Tomaszów Lubelski – the shtetl
Tomaszów Lubelski was granted its charter of incorporation in 1621, and was the second town, after Zamość, established by the Zamoyski family. From the very beginning, the town was inhabited by Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews; they all had the same rights, privileges and obligations towards the Ordynat of the Zamość Estate.
The Jewish community in Tomaszów
Jews in Tomaszów were mentioned for the first time in the charter of incorporation granted by Tomasz Zamoyski in 1621 whereby Jews were given the same freedoms, privileges and obligations as all other residents of Tomaszów regardless of their faith. The only exceptions included a clause exempting Jews from the obligation to repair causeways on the one hand, and a clause forbidding them to own more than 12 houses in the marketplace, on the other. Jews, however, used a stratagem to bypass the prohibition, and they soon owned all houses in the marketplace.
The Jews of Tomaszów were primarily involved in trade, tavern-keeping, brokerage, crafts and playing at weddings.
After the first Partition of Poland in 1772, when Tomaszów got under Austrian rule, Jews were allowed to establish a German-Jewish religious school whose objective was to speed up the Germanization process. A similar tactic was applied in other fields as well, e.g. Jewish physicians were allowed to practice if there was no Christian physician in town.
As the Jewish population of Tomaszów increased, other residents of the town were filled with growing resentment, and they lodged complaints with the Ordynat against dishonest Jewish artisans. In the time of Russian rule over this territory, Christians were forbidden to rent property to Jews on pain of a fine.
The Jewish quarter in Tomaszów was partially destroyed during a German air raid in September 1939. At the end of September, Soviet troops entered Tomaszów, but withdrew to the east after about two weeks. Four and a half thousand Jews fled along with the Soviets.
Those who did not or could not escape, were confined to a ghetto and eventually murdered on the spot or in the Bełżec death camp. The last Jew in Tomaszów, Szymon Lejta, was shot on November 9, 1943.
The synagogue and other buildings
The first synagogue, founded in 1594, was burned down and destroyed by Bohdan Khmelnitsky’s troops in 1648. In the second half of the 17th century, a new synagogue was built on its site in Bóżnicza Street. Remodeled in the 1700s, it adjoined a prayer house. Initially, the synagogue had a shingle roof that was replaced with tar paper after the First World War, and with metal roofing in the 1930s. The new synagogue was damaged as a result of military operations in 1939, and dismantled by the Germans in 1940. In the 1970s, the area of the former synagogue was developed by a housing cooperative.
A Jewish house of prayer, the so-called shul, was established in the late 16th century, in Bóżnicza Street (today, at the corner of Generała Andersa and Traugutta streets). It was a single-story building with thick walls and massive buttresses. In the early 17th century, a synagogue adjoining the school was built.
A mikveh (a Jewish ritual bath) existed in Szkolna Street until the outbreak of the Second World War.
A shelter for the poor and the sick functioned in Tomaszów Lubelski between 1919 and 1921.
A ritual slaughterhouse for poultry operated in Bóżnicza Street.
In 1705, the Zamoyski family ordered the construction of a market hall for Jewish stalls that existed until the Second World War. From the very beginning, the stalls were leased by Jewish merchants who acquired ownership of the stalls by prescription in 1835. The market hall was partially damaged during an air raid in 1939, and dismantled by the Germans in 1940. In the period between the World Wars, the town authorities wanted to tear down the market hall in order to adjust the route linking Warsaw and Lvov, but the idea was not put into practice because Jewish merchants demanded very high compensation in return. A new market hall with arcades and high, Cracow-style attic walls, were built in the 1920s and survived until 1971.
The Jewish cemetery
The Jewish cemetery, covering an area of 2 hectares, is located between Starozamojska Street and the Sołokija river. It was established in 1623 and existed until the Second World War when it was devastated. The gravestones were used by Germans to pave streets in Tomaszów, e.g. in the neighborhood of the then Gestapo headquarters (the present-day courthouse). Only a few gravestones have survived until today. At the initiative of the Citizens’ Committee for the Conservation of Cemeteries and Monuments of Jewish Culture in Poland, an ohel designed by Eleonora Berman was erected at the Jewish cemetery in August 1992. In the same year, efforts were undertaken to tidy up the area of the cemetery and to erect a fence around it. The cemetery restoration plan was prepared by Czesław Kostykiewicz. The cemetery was surrounded with a metal fence made at the workshops of the Technical School of Agricultural Mechanics.
Social and political life
Hasidism became influential in the town at the turn of the 19th century. At the turn of the 20th century, the vibrant Jewish community in Tomaszów had numerous social and cultural institutions, political parties and a sports club. The "Tomaszower Cajtung" weekly was published.
In 1907, local branches of the socialist "Bund" party and the Marxist Zionist "Poalei Zion" party were set up; both made a contribution to the culture and education of the Jews in Tomaszów.
In 1912, the Linas ha-Cedek charitable society was established, and a branch of the Mizrachi party was formed during the First World War.
Prepared by: Anna Wójtowicz
Edited by: Monika Śliwińska