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Translation of Lizhansk chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin
Translation of Lizhansk chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem
Published in Jerusalem
Translated and submitted to the Yizkor Book Project by Marc Zell
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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume III, pages 232-236, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
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Caption: Lezajsk The Mausoleum over the Grave of Rabbi Elimelech of Lezajsk,
which was erected in 1960 on its original site that was destroyed during the Second World War.
Caption: Nowi Sancz Front Page of the Weekly Newspaper Sandzer Zeitung, 6 May 1910
Lezajsk is located in the San River valley some six kilometers from the river. The place was known from the beginning of the 14th century as crown city. In 1397 Lezajsk was granted the status of a city under the Magdeburg Law. From the 15th to the 18th centuries the important commercial Lwow Sandomierz route made its way through Lezajsk. In the beginning Lezajsk was situated on both banks of the River San (in lieu of today's villages of Stary-Miasto and Korilowka), but after the Tartar invasion in 1524 King Sygmund the Elder moved the city to its present location, which was more easily fortified and defended. In the years afterwards permission was granted to build royal granaries in the city as well as boats and barges that carried goods to Gdansk. The city was also granted the privilege of warehousing transit goods and its residents were given a priority right to purchase the same and to hold annual trade fairs and weekly markets. Lezajsk was damaged along with the other cities of the region as the result of the many wars that beset the city (the war between the elders of Lezajsk and the lords of Lancut, 1607 1610; the Swedish wars in 1702-1704; World War I) and epidemics and fires (in 1906 alone more than 200 homes were destroyed by fire). Nevertheless the city learned how to recover from natural disasters and developed even more strongly in their wake. Its geographic location was among the factors that contributed to its survival and success.
Starting in the 17th century the Bernardine Monastery in Lezajsk held fixed festivals for the purpose of expiating sins. During these days masses of Catholic believers entered the city and the occasion was used to hold large trade fairs.
In the 18th and 19th centuries Lezajsk was a center for the manufacture of course wool fabrics. Many inhabitants of Lezajsk earned their living in the estate industries [?] of Count Potocki that were located in the vicinity of the town. Towards the end of the 19th century Lezajsk was connected to the Rzerzow Lublin railroad line.
From the end of the 18th century until 1939 Lezajsk was a pilgrimage destination for large numbers of Jews from Galicia and beyond, particularly on the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Elimelech of Lezajsk (21 Adar), which was also the occasion for local artisans and merchants, Jewish as well as Christian, to hold a kind of trade fair. They used to set up stalls next to the Jewish cemetery and sell goods and products as well as foodstuffs that were customary at fairs and that had been prepared weeks and even months prior to the Yahrzeit.
The first clear reference to Jews residing permanently in Lezajsk comes from the year 1521. In 1538 seven Jewish families paid a tax to the King's treasury for the homes they occupied. In 1633 Joel ben Yosef and his mother Esther submitted a petition to the King asking to be exempted from paying taxes after they returned and built their home which had been destroyed in the fires of the previous year. The King granted their petition and used this opportunity to confirm the long-standing right of the Jews of Lezajsk to build houses on the Jewish Street and to buy homes from the Christians. A tax exemption for the synagogue and the cemetery was also confirmed. The privileges of the Jews were reconfirmed by King Jan Sobieski III in 1685 and by the last King of Poland, Stanislaw August Poniatowski in 1765. According to these privileges the Jews of Lezajsk were granted the right to purchase lots and to build homes on the market square, to trade on weekdays and on market days and to sell alcoholic beverages. Taxes similar to those levied on the Christian inhabitants were imposed on the Jews.
The Jewish community of Lezajsk already had organized institutions by the beginning of the 17th century. In the old section of the Jewish cemetery tombstones bearing dates from this period could still be found during the period between the two world wars. At first the Jewish community was subordinate to the Jewish community in Przemysl, but in 1718 it was liberated from the latter's control and became independent within the Przemysl District in the State of Reissin. That same year the Council of the Four Lands ruled that the Jewish community of Lezajsk and the surrounding areas subject to it had to pay 1,000 gold zlotys annually to the Council's treasury a sum of money that it was obligated to pay prior to its separation from Przemysl. The regulation was signed by Rabbi Shmuel ben Shimon Wolf of Lezajsk. It is possible that the latter served as Chief Rabbi of the city at the time or was the leader (parnas) of the community.
