“Zamosc” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume VII
(Poland)

50°43' / 23°15'

Translation of “Zamosc” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem
 


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Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Morris Gradel z"l

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to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VII, pages 203-212, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem


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Zamosc
(Region: Zamosc; Province: Lublin)

Translated by Morris Gradel z"l

Population Figures

YearTotal
Population
Jews
1765-1,905
18275,4142,874
18574,0352,490
18685,8253,806
189711,3897,034
191014,5969,188
1921-9,383
193924,24110,265

Zamosc (Z) is first mentioned in the beginning of the 16th century as a village in the possession of the noble family Zamojski. Owing to its situation, on the main road from western to eastern Poland, Z served as an intermediate trading station, used by merchants from Volyn and the area of Chelm and Belz, who set up warehouses there. In the second half of the 16th century Baron Jan Zamojski, who was also Polish Chancellor, decided to turn Z into a magnificent and fortified town. To this end he invited renowned architects and artists from Italy, and Z was modelled on Padua. (Some houses of this period, in Renaissance style, are still to be seen on a ridge in the town , and are preserved as an historic heritage.) The baron also had a fortress built with a surrounding moat, which exists to this day and forms the boundary between the Old Town and the “New Town” that was mainly inhabited by poorer people. He also founded a university. In 1580 Baron Zamojski granted the town municipal status, established a bank to help finance workshops, exempted the citizens from taxes for 25 years, and decreed a weekly market day and some seasonal and annual fairs. These privileges were ratified by Kings Stefan Batory (in 1585) and Sigismund III (in 1589).

After the first division of Poland in 1772 Z passed under Austrian sovereignty; and in 1809, after a war that destroyed some of the town and many people lost their houses, it was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. From 1815 until the First World War Z was part of the Kingdom of Congress Poland. The town then experienced a period of recovery. In 1865 it contained 479 houses, 112 of them of stone. At the outbreak of World War I Z was occupied by the Austrians, who held it until they withdrew in 1918. In 1916 an epidemic of typhus broke out and claimed many victims.

The Jewish Community from its beginnings until 1918

The first Jews, Sephardim from Turkey and Venice, apparently settled in Z in 1587, on the invitation of Baron Zamojski. In 1588 he granted them a bill of rights with status equal to the other citizens - on condition that they continued to be of Sephardi or Portuguese origin. They were hereby also permitted to buy building plots in the Street of the Shoemakers and some adjoining streets, and to engage in trade and crafts (except in furs, shoemaking and ceramics, which were Christian preserves). They could likewise deal in expensive clothing, household utensils, jewellery, gold and silverware, medicines and perfumes, and to be doctors and pharmacists. The privileges also included the right to establish a Sephardi-Jewish community, to which Jews “of another source” could not belong without the approval of its founders.

However, the Sephardi Community of Z did not last long. In the 20s of the 17th century, after the Polish nobles had failed to redeem their debts, the Sephardi Jews lost their property and most of them left the town. Their place was taken by Ashkenazi Jews , in the main from nearby areas. At first they only came to Z on market days and to the fair, but in the second half of the 16th century some had settled in Z, with or without official permission. They became part of the Jewish population and in any event enjoyed the privileges granted to their Sephardi brethren. Their number increased towards the end of the century. During the decrees of 1648-1649, when Chmielnicki's Cossack bands ravaged many Jewish communities, thousands of Jewish refugees found shelter in the fortress of Z. Chmielnicki besieged Z, but did not capture it. However, a few of the Jews inside the fortress died of hunger and disease. When things had quietened down, the Jews borrowed large sums of money from the monasteries in the region and from the townspeople - but for many years these did not collect the interest that accrued, let alone the capital. In the second half of the 17th century, with the growth of the Jewish population in Z, new restrictions were placed on their dwelling rights.

The Jews of Z earned their living dealing in bulls, timber and grain, as well as through petty commerce and crafts. They comprised tailors, locksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, tinsmiths and furriers. A few of them rented out plots of land, and in 1726 some received from Baron Michael Zedrzislaw Zamojski permission to produce and sell spirits. In 1788-1792, in the days of the “last four years” before the Second Division of Poland, the authorities endeavoured to divert the Jews into agriculture, and 18 families from Z did indeed move to the villages to farm.

In the first half of the 19th century a number of large plants were established in Z, as well as 12 smaller ones owned by Jews. In 1846-47 there were Jewish owners of a winery, three brickworks, three flour mills, a soap factory and a number of sawmills - and the workers they employed were all Jews.

In the 19th century the Jews of Z suffered much under the Russian occupation. Shortly after the Congress of Vienna (1815) many of them were expelled from their houses near the fortress. These were destroyed and replaced by additional defence works. In the wake of the suppression of the Polish rising of 1830 the Russian governor decreed the expulsion of the Jews from the town, as punishment for their not having obeyed the order to take a census of the Jewish population. Although this edict was not implemented, the entry of more Jews into the town was forbidden for a number of years. To these derangements was added the cholera epidemic, which claimed many Jewish victims. In 1870 money was stolen from one of the military camps in the town and the Jews named as the perpetrators. Eight of the local Jews were arrested and faced the death penalty, and only after strenuous efforts by the community, by prominent Jews in the world, and by the “Alliance Israélite Universelle” in France were the Jews declared innocent and released.

