Coins, roots and liqueur – Poznań Jews

Usually, merchants of various nationalities settled in Poznań only for some period of time. The situation was different in the case of Poznań Jews. For centuries they constituted the biggest, next to the Poles and Germans, community in the city. It is possible that the first Jews came to Poznań soon after the city had been founded.

Already in the 11th century they would strike coins in ducal mints. This is how, from the very beginning, their activity was connected to financial operations. Duke Bolesław the Pious, one of Poznań’s founders, granted them the famous Kalisz Privilege (1264), which allowed them to trade freely, ordered them to give fair loans and banned others from persecuting them.

Rudolf Petersdorff’s fashion house in the Old Market Square, from the collection of the University Library



Main photo - Coins, roots and liqueur – Poznań Jews

In the following centuries the Jewish community in Poznań grew bigger and bigger. In the 15th century a synagogue and a school were established. Apart from being bankers, Jews engaged in craft and trade. They sold spices, including pepper, ginger, sugar, saffron and cloves. Spices were also used by Jews as ‘currency’ for paying for renting a cemetery!

Poznań Jews reached their full trade potential in the 19th century. To imagine the scale of their enterprise it is worth mentioning that in 1861 they owned the majority of tenement houses in the Old Market Square. In one of them Rudolf Petersdorff opened the biggest department store in Eastern Germany selling clothes and footwear. Hartwig Kantorowicz, on the other hand, the owner of the famous liqueur factory, sold his goods in the markets all over the world.

Tasting room at the Hartwig Kantorowicz’s liqueur factory, the beginning of the 20th century, from the collection of the University Library


Jews in Poznań in the middle of the 19th century

Poznań inhabitants (population: 38,000)

  • 48% – Catholics
  • 31% – Protestants
  • 20% – Jews
  • 1% – other denominations

Poznań merchants

  • 71% – Jews
  • 23% – Germans
  • 6% – Poles