Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Poland's Jewish Queen: Esterka. Ten Posts Saluting Polish Jews

In this photo, it looks as if Esterka wants to watch TV, and the
kids and the husband are bugging her. From the Opoczno
webpage, linked below. 

King Kazimierz the Great (1310-1370) found a Poland of wood and left a Poland of stone. He founded the Jagiellonian University, attended by Copernicus, Bronislaw Malinowski, Karol Wojtyla, and me. He invited Jews into Poland. He married four times. According to legend, he also had a Jewish mistress, Esterka.

Kazimierz and Esterka had four children, two boys and two girls. The boys were raised as Catholics; the girls, as Jews. When Rabbi Byron L. Sherwin retells the Esterka story, he emphasizes that Esterka never converts. She remains Jewish; Kazimierz remains Catholic. And they remain united. Not even death separated Kazimierz and Esterka. Playwright Aaron Zeitlin (1899-1974) has Kazimierz say to Esterka, "We shall die. But so long as your race and mine inhabit this earth, it is not ended, Esterke of Opoczno"

One might argue that Esterka was not really a queen, because she was not married to the king. This is debated in Ewa Kurek's book Polish Jewish Relations 1939-1945. A Pole meets a Jew in the Lublin Jewish cemetery. The Jew says, "Over there is one stone inscribed with one name. She was a Jew, of humble beginnings, the daughter of a tailor. But later on she became the Jewish queen."

The Pole argues. She wasn't really queen. The Jew goes on.

"Who has permission to be seated next to the king? This is a comical question! The seamstress is seated next to the tailor, and next to the king, the queen. Even a child understands that!"

There are many such playful, erotic, or didactic variations of the Esterka / Kazimierz story. If you are interested, do a Google search – or compose your own!

Esterka is associated with many towns, including Opoczno, which features her story on the town's webpage here.

Radom claims to have her house. A photo of it by Woytek S is here

No one knows for sure if Esterka is a real person or not. Those who say she is not point out that the Biblical Esther was a Jewish queen married to a non-Jewish king. Others say that the stories about Esther are meant to explain why Kazimierz was so favorable to Jews.

I am not a Polish historian and I have no way of assessing the historicity of Esterka. One thing is clear; she exists, to the extent that she does, because she represents the long-lasting bond, and intertwined nature, of Polish-Jewish relations.

This post is part of a series described here

Radom, a city in Poland, claims to have Ester's house
where she met with Kazimierz. They were very happy here --
thus the name of the city, "rad dom," house of joy." 

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