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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Belz - Cultural Heritage Card

Belz is a small city of regional importance in Sokal district of Lviv region. It is located on the rivers Solokiya and Rechytsia (Zhechytsia) — the Western Bug river tributaries belonging to the Baltic Sea. 3 kilometers from city is located the Ukrainian-Polish border, distance to Chervonograd is 12 km, to Sokal — 25 km.

There are several versions of the name of the city. According to the most common one, the name of the city comes from the old word "belz" or "bevz", meaning swampy, wet area, the same word in Boyko dialect means "impassable" "hardly passable", "wetland". Another hypothesis links the city name to the ancient the word "blyz» (white place, meadow among the dark forest). All these versions are sufficiently plausible and transmit natural conditions, where Belz is located.

Belz, оld buildings
Belz, оld buildings (Author: Zagreba, Viktor)

HistoryDirect link for this paragraphGo back to indexGo back to index

The history of the city is very long. The first mentioning of Belz comes from the "Tale of Bygone Years" (Pověstĭ Vremęnĭnyhŭ Lětŭ), which says that in 1031, the Kyiv Prince Yaroslav the Wise defended the castle against the Poles. The city was founded on the peninsula situated between two rivers — the Solokiya river and the Rechytsia. From the north, near the Plateau Vyzhyna Volynska, from the south — Male Polissya with numerous rivers and streams. Trade routes lead to the city of Krakov, Galych, Kyiv, and also to the Baltic countries. Belz, along with the fortified suburbs was a typical defensive city, characteristic of the eastern territories. It quickly became the capital of the princedom. In north the outpost of Belz land was Vsevolosk in the south — Busk.

Today, the remnants of the old city are in the area of Zamochok, on the left bank of the Solokiya river. The strengthened part of the settlement consisted of two parts — the city (fortress) and the suburbs, where the fortifications with a moat and ramparts were preserved. The city of 4 ha was surrounded by defensive ramparts, consisting of wooden logs, fortified with ground. The suburbs located on the southeast side of the city (with an area of about 3 hectares) had a defensive wall on three sides. Some historians believe that the city existed before 1030. Belz is one of the oldest cities not only in Ukraine but the whole of Eastern Europe. In the heyday of Kievan Rus the city was its western outpost. Between the XI and XVII centuries Belz was one of the largest cities of the Galician Rus, an important political center with developed trade and crafts. The city was of great importance in the region. In 1170 he became the capital of the Duchy of Belz. In the years 1189-1382 Belz land belonged to Galicia-Volyn princedom. In 1233-1241 Danylo (Galician) ruled the princedom. Then, in 1241-1245 it was ruled by Vsevolod Oleksandrovych, the following princes were of the Romanovych dynasty — Lev Danilovich (1245-1269) and Yurii Lvovych (1269-1301). In the years 1352-1377 the city belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. 1383-1387s were the period of the reign of Prince Jurgis Naramantaitis. Twice, in 1352 and 1366 respectively, Belz was captured by the Polish kingdom. In the years 1377-1382 the city was ruled by the governor of the Hungarian kingdom. At this time, the Polish prince Władysław of Opole received Magdeburg right for the city from King Ludwig I the Great. At the end of the XIV century Belz finally becomes part of the Kingdom of Poland. In 1388 King Władysław Jagiełło gave the territory to Prince Mazowiecki Semovitov Semovitovych (ruled during 1388-1426). In 1402 the land portion in Belz was received by the Dominicans. They built a church complex that survived until today. In 1462 Belz princedom was eliminated, and the city became the capital of the province. In 1499 and 1502, respectively Belz was burned by the Tartar army. In 1590 the congress of the Ruthenian bishops of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in Belz, where were defined the conditions of the Orthodox union with the Catholic Church. Due to competition from other cities (Rawa Ruska, Zhovkva Krystynopil) Belz was partially losing its political and administrative significance and was converted into a small commercial-industrial city.

Belz Jewish community was founded in the late XIV century. A the first documentary records of Belz Jews relate to 1469 and 1494. Jews settled in the suburbs of Lublin, where their ancient cemetery is preserved till present time. In 1570, the city had already 20—25 Jewish families, a wooden synagogue, mikvah and other public buildings were built. In 1665 Belz Jewish community achieved equality in rights and duties and since then active in entrepreneurship Jews occupy the area of the market and the city center.

