Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


NN Theatre

Kazimierz Dolny - guidebook

Ukr. Казімеж-Дольни, קוזמיר Yid.

Kazimierz Dolny, the main square's south-eastern frontage, with a view of Przybyłowie's tenement houses
Tenement houses near the market square in Kazimierz, 2015, photo by Monika Tarajko, the digital collection of the "Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre" Centre—

The royal port

Picturesquely located next to the Vistula river crossing, Kazimierz Dolny became a royal city already in the 14th century. The favourable geographical location at the intersection of land and water trade routes effectively stimulated the development of the city. Cereal brought here was transported up the Vistula River to Gdańsk and then farther on to European ports. The residents of Kazimierz engaged in boatbuilding and traded in cereal, timber, wine, and salt. Granaries located near the river and richly ornamented Renaissance tenement houses gave evidence of the economic prosperity of the city.

Esterka’s love

Even though some legends have it that Jewish merchants were present in this area already in the 11th century, first Jews settled down in Kazimierz Dolny probably in the 2nd half of the 15th century. According to popular legend about Esterka, the daughter of a Jewish merchant who apparently lived here, king Kazimierz Wielki—the last king from the Piast dynasty—fell in love with her and his love was requited. The legend is also mentioned by Jan Długosz in his chronicle and, even though historians have not found evidence of her authenticity, Esterka became one the symbols of Polish-Jewish co-existence. Visitors to Kazimierz before World War II could admire historical liturgical objects kept by synagogue carers, which included a parochet and Torah crown. According to the oral tradition passed down by the Jews of Kazimierz, it was the very parochet embroidered by Esterka and the crown was given to the synagogue by king Kazimierz. Interestingly enough, the parochet of Kazimierz was most probably made in China in the 17th century.


The Market

Kazimierz Dolny. Zabudowania miejskie z pierzeją południową rynku po lewej i zacienioną pierzeją zachodnią po prawej, 1794, rys. Zygmunt Vogel, zbiory Gabinetu Rycin Biblioteki Uniwersyteckiej w Warszawie
Kazimierz Dolny Urban developments with the southern frontage of the market on the left and the shaded western frontage on the right, 1794, drawing by Zygmunt Vogel, the collection of the Print Room of the Warsaw University Library

As painter Wojciech Gerson recalled:

The market square is typical because it has traditional, wooden and masonry arcades, a well with a wheel of considerable size and long chain; the place always swarms with jabbering Jews, who on Saturday are joined by Jewish women that like to dress up for Sabbath and promenade around the place.

 The spatial layout of the city results from the fact that a town was chartered according to the Magdeburg law. The market, a network of streets, and churches were located on a relatively small area. The castle, tower, and Franciscan monastery were erected on the hills surrounding the centre. When Jewish settlements appeared here in the 2nd half of the 15th century, there was not too much space to establish a Jewish quarter. Jews settled eastwards from the market—around the so called Minor Market. In the vicinity, there were a synagogue, prayer house, rabbi’s house, and other commune buildings. Jews also lived at Lubelska Street—at the end of it, past the town's gate, there was a graveyard—and with the passing of time they spread around the whole city.


The Synagogue (Minor Market)

The first shul in Kazimierz was made of wood. In the 2nd half of the 16th century, the Jews of Kazimierz erected a masonry synagogue. It was destroyed and rebuilt after the historical turmoil of the 2nd half of the 17th century and once again towards the end of the 1st quarter of the 18th century. A large part of the present day building dates back to the 2nd half of the 18th century, except for the interior walls which were replaced towards the end of the 19th century and renovated in the interwar period. Narthexes with women’s galleries above them were added to a square prayer room on the south-east and south-west sides. A prayer room for men was covered with a domical vault which was built in the lower part of a timber roof truss and covered with polychrome. In the 19th century, next to the shul, there were small shops which belonged to the Jewish community and were rented to Jews in exchange for payments made to the municipal budget. The Jews of Kazimierz appreciated the historical value of buildings—in 1922, the shul was dated on 1220. It was destroyed towards the end of World War II. In 1953, it was rebuilt according to a project by Karol Siciński. The walls of a prayer room for men were built of limestone and—as before the war—they were not plastered from the outside. A Polish cross gable roof covered with shingles and a wooden vault but without polychrome were reconstructed. The building was used as a cinema and concert hall. In 2003, the shul was taken over by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage, which turned it into an exhibition room, souvenir shop, and guest rooms. A memorial plaque commemorating the Jewish community of Kazimierz was set in the wall of the building.

