The Jews of Kraków and its Surrounding Towns

Searching for Roots in Kraków, Poland
by George J. Alexander

In October 1997 I spent a month examining original genealogical documents in the Kraków branch of the Polish National Archives, located at 16 Sienna Street, not far from the Kraków Main Post Office. Prior to going to Kraków, I had written to the Main Office of the Archives in Warsaw on Długa Street 6 and requested permission to have access to the Kraków branch, stating that I intend to write a book about the history of Kraków during the last two-hundred years, using the history of my family as the starting point. In return I have received a formal notice, giving me the right to full access to documents that I might need.

Having lived in Kraków from 1925 to 1944, and having survived the Holocaust in Poland, I knew that my family was large and that my ancestors lived in Kraków for many generations. I knew that there were three related branches of my family living in Kraków prior to the Second World War. There were also some additional, more distant, relatives in Kraków, as well. The three branches were grouped and colloquially known by the type of business that they ran or by their place of residence; the Aleksandrowicz family had a leather business or a paper, stationery and art supplies business; and they lived in Podgorze, an outlying region of Kraków located across the Vistula River from the city center. My aims were to find out how long my ancestors lived in Kraków; when did they begin to use the surname Aleksandrowicz or Alexandrowicz ("x" or "ks" being used interchangeably, with older documents using "x"); when did the name first appear in official records; and how was the name derived. Also, I wanted to establish the exact relationship between the various branches of the Aleksandrowicz clan. Incidentally, I wanted to revisit the places where I lived before and during the Second World War. I was able to establish a definite family tree of my Aleksandrowicz forebears in Kraków going back in time to the year 1783, but found little information about the name's origin. I did pay a sentimental visit to the assorted places in Kraków and vicinity that I remembered from before The War.

Before he died in 1968 my father sat down with me and we made copious notes of family history. Also, he and I took notes of our conversations with an older relative, my father's aunt, Amalia Kaufer, who immigrated to America from Vienna in 1938. I found these notes invaluable. Having the names of the last three generations of my family saved me a lot of time and made my search much easier. Knowledge of old family stories and of legends about the family origin provided me with important clues. I believe that recording oral history from older family members should always be the first step in any genealogical research.

I began the search for my roots in the Kraków Archives with the latest records. A lot of information in them was fami1iar to me, and I worked my way back in time as far as I could go. I used the records to augment and, if necessary, correct the information that I remembered or that my father provided me. Then I proceeded systematically back, checking records from the 193O's, 1920's, 1910's, 1900's, 1880's and beyond, including lists of inhabitants, birth, marriage and death records, conscription lists, census books back to the 1790's, business and professional lists, and even phone directories from the thirties. I also checked some more recent documents of the present Kraków City Government, and the one document available from the Jewish Community Council. The latter has only one extant list of cemetery burials, partly singed, having survived being hidden in a chimney (read more). All other books were lost during the Nazi Era. I have visited both the Remuh and the Miodowa Street Jewish cemeteries in Kraków and tried to read many of the tombstone inscriptions that remained after the Nazi depredations. I also consulted a number of secondary sources prior to my trip to Poland and re-examined them after my return in the light of my Kraków findings. These secondary sources proved extremely useful (a list of the records that I saw in Poland and of some of the other sources is appended).

I found the personnel of the Kraków Archives uniformly polite and most helpful. In particular, without the courteous and efficient assistance of the archivist Ms. Aneta Szpilka I would not have been able to do as well as I did. I was told which documents were available and shown all that I requested. While most Jewish rabbinical and communal records were destroyed during The War, Jewish records kept by the Imperial Austrian officials specially designated to keep Jewish data (Kraków was either under Austrian influence or a part of the Habsburg Empire for most of the period that I was interested in) are largely intact, and most are kept in the Kraków Archives. These records are mostly in Polish, with some German. The loss of the Jewish records means that the dates of purely religious marriages and burials are hard to find and are generally not available.

My knowledge of Polish was of tremendous help in my search in Kraków. Use of a translator, while necessary for anyone who does not know Polish, is not completely satisfactory. Besides knowledge of the language, knowledge of spellings and permutations of Jewish names, and awareness of Kraków Jewish history and customs is helpful in understanding the available records. Most current Polish translators do not have a thorough grounding in Jewish lore.