Life in the community:

At the end of the 16th century the Jews of Z erected a synagogue and consecrated a burial ground, and the organisation of the community would appear to date from that time. A few years later a Bet Midrash with a large library was opened. In 1677 the congregation formed part of the community of Chelm-Belz of the “Council of the Four Lands”, together with a few small groups in the area - Laszczow, Bilgoraj, Frampol, Krasnobrod, Zolkiewka, Wysokie, and Modliborzyce. At a session of the Council of the Four Lands in 1711 in Jaroslaw the community of Z was asked to pay to the nobleman Olinski a third of the 4,000 zloty that was owed by the communities of the district.

There were at the time a few wealthy Jews in Z, among them Hirsz and Icke ben Leib, who lent money to the Council of the Four Lands. At the session of the Council that took place in Jaroslaw in 1724 Z and district was represented by R. Aryeh Leib. In 1680 the following communities of Z and its environs - Bilgoraj, Frampol, Krasnobrod, and later also Krzeszow, Tomaszow Lubelski, Ulanow and Rozwadow - left the organisation (“ordinatsia”) of Chelm-Belz to form a separate entity: Z and District. The new constellation was, however, not officially recognized until 1730. In the latter years of the existence of the Council of the Four Lands the whole area was still known as the Chelm-Belz District. In the Council's session of 1762 this district was represented by ten delegates, among them one from the district of “Chelm-Zamosc”; and at later sessions too there was also a representative from this district.

Z was renowned for its scholars and became known as “a town full of wise men and writers without equal”. The first rabbi of the community was R. Shlomo. He was followed by his son-in-law R. Avraham Be”r Yakov Chmerlosz. Thereafter came R. Aryeh Leib, author of “Shéagat Aryeh” and “Kol Szachal” - he was the grandson of R. Yoel Sirkisz (the “Bet”Chet” ); he moved later to Tykocin, and went as an emissary to Turkey to meet Shabbetai Tsvi. Then there were R. Tsvi Hirsz Be”r Shimshon Katz, whose signature appears on a document from 1687; R. Meir Halevi Be”r Menashe; R. Nachman, grandson of R. Aryeh Leib and ancestor of the Sirkin family (he went later to Brzesc Litewski (Brest); and R. Aryeh Leib Be”r Yechiel of Lublin (in 1730). There followed R. Yakov Yitzhak Hochgelernter, founder of the “Yeshivat Chochmei Zamosc” (in Z from 1740, died 1772); his son, R. Yosef Hochgelernter, author of “Mishnat Chachamim” and also Head of the Yeshiva; and his grandson, R. Yakov Yitzhak Hochgelernter (named after his grandfather), author of “Zichron Yitzhak” (died 1827).

Worthy of mention among the sages of Z are also R. Shlomo Chelma, author of “Merkavat Mishna”, the only rabbi to minister to the whole district, with the title of “Chief Rabbi of the Ordinatsia Region” (this office was annulled in 1765, and in 1771 R. Shlomo moved to Lwow; he died in 1781 in Thessaloniki); R. Tsvi Hirsz Baszka, later rabbi in Hamburg; R. Azriel Halevi Horowitz, who became rabbi in Lublin; R. Yehuda Leib Margoliot, author of “Pri Tvuah” ; R. Avraham Be”r David, author of “Bet Avraham” ; R. Chaim Chaike Be”r Aharon, author of “Zror Hachaim” (Zolkiewka 1753); R. Avraham Be”r Baruch; R. Eliezer Lipman Be”r Menachem Mendele, author of “Leckach Tov” ; R. Azriel bar Aharon, author of “Zerah Aharon” ; R. Reuven Zelig Be”r Yisrael Aharon, author of “Machaneh Reuven” ; R. Yitzhak, grandfather of R. Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev; and R. Dober Szyf, author of “Minchat Zikaron” .

Z was also known for its exponents of Kabbalah, among them R. Baal Shem Harishon, son-in-law of R. Uri and grandson of R. Yoel Baal Shem Hasheni; and the preachers R. Avraham bar David; R. David Hakohen; and R. Yehuda Leib Edel, author of “Afikei Yehuda” (died in 1805).

In the middle of the 18th century Z became involved in the dispute between R. Yonatan Ejbszicz and R. Yakov Emden, and later in the hard struggle with the Frankists . The Council of the Four Lands at first sided with R. Yonatan, but R. Avraham Hakohen of Z, a fierce opponent of Messianic and Shabbetaic mysticism, supported R. Yakov Emden.

At the end of the 18th century, when Chassidism spread throughout Poland and also reached Z, it did not last long in the town - but in the minor communities in the area it achieved much success and then slowly permeated Z itself. In the first half of the 19th century there were already two large Chassidic sects - those of Belz and of Gur.

From its very beginning the community of Z was actively engaged in works of charity and mutual aid. The records of the Burial Society and Emet Provident Fund (1687-1885) show that apart from burying the dead the society also helped the needy sick (with medicine and doctors' bills) and poor people in general (with money). In the second half of the 19th century the health service “Bikur Cholim” was established, and 1n 1911 also “Linat Zedek” which began with a clinic and a few years later became a small hospital, with 24 beds. At the end of the 19th century there was also an old age home, a kosher canteen for Jewish soldiers serving in the Russian garrison, and two branches of the Provident fund (in the Old and in the New Town) - to help Jewish merchants and craftsmen with interest-free loans.