In 1648, during the Khmelnytsky Uprising, Belz was surrounded by the troops of Cossacks who took ransom from the city. In 1704, during the Northern War, Belz was destroyed by Swedish troops. After the first partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772, Belz became part of the Habsburg monarchy. In 1816 Belz became one of the centers of Hasidism in Galicia and the seat of the famous Hasidic dynasty. In 1831 Solomon Rokah settled in the city — the founder of the new after the dynasty of old-law rabbis Adlers (Samuel, Bayle, Aaron and Khaimah), Belz dynasty of Hasids-rabbis. From 1859 till 1931, and over half the population of Belz were Jews. In 1880 Jews were 2,135 of the city's population (51.7% of the total population) in 1900 — 2,872, in 1910 — 3625 (60.2%) in 1914 — 3600 Jews, 1600 Ukrainians, 900 Poles.

In 1914-1915 the city was occupied by Russian troops and was part of the Galician Governorate General. During the hostilities the city sustained considerable damage. After the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918 Belz was briefly ZUNR county town, and in 1919 it became part of Poland. In 1920s-1930s Zionist organizations were active in Belz, due to which part of Hasids repatriated to Palestine.
In 1939, after the Second World War, the city was occupied by the Red Army, and then, under the Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, has become part of the Governorate-General (1939-1945). Before including in the Third Reich, most Jews left the city and settled in the Soviet Union. Germans were evacuated from Belz before a new invasion of the Soviet army in 1944.

In 1944, the city was again in the borders of Poland. During the population exchange between the Polish People's Republic and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and after Operation "Vistula" all Ukrainians were evicted from Belz and the surrounding area. Resistance to UPA was done by the units that operated in that region. On March 24, 1944 the victims of their action was about a hundred Poles. Under the agreement on changing the borders on February 15, 1951 Belz was included in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in exchange for Ustrytskyi area which went to Poland. Belz Poles were then removed and the empty city was settled mostly by the Ukrainians of Ustrytskyi area and people were displaced from other regions of Ukraine and the USSR. The city became the center of Zabuzhanskyi region (since 1962 included in Sokalsky district) of Lviv region. Since 1991, Belz has been within independent Ukraine.

ArcheologyDirect link for this paragraphGo back to indexGo back to index

Belz belongs to one of the oldest known settlements of ancient Rus. Archaeological excavations were performed in Belz repeatedly. The first excavations were performed by Yaroslav Pasternak. He began his work in 1935 on "Zamochok" — the hill fort located on slightly raised point above the Solokiya river. In that year he managed to discover the remnants of wooden road and to receive important materials of the princely times. The next year investigation was conducted in area "Klymenschyna" which is located on the raised point of the right bank of the Solokiya river. Here were found the bases of the monastery and 37 burials were fixed, oriented heads west. Unconventional turned out one of the graves, where, as the researcher himself states, "... the head of the deceased, apparently a monk, lay on the stone of the same size as the head ..." which is characteristic of the burial ritual of the Basilians [Pasternak, 1961.]. Pasternak carried out the research in the area "Monastyrysche" in 1938. Here in the laid excavation, were found skeletons (34) with burial procedure similar to the burials of "Klymenschyna".

In a 1932 L. Chachkovskyi conducted the examination of Belz on which made a detailed topographical plan of the princely city.

On the territory of Belz city in 1980 in area "Zamochok" under unknown circumstances an amphora was found. The nearest analogies for the material described can be found primarily in the ceramic complexes of the Stzhyzhovska culture. These characteristic features of pottery as the tradition of decoration of earthenware with "brushes" of grass and rich ornamentation of vessels with reflections of cord and notches that form complex compositions, typical only of it. The above vessel should be refereed exactly to Stzhyzhovska culture.

The second vessel was found in the area Monastyrysche at the depth of 0.5 m in 1980. This is a small brown and gray pot. Such pots are fairly common type of cookware in Mezhanovitska culture, which appears in the early phase of this culture. However, the shapes with buttons at the top of dishes also occur on the monuments of other cultures. In particular, the monuments of gorodok-zdovbytska (Gorodok) culture. Thus, it is supposed that the material belongs to the Early Bronze Age period, perhaps to Stzhyzhovska and Mezhanovitska cultures. Important is the localization of the monuments since intact vessels forms indicate the existence of burial grounds or whole cemeteries.