For example, traditionally, Kraków Jews did not name their children after living relatives, but did name them after recently departed ones. Thus, names tend to repeat themselves in Kraków Jewish genealogy every two-to-three generations or roughly every 50-80 years. This is often helpful in determining relationships, specially when the names are rather rare and unusual but part of a family tradition. Also, first names do not have to repeat themselves exactly. In more recent times it was often enough for the first letter of a name in daily use to correspond to the name of the departed. It was customary for even non-religious Kraków Jews to have, in addition to their everyday first names, religious "Hebrew" names. These Hebrew names were more likely to correspond to that of the deceased relative. My father, Max Alexander, born in Kraków in 1902, used in everyday life in Poland the name of Maksymilian Aleksandrowicz, but also had a Hebrew name of Menashe ben Yaakov ha–Kohen, after his great–grandfather Menashe, born in Kraków in 1818. The fact that my father carried that name told me that his great–grandfather Menashe, whose date of death I could not find, must have died before 1902. I was named Jerzy (diminutive Jurek, pronounced Yoo-rek) Aleksandrowicz, but also given a Hebrew name of Yitzhak ben Menashe ha–Kohen, after my mother's father, Isaac Rosenberg, who must have died prior to my birth, in 1925.

Jews lived in Poland since what was for Poland pre–historic times, i.e., from before the year 996 C.E. In fact, it was a Jewish merchant and traveler, Abraham ben Jacob from Tortosa in Arab Spain, who first mentioned the town of Kraków in describing his travels in the Tenth Century. It is likely that the first historic Polish monarchs (1000-1200 A.D.) had Jewish minters, inasmuch as coins with Hebrew lettering from Poland from that period exist. Formal recorded Jewish history in Poland begins in 1264 with the issuance of a protective charter to Jews by the ruler of the small Duchy of Kalisz, Boleslaw the Pious (1221-1279), making them wards of the ruler and offering protection of life and possessions. King of Poland Casimir the Great (Kazimierz Wielki, 1310 – 1370) issued such a protective covenant, covering the entire country. Casimir invited Jews to settle in his kingdom, and even established, in 1335, a Jewish community in a township that he founded near Kraków, which is named after him, Kazimierz (it was incorporated into the city of Kraków in 1791). There is a legend in Poland that Casimir the Great had a Jewish mistress. Her name was said to be, appropriately enough, Esterka (Esther).

Kraków was the capital of the Polish Kingdom until the Seventeenth Century, when King Sigismund Vasa moved the capital to Warsaw. However, even later, Kraków remained the place of coronation and final resting of Polish monarchs, as well as the pre-eminent center of Polish culture. The removal of the capital allowed Kraków to avoid a lot of modernization, and helped it to retain a lot of its medieval and Renaissance character.

Jews in Kraków settled in the area bounded today by Saint Anne (once called Judengasse), Jagiellonska, and Golebia Streets. This was a time of great persecution of Jews in Western Europe and Casimir's Poland offered them a welcome refuge. By 1469 Kraków Jews had two synagogues, a communal bath, a school, and two cemeteries. As in Worms, Germany, defending one of the defensive towers and gates in the wall surrounding medieval Kraków, was the responsibility of the Jews; the gate was known as the Jewish Gate. The gate is long gone, but there is a memorial plaque on the spot where it stood. The Jewish land, located close to the town center, was coveted by Kraków's University, originally begun by Casimir the Great in 1364, and chartered by King Wladyslaw Jagiello (hence the name Jagiellonian University). Eventually, in 1495, King Jan Olbracht expelled the Jews from Kraków proper, moved them to nearby Kazimierz, and gave their land to the University, which is still located there.