In the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th the rabbinate was occupied by R. Mosze Yehoshua Heszel Wahl (died in 1873), author of “Bet Moshe” and uncle of Y.L. Peretz; R. Nachman Szlomo Halevi, author of “Ateret Szlomo” , who went to Jerusalem and died there; R. Aryeh Yehuda Yakov Majzeles, who later served in Piotrkow; R. Szlomo Zalman; and R. Josef Szlomo Szabtai Halevi Horowitz, 1861-1943, minister of the congregation 1889-1928, a direct descendent of the “Seer of Lublin” , and one of the founders of the yeshiva “Yagdil Hatorah”. With him, as rabbi in the new town of Z, with a thousand or so Jewish families, was R. Mordechai Halevi Horowitz-Sternfeld, who died in the Holocaust.

The political conditions in the second half of the 18th century were favourable towards education. The district of Z was part of Galicia - the only area of Poland given to Austria in the First Partition of Poland in 1772. It remained under Austrian sovereignty for almost 40 years (until 1809). In this latter period - in Z as in Galicia as a whole - many Jewish-German schools were established, and formed the nucleus of the education system. In the period of Congress Poland (1815-1918) also education played a major role among the Jews of Z. Even up to the end of the 19th century many Jewish children continued to study in the traditional cheder and the Talmud Torah for sons of the poor. Many went on to the yeshivot, and of them the number of Jewish youngsters who began to study general subjects or went on to institutions of higher learning grew steadily. In 1886 the town's intellegentsia set up a Jewish school for boys where also Russian and Arithmetic were among the subjects. A few youngsters, mainly from comfortable families, attended state gymnasia (high schools) and the private secondary school run by Mrs. Altberg.

Z was where R. Yisrael Be”r Mosze Halevi Zamosc (born in Galicia in 1700, died in Brody in 1772) grew up and was educated. He was well-versed in Philosophy and Mathematics. He moved to Frankfurt-am-Main in 1740 and there published his work “Netzach Yisrael” . From Frankfurt he went to Berlin, where he was the teacher of many of the town's intellectuals, including Moses Mendelsohn. His book “Nazed Hadim'a” , published posthumously, contained sharp condemnation of the remnants of Shabbetaianism and attacked Chassidism (“the new cult of Chassidism that has arisen in Poland”). The leading protagonists of the Haskalah in Z in the 18th century included Yosef Cederbaum and Yakov Eichenbaum. In addition there were some doctors of renown - Avraham Polak, Salomon Klein and Salomon Klemenson. The town also produced some of the first Haskalah writers - the poet Aryeh Leib Kinderfreund (1798-1837); Efraim Fiszel Fiszelson, author of the anti-Chassidic satire “Theater von Chassidim”; the Yiddish writer Dr. Szlomo Ettinger (1803-1856), author of the play “Serkele”; the writer and Hebrew teacher Dawid Szyfman (1828-1903), who published his works, including “Masah Zamosc” in “Hamelitz” ; and also the the Hebrew writer Y.L. Peretz, who spent his childhood and youth in Z and recorded it in his works. Other intellectuals in Z included the doctor Szlomo Ettinger (a graduate of the University of Lwow); Dr. Ber Folkensohn; Dr. Yitzhak Gelibter (died in 1937), one of the first Zionists in Z; and the geographer and etnograph Shimshon Bloch, author of “Shvilei Olam”.

In the middle of the 19th century Leib Szefer urged the Jews to engage in productive work, first and foremost agriculture. He leased a few farms from Baron Zamojski and employed only Jews on them. Fourteen Jewish families then set up an agricultural settlement near Z, called Zdanow. Dr. Szlomo Ettinger also acquired a small farm in Zdanow, and for a few years he and his family earned their living there. During this period some 35 out of 96 Jewish families in the surrounding villages were engaged in agriculture.

Influenced by the Haskalah, the Jews of Z began relatively early to occupy themselves with general public and political activity. Dr. Philip Lubelski (1778-1879) served in the Polish units (“legions”) of Dombrowski in France, took part in the campaigns of Napoleon, and was made a “Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur”. During the Polish uprisings of 1830 and 1863 the Jews of Z, among them Josef Morgensztern (in 1863), aided the insurgents.

At the beginning of the 20th century, with the rise of the Polish Labour parties - the Social Democrats and the Polish Socialist Party - Jewish workers and artisans founded branches of the “Bund” (in 1903), and of “Poalei Zion” . During the revolution of 1905 the local workers took part in strikes and demonstrations that demanded a shortening of the then working day of 14-16 hours - with the Jews and Poles of the town cooperating with one another. In the reaction that followed the suppression of the revolt the insurgent groups disintegrated under the persecution of the authorities, arrests and deportation to Siberia. Many, mainly young people, saw no future in the town of their birth and emigrated overseas.

Zamosc was the birthplace of the prominent revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg (1870-1919). As early as her days in High School she joined the Polish-Socialist organisation “Proletariat”. Thereafter, she studied Philosophy and Law at the University of Zurich. Her doctoral dissertation dealt with industry in Poland. In 1893 she was one of the founders of the Polish Social Democratic Party, and in 1896 moved to Germany and was the editor of several Socialist publications. At the outbreak of the First World War she left the party, which had not dissociated itself from the war, and established, together with Karl Liebknecht, the “Spartacus” movement. Shortly afterwards, however, she was arrested for carrying on anti-war propaganda, and was only released at the end of the war. Rosa Luxembourg, who was a friend of Lenin, then took part in the revolution in Germany in November 1918. In January 1919, during the Spartacus rising in Berlin, she was arrested by German Junkers and murdered, together with Karl Liebknecht.

