The first documentation concerning the presence of Jews in Lublin dates back to the reign of King Kazimierz Wielki. According to historically undocumented records, the king granted the first privileges for the local Jewish community in 1336[1.1]. However, information about individuals from the Jewish community was confirmed in historical sources from the second half of the 15th century. On the basis of the materials preserved, it is hard to state explicitly where exactly in Lublin the Jewish kehilla was residing or where their cemetery and synagogue were located[1.2]. In 1453 King Kazimierz Jagiellończyk granted the Lublin Jews the privilege of free trade, which in turn resulted in dynamic growth of the Jewish population in Lublin at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. The fact quoted in the historical sources that Rabbi Jakub from Trident settled in Lublin in 1475 may indicate that at that time there was a well-organised kehilla there[1.3].

Well-documented Jewish settlement in Lublin took place in the 16th century. Intensive development of the local kehilla resulted mainly from economic factors. The favourable geographic location of the city on the intersection of many trade routes induced many Jewish merchants to bring their economic activity to this area. However, their increased trade activity soon led to conflicts with Christian inhabitants of the town, and in consequence the king issued a regulation in 1518 imposing constraints on Jewish trade in Lublin[1.4].

Jews also settled down in Podzamcze [near the castle] and in the northern and north-eastern parts of the castle hill. The privilege called privilegium de non tolerandis Judaeis obtained by Lublin townsmen from the king in 1535 prohibited Jews from settling within the city walls[1.5]. This restriction, however, contributed to dynamic growth of the Jewish quarter in Podzamcze, while at the same time leading to Jewish and Christian divisions of the town that lasted until 1862.

The Jewish kehilla in Lublin quickly became one of the biggest communities in Poland. Royal privileges (such as a privilege granted by King Zygmunt Stary in 1523[1.6], which made the Jewish community equal in rights with other communities in Poland, and the 1556 privilege confirming the inner jurisdictional and administrative autonomy of the kehilla)[1.7] as well as other legal regulations contributed to the development of Jewish trade and crafts. As the economy flourished, the kahal became very wealthy. It was placed in the third position in the Kingdom of Poland in terms of significance and wealth after the kahals in Cracow and Lviv.

The 16th century was a time of prosperity and vital development of the Lublin kehilla. It numbered about 840 people by 1550. In 1518 a yeshiva [Talmudical Academy] was established in town and became well-known throughout Europe. Its founder was a famous rabbi and scholar named Salomon Szachna, son of a royal trade intermediary, Josko Szachnowicz. The formal opening of the yeshiva building, erected by virtue of the royal privilege from 1567, took place after the death of Szachna[1.1.6]. Salomon Luria (named Maharshal), a renowned scholar, became the first rector of the school[1.8]. In the subsequent years some of the more prominent rectors were Mordekhai Jaffe and Meir ben Gedalia. In 1547 a Hebrew printing house was established. It was one of the first in the Polish land and followed after those houses in Oleśnica and Cracow. The greatest fame was gained by the printing house founded in 1578 by Kalonimus Joffe, where hundreds of works of Hebrew religious literature were published on a very high editorial level[1.9].

In 1567 the kehilla received a royal privilege to build a brick synagogue. It was erected on the northern slope of the castle hill on Jateczna Street and was known as Maharshal-szul – to honour the first rector of the yeshiva, Rabbi Salomon Luria. A few years later, inside the building, a smaller synagogue was built and was named after Rabbi Majer ben Gedalia, also called Maharam[1.10]. Over time, a synagogue complex was created around the synagogue as the centre of Jewish life. It consisted of the offices of the kahal, the yeshiva, bet hamidrash [the house of studies], the mikvah - Jewish bath, and kosher butcher’s shops.

In the 16th century a large part of Podzamcze was flooded by the Czechówka River. Nevertheless, the Jewish quarter was growing and gradually moving onto the drained marshy lands around the castle. Jewish houses were also built in the nearby suburb called Kalinowszczyzna. Probably in 1568 the Jewish town gained another privilege, de non tolerandis Christianis, which forbade the Christian population to settle or buy houses and lands within the Jewish town[1.11].

