by M. Shmukler
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Edited by Jack Bader
A community existed in prehistoric time on the spot of today's Ludimir. Many objects from the Stone Age which have been found in Ludmir and the surrounding areas during archeological digs give witness as well as a campfire with coal and animal bones that probably date from the time of idol worshippers when sacrifices were made to the gods.
The first legendary information about the city is found in a Hungarian account that was written in the 13th century by the notary and chronicler of King Bela [III]. According to legend, Ludmir already existed in the year 884 under Hungarian rule as a rich city with a large population under the name of Lodomeria. From then, more than likely, comes the Jewish name, Ludmir.
The Russian chronicler Nestor contradicts the legend and says that the city in general was not under Hungarian rule, but was conquered along with other Slavic cities by the Russian Prince Oleg in 883. The first historical information about the city is related to the year 988. In that year, the Kiev Grand Prince Vladimir Sviatosiavich attacked to strengthen the city of Ludmir that lay in the center of the Volyn [Volhynia] area under construction and he gave it the name Vladimir. The new city was to serve as the land for a fortress to protect against the neighboring enemies. He [Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich] gave the city to Vsevolod, his fifth son, who received [the right to] to rule over the city. From then on Ludmir went through various metamorphoses: there were times when the city reached the highest level of its development, but also times when it was completely annihilated as if it had been erased from the earth.
The city was occupied in 1017 by the Polish King Bolesław Chrobry. Thirteen years later it was returned to the hands of the Russian Prince Yaroslav Volodimirovicu (Modryi) [the wise]. After Yaroslav's death in 1054, rule of the city and all of Volyn went over to his fifth son Igor Yaroslavich. And Ludmir became the main feudal city in Volyn from that time on. Ludmir became a separate political and spiritual center of southwestern
Ukraine and became the residence of the prince and of the bishop.
The area of the city spread wide. The village of Zimneye that is now located six kilometers from the city and the village of Kahilne that is 12 kilometers from the city were suburbs during the 11th century. To make the approach of an aggressor against the city more difficult it was strongly fortified so that the residents would find protection during a dangerous [time] and they could be confident of their lives and possessions. The fortification consisted of three rows of high earthen ramparts with high wooden walls surrounded by deep ditches. There were several towers in the walls that were located on the eastern side of the city. Far above, beyond the ramparts, the suburbs extend: Napatnice, Zawale, Pravala, Zalucze, Zaricze and so on. (Traces still remain of one internal rampart. The external ones were completely destroyed. In the 16th century the ditches were filled in and the area was covered with construction.)
The fortifications were vast and strong and in the year 1264, when the Russian Prince Vasilko Romanovich, at the request of the Tartar leader Burandoi, had to tear them down, it was impossible and they had to be burned.
The city also consisted of natural barriers. From the south it was protected by the Lug River and its surrounding mud and wet meadows. From the east by the tidal influx of the Lug: Rilavica and Smotsh and the surrounding mud and swamps. The artistic fortifications were given the name castle.
The development of the city increased from year to year beginning in the 11th century.
Ludmir reached the culmination point of its development and flourished at the beginning of the 13th century. When the Hungarian King Andrei visited Ludmir in the year 1231, he was truly astonished by the richness and size of the city and by its architecture. He is said to have declared that he had not seen such a city even on German territory. However, this golden era did not last long.
The feudal system of rule that was introduced by the Russian princes did not wait long for its fatal consequences. The country deteriorated. The princes were corroded by imperiousness and mutual envy. It reached a civil war, which weakened the abilities of the state to resist. The Mongol hordes made use of this opportunity and they attacked the weakened country that was exhausted by internal friction and disputes. The Mongols devastated and destroyed on their victory march.
When the Tartars attacked Volyn in 1240 under the leadership of Batu [Khan], Ludmir also was completely destroyed; when the then Ludmir Prince Danil [Danylo Romanovych] returned to Ludmir, he found only rotting human and animal dead. The smell was so bad that in no way could he settle here. Danil then decided to free himself from the Mongol yoke at any price and again began to fortify the devastated cities, among them also Ludmir.
The fortification tempted the Mongols even more. They attacked Volyn again in 1261 under the leadership of the cruel Burandai and Ludmir was completely erased from the earth when the Tartars plowed up the city from one end to the other.
