Jewish trail in the Lublin region
We invite you to embark on a trip under the banner of ‘On the Jewish trail in the Lublin region’ (Leczna, Wlodawa, Chelm, Zamosc, Szczebrzeszyn).
Łęczna, a scenic town located by the Wieprz River, was granted city rights in the 15th century. Since it lay by a trade route along which cattle were herded from Ukraine, the town quickly became one of the most important centers of cattle and horse trade in the whole of the Polish Repubilc. Leczna fairs attracted even merchants from Germay, Austria and Russia. In the 16th century, an independent Jewish community was formed here. Jews settled in the northern part of the town, where a synagogue was erected. After the fall of the Polish Republic, the town lost its significance. Newly mapped out trade routes left out Leczna. In 1846 and 1881, a fire broke out in the town, completely destroying the Jewish disctrict. However, the locals rebuilt the Great Synagogue on Boznicza Street. Currently, the building makes one of the most attractive historical monuments in the entire region.
In the interwar period, Leczna had four thousand residents, half of whom were of Jewish descent. During the German occupation, a ghetto was set up here, where also Czech and Slovakian Jews were also brought. Some of them were killed on a bank near the synagogue and others perished at the death camp in Sobibor.
This little town on the Polish-Ukrainian borderland is famous for the Three Cultures Festival, which is staged there in the first half of September each year. Concerts and exhibitions portray the Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish heritage of the town. Before the outbreak of World War II, Wlodawa was home to 5,900 Jews, 2,600 Poles and 150 Ukrainians.
The local monuments, such as the Baroque Pauline Church, the Orthodox Church and the extremely well preserved complex of synagogues at 7 Czerwonego Krzyza Street, which is the property of Muzeum Pojezierza Leczynsko-Wlodawskiego, are reminiscent of the history of the town.
Like Wlodawa, Chelm was the town of three cultures over the course of centuries. The fortified settlement, set up by the Duke Daniel Romanowicz, became the capital city of the Kingdom of Galicia-Vladimir in 1240. Towards the end of the 14th century, Chelm was incorporated into Poland. In the 15th century, Jews started to come to Chelm.
The Jewish district in Chelm developed in the town quarter north of the market square. A synagogue was located at the intersection of Krzywa and Szkolna Streets. The building was torn down and rebuilt several times, destroyed for good during World War II.
Zamość, founded by the Chancellor and Grand Hetman of the Crown Jan Zamoyski in the 16th century, has been inscribed in the UNESCO Cultural Heritage for good reasons. The entire urban design, created by the Italian architect named Bernard Morando, was a practical application of the Renaissance concept of an ideal ‘fortified town’. Behind massive walls, there were Zamoyski Palace, the Academy, a large market square, a cathedral, an Orthodox Church and a synagogue. In order to gain profits from trade, Zamoyski brought here Greeks, Armenians and Jews who were engaged in merchantry. The Jews who settled in Zamosc were Sephardim, having come here from Spain, Turkey and Italy. They traded in diamonds, valuable fabric and oriental spice. Zamosc was the only town in the Polish Republic to have a Sephardic Jewish community. Everyday life of followers of Judaism revolved around Zydowska Street (the present Zamenhofa St.), where a synagogue, a hospital, a school and a mikveh were built.
The town appears in the popular Polish tongue twister ‘W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie’. In the 16th century, Szczebrzeszyn was also a famous cloth and spice trade enter. However, when Zamosc was founded, the importance of Szczebrzeszyn diminished. In the 17th century, the town witnessed wars portrayed by Henryk Sienkiewicz in his Trilogy. The town was invaded first by the Kossacks, then by the Swedes and Tatars. The 19th century was overshadowed by Hasidism here. The Tzaddik from Jaworow named Elimelech Hurwicz had his seat here. Jews comprised over forty percent of the entire population of the town. It was a typical shtetl, known thanks to a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Interestingly, Singer’s grandmother, Tema Blima Szejner, mentioned by the Nobel Prize Winner in his novel ‘In My Father’s Court’, was born and reared here.
Leczna – synagogues, Boznicza Street
The Great Synagogue in Leczna was erected in the mid-17th Century. It was a turbulent time of wars between Poles and Cossacks, hence the defensive design of the building. The corners and the northern wall of the building are supported by massive buttresses. Inside, a monumental bema, which is part of the construction of the synagogue, supports the building. The architecture of the bema shows features of the late Renaissance style. The tops of four Tuscan columns are connected with an arcade embellished with a stucco decoration. The columns rest on four plinths, which were originally the base of the bema platform. Experts in synagogue architecture stress that it is the only building of this kind that has been preserved in the Lublin region.
