The Jews of Kraków and its Surrounding Towns

Kraków Jews Around 1800 - A Web of Relationships

by George J. Alexander


On September 15, 1802, Joseph of the family of David, and Dobrysh, daughter of the Jacobs, he living in building number 203, she in building number 205, in the Jewish Town in the Kazimierz district of kraków, Poland, were married and their marriage was recorded in the official records. Apparently, they were neighbors. He was 19 at the time, she was 18, i.e. he was born in 1783, she in 1784. In an official census of 1804 kraków, including the Jewish Town, had 25,750 inhabitants. Jews constituted 4,300 of that number, or 16.7%. As I have found in my genealogical research, a number of the Jewish families in kraków were closely related.

At the time neither Joseph nor Dobrysh used a last name. As a matter of fact, few kraków Jews had family names in 1800; most used patronymics or nicknames, sometimes family nicknames that eventually came to be used as surnames, sometimes names of an important or famous family member that served to identify the family for generations. Kraków, the old royal capital of Poland, was occupied by the Austrian Habsburg armies in 1796. It became a part of the so-called Kingdom of Galitzia and Lodomeria, named after the old Ruthenian towns of Halicz and Wladimir, in German, Galitsch and Lodomir. A few years earlier, in 1787, the Austrian Emperor Joseph II ordered that all his subjects must get surnames, and gradually Kraków Jews adopted, or were assigned, surnames. Since these were assigned by Austrian officials, most of the surnames had Germanic roots: Goldman, Rosenfeld, Birnbaum, Greenberg, Schwartzstein, etc. Some last names, however, were derived from patronymics (Jacobs, Wolfson, Gimbels, etc), professions (Schneider, Tischler, Goldschmidt, etc) or places of family origin (Frankfurter, Dresdner, Lemberger, etc), using either German (and Yiddish) or Polish endings. In German and Yiddish, the patronymics would end in "s" (Meisels, Pearls, etc), in Polish in "wicz" (Gumplowicz, Jakubowicz, etc). In addition, in Slavic usage, married women would have the suffix "owa" and unmarried women the suffix "owna". Thus, for example, the prominent Krakovian Jewish sage, Remuh, was the son of Israel ben Joseph, nicknamed "Isserl", and became known as Reb Moses "Isserl's" or Isserless (1525-1572). His descendants used "Isserless" for generations to identify themselves with the famous sage. Berek, the famous Jewish officer in Kosciuszko's and Napoleon's Polish army, son of Josel, was known as Berek Joselewicz. Dobrysh, daughter of Jacob Gompl later known as Gumplowicz, was referred to as Dobrysh z Jakubow (i.e. of the Jacobs) or as Dobrysh z Gomplowiczow.

I was interested in the couple married in 1802, because I had reason to believe that they were my direct ancestors. In October 1997 I spent a month in the Kraków branch of the Polish National Archives, where I found a wealth of original documents, showing the clear line of succession from Joseph and Dobrysh to my father and me. Joseph and his descendants eventually began using the family name of Aleksandrowicz (or Alexandrowicz with an "x", as it was spelled in older documents). My family and I lived in Kraków until the Second World War. I survived the Holocaust, while most of my family perished. In 1946 I came to the United States and, in time, abbreviated the family name to Alexander. I was in Kraków in 1997 trying to find out how long my family had lived in Kraków and how it was related to other Krakovian Jewish families.

Joseph Aleksandrowicz's surname appeared in official records more frequently over time. In the earliest mention that I could find, in the Austrian census of 1796, Joseph was shown as a child of 10, part of family #46, living in building #9 in Kazimierz. It is likely that his father, who was named Herschel, age 32, was born around 1764. Herschel's father, the patriarch of family #46 at the time, was David, son of Joseph, then living with Herschel in Building #9. David was then 70 years old (i.e., he was born around 1726). His father, Joseph, must have died before 1786, since that name was used for the child of 10. No surnames were used in this record. In the wedding record of 1802 the groom was listed as Joseph of the family of David. In September 21, 1807, in the record of birth of Joseph's daughter Temerle, he was listed as Joseph "Alexa". In 1811, on the long and detailed birth certificate of his daughter Gele, and in 1813 on the birth certificate of another daughter, Hana, he was listed as Jozef Alexander (he signed the documents "Joseph Alexander or Alexanderr") and finally, on the record of the July 23, 1818 birth of his first son and my great-great-grandfather, Menashe (recorded at birth as Samuel Aaron), as Jozef Alexandrowicz.

