The settlement on the castle hill in Oświęcim, there was already in the eleventh century, however, in the documents the town’s name appears only at the end of the twelfth century, when extensive castellany had already existed here. Around the 1272 year Oświęcim received municipal rights - confirmed by Mieszko I, Duke of Cieszyn the 3rd September 1291 year. In remembrance of this event every year in September there are organized The Days of Oświęcim.
THE PERIOD OF SPLENDOR:
Since the end of the thirteenth century, Oświęcim was an important point on the salt route – it held the privilege to trade from Wieliczka salt of the highest quality and had even its own salt measure called „bałwany oświęcimskie”. The town had also the judicial privilege, the right to store and trade in lead, the right to collect the toll on the Soła river and the Vistula river and the maintenance of customs chambers. Oswiecim also was known for trade in fish, which were supplied, even to the royal court in Krakow.
In 1457 the Duchy of Oświęcim was incorporated into the Polish Crown. When half a century later, a huge fire destroyed majority of the town and the castle, King Alexander Jagiellończyk exempted the town from paying the taxes for 15 years and ordered to rebuild the castle with the fortification and the system of donjons and to repair the town walls. These works were finished in 1534.The oldest part of the castle and a part of the defensive wall with the bastion on the east wall of the tower defense come from that period. XVI th century was very prosperous for Oświęcim town. Within the town walls there was a parish church with a cemetery, market, town hall and Dominican church. Outside, in the area of today's Mikołajska str., there was a hospital - a poorhouse with a wooden church of St. Nicholas and cemetery.
THE WARS AND THE PARTITIONS:
The period of prosperity of the residents was finished together with the capturing of the town by the Swedes in 1655. Only twenty of five hundred houses and six from two hundred craftsmen were remained there. The salt storehouse ceased to function, the castle and the church of St. Nicholas were in ruin. In 1676, the town was inhabited by only 114 people. For nearly 200 years Oswiecim could not recover from the collapse after "The Swedish Deluge" and disasters that followed immediately afterwards.
In 1772 the Duchy of Oświęcim, as a result of first partition of Poland, was included in Austrian territory as a part of Galicia. Ten years later, by imperial decree on cassation the orders, the Dominican monastery in Oświęcim was abolished. Also the parish cemetery was closed down and it was founded a new one - outside the town.
AGE XIX / XX – TIME OF PROSPERITY
The crucial period for Oświęcim was half of the nineteenth century, when it became an important railway junction on the route Kraków - Vienna. Until the World War II in Oświecim were founded and worked many factories, including The Factory of Roofing Paper, The Tannery, The Factory of Vodka and Liquors of Jakub Haberfeld, The Factory of Fertilizers, The Factory of Canned Fish "Ostryga" and "Atlantic", The Agricultural Machine Factory "Potęga - Oświęcim", The United Factory of Machines and Cars "Prague - Oświęcim". There were assembled – originally on the Czech chassis -- three types of cars "Prague-Oświęcim": the Piccolo, the Alpha and the Grand. In total, they produced about 1.700 units, which were famous for very durable design and reliable workmanship. "Prague - Oświęcim" drove the famous tenor Jan Kiepura, Loda Halama - cabaret actress and a great painter Wojciech Kossak. To this day is preserved only one of copy of the "Prague - Oświęcim " - model Piccolo, which is in the Motor Museum in Otrębusy near Warsaw. In May 2012 it could be seen in the Book Gallery in Oświęcim.
In the nineteenth century several floods and fires took place in Oświęcim. They caused much destruction, but on the other hand they initiated the building development of the town in the second half of nineteen century and early twentieth century, according to the latest European architectural trends.
In 1910 The District Office was founded and it had its offices in the rebuilt castle. After regaining the independence in 1918, the castle also housed the offices of mayor of the Oswiecim political district.
SECOND WORLD WAR:
Since the beginning of World War II, Oswiecim was within the limits of the Third Reich and wore German name Auschwitz. On the outskirts of the town the Germans set up a concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau - a place of mass destruction of people from all over Europe. They started the rebuilding of the town and the building of the I.G Farben Factory in Dwory. During the occupation the residents of the town, even though they were subjected to cruel persecution by the Nazi authorities, risking their lives helped the inmates of the camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. On 27th of January 1945, Oświęcim was liberated from Nazi occupation.
Immediately after the war, in 1945, in Oświęcim began to work four factories. Life in the town slowly returned to normal. In 1947 at the site of the former camp, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oswiecim was founded .
In 1951 the County of Oświęcim was established, which was part of the Voivodeship of Kraków. In 1975, as a result of the administrative reform, County of Oświęcim stopped its existence and it was incorporated into the new Voivodeship of Bielsko. Since 1999, Oswiecim is the capital of the district again, and like a few centuries back – again belongs to Voivodeship of Malopolska with the capital in Krakow.
The turbulent history of Oświęcim, the fairytales and legends circulating among the inhabitants lived to see the editions of the books. Among them are worth mentioning:
- "Kronika Oświęcimia" (The Chronicle of Oświęcim) by Elżbieta Skalińska-Dindorf,
- "Opowieści spod zamkowej góry" by Jan Ptaszkowski - a collection of fairytales,
legends and unusual stories about interesting persons and events connected with the
- “Zabytki Oświęcimia” – the folder about the monuments of the town
- “Oświęcim i ziemia oświęcimska” – the tourist guide