The Jewish community of Łuck is one of the oldest in Vohlynia. The first reference to Jews residing in Łuck comes from the privileges granted in 1388 by the Lieutenant of Lithuania, Witold, who later became the Grand Duke.
In 1432 Władysław Jagiełło granted Łuck town rights according to the Magdeburg Laws, at the same time abolishing the rights of Jews and Armenians.
In 1495 Jews were expelled from Łuck, as well as of from the entire territory of Lithuania, but in 1504 the community was re-established. In 1507 local Jews were granted privilege by king Zygmunt I Stary which secured their rights.
The community was very impoverished and frequently applied to the Grand Duke for tax reliefs. In 1556, Zygmunt II August, afraid that Jews would leave the town because of their economic situation, equated their rights with the rights of Catholics. Around the year 1569, Jews from Łuck were imprisoned for evading taxes imposed on the community. Their synagogue and houses were sealed.
The political and economic importance of Łuck increased after the establishment of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569). The change in the town's position increased the prosperity of Jews, who played an important role in trade and craft of Łuck. They leased state customs, owned breweries and potash factories, they traded in wood and agricultural products and took an active part in town fairs that took place in various towns of the Polish Kingdom. They organized craft guilds (e.g. tailors' guild). Due to competition, conflicts between Jewish and non-Jewish craftsmen were quite frequent. The conflicts also concerned taxes imposed on the Jews.
After including Łuck into Poland in 1569, the rights, earlier conferred upon Jews by the Grand Duke of Lithuania, were confirmed. In 1580, king Stefan Batory equated Jews with Christians on the issue of paying municipal taxes; he also forbade imposition of new taxes without their consent. Jews were also granted the right to control financial reporting, concerning the taxes levied on them.
In 1600, King Zygmunt III granted the community in Łuck the right to self-government of the Jewish district. He also assigned part of the old fortress to the Jews to rebuild it into a synagogue. A defensive synagogue was built, armed with artillery, with its own guards.
Although many Jews died during the Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648-1657) and their houses and possessions were plundered, the community of Łuck was quickly re-established. It was one of the four “main Volhynia communities”, it used to send its delegates to the Volhynia va'ad and the Four Lands Sejm (Va'ad Arba Aratzot). Łuck was also the centre of religious teaching and was the location of many famous yeshivas. Among the learned rabbis of the 17th and 18th centuries there were: Mosze ben Jehuda ha-Kohen, J. Szor, Joel Galperin, known as Joel the Great, and E. Gecel.
The situation of the Łuck Jewry deteriorated in the second half of the 18th century. In 1764 they were accused of ritual murder (rabbi Jehuda Ze'ev ben Tovia died a martyr's death), then they were affected by Haidamaks slaughters in1768. In 1765, 1,012 Jews resided in Łuck, in 1847 – 5,010 (60% of the total population), and in 1897 – 9,468 (60%).
In 1795 Łuck became part of Russia. Many Jews, displaced from the countryside by the “Jewish Statute” of 1804, settled in the town. After the Jews were forbidden to settle within the 50-verst territory along the border, which also, unfoundedly, included Łuck, the community lived under permanent threat of banishment; this ended in1862 when the status of the border territory was abolished.
In 1867 there were 12 synagogues in Łuck; various branches of Hasidism were active and played an important role. At the beginning of the 20th century, the leftist movement came into the scene, represented by the Bund; various Zionist movements also developed. In 1910 there were 20 synagogues and prayer houses in the town, a few boys' and girls' Jewish schools, a Jewish literary society. In 1914 Sabach, the historical-literary monthly, was issued.
During the First World War Jews suffered because of warfare. There were cases of acts of violence due to antisemitism which led to the creation of Jewish self-defense gropus.
In the interwar period, Łuck was the capital of the Volhynia Province within the Second Polish Republic. At that time, a big shoe factory of the “Bata” company was opened in the town and local small Jewish shoe manufacturers went into bankruptcy. In 1921, 14,800 Jews lived in Łuck (70% of the total population), in 1931 – 17,366 (48.5%), in 1939 – 19,000 (46%). The Łuck Jewish community had many social and cultural institutions, including a net of Tarbut schools.
A Yiddish weekly, Volhiner prese, was published in Łuck (1928-1938). The number of synagogues reached fifty. The last rabbi of Łuck was Z. Soroczkin. There were various Jewish parties in Łuck (Aguda, the Bund, the Zionists). The Jews elected their representatives to the Łuck town council.
In 1939 the Soviet Army occupied Łuck. At that time, the number of Jews increased because of the inflow of refugees from the territories occupied by the Germans. However, the Soviet government suppressed Jewish social life. The activity of social and political organizations was prohibited and their leaders were arrested. Private businesses were nationalised. Many refugees from the West were deported inside the Soviet Union.
Before the German occupation of Łuck on 25th June1941, many young Jews left Łuck together with the retreating Soviet Army. Shortly after the Germans invaded the town, the Judenrat was established, consisting of 12 people. In the first days of the occupation Germans killed up to 5,000 Jews. On 19 October 1941, a Jewish labor camp was created. In December 1941, Łuck Jews were placed in a ghetto where they suffered from hunger and epidemics. In the spring of 1942, a group of youngsters tried to escape from the ghetto to the woods, but most of them were caught and killed. Only a few managed to join the partisans led by S. Kowpak. One of them, I. Szczerbato, later became commander of a battalion in this formation.
Between 19 and 23 of August 1942, as many as 17,000 people were killed in the ghetto. Five hundred craftsmen working in the labor camp formed a resistance unit. They equipped themselves with weapons, however, it was very scarce (a few automatic and semi-automatic guns, axes, knives). When on 12 December 1942, Germans once again began to exterminate Jews, the camp prisoners started an uprising. They managed to fight off several German attacks, but the uprising was suppressed and the survivors were killed. The German occupation finished on 2 February 1944.
When the town was liberated some Jews returned to Łuck. In 1959, 770 Jews lived in Łuck, which constituted 1.4% of the total population. In 1970 there were 813 Jews (0.9%), and in 1979 – 700 Jews (0.5%). Starting from the1970s, many Jews emigrated to Israel, USA, Germany and other countries. According to the Ukrainian public census of 2001, the number of Jews was so small that their minority was not even admitted in the results. However, since 1991 the Jewish community has been re-established, led first by I. Dolinski, and after 2003 by A. Murabi.
- Luck, [in:] Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. II, New York 2001, pp. 758–759.
- Lutsk, [in:] Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. F. Skolnik, M. Berenbaum, vol. 13, Detroit 2007, pp. 273–274.
- Łuck, [in:] Eliektronnaja jewriejskaja encikłopiedija, 20.04.2005 [online] http://www.eleven.co.il/?mode=article&id=12517&query=ЛУЦК [dostęp: 01.02.2021].
- Łuck, [in:] Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Bloomington – Indianapolis 2012, pp. 1411–1414.
- Receptor J., Geven a Shtot Lutsk, Geven un Umgekumen, Paris 1962.
- Sefer Lutsk, ed. N. Sharon, Tel Awiw 1961.