65 000 Krakow Jews made up 25% of the town's residents. The majority lived in Kazimierz, originally a separate town, only becoming a part of Krakow at the beginning of the 19th c. Kazimierz got its name from its founder King Kazimierz the Great who decided to build Kazimierz as Krakow was becoming too crowded.
In the past, Krakow was divided from Kazimierz by a tributary of the Vistula and nowadays by the Dietla avenue. The King did not want Kazimierz to be thought of as an inferior outskirt of Krakow and so planned to build the university there. Some excellent church buildings prove the wealth of the citizens e.g. Saint Catherine's Church, the Corpus Christi Church and St. Michael's.
As a result of the pogrom of 1492-1495, the Jews were expelled from Krakow and moved to Kazimierz mainly to the area of Szeroka Street. Apart from a few exceptions, Poland was then one of the most tolerant places in Europe towards Jews and that's why numerous groups including Czech, German, Italian, Spanish and others settled in Kazimierz, seeking shelter from prejudice. These migrations gave Krakow an international flair and also explain why at these early times three synagogues were built.
In the middle of the 16th century Kazimierz was an important centre of intellectual and cultural Jewish life whose influences reached far beyond Poland's borders. In 1558, the Jewish settlement and councillors of Kazimierz came to the decision to separate the Jewish settlement from the Christian by building a wall and therefore Kazimierz became a separate town, the so-called "oppidum Iudaeorum". The Jewish ghetto increased in size two-fold to the end of the 19th c. when the Jews finally gained the right to live in the Christian area. Despite this, only the constitution of the Habsburger dynasty granted them full civil rights. The intelligentsia and the rich then moved to other parts of Kazimierz and to Krakow, so Kazimierz turned into a typical Eastern European "Schtetl", finally inhabited by poor and orthodox Jews. Kazimierz remained an exotic area of Krakow, deeply immersed in history, until 1939.
The transfer of the ghetto to Podgórze on the other side of the Vistula and the concentration camps led most of the Jews to the gas chambers of Oświęcim and Bełżec. Only around 10% of Jews managed to escape from Krakow and Poland and therefore survived the Holocaust.
Today about 140 Jews remain in Krakow, mainly elderly people who get together for prayer and discussion at the Remuh synagogue on Szeroka street. Today's Kazimierz together with the ghetto in Venice are counted as the best-preserved Jewish areas in Europe. Within the area are 6 synagogues and 2 cemeteries, of which the Remuh synagogue is one of the 3 oldest in Europe. There are also many other ritual buildings and institutions.
Other than that, Kazimierz now has a Jewish cultural centre, several Jewish style restaurants with appropriate cooking and klezmer music every evening. Every year in June is a festival of Jewish culture when music fills the streets and a holiday atmosphere reigns.