In 1588, that is six years after the city was founded, Jews were granted the right to settle in the town. Jan Zamoyski, who wanted to benefit from the luxury commodities trade, invited Sephardic Jews to the town. Jews who settled in Zamość came from Spain, Turkey, and Italy. They traded mainly in diamonds, precious fabrics, oriental spices and decorative arts products. During that time, the community of Sephardic Jews was unique in the whole Republic of Poland. It was an autonomic institution until the mid-17th century and it was not subject to the supreme Jewish self-government authority in the Republic of Poland – the Council of Four Lands[1.1].

At the end of the 16th century, a Jewish district was founded in the north-eastern part of Zamość, around the Solny Square (Rynek Solny). In 1590, following the privileges given to the settlers, the first wooden synagogue was built within the Jewish district. Soon thereafter it was replaced by a stone synagogue, constructed at the beginning of the 17th century. After some years it was reconstructed and women’s prayer rooms were added. In the 18th century it was linked by a corridor to the Jewish Community House. At the beginning of the 17th century, there was a Jewish street (today Zamenhofa Street) in Zamość, in which the aforementioned synagogue was located, as well as: a house of education, mikvah and a Jewish hospital. In 1657 there were also 19 houses. The Jewish cemetery was located outside the municipal walls[1.2].

The second half of the 17th century brought significant demographic, economic and cultural changes to the municipality of Zamość. The Zamość defensive castle, first invaded by the Chmielnicki’s Kazakhs and then by the Swedish Army (in 1656), welcomed a large group of Jewish refugees from Wołyń and Russia – that is from the territory of the Cossack uprisings and wars between Russia and Turkey. Ashkenazi Jews rapidly gained advantage over the Sephardic Jews, which caused the latter to lose their former economic position. Even though in 1684 the Sephardic Jews were granted permission to establish their own independent Jewish community, some of them mixed with the Ashkenazi Jews, and some left the city. The situation contributed to creation of specific local culture, drawing its roots both from the Sephardic Jews and the Ashkenazi Jews’ tradition.

The municipality of Zamość constituted at that time one of the largest Jewish communities in Poland and soon gained the status of an important centre for religious studies. In the 18th century, many well-known rabbis worked here, namely: Eliezer Lipman ben Manli and Shlomo ben Moshe. At the end of the 18th century, Zamość became the centre of the Haskalah movement. Josef Cederbaum, Jakow Eichenbaum and Salomon Ettinger, among others, worked here. They helped to spread the Haskalah ideals from Zamość to the whole Lublin province[1.3]. At the end of the 19th century, the number of Hasidic Judaism followers increased in Zamość considerably.

During the interwar period, the Jewish community in Zamość was one of the largest in the country. 9,383 Jews lived there in 1921. They constituted 49.3 % of the town’s population[1.4]. The Jewish population lived both within the boundaries of the traditional Jewish district around the Solny Square, and in the new district Nowa Osada in the town’s suburbs, created at the beginning of the 19th century, which was also called Nowe Miasto (New Town). In the 1920s and 1930s, a small number of Jews also lived in other parts of the town[1.5].

Like in other towns and villages in this region, a large number of Jewish inhabitants were merchants. In 1917, almost 95% of all of the trade companies in the city belonged to Jews, and in 1929, this share amounted about 80%[1.6]. Jewish trade companies – mainly small family companies – were leaders in the food industry (in 1920 almost 60% of the food shops in the town belonged to Jews), the clothing industry, leather and – to a smaller extent – in the agricultural, metal and wood industries. Moreover, between the wars, many of the local manufacturing companies belonged to Jews. In 1922, almost 60% masters of Zamość were Jews. They were mostly: shoemakers, tailors, hat makers, bakers, hairdressers, boot makers and carpenters, as well as dyers, glaziers, furriers and jewelers.

Some of the Jewish inhabitants worked in industry. In 1920, 11 out of 20 companies operating in the city industries (that is 52.4%) belonged to Jews. In 1929, Jewish companies already constituted 73.8%, and 10 years later – shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War – Jews owned 12 out of 22 strategic companies in Zamość (that is flour mills, oil pressing, breweries, tile makers, brickyards, etc.)[1.7].

