It is not known exactly when the first Jews arrived in Rzeszów. Some researchers speculate that Jews lived in the settlement before 1340, i.e. before it received city rights [[re: | Za: Rzeszów [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector G. Wigoder, vol. II, New York 2001, p. 1111]]. However, literature on the subject assumes that Jewish settlement in the town dates back to the end of the fifteenth century or, at the latest, the mid-sixteenth century.
The oldest reference concerning Jews from Rzeszów dates back to 1550, another one - from 1587. In 1588, at least six Jewish families already lived in Rzeszów, and in 1592, according to estimates - approx. 90-100 Jewish people. Until the mid-seventeenth century, the community was subject to the Lviv kahal and, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, to the Przemyśl kahal. A little later, a separate religious community was created. The Jewish inhabitants of Rzeszów made their living mainly from the lease of mills and tax-collection, as well as large-scale trade in wine, cloth and canvas [[re: | Węgrzynek H., Rzeszów, [in:] Historia i kultura Żydów polskich. Słownik. Warsaw 2000, p. 291]].
In 1599, Mikołaj Spytek Ligenza issued a charter limiting the number of Jewish homes. Under the same act, Jews in Rzeszów were not allowed to trade in products produced by Christian artisans. However, this did not stop the development of Jewish crafts in the town. There was a large group of distillers, tailors, haberdashers, embroiderers, carpenters, glaziers, soapboilers and pharmacists [[re: | Kehilat Raysha sefer Zikaron, ed. M. Yari-Wold, Tel Aviv 1967, p. 25; Węgrzynek H., Rzeszów, [in:] Historia i kultura Żydów polskich. Słownik, Warsaw 2000, p. 291]]. In 1611, a Jew from Rzeszów, Moszko - was baptized and changed his name to Adam Torowiński.
Initially, Jews were not allowed to live within the old town, so they settled outside Rzeszów. In the first half of the 17th century, near today's Plac Wolności, a new settlement was created called the New Town, inhabited mainly by Jews. Probably at the end of the 16th or early 17th century, a synagogue was built, first mentioned in the documents from 1617, which served as a defensive structure. Probably at the beginning of the 17th century, a cemetery area was designated, part of which was, in 1624, taken over by the embankment built around the New Town. The next owner of the town, Prince Władysław Dominik Zasławski-Ostrogski, renewed the old ban prohibiting the sale of houses and properties to Jews within the borders of the old town. A Jewish tailor, who with the permission of Prince Ostrogski settled in Rzeszów, had the right to provide services only to other Jews [[re: | Kehilat Raysha sefer Zikaron, ed. M. Yari-Wold, Tel Aviv 1967, p. 26 and n. ]].
The situation changed when Rzeszów found itself in the possession of the Lubomirski family. They allowed Jews to have plots and houses within the Old Town, provided that the inhabitants agreed. The first Jewish owner of a house in the Market Square was, in 1680, Izik Abrahamowicz, who bought the plot together with the building from a Christian, Lubocki. Although the ban on Jewish settlement in the old town was finally lifted in 1696, the centre of Jewish life was still within the new town.
By 1674, the number of Jews in Rzeszów had reached 1,400 people, thereby surpassing the number of Christians.
In 1686, Jews from Rzeszów bought a property, designated to be a new cemetery, from Paweł Zagłobiński for the sum of 3,200 guilders. Although on 6th January 1686, the then owner of the town, Hieronim Lubomirski, issued a permit "to build a new school under the shaft in the New Town", the synagogue was erected later, in the years 1705-1712.
In 1706, Jews were granted or - as indicated by some sources - bought the privilege, from the Lubomirski family, of having 40 houses in the new town and, as a result, in the 18th century, a Jewish quarter with a separate market, two synagogues and cemeteries were developed. In the 18th century, Jewish settlement also developed in the old town. In 1728, 16 Jewish houses were located there, partly serving as residential buildings and partly used by the community (e.g. a Jewish court building, yeshiva). By the mid-18th century, Jews owned 26 houses and were the owners of almost all of the retail outlets in that part of the town. By the end of the 18th century, 17 Jewish families (77 people) also lived in the nearby villages, including Staroniw, Zawieczyce, Przybyszówka, Krasna and Malawy. They were mainly engaged in inn-keeping and tax-collection.
