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Oleśnica (woj. dolnośląskie)

Polska / dolnośląskie

Synagogues, prayer houses and others Cemeteries Sites of martyrdom Judaica in museums Andere


Province:dolnośląskie / inne (before 1939)
County:oleśnicki / Oels (before 1939)
Community:Oleśnica / Oels (before 1939)
Other names:Oels [j. niemiecki]; אולשניצה [j. hebrajski]
51.2126° N / 17.3881° E
51°12'45" N / 17°23'17" E


Tamara Włodarczyk

Oleśnica is a town situated on the left side of the Oleśnica River (a tributary of Widawa), on the Silesian Lowlands, at an altitude of 150 meters.

According to data from 30 June 2004, the town has a population of 36,968 people.




Tamara Włodarczyk

A Jewish community existed in Oleśnica as early as the beginning of the 14th century. The first mention of Jews in the town dates back to 1329 when Konrad I confirmed the right to bring them to his duchy. The first Jew in Oleśnica known by name was Michael (Michał), and is mentioned in writings in 1398. Those Jews who settled in Oleśnica were mainly wealthy ones connected with the duchies of Oleśnica.

A self-dependent Jewish gmina was set up in 1398 and remained active until 1453 with the support of Duke Konrad II. The first synagogue was built in 1417. In the Middle Ages, Jews lived in the neighborhood of the synagogue; they also owned a ritual butchery and had a separate gate in the town walls. The location of a Jewish cemetery in those times is not known.

In 1453 the Jews of Oleśnica were accused of the desecration of sacramental bread, which resulted in all of them being expelled from the town. A lack of an official prohibition of settlement of Jews, however, made their return to town possible. At the beginning of the 16th century, Henry I the Podiebrad confirmed their right of residence in Oleśnica.

A Jewish gmina was formed in Oleśnica again at the beginning of the 16th century. At this time the town became a center of Jewish printing. Special credit is to be given to Chaim Schwarz from Prague (also known as Chaim ben Dawid Sachor), who together with his partner – Dawid ben Jonathan – set up a printing house in Oleśnica and in 1530 printed the Five Books of Moses – the oldest noted printings of Oleśnica and the first Hebrew printing in Silesia, Czech and Germany. His printing house was probably located in the lean-to house of the synagogue. Another Jewish printer working in Oleśnica in the 16th century was Samuel Helicz (Halicz) from the area of Kraków, who in 1534 printed in Oleśnica a Hebrew prayer book and probably a new edition of the Five Books of Moses.

In 1553 many houses and a synagogue tower were destroyed by a hurricane. Jews, as suspected crime perpetrators, were again expelled from Oleśnica. The synagogue then served as a warehouse and a town arsenal. In order to make it possible to bring in cannons, a wide entrance was cut through a porch and another one in an eastern wall. The exile period was not long, as in 1555-1575, a Jewish gmina operate


Local history

Tamara Włodarczyk /

Railway station and four streets. | unknown

It was probably in the 12th century that the nucleus of a settlement was formed here. Its name, Olesznica (later renamed Oels, Öls under German influences), was derived from alder trees, which grew in the swamps and by the river over the area. In 1255, the Duke of Wrocław Henryk III Biały incorporated the settlement (a market village or a “pre-incorporated” town) under the Neumarkter Recht (Polish: Prawo średzkie). As early as 1310 the town had its own coat-of-arms, which was one of the eldest in Silesia. 

The fact that Oleśnica had its own mint as early as the 13th century proves that the significance of the town was considerable. It developed quickly thanks to the favourable location by a trade route that was a link between Wrocław and Poznań and also due to the formation, around 1321, of the Duchy of Oleśnica, which was taken over by Duke Konrad I Oleśnicki, the founder of the Oleśnica line of the Piast dynasty. The Oleśnica castle, town fortified walls with a moat, as well as churches and a synagogue were all built during the reign of the Piast dynasty.

After the death of the last member of the Piast dynasty, the Podiebrad family (descendants of the Czech King George) became the owners of Oleśnica and the Duchy in 1495 and the period of their administration saw the biggest growth of the town.

The greatest contributor to the town’s progress was Karol II (1545–1617) under whom the castle underwent a reconstruction, the town’s water supply system was installed, a secondary school and a library were opened, and Oleśnica became an important center of art and culture. In the 16th century the town observed a dynamic advancement in education and the field of music. In 1538, the Duchy of Oleśnica converted to Protestantism.

After the death of the last member of the Podiebrad family in 1647, the Duchy and Oleśnica were taken over by a Silesian line called the Wirtembergs, who led to the reconstruction of the town after the damage it suffered during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), as well as to its economic growth and resurgence of cultural traditions and the development of science. The House of Comedy (Polish: Dom Komediowy), which was the first theatre in Oleśnica and one of the first theatres in Silesia, was set up in 1670. Many well-known figures from cultural circles had ties with the duc


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