“Gorlice” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume III
(Gorlice, Poland)

49°40' 21°10'

Translation of “Gorlice” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem




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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Polin: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume III, pages 93-97, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

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[Pages 93-97]

Gorlice, Poland

(Gorlice District, Krakow region)

Translated by Chana Saadia

Year Total
1765 (?) 206
1880 5,000 2,257
1890 5,193 2,884
1900 6,431 3,279
1910 6,600 3,495
1921 5,600 2,300

There are those who believe that the first settlers in Gorlice were German immigrants from Görlitz in Silesia. According to local tradition, G' was founded in very early times by a family of merchants from Krakow named Drowtzman, who changed their name to Görlitzki when they moved to G'. G' was granted the status of city in 1401, and in the middle of the 14th century it was owned by this founding family. Residents of G' mainly supported themselves by commerce in wax, wine, beer, crops, wool and fish. In the 17th century G' suffered from the Swedish invasion, which captured [the city], and from a fire which broke out in 1689. G' was rebuilt and continued to develop during the first half of the 18th century.

In the 19th century oil refineries were established in G', which brought prosperity to the region. Ignacy Łukasiewicz, inventor of the kerosene lamp, lived in G'. As was common among the local people, one of his assistants was a Jewish metal–worker, who helped with this invention. In 1874 there was again a fire in G' which destroyed many houses, but the residents of G' succeeded in restoring the destroyed areas, so that the development of the city was not stopped. The circumstances changed during World War I. Following the battles which were fought there, and due to the invasion of the Russians who conquered G' twice, many of the residents abandoned the town and moved to other places; thus the industrial plants were destroyed or abandoned.

According to the founding charter of G' Jews were forbidden to live in the city, and thus were forced to live in the outlying suburbs. In G' itself Jews only settled at a later date. The number [of Jews] over the age of one year was in 1765 – 164, who supported themselves by trade and commerce. In the 18th century they established business connections with Hungary, to which they exported linen cloth and furs, and in exchange imported to G' wines and other agricultural produce. In the second half of the 19th century some of G's Jews founded oil refineries, but most of the local Jews barely supported themselves as wagon–drivers and as peddlers at the fairs and the nearby villages. The Jews suffered greatly when a fire broke out in 1874; some of their homes were burned down, and a mob tried to take advantage of the emergency to attack them and loot their property. Lacking any official response, the Jews organized for self–defense, and even managed to defeat the rioters. In 1898 there were again riots in the entire district and many Jewish homes were destroyed. The looters were farmers and laborers at the oil wells.

At the beginning of the 19th century the [Jewish] community of G' became independent; earlier the local Jews were subordinate to the community of Nowy Sacz. The first Rabbi of G' was Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, of the family of the “Noda Be'Yehuda”[1]. In 1839 Rabbi Yekutiel Zalman–Leib Teitelbaum, author of “Yeitav Lev” was appointed Rabbi. He served in G' until 1856, when he moved to Drohobych to replace his father as Rabbi there.[2] His position in G' was taken by his son–in–law, Rabbi Baruch Halberstam. After a short time [Rabbi Baruch] left G', moving to Rudnik[3] to replace his father[4]. The brother of the author of “Yeitav Lev”, Rabbi Shmuel Teitelbaum, was appointed to the Gorlice rabbinate, and served there until 1888. He was replaced by his son, Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov, known as Rabbi Yakil. After he served as rabbi for several years a conflict broke out over the rabbinate and the community broke into two factions; one faction supported Rabbi Baruch Halberstam, who decided to return to G' after thirty years as Rabbi of Rudnik, while the other faction supported Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov. This conflict lasted for three years until the factions agreed to an arbitration headed by Rabbi Shmuel Engel of Radomysl. According to the judgment both rabbis were permitted to reside in G' but the community had to decide which of them would hold the post of Community Rabbi. In fact, both rabbis remained for a time in G', but Rabbi Yakil finally left G' and returned to the city in Hungary where he had served as Rabbi [before he came to G']. Rabbi Baruch Halberstam died in 1906, and was succeeded by his son Rabbi Elisha of Krosno, who served until the holocaust. During the first days of the Nazi invasion he escaped to Lvov, which then was under Soviet rule, and from there he was exiled to Siberia[5].

The synagogue in G' was apparently founded in the second half of the 18th century. Attached to the synagogue was the building of the beis hamedrash[6]. In addition to these places of prayer there was also a house of study called “the new beis hamedrash” which was destroyed during WWI and was not rebuilt. In G' there was also a regular minyan[7] in the city Rabbi's house and one in the “Talmud–Torah”[8] building. During the controversy over the post of Town Rabbi the supporters of Rabbi Yakil built a beis hamedrash called “Men of Faith and Charity”, where they prayed.

