Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine

 

Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine

 

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Wojsławice - guidebook

Yid. װאָיסלאַװיץ, Rus. Войславице

Wojsławice - guidebook

Origins

Wojsławice were granted municipal rights about 1440. As soon as 1445, a case was registered at the court in Lwów with Judka, a Jew from Wojsławice, as one of the participants, but an independent Jewish community was not established in Wojsławice until several decades later. In 1564, the list of individuals paying poll tax included 125 Jewish inhabitants of the town. It is known that the first Ashkenazi Jew who obtained permission to settle in Zamość in 1584 was Abraham of Wojsławice. In 1616, the Jewish community of Wojsławice applied for permission to build a new wooden synagogue in place of the old one, destroyed in a fire.

Scandals, robberies, and fires

The first sex scandal reflected in 16th-century rabbinical responses was caused by one Mosze Chaim from Lithuania, who left his pregnant wife home and married again in Wojsławice. Anther case known from this period is that of a Jew from Wojsławice who joined the army and died in battle as a dragoon. Wojsławice suffered as a result of the invasion of Chmielnicki’s Cossacks in 1648 r. and the Cossack and Muscovite troops in 1658. However, Polish troops also committed abuses in the town, causing riots. On 24 February 1670, a lawsuit was filed at the Crown Tribunal in Lublin, in which the mayor of Wojsławice Mikołaj Hupała and the local townspeople, including Jews: inn-keeper Majer, Mendel, Mendeluk, Zusman, Abraham, and Lejba, sued royal cavalry captain Mikołaj Andrzej Firlej as well as other commanders from the armoured banner of Feliks Potocki, the Voivode of Sieradz, for the damage that troops had done in the town during the fair on 23 June 1668. According to the register attached, a few households were set on fire at the time. The soldiers were guilty of violence against the Jews, demolishing and robbing shops.

Fires happened regularly here, once in s few years, also in the subsequent centuries, which is documented by numerous surviving registers of fire sites. Despite these historical cataclysms, Wojsławice is one of the places with the largest number of surviving monuments of architecture in proportion to the size of the town. Sacred buildings of three religions can be seen in the town – a 16th-c. Roman Catholic church, a 17th-c. Orthodox church, and a synagogue built in the 19th c.

A false Messiah

Frank Jacob Leibovitz (1726–1791) – the last great leader of the Messianic movement inaugurated by Sabbatai Zevi. In December 1755, he arrived in Poland to begin his mission. In 1756, he was expelled from Poland and – together with other followers of Sabbateanism – anathemized by the rabbinical court. In 1760, as a result of denunciation, he was arrested, tried, and sentenced by the consistory court to 13 years of imprisonment at the Jasna Góra Monastery. Frank left Poland in 1773, and in 1786 he moved to Offenbach am Main. His story served as the basis for Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Jacob's Scriptures [Księgi Jakubowe], published in 2015, and Adrian Panek’s 2011 film Daas.

While Frankism played no considerable role in the history of Judaism, some descendants of its followers, already assimilated and integrated with Polish society, would play an important role in the history of Polish culture. This is because some members of the Catholic Church hierarchy became involved in “Frank’s case,” seeing it as an opportunity to convert “infidel” Jews. Some magnates, such as the Potocki family connected with Wojsławice, took part in this proselytism as well.

In 1760, the owner of the Wojsławice landed estate, Marianna Potocka née Daniłowicz, invited the followers of Jacob Frank (1726–1791), the leader of the Sabbatean sect rejecting the Talmud and requiring its members to be baptised. Potocka allotted the land steward’s house situated by the road to Uchanie to Chana Frank, the wife of Jacob, who was kept prisoner by Jesuits at the Jasna Góra Monastery at that time. Together with Chana, a few hundred Frankists came to live in Wojsławice. However, they received an unfavourable welcome from the inhabitants of the town, in an efficiently functioning Jewish community had existed since the 16th c. Very soon, the Frankists became the cause of tragic events. According to one of many versions of this story, in order to compromise the Jewish community and take control of the town, one night, the Frankists sent a woman to the Roman Catholic priest of Wojsławice who introduced herself as the local rabbi’s wife. She accused Rabbis Sender Zyskieluk and Herszko Józefowicz, as well as Lejba Moszkowicz aka Sienicki, and Josa Szymułowicz, along with the entire Jewish community, of the ritual murder of Mikołaj, aged two and a half years, son of Marcin and Katarzyna from the village of Czarnołozy. Adam Rojecki, burgrave of a town belonging to the castellan family of Potocki, lodged a complaint against the rabbis and elders of the community. The qahal’s rabbi and elders were arrested, imprisoned in Krasnystaw, and – after a rigged trial with torture-extracted testimony – sentenced to death. The punishment for the crime was to be quartering alive, but – on the intercession of the Jesuits from Krasnystaw – the Jews who declared willingness to be baptised had their sentence changed to beheading and were subsequently buried with honours in the municipal cemetery. Rabbi Herszko Józefowicz managed to hang himself in jail. His body was tied to a horse’s tail, dragged across the town and burnt at the stake, and the ashes were scattered in the wind