Kazimierz Dolny, Mały Rynek [Small Square], the former Jewish stalls
Kazimierz Dolny, Mały Rynek [Small Square], the former Jewish stalls
Former Jewish stalls in the Minor Market in Kazimierz, 2015, photo by Monika Tarajko, the digital collection of the "Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre" Centre—


The fall and revival

The period of prosperity of the Jewish community was put to a stop by the war turmoil in the middle of the 17th century—caused by Khmelnytsky's Cossacks, Swedes, the army of Rakoczi as well as Polish troops, fires, and bubonic plague. In 1661, there were only 7 Jewish houses in the city. It started to rebuild only after it was granted a new charter issued by king Jan III Sobieski in 1676.

In 1699, a tumult began on the market when the Corpus Christi procession met with Jews welcoming rabbi Judah, who arrived in the city on this day. The city brought a lawsuit against the elders of the Jewish community in Kazimierz before the Crown Tribunal in Lublin.

After the Great Northern War in 1717, the Jews of Kazimierz obtained another document granting them considerable freedom of trade and therefore, in the years 1732–1733, they could pay tax as high as 600 guilders. Lewek Dawidowicz, Abraham Lewkowicz, Nachum Borkowicz, and Józef Majerowicz are known to have been qahal elders in 1730. In 1778, tax was paid by 303 people in the city and 141 in 27 surrounding villages, the town of Wąwolnica, and one inn. In 1827, the city had 2096 residents—including 1,197 Jews (57.1% of population). Around the year 1882, 3,297 residents of Kazimierz (including 1,784 Jews—51.4%) lived in 250 houses, 89 of which were masonry. This was exceptional among predominantly wooden cities of the Lubelskie region.

Jewish district in Kazimierz. House cleaning before the holiday of Pesach, 1918-1939, the collection of the National Digital Archives

Jewish district in Kazimierz. House cleaning before the holiday of Pesach, 1918-1939, the collection of the National Digital Archives


Singing Chasids of Kazimierz

A pupil of the Seer of Lublin and a highly gifted composer and musician, Chasidic tzadik Ezechiel Ben Cwi-Hirsz Taub (1772–1856) settled down in Kazimierz Dolny in the 1920s. Supporters of Ezechiel Taub—known as the Chasids of Kazimierz (kuzmir chasidim)—became famous for emphasizing the role of music and singing in the service of God, which was in accordance with the tzadik’s saying: I cannot enjoy Sabbath without a new melody. In 1925, one of his descendants—Shmuel Eliyahu Taub of Dęblin (1905–1984)—together with a group of his supporters moved to Palestine and set up an agricultural settlement. The tradition of singing songs composed by the Chasids of Kaziemierz survived till this day.


The artists' colony

The unique landscape of Kazimierz Dolny attracted painters already in the 18th century. An important landmark was the year 1909 when Władysław Ślewiński—a friend of Paul Gauguin and a professor at the Warsaw School of Fine Arts—started organizing here plein air painting sessions with his students. Since that time, Kazimierz—surrounded by the aura of a city of painters—was gradually turning into an artists’ colony. Another professor of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts—Tadeusz Pruszkowski—should be given credit for this change. Annual plein air painting sessions which he organized since 1913 were attended by young artists—both Christians and Jews. Artists, who were coming to Kazimierz more and more often, admired “unique landscape,” “warm, familiar atmosphere,” “Polish beauty,” and “wistful poetry tugging at the heartstrings”. Kazimierz was very hospitable to its guests and repaid with an everyday display of its charms.

Painters were followed by men of letters and ordinary holidaymakers who were looking for a beautiful place where they could relax. As a result, the landscape of Kazimierz was rendered numerous times in both literary and visual works. Among visiting artists, there were also many Jews. The town on the Vistula River left its mark in the works of artists such as Maurycy Trębacz (1861–1941), Natan Korzeń (1895–1941), Roman Rozental (1897–1942), Izrael Tykociński (1895–1942), Józef Gabowicz (1862–1939), Eliasz Kanarek (1902–1969) or brothers Efraim and Menasze Seidenbeutel (1903–1945). Painters became an integral part of the city’s landscape and their presence had its influence on the awakening of many talents among the native residents of Kazimierz.

