Moshe Margalit, Ramat Hasharon
Translated by Esther Snyder
The Geographic Location of the Town of Ludmir
In Eastern Europe, east of the river Bug whose waters lead into the Visla, lays the district of Volhyn. In the north, this region borders on Polcia and is covered with swamps and forests; in its central and southern areas, there are plains and wide hills with fertile lands that yield plentiful crops and fruit. In the western part of this region, 12 kilometers east of the Bug, on the right bank of the Lug River, the town of Ludmir is located.
Paved roads and train tracks connect the town with other towns in the area: to the east with Luzak at a distance of 70 km, to the north-east with the town of Kobel 54 km away and to the west with the towns of Poland across the Bug. The train tracks lead in the north to Kobel and in the south to Sokol-Lvov.
The Town at the beginning of the Second Millenium, C.E.
As the successors of Mohammed expanded their rule on the shores of the Mediterranean, and north of the Caucasian Mountains on the banks of the Don and the Volga, and the Khazars expanded their dominion, the areas around Ludmir were settled by the Slavo-Voliniam tribe.
At the beginning of the 10th century the Prince of Kiev succeeded, by use of force, to establish the Kievian principality and then quickly conquered the Khazari kingdom in the south and the Volinaim tribe in the west.
After the prince of Kiev, Saviatoslav, gained control of this region where an ancient road led from Western Europe to Kiev and Constantinople, he laid the foundations of the town of Vladimir named after one of his sons (the Jews colloquially called it Ludmir).
In chronicles from the Kievian principality, the name Ludmir is first mentioned in the year 988 as a town having a large fortress. The town's buildings were surrounded by a very high artificial hill that served to protect it from the Polish kingdom that was gaining strength in the west.
The City until the Tatar Conquest
In 1054, a separate Volhyn principality was established in the area of Volhyn with Ludmir as its center.
In the 12th century, the town grows, expands and becomes a commercial center between east and west. Merchants of various nationalities from all over Europe meet there. Beautiful buildings and churches are constructed and craftsmen are brought in from all the surrounding towns. A remnant from this era is the Ospanski Church that was built during the years 1147-1161 by the prince Mitzislav Izislavitz (and called the Cathedral) and is preserved until this day.
At this time, due to the crusades and pogroms against the Jews of Western Europe, the first waves of Jews began to move east. Because Ludmir was an important commercial center, the first group of Jews settled there (and perhaps there already were Jewish merchants there from Kiev and other places?). The earliest record mentioning the existence of a Jewish settlement in Ludmir indicates that in 1171 there was a Jewish merchant named Benjamin Handis (the origin of the word Handis is, in my opinion, from the Slavic word handlez meaning a merchant).
When the Ludmirian prince took control of the Galician principality (in 1199), the importance of the city increased. It maintained economic ties with Western Europe and the Byzantine and became the strongest economic and cultural center of the Russian principality.
In the year 1240, the Tatars conquer Ludmir and destroy it. Most of its buildings are left in ruins. It can be assumed that most of the Jewish inhabitants escaped to Poland.
The City from the 14th Century (until the end of the 18th Century)
With the disintegration of the Tatar rule and the increase of persecution in Western Europe, the Jews returned to Ludmir. Records indicate that in the 14th century there existed a large Jewish community in Ludmir and Lutzk. At that time, Ludmir is under Lithuanian rule. When the agreement between Poland and Lithuania is signed in Ludmir in 1569, the region of Volhyn is included within the territory of the Polish kingdom. Ludmir, which is located on an important international artery, flourished again. After the Arab takeover of the maritime routes and the subsequent danger of commercial ties between Genoa and Venice, in Italy, and the villages along the shores of the Black Sea, the road leading from Ludmir to the East becomes especially important. The city was full of Jewish merchants who transported goods from Silesia to the Far East and back. Even in the mid-15th century, Jews from Turkey, Italy and Kiev could be found in the marketplace. With the fall of Kushta (143) the economic importance of Ludmir strengthens and Jewish merchants purchase merchandise that the Christians transport to the Orient and to Turkey, bringing back from there silk, spices and weapons.
The name of the Jewish merchant, Yitzhak from Ludmir, is known from the 14th century. The Jews at this time also traded in cattle and especially horses that were brought from Hungary and sold to the Polish army. The growth of a large Jewish settlement in the town attracted tradesmen especially in the Jewish occupations such as butchers, bakers and tailors.
The Lublin Treaty, signed between Poland and Lithuania, improved the legal status of the Jews in the town. Whereas previously they had been subjected to the mercy of the Strosta (mayor), now they were under the rule of King Zigmund Augustus (1548-1572) with a status equal to the other Jews of Volhyn and the Lithuanian communities.
At the start of the 17th century, the community in Ludmir was growing and expanding. The community was autonomous from 1460 and not directly subject to the Volhyn District. It should be noted that Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller from Bavaria, who served as a rabbi in his later years, was the head of the Jewish community for a short time. He was reknowned for his commentary on the Mishneh called Tosafet Yom Tov.
At that time, many Jews in Volhyn worked in the profession of leasing property. They leased bars and flourmills, fishponds and fruit orchards (and sometimes entire villages). However, the majority remained in their previous professions commerce and trade.
The outbreak of the Kossak rebellion in the Ukraine caused a decrease in the Jewish community in Ludmir due to the fear of an imminent incursion of the Milnitzki armies into the Volhyn District. In 1648, the Jewish and Polish residents fled the town.
However, when the rebellion is suppressed, the Jews return to the town but now there is much poverty. Most of the Jews live meagerly in reduced circumstances. Many others move to the surrounding villages in search of employment.
In 1764, the Polish government conducts a census of its Jewish population and this is the first time that we have information on the number of Jews in Ludmir. According to their account, there were 1327 adults and 74 children, totaling 1401 persons. This was the second largest community in all of Volhyn (after Lutzk). Since the census was conducted in order to levy heavy taxes on the Jews, it is likely that some Jews avoided being counted and therefore the exact number is probably greater.
We have information that in 1782, the Jews of Ludmir dealt in horse trading with the Polish army and neighboring armies as well as establishing Jewish factories that produced items to be sold to the armies.
The third partition of Poland in 1795 and its loss of independence brought the Jews of Ludmir under Russian rule. As all the other Jews of the Ukraine and Russia, they were subject to the rules of the pale of settlement. An onerous burden of taxation weighed heavily upon them and they were further oppressed by the Czar's government.
General Zionists clubroom and National Fund Institutes on the 3rd floor
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