The History of the City of Oswiecim

The bridge over the river Sola, the parish church, and the adjacent Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue are visible.

A synagogue on Berka Joselewicza Street. Pre-war photograph.

Oswiecim. The demolition of a building on the main square. Photograph from the occupation period.


The date of the founding of Oswiecim is not known. Extant sources indicate that the city developed as a settlement attached to the castle during the initial period of Polish history.

  • Around 1179 - Casimir the Just, prince of Cracow, appoints his younger brother Mieszek Stumbleshanks, duke of Opole and lord of Raciborz, as governor of Oswiecim castle. (The separation of the castle from the Land of Cracow brought no important changes to the legal and ecclesiastical status of the region, which remained a part of the diocese of Cracow until 1821).
  • Late twelfth-early thirteenth century - there is a parish church (surely wooden) in Oswiecim; it is destroyed by the Tatars.
  • 1241 - during the reign of Mieszek II, duke of Opole, the Tatar horde led by Baydar plunders and burns the town, and lays waste to the surrounding countryside, as it sweeps through Silesia.
  • Around 1272 - Oswiecim receives a municipal charter modeled on that of Lwówek in Lower Silesia (Lwówek charters were one of the Polish variations on the Magdeburg laws), from duke Ladislaus I of Opole. At the same time, the privilege of a headman is granted to the city of Oswiecim.
  • 1281-1282 - as a result of the division of the duchy of Opole, the Land of Oswiecim passes into the newly formed duchy of Cieszyn.
  • 1291 - Mieszek, duke of Cieszyn and lord of Oswiecim, confirms the municipal charter and grants new judicial and economic privileges.
  • 1315-1317 - a new Duchy of Oswiecim, independent of Poland and Bohemia and having its capital in the city, arises upon the division of the duchy of Cieszyn. Duke Ladislaus becomes its autonomous ruler.
  • 1325-1327 - Vatican records confirm the existence of the parish church in Oswiecim.
  • 1327 - The duke of Oswiecim, John Scholasticus, renders homage as a vassal of John of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia. This significant act makes the duchy dependent on the Bohemian crown for over 100 years.
  • 1445 - the duchy of Oswiecim is divided into the duchies of Oswiecim, Zator, and Toszek. John IV is duke of Oswiecim.
  • 1457 - On the strength of a treaty signed in Gliwice, Duke Jan IV sells his duchy to the Polish king, Casimir the Jagiellonian.
  • Through the mid-fifteenth century - the only Jews in the duchy of Oswiecim are transients. Only after the purchase of the duchy by the king of Poland (1457) do they obtain the right of permanent settlement.
  • 1503 - a large part of the city of Oswiecim and the castle buildings burns down. The thirteenth-century dungeon and the foundations of other buildings are all that remain of the castle. As the city grows rich on the salt trade in the mid-sixteenth century, a two-story town hall is built and the village of Plawy is purchased.
  • 1563 - in an effort to limit Jewish settlement in Oswiecim, king Sigismund August issues a document forbidding any increase in the number of Jewish residents, and forbidding them to purchase or erect buildings on the town square.
  • 1564 - at the Warsaw sejm, king Sigismund August issues privileges of incorporation recognizing the duchy of Oswiecim and the duchy of Zator (purchased by king John Olbracht in 1494) as integral parts of the Polish crown. Upon full incorporation, these duchies, as the powiat of Silesia, become part of the administrative territory of the voivodeship of Cracow while retaining their ducal titles. Polish becomes the language of administration.
  • 1588 - the first wooden synagogue is built.
  • 1636 - king Ladislaus IV Vasa grants the Jews of the city privileges assuring them the right to reside and to own buildings and land both within the cities and without the walls, as well as to make use of a synagogue and cemetery.
  • 1655 - 1656 - The Swedish army takes Oswiecim and its castle on October 30, 1655, before being driven out again that December. In revenge for their December defeat, the Swedes burn the city and destroy the castle in early February, 1656. The Swedish wars mark the start of the economic decline of Oswiecim.
  • 1711 - a conflagration in the city consumes the whole square, the adjacent streets, and the synagogue.
    late eighteenth century - many Jews from Wadowice and Zywiec move to Oswiecim and make the city the center of the Wadowice region.
  • 1772 - as a result of the partition of Poland, the land of Oswiecim-Zator comes under Austrian occupation, as part of "Galicia."