At first there was no [Jewish] cemetery and the Jews of G' buried their dead in the city of Zemigrod. The cemetery in G' was dedicated in the middle of the 19th century. In 1904 there were in G' 16 cheders[9] with a total of 250 students. As in the other cities of Galicia until the beginning of the 20th century education was mainly in the cheders, and a few of the boys of G' continued their studies in the beis hamedrash. An attempt was made in 1908 to establish a Hebrew school sponsored by “Safa Berura[10], along with a kindergarden, but the school lasted for a short time only. In 1912 the “Talmud–Torah” was founded in a two–story building. In addition to the “Talmud–Torah” which was active in G' from the beginning of the 20th century, other educational institutions were founded under the auspices of “Agudat Yisrael”[11] – “Beis Yaakov” for girls and “Yesodei Hatorah” school for boys. The “Mizrachi” established a Hebrew cheder, which taught history and Bible in spoken Hebrew.[12] A modern cheder was founded at about the same time; it taught written Yiddish, some arithmetic, Polish and German in addition to the religious subjects. Despite the [legal] obligation to send children to elementary school, many parents refused to send their children to these [public] schools for fear of assimilation. In the general gymnasia which was founded there in 1907 there were few Jewish students, 10–12 percent of the student body. For many years three Jewish teachers taught there. This was a high–school for boys and girls, except for a short time when only boys studied there. During WWI the gymnasia was destroyed and it was rebuilt during the 1920's. In the gymnasia, as in the elementary school, there were compulsory classes in the religion of Israel [for Jewish students], and a teacher of religion in G', Alexander Laker, even wrote a text–book. During the first years of the 20th century Zionist groups were founded in G'. At that time the youth group “Tzeirei Yehudah” was founded, as were “Hashachar” and “Hadassa”, and with them public libraries. There was also a group of ”Polaei Zion”, which in G' was called “Irgun Ozrei Mischar U'Melacha”.


Between the two World Wars

Towards the end of WWI anti–Semitism began to trouble the Jews in G'. At the end of the war there was even a violent attack on the Jews by the soldiers of General Haler. Using the excuse of searching for weapons, Jewish houses were searched, and in the process valuables and merchandise were confiscated, and many homes were damaged. The establishment of Polish co–operatives, formed in order to supplant Jewish merchants and craftsmen, caused the Jews serious economic problems. Later there were boycotts against the Jews, and demonstrations outside their stores. In 1926 members of the Zionist organizations were falsely accused that their Zionism was a cover for their being Communists, and this libel lead to the arrest of a Hebrew teacher and of several young men. In the end their complete innocence was proven and they were released, but until then violent emotions were aroused and there were incidents where Jews were attacked. In 1931 two Jewish gymnasia students from the graduating class were arrested on charges of Communism. The Polish students began a campaign of incitement against the Jews but in this case it was determined that these two Jewish students were innocent and they were released and allowed to take their final exams.

The main occupations of the Jews of G' in the period between the two world wars were small businesses and trades. Shop–keepers dealt in cloth, grains, flour, eggs, animals and various agricultural products, which were plentiful in the region. There were also businessmen who managed forests, owners of warehouses of wood, and those who dealt profitably in the supply and processing of petroleum or in other small industries such as factories manufacturing tar–paper, candles, bricks, small flour mills, saw–mills, and small workshops making clothing and shoes. There were some who earned their living in markets and fairs in neighboring towns. In G' there were several Jewish professionals: doctors and lawyers. Among the tradesmen we can list bakers, hat–makers, wagon–drivers, butchers, tailors, shoe–makers, glaziers, tinsmiths and leather workers. These tradesmen made a poor living. Especially bad was the condition of those who worked in their homes, and received orders only at certain times of the year, and even worse was the condition of the salaried workers, whose wages were often not paid on time and who had no unemployment insurance. The poor situation of the shop–keepers and tradesmen was made worse by the activities of the NDs[13] against the trade and services operated by the Jews. This led to the founding of the “Association of Jewish Merchants”, the “Association of Jewish Small Business–men”, and the “Association of Jewish Tradesmen”. The main function of these organizations was to arrange licenses for their members, to give credit and to organize co–operation and mutual aid. There were two “Gemilut–Chassadim”[14] funds: “Gemilut–Chassadim of Gorlice” and “Gemilut–Chassadim of the Believers and the Charitable ones”. Both offered substantial interest–free long–term loans. There were also founded in G' three co–operative banks which gave businessmen and tradesmen loans at low rates of interest. One of these banks was founded by the Association of Tradesmen. At the end of the 1920's it had 650 members. The Association of Tradesmen also founded its own synagogue. At that same period of time there operated an organization called “Linat Ha'Tzedek”,[15] which offered medical assistance to the town's poor people. This society was connected to the “Bikur Cholim”[16] society and the women's organization “Chevrat Nashim”,[17] whose main activity was aid to poor women after childbirth. An old–age home and a bath–house were built with aid from the Joint, which also supported a doctor serving the poor of the town.