It took me more time to find the maiden name of Dobrysh. In the wedding record she was Dobrusch. In the Austrian census of 1796 she was listed as Dobosch, age 9, daughter of Jacob Guempel. As mother in the birth record of her first daughter, Schoendel, in April 24, 1805, she was listed as Feigle. As mother of Temerle, in 1807 she appeared as Freindel. I found that in 1809 she had another daughter, Rywka, but no birth certificate of Rywka Aleksandrowicz is extant (I found out about Rywka's existence from her 1831 marriage record). In the certificate of Gele in 1811 she appeared as Doba of the Jacobs ("z Jakubow"), born around 1784. In the 1813 record of the birth of Hana Aleksandrowicz, the mother was listed as Dobrysz z Jakubow. In an equally detailed record of the birth of her son in 1818 she was shown as Dobrosz z Jacobow. In 1821, in the record of birth of the second son, Izrael Elias, born August 11, she was listed as Dobresz Jakubowna. From all these, I knew that her father was Jacob (diminutive, Jankel), but her eventual family name remained a mystery, until I found an 1831 document, the detailed record of bans and marriage of Rywka Aleksandrowicz.

With passage of time, usage of surnames increased, although they were not necessarily shown in all the records. In a document registering the wedding of Temerle Aleksandrowicz with Moses Hercig (Hertzog?), son of Hersh and Rywka, in 1827, it was stated that the bride's father, Josel Alexandrowicz, was deceased, but the mother, Freindel Dobrysz, was alive and living in building 203 in Kazimierz. It was only in the next family document, the marriage record of Rywka Polner, née Alexandrowicz, and Faywel Orgler, son of Shachna and Rachel, dated March 11, 1831, that the bride's mother was listed as Dobress z Gomplowiczow (Dobress of the Gomplowiczes), a widow, a dealer in assorted merchandise, living in building 203. This was my first indication that my ancestress Dobrysh, daughter of Jacob and wife of Jozef Aleksandrowicz, mother of Menashe Aleksandrowicz and grandmother of Jozef, Fillip, and Wolf Aleksandrowicz, was the Dobosch listed in the Austrian census as daughter of the well-known historic personality, Jacob Gumplowicz of Kraków.

Moses Hertzig was born on June 9, 1809 to Hirsch and Rifka Hercig. The Hertzigs were a large family in Kraków: Hirsh's brothers Isaac, Lazar, and Abraham all were recorded as having had children in Kraków between 1805 and 1811. Feivel Orgler's registration (he was born on August 27, 1806) was witnessed by his grandfather, Salomon Orgler, who was born around 1761. On page 78 of the 1812 record of births in Kazimierz, Salomon Orgler, owner of building #128, presented a baby that was born in his building to one Wolf Krengel.

Jacob Gumplowicz was described in the classic history of Kraków Jewry by Meyer Balaban as a rich man, a supplier of the Kraków mint, co-owner of a firm that went bankrupt in 1790. He did not use Gumplowicz as his family name at that point. He was recorded in the Austrian census of 1796 as Jacob Guempel, age 36, (i.e., born around 1760), family #551, living in building 106, married to Sara of the family of the Abeles, age 30, (i.e., born around 1766). In other official documents, such as the birth records of his children, he was referred to as Jacob Gimple or Gompl, living in building 205. Only after 1805, did the name Gumplowicz appear as a surname. In 1793 Jacob received a coveted right to sell alcohol in bottles. He was obviously a prominent citizen in spite of his bankruptcy. His family remained prominent in Kraków to our time. To marry his daughter in 1802, a young man must also have been either a scion of a wealthy family or a famous scholar. Jozef, later known as Aleksandrowicz, did not make a name for himself as a scholar, hence, his parents must have been well off. In most records, Jozef is listed as a merchant, however in the bans announcement of his son Menashe to Lea Katzner, dated March 3, 1844, he is listed as his deceased father, who had been an owner of a building in Kazimierz. The Jewish area of Kazimierz was very crowded. Houses were precious and each house had many tenants. To own a building implied wealth. I believe that the building that Jozef owned was the one he lived in, Number 203. We know from the 1790 Polish Census that it was a substantial building with at least eight apartments. Between 1804 and 1881 many members of the Aleksandrowicz family lived there.