The main institution of Jewish social and political life was – similar to other centers – the Jewish religious community, founded in the town in 1588. Several dozen religious and charitable institutions were under the community’s supervision, like two synagogues with Beth Midrash, numerous prayer houses, two cemeteries, two Jewish religious schools (Talmud-Torah) and three mikvahs. Following charities were to be found in Zamość: the Jewish Seniors and Handicapped’s House founded in 1907, “Orphans’ Nest” (Pol.: Gniazdo Sieroce) orphanage, founded in 1926, the Jewish Population Health Protection Society (Pol.: Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia Ludności Żydowskiej) founded in 1926, two divisions of Linas Hacedek (Charity Credit Union for the Ill), two divisions of the loans without interests credit unions Gemilut Chesed and Chevra Chadisha Burial Society[1.8].

Between the wars, the situation in the Zamość municipality, which, as with many other communities in this period, became the place of political battles between Zionists and Orthodox, reflected a series of increasing internal conflicts amongst the local Jewish population. The battle between the “progressive force” and orthodox Agudat was an ideological confrontation and it concerned many aspects of the life of the whole population.

During the interwar period, branches of most all-Poland Jewish parties were present in Zamość, e.g. the orthodox Agudat had operated in Zamość since 1920. It was supported mainly by the community and by many representatives of the older generation. Besides, there were also different branches of the Zion parties, supported mainly by the youth, and the leftist Bund, founded in 1905in Zamość. Between the wars, Jews also took active part in the communist movement. Moreover, in the town there was a relatively strong, but not formally organized group of assimilated Jews, declaring attachment to the Polish language and culture[1.9].

The Jewish community’s cultural life in Zamość between the wars was thriving. Its development was chiefly influenced by the heritage of the Haskalah movement. Many renowned Jewish intellectuals came from Zamość, like: Israel ben Moshe (Izrael Zamość) – philosopher and bible commentator, Aleksander Cederbaum – writer and publicist, founder of the first newspaper in Yiddish in Russia, Salomon Ettinger – a doctor, one of the pioneers of the Yiddish literature in the Polish territory, the poet Issachar ben Falkenson born in 1852, and a Yiddish literature classicist, Icchak Lejb Peretz. Moreover both Rosa Luxemburg – a theoretician of the international labor movement – and Bronisz Huberman – a violinist, professor of the Music Academy in Vienna and founder of the first symphonic orchestra in Israel[1.10] – came from Zamość.

In the 19th century, Jewish schools operated in the town. They remained under the Haskalah movement influence and represented a very high educational standard. In the town, there was also a net of so-called “kołokotnik”, that is places providing education for the poorest group of the population. Moreover, in Zamość, there were, institutions, still under the Bund’s influence, such as the secular school “Jawne”, representing the religious Zionist movement, two Jewish religious schools (Talmud-Torah), numerous Cheders, Yeshiva Ajc-Chaim and Co-educative Humanist Upper Primary School of the Jewish Community, representing all-state movement[1.11]. Almost all social organizations of Zamość, public libraries, movements and parties were active in the cultural-education sphere, among others: Union of the Jewish Schools, Kultur-Liga, “Tarbut” – Jewish Cultural and Educational Association, “Frajhajt” – Cultural and Educational Society, and Jewish Popular Education League.

During the interwar period, there were four bookstores in Zamość, nine public libraries and three large printing houses[1.12]. Four periodicals of the Jewish press were issued here: issued twice a month “Zamoszczer Sztyme” (Zamość Voice) – founded in 1928 and issued between 1937 and 1939, a newspaper of the popular Zion party Poalej the Right’s Zion; issued twice a month “Zamoszczer Wort” (Zamość Word), orthodox newspaper issued in 1930, and two periodicals of a religious character: “Habajer” (Well) and “Undzer Gajst” (Our Spirit) [1.13]. Since 1905, there had been an amateur theatre group in the town, founded by Berysz Bekierman. Between the wars there were several amateur theatre groups in the town. They performed mainly classical Jewish plays, including plays by Sholem Aleichem [1.14].

