From the History of Kielce

The history of Kielce reaches back over 900 years. It is impossible to state the exact date when the town was founded. One of the many legends surrounding the origin of the name "Kielce" has it that Mieszko, son of Boleslaus the Bold, lost his way in the nearby forest, and was attacked by robbers. He was able to win the day, however, due to the miraculous intervention of St. Adalbert. Mieszko then built a wooden church at the site of his escape, devoted to the Saint who had saved him. When this church was being built, Mieszko is said to have found "kielce", i.e. the tusks of a wild boar, which gave the later settlement its name. Others state that the name comes from the migrating Celts - or "Kelts" - who stopped here during their journey across Europe. Yet others insist that the name originated from the corruption of the word "klec", a term for a peasant's hut.

What can be said with certainty is that this area was inhabited at the beginning of the 11th century by hunters and beekeepers, who bartered the fruit of their work for seed grain. This took place in villages called Targowisko (market) and Tarczek (little market). It was then that a marketplace was established at the southern edge of the Swietokrzyski Forest, where forest products were exchanged for agricultural produce brought in from the nearby Nida river valley. Its role as marketplace allowed the settlement to develop, and to this day continues to be of great importance.

At the turn of the 12th century, the bishops of Cracow became the owners of the settlement, and built a "dworzyszcze" - a kind of fortified manor house - on top of the hill now known as "Castle Hill". In 1171, Bishop Gedeon, the holder of the Gryf coat of arms, built a stone church in Romanesque style, and later a collegiate church, in place of the larch church of St. Adalbert. Then he moved the parish of St. Adalbert to the bishop's church. During the tenure of Vincent Kadlubek (1208-1218) a parish school was erected. According to documents from 1229, a man known as Henryk was the first to take a Master's degree here. It is also quite possible that the Dominican known as "Vincent of Kielce", the author of "The Life of St. Stanislaus", also graduated from this school.

Kielce is mentioned in medieval documents for the first time in 1212. It obtained a city charter sometime before the year 1295. In 13th century, Tartar raids on Poland destroyed the city completely, but it was soon rebuilt. At that time the Kielce church was sur-rounded by a high wall, and equipped with battlements and firing slots for archers. At the end of 15th century, Fryderyk Jagiellonczyk granted the town a coat of arms: a gold crown on a red background with the letters "CK" (Civitas Kielcensis - City of Kielce) underneath.

The vicinity of the town was famous for its natural resources: copper, lead and iron ore, which were exploited on a large scale in the 15th century. It was than that steel mills and glass works were built here, together with workshops producing armor. These employed not only people from the nearby villages and settlements, but also specialists from Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and even Italy.

In the years 1637-1642, due to the initiative of bishop Jakub Zadzik, a famous Renaissance palace was erected, using the inexpensive local material. This palace, though it has since been slightly altered, has survived to the present day. The city was burned to the ground during the war with the Swedes in the midseventeenth century. The only structures to survive were the palace with the church and the church on Karczowka hill survived.

At the time when Saxon kings were elected to the Polish throne, Bishop Lipski held court in Kielce, followed by Andrzej Zaluski, the brother of the founder of the Zaluski Library in Warsaw. In 1761, by the bishop's decree, all Jews were expelled from the city, which at that time had 4000 inhabitants. Kielce flourished during the tenure of Bishop Kajetan Soltyk, who forbade the construction of wooden buildings in the center of the town, and provided assistance to anyone who decided to erect a brick house. The real turning point in the development of the city took place when the episcopal properties were nationalized in 1789. Kielce, which to that point had belonged to the bishops of Cracow, received the right to elect representatives to the Sejm (Parliament). In the 18th century, a brewery, a brickyard, a riding school, a hospital at the church of St. Leonard, a secondary school, and a theological seminary were established.

After the third partition of Poland, Kielce fell into Austrian hands. In 1809, the city was incorporated into the Duchy of Warsaw, after 1815, its fate was tied to the territories incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland, becoming for some time the seat of the Voivodeship of Cracow.

Another turning point in the history of Kielce was connected with the work of Stanislaw Staszic. This great Polish statesman created the Staropolski Region Przemyslowy (Old Polish Industrial Region), with mines, steel mills, and a chain of industrial works along the Kamienna river. It was in Kielce that in 1816 Staszic founded the first Technical University in Poland: The Academic Mining School, which ten years later was moved to Warsaw.

One reason for the city's pride in its past is its tradition of struggle for national and social liberation, connected with the Kosciuszko Insurrection and later with the November and January Uprisings. Among the other political events of great importance was a plot organized by Father Piotr Sciegienny in 1844, the goal of which was for Kielce to be captured by peasant insurgents. When the plot was discovered, its organizer was sent to Siberia. In 1905, Kielce joined in the general unrest by organizing demonstrations and strikes among students and workers.

In August of 1914, Kielce became the first "capital" of independent Poland, when the troops of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski entered the city. Kielce was taken over by the POlish Legions for over three weeks, and commanded by Jozef Pilsudski. At that time 900 men enlisted in Kielce, while 200 women worked for the Polish army in the sanitary, food supply, and quartermaster services. On September 5, 1914, the 1st Infantry Regiment of the Polish Legions took the oath in Kielce.

A perceptible economic awakening took place in the city beginning in 1919, when the Kielce voivodeship was created after the First World War. Among the business ventures initiated during this period were the "GRANAT" works and the "Spolem" food processing plant. New housing developments grew up. A sports stadium and the large Military Training and Physical Education building were constructed. Numerous cultural and educational societies were founded.

Several months before the outbreak of the Second World War, an Army unit left the Kielce garrison and started its tour of duty at the outpost on Westerplatte, near Gdansk. At the beginning of September 1939, they were the first soldiers called upon to defend Poland.

Form the first day of the German occupation to the last, Nazi terror raged in the city, claiming countless victims among both Poles and Jews. (27000 Jews were confined in the Kielce ghetto.) The citizens of Kielce responded with organized resistance. Several underground formations operated in the city. Among the many partisan actions worthy of note were the attack by a GL (Gwardia Ludowa) unit on a German cafe in 1943, and the 1944 assassination of the Gestapo officer Franz Wittek by an AK (Armia Krajowa - National Army) unit.

Kielce was liberated from the German occupation in January 1945, by Soviet soldiers of the 1st Ukrainian Front.


Informations from the book Kielce 2000 "Bound for the Future"