G' was distinctly a Chassidic town; most of the chassidim gathered around Admorim[18] of the dynasties of Cieniawa[19] and Bobov related to the Sanz dynasty, but there were also chassidim of Belz, Sadigora and Dzikow. Rabbi Chaim Efraim Perter of Dembitz had his [chassidic] court in G', with a community of followers. He was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Moshe, and by his son–in–law of the Brandwein family (both were killed in the Holocaust). The Chassidim maintained three Houses of Prayer in G': that of the Sanz chassidim (in the Rabbi's house), of the Bobov chassidim and of the Belz chassidim. A branch of“Agudat Yisrael” was established in the1920's, along with [a branch of]“Poalei Agudat Yisrael” and a women's organization. The Gorlice branch of“Agudat Yisrael” founded a local Hachshara center, preparing youth to move to Eretz Yisrael.

There were active branches of all the Zionist parties in G', as well as the youth organizations“Hashomer Hatzair”,“Akiva”, and“Beitar” which kept a joint Hachshara kibbutz. The leader of the Zionists for many years was the lawyer Dr. Blech, who was also a representative of the municipal council and its management. In 1934 the local Zionists opened a popular university with a library and reading room – a kind of cultural center which served the whole city. In 1935 over 550 people voted in the elections for representatives to the Zionist Congress, of whom 271 voted for the“General Zionists”, 68 for“Mizrachi” and 134 for the“Eretz Yisrael Workers List”.“Mizrachi” founded a women's organization named“Bruriah” and a youth movement –“He'Chalutz Ha'Mizrachi”[20] – and founded a Hachshara kibbutz on a farm in a suburb of the city. In 1921 there were elections to the Community Council. All of the parties united and the Council members were elected by a unanimous vote. Dr. M. Blustein was elected head of the Community Council; after a year he resigned, and two years later he was replaced by Yechiel Hollander.

Before WWII 3,400 Jews lived in G'. During the first days of September, 1939 about a third of the Jews left the city and headed eastward. Some reached eastern Galicia and remained there after it was conquered by the Russians, but most returned to G' after difficult wanderings. Some Jews from G' were captured by the Germans in Dinow, and were murdered there by the Germans in mid–September along with about 300 other Jewish refugees and local residents.

G' was captured by the Germans on September 7, 1939. When they entered the city, the Germans took several hostages, both Poles and Jews. The Wehrmacht soldiers began taking Jews for forced labor, stealing their property and abusing them (cutting off their beards). The Jews received permission from the administration to hold prayers in the synagogue on the Jewish New Year, but the local priest warned them that the Germans were planning a trap for them in the synagogue, so they didn't go there to pray. A group of Germans did arrive at the synagogue on the holiday, but when they found no Jews praying there they settled for destroying the interior of the synagogue. Around that time the Wehrmacht soldiers caught several Jews (5 or 7), took them out of the city and murdered them.

It should be noted that in addition to refugees from Germany who arrived in G' after Krystallnacht, a group of Jewish refugees arrived from western Poland in the fall of 1939, and refugees from Lodz arrived in the spring of 1940. By the fall of 1940 there were 4,000 Jews living in G', and about 1,500 more in the surrounding villages.

In the fall of 1939 Jewish–owned factories and workshops were confiscated or transferred to the hands of German or local folksdeutsch“trustees”. Small Jewish–owned stores were allowed to continue operating until 1940, but they had to be marked with a Jewish star. The stores were operated only by women, as a man who stood in a store was in danger of being drafted for forced labor.

In January 1940 the Jews were ordered to wear a white band with a blue Jewish star on their left arms. In the same month the Germans appointed a 7–member Judenrat. A lawyer, Dr. Henrik Arnold, a Zionist and public figure, was named as its head. By command of the governor of the Jaslo district on April 29, 1940, the G' Judenrat was subordinate to the Central Jewish Council of the Jaslo district. A Jewish police force was set up with the Judenrat. At the beginning the Judenrat mainly supplied men for forced labor. Each day from 100 to 300 workers were supplied, which prevented the random kidnapping of men on the street. At the beginning several dozen Jews were employed, and later the number grew to 100 in two sawmills in G' which were managed during the occupation by a German firm“Hobag”, and in a tar–paper factory which had been owned until 1939 by a Jew named Pessel. Other Jews were employed as street–cleaners and in building roads, including the road between Sanok and Jaslo.

