The “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre is a local government cultural institution based in Lublin. It works towards the preservation of cultural heritage and education. Its function is tied to the symbolic and historical meaning of the Centre’s location in the Grodzka Gate, which used to divide Lublin into its respective Christian and Jewish quarters, as well as to Lublin as a meeting place of cultures, traditions and religions.

Part of the Centre are the House of Words and the Lublin Underground Trail.

The “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre is a local government cultural institution based in Lublin. It works towards the preservation of cultural heritage and education. Its function is tied to the symbolic and historical meaning of the Centre’s location in the Grodzka Gate, which used to divide Lublin into its respective Christian and Jewish quarters, as well as to Lublin as a meeting place of cultures, traditions and religions.

Part of the Centre are the House of Words and the Lublin Underground Trail.

Szczebrzeszyn – the shtetl

We do not know exactly when Jews settled in Szczebrzeszyn, but the first mention of the Jewish community in the town can be found in a document dating back to 1507, which includes an entry concerning the kahal’s payment of 25 zloty towards coronation tax. The first mention of a synagogue dates back to 1584.

 

The Jewish community in Szczebrzeszyn

The Jews of Szczebrzeszyn made their living as craftsmen, leaseholders and traders. In 1583 king Stephen Bathory confirmed the rights of Jews to conduct trade in villages. The Jews from Szczebrzeszyn traded in cloth, linen, spices, and with time the trade in the town was dominated by imported foodstuffs and spices, and grain. 
A charter issued by Andrzej Górka in 1586 obligated the Jews to extinguish fires. King Sigismund II’s charter of 1597 prohibited the Jews from collecting taxes, including the liquor excise tax (czopowe).
In 1648 Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s troops decimated the local Jewish population.
In time, the number of Jews in Szczebrzeszyn went up and they were obliged to pay taxes to the State Treasury.
In the early 19th century there were two mills operating in town. One of them was leased by Samuel Aszkenazy and S. Landau under an agreement concluded with Count Konstanty Zamoyski, Lord of the Zamosc Estate, and then by Samuel Aszkenazy’s brother-Salomon.
In the past, Szczebrzeszyn was famous for learned rabbis residing there. At the end of the 16th century rabbi Lezajasz Menechem was appointed the rabbi of the Cracow kahal, the largest kahal in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at that time.
Rabbi Józef Ben Matatjahu Delakrut established a local yeshiva in Szczebrzeszyn, which functioned in the early 17th century.
In 1701 a session of the Council of the Four Lands (Vaad Arba Aratzot) was held in Szczebrzeszyn. After 1815, when Szczebrzeszyn was incorporated into the Russian-controlled Kingdom of Poland, limitations regarding the settlement of Jews were abolished.
In 1913 Jews accounted for 47.6 percent of the total population of the town. The share of the Jews in the total population of Szczebrzeszyn in consecutive years was as follows:
– 1827 – 1605 (38 percent)
– 1857 – 2449 (44 percent)
– 1897 – 2644 (42 percent)
 

Report from the 1936 inspection in Szczebrzeszyn

Year
Total population
Catholics
%
Jews
%
Orthodox Christians
%
1921
6350
3593
56,5
2644
42
103
1,5
1936
8128
4933
60,5
3169
39,2
26
0,3
+ increase
- decrease
+1777
+1340
+4
+525
-2,8
-77
-1,2


In the interwar period, poor Jews lived in the vicinity of the present-day bus station, an area formerly known as "Zatyły" ("The Beyond"). Well-off Jews lived along Zamojska Street.
During the war, the Nazis established a ghetto in the town, where they confined approximately four thousand Jews from Szczebrzeszyn and the surrounding areas, from the cities of Łódź and Włocławek, and also from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Most of them were murdered in the local Jewish cemetery or in the Bełżec death camp.

The synagogue and the house of prayer

The synagogue was located east of the market square, in Sądowa Street. The first mention of the synagogue dates back to 1584, the year it was destroyed. The present late-Renaissance synagogue was built at the beginning of the 17th century. In 1648 it was destroyed by Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s Cossack troops, and rebuilt in 1659. In 1940 the synagogue was burnt down by the Nazis, and in 1946 its roof collapsed. Between 1957 and 1963 it was rebuilt and converted into a cultural center.
In the interwar period there was also a house of prayer in Szczebrzeszyn.