In 1316 Ludmir was transferred to the rule of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gidemin [Gediminas]. In 1340 the Polish King Casimir the Great [Kazimierz Welkie] controlled all of Galicia as well as the western part of Volyn including Ludmir.
On the basis of the agreement in 1366, Ludmir was acknowledged as a part of the Kingdom of Poland. In 1370, after the death of King Casimir the Great, Ludmir again fell under Russian rule. Beginning in 1386, Ludmir ceased to be the residence of the princes and its place was taken by Lutsk. Ludmir lost its earlier appearance and influence. The frequent attacks fatally affected the development of the city that again had to rebuild itself.
In 1431 in order to improve the condition of the city, Casimir the Jageloner gave the city the so-called Magdeburg rights [privileges granted to cities and villages], which brought a certain revival to Ludmir.
In 1452 Volyn was united with the Duchy of Lithuania, with its capital in Vilna [Vilnius]. Ludmir no longer was the center and was reduced to the level of a provincial city. In 1491 Ludmir again was attacked by the Tartars. The city was destroyed and many people were murdered. In 1500 the sons of Crimean Khan Meńli Giray invaded Volyn and Podolia with 15,000 horsemen. Ludmir, like other cities,
disappeared in the smoke. In 1552 Ludmir was completely rebuilt and possessed 698 houses. The burned out castle was rebuilt again with five towers and a bridge.
After the rise of the Union of Lublin in 1569, Ludmir was declared the county seat and became the most advanced city in the west and played an important role in Polonization. The city was not yet rebuilt after the wild attacks, when in 1657 the Cossacks and the Hungarians again burned and plundered a part of it. From then on Ludmir's development was very weak and it lived through a considerable decline. As a poor, small and sparsely settled city, it again was occupied by the Russians in 1795 after the third partition of Poland.
A large fire broke out in Ludmir in 1859. In spite of the difficult consequences resulting from the fire, the population still succeeded in building from the ruins and two years later, in 1861, Ludmir grew from 8,636 residents to 9,885.
The year 1906 must be thought of as a year of crisis in the development of the city. In that year the first train line went through, which united Ludmir with Kovel. This fact had a decisive impact on the economic life of the city that until then had relied on poor means of communication.
The outbreak of the World War in 1914 led to a significant decrease in the population, which left for distant Russian areas. The development of the city ceased.
The Russian troops were forced to leave the city in the summer of 1915. The remainder of the Cossack divisions set fire to Jewish buildings in the center of the city, destroying the most beautiful buildings.
The occupation time of 1915-1918 brought the city under the rule of a military regime. All areas of social, cultural and scientific life died out.
The occupiers carried out the electrification of the city, which dispersed the deep darkness in which Ludmir always had been sunk. No less important for the city was the completion of the train line that connected Ludmir with Hrubieszów.
The city lived under the terror of frequently changing military regimes after the outbreak of the Austrian revolution in October 1918. With the rebirth of the Polish state, Ludmir entered a phase of progressive ascent. The growing population led to the development of the city in various directions. Even that part of the city that lay in the swampy area and
was the source of the spreading of malaria turned into finely constructed streets over several years after the rise of Poland, and the growth of the population went forward quickly in connection with this.
In 1931, according to the general census, Ludmir possessed 24,591 residents and during the following year, in 1934, it numbered 27,117
residents. The number of houses then reached 2,887.
Information published in number 2212 of Landkentnish [Touring] from the Jewish Society for Folklore, the Jewish Togtsetl [Daily Note] in Warsaw, edited by Dr. E. Ringelblum, Warsaw, December 1936, periodical for questions about nature study, tourism, folklore, ethnography and the history of Jewish settlements.
by Mendel Lipsker
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Edited by Jack Bader
Ludmir was one of the oldest cities in Poland. We already find traces of a Jewish settlement at the time when organized Jewish communities hardly existed in Poland.
Alas, we do not possess any documents or historical material that could give us the possibility of establishing when the Jewish settlement in Ludmir was established.
The little bit of material that we have is strewn in various archives and waits for the historian who will collect it and write the history of Ludmir.
We know that a Jewish settlement already existed in Ludmir at the time when the largest number of Jews was concentrated in Western Europe and only individuals came to Poland because of their trade connections with the emperors and magnates.
The fact that Ludmir was found on the border of Poland and Lithuania gave the city enormous importance and it was transformed into a center of trade where Jews found favorable terrain for themselves.