The Kazimierz District, while at first a separate community and separated from the city by a river bed, was located within the shadow of the royal enclave on Wawel Hill, providing the Jews with royal protection. It was also within easy walking distance not only of the Castle but also of the city center. The Jews in Kraków and Kazimierz had good times and bad times, often reflecting the ups and downs of Poland and its economy. They continually struggled with Kraków burgers, who tried to limit their trading rights. In 1453 the celebrated Italian rabble–rouser and anti–Semite, later canonized as Saint John of Capistrano, came to Kraków, preached hatred for the Jews in his sermons, and incited pogroms. A tablet commemorating Capistrano's visit can be seen on the wall of the Bernardine Cloister in Kraków, located on Bernardynska Street, where I lived prior to 1940. In 1525 a renowned Talmudic scholar, Reb Moses Isserles (Remuh), was born in Kraków. The only presently functioning Kraków synagogue was founded by Remuh's father. In the Sixteenth Century Polish Jews had a considerable degree of autonomy. Their taxes were regulated by a Jewish Parliament, the Council of Four Lands (Vaad Arba Aratzot), established in 1549, and lasting for more than two–hundred years. This Jewish Parliament, unique in history, controlled relations between communities, established local Jewish courts, ritual slaughterhouses, ritual baths, and maintained charities and poorhouses.

In 1648 the peasants and the Cossacks in then Polish Ukraine rebelled, under the leadership of Bogdan Chmielnicki, against Polish landowners. Not being able to reach the hated magnates who were safe in their Warsaw palaces, or in Kraków or Paris, the rebels wreaked their vengeance on Jewish "arendars" (holders of rights to collect taxes owed to the nobility), rural tavern keepers, and others. Large numbers of Jews in the eastern reaches of the Polish territories perished; some escaped to Kraków. A Swedish Lutheran invasion that followed the Cossack attacks also contributed to the impoverishment of the country, which included Kraków's Jewish population. In 1783 the first person documented to later carry the Aleksandrowicz name was born. In 1784 his future wife was born. Her name was Dobrysh Freindel, daughter of Jacob called Gumple, later known as Gumplowicz. In 1790, under the last Polish King, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, a census of Jews was undertaken, listing those living in royal towns like Kraków and Kazimierz, but also in privately owned small towns and villages, whose owners certified the listing of "their" Jews. I have examined the original pages of this census, covering the Kraków district and parts of Southwestern Poland in the Kraków Archives on Sienna Street, and found indications that my ancestors lived in Kraków at least since 1725. There is a later census, made by the Austrians when they came to Kraków in 1796. In this census, too, there are indications of my Aleksandrowicz forebears living in Kraków at least from 1700.

There were two comprehensive listings of inhabitants of the Jewish Town of Kazimierz prepared toward the end of the Eighteenth Century, one in 1790, the other in 1796. I have serious reservations about the dates at which these were supposedly prepared. Judging by the recorded ages of my ancestors in the two lists, the data must have been provided to the census takers at times other than the formal dates of the publications. There are striking similarities between the two records, and general internal consistencies about the ages of the individual family members in each, but significant differences between the two records, which can only be reconciled by assuming that some of the data was post–dated or pre–dated when entered. The first census, in Polish, was done when Kraków was still a part of independent Poland, around 1790; the second, in German, was taken by the Austrians who occupied Kraków in 1796. My ancestors appear in both. In the Austrian list there appears a boy named Joseph, and a girl named Dobrysz (Dobosch), who are likely to be the ones who later married. As in their marriage record, Joseph is one year older than Dobrysh. Her father is Jacob Gumple; his is Herschel, son of David. Her mother is Sara, of the Abeles; his is Rifka of the Jekeles. Jacob appears to have been born around 1760, Sara around 1766, Herschel around 1764, Rifka around 1765. In the Polish census no children are listed, but Joseph's father and mother are listed as Herszla Dawidowicz, 30, and Rywka, 28. In both lists, Herschel has an older brother, Jacob, who is married to Rifka's sister, Judith of the Jekeles.