In order to ease the distress of the refugees and the local poor, in 1940 the Judenrat contacted the JSS[21] in Krakow, and in 1941 a branch of the JSS was established in G'. By February 1942 300 Jews received help from the JSS.

A public kitchen was set up in G', and people in need also received food packages. An infirmary was operated by the Judenrat from 1940. Apparently at that time a Polish doctor treated the patients, as a Jewish doctor only arrived in G' from Krakow in 1941. During the fall of 1940 two dentists also worked in the infirmary. When epidemics began to spread in G' at the end of 1941 or the start of 1942, a small hospital was opened for the Jews.

In December 1940 a Jewish school was opened, with seven classes and over 400 students. Officially the language of instruction was Hebrew, but in practice classes were taught in Polish and Hebrew was one of the subjects studied. The children received some food in school, though for many of them it was their only meal for the day. The school reopened after the summer vacation of 1941, and apparently closed towards the end of that year.

In 1940 the Judenrat made plans to open vocational courses for young people, such as tailoring, sewing for boys, shoe–making, metal–work and even agriculture, but these plans apparently were not carried out.

Until July, 1941, Jews lived in all the streets of the city. They eased their economic hardship by smuggling food from Slovakia, in partnership with local non–Jews. In July 1941 the German authorities began to set up the ghetto. Jews were expelled from the city center; 160 of the poorest, many of them refugees, were expelled from G' to Bobowa, and on August 7th an additional group was sent from G' to Biecz, Bobowa and Rzepiennik Strzy┼╝ewski. The ghetto was established in October 1941, but in the beginning it apparently was an open ghetto, without guards. Over time the ghetto area was reduced to several small streets in the Dworzysko district. The ghetto was locked in February 1942. The area was greatly overcrowded, with 10–15 people per room. To the hardship of overcrowding was added the lack of food, clothing and heating material. Diseases spread, and caused many deaths. In addition to all this, during the hard winter of 1941–1942 the Jews were ordered to turn over all fur clothes to the German authorities. Anyone who didn't obey this order was executed. The family of the barber Meinhart was murdered, among others.

As the situation grew worse, the composition of the Judenrat changed. The chairman, Dr. Arnold, was beaten and shot to death in his office by the Germans, around the summer or fall of 1941, after he refused to carry out their orders. Dr. Blekh was appointed in his place.

On January 3rd 1942 men of the Gestapo murdered about 20 Jews in the streets of G'. A few weeks later they murdered the shochet[22], Peretz Hoffman, his wife and 5 children. In April 1942 the Germans killed about 70 Jews in G' and in Biecz, on the pretext that they were“Communists and Zionists”, or that members of their families had defected to Russia.

In the spring of 1942 Jews who were deported from the surrounding villages arrived in the ghetto of G'. At this time rumors began spreading about mass murders of Jews.

The Judenrat established workshops for various trades, mainly for tailors. In June there were 350 workers employed in this workshop. During the same period a workshop for young boys and girls between the ages of 13–20 was opened; about 100 young people, assisted by 14 instructors, were employed manufacturing toys, house slippers, etc.

On the evening of the 9th of Av, 5702 (22.7.1942) the authorities ordered all Jewish men to gather in the Dworzysko Square. After a selection they sent about 300 young men to the labor camp at Plaszow, near Krakow. In the same month the Germans levied a“contribuzia”[23] on the Jews of G'. When they had difficulty raising the sum demanded, the Germans searched Jewish houses and took the money by force. At the beginning of August 1942 Jews from Bobowa and Biecz were moved to the G' ghetto. On August 12th the Germans again demanded a“contribuzia” of 250,000 zloty from the Judenrat, to be paid immediately. Early in the morning of August 14th, 1942 the ghetto was surrounded by the Germans, Polish policemen and the Ukrainians. In the morning the Jews were commanded to gather in the Dworzysko Square. Many remained hidden in attics, cellars and other hiding places. The Germans searched the area, and any Jews they found were murdered on the spot. Of the Jews who reported to the square, about 200 young men were sent to the camp at Plaszow. Old people, sick people and children – about 700 people – were taken by truck to a place[24] called Garbacz near the town of Omnishunka[25], where they were murdered. The members of the Judenrat and their families were murdered near the Gestapo building. Those who remained in the square, except for the workers of Hobag and the tar–paper factory, were moved to the sheds of the shoe factory, opposite the railroad station. They remained crowded there, without food and water, until August 17th. On that day and the following day they were deported in freight cars to the death camp in Belzec.

