Janów Lubelski was chartered in 1640, but as early as 1582, a Jew by the name of Gerszon had been mentioned in the inventory report of the Goraj estate as a resident of Biała, a settlement located on the lands where the town was later founded.
The beginnings of town’s existence were not very propitious. In 1648, it was ravaged by the Cossack army, and then was struck by an epidemic a few years later. Wishing to remedy Janów’s depopulation and quickly revive and develop the local economy, Ordinate Jan Zamoyski issued a special decree on 29 April 1652, granting Jews the privilege to settle in Janów, carry out commercial activities, and work as butchers, tailors, and furriers. Soon enough, Jewish people started to flock to the town, especially since they were promised exemption from taxes for a period of 15 years.
In May 1654, Zamoyski confirmed the settlement privilege for Jews and issued a permit for the construction of eight permanent market stalls. The Jewish residents of the town, bypassing the earlier ban, were buying houses at the Market Square from Christians, which prompted the ordinate to issue another decree in 1664. It prohibited Jews to buy or rent houses in the town centre, but allowed them to purchase plots and erect houses on side streets. By virtue of subsequent privileges issued by Zamoyski in 1680 and 1687, the sale of vodka, beer, and mead became an important source of income for many Jewish families living in Janów.
The town’s Jewish community was rapidly growing in numbers, constituting 17% of the population of Janów in 1674. The Jewish kehilla was established sometime before 1661. That year, the Jewish cemetery was founded in the town (at the end of the present-day 3 Maja Street), probably alongside a wooden synagogue. Jews mainly inhabited the northern part of Janów, forming a separate quarter, the centre of which was the square between the current Piłsudskiego and 3 Maja streets, housing the synagogue and a ritual bathhouse. In 1754, Jews gained permission to build houses at Świerdzowa Street and Krzemieńska (currently Kilińskiego) Street, but they also settled in other parts of the town. For example, 36 Jewish families inhabited Bialska Street in 1775. The main occupations of Janów’s Jews were trade and crafts. In the second half of the 18th century, there were two guilds of Jewish craftsmen: bakers’ guild and butchers’ guild, but there were also many barbers, hatters, tailors, and goldsmiths in the town. Under the privileges of 1680 and 1687, all burghers, including those of Jewish descent, had the right to sell vodka, beer, and mead.
In the 17th and the 18th century, the Jewish community of Janów experienced significant economic growth and soon started to dominate over the Christian townsmen. The ordinates of Zamość, wishing to redress the disproportion, imposed restrictions on Jewish commercial activities in the trade in wax, tallow, and leather goods, and took away their right to sell alcoholic beverages (1769). The measures were met with complaints on part of the Jews, who claimed that “the withdrawal of the license to sell alcoholic beverages (…) left them without a source of livelihood.”
The development of the Jewish community was also hampered by great fires. The fire of 1754 caused particularly painful losses, reaching 107,000 zlotys. A total of 59 houses was lost to the blaze, including the rabbi’s and the cantor’s houses, the synagogue, the hospital, and the bathhouse. Smaller damage was caused by the fire of 1804, when 15 Jewish houses were burned to the ground. In 1787, Jews constituted 20% of Janów’s inhabitants.
During the Partitions, the Jewish population grew significantly. In 1827, Jews constituted 30% of the town’s inhabitants; in 1865 this percentage increased to 45%, and in 1905 – to 50%. Most Jews continued to work as traders and craftsmen – apart from their traditional professions, they also became involved in clothmaking.
The new Jewish cemetery was established in 1826. It was located on the outskirts of the town, by the road leading to Biłgoraj. The statistical report of the town from 1834 mention the existence of a brick synagogue and a wooden hospital. Due to the growing number of members of the religious community, an additional synagogue – the so-called przyszkółek (beth midrash) – was erected in the town sometime before 1860; a brick ritual bathhouse was built at the same time. In the mid-19th century, Janów was home to the following Jewish families: Zylberg, Stern, Rojt, Majerowicz, Waserman, Blumenkranc, Butner, and Goldman. Before World War I, the Jewish population began to migrate to the United States.
During the interwar period, the Jewish community constituted a significant economic force. They owned two oil mills, two printing houses, a marmalade factory, a brewery, a bank, 17 bakeries, and many stores, as well as numerous tailoring and shoemaking workshops. The kehilla managed a synagogue, a house of prayer, and a bathhouse. In 1922, Jewish entrepreneurs founded the Credit Cooperative, which two years later was transformed into the Merchant-Craftsmen Bank, and in 1925 – into the People’s Bank.
Jewish political life in Janów flourished in the interwar period. Among the most influential parties was the Agudath, operating in the town since 1921, as well as the Bund and Zionist groups: the Zionist Organisation, Poale Zion, the Mizrachi, and Zionist-Revisionists, whose representatives gained a dominant position in the community in 1931. The town also had a number of Zionist youth organisations: HeHalutz – Pioneer, Brit Trumpeldor, HeHalutz Hatzair, and Tzeirei Agudath Israel, the young wing of the Agudath.
Constituting a large community (45% of town’s population), the Jewish population had its representation in the Municipal Council and town administration. The Ejbuszyc family – Majer Hersz and his son Majer – was particularly active in the local government. Religious life was concentrated around the synagogue and the Talmudic school. Icek Majer Broder served as the rabbi of Janów for a number of years. Apart from numerous private cheders, a Talmud-Torah school was active in the town; a Beit Yaakov religious school for girls operated under the auspices of the Agudath. Some Jewish children attended state-run public schools in the town.
The situation of Janów Jews began to deteriorate in the mid-1930s due to the economic crisis and the rise of anti-Semitic sentiments. In 1936, the local branch of the National Party organised boycotts of Jewish shops, which resulted in mass migration of Jews from Janów, mainly to the United States and Palestine.
After the outbreak of World War II, German air forces bombed Janów several times. 90% of the town was destroyed. A part of the Jewish population moved to nearby villages and towns. In September 1939, a group of Jews was evacuated to the east with the Soviet army. People captured by Germans worked mainly on removing the rubble and demolishing burned out houses.
During the German occupation, mass executions of Jews were carried out at the Jewish cemetery at Wojska Polskiego Street, near the synagogue, and in the vicinity of the local prison area. At the cemetery itself, Germans killed over 300 people; no data concerning the precise number of victims executed on other sites has been preserved. In May and November 1942, the last Jews from Janów were transported to Zaklików and later sent to the Nazi German extermination camp in Bełżec. Germans set fire to Janów’s synagogues and demolished whatever was left of them; they also destroyed both of the town’s Jewish cemeteries.
- Baranowski Z., Nazarewicz B., Łukasiewicz J., Janów Lubelski 1640–2000, Janów Lubelski 2000.
- “Janow (III),” [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, eds. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. 1, New York 2001, pp. 560–561.
- “Janow Lubelski,” [in] Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, vol. 7, Jerusalem 1999, pp. 262–264.