The first Jews came to Dzierżoniów in the 13th century. The newly-created Jewish community was subordinate to the neighbouring and much larger community in Świdnica[1.1]
Under Świdnica Duke Bolko I the Strict, Świdnica Jews were excluded from the town jurisdiction and subjected to the duke’s court jurisdiction, thus obtaining direct protection from the ruler. Additionally, they also had their own court that heard cases involving members of the community. Dzierżoniów Jews were subject to its jurisdiction from 21 March 1370. At that time Princes Agnes granted Świdnica Jews Rabbi Oser (Judenbischof) and Lazar and David Falk the privilege of independent jurisdiction for the whole community of the duchy[1.2]. Earlier, on 6 December 1328, Świdnica Duke Bolko II the Small confirmed all to-date rights of the Jewish community and obliged them to fulfil the same duties and services as Christians. . In 1363, Bolko II granted again - first to Świdnica, and then to other towns of the duchy, including Dzierżoniów - the statutes and the Magdeburg Rights that regulated the order in towns. Apart from general rules, provisions related to Jews were also included .
Jews in medieval towns made their living from retail and wholesale trade, crafts and usury. There is a note in the chronicle of Dzierżoniów stating that on 18 October 1333 the town councillors and mayors of Dzierżoniów, Ziębice, Strzelin and Ząbkowice Śląskie borrowed 160 grzywnas from a Wrocław Jew. The loan was guaranteed by Wrocław councillors. The usury business conducted by Jews caused resentment among debtors and often entire town communities, which carried the risk of turmoil and unrest. What made things worse during the increase of anti-Jewish sentiment was the plague of the Black Death, which decimated European population. This triggered a wave of anti-Semitic excesses, particularly in German-speaking countries and towns, including Lower Silesia. Pogroms took place in 1349 and 1360 in Wrocław and in 1389 in Świdnica. This certainly affected the situation of Dzierżoniów Jews[1.3].
Jews tried to live normal lives between the periods of unrest. They looked for safe places for living and trading. Due to the mediation of their fellow believer Seman (Simon), Jewish tradesmen passing through Dzierżoniów gained in 1395 a valuable privilege of duty-free passage through the town, which terminated with the death of Seman[1.4] Seman himself moved from Dzierżoniów to Brzeg after gaining a safe-conduct pass from Brzeg Duke Henry VIII[1.4]. Only a few names of Dzierżoniów Jews are mentioned in 14th and 15th century chronicles. These include the already-mentioned Seman, Jakob and Jonas von Reichenbach who stayed in Wrocław and Manil (Mendel) von Reichenbach, to whom the Ziębice duke owed huge sums[1.4]. Also mentioned is Michel von Reichenbach, who lived in Oława in late 14th century and offered loans to bishops and dukes. Michel von Reichenbach, who died on 10 April 1426, was referred to as the Rabbi of Erfurt and Wrocław. He was said to have lived in Kąty Wrocławskie in 1417. In this case it is uncertain whether the reference is to Lower Silesia’s Reichenbach or other town with the same name[1.7]. The 14th century Jewish community in Dzierżoniów did not have its own cemetery and had to use one located in Świdnica, established around 1289. In a protective letter dated 21 March 1370, Duchess Agnes decided that the Świdnica Jewish cemetery would be the only graveyard in the Świdnica Duchy .
[1.1] The first reference to Jews in Świdnica dates back to 28 July 1285, when Wrocław Duke Henry IV Probus defined their privileges, rights, duties and property tax system. See: A. Grotte, Synagogenspuren in schlesischen Kirche, (1937), 26.
[1.2] A. Grotte, Synagogenspuren in schlesischen Kirche, (1937), 26.
[1.3] L. Ziątkowski, Żydzi we Wrocławiu (1999), 16.
[1.4] B. Brilling, Die jüdische Gemeinde Mittelschlesiens Entstehung und Geschichte, (1973), 160.
[1.5] B. Brilling, Die jüdische Gemeinde Mittelschlesiens Entstehung und Geschichte, (1973), 160.
[1.6] B. Brilling, Die jüdische Gemeinde Mittelschlesiens Entstehung und Geschichte, (1973), 160.
[1.7] B. Brilling, Die jüdische Gemeinde Mittelschlesiens Entstehung und Geschichte, (1973), 160.
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