We have no information today that could confirm when exactly the Jews started arriving in Zwierzyniec, however, it can be assumed that the first Jewish settlers appeared in the town at the close of the 16th century. It is a fact that in the 16th and 17th centuries, individual people and families rented mills and inns from the Zamość ordynats (principle heirs of the ordynacja estates/landed property estates) in Zwierzyniec and a nearby village called Rudka. Preserved documents dated from 1639 and 1690 list the name of the Markowicz family which made its income from renting a mill in Rudka, near Zwierzyniec, as well as renting inns.
As the local industry progressed in the 19th century, more and more Jewish families came to Zwierzyniec and Rudka. Just like in other places, the Jewish residents of Zwierzyniec dealt mainly with trade, craft, and finances. In the first years of the 20th century, the Leflers and Szmul Litwak ran a few tailor’s shops. Others opened shoe and cap factories and numerous grocer’s shops. Three Wagner brothers Dawid, Srul and Berko had their own cap factory, grocer’s shop and lodging place in Rudka.
Originally, the local Jews came under the kehilla in Szczebrzeszyn and the dead from Zwierzyniec and Rudka were buried in the Jewish cemetery there. Towards the 19th century, a synagogue was constructed in Zwierzyniec, and an independent religious community was established only as late as the interwar period. A Jewish cemetery was built in 1928 on a plot purchased from Jan Grona[1.1] .
In the early 1930s, the kehilla Board owned a synagogue, house of prayer, mikvah, cemetery, slaughterhouse, and a religious school Talmud-Torah. Szaja Grynberg was appointed the rabbi of the kehilla of Zwierzyniec in 1929, a synagogue caretaker (shames) became Icek Krigszer, and Szmul Ber Nordman performed the role of a shochet[1.2] . In the 1930s, the Jewish inhabitants in Zwierzyniec constituted about 25% of the whole town’s population. Most Jews were engaged in trade, the evidence of which could be a shoe shop ran by Szlomo Holcberg, many grocer’s shops and numerous workshops providing tailoring and shoemaking services. A wealthy tradesman by the name of Jurfest was the owner of a sawmill operating in the town.
The Nazis seized Zwierzyniec and the Jews were compelled to forced labor and road construction. As of 1939, executions took place in the local Jewish cemetery and the Borek forest situated in the vicinity. The first transport, numbering approximately 52 Jews from Zwierzyniec, Rudka and other surrounding places was sent to a death camp in Bełżec in September 1942. A mass extermination of the Jewish population from Zwierzyniec started on October 21, 1942. Some of them were shot dead on the spot, the remaining residents were chased away to a railway station in Szczebrzeszyn, from where, together with the Szczebrzeszyn Jews, were sent to a death camp in Bełżec[1.3].
- [1.1] A document regarding the establishing of a Jewish cemetery in Zwierzyniec, State Archive in Zamość, Notary Public Jan Zieliński’s files for the year 1928, rep. 543, vol. 6, k. 1051 0 1053; extract of a notarial deed concerning the purchase of a cemetery plot by the kehilla in the village of Rudka, State Archive in Lublin, Province Office, Social and Political Department, shelf mark. 1566, p. 2.
- [1.2] Budget of the Jewish Religious Community in Zwierzyniec (for the period from 1 January 1928 to 1 June 1929), State Archive in Lublin, Province Office, Social and Political Department, sign. 1566, p. 2; http://polin.org.pl/search/zwierzyniec/ [state as of August 8, 2008.].
- [1.3] History of Jews in Zwierzyniec from: A. Trzciński, Śladami zabytków kultury żydowskiej na Lubelszczyźnie, Śladami zabytków kultury żydowskiej na Lubelszczyźnie, Warszawa–Lublin 1990, p. 17; H. Matławska, Zwierzyniec, Zwierzyniec 1991, za wersją elektroniczną: http://www.kirkuty.xip.pl/zwierzyniec.htm [As of 8 August 2008]; S. Bohdanowicz, Likwidacja Żydów ze Zwierzyńca [in:] Materiały do dziejów Zamojszczyzny w latach wojny 1939–1944, ed. Z. Klukowski, vol. 2: Zamojszczyzna w walce z Niemcami, Zamość 1945, pp. 77–86.