The history of Sambor is closely related to the history of the much older settlement of Stary (Old) Sambor, destroyed by the Tatars in 1241. Its inhabitants moved to the village of Pohonicz, which adopted the name Nowy (New) Sambor. In 1390, Nowy Sambor received the status of a town, which attracted Ruthenians, Poles, Germans, and Jews to the locality. In 1394, King Władysław Jagiełło exempted the burghers from many taxes, and although this privilege was short-lived, it greatly helped the expansion of the town.

Jews started to settle in Sambor in the early 15th century. As early as 1447, there were 12 Jewish families in the town, and in 1507 the Jews of Sambor offered 15 gold coins to the king as a coronation gift. In 1519, Zygmunt I Stary informed the governor of Sambor that Jews had the right to live wherever they wanted and pursue their professions. However, in 1542 the Christian burghers of Sambor persuaded the king to issue an edict ordering Jews to leave the town. They settled outside the town walls, forming a separate district called Blich. The name of the district comes from a plant used to bleach fabric. In 1551, Queen Bona issued a decree banning Jews from engaging in commercial activities at municipal markets, only allowing them to trade during fairs [1.1]. Starting from 1588, all Jews entering Sambor had to pay toll at the gate.

In the 16th and the 17th century, Jews continued to settle in the town under the auspices and protection of the nobility. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Jewish community of Sambor was the second largest in the general area of Przemyśl. In 1569, 170 of all 536 houses in Sambor (31.7%) belonged to Jews. According to the estimates made by Polish researcher Aleksander Jabłonowski, each house was inhabited by roughly 12 people. This means that some 2,040 Jews could live in Sambor at the time, which would constitute half of the total population of 4,000. On the other hand, another researcher, Aleksander Kuczera, claims that on average, only 9 people lived in each house. He estimates the number of Sambor Jews to have reached 1,530 people during that period. From 1551 to 1648, the number of inhabitants of the town practically did not change, and due to the fact that the proportion of Christians burghers to Jews did not alter, the number of Jews also stayed at the same level.

In 1682, an agreement was signed between the town of Sambor and the Jewish community of the Blich district, according to which the Jews had the right to enter the town and engage in commercial activities during markets and fairs. They had to pay 8,000 zloty for this privilege. The Jewish kehilla of Przemyśl, which had jurisdiction over the Sambor community, acted as guarantor for the payment.

In 1724, the Christian population of Sambor protested against the decision of the governor of the town, who allowed Jews to produce and sell vodka under his patronage. In 1732, Jews appealed to the king to finally abolish the 16th-century ban on settling in Sambor, claiming that the document had been forged. The king did not accept this line of argument, but he allowed the Blich Jews to enter Sambor on any day of the year and engage in trade. By virtue of the same decree, he allowed the Jews of Blich to erect a synagogue and open a cemetery (in fact, both had already been established) and a butchery. In 1763, Jews were given permission to build a new, beautiful synagogue. Construction works on the building were concluded towards the end of the 18th century. The synagogue survived until the extermination of the Jewish inhabitants of the town.

During the reign of King August III (1735-1763), a royal privilege was given to Jews, allowing them to open two Jewish printing presses in Sambor. One of them specialised in printing Jewish calendars.

At the end of the 18th century, the Jews of Sambor gained the status of a fully-fledged community with all appropriate institutions. The kehilla was led by a board of 12 parnassim, elected each year by the members of the community. Until the end of the 16th century, the composition of the body had had to be approved by the municipal governor. The members of the board swore loyalty to the king and to the local authorities. Each month, one of them was elected to the position of the community leader. The person enjoying greatest authority in the community was, as usual, the rabbi. He signed all decisions, took part in all elections, taught children, etc. The rabbi was hired for the position via official channels. Until 1551, the community had to obtain the king's permission to employ a certain person. Later on, the rabbi was chosen by the community, and its choice had to be approved by the provincial governor. The house of the rabbi, just like any other social institution – the synagogue, the poorhouse, or the hospital – was not taxed.

According to the Austrian decree of 1781, the Sambor Jews were defined as ‘tolerated’ (Geduldet). They were obliged to pay a Schutzgeld (protection) tax of four guldens per family. In 1787, this tax was replaced by the ‘kosher’ tax and the even higher ‘candlelight’ tax.

By virtue of the imperial decree of 1786, the Sambor Jews were allowed to build another synagogue. The permit cost them 2,000 guldens payable immediately to the state treasury and an additional annual fee of 100 guldens. This is one of the examples of how the Austrian authorities exploited the poor Jewish community of Blich.

In the second half of the 19th century, Sambor became a town dominated by rich Jewish merchants. In the 1850s, when three chambers of commerce were established in Galicia, Sambor was represented in the Lviv Chamber by merchant Grabscheid[1.2]. The chamber had seven members, three of them from Lviv, which shows that Sambor was an important centre with appropriate representation in the institution.