The Jews of Wojsławice were confronted with a choice – baptism or expulsion from the town. As a result, Orthodox Jews had to escape, and about 300 Frankists received baptism in the church in Wojsławice. The memory of these events was preserved in the local community, and the phrase “the dissenters of Wojsławice” (Yid. wojslawicer meszumedim) entered the colloquial language and phraseological dictionaries of Yiddish. After these events, an epidemic broke out in Wojsławice, which Jacob Frank described in The Collection of the Words of the Lord: “In Woyslawic smallpox prevailed among the children from our people. He who only fell ill with it had to die, and before anyone caught it, the black bird had flown to his house and stood [there]. That was a sure sign that in that house there will be a fall.” The town’s citizens were seized with terror: they were convinced that the unjustly accused rabbi had cursed them before his death. Decimated by the disease, the Frankists soon left Wojsławice, and Marianna Potocka had five chapels built by the entrance roads to the town and to the palace. To this day, the town of Wojsławice is protected by saints: John of Nepomuk, standing near the pond and protecting it from the flood; Florian, protecting it from fires; Thecla, offering protection from fire and poor harvest; as well as Barbara and Michael the Archangel – patron saints of good death. Those of the baptised Frankists who died in Wojsławice were buried in the local churchyard. The Yizkor Book in Memory of Voislavize contains a story by Jakov Tennenbaum, son of a Hasid, who maintained friendly relations with Orthodox and Catholic priests living in the vicinity. He recollects how, back in the 1920s, he descended into the crypt under the church in Wojsławice together with one of the curates and saw mummified bodies of baptised Frankist rabbis in glass coffins, dressed in traditional Jewish clothes.

Kapliczka św. Barbary przy ul. Grabowieckiej w Wojsławicach, 2012, fot. Paulina Kowalczyk, zbiory cyfrowe Ośrodka „Brama Grodzka - Teatr NN" - www.teatrnn.pl

Our house stood between the Catholic and Orthodox churches and; I used to see the old Orthodox parish priest every day, and the young Catholic priest would even visit us and joke with my dad, who was a Hasid. He tried on my dad’s coat one day and said that he would come to pray in the vestibule of the synagogue. One day, that priest took me to the church crypt, where I saw glass coffins, and inside them I saw figures of rabbis that looked as if they were made of wax and had grey beards. They were lying there there, wearing shtreimels, dressed in satin coats, wrapped up in silk straps.

Translated from: Yakov Tenenboim, W miasteczku moich rodziców i dziadków [In the town of my parents and grandparents], in: Izker-buch fun der jidiszer kehile Wojslawic [Yid. Yizkor book in memory of Wojsławice], Tel Aviv 1970, Polish translation by Yaron Karol Becker.

“For the Lord will rebuild Jerusalem”

The above inscription is visible at the top of the eastern wall of the synagogue. The numerical values of the Hebrew letters used in this inscription make up the number 1903 – the year when finishing work on the new synagogue building were completed. The construction of the synagogue started in 1890, after the fire that destroyed its wooden predecessor. During the German occupation it was converted into a stable and a grain warehouse. At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, the local authorities of Wojsławice renovated the building of the former synagogue for the purposes of the library and the registry office. Today, the building houses a memorial room with exhibits evoking the town’s multicultural past. It is worth going inside to see the wooden vault over the main hall.

