General information: First Jewish presence: 14th century; peak Jewish population: 750 in 1900; Jewish population in 1933: unknown (607 in 1930)
Summary: Jews were massacred in Oppeln (present-day Poland) during the Black Death pogroms of 1348/49. In 1470, a local duke allowed a group of Jews to establish their own street and synagogue, after which the new Jewish community grew at a modest pace (70 members in 1532). Jews were once again expelled from Oppeln in 1563, and it was not until 1746 that a Jewish presence was again recorded in the town. The modern community conducted services in private homes until 1842, when Rabbi Abraham Geiger, a prominent leader in the emerging Reform movement, inaugurated a newly-built synagogue. Local Jews also maintained a cemetery (opened in 1822), a library, a ladies’ aid society, a sick fund and a chevra kadisha. In 1853, Adolf Wiener, a Reform rabbi, was appointed rabbi of the community. The economic situation of the Jews in Oppeln improved during this period, as did their social and professional standing in the town. In order to accommodate the growing Jewish population, the community built, in the years 1893 to 1897, an impressive, domed synagogue with a seating capacity of 600; located on the fashionable Haffenstrasse, the synagogue was regarded as one of the outstanding features of the city. Leo Baeck served as rabbi of Oppeln from 1897 until 1907; his wife was a native of the town, and he was instrumental in building a second synagogue there. Zionist organizations and the B’nai B’rith were active in the community, as were the Kameraden youth group (a Jewish hiking club) and several other organizations. Although until 1937 Oppeln Jews were officially protected from the Nazis’ anti-Jewish legislation by the League of Nations’ convention on minority rights, they were subjected to persecution and boycott during the 1930s. On Pogrom Night, the synagogue was set on fire, after which the building burned down as policemen and firefighters stood idly by; Rabbi Hans Kirchberg was forced to apply the torch himself. Jewish-owned stores were destroyed that night, as was the community center. Two hundred and eighty Jews remained in Oppeln in 1939. Records do not tell us how many Jews lived in Oppeln in 1942, but we do know that they were deported to the death camps, in stages, that year. Today, the former synagogue site houses an archive.
Photo: The synagogue of Oppeln. Courtesy of: Leo Baeck Institute Photo Archive, 19973.
Author / Sources: Harold Slutzkin
Sources: EJL, LJG
Located in: silesia