Żółkiewka, Poland     

District Krasnystaw, Province of Lublin

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Jewish Żółkiewka

 

Daily Life | Trade & Crafts | Institutions & Organizations | Education | Community during the Second World War | After the War

 

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Daily Life

 

Life in Żółkiewka had its own rhythm, determined by the seasons, the weekly markets, the Holidays and any unusual events.

The markets were held on Mondays (as they still are). They used to take place on the big square in the center of the village.

During market days Żółkiewka's inhabitants, Jews and Poles alike, exchanged goods, stories and news with visiting traders and buyers from the area.

It is important to call to mind that even in the interwar period, not a single Jew in Żółkiewka had a telephone.

 

The everyday language of the Jews in Żółkiewka was Yiddish. Yiddish was used in the homes and in most if not all conversations between Jews.

Many of them, especially the older ones did not even know Polish.

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Trade & Crafts

 

Most Jews in Żółkiewka had a trade or a craft. Among the most popular craft categories at that time were tailors, shoemakers, tanners and mill operators.

Many had their own business: general stores existed alongside small haberdashery stalls, tailor, shoe, food and hardware stores. In addition, there were also several retailers and dealers. Others earned a living by trading and peddling wares in nearby villages.
Jews were also the main distributors of local industrial produce and purchasers of agricultural producers from the peasants of the surrounding villages.

 

Between to two world wars, Tourism provided a new source of income, as Żółkiewka was blessed with a dry and fresh climate and many forests, and these attracted summer visitors from the large towns, with a need for guest houses, restaurants, and also grocer and butcher shops and carting or transportation services. In the 1930s, the earnings of the Jews were considerably reduced as a result of growing competition from the Polish merchants and the establishment of a local Polish cooperative.

There was also anti-Semitic propaganda, which called for a boycott of Jewish trade.

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Institutions & Organizations

 

Synagogue: In 1862 several community constructions began, especially a new synagogue. In 1868 a new brick synagogue was finished. It also hosted a Talmud-Tora school.

Loans & Welfare: In 1899 an interest-free loan fund for the poor was founded; and in 1911 a Hospice for the Poor "Gemiłus Chased" was established.

Political Organizations: There were branches of several political organizations: Poalei Zion, Bund and Mizrachi. 1923 also saw the appearance of a branch of "Agudat Israel". The Bund resumed its activities after WWI.

Occupational Associations: Federation of Jewish merchants and Federation of Jewish craftsmen.

Zionism: The first Zionist group was organized in 1904 and at about the same time branches of "Poalei Zion" and the "Bund" also made their appearance.

In 1912 a Jewish Public Library was opened.

In the years between the wars, the economic situation deteriorated so more mutual help was required - the "Joint" assisted the community and the Provident Fund that had been set up before the war also expanded its activities.

In 1928 a Jewish Cooperative Bank was set up, and this provided Jewish merchants and artisans with low-interest credit.

Last three Rabbis of Żółkiewka: In the late 19th century the rabbi was Yehuda-Leibush Licht. In 1906 it was Rabbi Moshe-Zvi Banker who was followed by Rabbi Felhendler.


An elementary school in Żółkiewka in the early 1930's – class of Chaim Zylberklang.
Photo property of Chaim Zylberklang

 

Education

In the 1930s there were five Jewish schools in Żółkiewka: three Chederschulen, the Talmud Torah and the "Beyt Jacob" school.
The children, whose parents were too poor to pay one of the Chederschulen, attended the Talmud Torah.

Girls and some of the older non-orthodox boys studied jointly with the Polish children for the next few years in government schools. There was a separation only for "religion studies".
Due to the small population and because of the relatively small size of the village, all residents knew each other, both Jews and Poles - various trade and social contacts were common.

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Community during the Second World War

 

From the start of the occupation, the Jews in Żółkiewka were the object of Nazi repression. First they were robbed of their property; all Jewish businesses had to be marked with the Star of David and a sign in German and Polish.

As of December 1939 had all the Jews who were older than ten years, wearing a white band with blue Star of David on the right arm. Other regulations, which the Germans had adopted in the first months of occupation, said for example that all Jews had to bow when they saw a German soldier and they had to clear the way for the soldier if their paths crossed. Soon all the Jewish schools were closed.


In early 1940 a Judenrat was formed under Leon Felhendler, the son of the former Rabbi. The same Leon Felhendler would later be one of the organizers of the Sobibor revolt. A Jewish police force was also established and together with the Judenrat was responsible for providing the Germans with forced labor.

In 1940 the Judenrat sent a group of Jews to the labor camp at Belzec, and shortly afterwards some 300 additional young people were sent to the labor camp at Ruda-Opalin, where they were digging sewage and irrigation ditches under such severe conditions that many of them died. The remainders were returned home after six months and monetary "fines".

In October 1940 Jewish refugees from Kalish and Kolo arrived in the town.

In March 1942 there were additional arrivals from Lublin and in May 1942 from additional towns. On the eve of their first deportation there were some 2,300 Jews in Żółkiewka.

In 1941, the Germans ran a small forced labor camp near Żółkiewka on Lubelski Street, in which both Jews and Poles were imprisoned. They were sent to work on building projects in the area.

On the 14th May 1942, SS personnel were brought from Krasnystaw together with a contingent of Polish police. They evicted the Jews from their houses and assembled them in the market place. Jews who hid and were discovered were shot on the spot. After a process of selection some thousand Jews were transported to Krasnystaw, and from there to the extermination camp at Sobibor. The remaining Jews were enclosed in the ghetto which was then erected in Żółkiewka.

The final destruction of the Jewish community of Żółkiewka was in October 1942. On the 16th, all remaining Jews were forced to walk about 20 kilometers (~14 miles) to Izbica that served as a concentration point for the whole area. From Izbica they were deported to the extermination camp Belzec.

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After the War

Most of the Jewish survivors are those who left the war or followed the Russian army as it retreated in October 1939. The survivors and their families are now scattered all over the world.

After the Second World War there were many emigrations from Poland, especially among the remaining Jewish population. It was impossible for Jews to return to what used to be their home, where their closest relatives and friends suffered and were brutally murdered and there to start a new life. The situation in all of Poland was unstable and hard but Jews, as always, had additional dangers.

Many of the surviving Jews from Żółkiewka and the area gathered in Lublin. After the city was captured by the Red Army in July 1944, Lublin became a center of Jewish life in Poland for a few months. In August 1944, a Committee for Jewish Aid was setup there. Leon Felhendler, Rabbi's son, organizer of the Sobibor revolt managed to escape alive to Lublin but was murdered there in April 1945. Feldhendler's killing was one of at least 118 murders of Jews in the Lublin district between the summer of 1944 and the fall of 1946.

 

Most survivors, after meeting other survivors started a long and dangerous trip, crossing several countries to "Western" deportation camps.

There they applied for and awaited visas to Palestine (under British Mandate at the end of the war), the US or other countries. The wait lasted several years for most.

 

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Sources: Wikipedia.org (English & Polish), Żółkiewka Official web site, Jewish Life in Europe site, Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich, Pinkas HakehilotPolin, Yad VaShem

 

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Compiled by Tamar Amit

Updated 4 February, 2014

Copyright © 2011-2014 Tamar Amit
[Background based on image by The Inspiration Gallery]