Probably at the end of the 15th century and most certainly in the first half of the 16th century the old Jewish cemetery in Lublin was established. According to information dating back to the end of the 19th century, one of the gravestones bore the date 1489/90. The cemetery itself was first mentioned in the historical sources of 1555, when a royal privilege confirmed the Jewish right to use Grodzisko Hill for burial purposes. However, modern research shows that this year cannot be accepted as the founding date of the cemetery, but only as rendering the real state legal and binding. It is supported by the fact that the oldest known and still-existing gravestone bears the date of 1541[1.12].

Between the years 1580-1764 the so-called Council of Four Lands (Waad Arba Aracot), formed by King Stefan Batory, met in Lublin. It was a Jewish self-governing body in the Republic of Poland, appointed to facilitate tax collection for the royal treasury. However, Waad was quickly transformed into a unique autonomic institution of Europe which held cultural, religious and judicial functions[1.13].

The period of dynamic progress of the Lublin kahal, whose population in 1602 constituted one-fifth of the overall town population, came to an end in the mid-17th century. The political, economic, and demographic results of the 17th century wars, which undermined the position of Lublin, especially affected Jewish population. The most tragic event was the burning of the Jewish town in 1655 by the Muscovite-Cossac army and the murder of about 2,000 Jews. This number is also estimated to be as high as 2,700, as [[bios:34|Majer Bałaban]]quotes[1.14]. The synagogue complex on Jateczna Street suffered severe damage similar to the majority of the residential houses. The destruction was completed by the Swedish army in 1656. After this event the decimated Jewish population began to settle in the Old Town. In a later period, they were expelled back to Podzamcze from the Old Town. The sessions of the Waad were no longer held in Lublin and large fairs were transferred to Łęczna. Reconstruction of the kehilla was difficult in the hostile Counter-Reformation period. Constant economic restrictions from the local authorities aimed to prevent the development of Jewish trade[1.15]. In 1703 King August II, in return for the loyalty shown by the Lublin inhabitants during the war with Swedish King Karl XII, re-confirmed the previously granted privileges to Jews. However, the Lublin kehilla was only fully restored in the second half of the 18th century. The Jewish community numbered almost 2,500 people by then, residing not only in the Jewish quarter in Podzamcze but also in the nearby Kalinowszczyzna district and in two separate suburban settlements – Piaski and Wieniawa[1.16].

In 1759 Lublin was visited by a pseudo-Messiah named Jakub Frank. His teachings alluded to Judaism, Christianity, and the Kabbalah and were decidedly opposed and criticized by the Orthodox Jewish community[1.17]. Despite the fact that Frankism did not gain much momentum as a significant Judaistic movement, some of its followers were baptised and assimilated to Polish culture. Many leading figures of the later local socio-cultural life came from this group. Among them were Jan Czyński, a founder of the first newspaper in Lublin – “Kurier Lubelski” (1830), and famous musicians – the Wieniawski brothers[1.18].

At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries the Lublin region became an important centre of Hasidic Judaism.  This resulted from a movement of religious rebirth that developed in Ukraine and was based on the teachings of Isreal Ben Eliazer, also known as Ball Szem Tow (Master of Good Name). At the end of the 18th century, thanks to tzaddik Jakub Icchak Horowitz, known as the Seer from Lublin (Choze mi Lublin), the town became one of the most important centres of Hasidism in the country. Horowitz was a charismatic disciple of Elimelech from Leżajsk. Yet upon arriving in Lublin probably in the 1780s, he received an unfavourable welcome from the local rabbis. He settled in Wieniawa near Lublin which was inhabited by a small Jewish community. Shortly afterwards, when he gained followers among the Lublin Jews he moved to the centre of Podzamcze to 28 Szeroka Street. There he established the first klaus, or Hasidic prayer house where he taught. He was considered “God’s Angel” and a miracle-worker by the Hasidics but a heretic by Orthodox rabbis. He was so popular that in spite of the difficulties connected with crossing the borders of the partitioned Poland, thousands of Hasids came to Lublin from the south-east part of the country.

Horowitz died tragically in 1815 when he fell from a window in his home. While his supporters claimed that he had been punished for “demanding the coming of the Messiah from Heaven too fiercely”, his adversaries believed that the accident had occurred while the tzaddic was intoxicated. His grave is still visited by many Jewish pilgrims from all over the world. They come to put kwitlech on his grave – small cards requesting the intercession of the saint in Heaven.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Jews constituted almost half of the town’s population. Lublin itself was – until the mid-century- the second largest centre of Jewish population in the Kingdom of Poland after Warsaw. In 1864 the Jewish community in Lublin amounted to 12,922 people constituting 60% of all Lublin citizens[1.19].