The Jewish cemetery

The cemetery was established in 1593 and was used until the Second World War. The burial place was designated by the then owner of the town. There are nearly 400 gravestones (matzevot) in the cemetery. The oldest ones date back to the early 18th century. Most of the preserved gravestones date back to the 19th and 20th century. The matzevot are decorated with floral motifs as well as motifs alluding to the profession or personal traits of the deceased: hands in a blessing gesture (Priests), a pitcher and a bowl (Levites), candlesticks (women), books (symbol of piety of the deceased), etc. Traditionally, men and women were buried in separate sections in the Jewish cemetery in Szczebrzeszyn. The cemetery was devastated by the Nazis.

Other sites

– Mikveh (ritual bath) In 1934 there was a mikveh at 18, Targowa Street.
– Ritual slaughterhouse – it functioned between 1919 and 1921.
– A shelter for the poor and the ill existed between 1919 and 1921.

Social life

At the beginning of the 19th century numerous voluntary organizations were set up in Szczebrzeszyn, e.g. the Bikur Cholim society that took care of the ill. The end of the 19th and turn of the 20th century marks the beginnings and development of numerous Jewish political organizations and parties in Szczebrzeszyn.
Already at the beginning of the 20th century rabbi Abraham R. Bronsztejn established a Loans and Savings Association that supported tradesmen and craftsmen, both Jewish and non-Jewish, by granting non-commercial loans.

During the 1905 revolution, a local branch of Bund, a Jewish socialist labor party, was established. Bund members cooperated with the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) organizing protests and strikes in factories and workshops. During one of the strikes three demonstrators were killed by Russian soldiers. After those events, numerous young Jewish people with left-wing views emigrated from Szczebrzeszyn in fear of being persecuted by the Russian authorities, while the Bund party was banned. The Bund did not resume its activity until the First World War when Austrian troops occupied the Chełm district.

During the First World War, the first Zionist organizations were established in Szczebrzeszyn. With the support of Jewish soldiers serving in the Austrian army and stationed in the town, in 1916 two Zionist organizations were formed here. After 1918 they transformed into local branches of the Mizrachi, a Zionist Orthodox party.
In 1917 a Jewish public library named in honor of Mendele Mocher Sforim was established, and various drama and literature groups and a choir were active under its auspices.
In the 1920s and 1930s Zionist parties were particularly active in Szczebrzeszyn. The organization of General Zionists, Poalei Zion Left, Mizrachi, He-Chaluc and Betar were established here. They were involved in cultural and educational activities, and in implementing various types of social projects such as organizing evening Hebrew classes for the young working people.
A local branch of Agudat Yisrael and the reactivated Bund along with its youth wing Cukunft (Zukunft) were active in Szczebrzeszyn at that time as well.
Some of the local left-wing youth were involved in clandestine activities of the illegal Communist Party.

Religious life

Hasidism reached Szczebrzeszyn at the beginning of the 19th century; in the 1880’s tzaddik Elimelech Hurwitz of Javorov lived here. According to a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Mistake, supporters of Sabbatai Zevi were active in the town. Their traces were found by pure accident, namely Motł Wolbromer found a mistake in his mezuzah, which cost him dearly: his wife, children and he himself fell ill, and his granary burned down. These misfortunes had been caused by the local sofer (Sabbatai’s supporter) who made deliberate mistakes while rewriting the sacred words.

In the interwar period, besides traditional cheders, new Jewish educational institutions functioned in the town, e.g. a Jawne religious school run by the Mizrachi, and a CYSHO school. Many Jewish children additionally attended state-run elementary schools.
At the end of the 19th century, besides the main synagogue, there were two houses of prayer in Szczebrzeszyn. Between 1914 and 1918 one synagogue and three prayer houses existed in the town, and in 1918 there were two cheders subordinate to the School Authorities in Chełm. In 1918 two Jews attended the People’s High School where the tuition fee was 300 crowns.

In his memories from Szczebrzeszyn, Zygmunt Klukowski stresses that various courses and public lectures organized by local teachers were attended by different students, but 75 percent of them were Jewish. In 1927 the local post office delivered magazines to 20 Catholics and just over 50 Jews in Szczebrzeszyn.
In the 16th century, Berman ben Naftali Katz held a rabbinical post in Szczebrzeszyn, and created numerous literary works. In the second half of the 19th century Elimelech Hurwitz, a tzaddik from Javorov (Jaworów), had his seat here.


Prepared by: Anna Wójtowicz