Turobin – the shtetl
Turobin is one of the oldest towns in the Chełm district, developing at least since the 12th century as a market and defensive settlement along the so-called Ruthenian route leading from Cracow to Kiev via Zawichost. The town was first mentioned in 1389, in a deed whereby king Ladislaus Jagiello granted the royal village of Turobin to Dmitriy of Goraj. In 1399 the village was incorporated pursuant to the Magdeburg Law, under a charter issued by the new owner of Turobin.
The beginnings of Jewish settlement in Turobin
Turobin is a multi-cultural town typical of the Lublin Region. An Orthodox church existed in the town from the beginning of the 15th century and a synagogue at least from the end of the 16th century. In the last quarter of the 16th century the town was a strong center of Arianism and Calvinism. Until the 19th century a few Uniates lived in the Turobin area and had their own church in the nearby Tarnawa in the 17th century.
As some researchers point out, it is possible that Jews lived in Turobin from as early as 1420, and certainly from the mid-16th century. By the 17th century, a well-organized kahal functioned in the town, and owned a synagogue erected probably around 1657. Unfortunately nothing remains of the synagogue today.
The Jewish cemetery
The old Jewish cemetery in Turobin was probably established in the early 17th century, and functioned until 1941, when it was destroyed by the Nazis who used the gravestones to pave roads. In the 18th century a new Jewish cemetery was established in Zamkowa Street, and it functioned until 1942. At present it is an arable field. In 1994 several preserved matzevot from the Turobin cemetery were found, dating back to the 19th and 20th century. Some sources state that there was only one Jewish cemetery in Turobin, established in the 18th century.
The incorporation of Turobin into the Zamość Estate resulted in the granting of numerous privileges and rights to the Jewish population. It also intensified Jewish settlement here. The Jews of Turobin earned their living mostly from fur and leather trade, crafts (mostly tailoring), and tavern and inn-keeping. In 1648, during the invasion of Khmelnytsky’s Cossacks, the town was destroyed and some of the Jewish inhabitants of Turobin were killed. In the second half of the 17th century the community was restored, and as many as 126 Jewish families lived in Turobin at the turn of the 19th century.
The end of the 19th century saw the first Jewish manufacturing establishments in the town, dealing with weaving and leather processing. At the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, the Jewish community of Turobin was under great influence of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment movement, with its center in the nearby Zamość. In the first half of the 19th century the influence of the Hasidic movement was also strong. In the 18th century a new Jewish cemetery was established on a plot of land located outside the town and purchased by the kahal from Sebastian Stodzki. The cemetery functioned until 1942.
In 1825 a new brick synagogue was built in Turobin. In 1915 it burned down and was rebuilt after 1918. A prayer house for women was attached to the synagogue. During the Second World War, the Nazis devastated the synagogue. After the war, a local cooperative used the building of the synagogue until its dismantling in the 1960s.
At the turn of the 20th century Jews accounted for approximately 70 percent of the town population. Between the World Wars, however, this proportion fell significantly mostly due to massive economic emigration. Before the First World War anti-Semitic riots broke out in the town, and subsequent incidents of this type took place at the end of 1918.
In the interwar period, many Jewish political parties and organizations were active in the town. Besides Zionist parties formed before the First World War (Mizrachi, Poalei Zion and other) and the Jewish Labor Party "Bund" active from 1906, an Orthodox party Agudat Yisrael was established and soon won strong support among the local inhabitants. Besides traditional aid institutions such as Bikur Chojlim, Linas Checedek or Hachnasat Orchim, there were numerous modern social and cultural organizations operating under the auspices of specific political parties and organizations.
In 1913 a Jewish Public Library was opened, and in 1924 a Jewish Cooperative Bank was established, which offered low-interest loans. Other financial institutions in Turobin included a Loans Fund "Provident" set up in the late 1920s and a loans fund established by Jewish craftsmen from Turobin.
In late September 1939 about one hundred Jews fled the village eastward, together with the withdrawing Red Army. At the beginning of the German occupation, Turobin became a place of concentration for Jews from various regions of Poland. In 1939 about 1250 Jews from Łódź, Koło, Konin and Słupsk were resettled here; in 1940 about 500 Jews from Lublin, and in 1942 several hundred Jews from the neighboring towns and villages were moved to Turobin. In winter 1942 about four or five thousand Jews stayed here. Unlike in other locations, there was no designated ghetto area. The resettled people were accommodated in the buildings located around the market square and in the community buildings, e.g. the synagogue. In April 1942 the Nazis murdered about one hundred Jews. In May almost three thousand ghetto dwellers were driven to Krasnystaw and then taken to the Sobibór death camp. The Turobin ghetto was finally liquidated in October 1942. Some of its inhabitants, mostly old and ill people, were murdered on the spot, in Turobin. The rest were driven to Izbica from where some were taken to the labor camp in Trawniki while all those unable to work to the Bełżec death camp.
Turobin as a shtetl features in a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer entitled The Wife Killer.
Prepared by: Joanna Zętar