The outbreak of the Second World War stopped the dynamic development of the cultural and educational activity of the Jews in Zamość, but thanks to its rich traditions, Zamość was, and still is, a renowned centre known worldwide, which is reflected with the saying by the local poet Dawid Szyfman: “awira d’Zamość mechakim” which means “Zamość air gives wisdom” [1.15].

In 1939, about 12,500 Jews lived in Zamość; they constituted about 43% of the town’s population[1.16]. In September 1939, Zamość was taken by the Germans, and soon thereafter by the Soviet Army, which occupied the city for almost two weeks. As a result of the approaching German Army offensive, about 5,000 Jews, that is nearly two-thirds of the town’s Jewish population, decided to emigrate to the Soviet Union[1.17]. The retreating Soviet Army encouraged emigration to the east, therefore, organized the mass migration of Jews from Zamość, and from other towns in Lublin province, that is from Tomaszów Lubelski, Hrubieszów and Krasnobród.

Until the spring of 1941, Jews who stayed in Zamość (about 4,000 people) could live in the area of the town without any restrictions, even though cases of eviction of Jews from better houses or flats were frequent. Nevertheless, at the beginning of 1941, a law was issued ordering all Jews who lived in the Old Town and Lubelskie Przedmieście to move within a month to Nowa Osada (New Town). The forced migration was organized by the Judenrat. Mieczysław Garfinkiel was its head from the very beginning of the existence of this institution, that is, since the middle of October 1939. The ghetto in the New Town had an open character – it did not have any strictly defined borders and it was not separated from the rest of the town, but the railway track crossing Lwowska, Obwodowa and Orlicz-Dreszera Streets functioned as the symbolic borderline. Together with the Jews forced to live in the territory of the New Town, Poles lived there as well. They could cross the border of the ghetto without any restrictions. Living conditions were, however, very difficult. The Jewish population lived in wooden houses, often ruined and without any facilities, without running water or sewage system[1.18].

Apart from the Zamość inhabitants, Jews who came from many other towns were imprisoned in the Zamość ghetto, as well as those forced to leave western Poland and who were transported here since October 1939[1.19]. Since the moment when the decision was taken about creating a “reserve” in Lublin province for the European Jews, the ghetto in Zamość received also numerous shipments of Jews forced to leave Reichsgau Wartheland, as well as Germany and Austria.

By the end of 1941 there were about 7,000 Jews in the ghetto. 2,500 of them were people coming from outside of the town, and in April 1942, before the first forced emigration action, the number reached 7,200 – 7,300 people[1.20].

The ghetto's dissolution started in the spring of 1942. The first mass deportation took place on 11 April, on the eve of the Passover holiday. It concerned about 3,000 people, who were transported in cattle train wagons to the concentration camp in Bełżec. This forced migration had the character of an exchange action (Ger.: Austauschaktion), that is sending to the East a number of local Jews in order to prepare space for people of Jewish origin deported by the General Government from Western Europe, among others from Austria, present Czech Republic and Germany[1.21]. The Zamość ghetto, located on the transit line to Bełżec, became a transit ghetto.

Further deportations from the ghetto took place on 21 May, 11 August, in September and on 16 October 1942. In total, about 9,000 Jews were transported from Zamość to Bełżec[1.22]. The final forced emigration from the Zamość ghetto took place between 16 to 18 October 1942, when the remaining 4,000 Jews were forced to go on foot to the ghetto in Izbica. Most of them were transported from Izbica to Bełżec, Sobibór and murdered in gas chambers.

It is difficult to determine the precise number of Jews from Zamość who survived the Holocaust and the war. According to data from the Main Jewish Committee in Poland, 224 Jews lived in Zamość in May 1945. A year later this number dropped to 152, and in 1947 there were only 5 Jewish inhabitants in the city. Most of the survivors were those who left the city in the first days of the war, together with the withdrawing Soviet Army and emigrated to the East. According to the Zamość Memorial Book only 50 people from the Zamość ghetto managed to survive.