At the beginning of the war Z changed hands several times. In September 1914 it was occupied by the Austrians, only to be replaced a few days later by the Russians. The Cossack soldiers accused the Jews of Z of aiding the enemy, and on September 22nd, 1914, 11 Jews and some Poles were executed. The Cossack plan to kill all the Jews who were in Z on that day was foiled by the Russian General Poglov, who happened to be there. In 1915 the Austrians returned, and remained in Z until the autumn of 1918.

During the war the branches of the former Jewish parties in Z resumed their activities. The “Bund” established the first trade union of Jewish artisans in the town. A club, called “Workers' House”, was also opened, with music and drama groups. The influence of the Zionist movement increased among young people. Early on a branch of “Zeirei Zion” (Young Zionists) was started; in 1916 there was also a branch of “Mizrachi” ; and in 1917 there took place a regional Zionist conference, with the participation of delegates from nearby towns. The Jewish soldiers of the Austrian army also engaged in Zionist activity. The Zionists also furthered various cultural activities, including a drama group. “Mizrachi” opened in 1916 an elementary school of the “Yavneh” system - the first modern Hebrew school in the town. It existed until 1923.

The Jews between the Two World Wars

Upon the establishment of an independent Poland in November 1918 some groups of workers rose against the new local authority, and units of the Polish army were sent to Z to quell the riots. In the course of their action the troops attacked the Jews of the town, looted their property, and even killed three of them. In 1920, during the war between Poland and Soviet Russia, the Jews of Z were attacked by the Ukrainian troops of General Bolak Blachovich, then an ally of the Poles. On August 29th, 1920, these soldiers murdered four Jews, wounded 37 others, looted property, and raped Jewish women and girls.

At the end of the war the Jews began to rebuild their businesses. The economic crisis that beset the young Polish state and the tax policy of the authorities hit the Jews severely, with resulting unemployment and emigration. Hundreds of young people who despaired of a future in Poland went overseas.

In 1927 the old Provident Fund was reorganised, aided by the Joint , and many of the small merchants and artisans were helped by it. At the beginning of 1929 its capital fund stood at 25,968 zloty, and its loans in January 1930 amounted to 144, 455 zloty. More than 600 Jewish workers in various occupations organised trade unions in this period: in 1922 timber workers and needleworkers; then transport workers, bakers, and factory salesmen. In 1922 followed the merchants' association, and in the early 30s the union of religious artisans. In the same period a home industry of clothing, footwear and furniture dveloped, and the products sold mainly to the peasants of the area. In 1929, when the economic slump in Poland was at its worst, the situation of the Jews deteriorated, and many of them had to seek social aid. The crisis grew worse in the 30s in tact with growing anti-Semitism in Poland and an anti-Jewish economic boycott.

Yet, despite the economic crisis, the inter-war period was one of flourishing Jewish political activity, and foremost for the Zionist movement. The Zionist parties in the town included the “General Zionists”, “Socialist Zionists”, “Left Poalei Zion”, “Mizrachi”, and the “Revisionists” - and affiliated with them the youth movements “Hashomer Hatsair” (from 1919), “Freheit” (Dror - 1929) , “Gordonia” (1931) , “Hanoar Hazioni” (1929), “Tseirei Mizrachi” (1918), and “Beitar” (1929). In 1933 the Revisionists set up a branch of “Brit Hachayal ” and in the same year the Religious Revisionists established a branch of “Brit Yeshurun ”. The “Hechalutz” movement, which began its activities in Z in the early 20s, was for some years the centre for agricultural training (“Avigdoria” - after Avigdor Ilander, who placed some 20 dunams of land at its disposal free of charge). A few members of the Zionists movements emigrated to Palestine during this period.

The growing strength of the Zionists and relative status within the Zionist camp may be gauged from the election results to the Zionist Congresses. In 1927 the Socialist Zionists received 25 votes, the “Hitachdut” - 16, the General Zionists - 4, the Mizrachi - 1, and the Revisionists - 1. In the elections of 1939 (the last before the war) the number of electors amounted to 692. The combined list of “Eretz Yisrael Haovedet” achieved an absolute majority, with 541 votes, the General Zionists received 86 votes, Mizrachi - 59, “Eit Livnot” - 3, and Left Poalei Zion - 3.

The non-Zionist movements in Z were “Agudat Israel” and the “Bund”, the local branch of the latter, as mentioned, having been started in 1903 - and its influence on the trade unions was considerable. Closely connected with it was a call of the youth movement “Zukunft” (Future). A few young people in the community were active in the Communist Party, which was illegal - but continued to function clandestinely.

This energetic activity in public and political life extended to the spheres of education and culture. In the 20s and 30s a series of new Jewish kindergartens and elementary schools made their appearance in Z. The year 1918 saw the opening of the Hebrew school “Kadimah”, which in 1936 was afiiliated to the “Tarbut” network; in 1925 the Tsisz”a(?) established a primary Yiddish school called after Y.L. Peretz; and in 1927 a Jewish Gymnasium (High School) was opened, with Polish as its language of instruction - and it was recognized as a state educational institution.