From numerous researches the remains of houses with mud floors, pottery fragments and stoves have been found. Among the findings were particularly pottery work tools, axes, arrowheads, spurs, fragments of glass bracelets, pottery stall roller, products made of bone, seals for documents. The majority of the finds date from the XI-XIV centuries. Predominant among these are the materials of the XII-XIII century.

In 2009 archaeological research was conducted in the former monastery of St. Nicholas. A cemetery, an old settlement of the X-XII centuries and significant part of ceramics was found. In 2011-2012 archaeological research was conducted in the territory of historical monuments of local importance — the site of the Jewish religious center. The foundations and wooden constructions of Jewish ritual bath — mikvah were investigated.

Religious institutionsDirect link for this paragraphGo back to indexGo back to index

In the life of the Jewish community the center spot was a synagogue, and ritual bath (mikvah) and yeshiva. Great Belz Synagogue became a symbol of the spiritual life of the Jews not only in Galicia, but also the whole of Eastern Europe. Belz was to be the cornerstone, a place where new truths of the Torah open.

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Zionist organizations

In the early 1930s, Zionist organizations were created in Sokal, then young people who attended the organizations in Sokal established an organization in Belz. For example, "Torah and services" was originally in Sokal, and later was established in Belz. The founders were Isaac Mautner, Shmuel Spindel, Isaac Teller and Roth.

The branch of another Zionist organization that existed in Belz, was called "The Eastern Young Pioneers." Initially, only one woman belonged to the organization. But soon, as the organization expanded, more and more women joined it. The oldest member of the "Young Pioneers Oriental" was Lieber, he was elected the chairman of the branch. Later, the organization created "Bnei Akiva" in Belz. There were two groups that together numbered twenty members. Advisories were Moshe Hadari and Mirela Zifert. The organization held cultural events, studied Torah and Hebrew. Also, the members of the organization collaborated with the party "Unity" and other Jewish political parties.

Urban planningDirect link for this paragraphGo back to indexGo back to index

The first written mentioning of Belz belongs to 1030. In "The Tale of Bygone Years" it was mentioned that the city was re-conquered by Prince Yaroslav the Wise. The next record was in 1050 year, and in 1170 the city became the capital of the princedom. Another mentioning of Belz (1188) was associated with the struggle for power between the Russian princes. During 1207 — 1211 Vasylko Romanovych ruled in Belz, and from 1234 Belz princedom passed to the possessions of Daniel Galician.

During the XIV century the city belonged to different states — the Kingdom of Poland, Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Kingdom of Hungary. In 1340, after the death of the last Prince of Volyn-Galicia, Belz falls under the rule of Lithuanian princes, but in 1349 it together with other Volyn cities was won by the Polish king Casimir III the Great. However, the next year Belz was back in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Thus, in February 1351 Casimir III, with the support of the Hungarian King Ludwig I the Great and blessing of the Pope, goes to Belz. However, both kings cannot take the city. Next siege was in 1366 during the reign of Prince George Narymuntovych in Belz — also unsuccessful. In 1376, the city is again besieged the Hungarian king Ludwik the Great, which involved Polish troops that on the eve took Kholm. Belz Prince George Narymuntovych surrendered the city after seven weeks of siege — there was no hope for help from anyone. The lands around Belz and Kholm were annexed to Galicia and they were placed under the leadership of Prince Wladyslaw of Opole, who named himself "By God's mercy the Master and Didych of the Russian land." In the same year Ludwik gave Belz Magdeburg Law confirmed in 1509. In 1378, the King removed Vladislav Opole from the leadership, appointing a Hungarian governor in his place. Upon the death of the Hungarian king Polish nobility chose the daughter of the Hungarian King - Jadwiga as their Queen.