  • 1793 - Austrian emperor Francis II confirms all the privileges granted to Oswiecim by previous rulers, adding the right to hold twelve fairs per year and granting the city a municipal title and a new coat of arms.
    late eighteenth-early nineteenth century - the Jewish cemetery is founded at its present site.
  • 1805 and 1813 - severe flooding in Oswiecim.
  • 1808 - a postal coach station is opened in Oswiecim.
  • early nineteenth century - after the closing of the cemetery adjacent to the parish church and the St. Nicholas cemetery, a new Roman Catholic cemetery, still in existence, is opened.
  • late nineteenth century - at the intersection of three lines, Oswiecim becomes an important rail center.
  • 1863 - a fire consumes two thirds of the city, including the upper part of the parish belfry (where the bells melt), the town hall, two synagogues, and the hospital and poorhouse.
  • 1866 - the Prussian army crosses the border of Galicia near Oswiecim. A battle takes place between Prussian and Austrian units.
  • 1872-1875 - a new town hall is built on the square.
  • 1874 - the Association of Volunteer Firemen, modeled on the volunteer fire company in Cracow, is established.
  • 1881 - another serious fire.
  • early twentieth century - a new synagogue is built.
  • 1910 - an imperial-royal starostwa is established in Oswiecim.
  • 1915 - classes begin at the new gimnazjum (secondary school).
  • 1917 - a barracks settlement known as the New City or Oswiecim III is built at Lazy in Zasola, near the Oswiecim-Rajsko government guest house. The complex includes a branch of the National Employment Office for seasonal and permanent migratory workers. Between the First and Second World Wars, some of the buildings house Polish refugees from Cieszyn and some are used as Polish army barracks. this is where the Germans will establish Auschwitz Concentration Camp in 1940.
  • 1918 - the Polish Liquidation Commission in Cracow establishes a local liquidation committee with headquarters in Oswiecim. This is the first official, civilian agency of the restored Polish state in Oswiecim.
  • 1919 - Oswiecim powiat (minus Kety) becomes one of 24 powiat-level political subdivisions of the Cracow voivodeship.
  • 1919 - A Committee for Aid to Upper Silesians is established in Oswiecim.
  • 1920 - a Powiat Plebiscite Committee is founded.
  • 1924 - a new reinforced concrete bridge over the river Sola comes into use, linking the right- and left-bank parts of the city. In 1989, it is named the Piastowski bridge.
  • 1926 - Father Jan Skarba arrives to take up his duties as parish priest. Those who greet him include representatives of the Jewish community, led by the rabbi, who declares a wish to cooperate with the Catholics.
  • 1929-1932 - Oswiecim is the seat of the local powiat government. When the powiat is liquidated, it falls under the administration of Bielsko.
  • 1930 - the first issue of Glos Ziemi Oswiecimskiej (The Voice of the Land of Oswiecim) is published.
  • 1930 - the first issue of the bi-weekly Dziennik Urzedowy Powiatu Oswiecimskiego (Official Journal of the Oswiecim Powiat) is published.
  • 1932 - local Jewish scouts organize a Jewish Scouts' Rally at the Oswiecim sports stadium.
  • 1935 - on its fifth anniversary, the Oswiecim scout troop dedicates its flag in the new gimnazjum building.
    September 1939 - the battle of Rajsko, approximately five km. from Oswiecim-the last border engagement fought in defense of Silesia by the Cracow Army.
  • September 1939 - the withdrawing Polish army demolishes the bridge on the river Sola linking the left- and right-bank halves of the city.
  • September 1939 - in the last days of the month, the Germans burn the synagogue (which is razed in 1941).
  • October 1939 - some parts of Poland are annexed to the Third Reich, including Oswiecim and the rest of Bielsko powiat. The Germans remove all Jewish members from the town council.
  • mid-November 1939 - the town council is dissolved and a new German administration, with a German mayor, installed.
  • 1940 - Himmler orders that a concentration camp be opened in Oswiecim.
  • 1940 - approximately 300 local Jewish forced laborers are engaged in putting the site of the future concentration camp in order.
  • June 14, 1940 - The first transport of Polish political prisoners arrives in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. This is the beginning of the great human tragedy that will play itself out in Oswiecim.
  • 1940-1944 - the occupiers carry out many expulsions in nearby localities. German and Volksdeutsche settlers move in.
  • 1940-1944 - the main square and downtown streets are rebuilt.
  • 1941 - IG Farben makes construction plans; all Jews are expelled from Oswiecim (some are sent to Chrzanów and others to Sosnowiec).
  • October 1941 - construction of the first segment of Birkenau Concentration Camp begins.