In addition to educational institutions there were various evening classes and several libraries opened their doors. The first of these, also bearing the name of Y.L. Peretz and dating from as early as 1912, was a cultural centre for the Jews of Z and its environs. Most of its books were in Yiddish and its leaders members of the Bund. In 1923 Polish police stormed the library and inflicted much damage on it - some 5,000 books were destroyed. The incident was debated in the Polish parliament (Sejm) and after prolonged efforts the library was reopened in 1926 as part of the “League for Popular Education”. In 1931, however, when the authorities banned the League, the library too was closed on the pretext that it was a meeting place for Communist activity. Yet the library was revived a year later under the auspices of the “League for Culture” and continued to exist until the Holocaust. In 1922 youngsters from the “Association for the Hebrew Tongue” inaugurated a Hebrew public library called after Dawid Fryszman, and this quickly became a social and cultural centre for the Zionist youth of the town. Its reading-room contained leading Hebrew publications. In 1922 also a library in the name of Szlomo Ettinger opened, with thousands of books in Yiddish, Polish and Russian. The trade unions also had a small library - containing 600 books in 1928.

These libraries formed the framework for drama and literary groups, amateur actors, and an orchestra. There were also Jewish sports clubs in Z - Maccabi (from 1912); Nordiya (1932); and Hapoel.

In the town there were also newspapers, all in Yiddish. From 1928 to 1939 there was a fortnightly periodical of the local Poalei Zion, called “Zamosctisher Stimme” (Voice of Zamosc), edited by M. Herman. In April 1930 there appeared “Zamosctisher Wort” (Word of Zamosc), published by Agudat Israel and edited by Izrael Dov Hakohen Firsztman and C. Perlmutter. There were in addition rabbinical publications - “Habe'er” (The Well) from 1923, edited by R. Tsvi Hirsz Frydling and containing articles from rabbis all over Poland; and from 1929 “Unser Geist” (Our Spirit), edited by Firsztman and Frydling.

Although many members of the community continued to uphold tradition and religious practice during this period, the role of the Zionists in its leadership became more marked. The Community Council - 25 members at the time, with ten forming the executive - contained Zionists, Agudat Israel, the Bund, and non-party representatives.

During this period of economic crisis the Council was active in various fields of welfare and health. There were scores of children in the orphanage; the Jewish hospital boasted a well-equipped laboratory, and ran an additional clinic in the New Town; the Council also maintained an old-age home, and supported organisations like Linat Zedek and “Hachnasat Orchim” . The health organisation Ta”z helped the children of needy families, including the running of summer camps in the Forest of Krasnobrod. Baron Zamojski contributed 5,000 zloty towards the establishment of a Ta”z Convalescent Home. In 1927 Ta”z also opened a children's house for poor families. The organisation's doctors were Drs. Gelibter, Dynberg and Bogotski.

In 1928 R. Josef Szlomo Shabtai Halevi Horowitz left the post he had occupied for many years, and was replaced by R. Chaim Mosze Blum, one of the leaders of Agudat Israel in Poland. The rabbi of the New Town at this time was R. Mordechai Halevi Horowitz-Sternfeld - in September 1939, when the Germans occupied the town, he was murdered by Polish anti-Semites.

With the establishment of an independent Poland the town council of Z was appointed by the authorities. In 1928 12 of its 24 members were Jews. However, as anti-Semitism increased in Poland the authorities made every effort to curtail Jewish representation, even though the Jews comprised almost half the population - and their contribution to taxes more than half. In the elections of 1929 only six Jews were elected to the council, and in 1939 again only six (three of them from the Bund). The allocations from the municipal budget to Jewish institutions were also meagre, compared with those to non-Jewish institutions.

The growth of anti-Semitism in Poland in the 30s also left its mark on Z. There was a boycott of Jewish merchants and artisans, and many members of the community who earned a living selling to peasants on market days were reduced to penury.

In May 1936 a major fire broke out in Z, destroyed some 70 houses, and claimed victims. Many people were rendered homeless. The local “Andaks” incited the populace against the Jews, accusing them of starting the fire, and posters were set up urging people to “hit the Jews”. Jewish representatives protested, but the Mayor brushed their compaints aside, since the incident was due to “trivial acts by street youths”, and he did nothing. On November 2nd, 1937, the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the Andaks and Polish rabble burst into the camps run by Ta”z and attacked many of the children.

The Second World War

On September 2nd, 1939, the second day of the war, all men in the town aged under 60 were ordered to report to the Town Hall to be allotted tasks for civil defence. Among these were many Jews, who claimed that in spite of past dissension it was necessary to do everything to repulse the Germans. Most of the Jews who had registered were put to work digging trenches and building shelters. On September 4th the first Jewish refugees from Kalisz and other places in western Poland, as well as from the districts of Kielce and Czestochowa, arrived - on their way to the Soviet occupation zone in eastern Poland. The Jewish community in Z provided them with lodgings in public building and with food and clothing. On September 9th Z came under heavy aerial bombardment. Most of the bombs fell on the New Town, the majority of whose inhabitants were poor Jews, and scores of them were killed. Particular damage was inflicted on Harowajszowska Street, where the synagogue lay. Many Jews fled to the villages and the woods. Three days later, on September 12th, the Germans renewed their attacks, and this time most of the victims were refugees from western Poland who had not found shelter from the bombardments. All in all some 500 local Jews and refugees perished.

