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The exact date of the first Jewish settlement in Gorzów is unknown. According to the estimates, Jews settled in Gorzów after 1350, after the fire which had destroyed the town earlier that year. In an attempt to provide relief to victims of the fire, Margrave Ludvig, the ruler of Brandenburg, exempted the town of all its obligations towards him. Jews were probably granted permission to settle in Gorzów at that time, and their financial assets expedited the process of town reconstruction after the fire. The arrival of Jews in Gorzów may also be linked with a document from 6 June 1350, in which the Margrave grants the towns of the New March permission to take in all the Jews who had been expelled from other regions.

It is assumed that the Jewish quarter was established around that time. It was located in the south-western part of the town. The ghetto boundaries ran more or less along the following current streets: Sikorskiego St., Spichrzowa St., Młyńska St., and Wodna St. There is no information on what the first Jewish quarter looked like and how it was organised because the first written account on the subject dates back to 1557, which was during a period in which there were no Jews left in Gorzów. It is safe to assume, however, that the community had all the standard institutions necessary for its routine operation, such as a cemetery, a synagogue and a mikveh. Even though Jews were also present in other towns of the New March, the formal name of Judenviertel (Ger.: Jewish Quarter) was applied only in Gorzów, referring to the section of town inhabited by Jews. This may be an indication of the significance and power of the local community; due to the lack of historical sources, however, one may only speculate on this issue.

The year of 1510 was fraught with many unfavourable consequences for the Jews in Brandenburg. They were accused of desecrating the Host and subsequently expelled from the March, and therefore also from Gorzów. It was the first time that Jews were expelled from the town. Curiously, even after the Jews had left Gorzów, the area of the former ghetto continued to be referred to as the “Jewish Quarter.” Still, Christians settled in the former Jewish section of town and tailored it to their needs. The mikveh, which was located next to the city walls, was transformed into a public bath, and is referred to as such in historical sources from 1525[1.1]. The Jews expelled from Brandenburg, including the expelled Jews of Gorzów, moved to the territory of independent Poland; the majority of them settled in towns of western Greater Poland, such as Skwierzyna and Międzyrzecz.

Jews had to wait until 21 May 1671 to be able to officially return to Brandenburg; on that day Frederic William, the Prince-Elector of Brandenburg, issued a decree lifting the banishment. In fact, however, Jews reappeared in Gorzów much earlier than 1671. The first mention of their presence dates back to 1649[1.2], and the earliest documents referring to the return of Jews to Gorzów date back to 1656[1.3]. It is not clear why Jews had been present in town 22 years before the decree was issued. Most likely the instability in the aftermath Thirty Years’ War (1618-48) and Swedish occupation of Gorzów created opportunities for Jews to return to the town. Whichever the case, the number of Jewish residents of the town increased each year and soon Gorzów became the seat of the third largest, after Frankfurt (Oder) and Berlin, Jewish community in Brandenburg.

Despite the traditional prejudices, Jews were appreciated for their mercantile and organisational skills. For example, nobles employed Jews at their courts despite their superstitions and phobias. The so-called Hofjuden (Ger.: court Jews), to whom special rights applied, often managed to become relatively wealthy and forge alliances with their rulers. Such was the case of Israel Aaron, who was a court supplier of the Prince-Elector Frederic-William and became close to him. Israel Aaron came to Gorzów (for reasons unknown) in mid-17th century and purchased or built a large, two-storey building at 12 Luisenstraße, which was later referred to as the Judenhaus (Ger.: Jewish House). Before 1752, when the synagogue was erected, the house had been the centre of the reemerging Jewish community. On 20 February 1672, the Prince-Elector granted Israel Aaron the privilege for his “own” rabbi Chain, who already had been residing in Gorzów and worked in the New March. The privilege stated, amongst other things, that the Gorzów rabbi was everyone’s rabbi, the rabbi of all the Jews residing in the Brandenburg March, as well as those who were merely visiting; and no other rabbi could be appointed to his post. Thus Gorzów, not Berlin, became – for a certain period of time – a capital of the Brandenburg Jewish community. Winning Prince-Elector’s favours over the Austrian Jews who were arriving to Berlin at the time reflects Aaron’s fame, both for his skills and position in the Jewish community. Aaron’s success, however, was only one example of success in the Gorzów Jewish Community. The population had swelled significantly by 1690, boasting 21 Jewish families in Gorzów, that is ca. 200 people. The community did not, however, have a synagogue at the time because the decree of 1671 did not permit its construction. However, it was possible to gain individual permission for private services, and such services were held at the Judenhaus until 1752, when a new synagogue was erected. It was located in the middle of the medieval Jewish Quarter, possibly at the site of the old synagogue. Unfortunately, no depictions of the synagogue have survived. It was probably an undistinguished wattle and daub construction typical of the region. There was also a community cemetery, first mentioned in 1723, located south west from the town centre, in direction of Kostrzyn.

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[1.1] Zysnarski J., Encyklopedia Gorzowa, Gorzów Wlkp. 2007, p. 724.

[1.2] Engelien A., Geschichte der Stadt Landsberg an der Warthe, Landsberg/W. 1857, p. 112.

[1.3] Janicka S., Judaica w zasobach Archiwum Państwowego w Gorzowie Wielkopolskim, [in] Żydzi na Środkowym Nadodrzu, ed. M. Wojecki, pt. 1, Zielona Góra 1996, pp. 67–70.

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