Between 1772 and 1796 Poland was being invaded by the armies of Russia, Austria, and Prussia. In 1794, the great Polish patriot, and a hero of the American Revolution, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, led an uprising from Kraków against Tsarist armies. With his American experience, Kosciuszko saw that Polish aristocracy alone cannot win a war against the invaders; he therefore tried to enlist peasants and Jews in his army. He offered peasants relief from serfdom, and Jews emancipation. He did have a Jewish battalion led by colonel Berek, son of Yosel (Berek Yoselewicz). Initially successful, the Kosciuszko armies were eventually defeated by superior forces, and by 1796 Poland was erased from the map of Europe. Kraków was occupied by the armies of Austria. Austrian emperors insisted that their subjects have family names, i.e., surnames. Kraków Jews, who until then mostly used patronymics, nicknames and such, gradually began to adapt surnames. Having been recorded by Austrian officials, the surnames usually had a Germanic cast.

Early in the Nineteenth Century, Napoleon Bonaparte, leading victorious French armies, created a Duchy of Warsaw and in 1809, after the battle of Wagram, Kraków was attached to the Duchy. Napoleon was defeated in 1812, and in 1815 the Congress of Vienna awarded the Duchy of Warsaw to the Tsar as King of Poland. However, the city of Kraków with Kazimierz and its Jewish Town (where all Jews had to live) became a small independent republic, governed by a Senate. The "Free, independent and strictly neutral" Kraków Republic lasted until 1846, when it was incorporated into the Austrian province of Galitzia. In 1818 my ancestor Menashe Aleksandrowicz was born. In 1845 Menashe had a son, my great-grandfather Jozef Aleksandrowicz (1845-1940), whom I knew when I was little. Three years later, in 1848, Franz Josef of Habsburg became emperor. At first an inexperienced young man, Franz Jozef eventually became a wise and rather permissive ruler. Provinces of the empire received a lot of autonomy, which meant that all governmental affairs in Kraków were conducted in Polish. Restrictions on Jews were gradually eliminated. By 1867 they could live anywhere in Kraków, not only in the Jewish area of Kazimierz. They received the right to vote, and sent representatives to the Parliament in Vienna. They joined the Kraków Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and they studied, in numbers, at the Jagiellonian University. Among those who got their doctorates at this University were two of my uncles, both lawyers, Ignacy and Wilhelm Aleksandrowicz. The Jews generally fared well under the benign Habsburg rule and nearly worshipped the old Franz Josef.

After World War I (1914-1918) Poland regained its independence. A large Jewish minority of more than 10% of the total population, living among a very strongly Catholic populace, was bound to have problems. The co-existence was never easy or free of rancor. Jew-baiting was always a sure-fire method for ambitious politicians to garner votes. Some honest Polish patriots believed that it was their patriotic duty to try to rid Poland of Jews, and to accomplish it not by violence but through an economic boycott, hoping that impoverishing the Jews would force them to emigrate from the country. Among those who called for such a boycott was Roman Dmowski, the leader of the anti-Semitic National Democratic Party who, along with Ignace Jan Paderewski, represented Poland at the Treaty of Versailles, and a prominent Roman-Catholic priest, Maksymilian Kolbe, who was beatified by the present Pope.

In Warsaw's Saint John's Cathedral there is a memorial plaque to Roman Dmowski (1864-1959) with this quote from his writings: "Catholicism is not an addition to Polonism — it is imbedded in its essence. Attempts to separate Catholicism from Polonism would destroy the very essence of the nation", which explains the rationale behind his virulent anti-Semitism. Prior to 1939 Father Kolbe, who was later shot by the Nazis, founded a large catholic publishing enterprise which included a journal "Dziennik Niepokalanej" (Virgin's Daily"), that had as its primary purpose advocacy of a boycott of Jewish enterprises. It is indeed a pity that in a country as poor as was Poland between the two World Wars, seemingly intelligent and honest patriots spent so much energy trying to impoverish 10% of the population, instead of welcoming the fact that some citizens and taxpayers were innovative entrepreneurs whose domestic and international activities were enriching the country.