On September 14th the town fell to the Germans. They immediately seized 1,500 Jewish and Polish men as guarantors for law and order in the town. A few days later these hostages were released. The Jews who had fled to the surrounding villages had in the meanwhile returned to their homes, but many found their houses burgled and their shops empty. Twelve days later the Germans evacuated the town, in accordance with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, and on September 26th were replaced by soldiers of the Red Army. A militia was raised in the town to keep order, and among its members - local communists - were three Jews. A week later the Russians withdrew to the new border in eastern Poland, accompanied by a number of Jews. In the seven days until the return of the Germans Z was in fact without government. Gangs of anti-Semites ran amok and attacked the Jews, accusing them of having collaborated with the Russians and treachery towards Poland.

On October 7th the Germans returned and at once began to round up Jews - in the streets and sometimes from their houses - for slave labour. They also seized the opportunity to loot property and take from the houses whatever took their fancy. These round-ups went on for two months and were accompanied by violence. Sometimes the Gestapo would grab Jews in the street, strip them and beat them mercilessly. Three Jews disappeared and were not seen again.

At the beginning of December 1939 Gestapo officials came to the town and organised the civil administration; they ordered to the town hall eight leading members of the Jewish community and told them to form a Judenrat. Apart from these four other prominent Jews were appointed. The first meeting of the Judenrat took place in the building of the Linat Zedek, though some time later the venue was changed to the old community house. The Judenrat was at once ordered to take a census of the Jews of Z by sex, age and occupation, and afterwards was made responsible for providing slave labour. The number of daily workers varied between five and six hundred.

The Judenrat was also early on commanded to collect contributions. The first payment - of 10,000 zloty - was made to the military governor, while the second - of 75,000 zloty - was handed to the civil administrator Weichenmeier. In 1940 the Germans demanded a third contribution - of 150,000 zloty.

In January 1940, about a month after the establishment of the Judenrat, the number of its members was doubled, and shortly afterwards its first chairman, Ben-Zion Lubliner, was replaced. His successor, the lawyer Mieczislaw (Memek) Gurfinkiel, remained in office until the community disappeared. The leader of the Judenrat's Labour Committee was Azriel Szafes. By virtue of his office Szafes attained a certain status and influence, and even developed close ties with the German official responsible for forced labour, Paul Wagner. Szafes allowed people to evade forced labour in return for a fine of five zloty to the Judenrat's finances, and these monies were used to pay wages to the workers.

In the census of Jews taken by the Judenrat in October 1939 there were 4,984 souls. In the middle of December 500 Jewish deportees from Wloclawek and Kolo were brought to Z, among them 150 old people and children. The Judenrat housed these refugees in the houses of Jew who had fled to the Soviet Union, and also in the synagogue and the “Batei Midrash” in the town. The Germans singled out the old and the children, kept them for a fortnight in one of the synagogues (since the German governor refused to have refugees who were not capable of work) and then transferred them to Szczebrzeszyn, some 20 kilometres away. Nineteen of them tried to return to Z, but at Janowce, two kilometres from Z, they were seized by the Germans. At first they were held for hours naked in the cold of winter and sprayed with cold water, and in the end they were taken out and shot.

In December 1939 the Judenrat set up a Refugee Aid Committee, affiliated to the organisation Jewish Self-Help in Cracow. This committee opened a communal kitchen which supplied hot meals at a symbolic price, the completely destitute being absolved from payment. This kitchen survived until the abandonment of the ghetto in the autumn of 1942. The committee also established a school with two women teachers, Ernesta Kahn and Ewa Zymberg, which lasted until April 1942. The budget for aid to the local Jews and the refugees in Z amounted to 60,000 zloty a month. Five thousand zloty came from the Joint in Warsaw and from the Jewish Self-Help organisation, but the major share came from the Judenrat's own resources. In February 1940 the Joint sent 16,000 zloty, and at Passover added food and matzot.

At the end of 1939 or the beginning of 1940 appeared the first anti-Semitic edicts, including the order to wear a white armband with a yellow Star of David on it. There were also bans on the use of vehicles and on exit from the town.

In June 1940 the Judenrat was instructed to assemble all Jewish males aged from 14 to 60 to be registered for work purposes. The registration took place at nearby Janowce. Some 500 of those present were sent to Wysokie, 20 kilometres from Z - and from time to time groups of workers were sent to various labour camps in the Lublin area. In June 1940 some hundreds of Jews were sent from Z to a new camp established at Bialobrzegi, where they worked in agriculture, digging and drainage. They were lodged in huts and their daily food ration was a loaf of bread, a litre of soup and half a litre of “coffee”. Another 150 workers from Z and district worked at Janowce on preparing ground for stables and riding paths for the S.S., and another 350 were transported to Kawalar. On the way they were assaulted by S.S. troops, and one of these, Pinkowski, shot a Jew to death. At Kawalar the Jews from Z and the nearby towns worked at regulating the river bed - and the Judenrat was forbidden to send them food. After a while, following large bribes, they were allowed to sleep at home.

On a summer day in 1940 German gendarmes, policemen and Gestapo troops threw a ring around Z and assembled all the Jews for inspection of papers. Holders of work permits were sent to their tasks, while those without such documents had a stamp imprinted on their foreheads. Among these latter were some who were sent by train to Belzec, where they were set to erecting sand ramparts under extremely difficult conditions. Particularly brutal towards them was the S.S. officer Dolf. From time to time he used to ride among the workers on horseback and shoot at them for fun. Quite a few Jews were killed in this way. A delegation from the Judenrat visited Belzec, and a committee was set up in Z to send food and clothing to the workers . Some time later many workers returned to Z as a result of fines paid by their relatives, and in November 1940 the others were also released and returned on foot to Z.

