The earliest information about the Jews of Sanok dates back to the times of King Casimir the Great, who ruled the country in the years 1333–1370. It is uncertain, however, whether they lived in the town permanently or only resided there temporarily. Jewish names appear on the lists of craftsmen from 1514. Tax registers from 1567 mention only one Jewish family living in Sanok, but similar documents drawn up three years later already include the names of 17 Jewish families. At the time, a total of 200 families lived in the town[1.1].

In 1676, Bishop of Przemyśl Stanisław Sosnowski filed an official complaint against the mayor and councillors of Sanok for allowing Jews to buy houses in the town centre from Catholics, keep their businesses open during Catholic holidays, and sell alcohol with no restrictions. In the second half of the 17th century, Aron and his son-in-law leased the right to sell beer and liquors from the magistrate.

At the end of the 16th century, a subkehilla subordinate to the community in Lesko was formed in Sanok. The local synagogue was first mentioned in sources dated 1697. In 1685, Aron Izraelowicz held the post of the shkolnik – sexton in the synagogue. In 1697, he was succeeded by Jakub, followed by Chaim, a textile merchant, in 1703.

After the old synagogue was destroyed in a fire in 1718, the Jews from Sanok were granted permission from the Bishop of Przemyśl to build a new one. The new synagogue was erected two years later. The permission was confirmed in the privilege granted on 20 June 1720 by King Augustus II the Strong.

The king also allowed the Jews of Sanok to build stalls, shops, and craft workshops by their houses, as well as to establish distilleries, malt-houses for brewing beer, liqueurs, and other alcoholic beverages. The royal charter also granted them the right to sell goods from municipal stalls after a proper fee was paid to the Royal Treasury. Jews were allowed to found a cemetery outside the boundaries of the town. They could work as weavers after paying a fee to the local castle. In the mid-18th century, the breweries in the local Town Hall were controlled by Moszko Jakubowicz. Icek and Mosiek, sons of Eliasz Dawidowicz, leased the Radoszyce village.

In 1720, Rabbi Moszko paid an annual fee of 800 zloty to the provost of the Holy Spirit Hospital Church on behalf of the kehilla. The money was secured with his tenement house. Herszko Moszkowicz most probably became rabbi in 1735. When he died in 1763, he was succeeded by his son Moses Herszkowicz, who had earlier served as the rabbi in Rymanów and continued to do so until 1794. When he became rabbi in Sanok, he changed his name to Helpern. Herszko Fiskowicz was a cantor at the synagogue. The kehilla had six elders in 1782: Fisko Berkowicz, Abraham Herszkowicz, Jeczko Boruchowicz, Salomon Jeczkowicz, Chaim Lewkowicz, and Judka Szmulowicz. The community ran two schools: one was located in the manor house belonging to Rabbi Herszko Moszkowicz and the other – next to the synagogue.

The community gained independence in 1764. By that time, the Jews of Sanok had already founded a mikveh. Three years later, there were 396 Jews living in the town itself and 103 in the fourteen villages belonging to the kehilla. The Jewish cemetery, first mentioned in sources dated 1720, was expanded in 1773, when a nearby orchard was bought from Józef Słusikiewicz. After the First Partition of Poland in 1772, Sanok was annexed by Austria. In 1777, Jakow Mendelowicz became the first Jew in Sanok to obtain permission to build a brick house. In 1780, the Jews of Sanok already had two synagogues. Since 1788, Jewish children could attend classes not only in cheders but also in the Jewish-German school (Jüdisch-Deutsche Schule). In 1806, a Jewish lower secondary school was established in the town.

In 1799, Sanok had 259 Jewish citizens. Józef Hercig was the chief rabbi in the Sanok District. His son Mordechaj became rabbi in Wielkie Oczy. In 1808, Jews owned 29 out of the 217 houses in the town. They had a brick synagogue, a hospital, a shelter for the poor, a brick house of prayer, and a mortuary at the cemetery. In 1824, there were 695 Jews in the town. Since 1827, Jews were accepted into artisan guilds.

In 1870, the Jewish community had 1,590 members and managed two synagogues, a cemetery, and a school with 80 pupils. Lejb Frankel was the rabbi in the years 1857–1879. Ichla Herzig was the chairman of the kehilla in 1883–1887. In the years 1894–1914, the rabbi was Nathan Naftali Daum, who established a yeshiva in Sanok.