I was born in 1925. At the time, my family owned two elegant apartment buildings on Bernardynska Street in Kraków, facing the Royal Castle on Wawel Hill. From my window I could see the Castle Keep. As I remember it, in spite of all political problems in Poland, life in Kraków in the 1930's was fairly pleasant for well-to-do Jews and non-Jews alike. Kraków, then a city of 250,000 inhabitants, of which 60,000 were Jewish, was a center of culture, with many outstanding educational institutions. The Jews fully participated in the town's lively cultural, social, and political life. All of this ended, of course, when the German troops entered in September of 1939. Jews were herded into a Ghetto, not in Kazimierz, but in the outlying district of Podgorze. From the ghetto, most people, including all elderly and children (among them my mother and my eleven-year-old sister), were deported to the extermination center in Belzec. The rest were taken to a nearby concentration camp in Kraków – Plaszow, described in the book and movie "Schindler's List". As the Russian armies were approaching in 1944, surviving camp inmates, myself included, were shipped to concentration camps in Austria. Kraków, in the meantime, existed without Jews.

After The War, surviving Jews were not greeted with friendly hugs, their possessions having been appropriated in their absence. The Polish Communists, among them some Jews, were beholden to Russia, which did not endear them to the strongly anti–Russian Catholic population. There was a major pogrom in Kielce in central Poland in which many people were killed, and a minor one in Kraków, with "only" one or two victims. Most of the remaining Jews, except for a few who intermarried with non-Jews, emigrated when the Communists began an anti–Jewish campaign in the 196O's. Today, the Kraków Jewish commune has 189 registered members. There are also a few people of Jewish origin who do not necessarily consider themselves Jewish. Anti-Semitism without Jews is still a potent force in Poland, but there is also a curious revival of interest in Jews and their culture among young Poles. A well–attended Jewish Cultural Festival is held each June. In Kazimierz there is now a Jewish branch of the Polish National Museum, "Jewish" restaurants featuring what purports to be typical Jewish food, and in front of one of these restaurants are non-Jews dressed like Hasidic Jews. This "revival" is very sad and pathetic. I see no future for Jews in Kraków. A proud, long history of many centuries has come to an end.

As stated above, until the fall of Poland in 1796, Kraków Jews did not use last names; they mostly used patronymics, places of origin, nicknames, or professions. In Yiddish, which was then the lingua franca of Kraków Jews, as in German, patronymics took the form of adding an "s" at the end of father's name. Israel, the father of the Kraków sage, Reb Moses ben Israel (Remuh, 1525-1572), was known by his nickname, Isserl. His son became known as Moses Isserls or Isserless. In Polish, the comparable term is "z", meaning "of". Thus, Dobrysz, wife of Jozef Aleksandrowicz, was listed in the 1818 record of the birth of her son as "Dobrysz z Jakubow", i.e. Dobrysz of the Jacobs. In conformity with the then common Polish usage, the father's name could also be used with an ending "-wicz". For example, Berek, son of Josel, the leader of the Jewish battalion in Kosciuszko's army, was known as Berek Joselewicz. His son was Berkowicz. In this manner, Dobrysz Aleksandrowicz, daughter of Jacob Gumple is listed in a document of marriage of her daughter, Rywka, in 1831, as Dobrysz z Gumplowiczow, i.e. Dobrysh of the Gumplowiczes. The Polish word for "butcher" is "rzeznik". The butcher's son is referred to, in the 1790 census, as Jebl Rzeznikowicz. A physician's son is known as Doktorowicz. In German or Yiddish a tailor would be known as Schneider, a carpenter as Tischler, a jeweler as Goldschmidt. In the Russian part of Poland, the same men would be referred to as Kravetz, Stolar, and Zlotnik or Slotnick.

If a Jew from Dresden in Saxony came to Kraków he would be known as Dresdner or Drezner (my great-grandmother's maiden name). If he came from Brody, he would be referred to as Broder, and if he came from Frankfurt as Frankfurter. If a Kraków Jew left for Vienna or Berlin, he would be referred to, in the Yiddish or German mode, as Krakauer; if he left for Warsaw or St. Petersburg, he might be known, in the Polish or Russian mode, as Krakówski. It is important, however, to remember that these were not family names at that point in time, but patronymics, or indications of profession, or place of origin, although many of them eventually ended up by being adopted as surnames. In the light of the above, I believe that the simplest explanation for the origin of the name Aleksandrowicz, first used in 1807, is that of having an ancestor named Alexander.

