Bochnia is located in southern Poland, in the Malopolskie Province (Lesser Poland). Since the first partition of Poland, Bochnia was under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
According to the administrative division from 1918-1939, Bochnia was the seat of the Bochnia County which was part of Kraków Province.
Bochnia is one of the oldest towns in Poland and was first mentioned in historical documents as early as 1198.
- As early as in 1386, the Polish King Kazimierz Wielki, appointed a Jew called Lewka for the position of a mining official and put him in charge of the salt mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia.
- The Jewish community in Bochnia was established in the 15th century. Towards the end of the 15th century, Jewish Street (the area of present Bracka Street) already existed in town, which is confirmed by sources from 1487.
- When the Jews were expelled from Bochnia in 1605 following a decree issued by King Zygmunt III, the synagogues and dwelling houses were demolished, and the cemetery destroyed.
- Not a trace of this community has been preserved until these days. Most of Bochnia's Jews moved to Wiśnicz. The Austrian authorities withdrew the decree in 1860 and Jews again started to settle in town.
- At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries there were 2,035 Jews there who made up 21.2% of the whole town’s population (1900), and in 1931 – of 12,279 all residents, 2,500 were Jewish (22%).
- Jews did not have a synagogue in 1874 so prayers were said in private houses so the cemetery became the only important place for them in Bochnia.
On the outbreak of World War II an estimated 3,500 Jews lived in Bochnia, representing about 20% of the total population.
The town was occupied by the Germans on 3 September 1939. In 1941, a closed ghetto, surrounded by a wooden fence, was established in Bochnia. The Jews of Bochnia did whatever they could to maintain a normal life within the ghetto boundaries.
They established an elementary school, Talmud Torah, for small children. There was a bais midrash yeshiva (small, about twenty young men who studied Torah continuously) whose members survived on collections. All signs of educational activities ceased to exist after August 1942, everything vanished with the first expulsion.
- The majority of the inhabitants of the ghetto were deported to the Belzec death camp.
- Those who had hidden and were caught were murdered on the spot.
- Patients in the hospital were murdered along with part of the medical staff, and a few of the remaining Jews of the ghetto were sent to labor camps.
On October 1, 1943, Bochnia was declared to be “judenrein”, empty of Jews.
The Jewish cemetery in Bochnia is one of the most well preserved in Poland.
Although the cemetery appears to have been spared by the Nazis during World War II, it was actually reconstructed after the war by a few Jewish survivors and a Polish caretaker who had recorded the location of the graves.