In 1867, a bar association was established in Sambor. For 27 years, its president was a Jew, Doctor Józef Steuerman, who also held the position of the mayor.

A part of the Jewish community gradually assimilated into the Polish society, especially the intelligentsia. In Sambor, the leading intellectuals were Doctor Józef Steuerman and Doctor Aleksandrowicz. The Jewish assimilationists met with firm resistance from the Zionists. The town witnessed a tumultuous revival of Jewish life.

At the time, Sambor experienced gradual development of the Jewish educational system. At the end of the 19th century, a Progressive Jewish school was established in Sambor. Its first teacher was Dawid Miller. In 1905, Rabbi Aaron Lewin founded a Jewish lower secondary school, attended by 150 children. In 1891, philanthropist Jehoszua Gothelf founded a private school for Jewish children. In 1907, the Safa Brura organisation founded a general Jewish school.

There were several major currents in the political life of Sambor's Jewish community. In 1894, the first Zionist organisation in the town – B'nei Zion – was founded. It had 120 members. Its establishment was inspired by a student from Sambor, Rosenzweig. Its first president was Aaron Laden, with Saul Weinberg serving as his deputy. The first issue of the official Zionist weekly Die Welt (the magazine was founded in Vienna by the father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl), published in 4 June 1897, features an information from Sambor; it concerns the Jewish participation in the election. After the Third Zionist Congress, there were two Zionist organisations in Sambor – Ahavat Zion and the General Club. When Theodor Herzl was travelling to Russia in August 1905, he visited Sambor and took part in a Zionist rally.

In 1905, the ‘Jehudit’ women’s organisation, as well as two Jewish youth organisations, Moria and Judea, were established in Sambor.

A branch of the leftist Poale Zion party started to operate in Sambor in 1903. Its first president was Saul Reichman. In May 1911, the International Worker’s Day was celebrated in Sambor for the first time. A branch of the youth organisation Tseirei Zion was established in the town the same year.

The life of the Jewish community in Sambor was disrupted by World War I. The Russian army entered the town in mid-August 1914. Some of the inhabitants escaped with the Austrian army. In 1915, the Austrian army recaptured the town. Out of all 7,000 Jews from Sambor, 3,000 needed aid. The leader of the community, Elimelech Goldberg, started to organise aid together with Rabbi Aaron Lewin and Zionist leader Doctor Fiszel Rotenstreich. A free eatery was opened in the town.

In October 1918, Sambor was taken over by the troops of the ZUNR (West Ukrainian People's Republic). They occupied the town for seven months. On 16 May 1919, they left the town, which was then seized by the Polish army. In May 1919, the Jewish National Committee was formed in Sambor. Most of its members were Zionists.

The local trade was revived. In 1925, Sambor's merchants established their own bank, called the Kupiecka Spółka Kredytowa (Merchants’ Credit Company) (310 members). In 1939, the bank's capital amounted to PLN 500,000. The institution had 1,500 shareholders.

Ca. 1,500 Jews from Sambor migrated to the United States. They provided material aid to the community of their former homestead and managed the operation of the local social structures and charitable funds. They also provided assistance to the old and the weak, the youth, and the children. The Jewish hospital would not have been able to operate without the support of American sponsors.

A division of the International Women's Zionist Organization (WIZO), headed by Lota Menkes, was established in the town in 1936. Students in need of financial assistance were supported by the Samopomoc (Self-help) organisation, which gave them small loans. At the time, there was a lot of anti-Semitism at higher education facilities, which made the aid granted to Jewish students particularly significant. The Bikur Cholim organisation assisted the ill by covering the costs of treatment and medicine. In 1937, it had 300 members.

In 1921, Doctor Fiszel Rotenstreich founded the Zionist ‘Tarbut’ School, with Hebrew as the language of instruction. It was attended by 144 children. Old Jewish schools continued to function: the Talmud Torah, the trade school (from 1931 – the trade lower secondary school), the craft school for girls. Agricultural courses were organised for adults; one of the subjects on their curriculum was English – this is because their aim was to prepare students for migration to Eretz Israel, which at the time was a British mandate.

The local cultural life centred around the ‘Kinor’ drama and music club (in Hebrew, kinor means ‘fiddle’). In the interwar period, the club was given the Polish name ‘Lutnia’ (Lute), but the performances were still held in Hebrew and Yiddish. There was also a choir and a band of mandolinists at the club. The performances were accompanied by the Fidler brothers’ orchestra.

There was also a Jewish Social Club in Sambor headed by Doctor Kreutzenauer. The members of the club were some of the most highly esteemed residents of the town. The organisation had a beautiful hall and ran a restaurant.

