The earliest traces of Jewish presence in Ludmir (Pol. Włodzimierz, currently Volodymyr-Volynsky, Ukraine) are some the oldest in Ruthenia. The first records of Jews living in this ducal town date back to 1171. They formed a commercial community, conducting trade with merchants from vast territories – even as far as Rhineland. They enjoyed the protection of rulers, manifested in numerous privileges (except for a short period of forced exile in the years 1495–1503).

The community further developed after Ludmir was incorporated into Poland in 1569. The local rabbis and community leaders (parnasim) represented Volhynia at the Council of Four Lands. Among them was Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller (1579, Wallerstein – 1654, Kraków) – an outstanding rabbi, Talmudist, and author of religious literature; in the years 1633–1644, he served as the rabbi of Ludmir (earlier he was also the rabbi of Vienna and Prague, and then of Krakow) and sat in the Va’ad in Jarosław. The community was quickly reborn after the devastation caused by the Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648–1649).

In the 19th century, when the area of Ludmir was under Russian rule, the town continued to be an important centre of Jewish life, with Jews constituting 2/3 of the total population. For the most part of the century, the local community remained under the influence of Hasidim from Turiisk, but Zionist circles and the Bund became active in the town in the 1890s. One of the most notorious residents of Ludmir was Hanna Rachela Werbermacher (1806, Volodymyr – 1888, Jerusalem), known as the “Maiden of Ludmir” (Hebr. ha-Betula mi-Ludmir, Yidd. Ludmere Moyd). This extremely talented girl, originating from the circles of Turiisk (Trisk) Hasidim (i.e. supporters of Mordechai Twersky, the Maggid of Chernobyl), gained huge knowledge in the field of religious sciences. After her mother’s death, she devoted herself to fulfilling religious commandments and solitary life. The rumours of her miraculous abilities quickly spread around the area. She became, as Prof. Marcin Wodziński put it, “someone like a tzaddik.” Her unusual role sparked controversy and pushed the Maggid of Chernobyl himself to intervene, which he did by forcing the “holy woman” to marry (unconsumed). Eventually, the Maiden of Ludmir left for Palestine. Her grave on the Mount of Olives is a pilgrimage site to this day.

In 1897, Ludmir had 5,869 Jewish inhabitants, accounting for 59.3% of the population. They earned their living from trade, craftsmanship, and small-scale production. The manufacturing of clothing and trade in grain and cattle played an important role in the life of the community. The local economy was boosted by the opening of a railway connection with Kovel in 1906.

World War I wreaked havoc in the town. In 1915, its population was forced to evacuate. A cholera epidemic broke out, and people suffered from acts of violence committed by Russian Cossacks.

In 1921, there were 5,917 Jews living in Ludmir, accounting for 50.9% of the population. In the period of the Second Polish Republic, the community began to be revived, as did the whole town. The help of the Joint Distribution Committee played an important role in the process. In 1931, there were 10,665 Jews living in the town and the total population reached 24,591. There was a Tarbut school with 500 students in the town and a yeshiva with 138 students.

On 17 September 1939, the Red Army entered the town. The Soviet occupation disorganised the social and economic life of Ludmir.

On 23 June 1941, the town was seized by the Germans. Their arrival was preceded by heavy bombardment which resulted in numerous casualties. On 7 July 1941, the Judenrat was established in the town and tasked with supplying workforce for the Germans. Mass executions soon followed: 31 July 1941 – 200 victims; 29–30 August 1941 – 300 victims; 29 September 1941 – 250 victims; October 1941 – groups of 120 intellectuals and 500 and 600 workers.

On 13 April 1942, the Jews still remaining in Ludmir, including a large number of refugees, were imprisoned in a ghetto. In May 1942, they were divided into “productive” and “unproductive” individuals. On 1 September 1942, 4,000 people from the latter group were murdered. By 15 September 1942, Germans murdered another 14,000 Jews in a series of mass executions held over open pits near the village of Pyatydni. After these, there were still 4,000 Jewish people left in Ludmir – qualified workers and those who came out of hiding. They were murdered on 13 November 1942 and 13 December 1943. Very few of them managed to escape and join the partisans, including Home Army units.

Bibliography

  • “Wlodzimierz Wolynski,” [in] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. 3, eds. Sh. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, pp. 1454–1455.
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