In 1941 a large labour camp was established at Izbica, and 1,500 to 2,000 Jews from Z and district were sent there. For some days these Jews were kept without food or water, until the Judenrat managed to get supplies to them. At about the same time a smaller camp was set up near Z - by the “German Aviation Construction Administration”. Workers here were lodged in more spacious huts.

In early April 1941 the Jews, via the Judenrat, were ordered to move to a poor quarter in the New Town, previously occupied by very few Jews. Many of its houses had been destroyed at the beginning of the war, and the few that were left for the refugees were decrepit. The Poles who had lived there were transferred to the Jewish houses in the Old Town. The deadline for moving was May 1st, and the Polish Mayor, Karol Foss, informed the Judenrat that any Jew found outside the Jewish quarter would be expelled to Komarow. Only a handful of Jews were allowed to remain in their houses, and in the ghetto were a few Polish families who refused to leave their homes. The number of inhabitants in the ghetto, according to a census taken by the Judenrat immediately after its erection, was about 7,000. The ghetto of Z was not fenced in, but exit from it - mainly in order to procure food - was only allowed at certain times. Poles, however, were allowed to enter the ghetto, and this relieved the situation somewhat. In time a post office was opened in the ghetto, by permission of the German authorities, where letters and parcels from Poland and abroad could be sent to them. This post office , however, was closed in June 1941, when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union.

The Judenrat set up its offices in what had been the synagogue in the New Town. Early in 1941 a Jewish police force was formed . At first it numbered ten constables, most of them young men who had served in the Polish army. In the spring of 1942, with the arrival in Z of thousands of deportees from the Protectorate (Czechoslovakia) and from Germany their number was doubled. The Chief of Police in May 1942 was Albin Lipman from Dortmund, who had fought in the German army in the First World War. The Jewish police, who maintained order in the ghetto, collected each month a sum of money from the inhabitants. At one time they seized 18 Jews, brought them to the offices of the Judenrat, who immediately handed them over to the Gestapo. They were then taken outside the town and shot.

The overcrowding and sanitary conditions in the ghetto led in the winter of 1941-2 to an outbreak of typhus. The Judenrat opened a hospital with 60 beds. Its Head Doctor was a Jew from Poltawa, Dr. Frydhofer, and assisting him were other doctors, including known specialists expelled to Z from the Protectorate in the spring of 1942. Some of them lived in the hospital building. The pharmacy attached to the hospital served all the inhabitants of the ghetto.

At the end of March and the beginning of April 1942 the ghetto was subject to rumours of mass deportations from the ghettoes in the Lublin district to the new extermination camp at Belzec. The Chairman of the Judenrat, Memek Gurfinkiel, learned of this from members of the Judenrat in Lublin, who phoned him and asked for his help in placing local Jews moved by train to the vicinity of Z. At the same time the Jews of Z heard of the killings in Belzec from Polish workers who had worked together with Jews.

The deportations from Z began on April 11th, 1942. Around noon on that day the ghetto was encircled by a large number of gendarmes and S.S. troops. In command of the deportation was the Head of the Gestapo in Z, Bruno Meyers, but the actual chief of operations was one of his assistants, S.S. officer Schubert. The Judenrat was ordered to assemble all the inhabitants of the ghetto in the market square. Many thought this was just another registration for work purposes, and turned up in their best clothes to make a good impression on the Germans. At 5 p.m., after most of the Jews had arrived, the Germans searched their houses. Scores of people who had hidden, and old and ailing people who found it difficult to leave their homes, were seized and shot to death in their houses or in the street. Some 3,000 Jews waited in the market square a whole day, without food or water. Many felt ill and there were scores of deaths. At 9 p.m. the procession left the town. Thirty goods wagons were waiting for them at the station and carried them to the extermination camp at Belzec. In the market square lay the bodies of 89 Jews who had died, while another 150 who had difficulty in walking were shot to death by the Germans on the way to the station. The corpses were collected by workers of the burial section of the Judenrat and interred in the Jewish cemetery.

After the deportation there were some 2,000 Jews still in the ghetto - including members of the Judenrat and their workers and Jews who were at work at the time of the deportation. On April 20th they were joined by 2,100 Jews from Czechoslovakia. At first they were lodged in Izbica, but as room became available in the ghetto of Z after the deportation they were moved there. Immediately afterwards came a group of deportees from Dortmund and Westphalia. Here they had been solid citizens, most of them members of the free professions. They had naturally much difficulty in accustoming themselves to the conditions of life in the ghetto. The Judenrat helped them as best it could with food and other necessities. Some of the doctors among them began to work in the Jewish hospital.

On May 17th, 1942, began the “Old Peoples' Action” in Z, which lasted ten days. The Germans announced that the elderly in the ghetto were required to register within two days, on May 19th, at a place of assembly. At the same time the Judenrat published a list of people who were to be deported. Panic broke out in the ghetto, and relatives of those named made every effort to find hiding places for them. A group of old people found shelter in “Hotel Victoria”, with the help of German soldiers who lived in the hotel. When this became known to Azriel Szafes of the Judenrat, he went to the hotel together with Gestapo members and they evicted the old people. Jewish police carried out thorough searches in the houses and were not averse to using violence. Each old person whose name was on the list and who tried to hide was taken to the Judenrat's prison; and if the person in question was not found another member of the family was taken instead. On May 26th and 27th the group of old people were taken to Belzec. It appears that not all were put into the goods wagons - some were shot near the railway lines, and others before the train started on its journey.

