city walls, complete with their own hospitals and schools. Slowly, Gdańsk's Jews gained more and more respect, reaching in the middle of the 19th century after their sudden and unexpected emancipation under Prussian rule an equal status, joining in with city affairs and getting involved in local government, merchant guilds and other organisations. By the time of the completion of the Great Synagogue in 1887, the majority of the city's relatively small Jewish population were employed in various professions, among them shopkeepers, traders, artisans, doctors, lawyers and teachers. Unlike in many other city's in the region, Gdańsk produced few great manufacturers or bankers. When WWI broke out in 1914, the city's Jews were integrated to such an extent that many were overcome with a sense of patriotic duty and fought alongside the Germans. A monument to Jews who lost their lives during WWI can be found in the Jewish Cemetery in Sopot. In the short period of time between the Armistice and the Holocaust, the city's Jewish population was enriched by refugees from Eastern Europe who played many important roles in the city's development (during this period over 30% of the city's lawyers were Jewish). Of today's tiny population of 150 or so Gdańsk Jews, not one is descended from a pre-war Jewish Gdańsk family. The Jewish community based in the city's New Synagogue who support them are currently working on the promotion of the few remaining Jewish Gdańsk sights. Little remains to be seen of the city's former Jewish past.


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