Kalisz is the oldest known settlement in Poland. It was first chronicled in the 2nd century by astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy. In his work Geography, which described the world as understood during his time, identifying Kalisz as the Slavic settlement of Calisia, an important trading post on a trade route between the Roman Empire and the Baltic Sea. Chartered in the 13th century, the city was a political and commercial center of medieval Poland. Prussia annexed Kalisz in 1793. In 1813, a treaty establishing a coalition between Prussia and Russia against French emperor Napoleon I was signed in Kalisz. Two years later the city came under the control of the Russian Empire. Kalisz was returned to Poland at the end of World War I (1914-1918). The city was occupied by German forces during World War II (1939-1945).
Jews were in Kalisz since the 12th century, when refugees from the Crusader massacres fled to Poland from the Rhineland. Coins from the area stamped with names in Hebrew letters reveal that Jewish minters were active in the town during the 12th century.
Boleslaw the Pious, Prince of Great Poland, with the consent of the class representatives and higher officials, in 1264 issued a General Charter of Jewish Liberties, the Statute of Kalisz, which granted all Jews the freedom of worship, trade and travel. During the next hundred years, the Church pushed for the persecution of the Jews while the rulers of Poland usually protected them.
In the mid-14th century, Kalisz Jews received permission to build a synagogue, which stood for over four centuries until destroyed by fire.
The Jewish population declined somewhat in the 17th and 19th centuries, due to the disruption of the Polish-Swedish War (1655-1659), as well as fires and plague in the 1700s. Even so, by 1793, when the region was annexed by Prussia, Jews owned about a quarter of the buildings in the town. At that time, Jews constituted 40 percent of the population of Kalisz; they dominated the textile trade and made up half the craftsmen in the town.
From 1815 until 1914 Kalisz was under Russian rule. Russian authorities expelled Jewish residents who lacked Russian citizenship from Kalisz in 1881. A few years later, by 1897, the Jewish population of the town numbered 7,580 or about one-third of the total population.
By 1893, Kalisz boasted two large synagogues and 38 smaller prayer houses. Three more synagogues, including one in the style of German Reform Judaism, were built in Kalisz in the first decade of the 20th century.
Kalisz also had an array of Jewish political parties around the turn of the century which were mirrored in the Jewish schools of Kalisz which, by World War I, included a bilingual Jewish high school, two Yiddish-oriented schools, and an Orthodox educational network of 1,800 students.
During the first year of World War I, the invading German army destroyed much of Kalisz and killed 33 Jews in the town.
In March 1919, Polish nationalists organized a pogrom in which two Jews were murdered. An attempt to organize a second pogrom in 1920 was foiled by organized Jewish resistance.
In 1939, on the eve of the German invasion, the Jewish population of Kalisz numbered over 20,000. There is no Jewish community in Kalisz today.
The Family History Library has Jewish vital records for births, marriages, and deaths on fifteen microfilms for most years from 1809-1892 for the city of Kalisz. JRI-Poland shows that all LDS microfilms have been indexed. Additional records from 1809-1902 are located in the Polish State Archives.
Church records are also available at the FHL from various parishes, some going as far back as 1643, and as recent as 1917.
My genealogy research conducted for the town of Kalisz has been for my own Szleper and Halpert families. I am currently transcribing all of the indexed Szleper records for the city.
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