One unusual person painting the town was Szmul Wodnicki (1901–1971)—a shoemaker born in Kazimierz who, at the same time, worked as a painter. Dispirited by a difficult life in Poland, he emigrated with his family to Palestine in 1934, however, he continued painting the landscapes of Kazimierz till the end of his life. Chaim Goldberg (1917–2004) was born in a family of another shoemaker from Kazimierz and, already as a young boy, he observed artists and made his first steps as a painter. Thanks to contacts with artists established in Kazimierz Dolny, Chaim decided in the 1930s to enrol in the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. He developed as a mature artist after World War II and the motifs from his home town became one of the leading subjects in his works.


Kazimierz in films

The picturesqueness of the city also attracted filmmakers looking for landscapes which would suit films directed in Yiddish. This is where a blockbuster titled Yiddle with His Fiddle was directed (1936, dir. by Józef Green, Jan Nowina-Przybylski) with Molly Picon in the main role. Some more films that were shot here include: One out of 36 [Jeden z trzydziestu sześciu] (1925, dir. by Henryk Szaro), In Polish woods [W lasach polskich] based on the prose by Joseph Opatoshu (1929, dir. by Jonas Turkow) and The Dybbuk (1936, dir. by Michał Waszyński).

Many years after the war, the atmosphere of the pre-war shtetl—an artists’ colony—was recreated in a Polish film titled Two moons [Dwa księżyce] (1993, dir. by Andrzej Barański) based on short stories by Maria Kuncewiczowa. The history of Kazimierz Dolny was also immortalized in a documentary titled Snapshots from Kazimierz [Album Kazimierski] (2001) directed by Tadeusz Pałka.


City portraits

Kazimierz Dolny, Rozmowa, 1931–1932, photo by Benedykt Jerzy Dorys, the collection of the National Library—
Kazimierz Dolny, Rozmowa, 1931–1932, photo by Benedykt Jerzy Dorys, the collection of the National Library—

Everyday life of Kazimierz—a former Jewish shtetl—was documented in the photographs of Benedykt Jerzy Dorys (real name Rotenberg), a portrait photographer of the crème de la crème of Warsaw who spent his holidays here in the 1930s. His photography of the pre-war Kazimierz is believed to be an instance of the first Polish reportage photography. A permanent exhibition of these photos can be seen in the former synagogue in Kazimierz.

Many paintings of Kazimierz are put on display in the Celejowska House—a branch of the Nadwiślańskie Museum. Museum collections include numerous photos and documents connected with the history of the Jewish community in the city. One interesting exposition which comprises Jewish liturgical objects can be seen in the Goldsmith Museum.

Among numerous literary renditions of Kazimierz, two novels—The Shtetl (1901) by Sholem Asch and Summer by Adolf Rudnicki (1938)—play a particularly important role. An interesting description of the city from the beginning of the 1930s was included by Jacob Glatstein in a volume of reportage titled Wen Jasz iz geforn (Yid. When Yash Set Out, 1935). A selection of texts about Kazimierz Dolny can be found in an anthology titled Kazimierz vel Kuzmir. A city of different dreams [Kazimierz vel Kuzmir. Miasteczko różnych snów] (2006, red. Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska).


70-year old Chaim the Ferryman stood at the helm of his boat and transported passengers across the Vistula river for 62 years, the photo was published on 28 November 1926 in a magazine titled Forverts, photo by Menakhem Kipnis, the collection of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
70-year old Chaim the Ferryman stood at the helm of his boat and transported passengers across the Vistula river for 62 years, the photo was published on 28 November 1926 in a magazine titled Forverts, photo by Menakhem Kipnis, the collection of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research