In the second half of the 19th century, the number of Jews in the town grew rapidly – in 1880, Sanok had as many as 2,129 Jewish residents, constituting 41.6% of the total population. Most of them were Hasidic. They supported tzaddikim from Bobowa (Bobov), Belz, Nowy Sącz (Sanz), and Sadhora (Sadigura). One of the Hasidic houses of prayer was managed by the Sadigura Kloyz Beth Midrash Foundation. For some time, the local tzaddik was David ben Meir Shapiro (1870–1933), son of the tzaddik of Bukowsko and Dynów. In 1933, Shapiro died and was succeeded by Eleazar Shapiro from Dynów (1900–?). At the time, the local dayan was Baruch Helberstam, great-grandson of Tzaddik Chaim of Sanz.

At the end of the 19th century, the economic situation of Sanok substantially improved due to the discovery of oil deposits in the Podkarpacie region. Many Jews were involved in the development of the emerging oil industry. In the meantime, four banks were established in Sanok: in 1891 – the Credit Association with Pinkas Englard as its chairman, in 1891 – the Commercial Credit Bank headed by Mendel Kauner and the Credit and Savings Association with Jankiel Fink as its chairman, and in 1895 – the Short-Term Loan and Credit Association.

In 1900, the Jewish community of Sanok had 5,053 members, including 3,072 living in the town itself. The kehilla had five cheders. Out of all 37 registered beggars, 21 were Jewish. The local Jews had their own healthcare fund. Natan Dym was the local rabbi. In 1907, Dr Artur Goldhamer was appointed vice-mayor of Sanok. He was the owner of farms in Turzańsk and Zasławie (total area of 993 hectares). In 1909, local teacher Zvi Apt founded a school called Safa Berura (Hebrew: “Pure Language”) with Hebrew as the language of instruction. Apart from religious education, the school also offered classes in mathematics, chemistry, and biology. In 1910, the Talmud-Torah Association opened its facility in Sanok. Its organised daily Talmud study sessions attended by 300 students. The last president of the association before the outbreak of World War II was Moses Milstein. In 1910–1914, Adalbert Schönbach edited and published the Folksfraynd weekly. The Trade and Industry Association was headed by Simche Sobel and the Yad Charuzim Association of Jewish Craftsmen – by Arnold. The latter association erected its own synagogue in 1897.

There were two Jewish music ensembles in Sanok: the Feder band and the Remer band. In 1912, Markus Amster established a printing press. It published books in Hebrew, as did Dawid Weinfeld’s printing house established a bit later. Mendel Muszel, meanwhile, printed books in Yiddish. There were two libraries in the town, which belonged to Markus Ascher and Szulim Fenig.

In 1910, Sanok had 10,059 inhabitants, including 3,959 Jews. In 1914, riots broke out in the town after a Jewish woman by the name of Amster had converted to Catholicism. The events were incited by Jewish youth. During World War I, most local Jews left Sanok when the Russian army was approaching the town. At the end of September and at the beginning of November 1914, the Russians plundered Jewish shops and houses.

After the end of World War I and the revival of the Polish state, the Jewish community in Sanok continued to grow. In 1921, there were 4,067 Jews in the town, which had a total population of 9,632. The entire district had 9,268 Jewish inhabitants. Jews played a crucial role in the economy of the town. There were four synagogues and houses of prayer in Sanok, as well as one house of prayer in the suburbs and one synagogue in Posada Olchowska. The rabbis were Horowitz and Tobiasz Hersch. One of the cheders was headed by Izaak Weil. The community also ran the House of Jewish Orphans. In 1918, the local Bikur Cholim charity organisation had 700 members. It was headed by Berisch Rosenfeld. It provided aid for the poor alongside the Tomchei Aniyim Association with Salomon Ramer at its helm. Ramer was also the chairman of the branch of the Association of Jewish Participants for the Battle for Independence of Poland. Samuel Herzig was the chairman of the Gemilut Chesed society. Weiner’s house was the seat of the Jewish Social Club. Among other Jewish organisations there were the Association of Jewish Women, an educational reading room run by Hitachdut, and a branch of HeHalutz headed by J. Tym.

Markus Ascher headed the Association of Jewish Merchants. The Mercantile Association was headed by Herman Sobel, and in 1939, by Szraga Feibusch. Leon Gottdank headed the local branch of the Jewish Veterans, and Izaak Jorysz – the branch of the Airborne and Anti-Gas Defence League. The Machzike Hadath society had Mendel Kannar as its president, while the leader of the Hanoar Hatzioni youth organisation was Leon Werner. Mojżesz Reis headed the Radifa Sports Association and Szymon Kimmel was the chair of the Maccabi Jewish Association for Tourism and Skiing. The town also boasted the Max Rosenfeld Social Reading Room of Jewish Working Intellectuals.

Among the Jewish organisations active in Sanok in the interwar period there were also: the Yad Charuzim Association of Jewish Craftsmen, the “Naprzód” (“Forward”) Ganeral Association of Jewish Workers, the Gemilut Chesed fund, the Mercantile Credit Cooperative, the Subcarpathian Mercantile Office, and the Polish-American Credit Office.