Na szczycie wschodniej ściany wojsławickiej synagogi widnieje hebrajski napis „I odbuduje Pan Jeruzalem", 2015, fot. Monika Tarajko, zbiory cyfrowe Ośrodka „Brama Grodzka - Teatr NN" - www.teatrnn.pl

Next to the synagogue there is an inconspicuous looking wooden house, which used to one floor higher. The rabbi of Wojsławice used to live in it. For over a half of the 19th c., the rabbi performing his duties in Wojsławice was Dawid London. His sons, Berko and Arie Lejb, took rabbinical posts too – in Wojsławice and Luboml. History also records his grandson Dawid Wejtsfrucht-London, who became mayor of the town of Luboml in 1915, during the Austrian occupation. Other local rabbis were Pinkas Bodensztejn, Meir Wajnsztajn, and Szyja Klajnminc. The last rabbi of Wojsławice, Jakow Cytrynboim, died in October 1942 in the Sobibór extermination camp, together with a majority of the town’s Jewish population.

In the empty square on the west side of the synagogue there was a Beit Hamidrash, built in 1780 under the privilege granted by Marianna Potocka’s daughter, Humbelina Kurdwanowska. Because the town fell into economic decline after the expulsion of the Jews and the departure of the Frankists, the new lady of Wojsławice issued a document reading as follows: “Therefore, seeking to turn this decline so great […] into a restoration of the town of Wojsławice, I see fit not only to permit the merchants, proprietors, traders, and craftsmen of all trades who are of Jewish faith and wish to become my subjects, live in my domain, and adopt my rule in […] Wojsławice not only to buy plots and houses […] and to build them, but also to give them assistance to do so most easily and commonly. […] I hereby grant and proclaim, in the said areas, the freedom of establishing a synagogue and clergy with authority and power of other towns to elect one from among their number to serve as a rabbi with the same privileges as in other neighbouring towns […] to build a school in the designated location, and cemeteries in the old location are instantly permitted, […] the maintainance of fairs and markets is allowed, in accordance with the old law, for all Wares to be sold freely and without restriction. Unlimited licence is granted to make all kinds of alcoholic beverages and liquors in any quantities and to serve those, as well as to provide horse feed and hay at inns.” The okopisko – the old Jewish cemetery set up in the 16th c. that is mentioned in the privilege – has not survived. At present, it is possible to visit only the devastated site of the new cemetery, established in the 19th c., located on a hill about 200 metres from Grabowiecka St. Only small remnants of gravestones can be found in it.

Arcaded houses

To this day, there is a line of arcaded houses in the western side of the town square – the only surviving complex of buildings of this kind in the Lubelskie Voivodeship. The buildings in their present form were erected in the early 1920s, but we know from documents that arcaded houses had stood here, on building plots unchanging in shape, since the time of the town’s chartering in mid-15th c. The arcades gave protection against sunlight and rain; they also served as a showcase, the place for the craftsmen and merchants living in these houses to display their commodities and meet clients.

Zabudowa podcieniowa na rynku w Wojsławicach, 1935

According to the map included in the Yizkor book in memory of Wojsławice, one of the arcaded houses housed a cheder.

In melamed Dawidek's cheder there stood two long benches, on which children would sit while the rebbe would teach them to read in Hebrew and to pray. He had two assistants, who helped him to bring the children there every day. On rainy days, when there was deep mud in the town, the assistants would carry the children on their backs. At the cheder, they also helped the teacher to teach the first-graders, indicated letters on the alphabet board with a pointer, and taught them capital letters. It sometimes happened that, when an assistant proceeded to explain to us what segol alef and segol mem were, suddenly there was a piercing sound of a goat bleating outside: meeeeeeh! We felt sympathy for the assistant, who had to struggle with all his might to outcry the goat. And so we learnt vowel signs in no time at all. The goat helped them to become engraved in our memory.

At that time, there was not a single child in the town who did not learn at melamed Dawidek's cheder.

Translated from: Mendel Schaffer, Moje sześćdziesiąt lat w Wojsławicach [My sixty years of life in Wojsławice], in: Izker-buch fun der jidiszer kehile Wojslawic (Yid. Yizkor book in memory of Wojsławice), Tel Aviv 1970, Polish translation by Monika Zabłocka.

Around the town square

The building currently towering over the central square of Wojsławice is the new town hall, opened in 2014. Its form and location resembles that of the old Renaissance town hall, which was destroyed in 1915 by the Russian army using the scorched earth tactics while retreating from the Kingdom of Poland. Until the times of World War II, the town square was a marketplace that would fill up with people wearing various clothes and speaking different languages every Wednesday.