In the 18th century, Jews engaged in trade gradually gained an ever stronger position in Rzeszów. A list of merchants drawn up in 1730 contains 85 names of Jews and only 6 Christians. In 1762, there was only one shop run by a Christian in the centre of Rzeszów. Tax documents show that in 1765, 1,202 adult Jews lived in Rzeszów including, among others: 29 tailors, 26 owners of inns and taverns, 31 merchants and shopkeepers, 10 hatters, 10 teachers, 5 doctors, 4 musicians, 4 potters, 3 bakers, 3 butchers, 2 weavers, a glazier, a soap maker, as well as dozens of famous goldsmiths and jewellers [[re: | Maayan K., Rzeszów, [in:] Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. F. Skolnik, M. Berenbaum, vol. 12, Detroit - New York - San Francisco - New Haven - Waterville - London 2007, p. 603; Kehilat Raysha sefer Zikaron, ed. M. Yari-Wold, Tel Aviv 1967, pp. 30-35.]].
In the 17th century, relations between Christians and Jews living in Rzeszów were strained. Although by the beginning of the 18th century, relations started to improve, there were constant disputes between the representatives of the two communities due to economic reasons, as well as conflicts regarding the obligation to maintain roads and town fortifications. Surviving documents from the mid-18th century show that Jews were admitted to several Christian craft guilds operating in Rzeszów: blacksmiths, medical, butchers and bakers - although, at the same time, the guilds clearly defined the number of shops and establishments that could be run by the Jews.
In the second half of the 18th century, as a result of the dominant position of Jews in trade and crafts, relations between Christians and Jews once again deteriorated. In 1746, under the edict of Bishop Sierakowski, Jews were forbidden to employ Christian servants, open shops on Sundays and during Christian holidays, walk on the streets during the procession of Corpus Christi and on Good Friday. Jews, who owned property within the town centre, were required to submit an annual donation to the Church in the form of wax and milk. They were also required to obtain the consent of church authorities when planning to build a new synagogue. Some of these regulations were confirmed by the owner of the town by an edict issued in 1674. In 1679, there were anti-Semitic riots in Rzeszów, during which several people were injured [[re: | Kehilat Raysha sefer Zikaron, ed. M. Yari-Wold, Tel Aviv 1967, pp. 26-30.]].
In the years 1753-1765, probably under the influence of Frankists, at least 15 Jews from Rzeszów were baptised.
In 1777, Rzeszów had the fifth largest concentration of Jews within the boundaries of the current Podkarpackie Province, after Przemyśl, Jarosław, Lesko and Dynowo. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Jewish community also played a significant role in the economic development of the town. Local Jewish craftsmen organized themselves in craft organizations and economic associations, independent from Christian guilds, and many representatives of the Jewish community belonged to the Rzeszów intelligentsia (doctors, lawyers, judges).
At the end of the 18th century, Jews in Rzeszów were influenced by both the Haskalah and Hasidism, although initially the influence of the latter was not as strong as in eastern Galicia. In the 19th century, numerous Hasidic groups were created bringing together supporters of tzaddikim from Bełżec, Bobowa, Dzików, Kołaczyce and Nowy Sącz. The court of tzadik Lazar Weisblum, the grandson of Elimelech from Leżajsk, was located in the town, as well as the court of tzadik Jehuda Ungarn, the earlier rabbi of Sokołów [[re: | Kehilat Raysha sefer Zikaron, ed. M. Yari-Wold, Tel Aviv 1967, p. 54 and n.]] . After World War I, there was also a tzadik from Radomyśl - Abraham Chaim Horowitz and tzadik Cwi Elimelech, a student of Chaim Halberstam of Nowy Sącz. After his death, his son, Jozue from Rybotycze, performed the function in Rzeszów (1862-1932) [[re: | Kehilat Raysha sefer Zikaron, ed. M. Yari-Wold, Tel Aviv 1967, pp. 103-131.]].
In the second half of the 19th century, the influence of Haskalah in the town gained significance. Among the most famous supporters of this movement were writer and scholar of German literature, Dr. Wilhelm Turteltaub, city councillor and representative in Parliament Dr. Oswald Honigsman, as well as experts in Hebrew literature Mojżesz Geszwind, Icchok Holzer and well-known Zionist activist, Abba Apfelbaum.
In the 19th century, the Jewish community in Rzeszów grew rapidly in terms of demographics. While at the beginning of the century, of the 4,604 town's residents, 1,029 were Christians and 3,575 Jews, by 1880 - of the 11,166 residents, 5,820 were Jews, 5,152 Catholics, 160 Greek Catholics and 34 Protestants.