In 1862 a new act came into effect, by virtue of which Jews received equal rights with all other citizens. From then on Jews were allowed to settle in the area of Christian Staromiejskie Hill and the representative Krakowskie Przedmieście Street. The Jewish population slowly drove Christian inhabitants away from the Old Town, while at the same time settling along Lubartowska Street and gradually taking over the majority of businesses dealing with trade or crafts. It should be noted, though, that these changes concerned only the richest and the most assimilated parts of the Jewish population. At the beginning of the 19th century, this group possessed large tenement houses, breweries, mills, tanneries, tobacco plants, and numerous stores in the whole town area. However, the majority of Jews constituted a poor community which was traditionally religious, poorly educated, and almost totally isolated from Polish culture inside the Jewish quarter.

In the second half of the 19th century the Jews from Lublin maintained their own schools, newspapers, social associations, and sports clubs. In 1886 a Jewish hospital was built on Lubartowska Street (today a gynaecological clinic). In 1908 a Jewish cultural association was created – Hazomir - and in 1910 an association for propagating Jewish-Hebrew language and culture - Chowej Sfos Ewer - was established. Further revival of social life followed in 1915 when Lublin came under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and new authorities adopted a liberal policy towards Jews. In 1916 there were already 15 private Jewish schools including 3 gymnasiums. The first Jewish newspaper was issued – a monthly entitled “Myśl Żydowska” [Jewish Thought] published in Polish. Also, the first amateur Jewish theatre was founded and the first Jewish public library was led by the religious community. Jews also sat on the city council[1.20].

During the interwar period Lublin was an important centre of Jewish social, cultural, and educational life. In 1926 a network of modern Jewish schools was operating here and in 1930 Rabbi Meir Shapiro established the first Talmudist Academy called Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva (Jesziwat Chachmei Lublin - The School of the Wise Men of Lublin). In Lublin there were also Jewish printing houses; three Jewish daily papers were issued including “Lubliner Tugblat”, published in Yiddish, and the Bund’s weekly “Lublinem Sztyme”[1.21]. The building of the Panteon Cinema housed the Jewish theatre. Such celebrities as Ida Kamińska, Jonas Turkow and Dina Halperin performed on its stage. During the interwar period nine Jewish political parties were established: Agudas Izrael, Folkspartay, Bund, General Zionists, Mizrachi, Zionists-Revisionists, Poale Zion-Left, Poale Zion-Right and Zionist Labour Party Hitachduth, most of which were actively involved not only in politics but also in social and cultural life. Furthermore, various Jewish sport organizations and trade unions functioned within the town[1.22].

In 1931 Lublin was inhabited by 38,937 Jews who constituted 34,6% of the overall town population. In the second half of the 1930s, a new trend became more and more visible among the young generation of the Lublin Jews. They began to lean towards laicization and became more linguistically and socially assimiliated to Polish culture. These tendencies, however, were curbed by the intensification of anti-Semitic behaviour within Polish society at that time. Anti-Semitism manifested itself in various forms, for example with the boycott of Jewish trade initiated by the National Party [Stronnictwo Narodowe] in 1936[1.23]. In 1939, before the onset of the war, the Jewish population in Lublin numbered 42,830 people and constituted 31% of the total of town's 122,019 inhabitants. Jews possessed over 100 synagogues and prayer houses, most of which were located in tenement houses and annexes. Only some of them were in separate buildings. The building of the great synagogue situated on Jateczna Street housed the Maharshal Synagogue, the Maharam Synagogue, and the Szywe Kryjem Synagogue. In the Podzamcze area there were also the Kahal Synagogue and Saul Wahl Synagogue. The majority of the remaining synagogues in Lublin were situated on Lubartowska Street, Szeroka Street, Grodzka Street, Kowalska Street, Zamkowa Street, Ruska Street and Nadstawna Street. Both Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva and the Jewish Hospital had their own synagogues on Lubartowska Street. Separate synagogues could also be found on the outskirts of Lublin in Kalinowszczyzna, Piaski, and Wieniawa. The kehilla was in charge of two mikvah, the hospital, the orphanage, the elderly home, the burial fraternity, and two libraries. It also subsidized the activity of associations and charity organizations such as: „TOZ”, Bikur Chojlim, „Kropla Mleka” [Drop of Milk], „Jaf”, „Koło Kobiet” [Women’s Circle], Hachnosas Orchim; and financed many schools and educational institutions: two Talmud Torahs, Bejs Jaakow - a religious school for girls, the Union of Jewish Schools, the “Tarbut” school organization, “Ceirej Emune Izrael”, evening courses for workers, a crafts school, and Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva – Talmudist academy[1.24].