  • 1941-1944 - IG Farben Werk Auschwitz is built in nearby Dwory. Later, this will become the Polish Oswiecim chemical plant (since 1997: Dwory Chemical Corporation.)
  • 1942 - Auschwitz III-Monowitz Concentration Camp is established.
  • 1944 - Allied air raids on August 20, September 13, and December 18 and 26.
  • January 1945 - liquidation of the camp. In the final phase, the SS dynamite the Birkenau gas chambers and crematoria and set fire to the barracks where victims' property is stored. The chemical plant construction site in nearby Dwory is also evacuated.
  • January 19, 1945 - the last marching evacuation column leaves the camp.
  • January 27, 1945 - the Soviet army enters Oswiecim.
  • January 1945 - representatives of the Polish Central Petroleum Bureau arrive in Oswiecim; on February 1, they take over the IG Farben plant construction site in Dwory on behalf of the Polish government.
  • August 31, 1945 - the Polish authorities take renewed control of the chemical plant, which was occupied by the Soviet Army in mid-February.
  • February 1945 - the Polish government re-establishes Bielsko powiat, including Oswiecim, in its prewar boundaries, as part of Cracow voivodeship.
  • 1945 - four factories are opened in Oswiecim over the course of the year.
  • 1947 - the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is established at the site of the concentration camp and death camp.
  • 1948 - the Municipal Public Library is established.
  • 1951 - Oswiecim powiat is established, including the cities of Kety, Oswiecim, Wilamowice, and Zator, as well as six rural collectives, each of which comprises several village assemblies.
  • 1959 - the Powiat State Archive is established.
  • 1962 - the first issue of the bi-weekly Oswiecimski Chemik is published, and the Chemical Factory House of Culture is opened (renamed Oswiecim Cultural Center in 1996)
  • 1966 - Jerzy Gromkowski Powiat Hospital is opened.
  • 1967 - the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism (defined as the International Monument to the Victims of the Auschwitz Camp) is unveiled on the site of the Birkenau camp.
  • 1975 - the powiat level is eliminated in the national administrative redistricting scheme. Oswiecim powiat, minus Brzeszcze and the village of Jawiszowice, becomes part of the new Bielsko voivodeship.
  • 1979 - the five-year-old office of City Chairman is replaced by the new office of President of the City of Oswiecim.
  • 1979 - the Polish Pope John Paul II celebrates mass at the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp during his pilgrimage to Poland.
  • 1979 - UNESCO includes the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camp and death camp on the list of world heritage sites.
  • 1985 - the city is decorated with the Grunwald Cross Second Class for aid to concentration camp prisoners and participation in the resistance movement by the residents.
  • 1985 - The first To Love Mankind Amateur Film Festival (bi-annual) is held; in 1996, it becomes an international film festival.
  • 1986 - the German Sign of Penance Operation and the local government open the international Youth Meeting House.
  • 1988 - a reinforced concrete bridge of the river Sola is opened; in 1989, it is named the Jagiellonian bridge.
  • 1992 - the first issue of the bi-weekly Glos Ziemi Oswiecimskiej (Voice of the Land of Oswiecim) is published.
  • August 1992 - the Dialogue and Prayer Center is opened.
  • August 1992 - folk groups from around the world perform at the first annual Beskid Cultural Week festival.
  • 1992 - the modernized Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is unveiled.
  • 1993 - Oswiecim and Kerpen (Germany) begin cooperating as sister cities.
  • May 1994 - the Historical-Ethnographic Collection in the castle is opened.
  • 1995 - a world congress of Cities of Peace is held in Oswiecim under the slogan Peace for the Future.
  • 1995 - the city council sets September 3 aside as Oswiecim Municipal Day.
  • 1996 - the Polish Council of Ministers approves the Strategic Government Oswiecim Plan.
  • 1998 - The UN General Secretary awards the city the title of Messenger of Peace in recognition of its peace activities.
  • 1998 - the Bielsko-Biala Jewish Community officially takes possession of the Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue at 3 Father Jan Skarba Square, where the Jewish Educational Center will be erected.
  • 1999 - Oswiecim Powiat, with its seat in the city, is established as part of Malopolska voivodeship.

Based on a study by Elzbieta Skalinska-Dindorf.

Elzbieta Skalinska-Dindorf - historian and archivist. Organizer of the Powiat State Archive in Oswiecim.

More information about the city, past and present, can be found
at the Oswiecim local government site:

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