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The first references to Kielce appear in documents dating back to ca. 1084, although some suppose that a trading community, located near a fortified settlement which was the seat of the local castellan, had existed in this area much earlier. Either at the turn or in the first decades of the 12th century an extensive area to the south of the Świętokrzyskie Mountains was granted to the bishops of Kraków, who were the most affluent Catholic leaders in Poland until the end of the 18th century. In spite of Tatar raids, the settlement developed successfully, and as a consequence, Kielce was chartered under the Magdeburg Law in 1364. As a bishop’s town, Kielce was granted the de non tolerandis Judaeis privilege, which was valid until Aleksander Wielopolski’s reforms of 1862. The 15th and 16th century saw demographic and economic growth of the town, which was directly connected to the rapid development of mining in the area, especially of iron and non-ferrous metals.

The town became the favourite place of residence of the bishops of Kraków. In the second quarter of the 17th century, a new, magnificent Vasa Baroque residence (today the seat of the National Museum) was constructed on Bishop Jakub Zadzik’s request. It was designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Trevano. In mid-17th century, the prosperous period of the town’s history came to an end. During the Swedish Invasion, in 1655, Kielce was nearly burnt down, and a high tribute was imposed on the town. The rebuilding of Kielce started at the beginning of the 18th century. It was around that time that a seminary and a secondary school were established in the town; the latter operated under the patronage of Kraków Academy from 1735. A limestone mine was opened on the Kadzielnia Hill together with two brickyards. Thanks to the donation made by Bishop Andrzej Załuski, the first credit union offering loans free of interest, called “Mons Pietatis,” was founded.

In July 1789, the Four Years’ Sejm decided that the property of the bishops of Kraków was to be taken over by the royal administration. Shortly afterwards, as a consequence of the Third Partition of Poland, Kielce came under Austrian rule (West Galicia), whereas from 1809 it belonged to the Duchy of Warsaw (Department of Kraków). Under Austrian rule, the diocese of Kielce was established in 1805 (transferred to Sandomierz in 1818 and restored in 1883). After the Vienna Congress in 1815, Kielce became part of the Russian-controlled Kingdom of Poland. As Kraków did not belong to the Kingdom of Poland, Kielce became the capital of Krakowskie Province. By the year 1816, Kielce became the seat of the Central Mining Management, which supervised the region’s industry development. Thanks to Stanisław Staszic, the year 1816 also saw the opening of the Mining Academy, Poland’s first technical university, in the former bishop’s palace.

After the November Uprising, Krakowskie Province was replaced with a governorate administered by a military governor. In 1844, due to an administrative reform, the Kielce Governorate was liquidated and Kielce became one of the district towns in the Radom Governorate. The town was punished with several tributes for supporting the national mass uprising in 1863–1864; many of its inhabitants were deprived of their property and sent to Siberia or to prison. November 1864 saw the dissolution of the Franciscan monastery on Karczówka Hill; some time later, some of the goods of the Catholic Seminary were confiscated. In 1867, Kielce regained the status of the governorate capital, with the converted Bishops’ Palace becoming the seat of the Russian governor.

By the power of the decree issued by the tsar in 1862, Jews were granted permission to settle within Kielce’s walls. From that moment on the kehilla was developing rapidly. From the 1880s, despite the Russian terror and persecution, the town slowly began to revive economically and demographically, which was also influenced by the construction of a railway line from Radom and Dąbrowa Górnicza to Kielce in 1885. More and more factories were opened. The first telephones were installed in 1904, and the first power plant was built just before the outbreak of World War I. In February 1905, there was a famous strike of school children who demanded to be taught in Polish at school.

As soon as World War I broke out in 1914, the Józef Piłsudski’s Riflemen Cadre Company (Kompania Kadrowa Strzelców Józefa Piłsudskiego) entered Kielce. In September, the I Regiment of the Polish Legions was sworn in by Piłsudski, and for this reason Kielce were commonly know as the “the Marshal’s town” in the interwar period. Not long afterwards, the town was once more taken over by Russians, who were stationed there until May 1915. After Kielce had been taken over by the Austro-Hungarian army, a period of partial liberalisation of social and political life followed. Many patriotic manifestations were organised at that time, and the Polish Military Organisation supporting Piłsudski was set up to prepare armed riots against the invaders. After Poland regained independence in November of 1918, Kielce became the province capital. New companies, factories and housing estates were built in the town. In 1926, a new power plant was opened, in 1927 a sewer system was finished, and only two years later – the water supply system was installed. During the years 1927–1930, the administrative area of Kielce was broadened, engulfing local towns and manors in the city boarders. During the 1930s, Kielce became a significant part of the Central Industrial Region.

After World War II broke out in September 1939, the barracks in Bukówka, the power plant, the railway station and the water supply system were destroyed in German bombardment. Protected only by makeshift groups of soldiers, the city of Kielce was taken over by German army units on 6 September. After the General Government had been established, Kielce was degraded to a local capital in Radom District. Throughout the occupation years, Kielce’s industrial plants worked for the German army. In April 1941, the Germans established a ghetto in Kielce, with ca. 27,000 Jews living in the town and its neighbourhood confined within its walls. Around 20,000 people, mainly women, children and the elderly, were transported to the death camp in Treblinka in August 1942. From 1941, there was a camp for soldiers and officers of the Red Army at the foot of Mount Telegraf, where over 11,000 Russians died of hunger and epidemic. During the period of 1942–1943, numerous executions on Polish and Jewish people were carried out, most of them on the stadium and in the Jewish cemetery; as a result, around a dozen thousand people lost their lives. In August 1944, all the German clerks and Volksdeutsch representatives were evacuated form Kielce, which found itself very close to the front line. After several difficult battles, Kielce was liberated by the Soviet troops on 15 January 1945. On 4 July 1946, a pogrom of Jews broke out in Kielce. Thirty-seven Jews and three Poles lost their lives, and 35 people were injured.

After the war, Kielce remained the province capital (since 1999 – Świętokrzyskie Province) and the seat of Kielce District (excluding the years 1975-1998). Quick demographic growth was accompanied by the development of industry and services. The town became also an important cultural and scientific centre (Jan Kochanowski’s University). Kielce has more that 200,000 inhabitants.

Bibliography

  • Jerzmanowski J., W starych Kielcach, Łódź 1984.
  • Marcinkowski S., Miasta Kielecczyzny, Przemiany społeczno-gospodarcze 1815-1869, Warsaw-Kraków 1980.
  • Pazdur J., Dzieje Kielce, vol. 1–2, Wrocław – Warsaw – Kraków 1967–1971.

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