During the Second World War, Lublin became the seat of occupational authorities for the whole district. A strong police and military garrison implemented the Nazi policy of exterminating the Jewish population. Soon after the Nazi army had marched into town, the persecutions of Jews began. In November 1939 Jews residing in the city centre were moved to the area of the former Jewish quarter in Podzamcze. The Nazis imposed an obligation upon all Jews to wear a band with the Star of David. They were also ordered into forced labor and were forbidden from using public transport and frequenting public places. They blocked Jewish bank accounts, prohibited all of their religious practices, and closed their access to educational institutions. In addition, Jewish inhabitants were required to pay huge monetary contributions and their enterprises and estates were taken over[1.25]. In January 1940 the 24-person Judenrat was established in Lublin and headed by Henryk Bekker. Another figure that played an important role in the Judenrat was dr Marek Alten.

In December 1939 a work obligation was introduced for almost 29,000 Lublin Jews employed in Nazi factories and on farms. Some of them also worked at the construction site of the labour camp on Lipowa Street, in the area which used to house the Academic Sport Association and where agricultural exhibitions were organized (at present “Plaza” Trade and Entertainment Center is situated there)[1.26].

From the beginning of 1940 transports of Jewish war prisoners from the Polish army were taken to the camp on Lipowa Street. In February 1940 a large group of them (around 630-880 people) were driven away to Biała Podlaska. The majority of them died because of freezing weather or were shot on the way. From December 1940 when the camp became a branch of the German Supplies Works (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke – DAW), Jewish prisoners transported from the stalags in the Reich were placed there. Civilians were also held as prisoners there such as Jews and Poles who had been captured during round-ups and farmers who failed to supply the Nazis with food rations[1.27]. The camp had a well-organized resistance movement whose aim was to prepare an escape and an armed uprising. Jewish prisoners who managed to flee from the camp formed partisan camps in the neighbouring woods (including groups commanded by Szmuel Jaeger and Jehiel Grynszpan)[1.28]. On 3.11.1943 most of the Jews from the Lipowa camp were murdered in a mass execution in Majdanek.

At the beginning of March 1941 around 10,000 Jews from the Lublin ghetto were transported to nearby towns or villages. The remaining Jews, together with about 5,000 fugitives and displaced people from Łódź, Sieradz, Kalisz and other places, staying in Lublin then, were secluded in a ghetto built in the area of the former Jewish quarter in Podzamcze. The area of the ghetto in 1941 was marked out by the following streets: Kowalska, Krawiecka (across the southern wing of the castle, it no longer exists), Sienna, Kalinowszczyzna, Franciszkańska (today Podzamcze), Unicka and Lubartowska. Until the very end of its existence the Lublin ghetto was never fully closed and a group of Jews still lived outside its boundaries[1.29].

However, the concentration of a community of almost 40,000 people in such a small area contributed to unusually poor sanitary conditions and led to outbreaks of many contagious diseases. Epidemics combined with extremely exhausting work and starvation decimated the inhabitants of the Lublin ghetto[1.30].

On the night of 16/17.03.1942 the Nazis commenced a large deportation from the Lublin ghetto. This date is believed to have marked the beginning of “Aktion Reinhardt” - the systematic and massive extermination of the Jewish population in General Government [Generalgouvernement]. The preliminary selection took place in the square in front of the building where the seat of the Judenrat was located (11 Grodzka Street). The large Maharszal Synagogue was transformed into a meeting place for people who were pronounced incapable of work and selected for deportation. From Jateczna Street those people walked towards a loading rail ramp by the city slaughterhouse on Turystycza Street. From there, daily transports numbering around 1,400 people each departed to the extermination camp in Bełżec. During this month-long action about 26,000–30,000 Lublin Jews were transported and murdered there. About 1,500 people, mainly the elderly and invalids, and about 80-100 children from the orphanage on 11 Grodzka Street were taken to the meadows in Majdan Tatarski District and shot immediately[1.31]. Those Jews who survived (7,000 people in total) were placed in a new ghetto established in Majdan Tatarski, located in the vicinity of the concentration camp “Majdanek” founded in autumn 1941[1.32].