Rynek w Wojsławicach w dzień targowy, lata 30. XX w., fot. K. Czernicki, zbiory Stowarzyszenia Panorama Kultur
According to the data from the 1921 census, the population of Wojsławice at the time included 1187 Catholics, 444 members of the Orthodox church, 3 Evangelicals, and 835 followers of the Jewish faith. Both Christian and Jewish inhabitants recall their generally peaceful coexistence in the town.

The houses around the town square were mostly inhabited by Jewish craftsmen and merchants. In the north side of the square there was a bakery, run by Chana Erlich. Her son, Chaim Jankiel, joined the 3rd Brigade of the Polish Legions at the age of 17 and covered the entire combat trail with it. He was awarded the Cross of Independence and the Cross of Valour and served in the Polish Army until 1932.

World War II and the Extermination of the Jews

In October 1939, Soviet troops entered Wojsławice first and German troops took over the town two weeks later. The synagogue and prayer houses were desecrated and the Jewish inhabitants were constantly persecuted. In autumn 1942, the Jews living in Wojsławice were forced to walk to Chełm, on foot, in order to be deported to the Sobirór extermination camp. The deported group was led by the last rabbi of Wojsławice, Jakow Cytrynboim. The several dozen people who avoided deportation were soon shot in the meadow behind the bakery. In 2015, thanks to the cooperation of the Society of Enthusiasts of Wojsławice with the Rabbinical Committee for Jewish Cemeteries, the exact place of their burial was found.

Present day

Currently, Wojsławice has about 1,500 inhabitants. The Orthodox church building has returned to the Orthodox parish in Chełm and occasionally serves religious purposes. As regards the synagogue, the local authorities have established a Memorial Room in it. The local multicultural heritage is also present at the Meetings of Three Cultures festival, organised since 2007 by the Society of Enthusiasts of Wojsławice. A few agritourism farms function in the vicinity, such as Dom Gościnny in Stary Majdan, awarded the title of “The Tourist Gem of the Lublin Region” in 2013. A fair takes place every Wednesday, as in the past.

Authors: Paulina Kowalczyk, Emil Majuk

Currently the most famous inhabitant of Wojsławice, well known across Poland, is Jakub Wędrowycz – a fictional character from Andrzej Pilipiuk's fantasy novels. In the scenery of actual streets and places in Wojsławice, this local moonshiner and amateur exorcist fights against the forces of evil lurking and threatening the town’s inhabitants.

When driving out of Wojsławice in the direction of Lublin, one will see a monument to him on the right, carved out of wood by local artist Ryszard Staiński. Each summer holiday there is a rally of Jakub Wędrowycz fans in Wojsławice, organised by the Society of Fantasy Enthusiasts “Citadel of Sirius.”

Sites to see

  • The town’s urban layout (15th c.)
  • Parish church complex: the Church of St Michael the Archangel (1595–1608), the belfry (1763), and the presbytery (1840), 100 Rynek St.
  • Former synagogue, currently a memorial room (1890–1903)
  • Prophet Elijah Orthodox Church (1771), the bell tower next to the Orthodox church (1914), Rynek St.
  • Votive chapels located by the exit roads, dedicated to St Barbara, St Michael, St Thecla, St John of Nepomuk, and St Florian (1762)
  • Arcaded houses in the town square, the last surviving complex of arcaded houses in the Lubelskie Voivodeship (1920s)
  • Parish cemetery (1793–1803)

The vicinity

Under a layer of loess soils there are deep chalk deposits from the time when the areas around Chełm constituted the bottom of an ancient ocean.

Uchanie (8 km): the castle hill; the Church of the Assumption of the BVM (1625); Jewish cemetery in Podgórze St. (16th c.)

Bończa (10 km): a Calvinist church, currently St Stanislaus’ Church (1577); the Orthodox Church of Our Lady of Good Protection (1877–1881); an early medieval fortified settlement; a palace and park complex, currently a residential care home (18th/19th c.)