On June 26th 1843, a large part of Rzeszów, including the new town, was destroyed by a great fire. Two synagogues, the bet ha-midrash, the rabbi's house and the hospital burned down, as well as many houses inhabited by Jews.
In the second half of the 19th century, as a result of ongoing changes in the economy, in addition to numerous large and small scale commercial enterprises, Jewish factories were established, producing, among other things, paper products, building materials, clothing, soap and candles. At the turn of the century, Jews owned many inns, taverns and pubs in Rzeszów. At that time, there were five Jewish bankers in the town, and the number of Jews who practised free professions, including lawyers and doctors, also grew.
After Galicia obtained autonomy within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Rzeszów Jews received the same rights and privileges as all other citizens of the town. Representatives of the Jewish community entered the city council - in 1918, there were 14 councilors of Jewish origin. In the years 1913-1935, when the Mayor of Rzeszów was Roman Krogulecki, Wilhelm Hochfeld was the Deputy Mayor.
In the Galician times, the Jewish population of the town increased significantly. In 1816, there were now 3,575 Jews and only 1,029 Christians. In 1870, the Rzeszów Kahal, which employed 5 rabbis, maintained 2 synagogues and 4 cemeteries, had 5,801 members. In addition, there were also 4 private houses of prayer in the town. In the years 1871-1873, the Kahal rabbi was Rabbi Cwi Hersz Orenstein, expelled by tsarist Russia from Brest on the Bug, followed by Izrael Chaim Wallerstein, author of two treatises Rerem Jehoszua and Sede Jehoszua, who held the post for 30 years. At that time, Jews constituted 54.5% of the total population of the town. In the city council, of 30 councilors, 15 were Jews and, in 1885, of the 36 councilors, 17 were Jews. The Agudas Achim Association (Covenant of Brothers) maintained an evening trade school which, in 1883, was attended by 128 boys. Starting from 1882, a Credit Society began operation, headed by Mojżesz Geschwind. A year later, the Credit and Savings Association began operation, presided by Józef Hornung. Finally, in 1892, the Traders' Savings Society was established, presided over by S. Alter. The Jewish Assimilationist Club was also active, as was the Jewish branch of the Social Democratic Party, headed by Marek Pelzling.
Several religious and charitable societies operated: the Jewish Society for the Support of Sick Israelis, the Women's Association for the Support of Sick Israelis, the Jewish Religious Association Machzykaj Linat, the Association of Religious Education Chwał Dawid, the Educational and Cultural Association Tarbut, the Talmud-Torah Society, the Beit Yaakov Association, the "Bar Kochba" Sports Society, the "Samson" Sports Society and the Jewish Dramatic Society "Scene". At that time, Jews were the owners of more than 43% of the houses in the town.
At the beginning of the20th century, there was a sharp increase of the Jewish population. In 1900, the Jewish community comprised 7,635 Jews. The Kahal, chaired by Wilhelm Hochfeld, had its own hospital. In 1910, there were 15 Jews in the 36-member city council. In 1903, Mojżesz Goldberg founded a printing press in the town which, in the years 1905-1911 printed, among others, Tygodnik Rzeszowski. By 1914, around 12,000 Jews lived in the town.
During 3th-5th May 1919, anti-Jewish riots broke out in the town which resulted in the looting of many Jewish shops and of the synagogue. The cause of the pogrom was, among other reasons, ritual murder supposedly committed by Jews. The police and the army intervened [[re: | Kehilat Raysha sefer Zikaron, ed. M. Yari-Wold, Tel Aviv 1967, pp. 137-138.]].
By the beginning of the 20th century, Rzeszów had become a strong Zionist centre. The Jews had meeting hall in the town funded by Adolf Tannenbaum's foundation of and a library containing 50,000. At the time, Rzeszów was called the "Galician Jerusalem". In 1904, Nathan Lewin became the rabbi (1857-1926) and, from 1927, his son, Aron Lewin (1879-1941) took over and was also an Agudath Party Member of Parliament of the Republic of Poland elected in 1922, and once again in 1930. He was murdered by the Germans in Lviv a few days after the capture of the city, denounced by local Ukrainians. At that time, the function of rabbi was held by Berisch Steinberg and Szyja Lundesmann. The Jewish community was presided over by Ascher Silber. While the Mayor was Roman Krogulecki (1913-1935), the function of deputy mayor was held by Dr Wilhelm Hochfeld.
