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History of Lublin Jews

The oldest mention of the Jews settled in Lublin dates from the year 1330. In 1336 King Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir the Great) granted them the privilege to settle down in the so-called Podzamcze area (literally it means “at the bottom of the castle”). This fact was recalled by the seniors of the community in 1558. In 1475 rabbi Yaakov, who fled Trident after having been accused of blood libel, found shelter in Lublin. The 16th c. and the first half of the 17th c. were times when the splendour of Lublin and its Jewish community reached its peak. In the first half of the 16th c. the Lublin community was the third largest in the Polish Kingdom (after Krakow and Lvov) as for the number of inhabitants (350 Jewish families) and held the leading position in respect to cultural and economic development.

Like in other royal towns, the burghers of Lublin, afraid of Jewish merchants’ competition, obtained the privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis from the king which forbade Jews to live freely within the borders of the city walls. Only some Jews remaining in the king’s service had the right to own houses. As a result, a separate Jewish settlement emerged outside the city walls, in Podzamcze, on the northern slope of the castle hill. During the 16th c. the community obtained numerous privileges, above others to conduct trade, buy new land and enlarge communal buildings (butcher’s stalls, the hospital, the brick synagogue). In 1518 Shalom Shakhna founded a Talmudic seminary there, a yeshiva, which was famous all over Europe. According to the king’s privilege from 1567, sages of the Lublin yeshiva obtained the title of rector and rights equal with those at other Polish universities. In 1547 the wandering printer Hayyim Schwartz was granted the privilege to establish the first Hebrew printing house in Lublin. Together with a few other publishing houses functioning till 1685, it issued more than 240 works, which played a significant role in the development of Jewish printing in Poland. From 1581 to 1764 the Jewish Council of the Four Lands (Va’ad Arba Arazot) existed in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The main places of its conventions were Lublin and Jarosław. Lublin Jews performed many important functions in the Council including the post of the Speaker.

During the invasion of Cossack and Muscovite armies (October 1655) the whole Podzamcze area got almost completely burnt down and approximately two thousand Jews lost their lives. After that tragedy Jews started renting numerous estates within the boundaries of the Christian town, establishing shops and warehouses, which caused towns-men’s protests. However, they were protected by the clergy and gentry who took advantage of the lease. The Jewish town in Podzamcze was gradually rebuilt. In 1787 it had the population of above 3,5 thousand people. At the end of the 18th c. Lublin became a Hasidic centre. At first a famous wonder rabbi Yaakov Yitskhok Horowitz Shternfeld was active here; subsequently, until the Holocaust, his role was taken over by the Eiger dynasty.

Apart from the settlement in the Podzamcze area, Jews lived also in other suburban jurisdictions (i.e. areas where the city laws did not apply): in Kalinowszczyzna (since the 17th c.), in Piaski (“Sands”) – the area of the present railway station (since the first part of the 18th century), as well as in nearby Wieniawa (at least from the 18th c.) which until 1916 was a separate little town with its own kehillah. Those settlements had their own prayer houses and Wieniawa even had its own Jewish cemetery.

Under the Russian partition Jews were only allowed to live in the quarters assigned to them by the authorities. In Lublin it was the so-called sector II (which also covered the area of Lubartowska St.) demarcated in the beginning of the 19th c., where a new Jewish district was slowly turning up. Only due to the emancipation of Jews in the Kingdom of Poland (the so-called Wielopolski’s reform in 1862) did the Jews gain the freedom to purchase civic real estate. Taking advantage of that right Jews soon bought out almost all the houses within the borders of the Old Town. Some rich assimilated families also settled in the representative area of the main street, Krakowskie Przedmieście St., and the side streets.

Throughout the 19th c. Jews constituted more than half of Lublin’s inhabitants. They considerably participated in industry and trade. In the second half of the 19th c. the first Jewish schools were established with Russian, Polish and Hebrew as languages of instruction. Printing was coming back to life.

In 1917 the community in Wieniawa was incorporated into the Lublin’s kehillah. The census from 1921 recorded 94,412 inhabitants in Lublin, including 37,337 Jews (39,5%).

After World War I numerous Jewish political organisations, modern educational institutions (including two grammar schools), public libraries, theatrical groups, cultural clubs and sports teams emerged. There were more than a dozen printing houses, which issued Jewish books and magazines. Apart from the traditional trades and crafts, between the wars Jewish businesses constituted approximately one third of larger enterprises (tanneries, brick-yards, alcohol distilleries, breweries). From among various groups of the Lublin Jewry there were well-known social, political and cultural activists, as well as scholars. Among them, Malwina Mejerson, nee Horowic (1839-1921) was one of the first women novelists writing in Polish. Her son Emil (1859-1933) was a well-known philosopher, but he left Lublin at an early age and later resided in Paris. Malwina’s daughter, Hanna Franciszka Arnsztajnowa (1865-1942) was a very popular poet who wrote in Polish. She co-founded the Lublin branch of the Writers’ Union. Her husband, Marek Arnsztajn (1855-1930), was a well-known physician who also published his articles in medical journals and was active in social and political life. The Arnsztajns lived in a house on 2 Zlota St. near the Market Square (Rynek). The best known educator and political activist (from the socialist Bund) was Bela Szpiro, Szyffer after her first husband, Nisenbaum after the second (1888-1944). She was a town councillor throughout the whole interwar period. At that time Jewish councillors constituted almost 30% of the City Council and had their seats in the Municipal Council.

During World War II the Nazis annihilated not only the Jewish population of Lublin, but also the majority of material objects connected with it. By 1943 Jewish quarters in Podzamcze, Kalinowszczyzna, Piaski and Wieniawa were destroyed. The concentration camp in Majdanek, established by the Nazis in the fall of 1941 in the south-eastern outskirts of Lublin, is the largest “cemetery” of those times. Almost 250 thousand people including approximately 100 thousand Jews suffered martyr deaths there.

Edited by Andrzej Trzciński

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