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History of the University of Wroclaw

The history of Wroclaw University’s foundation has been exceptionally complex. In 1505, the king of Bohemia and Hungary, Wladyslaw II Jagiellonczyk, signed the Foundation Act of the University in Wroclaw. It was never implemented, however, due to the protest from Jagiellonian University’s authorities, who made an appeal to the pope, Julius II, against it. The stormy times also did not help the establishment a university in Wroclaw, since both the city and the whole of Lower Silesia were caught up in numerous wars.

In 1702, the Austrian Emperor Leopold I founded a small Jesuit academy in Wroclaw called Leopoldina, after its founder. The academy consisted of two faculties, philosophy and theology. The University’s Main Hall, beautifully situated on the bank of the Oder River right in the middle of the Old Town, dates back to the period; further development of the academy was hindered, however, by the Protestant city council of Wroclaw.

Leopoldina opened for classes on November 15, 1702, which is now considered to be the founding date of university in Wroclaw, although it would not begin to resemble its modern form until a century later. In 1811, a Protestant university, Vadrina, which had been founded in 1506 in Frankfurt (Oder), was moved to Wroclaw, due to an edict of the Prussian king. The foundation of the university in Wroclaw coincided with the establishment of the universities in Bonn and Berlin. At that time, Wroclaw University had grown to include four departments: philosophy, medicine, law and theology. It was an safe-haven of openness and tolerance, and attracted many Polish students, especially from Silesia and Wielkopolska, two regions that had been incorporated into Prussia in the 19th century and did not have universities of their own. Poles occupied high academic positions at the University during that time, but the situation changed radically in the years 1933-1939, when Polish academics and students were dismissed from the University.

In the winter of 1945, with the fast approaching frontline of the Second World War, it was decided that University employees, equipment, and some library resources be evacuated to Dresden. In this way, the German period of Wroclaw University came to an end. In 1945, months of fighting for Wroclaw (renamed Festung Breslau) resulted in the mass destruction of approximately 70 percent of the city. The main building of the University was nearly completely destroyed as well.

Through an agreement at the Potsdam Conference in August 1945, the area of Lower Silesia, with its capital Wroclaw, became a part of the territory of Poland. Even before that, many Poles began to settle in Wroclaw, including many academics from Jan Kazimierz University in Lvov. When Lvov became a part of Ukraine after World War II, the Polish University that had been there since 1661, was forced to relocate.

It has found its new home in Wroclaw. In May 1945 a new period in the history of Wroclaw University began. Six departments of the reconstituted University were founded. Some of them became independent colleges later on; for instance, today’s Agricultural and Medical Academies initially were the departments of the University.

The past years of the history of the Wroclaw University have been a successful synthesis of traditions of the Polish university in Lvov in the years 1661-1945, and the German University in Wroclaw between 1702 and 1945. These elements have formed a creative and rich center of scientific research esteemed in Poland and around the world. The international character of the University is demonstrated not only by its history, but also by the fact that of all honorary degrees granted by the University’s Senate, over half were received by scientists from all over the world. Among the recipients of honorary doctorates from the University are Charles Darwin, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Piotr Kapica, Chen Ning Yang, Nikolai Semyonov and Abdus Salam. Wroclaw University is also proud of the impressive list of the Nobel Prizes granted to its graduates and professors; among them were Max Born, Otto Stern, Maria Goeppert-Mayer (awards in physics), Theodor Mommsen, Gerhart Hauptmann (awards in literature), and Eduard Buchner, Friedrich Bergius and Kurt Adler (awards in chemistry). Today, as before, the Wroclaw University continues to fulfil its role as a bridge between East and West.

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