The Jews in Włodawa were first documented in 1531 for their participation in Lublin fairs[1.1]. However, it can be assumed that the first Jewish settlers arrived much earlier. At that time the Jews pursued mainly forest production, trade and floating the goods on the Bug River. Towards the end of the 16th century, the Jews in Włodawa were mainly merchants and craftsmen. There were 4 butchers, 3 tailors, 2 goldsmiths, 2 bakers, 2 furriers and 2 barber surgeons.
In 1623, the Council of Lithuania issued a regulation that the Jewish community in Włodawa was subordinate to the kahal in Brześć Litewski. With time, the municipality in Włodawa gained its independence, and the Jews could establish their own kahal. The Jewish district began developing in the southwest part of the town and the town hall, situated in the market square, was surrounded by wooden stalls belonging to Jewish merchants.
In 1684, during the Chmielnicki Uprising, a few hundreds of both local Jews and those coming from the neigbouring areas were killed while were trying to hide from Cossack and the Tatar troops. After the pogrom the Jewish community was reborn thanks to numerous privileges. In 1684, Rafał Leszczyński, owner of Włodawa, gave Jews the privilege to rebuild the Jewish district in the town (a synagogue, school and butcher stalls). At the end of the 17th century Włodawa numbered about 1,200 inhabitants. Out of 197 houses situated in the town, 89 belonged to Jews.
In the period between 1764 and 1774 a new brick synagogue was erected in the place of the old one. It was probably partly funded by the Czartoryski family, the owners of the town at that time. The architect of the synagogue may have been Paweł Antoni Fontana, a builder of the Pauline Fathers’ church in Włodawa [1.2]. Supposedly, it was the time, when the independent kahal was established.
In the second half of the 18th century, the Jews of Włodawa owned 12 drive-in tenement buildings, 2 non-drive-in tenement buildings, and over 50 houses. The Jewish trade was concentrated chiefly in the town centre where 40 out of 45 shops situated around the market square belonged to the Jews. The inventory of facilities that belonged to the kahal, dates back to 1786 and confirms existence of the brick synagogue with a wooden study hall (beth-midrash), brick study hall, Jewish cemetery, hospital, bath house, rabbi’s house and brewery. In the subsequent years, however, as a result of the partitions and mapping out a border on the Bug River between Austria and Russia, the development of the town slowed and its inhabitants, including Jews, were increasingly impoverished.
At the end of the 18th century, Chasidism reached Włodawa. One of the Chasidic tzadiks acting in the vicinity of the town was charismatic Ohrele Karliński. The content and style of his sermons as well as his lifestyle gained him the respect of his followers. He treated craftsmen and traders with particular affection, making his teachings increasingly popular among the poorest Jews in Włodawa. The actions of the tzadik aroused anxiety in the board of the local kahal. They soon began to take action against the Chasidim, e.g. in 1800 they were banned from praying in the local synagogue. A growing number of supporters of the Chasidic movement in Włodawa pressured the kahal into withdrawing the ban and granting permission to everyone to pray as they wished [1.3].
During this period, two Chasidic groups were formed and headed by separate tzadiks residing in Włodawa. The supporters of tzaddik Mendele of Kock were the first and constructed their own synagogue in Włodawa. Soon thereafter other Chasidic synagogues were established in Ostrowiec, Radzyń, Kazimierz Dolny, Turzysk and Lewartów. In Włodawa there were also groups of Chasidim of Husiatyn Bojanów, Chortkov and Sadhora who did not have their own synagogues. At the beginning of the 20th century a dozen of Chasidic groups, which varied in numbers and ideology, operated in Włodawa and its environs; the most prominent were the Chasidim of Sokołów, Kock, Łuków, Parczew and Międzyrzecze. The Włodawa Chasidim, gradually gained adherents and soon became a majority and overtime began to play a leading role in the kahal of Włodawa[1.4]. Supporters of the Haskalah movement came to the town around 1835.
[1.1] Wojczuk, I., Bóżnica Włodawska, „Zeszyty Muzealne”, vol. 5, Włodawa 1999, p. 9.
[1.2] Trzciński A., Śladami zabytków kultury żydowskiej na Lubelszczyźnie, Lublin 1990, p. 20.
[1.3] Chasydzi włodawscy – przedwojenni mieszkańcy Włodawy, stationary exhibition of Leczna-Wlodawa Lake District Museum [online] http://www.muzeum.wlodawa.metronet.pl/m_stale_8.html [Accessed: 28.12.2014].
[1.4] Chasydzi włodawscy – przedwojenni mieszkańcy Włodawy, stationary exhibition of Leczna-Wlodawa Lake District Museum [online] http://www.muzeum.wlodawa.metronet.pl/m_stale_8.html [Accessed: 08.08.2008].
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