In the 1930s, the authorities dissolved the I. L. Peretz Jewish Association which, at that time, had 80 members. Its head was Leib Taubenfeld. The local cell of the Bund was headed by A. Pencik. Most Sanok members of the illegal Communist Party of Western Ukraine were Jewish. Zionists enjoyed a great following in the town, which boasted branches of the Zionist Organisation, the Revisionist Zionists headed by Jakub Alster (est. 1931), Poale Zion Right, Poale Zion Left, the Organisation of Orthodox Jews, and the Mizrachi party with 100 members. The Local Committee of the Zionist Organisation in Sanok was chaired by Izaak Nehmer.

Zeisel Berisch was the last leader of the kehilla. There were 4,773 Jews living in Sanok in 1938 (Posada Olchowska was annexed to the town in 1930; in 1921, it had 324 Jewish inhabitants). Before the outbreak of World War II, the Jewish community had six houses of prayer: two brick synagogues in the town square with entrance from Zamkowa Street, a brick house of prayer of the Yad Charuzim Craftsmen’s Association established in 1897 at Franciszkańska Street, a brick house of prayer at Cerkiewna Street, a wooden synagogue at Rymanowska Street, and a house of prayer in Posada Olchowska. A rabbinic school was to be opened next to the main synagogue. The construction works were interrupted by the outbreak of the war.

At the beginning of World War II, there were 5,400 Jews living in Sanok, including many refugees from Germany, Austria, and western territories of Poland. There were 22,000 Jews residing in the whole district. On the night of 16 September 1939, the Nazis burned three synagogues in the town centre. They also destroyed all synagogue equipment, two Jewish printing houses, libraries, and at least 4,000 books. On 26 September, 150 Jewish families were forced to move to the Soviet occupation zone. A total of ca. 1,000 Jews was forced to leave from Sanok and cross the San river. Germans organised regular transports of Jews from Kraków, Bochnia, Krosno, and Rymanów; they were also driven to the Soviet territory. In 1940, there still were 2,000 Jews residing in Sanok, including Yitzchak Horowitz, a famous tzaddik from Szczucin (Stitshin) and grandson of Naftali of Ropshitz. He was soon tortured to death by the Nazis. Yitzchak’s son Yehuda survived the war and later became a tzaddik in the USA.

Some of the Jews who stayed in Sanok were forced to work in the labour camp in Trepcza. At the same time, Germans initiated the process of gradual extermination of the Jewish community. The first mass execution was held in the Jewish cemetery at Kiczura Street on 27 October 1939. The number of victims is hard to determine, with historians estimating the number at no less than 630. Another execution was organised after the liquidation of the ghetto – among the murdered were all the members of the Judenrat. The victims have been commemorated with an obelisk erected at the cemetery.

In 1941, the Nazis established a small ghetto in Sanok. It had a population of ca. 8,000 (or perhaps up to 10,000) people from the town and its vicinity. Another, smaller ghetto was inhabited by ca. 1,000 people – it was presumably a sub-camp of the labour camp in Zasławie.

On 10 September 1942, a group of 1,500 Jews from the ghetto was transported to the camp in Zasławie, where many of them perished. The sick and disabled were killed in the woods, probably also in Zahutyń. Some Jews were deported directly to Bełżec extermination camp. On 14 September, the Nazis informed the Jews that those who had managed to escape from the transport to Bełżec could return to the ghetto and save their lives. Ca. 300 people decided to come back. They were all murdered. The ghetto in Sanok was dissolved in December 1942. The surviving prisoners were transported to the ghetto in Rzeszów. However, the Gestapo held several Jews in the basement of their headquarters until May 1944. They were forced to dig graves and bury the victims of mass executions.

Many Jews were also killed in the surrounding villages. In Bykowce, the Nazis killed three people who had escaped from the ghetto in Sanok. In October, the Gestapo killed 14 Jews in a village called Dąbrówka. A Polish woman by the name of Stanisława Kornecka was executed on 19 April 1944 for giving shelter to a Jew. A total of 580 Jews from Sanok who had escaped to the USSR lived to see the end of the war. Some Holocaust Survivors were later murdered by Polish gangs.

Bibliography:

  • Cygielman A., Weiss A., "Sanok," [in] Encyclopaedia Judaica, eds. M. Berenbaum, F. Skolnik, vol. 18, Detroit 2007, pp. 25–26.
  • Potocki A., Żydzi w Podkarpackiem, Rzeszów 2004.
  • "Sanok," [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before And After Holocaust, eds. S. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. 2, New York 2001, p. 1136.

 

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Potocki A., Żydzi w Podkarpackiem, Rzeszów 2004, p. 170.