In 1787 the Austrian emperor, Jozef II, ordered that all his subjects must have family names. As Kraków became Austrian in 1794, Kraków Jews gradually assumed surnames. Those who were registered by Austrian clerks got Germanic names: Goldberg, Schwartzstein, Rosenwald, Birnbaum, Bernstein, Feldman, etc. In the birth records that I have consulted in Kraków, surnames began to appear in 1805. The first Jews with surnames that I found were Berl Luxenberg, Hillel Rosenzweig, and Abraham Anisfeld. The first use of the name Birnbaum (my grandmother's name) occurred in 1806, the first use of Aleksandrowicz (actually "Alexa") in 1807. How Jozef Aleksandrowicz, born in 1783, selected or was given such a non–Germanic sounding surname I was not able to establish.

In the book registering births in the Jewish Town in Kazimierz in the year 1818 Jozef Aleksandrowicz and Dobrysz, daughter of the Jacobs, had a son, whom they named Samuel Aron. There are no further records of Samuel Aron, but there are many records of a man who calls himself Menashe (Manasse) Aleksandrowicz, who was born on the same date in 1818, and whose mother had the rather rare name of Dobrysz. I am certain that Samuel Aron and Menashe are one and the same individual. According to the 1818 birth certificate (see enclosed copy translated into English), Jozef was thirty-four and Dobrysz was thirty-two. They lived in Building 203 in the Jewish Town in Kazimierz. In 1821 Jozef and Dobrysz had a second son, Izrael Eliasz. In 1818 they both were rather old to have a first child. When we searched records prior to 1818 we found birth records of three daughters and, eventually, a record of two more. In 1805 Jozef had a girl named Schoendel. In 1807 Jozef "Alexa", living in Building 203 in Kazimierz, had a daughter, Temerle. In 1809 another girl, Ryvka, was born, but the record of her birth is missing. We know of her existence from her wedding announcement of 1831. In 1811, also in building 203, Josef Alexander and Dobrysz, daughter of the Jacobs, had a daughter named Gele, and in 1813 another daughter, Hana.

The first record to mention the name Aleksandrowicz, or something approaching it, occurs in 1807. The 1807 record is blurred and hard to read, the last name given as Alexa or Alexe; the wife's name is not Dobrysz but what looks like Freindel. In 1813, 1818, and 1821 this wife is listed as Dobrysz. However, we found a later document, from 1827, where both names are shown and she is listed as Freindel Dobrysz. In a still later document, from 1831, she is listed as "Dobress z Gomplowiczow", i. e. as Dobress of the Gomplowiczes. This establishes that her father was Jacob Gumplowicz. The name Dobrysz was new to me, as was the name Temerle. However, I found that the name Temerl was fairly popular in the 1800's. Indeed, in the mid–1800's a nephew of Temerle Aleksandrowicz, Nachman, son of Israel Eliasz, had a daughter whom he named Temerl. In the old Jewish cemetery at the Remuh Synagogue there are two tombstones to Dobrosz or Dobrysz, who died in 1642. She was the daughter of the famous Kraków cabalist Nathan Spira (1585-1633). The Polish word "dobroc'", roughly pronounced "dobrotch", means goodness. Thus, the name Dobrysz may be a Polish translation of the common Jewish names Gitl or Guta. The name Alexander was also rare among Kraków Jews. However, the historian Meyer Balaban, in his important book of history of Kraków Jews, shows in the Remuh family tree that Remuh's sister married Alexander ha-Kohen. Another Alexander appears as the father of one of Remuh's students, Joshua Falk ben Alexander ha-Kohen, author of a commentary to Shulkhan Arukh. In a book on Jewish trade in Kraków in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, published by the Kraków Academy of Arts and Sciences, there is a listing of an Aleksander Jozefowicz, i.e., Alexander son of Jozef. I have not been able to establish if there is any connection between this prominent Cracovian merchant and the subsequent decision, one hundred years later, by Jozef son of David, to adopt "Aleksandrowicz" as his family name.