During the inter-War period, several political parties were active within the Jewish community - Aguda, Mizrachi, Poale Zion and the Bund, plus several youth organizations - Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsair, Dror, Beitar and Akiba. There was also the Bar Kochba Sports Club, the Jewish Society for Music and Drama, the Jewish Academic Association Makabea, as well as the Jewish People's School Society which operated a public school and a co-educational junior high school. Artisans, both Polish and Jewish, belonged to common guilds: Tailors' Guild, Guild of Hairdressers and the Guild of United Artisans. Moreover, the following organizations also operated - the Association of Jewish Artisans Jad Charuzim and a branch of the Central Association of Jewish Craftsmen in Poland. The intelligentsia had at its own Social Club. In 1939, the Association of Jewish Lawyers in Rzeszów had 25 members. In the same year, the Merchants Association, which also operated a Merchants' bank, was led by Eljasz Wang. The Jewish community also had several banks: Bank for Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, the Credit Association which, in 1932, had 1,552 shareholders, the Discount Bank, People's Bank, Universal Bank, the Share Society and the Gemilut Chesed Society. In the early 1930's, 72% of retail outlets in the town belonged to Jews. In 1931,11,228 Jews lived in the town.
The inter-War period was a time when the Jewish community in Rzeszów flourished. Numerous Jewish businesses operated in the town, including metal plants, wood plants, leather processing plants, textile mills and plants producing ready-made clothes, paper mills, factories producing construction materials and chemicals. Under the authority of the Community Council, there were two synagogues, cemeteries, a bet ha-midrash, a hospital (built between 1923-1938), an old people's home and an orphanage. There were 44 societies and associations in the town, operating for charitable, educational, cultural and economic purposes.
At the end of the 1920's, the escalating nationalist movement began large-scale anti-Semitic propaganda and began activities directed against Jews. Youth militias were opposed by the members of the Zionist movement in Rzeszów. In February 1930, the nationalists launched a campaign against Jewish kosher slaughterhouses which, a month later, provoked mass protests by the Jewish population in Rzeszów.
At the beginning of the War, approx. 5,000 Jews left Rzeszów, including Rabbi Aron Levin and the majority of the board members of the Jewish Community. From that moment, Józef Reich performed the function of rabbi. Shortly after the occupation of the town in mid-October 1939, the Germans began to destroy houses of worship belonging to the Jewish community. Synagogues and houses of prayer were destroyed, as well as the cemeteries located in the town centre. At the end of September 1939, the Germans moved a group of approx. 2,700 Jews into Rzeszów, including approx. 1,224 deported from Kalisz, around 800 from Łódź and about 630 Jews from Berlin. In late October, the Judenrat was established, headed by Bernard Kleinmann. The Jewish Order Service (Jüdischer Ordnungdienst) was also created.
On August 6th 1940, the occupation authorities established a curfew for Jews and issued a ban prohibiting Jews from leaving their place of residence. On 13th September of the same year, a group of approx. 300 young men were sent to work in the quarries near Zakopane.
From September 1940, the Nazis began to resettle the Jewish population within the area of the ghetto, which was finally closed off on 10th February 1942. Initially, it held around 11-16,000 Jews, including more than 3,500 people from outside of Rzeszów. On April 28th 1942, German police shot about 30 Jews in the streets of the town and on May 12th approx. 250 Jews were taken from the local prison and shot in the forest near Nowa Wieś near Kolbuszowa. On June 16th, in the Pod Kasztanami alley,15 members of the Judenrat and Judendienst were shot dead. At the end of June 1942, a group of Jews from the liquidated ghettos in Błażowa, Czudec, Głogów Malopolski, Kolbuszowa, Leżajsk, Łańcut, Niebylec, Sedziszów Malopolski, Sokołów Małopolski, Strzyżów and Tyczyn were deported and brought into the ghetto. Early in the summer of 1942, the ghetto contained around 23,000 Jews.
The liquidation of the ghetto began on 7th July 1942. All residents were herded into the New Town market square, where a selection was carried out. Children and the elderly, as well as the sick and disabled, were taken by car to the woods near Głogów Malopolski, or - according to other sources - to the forest in Rudna, where they were shot. It is difficult to establish the exact number of victims. It is estimated, however, that somewhere between 2,000 and 6,000 Jews were killed. On 7th, 10th, 14th and 19th of July 1942, other groups of Jews (in total about 14,000 people) were herded on foot to the station in Staroniwa and transported by rail to the extermination camp in Bełżec. On July 7th, during the march from the ghetto to the station, 46 Jews were shot. On the same day, approx. 190 people were killed in the ghetto and their bodies were later buried at the cemetery in Czekaj. 15 Jews were shot near the Castle. On July 14th 1942, several hundred people from the ghetto, including all the patients from the hospital, were killed in the Głogów forest.