Grabowiec (13 km): the remains of a medieval castle; a wooden house, former seat of the Municipal Culture Centre (1898); St Nicholas’ Church (1855); the parish cemetery (1792–1798); a mass grave of 30 Jews murdered in 1942, located in a gorge outside the town; the local Regional Museum; Władysław Czachórski’s grave in the churchyard

Sielec (15 km): the remains of the Uhrowiecki Castle (14th c.); the manor house of the Rzewuski family, currently a primary school (2nd half of the 19th c.); a column with a figure of the Mother of God (2nd half of the 17th c.)

Kraśniczyn (15 km): a Jewish cemetery (mid-19th c.); remains of manorial buildings at the curve of the Wojsławka River; the inn, currently a private house, Kościuszki St. (1895)

Surhów (22 km): the Cieszkowski Palace with wall paintings by Nicola Monti, currently a residential care centre (1st half of the 19th c.); the Church of the Visitation of the BVM and St Luke (1820–1824)

Chełm (29 km): Chełm Hill (Górka Chełmska): a fortified settlement (14th c.), foundations of the Orthodox Church of Sts Cyril and Methodius (1884); the cathedral complex on the Castle Hill (Góra Zamkowa): the Basilica of the Nativity of the BVM (1735–1756), the Basilian Monastery, the Uniate Bishops’ Palace, Uściługska Gate (1616); the municipal Beit Hamidrash, 8 Kopernika St. (1914); a Jewish cemetery (15th-16th c.); tenement houses in Lubelska St., incl. Majer Bronfeld’s print shop; the former Piarist Church of the Dispersion of the Apostles (1753–1763); the Orthodox Church of St. John the Theologian (1846–1849); the Kretzschmar Palace, currently the Wedding Palace (Registry Office; ca. 19th c.); Chełm Museum; Chełm Chalk Tunnels

Strzelce (24 km): the Du Chateau family manor (1908–1911); the hunting palace of the Zamoyskis in Strzelce-Maziarnia (1903)

Depułtycze Królewskie (28 km): a wooden Uniate church, currently All Saints’ Church (1774); early medieval kurgans with a grave from the time of the January Uprising

Hrubieszów (32 km): the thirteen-dome Orthodox Church of the Dormition of the BVM (1873); “Du Chateau” manorial complex, currently the seat of the Staszic Museum (ca. 18th c.); the Gołachowski family manor (19th c.); the Kiesewetter family manor (19th c.); the cloth hall, known as sutki (mid-19th c.); the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (1905); the Dominican Monastery complex (18th-19th c.); a Jewish cemetery (16th c.); the Jewish hospital building, 31 Partyzantów St. (1844)

Horodło (35 km): Dominican Monastery complex (17th c.); wooden Polish Catholic Church of the Resurrection of Our Lord (20th c.); the former Orthodox Church of St Nicholas and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. (20th c.); the Union of Horodło Mound (1861); Jagiellonian Embankments, a fortified settlement on the Bug; remnants of the new Jewish cemetery (1st half of the 19th c.)

Dubienka (37 km): town hall (1905); a Byzantine (Ruthenian) Catholic church (19th/20th c.); Most Holy Trinity Church (1885); the Jewish cemetery with the tomb of Tzaddik Uri Feivel (16th/17th c.)

Dorohusk (42 km): the Suchodolski Palace (18th c.); the Church of the Mother of God and St John of Nepomuk (1821)

Strzyżów (42 km): the Lubomirski Palace (1762–1786); former wooden Uniate Church of the Nativity of the BVM (1817); a complex of sugar mill buildings (1899)

Komarów-Osada (43 km): a Jewish cemetery near the road to Tyszowce (1st half of the 18th c.); a memorial to 248 Jews murdered in the local ghetto; Holy Trinity Church (1904–1911); the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows and St John the Evangelist (ca. 18th c.)

Świerże (46 km): the Church of St Peter and St Paul (early 20th c.); remnants of the Jewish cemetery (2nd half of the 18th c.)

Kryłów (52 km): remnants of the Ostroróg Castle (16th/17th c.); the Church of the Nativity of the BVM (1859–1960); a Jewish cemetery (17th c.)

Tyszowce (54 km): St Leonard’s Church (1865–1869); craft-related buildings (2nd half of the 19th c.), Zamłynie St. and Jurydyki St.; a memorial to the Confederation of Tyszowce; the new Jewish cemetery 19th/20th c.)

Volhynian Polesie: a belt of land east of Chełm as far as Ukraine, with 3 landscape parks and 12 nature reserves

 

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