There exists a family legend specifying that we are related to Remuh, not descended from, but related. If we assume that Jewish names repeat themselves every two or three generations, then our patriarch Jozef Aleksandrowicz may be a descendant of Alexander Jozefowicz or of the Alexander who married Remuh's sister. His wife Dobrysz may be a descendant of Dobrysz, daughter of Nathan Spira. Remuh claimed that he established his descent from Rashi (c.1040 – 1105), the great sage of Troyes, Mainz and Worms. Rashi, in turn, claimed descent from the Royal House of Judah. Allowing for a little poetic license, my ancestor Jozef Aleksandrowicz may have been a descendant of King David.

Jozef Aleksandrowicz's son Menashe (1818 - <1902) married Lea née Katzner and had four sons: a first-born named after the deceased founder of the family, Jozef (1845-1940), a second son David, who must have died young because he does not appear in any subsequent documents, a third son Feivel (Filip, 1849-1909), and the youngest son Wolf (1850-1888). The three branches of the family stem from these three surviving brothers. The other relatives are descended from Menashe's brother, the first Jozef's other son, Israel Eliasz (1821- ?). The second Jozef Aleksandrowicz, born in 1845, grandson and namesake of the first Jozef, married Rachel, daughter of Saul Drezner, a tavern keeper in Kraków and had three sons and four daughters. Filip Aleksandrowicz, born in 1849, married Dorothea, daughter of Jonas Fraenkel, a descendant of the rabbi of Raciborz, and had five sons and two daughters. Wolf Aleksandrowicz married Regina, daughter of Salomon Hirsch, a tavern keeper in Tarnow, and had two sons and three daughters. All these cousins. except one, married into prominent Kraków families and had many children. While many members of this and the next generation died during the Holocaust, many others live today all over the world — in New York, Israel, California, Hawaii, Poland, Argentina, England, and elsewhere.

Jozef Aleksandrowicz's son Jacob (1866-1935) established a wholesale leather import/export enterprise in Kraków with a branch in Kielce, Poland. Before 1939 this business imported leather from Czechoslovakia, Germany, England, and the United States (from the Allied Kid Company of Philadelphia). Wolf's wife Regina (1853-1940) founded a wholesale-and-retail stationery, paper goods, and art supplies store on the corner of Długa and Basztowa Streets in Kraków that became the premier source for generations of Kraków schoolchildren and young Polish artists. When a struggling artist could not pay for needed sketch paper or other supplies, he often received them for free and, in recompense, sketched or painted a portrait of Regina's young daughter, Roza Aleksandrowicz (1886-1973). Many such portraits exist, one of them is hanging at the top of the stairs leading to the main dining-room of the renowned Kraków restaurant Hawelka in Kraków's main square, the Rynek Glowny. Filip's descendants established a mattress factory in Podgorze and became major real estate owners in that district.

I remember my great-grandfather Jozef as an old man whom I visited with my father in the nineteen-thirties. He had to be told which of his many grandchildren is my father. He spoke Yiddish or German. His oldest son Jacob Aleksandrowicz (1866-1935) was my grandfather. He married Anna (1866-1923), daughter of Isaac Mendel Birnbaum, sister of the cantor and composer Eduard Birnbaum (1855-1920), collector of Jewish lithurgical music. Jacob and Anna had five sons and two daughters. All of them married and had one or two children. My father was Maksymilian Aleksandrowicz (1902-1968). He married Salomea née Rubin (1901-1942), daughter of Isaac Rosenberg, son of the Rabbi of Klasno/Wieliczka near Kraków. I was born in Paris in 1925 where my mother was studying. After my birth, my parents returned to Kraków. My sister Anna was born in 1931. My father ran the family leather business and was also politically active, running for a seat on the City Council on behalf of the Jewish Labor Bund. In 1939 my father was drafted into the Polish army and fought the Germans. When the Soviet armies back–stabbed Poland from the East, the Polish army disintegrated. My father could not return to Kraków where the Gestapo was looking for him; he moved to Vilna and eventually, with the help of the Jewish Labor Committee, and the Japanese Consul in Lithuania, Sugihara, made his way to New York, where he changed his name to Max Alexander. He remarried in New York; his second wife was Roza née Luksemburg. He died in 1968.