By mid-July, after the deportations and executions, around 6,000 Jews remained in the town, including about 4,000 in the ghetto. At the end of July, a group of Jews from Dębica wa brought into the Rzeszów ghetto.
On 7th or 8th July 1942, a group of about 1,000 women and children were transported from Rzeszów to the camp in Pełkinie, and then to the extermination camp in Bełżec. At the same time, some of the Jews from the ghetto were transported to the camp at Lisia Góra in Rzeszów, where they were employed in a factory producing aircraft engines. On July 24th 1944, 500 survivors of this camp, including Jews from Kraków, Przemyśl and Jarosław, were taken out of town in an unknown direction.
Another group of about 2,000 people were deported to Bełżec from Rzeszów on 15th November. On November 25th, the Chairman of the Judenrat, Bernard Kleinmann, was shot. His place was taken by Beno Kahane, who co-operated with the Gestapo. He was shot by the Germans on 2nd September at the station in Staroniwa.
After the last deportation, what remained of the ghetto, with about 3,000 people, was divided into "Ghetto A" located east of Baldachowska Street and "Ghetto B", located west of Baldachowska Street. The first part gathered Jewish workers employed in German forced labor camps located in Rzeszów. The second was intended mainly for members of their families, as well as for those unable to work. Ghetto "B" was called by the locals "Schmeltzgetto" ("melting ghetto" - i.e. a ghetto for those destined to die).
In December 1942, around 1,000 Jews from the liquidated ghettos in Dukla, Krosno, Sanok and Jasło were deported to Rzeszów. At the beginning of March 1943, there were 3,565 Jews in the Rzeszów ghetto. They were employed in various kinds of work, including about 300 people employed in forced labor at the airport in Jasionka. All the Jews from this camp were later shot in the forest near Głogów.
On May 15th 1943, approx. 200 Jews were deported from Rzeszów near Mielec, where they were probably employed in a labor camp. On 8 July, approx. 60 Jews escaped from the Rzeszów ghetto. Similar escapes took the place on 1st and 11th September 1943.
Finally, the Rzeszów ghetto was liquidated on 2nd and 3rd November 1943. The inhabitants of ghetto B and part of ghetto A were then deported to the death camp in Auschwitz, where most were killed in gas chambers. On September 3rd 1943, a group of workers was deported from the ghetto to the camp in Szczebnie. After a selection, those capable of work were placed in the camp, and the remaining 500 Jews were probably shot in the surrounding woods.
After these events, only. 250-600 people were left in the Rzeszów ghetto, of whom approx. 100 were killed on November 12th 1943. On February 13th 1944, some were taken from Rzeszów to a labor camp in Stalowa Wola, and some to a labor camp in Lisia Góra, from where, in June 1944, they were taken to the camp in Płaszów.
After the liquidation of the ghetto, part of the buildings located on its premises were demolished. The Germans also partially destroyed both the synagogue and the bet ha-midrash. Jewish workers who remained in the town were also forced to remove the tombstones of the cemetery in Czekaj, which were subsequently moved to a brickyard.
On March 1st 1944, according to different sources, 18-35 Jews hiding in the basement of the pharmacy at the Rzeszów market were killed - 9 people managed to escape, 5 were shot while escaping.
Out of the total number of Jews in Rzeszów, approx. 700-800 people survived the German occupation, most of whom, approx. 600, in the Soviet Union. Some people managed to escape during the evacuation of labor camps and hide until liberation. Several Jews from the Rzeszów ghetto managed to survive the camp at Auschwitz. Some Jews returned to the town after the liberation.
On June 11th 1945, Jews were accused of ritual murder and, due to the threat of a pogrom, they were deported from of Rzeszów. While in March 1966, the Rzeszów branch of the Social and Cultural Society of Jews in Poland still had 380 members, the vast majority had left Rzeszów permanently.
- Kehilat Raysha sefer zikaron, ed. M. Yari-Wold, Tel Aviv 1967.
- Maayan K., Rzeszów, [in:] Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. F. Skolnik, M. Berenbaum, vol. 12, Detroit – New York – San Francisco – New Haven – Waterville – London 2007.
- Rzeszów, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, ed. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. II, New York 2001.
- Węgrzynek H., Rzeszów, [in:] Historia i kultura Żydów polskich. Słownik, Warszawa 2000.