Among the first rabbis of Lezajsk known to us are Rabbi Yehoshua Kahana and Rabbi Ze'ev Wulf Eliezer, author of the Lashon Hazahav. The latter probably served in Lezajsk from about the middle of the 18th century to his death in 1793. During his tenure in Lezajsk, Rabbi Elimelekh ben Eliezer Lippman established his residence in the city around the year 1772. During his life Rabbi Elimelekh spread the reputation of the Jewish community of Lezajsk throughout Eastern European Jewry. After his death, the mausoleum that was erected over his grave became a destination for pilgrimages for masses of Jews until the Holocaust. Rabbi Elimelekh of Lezajsk (as he came to be known in the history of Hasidism) was a disciple of the Great Magid of Mezritch. He and his brother, Rabbi Meshullam-Zushe of Anapoli, wandered far and wide to spread Hasidism among the Jewish communities. After the death of his Rebbe, the Magid Dov-Ber, Rabbi Elimelekh settled in Lezajsk which then became an important center of Hasidism. His many disciples spread Hasidism throughout Galicia and Congress Poland, among them the Seer of Lublin, Rabbi Mendel of Rimanow, the Magid of Kozhnitz, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasow, Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel of Apta, Rabbi Naftali of Rofshitz and others. Rabbi Elimelekh's essay, Noam Elimelekh at the time stirred up considerable controversy. His opponents claimed that it contained blasphemous material while Hasidim were impressed by it. Rabbi Elimelekh died in 1787 and his place in Lezajsk was inherited by his son, Rabbi Eliezer who disseminated his father's teachings and published his writings. Rabbi Eliezer died in 1806 and was replaced by Rabbi Naftali Weissblum. The latter refused to become a Master (Admor) to his Hasidim and from this time onward the number of members of this Hasidic dynasty gradually decreased and its importance among the other Masters of the other Hasidic dynasties contracted. Rabbi Naftali dies in 1838.
During the early years of Austrian rule a very heavy tax burden was imposed on the Jews of Lezajsk along with the rest of the Jews of Galicia. In 1781 there were 527 Jewish taxpayers (i.e. wage-earners) in Lezajsk; 205 of them were obligated to pay less than 25 gulden per year. We can learn from these statistics that most of the Jews of Lezajsk were quite poor. 110 of them barely earned a livelihood and only 13, that is a negligible percentage of all the wage-earners could be counted as well-off. The Jews found it difficult to bear the tax burden and that very year they were unable to meet the property tax charge of 32 gulden. The response of the Jewish community to the government's plan to resettle Jews in the villages is of particular interest. Most of the Jewish communities avoided having to implement the program. But in 1789, the Lezajsk Jewish community submitted a petition to the Emperor's court in which it proposed 70 Jewish families from Lezajsk (probably the poorest member or sub-tenants) on lands adjacent to the city and even undertook to reimburse the expenses related to this resettlement activity. At first the resettlement was to take place in the village of Luchow which was rather distant from Lezajsk. The Jewish community of Lezajsk appealed this decision in an additional petition to the Emperor, on whose behalf land more closely situated to the city were designated for resettlement of the Jews. However, in the meantime, this area was occupied by German settlers and the Jewish community's initiative for the resettlement of Jews in the villages within the framework of the general program was never implemented. During the years 1775 1804 seven Jewish families out of a quota of nine that had been set for Lezajsk did relocate to villages in eastern Galicia.
In the first half of the 19th century the Jewish settlement in Lezajsk did not expand. The community was considered rather poor and the annual salary of the City Rabbi was fixed at only 60 florins by the government. However, the greatest development from the standpoint of the size of the population of the Jewish community occurred in the 1880s. In addition to minor commerce, trade in area trade fairs and work in the trades, several dozens of well-to-do Lezajsk Jews earned their living at that time by leasing the estates of Count Potocki in the city and its environs, especially in leasing the timber lands for lumber production and marketing of corn. The Jews built a saw-mill and several brick factories. Thus, many of Lezajsk's Jews, particularly the peddlers and the stall-owners, received income for a considerable time from providing services, such as supply of food and lodging to thousands of pilgrims to the tomb of Rabbi Elimelekh. The Yahrzeit of this Hasidic tzaddik (21 Adar) was a source of support for the poorest of the community for several months.