World War II and the mass murder of Jews

In 1939, Kazimierz had 4,641 residents, including approx. 2,500 Jews. After the outbreak of World War II, Germans were relatively quick to establish a ghetto in Kazimierz—already in 1940—to which they displaced Jews from the city and surrounding areas. It was located on a small Jewish quarter around the Minor Market. In the brewery at Puławska St., they created a forced labour camp which was open between spring 1940 and autumn 1942. Its prisoners (over 100 people) worked in a quarry and in the city. Pavements and steps at the camp as well as in the city (near the Gestapo headquarters based in the building belonging to the Order of the Reformati) were made of matzevas by prisoners. In March 1942, the ghetto inmates were displaced to the ghetto in Opole Lubelskie and next they were transported to one of the death camps—reportedly in Bełżec. During the liquidation of the labour camp, Jews who worked there were transported again and a dozen or so were shot in autumn 1943 at the new Jewish graveyard.


The old Jewish graveyard (Lubelska St.)

The graveyard is thought to have been established towards the end of the 15th century near the road leading to Lublin—outside the Lublin Gate, on the Sitarz Hill—and was open till the 1950s. It was the burial place of, among others, the tzadikim of Kazimierz from the Taub dynasty—Ezechiel and Efraim. The graveyard was surrounded by a wall made of limestone. During World War II, Germans forced Jews to liquidate this burial place and—after matzevas were removed from the area—various buildings were erected. In 1954, a nearby school was extended in such a way that one of its parts was built on the area which previously belonged to the graveyard. The southern part of the graveyard—from the side of Lubelska St.—was levelled and a school football pitch was built there. The upper part of the graveyard with burials and a ruined wall survived. One matzeva in its lowest part still carries a fragment of inscription from the end of the 17th century.

“A crack” in the monument, symbolizing the tragic fate of Polish Jews during World War II, Jewish cemetery in Kazimierz Dolny
“A crack” in the monument, symbolizing the tragic fate of Polish Jews during World War II, Jewish cemetery in Kazimierz Dolny
Jewish graveyard in Czerniawy, 2014, photo by Wioletta Wejman, the digital collection of the "Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre" Centre—


The new Jewish graveyard (Czerniawy St.)

The new Jewish graveyard was established in the 2nd part of the 19th century near the road to Opole, in the area called “Czerniawy”. A plot of land allocated for the graveyard—located on the hill slope on the eastern side of the road—was donated in 1851 by Herszek Mandelsberg. The area was surrounded with a wall and a funeral house was erected here. The graveyard was rectangular and covered the area of 0.64 ha. It was the site of executions of a dozen of so people—Jews and Poles. In 1984, “the Wailing Wall” according to a design by Tadeusz Augustyniak was erected here—it is a tall and long wall in the centre of the graveyard with a “crack” in the middle built along the longer axis which has a few hundred broken matzevas regained from the city set in it. In front of the wall, a group of several dozen complete matzevas was placed on the grassy slope. Behind the wall, approx. 25 overturned matzevas were placed in the hornbeam woods.


The present day

Nowadays, Kazimierz Dolny is one of the most important tourist attractions in Eastern Poland. There are many hotels, pensions, and restaurants. Traditions of a summer resort and artists’ colony are still cultivated. Apart from cultural events such as the festival of Folk Bands and Singers, the Two Riversides Film and Art Festival, and the Alternative Music Festival “Kazimiernikejszyn”, the cultural offer of the city includes events alluding to the Jewish history of the city, e.g. the Klezmer Music and Tradition Festival (between 2006 and 2012) or the Pardes Festival—the Encounters with Jewish Culture (since 2013).