I have not been able to find out when Joseph or Dobrysh Aleksandrowicz, née Gumplowicz, died. He was shown as deceased in 1827, she was alive in 1847. In a census she was listed as living with her son, Manasse Alexandrowicz, in Apartment 2 in Building 203, in District 11 of Kraków. I found no further documents that mention her. Inasmuch as most of Kraków's Jewish tombstones, as well as funeral and cemetery records, were destroyed by the Nazis, it is unlikely that any further traces of Freindel Dobrysh Aleksandrowicz, daughter of Jacob Gumplowicz, and great-grandmother of the Aleksandrowicz clan of Kraków, Poland, will be found.

Joseph and Dobrysh had five daughters, Scheindel, Temerl, Rywka, Gele and Hana, and two sons, Menashe and Israel Elias. On June 13, 1827 Temerl married Moses Hercig. Rywka married Michael Polner, who died young during the plague. In 1831, as a widow, age only 22, she remarried. Her new husband was Faiywel Orgler, age 25. Menashe Aleksandrowicz married Lea, daughter of Wolf Katzner, born in 1818. Menashe was a merchant, but he also served as "pisarz kantoru loteryi"(exactly translated as "writer of a lottery office", but which I believe meant that he was the concessionaire of the state lottery, for which right he must have paid a large sum). Menashe and Leah had four sons, Joseph, born in 1845, who married Rachel Drezner; David, born in 1847, who must have died young; Feivel (Fillip), born in 1849, who married Dorothea Frankel; and Wolf, born in 1851, who married Regina Hirsch. Joseph, Fillip, and Wolf had a large number of offspring living in Kraków. I remember my great-grandfather Joseph as an old man. He died of natural causes in 1940. Joseph's son Jacob (1866-1935) married Hanna Hinda Birnbaum (1866-1923). They had seven children. My father, Maxymilian Aleksandrowicz (1902-1968), was their sixth child. He married my mother, Salomea Scheindel Rubin (1900-1942), daughter of Isaac Rosenberg, son of a rabbi in Klasno by Wieliczka near Kraków.

At the end of the eighteenth century exact spelling was not considered important. In particular, transliterations from Hebrew to the Latin Alphabet varied considerably. Inasmuch as Hebrew does not contain vowels, only consonants were fixed, vowels were translated with considerable latitude. Thus, the family name of the husband of Temerl Aleksandrowicz, Hercig (pronounced "Hertzig" in Polish) could also be legitimately transcribed as Hertzog, which sounds better to us today. The name Dobrysh was spelled in various documents as Dobosch, Doba, Dobrosz, Dobrysz, Dobress, etc. Apparently, the exact age was also not considered important; different documents show that the age of individuals varies considerably.

I believe that the Austrian census, which Balaban's history lists as of 1796, was actually prepared over two or three years after 1795. Similarly, the earlier Polish census of 1790 was actually prepared between 1790 and 1792. In the Austrian census Jacob Guempel had a son named Lebelle (Yiddish form would be Leibl), age 15 (i.e., born around 1781), and a daughter, Dobosch, age 9 (i.e. born around 1787). He had another daughter, Feigl, between 1792 and 1794, but she is not listed in this census. This Feigl married Ruben Pitzele. Kraków birth records for the year 1801 show that on November 11 of that year Jacob Gumple and his wife Sara, living in Building 205, had a child named Abele. In 1803, on March 3, Jacob Gimpl and Sara had a son whom they registered as Juda Leib. By 1805 the family name first appears as "Gumplowicz". In 1805 Jacob's son, Leibl Gumplowicz and wife Roesl, also living in Building 205, had a daughter named Channa. According to later records, including the record of birth of Ludwik Gumplowicz of March 22, 1838, Ludwik's father, Abraham (Abele?), listed as 35 years old, married Henrietta "Inlainder", age 28, which means that she was born in 1810. Records for 1810 show the birth of a girl born to Simon Englander and his wife Muendel on the last day of the year, December 31, whom they named Malka Izybel. This is likely to be the Henrietta who married Abraham Gumplowicz. In 1810 Simon Englander, living in a large, multi-story building #69, was 48, his wife 40, thus he was born in 1762, she in 1770. Records show that they had earlier children, Samuel, born in 1806; Zwettel, born December 2, 1807; and Nachum, born December 27, 1808. Zwettel Englander married at 21, on July 14, 1829, to Hirsh David Hotschner. Hanna Gumplowicz, daughter of Leibl and Roesl, married Moses Fromer on March 8, 1825.

