The first mention of Jews in Łańcut dates back to 1554. Twelve years later, five Jewish families (about 30 individuals) lived in the town. In the 1570s, the town’s owner, Krzysztof Pielecki, forbade Jews from owning houses or engaging in trade and crafts. King Sigismund III Vasa confirmed the law in 1613. Despite the ban on settlement, 18 Jewish families lived in Łańcut in 1624.
In the early 17th century, an organised Jewish community operated in the town; it owned a wooden synagogue and a cemetery. In 1629, Jews lived in four houses in the town. Although many inhabitants of Łańcut, including Jews, were killed in the Tatar raids of the 17th century, the Jewish population of the town grew continuously throughout the second half of the century.
In 1667, Jews were obliged to defend the town alongside all of its citizens. In 1678, the Jewish community owned 11 houses in Łańcut itself and eight houses by the municipal embankment. After the great epidemic of 1706, Jews began to settle on vacant plots and houses surrounding the market square. Their settlement was boosted by a privilege issued by the town owner, Stanisław Lubomirski, in 1722. It guaranteed the local Jews perpetual ownership of 20 houses on Żydowska Street and the freedom to conduct trade and build new houses. By the end of the 18th century, Jews owned as many as 47 houses in Łańcut.
In the second half of the 18th century, the Hasidic movement started to gain popularity in Łańcut. It was the first town where Tzaddik Elimelech ben Eleazar Lipmann, called Elimelech of Lizhensk, settled after deciding to end his peregrination, during which he travelled from town to town and preached with his brother Zusya. He stayed in Łańcut for two years. He was accompanied by his students, with whom he moved to Leżajsk in 1772. Twenty years later, Tzaddik Yaakov Yitzchak HaLevi Horowitz, the greatest student of Elimelech of Lizhensk called the Seer of Lublin, arrived to Łańcut, where he married the daughter of local Hasid Leib Dimmiles. He was succeeded by Yehuda Arye ben Baruch.
The old wooden synagogue in Łańcut burned down in 1733 and was later rebuilt. In 1761, a new Baroque brick building was erected to replace it. In the years 1758–1767, the post of the rabbi was held by Zvi Hirsh Meizlich. He was succeeded by Moshe Lipshitz, later followed by his son Zvi Hirsh Lipshitz.
In 1765, Łańcut had 829 Jewish inhabitants. A few years later, in 1772, the town came under Austrian rule. In 1773, an Austrian coat of arms – a two-headed eagle – made of stucco was placed on the synagogue. The local Poles deemed it an expression of Jewish support for the partition of Poland. At the time, the Haskalah movement started to gain ground in Łańcut. Its influence resulted in the foundation of a Jewish school with German – Jüdische Normalschule, operating in the years 1788–1792, followed by the Jüdische-Deutsche Schule. The Jewish community ran a hospital, mikveh, house of prayer (presumably a Hasidic one, called a kloyz), and cemetery.
In 1786, an attempt was made to establish a Jewish agricultural settlement near Łańcut. The Leżajsk kehilla applied for a concession of land for 70 families, presumably Hasidic Jews. The Austrian authorities offered sparse land located far from the town, and so the initiative failed.
Ca. 1860, the Jewish community established a second cemetery, as the older necropolis was running out of burial spots. In 1870, 1,778 people belonged to the Jewish community of Łańcut. The kehilla owned two synagogues.
Łańcut became a vibrant economic centre with the opening of a railway line and the expansion of the liquor, cologne, and sugar factories by the Potocki family – the erstwhile owners of Łańcut. The population of the town soon started to grow. In the mid-19th century, there were ca. 20 Jewish-owned inns in the town. The Jewish population was steadily growing in size, in 1900 reaching 1,940 people in the town (40% of population) and 2,588 in the entire kehilla. Jews were playing an increasingly significant role in the life of the town, and were socially and politically active. In 1880, the Municipal Council of Łańcut granted Józef Kellerman, a Jew from Kańczuga, honorary citizenship. In 1894, a small branch of the “Chibat Zion” Zionist party was established in the town. Łańcut was the hometown of Jakub Fast, a volunteer in the Polish Army and a soldier in the Polish-Soviet War. He defended Warsaw and fought in the Battle of Dyjatyn – the “Polish Thermopilae” – in which, as commander of the 11th Company, he fended off the Russian cavalry for six hours.
In 1921, the city had 4,518 inhabitants, including 1,925 Jews. Ca. 1910, the Jewish community erected a new, impressive mikveh. In the beginning of the 1930s, the Jewish People’s House was established in the town.
In the interwar period, various Zionist parties enjoyed a big following in Łańcut, including the Ha-Noar Ha-Ivri youth organisation and the Tarbut association, with the latter running a school for boys with Hebrew as the language of instruction. A school for girls operated under the auspices of the Beit Yaakov Orthodox association. The Ha-Zamir music society was established in 1914.
Crafts and trade constituted the main source of income for the Jews of Łańcut. Two thirds of the 250 local shops and stalls belonged to Jews. Jewish craftsmen were associated in the local branch of the Central Union of Jewish Craftsmen in Poland and the Yad Charuzim Society of Jewish Craftsmen. Two Jewish banks operated in Łańcut, as well as the People’s Bank with 301 shareholders in 1932, and the Craftsmen and Agricultural Bank, which had 916 shareholders.
When World War II broke out, Łańcut had a population of 2,735 Jews. On 22 September 1939, some of them were driven out to the Soviet occupation zone on the other side of the San River. A regional committee of the Jewish Mutual Aid Society was opened in Łańcut; it also covered the district of Jarosław and the so-called German Przemyśl. Its head was Marcus Pohorille, who also served as the Chairman of the Łańcut Judenrat. In December 1940, the committee provided aid to 6,000 Jews, including 1,300 people residing from Łańcut – this group included original residents of the town and 384 people displaced from Kalisz and Łódź.
In September 1939, all local sports clubs were dissolved, except for the “Trumpeldor” Sports Club composed largely of Jewish policemen. Trumpeldor players, wearing blue and white jerseys, continued to play football in the local marketplace even as late as the spring of 1940.
The ghetto in Łańcut was established on 15 January 1942. On 23 June, a group of Jews was moved to the ghetto in Sieniawa. The liquidation of the ghetto in Łańcut began on 1 August 1942, while the last transports of the town's Jews left on 18 and 19 August 1942. Ca. 1,100 people were then transported to the camp in Pełkinie, where children, ill people and the elderly were murdered; the rest was taken to the extermination camp in Bełżec. The remaining Jews, about 50 people, were transported to the ghetto in Sieniawa in September, where they were executed in the cemetery the following May.
In 1942, about 120 Jews were murdered during seven executions at the Jewish cemetery. At least 27 denounced Jews in hiding were killed on the spot, along with the Poles who had extended help to them. On 10 August 1942, the Nazis murdered 11 Jews from Medynia in Czarna, a village adjacent to Łańcut. In March 1943, 13 Jews hiding in the forest were killed.
Ten Jews from the nearby village of Kraczkowa survived the Holocaust and returned to their homes after the war. They were soon attacked by an unidentified mob. Five Jews were killed and their houses were burned to the ground.
- Potocki A., Żydzi w Podkarpackiem, Rzeszów 2004.