Goraj – the shtetl
It is unknown when the first Jews arrived in Goraj. According to statistical data, 517 Jews lived in Goraj in 1865, accounting for 26.8 percent of the total population of the town.
The history of Goraj
Goraj was incorporated circa 1373 when, according to sources, Dymitr of Goraj was granted the town by king Casimir III the Great. The town remained in the hands of the Gorajski family until 1508. Subsequent owners included Mikołaj Firlej of Dąbrowica, Andrzej Górka and his son Stanisław Górka. The town burned down twice: circa 1561 and in 1780. In 1595 Trojanowski, the then owner of the town, sold the Goraj domain to Jan Zamoyski who incorporated it into the Zamość Estate.
After the First Partition in 1772, Goraj found itself under Austrian rule, and became a district capital in the county of Bełz. In 1809 Goraj was included in the Duchy of Warsaw, and in 1815, after the Congress of Vienna, the town found itself within the Russian-controlled Kingdom of Poland. As a result of repressive measures imposed by Russians after the January Uprising, Goraj lost its town status and became a mere settlement in 1869.
The first parish in Goraj was established in 1379; the local parish priests included the professors of the Zamość Academy. A Calvinist congregation, founded by the Firlej family, existed here until the mid-17th century. At that time, the Jewish kahal functioned in Goraj as well.
Nearly all buildings in the town were made of wood; the church and synagogue were the only brick structures. The marketplace was lined by front-gabled houses with arcades. One building in the corner (probably a tavern) was parallel to the market square and had an unusual hip-gambrel roof. Houses in Goraj ranked among the finest examples of small town architecture in the south of the Lublin Region.
Jews in Goraj
It is unknown when the first Jews arrived in Goraj. According to statistical data, 517 Jews lived in Goraj in 1865, accounting for 26.8 percent of the total population of the town. In 1904, there were 640 Jews, representing 23 percent of the total number of inhabitants.
The synagogue was built in the first half of the 17th century. It was destroyed in the years 1940–1944. The Jewish cemetery was probably established in 1850, about 250 meters south-west of the marketplace. In a desolate condition today, only fragments of broken tombstones have survived. Records from 1904 indicate that there was no cheder and no house of prayer in Goraj. Jewish parties such as the Agudat Yisrael were active in the town.
Goraj in the writings of Isaac Bashevis Singer
Goraj is the setting for Isaac Bashevis Singer's debut novel entitled Satan in Goray, regarded by literary critics as Singer’s best novel.
This is what Singer wrote about Goraj (Goray) in his novel:
"Goray, which once had been known for its scholars and men of accomplishment, was completely deserted. The market place, to which peasants from everywhere came for the fair, was overgrown with weeds [...]. Most of the houses had been leveled by fire. [...] It seemed as though Goray had been erased forever.
But it is the way of the world that in time everything reverts to what it has been. Shops which had long stood closed behind rusted shutters opened one by one [...]; Apprentices mended the damaged roofs, repaired the chimneys, and painted over blood-and-marrow-splattered walls [...]. Gradually, the runners began to move again from village to village, buying corn, wheat, greens, and flax. The peasants in the surrounding villages had been too terrified even to set foot in Goray for fear of the demons whose dominion it was. Now they rode into town again to buy salt and candles, material for women’s smocks and blouses, cotton kaftans and clay pots, and all kinds of necklaces and ornaments. Goraj had always been isolated from the world. Hills and dense woods extended for miles about the town. In winters, the paths were the lurking-place of bears, wolves and boars. Since the great slaughter the number of wild beasts had multiplied".
Singer I.B., Satan of Goray, Farrar Straus Giroux, New York 1979
In October 1943, the Jews of Goraj were deported to Frampol, from where they were taken to the death camp in Bełżec. A dozen or so Jews were murdered in Goraj; they were buried in the local Jewish cemetery.
Prepared by: Aleksandra Duź