As the Jewish quarter in Podzamcze was emptied, the Nazis began to destroy it systematically. In 1942 Nazi soldiers blew up the famous Maharshal Synagogue and its ruins were pulled down after the war in the beginning of the 1960s. Also three Jewish cemeteries in Lublin ceased to exist: the oldest and newest cemeteries and the cemetery in Wieniawa[1.33]. Only buildings located outside the previous Jewish town center survived, such as the Chewra Nosim synagogue, the Jewish hospital, the building of Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva on Lubartowska Street, and the so-called Perec House on Czwartek Street.

The definitive elimination of the ghetto in Majdan Tatarski was completed on 9.11.1942 and about 3,000 Jews who were still alive were moved to the concentration camp in Majdanek. After the initial selection all people pronounced unable to work, mainly the elderly and children, were sent to the gas chambers[1.34]. The last of the Lublin Jews, unless they survived in hiding, were killed a year later. On 3.11.1943 during the “Ernfest” action (harvesting) in Majdanek camp near the crematorium, the Nazis shot right away 18,400 Jews from Majdanek and forced labour camps operating in Lublin. Similar actions were conducted on the 3rd and 4th of November in the labour camps in Poniatowa and Trawniki. In total about 40,000 Jews were killed then[1.35]. A group of the Lublin Jews, prisoners of the Lublin Castle, were murdered just before the liberation of the city in July 1944[1.1.28].

According to approximate data, of the 40,000 pre-war Jewish population in Lublin, only 1,200 people survived the war. None stayed in Lublin. At the beginning of August 1944 there were about 300 Jews residing in Lublin, among whom merely 15 were pre-war inhabitants of Lublin. Until the end of the year this number rose to 3,000 and then - in the first months after the liberation of Warsaw, Łódź and Cracow - it fell to about 2,500.

The first post-war organization of Jews staying in the city was established on 08.08.1944. This was the Bureau for Matters Concerning Aid to the Jewish Population. Two days later, the Committee for Helping the Jews was established and was soon renamed The Jewish Committee in Lublin. In November 1944 the Central Committee of Jews in Poland was created there and Lublin became the unofficial capital for Polish Jews. The Jewish political parties and socio-cultural institutions were reborn. The first post-war newspapers and magazines started to be produced, and educational and religious life was revived[1.1.34].

However, in the first half of 1945, most of these institutions moved their official residences to liberated Warsaw and Łódź, and the Jewish community in Lublin began to gradually shrink. After the Kielce Pogrom about 1,300 people emigrated from town and the number of Jewish inhabitants in Lublin diminished to around 1,000. During the 1950s a few hundred Jews still lived in Lublin. They mostly left Poland after the events in 1968. Among the dozens of Jews still living in Lublin, none are descendants of those Jews who belonged to the pre-war community.

Currently, a branch of the Warsaw Jewish Religious Community and a branch of the Socio-Cultural Association of Jews in Poland both function in the city. The institution that preserves the memory of the Lublin Jews is the Israel Association of Lublin Jews. It numbers about 650 members and maintains contact with the Lublin Jews and their descendants living throughout the world. Every year the association issues a publication entitled “Głos Lublina” and organizes various meetings and cultural events.

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  • [1.24] Archiwum Państwowe w Lublinie [dalej: APL], Urząd Wojewódzki Lubelski 1918-1939 [dalej: UWL], Wydział Społeczno-Polityczny [dalej: WS-P], Budżet Gminy Wyznaniowej Żydowskiej w Lublinie na 1928 r., i na 1936 r., sygn. 800; APL, UWL 1918-1939, WS-P, Charakterystyka budżetu Gminy Wyznaniowej Żydowskiej w Lublinie za rok 1922, (wzmiankowane: 5 synagog: Kotlarska, Wahla, na Kalinowszczyźnie, na przedmieściu Piaski, 4 domy modlitwy, Talmud Tora, biblioteka, szpital, ochronka, 2 cmentarze) sygn. 719.
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