Ludmir was the first kehile [organized Jewish community] in Wolyn and had a representative in the Arba Aratzot [Council of the Four Lands central Jewish authority in Poland in the 16th and 17th centuries]. The Jews developed a widespread, multifaceted trade in Ludmir, not only with such trade centers as Pozen, Krakow and Lemberg. Jewish merchants from Ludmir diversified their enterprises and also created connections between Poland and other nations beyond the borders of Poland and Lithuania.
The Ludmir cemetery already was very old. Headstones were located there that were already 500, 600 years old. A number of headstones buried in the ground would have been able to tell us important things about the history of Ludmir.
The writer Anski visited Ludmir in 1912 in the name of the Jewish Ethnographic Society in Petersburg. He photographed all of the headstones, collected legends and other historical material.
Because of the First World War the material was not published.
A headstone at the Ludmir cemetery was uncovered accidently on which a family crest and the Polish eagle was visible. The headstone was for a famous Jewish personality who occupied an important place in Poland. In recognition for his great service, the deceased was considered a member of the Polish nobility, although he remained a Jew.
Prof. Gretz relates that the Lithuanian Prince Witold [Vytautas], who exhibited a particular sympathy toward Jews and brought the Karaites to Lutsk, gave the rich Jews of Ludmir a village in the area of the city as recognition of their great service on behalf of the Duchy of Lithuania.
We find in Seder HaDoroth [Book of Generations] by Reb Yehiel Halpern that at the time of the famous Gaon [sage], Reb Shlomo Luria (Rashal [acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Luria]) (5270-5333 [1510-1574]), the Gaon, Reb Yitzhak bar [son of] Betsalel was at the head of the then existing settlement in Ludmir. At the time of Reb Yoel Sirkis (5321-5400 [1561-1640]) known under the name Bach (Bayit Khadash [New House] the name of his well known book on the Turim [Halachic code of Jacob ben Asher]) the Gaon, Our Guide, Leib was in Ludmir, whom the Bach mentions in his Teshuvot [Responsa] and praises greatly.
Reb Heschl [of Krakow], the author of Khanukas haTorah [mystical commentaries on the Torah], relates that Reb Dovid HaLevi baal TAZ, the author of the famous book, Turei Zahav [Rows of Gold commentary on the Shulkan Arukh Code of Jewish Law], the Rabbi of Krakow and other large cities in Poland was born in Ludmir.
In 1590 a Jewish apothecary, Reb Avraham Ashkenazi, who wrote the book on morality Sam Hayyim [Elixir of Life], was in Ludmir.
It is enough to relate that the Ludmir kehile had as its ambition to be compared to Prague, Vienna, Krakow and invited as its rabbi such a famed personality as Reb Yom-Tov Lipman Heller, the Tosafot Yom-Tov [as is the custom, he is known by the name of his book of commentaries on the Oral Torah].
Reb Yom-Tov Lipman Heller was the rabbi in Prague, Vienna and Nikolsburg.
A group of Prague Jews submitted a denunciation to Emperor Ferdinand in Vienna that there were insults against the Christian faith in the books of Tosafot Yom-Tov. He was brought to Vienna shackled in chains and Reb Yom-Tov Lipman Heller was pardoned after he already had been condemned to death only thanks to the intervention of the French ambassador, whose children were saved from death by Reb Shmuel, the son of Tosafot Yom-Tov.
The Tosafot Yom-Tov came to Poland from Prague. The chosen kehile had invited him as rabbi earlier and from there he came to Ludmir.
In his Megilat Eivah [Scroll of Hostility], the Tosafot Yom-Tov relates that representatives of the Ludmir kehile, the first of
four kehilus in Volyn, came to him in Trisk [Turiisk, Ukraine] in 5704 (1634) and offered him the rabbinical seat in Ludmir.
Some then influential people had carried out a quarrel with him and he indeed once had to escape to Trisk because of a denunciation. This is apparently the source of the legend that the Tosofat Yom-Tov went to Ludmir one Friday evening and cursed the city [Ludmir] saying that it should not have a rabbi.
We know only a little about Tosofat Yom-Tov in Ludmir from what appears in Megilat Eivah.
The Ludmir synagogue was one of the oldest synagogues in Poland. There once were two holes in the roof of the Ludmir synagogue in which cannons were placed and it served as an observation point.
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