There remained in G' about 100 workers at Hobag and the tar–paper factory and about 600 people whose job was to clean the ghetto, and apparently a few dozen people who worked on agricultural estates in the area. Now [the Germans] set up a closed ghetto for about 700 people. Though this ghetto was locked and guarded, some Jews who had saved themselves by remaining hidden during the deportation of August managed to sneak into it. About 50 of these people were caught, and ordered to bury the Jews murdered in Garbacz; these grave–diggers generally didn't return. Another selection was held in the ghetto a week later. Everyone was required to report to a designated place. The Germans ordered 250 of the people present, according to a list they had prepared, to step out of the lines of the group. When they refused, the Germans began shooting them. Many people were killed there, and the others were loaded onto freight cars and deported to Belzec. The ghetto was liquidated on September 14, 1942; about 350 people were sent to Belzec. About 70 workers of Hobag and about 30 workers at the tar–paper factory remained in G'. They were sent to live in their places of work and imprisoned there until January 6, 1943, when the Hobag workers were deported to the labor camp in Muszyna and the tar–paper workers were sent to Rzeszow.

G' was liberated on January 16 – 17 1945. About 200 Jews from the city returned there – some had hidden in the area and others who returned from Russia or from the concentration camps. The first of those who returned to their hometown, about 30 people, arrived in 1945 and began trying to rehabilitate the community. Their main concern was to commemorate those who were murdered. The Jews located the bodies of many victims of the Germans who were buried in various places, and reburied them in the Jewish cemetery. In Garbacz they set up a monument to the many old people and children who were murdered there, and they gathered the Torah scrolls and holy books and buried them in the cemetery. They gathered gravestones, which under the German occupation had been removed from the cemetery and used for paving sidewalks in the city, and returned them to their places. For lack of funds the remnants of the community didn't succeed to build a fence around the cemetery.

After a short time all the Jews left G'.[26]


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Rabbi Yechezkel haLevi Landau [1713–1793], known by the name of his most important book. Return
  2. Rabbis of the Teitelbaum family served many communities in Galicia, Hungary and Romania, founding what today is known as the Satmar hassidic dynasty. Rabbi Yekutiel's father was Rabbi Eliezer Nissan [d. 1855]. Return
  3. Now known as “Rudnik nad Sanem” (on the San River), Poland. Return
  4. Rabbi Chaim Halberstam [1793–1876], founder of the Sanz hassidic dynasty. Return
  5. Where he died in 1941. Return
  6. House of Study, where men learned Talmud alone or in pairs, and heard lectures on religious subjects. Return
  7. At least 10 men gathered for prayers; a minyan regularly meeting for prayer would also have a Torah scroll. Return
  8. Boys' elementary religious school, larger than a cheder – classes divided by age with a teacher for each class. Return
  9. One–room religious schools, teaching boys from age three to thirteen to read Hebrew, prayer, Bible and Talmud. Return
  10. An organization founded by Eliezer Ben–Yehuda in 1889 to spread the teaching of the Hebrew language Return
  11. Religious non–Zionist political party Return
  12. “Ivrit b'Ivrit” – Bible lessons explained in Hebrew, which is spoken in the classroom rather than Yiddish. Return
  13. Narodowa Demokracja (National Democracy), called Endecja from abbreviation (ND) of its Polish name, was a Polish right–wing nationalist anti–semitic political movement Return
  14. Free loan fund Return
  15. Home of Righteousness Return
  16. Visiting the sick Return
  17. Women's Society Return
  18. pl. of Admor – abbreviation of “adoneinu, moreinu v'rabeinu” [our master, teacher and rabbi] – title of a Chassidic Rabbi, who was often not the official Rabbi of the town. Return
  19. Pronounced in Yiddish: Shinyeve, also spelled Sieniawa Return
  20. Mizrachi Pioneers Return
  21. Juedische Soziale Selbsthilfe – the Jewish Social Self–Help foundation, which operated in Poland under the German occupation Return
  22. Ritual slaughterer Return
  23. A heavy fine Return
  24. In a forest Return
  25. I couldn't locate a place by this name in the Gorlice area. http://www.sztetl.org.pl/en/article/gorlice/13,sites–of–martyrdom/1117,the–mass–grave–in–the–garbacz–forest/ locates the site of the massacre near Strozowka. Return
  26. The text doesn't say when or why the Jews left. I heard from relatives who returned to G' that the local population was very anti–Semitic, and they felt unsafe because Jews were murdered in nearby towns. Return


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