Meyer Balaban mentions that in 1811 a member of the Gumplowicz family, Joachim, offered to pay 35,750 Polish zlotys annually, an enormous sum at that time, for the right to collect a tax for consumption of vodka, beer, beef and flour. Balaban also mentions that in 1840 Abraham Gumplowicz, a prominent merchant, liberal in his religious beliefs, and interested in wordly cultural events, founded a lending library of Polish and German novels and other books, which continued to exist until 1939. As a child, in Kraków in the 1930's, I used to borrow books from the Gumplowicz library on Bracka Street. Abraham Gumplowicz helped to found the modern reformed synagogue, the Tempel, with a choir and an organ. I remember visiting the Tempel in the 1930's with my uncle Jozek. This Tempel survived the war and is now being renovated as a synagogue and a concert hall by the Lauder Foundation. Ludwik Gumplowicz (1838-1909) became a renown scholar, the founder of the modern science of sociology. He became a professor at the University of Graz, in Austria.

Besides Dobrysh, Jacob and Sara Gimpl/Gumplowicz, living in building 205 in Kazimierz, had another daughter, Feigl, born around 1792, who married Ruben Pitzele (or Picele). Ruben was born in Kraków around 1788. Balaban mentions that during the Polish November Uprising against the Russian Tsars in 1831, which caused excitement and unrest in the Austrian part of Poland, Ruben, along with Moses Alexander, served in Kraków's town guard, maintaining order and protecting Jewish merchants. Ruben Pitzele and Feigl, daughter of Jacob Gumplowicz, living in Building #134, had a son, Aba, on July 14, 1809; another, Joseph, on November 1, 1811; and still another, David, on January 26 1813. Apparently, they also had a daughter, Dina Rywka, on April 22, 1832, and a son, Isaac, on October 31, 1833. Ruben's father was Simon Pitzele. Simon had an older son, Israel, born around 1782, and a daughter also named Feigl, born around 1783, who married Asher Drezner, a teacher of Jewish children in Kraków. Asher was born in 1777. He was the father of Shaya Jozua Drezner and grandfather of two of my grandmothers, Rachel Drezner Aleksandrowicz and Malka Drezner Birnbaum. Israel Picele and his wife Heydl, also living in building #134, had a son Jacob Simon on May 26, 1809.

Asher Drezner's son, Shaya Jozua Drezner, the father of Rachel and Malka Drezner, as well as of Feigl Golda (Gina) Drezner and of Hana Drezner, was born September 12, 1813. Both his uncles, Israel and Ruben Pitzele, served as witnesses when his birth was registered. Shaya became a tavern keeper and liquor merchant in Kraków. On June 17, 1832, at the age of 19, he married the youthful, 16-year-old Henna Bader, born June 18, 1816, daughter of Abraham and Reizl Bader of Kraków. This wedding was witnessed by Israel Pitzele's son, Jacob Simon. Shaya's daughter Rachel (Reisl) married Jozef Aleksandrowicz, son of Menashe; his daughter Malka married Isaac Mendel Birnbaum, son of Saul Zelig Birnbaum. Malka and Isaac Mendel had seven children when Malka suddenly died. After Malka's death Isaac Mendel married her sister, Feigl Golda, with whom he had four more children. Besides Shaya, Asher, and Henna, Drezner had two daughters, Schoendel, born May 2, 1806, who on January 8, 1821 married Isaac Ber Kotzitz, born in 1803; and Reisl, born July 20, 1809; and two sons, Simon, born March 24, 1812 and Schachna, born 1818.