The decline in the size of the Jewish population of Lezajsk that began in the last decades of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was caused primarily by emigration overseas. This emigration also accelerated following the fire of 1906 in which 200 Jewish homes were destroyed by fire. Two Jews were killed in the fire and property damages was estimated at about 2 million crowns. During the period of Austrian rule the following Rabbis served in Lezajsk: Rabbi Naftali Hertz ben Sharol Harif; Rabbi David ben Shlomo Yitzhak Halperin-Weingarten (d. 1815); Rabbi Shmuel Nahum ben Kehat Gassenbauer, author of the Nevel Asor, Droshei Hefetz, and Migdal Shen, from 1856 to his death in 1857; Rabbi Yehoshua Ephraim ben Yehuda Tzvi Bombach, author of Pnei Efraim, from 1858 1863; Rabbi Joel-Moshe Landa and Rabbi Moshe Barzap. After the latter's death around the beginning of the 20th century a dispute broke out regarding the succession to the Chief Rabbinate of Lezajsk. It was only in 1910 that the grandson of Rabbi Joel Moshe, Rabbi Yehezkel Landa, was appointed Chief Rabbi; he was the last Rabbi of Lezajsk (d. 1937). In 1877 Rabbi Shmuel Yeshayahu (or Yehoshua) ben Shlomo-Zalman Birnbaum, known as the Tzicher, was accepted as the Judge and Teacher and later President of the Bet Din of Lezajsk. He served in this position for more than 60 years (d. 1938). At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century the Admor Rabbi Elimelekh Weissblum (known as Rabbi Melekh Dubchis), grandson of Rabbi Naftali (grandson of the author of Noam Elimelekh) and his school settled in Lezajsk and held court there. Rabbi Hanna Weissblum who also had a school (kloyz) known as the Rabbi Hannah's Kloyz and later Rabbi Baruch's Kloyz also settled in Lezajsk. Rabbi Hanna died in 1923.
The Jewish community in those days was entirely Hasidic in its orientation and thus it is no wonder that there was no place there for the development of the Zionist movement. It is reported though that in 1912 a local committee of the General Zionist Federation of Western Galicia existed in the city, but we have no record of its activities. At that time several members of the learned professions (attorneys and doctors) settled in Lezajsk. One of them, Advocate Arnold Berger, founded a Jewish library in 1900, but few were able to take advantage of it. In 1909 it is reported that courses in the Hebrew language were offered in the town, but two years later it was reported to the General Zionist Federation in Jaroslavl that there was no Jewish school in Lezajsk because most of the city's Jews are ultra-orthodox and very conservative.
In the first years after the end of the war, the Joint Distribution Committee arrived to assist the Jews. Food and clothing were distributed, especially for the children, a public kitchen was set up and medicine was handed out free of charge to those in need. The Joint gave financial support to the consumer cooperative, The Association, which was established by Jewish tradesmen and workers. The Cooperative had 396 members and distributed foodstuffs and clothing at low prices to needy Jews.
In 1921 some 58 Jewish-owned workshops and light industry were operating in Lezajsk, employing 106 people, including 76 proprietors and family members, the rest being paid workers, 24 of whom were Jews. There were 23 enterprises in the clothing sector tailors, hatters and shoemakers and 17 in the food sector. A negligible percentage of the those engaged in these enterprises were paid workers. During the same period almost all commerce was in the hands of the Jews. With the exception of several stores and taverns, most of the Jewish merchants earned their living from grocery stores while still more made a living from stalls or peddling in the villages. Among the more well-to-do in the Jewish community were, in addition to several wholesalers, lessees of Count Potocki's steam plant and saw-mill. In these enterprises the tenants also hired Jewish clerks and workers. Among the Jewish professional intelligentsia who settled in Lezajsk between the wars were eight attorneys, two physicians, three dentists or dental clinicians and one veterinarian.