In 1961, a memorial plaque in honor of 1046 Jews executed by the Nazis in Leczna between 1940 and 1942 was placed on the outside wall of the Great Synagogue. Parts of matzevot from the Jewish cemetery which had been plundered after the end of the war were stored in the synagogue.
Since 1966, the building of the Great Synagogue has been the seat of the Regional Museum, where archeological and ethnographical objects related to the history of the town and the region, as well as a vast collection of Judaica, are stored.
In the vicinity of the Great Synagogue, the Small Synagogue, which dates back to the 19th Century, is located. This building served as a house of prayer and a school where boys learned Talmud and Torah reading. Presently, it houses the Town and Municipal Public Library in Leczna.
Muzeum Regionalne w Łęcznej – Oddział Zamiejscowy Muzeum Lubelskiego w Lublinie
The Regional Museum in Leczna – the branch office of the Lubelski Museum in Lublin
ul. Bożnicza 17, Łęczna
tel.: +48 (81) 752-08-69
Wednesday – Sunday 9 am – 4 pm
Monday, Tuesday – closed
The first Sunday of each month – closed
Tuesday following the first Sunday of each month – 9 am – 4 pm.
Leczna – the Jewish cemetery, Pasternik Street
This Jewish cemetery was destroyed after end of World War II. In the early 1960s, the plundered Jewish cemetery was leveled, plowed and planted with trees. In 2005, thanks to the initiative of Rabbi Mejer Izrael Gabay from Ukraine, an ohel in memory of Tzaddik Szlomo Lejba (the leader of Leczna Hassidim and one of the pupils of the Seer from Lublin), who died in the 19th Century, was erected in this place.
Wlodawa – a synagogue’s complex, 5/7 Czerwonego Krzyza Street
This building, the facade of which is reminiscent of a Baroque palace, is the Great Synagogue, which was built in the years from 1764 to 1771, thanks to the support of the Czartoryski family, the proprietors of Wlodawa at that time. This synagogue is based on a four-column structure. The bema, resting on four monumental pillars topped with a canopy, which also is an element of the ceiling, stands in the central part of the main prayer room. This architectural solution results in the four-column vault of the synagogue.
Inside the building, the colorful aron ha-kodesh (the Torah Ark) is quite remarkable. In 1934, this aron ha-kodesh replaced the previous Torah Ark, which had been destroyed during the fire. This aron ha-kodesh is one of the few objects that survived World War II. The rich three-storey framework of the ark covers the entire middle space of the eastern wall. The bottom part bears the images of musical instruments and quotations from Psalm 150: “Praise him with tambourines and dancing. Praise him with stringed instruments and flutes.” On the right side, the hands of a priest in a blessing gesture are portrayed, on the left there is a basket full of fruit as a symbol of the Feast of Shavuot. Above, there is an intricate menorah, a symbol of Judaism. The aron ha-kodesh is topped with two griffins worshipping the Ten Commandments tablets. Interestingly, in reality, the tablets form two skylights. The sunrays that pass through them symbolize the ‘Light of Torah.’ Presently, the synagogue houses a museum. The gallery displays permanent Jewish-theme exhibitions, such as ‘Judaica’, ‘On the history of Wlodawa Jews from 1918-1945’ and ‘In melammed’s room’.
Next to the Great Synagogue, there is the Small Synagogue, which originates from the late 18th Century. The building served Wlodawa Jews as an additional synagogue and a place for Talmudic studies. The main prayer room is adorned in polychrome with Hebrew inscriptions. Presently, temporary exhibitions are mounted in this building.
The beth ha-midrash (the house of Talmudic studies) is the smallest building of all of the synagogue’s complex. This building was built in 1938 and had a rectangular layout. Today, it holds an office and storeroom space.
Muzeum Pojezierza Łęczyńsko-Włodawskiego
Museum of Łęczna and Włodawa Lake District
Address: ul. Czerwonego Krzyża 7 Street, 22-200 Włodawa Tel./Fax: +48 82 57 22 178
Monday – closed
Free entrance: Tuesday
NOTE: Since October 1st, 2011, the Museum in Wlodawa hosts organized groups only upon a prior reservation.
Chelm – Small Synagogue, 8 Kopernika Street
The Small Synagogue (8 Kopernika Street), erected in 1914 with the fees donated by the Jewish population, survived the war. The asymmetrically situated entrance, topped with a round window (oculus), and the Decalogue Tablets are characteristic elements of the building. Inside the synagogue, four cast-iron posts have survived, designating the former place of the bema. During World War II, part of the synagogue was torched down by the Nazis. In 1955, the building was restored and adapted to the flour storehouse. At that time, a Jewish family occupied several rooms and arranged a prayer room there. In 2004, the building was purchased by a private individual who remodeled the building to house a restaurant.
The synagogue adjoins the rabbi’s house, which was built in 1914, and now serves as a residential building.