Isaac Mendel Birnbaum, the man who married two of Asher Drezner's granddaughters, was the son of Saul (Zelig) Birnbaum (1788-1884) and grandson of Berek Birnbaum. Berek also had a daughter, Golda, born around 1794, who married Jozef Bader. Saul Zelig married a Kraków girl named Beyla Gela Tislowitz, born in 1798. In addition to Isaac Mendel, Saul Zelig and Beyla Gela had three boys and three girls: Chaya, born 1814; Leah, born 1818; Ensel born in 1820; Wolf born in 1826; Rachel, born 1828; and Abraham Samuel, born 1829. Wolf had two children; Abraham Samuel had a girl, Hanna, born in 1845.

The period around 1800 was an eventful period. In America a free people elected their third president. In 1794 Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a hero of the American Revolution, led a Polish insurrection from Kraków against the Russian invaders of Poland. With his American experience, Kosciuszko knew that wars cannot be won by a few noblemen alone. In Poland, he tried to form an army of nobles, as well as of peasants and Jews. To the peasants he offered freedom from serfdom, to the Jews, emancipation and equality. He formed a Jewish battalion led by Colonel Berek Joselewicz. After initial successes, the Kosciuszko armies were defeated by superior forces. By 1796 Poland was eliminated from the map of Europe. Warsaw fell to the Prussians, Kraków was occupied by the armies of Austria. Soon, however, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of France and, after defeating Prussia, formed an independent Duchy of Warsaw from recovered Polish lands. In 1809, after defeating the Austrians at Wagram, he added Kraków to the Varsovian Duchy. Also in 1809, Colonel Berek Joselewicz died in the battle of Kotzk. After Napoleon's defeat, Poland fell to the Russian Tsar. However, the Austrians did not want Russia to have Kraków, so the Congress of Vienna in 1815 created an autonomous city-state, the "Free, independent, and strictly neutral Kraków Republic". This city-state existed until 1846, when it became a part of Austrian Galitzia.

I have indicated a complex web of relationships between Kraków Jewish families around the year 1800. At any given time, at least three generations of any family are likely to live at the same time. The couple married in 1802 had six children. Perhaps they had more, but I found hard evidence for only six. The next generation, if all married and had a similar number of children, would number thirty-six. Under the same assumption*, the following generation would number two hundred and sixteen. Most, if not all, continued to live in Kraków. The total for three generations (excludes the two founders) would've been 258 (6+36+216). If the other ten families behaved similarly, the number of third-generation relatives living in the Jewish Town of Kazimierz by Kraków would have been at least 2,838. In 1804 Kraków had 4,300 Jews, in 1815 4,862. My close relatives obviously constituted a significant portion of that total. Not quite keeping up with the geometric progression, the number of Kraków Jews in 1845 rose to 10,952, representing 30.4% of the total population of 36,027. In 1850 the Jewish population of Kraków, 13,425 people, constituted 33.8% of the total number of inhabitants. In 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, after three more generations, the number of Jews in Kraków was approximately 65,000, in a total population of 240,000. A large number of these Krakovian Jews must have been my relatives.

Sad to relate, there are hardly any Jews left in Kraków today. The Jewish Community Center has 189 registered members, mostly elderly. There are in Kraków a few Jews who do not readily admit to their Jewish origin, and a number who married non-Jews. There exists in Kraków a Jewish Historical Institute, hosting cultural events and festivals and a Jewish branch of the Polish National Museum. The Kraków Jagiellonian University has a research center devoted to Poland's Jewish history. There are a few pseudo-Jewish restaurants and a small, old, functioning synagogue, usually closed and locked. But the once vibrant, exciting Jewish culture in Kraków is no more, and I do not see any future for Jewish life in Kraków. A history of almost a thousand years (coins with Hebrew letters existed in Poland around the year 1000) has come to an abrupt end.

*An unrealistic assumption. It does not take account of realistic demogrpaphic considerations. Not everyone lives long enough to have children; not everyone gets married; not everyone has six children; and some people move away.


Primary sources:

Secondary sources:


This site is hosted at no cost by JewishGen, Inc., the Home of Jewish Genealogy.
If you have been aided in your research by this site and wish to further our
mission of preserving our history for future generations, your
JewishGen-erosity is greatly appreciated.

Jewish Gen Home Page | KehilaLinks Directory

Compiled by Eilat Gordin Levitan. Updated March 2, 2020 Copyright © 2007 Eilat Gordin Levitan (