Authors: Paweł Sygowski, Emil Majuk

Sites to see

  • Synagogue (18th century), 4 Lubelska St., with an exhibition “Jewish Kazimierz” inside. Opening hours: 10.00–17.00, excluding Mondays and Tuesdays, group reservations: phone no. (81) 881 08 94
  • The Nadwiślańskie Museum, branch in the Celejowska House, a rich collection of paintings of pre-war Kazimierz and its Jewish residents; in a room on the ground floor, one can find objects kept as mementoes of Jews from Kazimierz, e.g. a menorah, Torah, and Hanukkah Lamp, 11/13 Senatorska St., 24-120 Kazimierz Dolny, phone no. (81) 881 01 04
  • The Goldsmith Museum, 2 Zamkowa St. phone no. (81) 881 00 80
  • The Jewish graveyard (19th century), Czerniawy St.
  • The medieval spatial layout of the city which was proclaimed as a historical monument in 1994
  • The ruins of the royal castle with a tower (14th century) in the north-east part of the city, on the hill, Zamkowa St.
  • The stone fortified tower (13th century), Zamkowa St.
  • St John the Baptist and St Bartholomew the Apostle Parish Church (1586–1589), Rynek St.
  • Tenement Houses (17th and 18th century), 2, 10, 15, 18 Rynek St.
  • The Celejowska House (1635), present day seat of the Nadwiślańskie Museum, 11/13 Senatorska St.
  • The Church of the Franciscan Reformer Fathers dedicated to the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin and St Peter of Alcantara and the moneaster (1680–1690), Klasztorna St.
  • St Anna’s hospital church and former hospital (1649–1670), Lubelska St.
  • Granaries (17th century), Krakowska St. and Puławska St.
  • Summer houses and villas (19th and 20th century), Puławska St., Krzywe Koło St., Lubelska St., Szkolna St., Krakowska St., Małachowskiego St., Czerniawy St., Góry St.

The vicinity

Bochotnica (5 km): castle ruins (14th c.); the tomb of Jan Oleśnicki, Esterka’s legendary burial place (1532); the Krystyna and Władysław Pożaryski Wall, a former chamber rock quarry; a mill on the Bystra river (1870); a blacksmith’s shop with a tree rooted in the roof (1890); the remains of a mill that belonged to Josk Fryd; monuments commemorating the victims of “Bloody Wednesday” who died on 18 and 24 November 1942

Janowiec nad Wisłą (6/28 km): the remains of Janowiec Castle (16th century); St Stanislaw Church (1350, reconstruction 16th c.); presbytery (17th c.); the manor complex: manor house in Moniaki (1760–1770), granary in Podlodowa (18th/19th c.), barn in Wylągi (around 19th c.); a manorial granary in Kurów (around 19th c.); the branch of the Nadwiślańskie Museum

Puławy (15 km): the Palace-Park Complex of the Czartoryski Family (1671–1677); a landscape park (17th/18th c.): the Temple of the Sibyl (1798–1801), the Gothic House (1809), the Chinese House (2nd half of the 18th c.), the Greek House (1788–1791); the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1800–1803); the Marynki Palace (1791–1794); a granite boulder with a plaque in memory of 3,600 Jews of Puławy placed on the site of former synagogues; the Czartoryski Museum; a military graveyard at Piaskowa St. with graves of 15 soldiers of Jewish origin

Wąwolnica (17 km): the Sanctuary of Our Lady Kębelska: the Church of St Wojciech (1907–1914); a Jewish graveyard, 3 Maja St. (19th c.)

Nałęczów (23 km): the Church of John the Baptist (18th c.); Spa Park [Park Zdrojowy]: the Małachowski Palace (1760–1777), the Old Bathhouse [Stare Łazienki], a mineral water drinking room; the Stefan Żeromski Museum; the wooden Chapel of St Borromeo, Armatnia Góra St. (1917–1919); wooden and masonry villas (19th/20th c.), among others villa “Osłoda”—a former Jewish hotel which belonged to the family of the Tanenbaum

Markuszów (29 km): a new Jewish graveyard (the beginning of the 19th c.); the Church of the Holy Spirit (1608); St Joseph's Church (1676–1690)

Czarnolas (36 km): the manor house of the Jabłonowski family, present day seat of the Jan Kochanowski Museum (19th c.)

Jastków (40 km): a manor house, so called palace (1894) with a park; wooden church (1st half of the 20th c.); a military graveyard (1915) with graves of Jewish legionnaires

Kraśnik (59 km): the Great Synagogue in Kraśnik (17th c.) and a beth midrash (half of the 19th c.), Bużnicza St.; a building housing a mikveh at 3 Bagno St.; a new Jewish graveyard (half of the 19th c.) at Szewska St. with a monument in memory of the victims of the Holocaust; Marian Shrine: the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (around 15th c.), the Monastery of Canons Regular (15th/16th c.); the Church of the Holy Spirit (16th c.) with a wooden building housing a shelter for the poor; The Museum of Firefighting

Małopolski Przełom Wisły, nature reserves “Krowia Wyspa” and “Skarpa Dobrska