Wroclaw & the District of Mutual Respect

Wroclaw, (formerly Breslau, Germany) sits at the crossroads of Europe in western Poland. Its diverse religions, cultural and architectural makeup over the centuries has been formed by Germans, Poles, Bohemians, Austrians, and Jews.

While in Wroclaw when not staying at the home of a *Servas Host, I stayed in a guesthouse in a historic building in the area called the “District of Mutual Respect.”  This area was so named because of the fact that churches of three denominations, Lutheran, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, and a Jewish synagogue, are all in close proximity to each other in this neighborhood.  It is also known as the Old Jewish Quarter.  It is along former defensive fortifications of the city which were demolished by Napoleon.

The beautifully-restored White Stork Synagogue lined one side of the courtyard of the building where I was staying. It was the second largest in Germany before WWII. What stopped the German Nazis from torching the White Stork Synagogue on Krystallnacht in 1938, as they did the New Synagogue, the largest in Breslau (built 1865-1872), was because of its close proximity to other buildings and the fire hazard that might create.

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A brief synopsis of Wroclaw’s German past, which spanned centuries:

Breslau (now Wroclaw) was part of the Kingdom of Prussia (German) starting in 1742.  It became part of the German Empire in 1871, then the Weimar Republic (German inter-war period), and then Nazi Germany in 1933. When Breslau, Germany, became part of Poland in 1945 as a result of border changes following World War II, the name of the city was changed to Wroclaw, Poland.

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Often I looked out my window late at night at the floodlit courtyard and pondered the types of activity that must have taken place there over the centuries starting with the construction of the huge synagogue in 1829. I visualized the crowds of Jews gathered before and after a service up until it’s destruction during Krystallnacht. Soon thereafter Jews who had been rounded up in the neighborhood were brought here before being taken to a concentration camp. Then some years after the war, renovation of the courtyard took place by a sheik who purchased some of the buildings in it.And now, even during cold winter evenings, life hums under my window with a few customers in the outdoor cafes.

Somehow I always felt secure knowing I was staying in such close proximity to this synagogue, which I noticed had good security. I realized at the time that this may have been a false notion, given the history of the Jews in Poland and Europe, in general.

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Architectural diversity, centuries apart, exists side-by-side in Old Town

*Servas is an International non-profit peace organization of hosts and travelers www.USServas.org

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One thought on “Wroclaw & the District of Mutual Respect

  1. Hi Merrilee and many thanks your latest fascinating offering from Wroclaw, a place which I would guess is off the usual tourist trail.

    Have you in Wroclaw been hit by the “Beast from the East,” which is how people in England are describing the snow storms and cold snap from Siberia which has caused such chaos, including cancelled planes and trains?

    Over here in western Europe, they’re expecting more snow and bad weather from Siberia next weekend.

    The joke making the rounds here is that it’s not enough that we have “The Pest from the West,” we now have the “Beast from the East.” I’ll leave you to guess who they mean by the pest from the west …

    Very interesting input about the city’s Polish Jewish heritage.

    I have a couple of questions if and when you have time: have you met many Polish Jewish people in Wroclaw and if yes, how do they feel about life in contemporary Poland?

    When I visited Germany, I was very surprised to see many Israeli immigrants unable to get a green card for America flooding to that country, but they were mostly Jews from Africa and the former Soviet Union rather than European Jews.

    Also, you mention Wroclaw’s German population, which I assume was expelled after World War II.

    Have you come across any Poles of German heritage in Wroclaw and elsewhere in Poland, and is there anything of the German cultural heritage of the region still left, e.g. buildings, Lutheran churches, Polish German communities and quarters, etc?

    Given how large the ethnic German population was in central and eastern European countries such as Poland before the war, I’m wondering if the German civilians were all killed or expelled after the war or whether there are still some German communities still left.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences of Poland; if it’s ok with you, I plan to print off your blogs and read them carefully once more before planning my own trip to that part of the world. I think you’ve inspired me to take another trip to Poland as I appear to have missed out on a great deal!

    One of the places we visited in Poland that I do remember were the incredible salt mines — it was like a huge whole city built underground and the thousands of miners who worked there from medieval times filled the underground spaces with incredible statues and even whole chapels.

    If you (or your blog followers) are anywhere near the salt mines, I strongly recommend a visit, it’s a unique experience.

    Like

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