About half of the Jewish population in Lezajsk barely was able to earn a livelihood and many needed public assistance. From 1927 the Gemilut Hasadim Fund which had existed for some time was supported by funds from the Joint. In 1929 this Fund made 60 loans totaling 5,238 zlotys. In 1938 the Fund received a grant of $150 from the Lezajsk Landsmanschaft in the United States. A Jewish Bank operated for some time in Lezajsk, which extended credit to more well off Jewish wage-earners. A very special fund was established in Lezajsk in the first years following World War I, known as Anfertig Gelt. This fund distributed gifts and food stamps to the flotsam and jetsam so that they would not harass local residents when they returned home. But the problem of beggars was not solved. The latter flooded Lezajsk during the festivities for Rabbi Elimelekh, crowded into the Jewish cemetery and asked for handouts from pilgrims. In the period between the wars branches of all the various streams of the Zionist Federation in Poland were established in Lezajsk. The most powerful of these branches were the General Zionists followed by the Mizrachi organization. The oldest of the Zionist youth organizations was the Shomer Hatzair(established in 1924) and the largest of them in terms of numbers was the Akiva organization set up in 1932 after the chapter of the Noar Ha'ivri split into the Noar Hazioni and the Akiva. Besides these the following youth organizations also were active in Lezajsk: Tz'irei Ha-Mizrachi, Hashomer Hadati, Beitar, and Gordonia. Tz'irei Ha-Mizrachi organized a small training kibbutz in Lezajsk in the 1930s. The Mizrachi organization had its own prayer house. In the elections to the Zionist Congress in 1935 the votes were as follows: General Zionists 170; Mizrachi 79; Eretz Yisrael Ovedet 54; Miflagat Hamedina 4. A branch of Agudat Yisrael was also active in Lezajsk and its own prayer house. There was a constant battle between the Zionists, Agudat Yisrael and the various Hasidic sects in the Jewish Community Council. In 1924 the Zionist prevailed in the elections, but the lobbying efforts of the Admor Rabbi Menashe Horowitz prevented the Council from forming and the government had to appoint a commissioner. In the 1930 elections the members of the Agudat Yisrael and the Hasidim prevailed and a chairman of the Council representing them was elected. In 1938 the Zionists returned and prevailed, but in 1939 the Council was dissolved and the government had to appoint a commissioner. There was an almost permanent Jewish representation on the City Council of four persons. The representation consisted of three attorneys and one merchant.
After the death of Rabbi Yehezkel Landa in 1937 no Chief Rabbi for the city was chosen. The position of Bet Din President Rabbi Shmuel Birnbaum was inherited by Menashe Frankel after the former's death in 1938. From 1923 Rabbi Baruch ben Naftali Horowitz was Admor of the Miletz Chasidim, having taken over from his father-in-law Rabbi Hana Weissblum. During the Second World War Rabbi Baruch was deported to Siberia and afterwards made his way to the United States where he died in 1954. In 1930 Admor Rabbi Menashe ben Tzi Hirsh Horowitz relocated to Lezajsk. Rabbi Menashe administered his community of Hasidim from his Kloyz in the Rozvadow House. He was killed in 1942.
In the inter-War period four Jewish educational institutions functioned in Lezajsk. The Talmud Torah was established before the First World War and had more than 100 pupils. At the end of the War a complementary public school known as Hasharon was founded by Tarbut. In 1923 it had 108 boy and girl pupils, taught by two teachers in two classrooms. By 1926 the number of pupils had risen to 165, learning in four classrooms under six teachers. The Mizrachi opened its Yavneh School in Lezajsk and Agudat Yisrael opened its Beit Yaakov school for girls.
In addition to the library which was opened in 1900 by Dr. Berger, a Public Library was opened in 1926 under the auspices of The Association. The reading rooms of this library served also as locations for various cultural activities such as: lectures, amateur theater productions and others.
On the second day of Rosh Hashana 5700 soldiers of the Wehrmacht broke into the great synagogue and kidnapped Jews for forced labor. On the evening of the same day, the Germans burned down the synagogue along with prayer-houses in its vicinity.
The days afterwards were marked by the theft of Jewish property by German soldiers and by the local rabble. The movement of Jews was restricted. There were ordered to wear a white ribbon with a Star of David on their arm. The condition of the ultra-orthodox and Jews with beards was especially difficult. They became the objects of abuse by the Germans.