Bibliography:

  • Everlasting Name. Zamość Ghetto Population List – 1940, ed. E. Bar-Zeew, Tel Aviv 2001.
  • Garfinkiel M., Monografia miasta Zamościa, Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, sign. 302/122.
  • Kędziora A., Encyklopedia miasta Zamościa, Chełm 2000.
  • Kopciowski A., Zagłada Żydów w Zamościu, Lublin 2005.
  • Kuwałek R., Z Lublina do Bełżca. Ślady obecności i zagłady Żydów na południowo-wschodniej Lubelszczyźnie, Lublin 2006.
  • Morgenstern J., O osadnictwie Żydów w Zamościu na przełomie XVI i XVII wieku, „Biuletyn ŻIH” 1962, No. 43–44.
  • Trzciński A., Śladami zabytków kultury żydowskiej na Lubelszczyźnie, Lublin 1990.
  • Urban R., Biblioteki żydowskie w Zamościu w latach 1918–1939, „Zamojski Kwartalnik Kulturalny” 2001, No. 1–2.
  • Zamosc, [in:] Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 16, Jerusalem 1972.

 

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Morgenstern J., O osadnictwie Żydów w Zamościu na przełomie XVI i XVII wieku, „Biuletyn ŻIH” 1962, No. 43–44, p. 5–6, 10–11.
  • [1.2] Trzciński A., Śladami zabytków kultury żydowskiej na Lubelszczyźnie, Lublin 1990, p. 14.
  • [1.3] Trzciński A., Śladami zabytków kultury żydowskiej na Lubelszczyźnie, Lublin 1990, p. 14
  • [1.4] Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej opracowany na podstawie wyników Pierwszego Powszechnego Spisu Ludności z dn. 30 września 1921 r. i innych źródeł urzędowych, vol. 4: Województwo Lubelskie, Warszawa 1924.
  • [1.5] Rejf N., Rozwój i warunki emigracji żydowskiej z Polski, „Sprawy Narodowościowe” 1936, No. 3, p. 225.
  • [1.6] Tenczynowa K., Powiat zamojski w liczbach, Warszawa 1920, p. 32; Kędziora A., Encyklopedia miasta Zamościa, Chełm 2000; p. 123; Schiper I., Dzieje handlu żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich, Warszawa 1937, p. 588, 589, 610.
  • [1.7] Kopciowski A., Zagłada Żydów w Zamościu, Lublin 2005, p 17–18.
  • [1.8] Kopciowski A., Zagłada Żydów w Zamościu, Lublin 2005, p. 20.
  • [1.9] Kopciowski A., Zagłada Żydów w Zamościu, Lublin 2005, p. 22–27.
  • [1.10] Ibidem, p. 28.
  • [1.11] M. Stecka, Żydzi w Polsce, Warszawa 1921, p. 101.
  • [1.12] R. Urban, Biblioteki żydowskie w Zamościu w latach 1918-1939, „Zamojski Kwartalnik Kulturalny” 2001, no 1–2.
  • [1.13] Kopciowski A., Zagłada Żydów w Zamościu, Lublin 2005, s. 30.
  • [1.14] Ibidem, p. 30.
  • [1.15] Ibidem, p. 31.
  • [1.16] M. Garfinkiel, Monografia miasta Zamościa, Archiwum ŻIH, ref. no. 302/122, p. 1; [in:] Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 16, Jerusalem 1972, p. 962.
  • [1.17] Ibidem, p. 33-39.
  • [1.18] Ibidem, p. 55-57.
  • [1.19] Ibidem, p. 39.
  • [1.20] Ibidem, p. 39-58; an important source of statistical-demographic character concerning the Jewish community in Zamość during the occupation period is published in Jerusalem in 2001 detailed list of 10,000 Jews living in 1940 in Zamość.: Everlasting Name. Zamość Ghetto Population List – 1940, ed. E. Bar-Zeew, Tel Aviv 2001.
  • [1.21] Kopciowski A., Zagłada Żydów w Zamościu, Lublin 2005, p. 58.
  • [1.22] R. Kuwałek, Z Lublina do Bełżca. Ślady obecności i zagłady Żydów na południowo-wschodniej Lubelszczyźnie, Lublin 2006, p. 21.