Grabowiec was one of the oldest settlements in Lubelszczyzna. In the early Medieval Ages, it was one of the most significant settlements of the then Bełsk lands. During the seven hundred years of its existence, it experienced periods of rise and decline as it was located within the borderland territory, which was historically an area where many battles took place between Poland and Russia.

The first reference of Grabowiec in historical sources dates back to 1268. It was known as a burg city with a wooden castle, located on a trade route extending from Włodzimierz Wołyński to Zawichost and defending the frontline alongside the Wieprz river. It can already be assumed that in 1268, a suburbium existed around the burg, forming a city settlement. In 1366, Grabowiec was first recorded as a town in historical documents. From 1388 and until the first partition of Poland in 1772, the town functioned as the capital city of the county, first in the Bełsk Duchy, belonging to the Dukes of Masovia, and then – from 1462 – in Bełsk province, incorporated into the Crown of the Polish Kingdom.

Most likely in 1394, or according to other sources – a bit earlier – that is in 1388, Ziemowit IV, the duke of Bełsk once again carried out a town charter, probably based on the Polish law, which granted the town with trading rights. Crafts provided the basis of the town’s development– mainly iron tools, wheeler items, cloth and footwear, in addition to salt and beer, were manufactured here. At this time, Grabowiec was also home to a watermill.

In January of 1447, Władysław I – the Masovia and Bełsk duke, re-located the town on the basis of the Magdeburg law. This date generally is considered by historians to be the moment Grabowiec was granted its civic rights. Re-location, based on the new law, additionally was associated with an influx of new settlers in the town, arriving mainly from Mazowsze. From 1447 until the second half of the 16th century, Grabowiec constituted an administrative and economic center of the vast area, which characterized the period of its utmost splendor, effectively competing with Polish Hrubieszów and Szczebrzeszyn. It also was an important trade center – through the town – along the East-West axis – run a trade route from Lublin through Krasnystaw and Wojsławice.

The 16th century brought numerous Tatar invasions that destroyed the town of Grabowiec along with its castle and purged the town of its residents [1.1]. In order to save the town from decline following the assault in 1500, King Jan Olbracht issued a privilege, based on which Grabowiec was freed of customs, duties and taxes for a period of six years. This privilege was later confirmed by King Zygmunt the Elder, who broadened the allowances and privileges of town residents, yet again plundered by the Tatars in 1506. In 1570 a Jewish population emerged which significantly improved the situation of the town through their engagement in commerce. Although in 1630, roughly 20 Jews lived here, occupying merely one building, in the following years they became the most numerous ethnic-religious group in Grabowiec.

Another setback in the town development took place in the middle of the 17th century. A number of Grabowiec residents decreased, also a demographic structure of local residents changed, among which a growing Jewish population resided, pushing Christians out of the town center. Even when the King Zygmunt III Waza granted the rights to organize three trades and additional fairs on Wednesday, this could not prevent the declining significance of Grabowiec as a political and economic center. The era of partition and a change of territory contributed to further decline of the town. Upon seizing the town by the Austrian army in the summer of 1772, it lost the title of a county town, and later upon being transferred into private hands in 1807, its property rights were restricted. After the withdrawal of Austrians in October of 1809, the town was annexed by the Duchy of Warsaw, followed by the Congress of Vienna (1815), Grabowiec found itself within the territory of the Kingdom of Poland. During the years of Russian domination (1815–1918), Grabowiec became an impoverished provincial center. In December of 1869, following the repressions of the January Uprising, the town lost its civic rights and was turned into a settlement, remaining one until the present day.

At the end of the 19th century, the settlement was distinguished by its agriculture-craft character, and the Jewish population residing there managed trade. The then town buildings were almost completely destroyed by a fire. No iconographic records prior to WWI have survived. From historic sources we know that arcade wooden housing prevailed, concentrated around the main square and adjacent streets. The presence of a few houses with longitudinal arcades, in existence in the first years following the liberation, makes it possible to assume that in the 19th century such houses covered the frontages around the main square, similarly as in the neighboring Wojsławice.

Besides the Catholic and Jewish population, there was also a large group of Orthodox followers residing in Grabowiec and within its vicinity. Erected here even before 1394 an Orthodox church, in the years 1596–1875 functioned as a Greek Catholic church, whereas from 1875 – again as an Orthodox one. In the last quarter of the 19th century, within the territory of Grabowiec county, three Orthodox churches functioned: Saint Cajetan, a brick church in Grabowiec, and also Orthodox churches in Tuczępy and Bereść. In the 1920’s, two first parishes were closed down, which were substituted by the Eastern Right parishes. Next to the Catholic and Jewish cemetery , both Greek-Catholic and Orthodox cemeteries existed.

After regaining independence in 1918, a relatively prosperous period for the settlement followed. Despite the destruction of WWI and decline in economic resources, Jews constituted the majority of residents. According to the census data from 1921, among 4,212 residents there were 2,356 Jews, 1,794 Poles and 62 Ukrainians. The residents of the settlement participated mostly in trade, craft and agriculture. Two barber shops, a photo shop and two pharmacies operated here, as well as a veterinary clinic and Volunteer Fire Brigade. From 1927 a youth arm of the People’s Party– Polish Youth Association “Wici” operated, as well as the Polish Teaching Association, uniting local left-wing teachers. Also scouts, the Catholic Youth Club and a paramilitary organization, „Strzelec,” were active in Grabowiec. From 1937 the Food Producers Co-operative operated with the aim to economically reinforce Polish trade and limit the number of Jewish-owned stores.

On September 25, 1939, the Russian Army entered Grabowiec, and were enthusiastically welcomed by the activists of local left wing organizations. That same day, the Red Army soldiers brutally murdered 59 soldiers of the Polish Army; their bodies were buried at a local cemetery. After a week, the Soviet Army withdrew past the Bug river, but on October 10th, the German soldiers emerged. In the spring of 1941 the Nazis arrested 10 representatives of the local intelligentsia, imprisoned them in the Lublin castle, and later had them murdered in Auschwitz. In February of 1943 a massive deportation action began, in the course of which almost all town residents were relocated to a transitory camp in Zamość. A few Grabowiec children, meeting the so-called racial criteria , were transported to Germany and subjected to Germanization[1.2]. Ukrainians, displaced from Zamość county, took up residence in vacant households left after Poles were evicted.

In February of 1944, Grabowiec was liberated by the Home Army troops, the result of which was the establishment in the spring of 1944 of the so-called Rzeczypospolita Grabowiecka (the Free City of Grabowiec). In retaliation, in June, the settlement was pacified by the Germans. On July 25, 1944, the Red Army entered Grabowiec. During the warfare Grabowiec was almost completely destroyed – over 720 buildings were burned down. During the war and occupation approximately 2,207 county residents perished, including almost the entire Jewish population, annihilated by the Nazis in Sobibór. In a current day urban-architectural design of the town no traces of the age-old Jewish presence in this area remain.

 

Bibliography

  • Górak J., Podcieniowa zabudowa miasteczek Lubelszczyzny, Zamość 1996.Jaroszyński W., Siedem wieków Grabowca, Lublin 1991. 
  • W. Jaroszyński, Siedem wieków Grabowca, Lublin 1991
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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Ibidem., p. 20 i n.
  • [1.2] Ibidem, s. 141-142.