My mother (Salomea Scheindel Aleksandrowicz, née Rubin) was a pre-school teacher, a follower of Maria Montessori. In Kraków, she ran the first Montessori kindergarten. My mother and my sister were deported from the Kraków Ghetto in October 1942 to the extermination center in Belzec in Poland and never heard from again. I was fourteen when The War broke out, having completed grade school (St. Adalbert School on Biskupia Street) and part of secondary school (the King John III Sobieski Gimnasium) in Kraków. When the Nazis came, the schools were closed. I worked at first as a bookbinder trainee and, for a while outside of the Ghetto, as a shoemaker trainee. This latter job enabled me to serve as a messenger for the underground, maintaining communication between Jewish and Polish secret organizations in Kraków (the Jewish Labor Bund and the WRN branch of the Polish Socialist Party, respectively), carrying and distributing secretly printed leaflets and newspapers. My underground activities have been described in the memoirs of the courageous Jewish Labor Bund courier during the war, Jacob Celemenski, published in New York in 1963. After March 1943 I was in the Kraków–Plaszow concentration camp. In 1944 I was transferred to the camps in Austria. Liberated in May 1945, I came to the US in 1946, graduated from Hobart College in 1949 and Rutgers University in 1953 with a doctorate in chemistry and microbiology. I abbreviated my name from Jerzy Aleksandrowicz to George Alexander. In 1958 I joined the faculty of Columbia University, became an Associate Professor of Biochemical Psychiatry and Chief of a Behavioral Toxicology Laboratory at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. I retired in 1992. In 1958 I married Rita, daughter of Sigmund Birnbaum of Fuerth in Bavaria and New York, and of Sarena née Feldman of Kisvarda in Hungary and New York. We have a son, Mark.

When The War broke out in 1939 I had twenty-one immediate relatives living in Kraków, — uncles, aunts, and first cousins. Of these, only three survived: myself, my father, and my father's oldest brother Ignacy. My father and uncle Ignacy came to the US in 1941 through Vilna, the Soviet Union, and Japan. I survived in the concentration camps. One of my uncles died in Russia. The seventeen other members of my immediate family were killed by the Nazis. My family can serve as rebuttal to those who claim that the Holocaust never happened.

In my search for roots in Kraków, I have been able to establish that our family name first appeared in official documents in Kraków 192 years ago, at first as "Alexa", then as "Alexander", and eventually, in 1818, as "Aleksandrowicz". I did not find out how it was derived. I have been able to correlate some events in the history of Kraków, the ancient coronation and burial site of Polish kings and a free Kraków Republic (1815-1846), with events in our family, which during the first-third of the Twentieth Century was wealthy and influential in that town. I have found out the exact relationship between the three branches of the family.

There remain a lot of lacunae in the Aleksandrowicz history and more work needs to be done, particularly in connection with collateral branches. For example, I have received a family tree of my wife, the Birnbaums from Fuerth in Bavaria, going back to the Sixteenth Century. My wife's mother's family, the Feldmans of Kisvarda in Hungary and Sub-Carpathia, also have a detailed family history. My mother's father, Isaac Rosenberg, came from Klasno near Wieliczka, a salt mine town near Kraków. In Kraków, my grandmother's people, also named Birnbaum (a coincidence?), lived and prospered, as have the relatives of my great-grandmother, the Drezners. Other family names, related to ours are (in alphabetical order): Bader, Bal, Blonder, Chelouche, Davidson, Fallick, Frisch, Groner, Gumplowicz, Herrstein, Infeld, Jezower, Kaufer, Kleinhaendler, Klipper, Luksemburg, Mercado, Mikolajewicz, Muller, Neuger, Neuman, Obersky, Pitzele, Polenz, Queller, Rakower, Rosenberg, Schall, Schmerler, Schoenfeld, Shimshowitz, Spatz, Spritzer, Steinberg, Steiner, Szymanski, Uberall, Wayne, Weindling, Weinberg, Weinstein, Weinstock, Wien, and Zeliger. Any information about the relation of the above to the Aleksandrowicz family would be welcome. Anyone interested in relatives in Kraków, somehow connected to my family, is welcome to contact me at (914) 472-3370 or by E-mail.


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