After the “Old Peoples' Action” there was quiet for a time, but on August 11th, 1942, the deportations were resumed. On that day groups of German gendarmes and S.S. troops entered the ghetto and began to seize Jews in their houses and on the streets, until the day's quota of 500 had been reached. Most of those seized were women and children deported from Czechoslovakia and Germany, since the men were away at work. This group of deportees was also sent by rail to Belzec. In early September a further 400 were similarly despatched.

After the August deportation, the Jews of Z and district who worked for the German army were returned each evening to huts erected for them inside the ghetto. At the same time the Germans reduced the area of the ghetto, and permitted the Jews to live only on one side of the road to Tomaszow Lubelski.

The final elimination of the ghetto began on October 16th, 1942. Thousands of Jews who were still in the town (an estimated 4,000) were assembled in the market square. Some 50 persons - members of the Judenrat and those who worked for the Gestapo - were separated from the rest and murdered in Z. The remainder, apart from 300 who were engaged in collecting the property of the deportees, were marched to Izbica, 21 kilometres away. About a hundred of them who could not manage this distance were taken from the ranks and shot in a wood on the outskirts of Izbica. For two whole days, until October 18th, the hunt for Jews and the deportation went on. It was not possible in Izbica to find shelter for all the deportees and they were held in the open air, without food or water. On October 19th, the first batch, mainly women and children, were sent to Belzec, and a fortnight or so later another large group followed. The remnants of these two deportations were held for eight days in the courtyard of the local cinema. On November 2nd they too were taken to Belzec and Sobibor.

The Jews who remained in the ghetto after the October deportations were killed by the Germans in March 1943. At the beginning of May 1943 the Germans dismantled most of the labour camps around Z, and some 1,000 workers, most of them from Z, were despatched to their deaths in Majdanek.

After the War

At the end of 1944, after the area had been liberated by the Red Army, the first 12 survivors returned to Z, and gradually the number of Jews there increased to about 300 - most of them townspeople who had fled to the Soviet Union at the beginning of the war. They were received with hostility and violence. In 1945 at least two of them, one of whom had served in the Polish army, were killed by Polish anti-Semites. Most of the Jews quickly left the town, and in 1947 a mere five were left.


Notes (in order of appearance in the text):

Bet Midrash: a school, usually attached to the synagogue, giving religious instruction mainly to adults.
Council of the Four Lands: the Jewish self-governing body in Russia-Poland originating in the 16th century. Named for the four regions of Major Poland, Minor Poland, Red Russia and Lithuania, it was called in Hebrew 'Va'ad Arba Artzot'.
Shabbetai Tsvi: False Messiah of the 17th century (S(h)abbeteanism)
Kabbalah: Esoteric Jewish mysticism.
Frankists: Followers of the 18th century false Messiah Jakob Frank, some of whom later sought acceptance in the Christian church.
Chassidism /Has(s)idism: The Jewish revivalist movement originating in eastern Europe in the late 16th century. It maintains many of the characteristics of the time, such as its dress. Diverse sects of Chassidim hail from different towns and follow different leaders or 'rebbes'
Haskalah: 'Enlightenment' - the European Jewish movement that introduced Jews to modern ways of expression and thought from about 1750 to about 1880. 'Maskil', an adherent of the Haskalah, is also used in modern Hebrew for an educated person.
Hamelitz: The first Hebrew paper to appear in Russia: founded in 1860.
Bund: The Bund - Jewish political organisation formed in Vilna in 1897 to promote Labour causes and Jewish nationalism - but opposed to Zionism.
Poalei Zion
: “Workers of Zion”, a Marxist Jewish party founded in 1906. Its ideological 'father' was Dov Ber Borochov.
(Ha)Mizrachi: the Orthodox Zionist movement, founded in Vilna in 1902.
The Joint: 'Joint Distribution Committee', an American Jewish organisation founded in 1914 to provide relief to European Jews during World War I - later expanded to service Jewish communities worldwide.
Revisionists: followers of the radically nationalist Zionist movement led by Ze'ev Jabotinsky.
Hashomer Hatsair: “The Young Watchman”, a left-wing youth movement.
Freiheit (Dror): a moderate, but later left-wing, short-lived youth movement.
Gordonia: Named for A. D. Gordon (1856-1922), philosopher of regeneration of Jewish life through physical labour.
Hanoar Hazioni: 'Zionist Youth'.
Tseirei Mizrachi: “Mizrachi Youth”.
Beitar: right-wing youth movement, formed in 1923, and named after the Jewish fortress that held out against the Romans. Later associated with the Israeli 'Cherut' party.
Hechalutz: “The Pioneer”, an organisation to train youth for immigration to Israel / Palestine, primarily to a kibbutz.        
Eretz Yisrael Haovedet: Labour Israel.
Eit Livnot: A Time to Build.
Agudat Israel: the Orthodox Jewish (anti-Zionist) political movement organised in 1912 in Europe, seeking to sustain the values of traditional eastern European Jewry.
Hachnasat Orchim: a hostel for indigent Jewish travellers.
Andaks: a Polish anti-Semitic organisation.


The above notes were compiled by the translator / editor. Many of the definitions were taken from “The Timetables of Jewish History”, by Judah Gribetz with Edward L. Greenstein and Regina S. Stein (Simon and Schuster, 1993).


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