On the eve of Sukkot of the same year the German authorities ordered the deportation of the Jews from the city. All members of the Jewish community were required to congregate in the market square and those who did not report were removed from their homes by the Germans and brought to the assembly square. Nevertheless, several families did not show up. They were in hiding in nearby villages. The march of the Jews of Lezajsk began at the market square towards the San. A few of them hired wagons to make it easier for the sick, old and the children, but most made their way on foot. The German guards were cruel to those in the procession. On the way and before they reached Soviet territory the Germans searched all the possessions of the Jews and robbed them of their remaining property. The Jews were brought to the river to the place where a bridge had stood before September and which had been demolished by the retreating Polish army. There the deportees from Lezajsk had to look for other means of crossing to the eastern bank of the River San. Some of them hired barges from Ukrainian farmers and were transported to the Soviet side for large sums of money which they had succeeded in concealing. There were those who crossed the water on foot and by swimming. In Eastern Galicia the Lezajsk refugees were scattered to different towns and in the summer of 1940 they were deported throughout the Soviet Union.
In January 1940 about 40 Jewish families had gathered in Lezajsk. These had managed to escape at the time of the deportation from the city and were augmented by Jews from the nearby villages who had been brought to Lezajsk at the direction of the Germans. These remnants were concentrated by the Germans on Boznica Street, the street on which the synagogue had once been located and became a kind of Jewish Quarter where the Jews were permitted at least temporarily to leave during the morning hours to provision themselves with food. Jewish homes which had been left vacant after the vast majority of the Jewish community had been expelled to the other side of the San were now occupied by Poles. The nicest homes were seized by the Germans.
A Judenrat was formed in the Jewish Quarter headed by Feivel Wagner and assisted by Shmuel Ozer and Leibele Katz. The Juderat was charged with supplying people for forced labor. The Germans also required the Judenrat to dig up tombstones from the Jewish cemetery and use them to pave the market square. During the course of 1941 the Jewish Quarter was transformed into a sealed ghetto from which exit was permitted only with special permits and then only for purposes of labor. Jews caught outside the ghetto without a permit were imprisoned in the city jail. It is known that six Jews were executed in the jail yard.
In September 1942 the ghetto was liquidated. Its residents were transferred to the ghetto at Tarnogrod and the fate of the Jews there became their fate as well. Many of these met their end in the death camp at Belżec.
During the liquidation of the ghetto several families went into hiding with their Christian acquaintances, but some of them were discovered by informants and executed. Among the Poles who hid Jews were: D. Zawilski. The hunt for the hidden Jews continued until the final days of the occupation. The Germans murdered on the spot anyone they discovered. Graves of those who had been murdered scattered all over the city. After the liberation several Jews returned to Lezajsk (according to one source there were nine such returnees). They were living in one house. One night a grenade was thrown into the house and several of the Jewish survivors were killed. It is likely that the act was perpetrated by local residents who were afraid that the survivors would demand the return of their homes and property.
Archive of the Gordonia-Maccabi Youth, Hulda: 28/6
Archive of Yad Vashem: JM/1823; JM/1824; M-1/E 1547/1433; M-1/E 2061/1864; M-1/E2297/2329; M-1/Q 1420/201; M-1/Q 1539/1297; M-1/Q 1942/448; 03/3433; 012/50; 021/17.
Archive of YIVO: ADRP 49 E.
Central Archive of the History of the Jewish People: HM/7099; HM/7101; HM/7102; HM/7921; HM/2/703-1
Central Zionist Archive: A/214-6; Z-3/152; Z-3/820; Z-4/234; Z-6/2181.
AJDC Archives: Countries: Poland, Cult Rel. 342, 344a; Localities 222;Reconstruction 319.
Memorial Book for the Martyrs of Lezajsk Killed in the Shoah, Tel-Aviv, 1970.
Tagblatt: 10 Apr. 1922; 3 Oct. 1924; 25 Dec. 1924;
Morgen: 10 Feb. 1921;
Mahzikei Hadat: 7 Feb. 1908; 21 Feb. 1908;
Hamitzpeh: 8 Jul 1904; 17 Aug. 1904; 6 Jan. 1905; 9 Feb. 1906; 27 Apr. 1906; 3 Aug. 1906;
Di Zionistishe Woch: 21 Apr. 1933.
Diwreij Akiva grudzien: 1933;
Hanoar grudzien 1931, styczen 1932, listopad 1932
Hanoar Hacijoni, 15 May 1935; 15 May 1936
Nasz Glos: 15 Jan. 1935
Nowy Dziennik 1 Jan. 1920; 27 May 1925; 30 Apr. 1926; 17 Feb. 1927; 16 May 1927; 11 Nov. 1922; 1 Mar. 1935; 17 Aug. 1939
S³owo Mod³ych: listopad 1938
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