Towards the end of the 1920s, Doctor Abraham Berger founded a Jewish sports club in the town. Football matches started to serve as an opportunity to manifest local patriotism. The biggest star of the Sambor football scene was Fredek Garfunkel, a goalkeeper. Thanks to his talent, he became a professional football player in the Lviv-based Jewish team called Hasmonei, which played in the Polish football league. After the war, Garfunkel changed his name to Garvitch and worked in Haifa as a gynaecologist. The Polish Korona Sambor football club also had several Jewish players: Duszek Steureman, Fredek Garfunkel, Bruno Werter, Orenstein, and Berger.

Periodically, elections were held in the Jewish community. Until the outbreak of World War I and even later, Elimelech Goldberg was elected president of the community in every single election. In 1923, meanwhile, the community board was composed of five general Zionists, five representatives of the Mizrachi party, one representative of the Agudath Israel party, two representatives of the craft union, 11 non-party members. Doctor Fiszel Rotenstreich, a Zionist, was elected community president. In 1930, the state authorities appointed Szlomo Margulis as president-commissioner of the community. After the 1934 election, he was replaced by a Zionist, Isaak Knepl.

In 1931, Eliezer Mieses became the rabbi of Sambor. His brother, Colonel Józef Mieses, was the official rabbi of the Polish Army [1.3].

In 1931, there were 7,794 Jews living in the Sambor District, most of them (6,068 people) in Sambor itself.

The German army entered Sambor on 30 June 1941. On 1-3 July 1941, Ukrainian nationalists organised pogroms which resulted in 50 casualties. They claimed that their actions had been carried out in retaliation for the murder of prisoners detained in Sambor by NKVD officers. The German military authorities intervened, aiming to stop the pogrom. In the summer of 1941, at the behest of the German military authorities, the Judenrat and the Jewish Police Service were established in Sambor. In 1 August 1941, Sambor became a district capital in the District of Galicia. There was a German military police post in the town, as well as a station of the German criminal police and a post of the Ukrainian auxiliary police. Anti-Jewish operations were supervised by a commission of the German security police from Drohobych.

In February 1942, Germans shot 32 hostages in Sambor. In March 1942, Jews from Sambor were ordered to move to the ghetto, which was set up in the Blich district, an area traditionally inhabited by the Jewish population. In April 1942, 6,686 people lived inside the ghetto. On 4 August 1942, Germans carried out the first liquidation operation. Jews from Sambor, as well as from Old Sambor and other nearby localities, were gathered at the stadium and underwent selection. Ca. 150 people were shot on the spot, several hundred people were taken to the Janowska concentration camp in Lviv, and ca. 4,000-6,000 were transported to the death camp in Bełżec. The next ‘Aktion’ took place on 25-26 September 1942. Ca. 300 people declared unfit for work due to age or illness were shot near Radłowice (present-day Ralivka). The third and the fourth operation was carried out on 17-22 October 1942. Jews were gathered in a prison. From there, ca. 1,000 people were taken to the extermination camp in Bełżec, followed by 460 people a few days later. On 1 December 1942, the ghetto was fenced with a barbed wire. Germans then resettled Jews from Old Sambor, Felsztyn, and Turka to the enclosed district. The population of the ghetto reached ca. 3,000 people. An underground resistance group operated inside under the command of Doctor Sandauer. It was gathering weapons and preparing for an armed uprising. There is no information on why these plan never came to fruition [1.4].

Germans continued to carry out operations aimed at exterminating the Jewish population of Sambor. On 13 February 1943, ca. 500 people over the age of 55 were shot. On 18 April 1943, ca. 900 people were shot in the Jewish cemetery. On 20-22 May 1943, several hundred Jews declared unfit for work were shot in the forest near Radłowice, 550 people were taken to the Majdanek concentration camp, and ca. 70 people – to the Janowska camp in Lviv. Ca. 1,000 people who remained in the ghetto were shot near Radłowice during the liquidation operation carried out on 5-10 June 1943. The operation was followed by a number of smaller mass executions of Jews who had gone into hiding. The largest of them was carried out on 23 June 23 1943, when a group of ca. 100 people was murdered[1.5].

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] “Sambor,” [in] Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich, vol. X, eds. Filip Sulimierski, Władysław Walewski, Bronisław Chlebowski, Warsaw 1888, pp. 227-246.
  • [1.2] I. Schiper, Dzieje handlu żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich, Warsaw 1937, p. 440.
  • [1.3] Sefer Sambor-Stary Sambor; pirkei edut ve-zikaron le-kehilot Sambor-Stary Sambor mi-reshitan ve-ad hurbanan, ed. Alexander Manor, Tel Aviv 1980; https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/sambor/samxix.html [Accessed: 13 Dec 2012.].
  • [1.4] The Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Ghettos during the Holocaust, ed. Guy Miron, Jerusalem 2009, vol. II, pp. 686-687.
  • [1.5] A. I. Kruglov, “Sambor,” [in] Holokost na territoryi SSSR, ed. I.A. Altman, Moscow 2011, pp. 886-888.