CASIMIR III., THE GREAT (Polish, Kazimierz):
By: Herman Rosenthal
King of Poland; born 1309; succeeded 1333; died in Cracow Nov. 5, 1370. He was a peaceful ruler, and, by his salutary reforms, strengthened his reign and developed trade and industry. On Oct. 9, 1334, he confirmed the privileges granted to the Jews in 1264 by Boleslaw the Pious. He was favorably disposed toward the Jews, who during his reign made themselves conspicuous in commerce, handicrafts, and agriculture. Under penalty of death he prohibited the kidnaping of Jewish children for the purpose of baptizing them, and inflicted heavy punishment for the desecration of Jewish cemeteries.
At the Diet of Wislica, March 11, 1347, he introduced salutary legal reforms in the jurisprudence of his country; he sanctioned a code of laws for Great and Little Poland, which gained for him the title of "the Polish Justinian"; and he also limited the rate of interest charged by Jewish money-lenders to Christians to 8⅓ per cent per annum. This measure must not be ascribed to his animosity against the Jews, but should rather be considered as a wise act tending to the welfare of the country as well as of the Jews.Legislative Enactments.
The Inquisition, introduced in Poland under Vladislav Lokietek, remained impotent, in spite of all the intrigues of the lower clergy. On one occasion the Jews were accused of having murdered a Christian child, found on the road to the Lobsow wood, a few miles distant from Cracow (1347); but a public investigation, conducted under an order of the king by the state chancellor Jacob of Melchtin in conjunction with the humane priest Prandola (who shared the tolerant views of Casimir), proved their innocence. The consequence was that Casimir ordered the publication, in the form of an edict, of paragraph 31 of Boleslaw's statute, refuting the blood accusation and defining the punishment for such a charge when not sustained by proofs. In commemoration of this event Casimir founded a chapel at Cracow.
Casimir appears to have protected the Jews against outbreaks of the mob in 1348, for the groundless accusation of the poisoning of wells by the Jews had traveled from Germany into Poland and had roused the populace against the latter. Massacres occurred in Kaliscz, Cracow, Glogau, and other cities, especially those on the German frontier. According to Matteo Villani ("Istorie," p. 622, Milan, 1729), 10,000 Jews were killed in 1348 in Poland.Esterka the Jewess.
In 1356 Casimir became infatuated with a beautiful Jewess, named Esther (Esterka), a tailor's daughter of Opoczno. She bore him two sons (Niemerz and Pelka) and one daughter (not two, as stated by Grätz). The sons were brought up in the Christian religion; the daughter, in the Jewish. Many Polish noble families, as the Lubienski, Niemir, Niemiryez, Niemirowski, claim to be their descendants. Polish historians ascribe the special favors and privileges bestowed on the Jews by Casimir to his love for Esther; but they are not correct in this ascription, since the privileges in question were confirmed by Casimir in 1334, twenty-two years, before his relations with Esther. Czacki sees the origin of these favors in the king's sense of righteousness and justice. Czacki writes: "It is not known that the king granted to the Jews other privileges and rights owing, as Jan Dlugosz thinks, to his affection for Esterka. Envy and hatred surnamed this benefactor of the people 'Ahasuerus.' Poland, being a fertile but sparsely populated country, was in want of trade and industries. The Jews, who during the pestilence of 1360 fled from Germany, migrated to Poland with their wealth. It may also with certainty be admitted that foreign Jews provided Casimir with large sums of money, thus enabling him to found new cities and to develop many old ones."
Cracow was in Casimir's time one of the Hanse towns in alliance with forty other cities in Europe. So full of gratitude to Casimir were the Jews, that at the marriage of Casimir's granddaughter Elizabeth, Wierzynek, a Jewish merchant of Cracow, requested from the king the honor of being allowed to give the young bride a wedding present of 100, 000 florins in gold, an immense sum at that time and one equal to her dowry from her grandfather.
- Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, vii. 379;
- Kraushar, Historya Zydow w Polsce, i. 139 et seq., Warsaw, 1865;
- J. Lelevel, Histoire de Pologne, i. 78 et seq., Paris, 1844;
- Malte-Brun, Tableau de la Pologne, ed. Leonard Chodzko, i. 108, Paris, 1830;
- Sternberg, Gesch. der Juden in Polen, pp. 57 et seq., Leipsic, 1878;
- V. Krasinski, Poland, p. 8, London, 1855;
- Isidore Loeb, in Rev. Etudes Juives, iii. 332.