The Jewish population as a factor in the history of the modernization process in Wrocław up till the beginning of 19th century

Leszek Ziątkowski
Original title: Żydzi jako czynnik procesów modernizacyjnych w dziejach Wrocławia do początku XIX wieku
Śląski Kwartalnik Historyczny Sobótka 2010

Thomas Nipperdey formulated a set of modernization features that became generally accepted in modern research of the history of Jewish communities, as distinctive attributes of the passing from ‘ghetto’ community to the post-emancipation society. A process of demographic revolution, elimination of illiteracy and secularization and replacing the old religious elite by ‘new’ intellectual elite unfolded in Wroclaw considerably earlier than, generally, within the Christian community of Europe. In the earliest period (early Piast dynasty) the presence of Jews in Wrocław brought new laws that formalized their special status as a separated part of population. Perhaps, it was an example or a model for future solutions during so called ‘colonization on the German law’ or during forming the feudal system in Silesia. The Jewish community within the feudal system was treated specifically. Their position required a detailed description and, in consequence, brought new legislation. Peddling by Jews caused malfunctioning of a regulated economic system in the Middle Ages and early modern times. They were accused of unfair competition. It led to persecution and expulsion. Finally they became useful in forming modern state structures as court factors who attracted the capital and distributed lots of commodities produced in workshops. Another important factor was that the former model of building community feeling on religion became extinct, and that led to secularization of the social life. These two factors – elimination of remains of a feudal economy and secularization – constituted the main leitmotiv of European changes in 19th century. As for the beginning of 20th century, the activity of Jews in Wrocław still requires further research on three levels proposed by Slezkine – communism (the Left), freudianism and zionism.

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