In 1388 the Polish King Wladyslaw Jagiello gave Belz princedom to Zemovyt IV, Prince Mazowiecki and Ruthenian Prince, who was married to his sister Oleksandra. During the reign of Mazovian Princes Belz was again built up as an important political center. In 1462 Belz with the surrounding lands finally joined the Polish Kingdom and became the center of the province. In 1497, during several days Prussian knights were standing at Belz who came to the aid of King Jan Olbrakht in its fight against Moldova. Simultaneously Belz, like most villages in Galicia, was going through difficult times — during raids of the Crimean Tatars for yasyr. In the XVI century Belz was a sufficiently developed city. Thus, in 1578 the city had 8 tailors, 19 shoemakers, 9 furriers, 20 bakers, 6 butchers, 1 goldsmith, 2 maltsters, 8 coopers, 2 locksmiths, 2 carpenters, 7 weavers, 2 bridle-makers, 4 blacksmiths, 2 boiler-makers, a saddler, a wheelman, a furrier, a sword-maker, 3 cartwrights, 2 bath attendants. So, altogether 96 craftsmen, masters — 410. The transition to Habsburg monarchy marked a new period of the city development.
Jews in Belz likely settled since the princely times, but the first record of it relates to 1469, which mentions judgment on debts. That is already at that time Jews played an important role in the economic life of the city. At first Jewish community tended to settle in the suburbs, but with the expansion of the walls of Belz in 1509, the Jewish section was within the city walls in the northwest part of the city center. In 1587 Belz Dominican Jews sold land for the construction of the synagogue. Temple was built of wood. At that time the city was largely made of wood. With the expansion of the Jewish community the first and second synagogues were built next to it. At that time temples and cemeteries could only be built with the permission of the royal power. In 1665, the city began declining, the Jews of Belz got the same rights as Catholics, and gradually occupies all of the downtown including the market square. However, the complete elimination of the previous restrictions on the construction of synagogues and cemeteries the Jews of Belz received due to the Tolerance patent on May 7, 1789, when Emperor Joseph II issued a decree according to which the difference between Christians and Jews was completely liquidated. After the great fire of 1806 when part of the wooden Belz was burned together with the chapels, at the expense of the family of rabbis Adler a new synagogue was presented. At this time a Jewish school was built. In 1830 in Belz was created a new dynasty of Hasidic rabbis – Rokah. During the first dynasty of tzadik Solomon Rokah (1799-1855) Belz becomes a place of pilgrimage. In fact the first mentioning of Solomon Rokah in the official documents of Belz was associated with buying real estate in the city. Solomon Rokah bouth up land plots near the Old Market in order to create Hasidism center. In the period between 1839 and 1845 years at the new location there appears a new brick synagogue, known as the Great Synagogue, and in 1849 Beth Midrash appears near it. In 1874, to the southeast of the Great Synagogue at the expense of Rabbi Zuher Ben Rokah Talmud Torah was established — a religious school, which taught the Torah — along with new house of rabbis Rokah. In the early XX century at the side of Lviv suburbs another synagogue raises funded by Faivel Taube. His son, also Faivel in 1909 founded the company Eshre Leo, whose goal was to support the sick and the poor. 1910 south of Market Society built a house of prayer Eshre Leo.

In the early XX century, the city became a place of pilgrimage from various parts of Galicia and Europe. In 1912, together with the pilgrims French writers brothers Jerome (1874-1953) and Jean Taro (1877-1952) traveled to Belz. The city struck them by its terrible mud. Taro dedicated the novel "The Shadow of the Cross"to their wanderings, which describes Belz. In September, the day before the first day of Tishrei and holidays Rosh Hashanah, which starr the Jewish year, pilgrims from various luggage unloaded on a small Belz station. To the city, that is up to several hundred low houses, one had to go three hundred meters through the riverbed. By wooden sidewalks they got to the Market Square, where in the mud stuck the carts of pilgrims who came from afar. A noisy crowd of beggars was wandering there. But the true, holy area of Belz was not the Market Square with caravansary but the area a few steps further — also waterlogged and with wooden sidewalks. There stood the house of Talmud Torah with a palace of rabbis. Its two tiers were amazing in this small city, built in level with the ground. In the depth of the square the Great Synagogue stood, decorated with fantastic attic, and nearby — Beth Midrash that once served as a library, a dining area and overnight stay for pilgrims. The dominant feature of Belz landscape was a church with baroque domes that resembled the presence of Christians in this small city of the Jews. The Hebrews of the city were distinguished by faith and traditions which they followed from time immemorial. Every day they remembered God, carrying out prescribed rituals. Coming in or leaving premises, they touched mezuzah with their fingers — a roll of parchment with a verse of Shema prayer, which was attached to the right jamb, and his forehead. Every Friday evening, at the sunset, the synagogue server went to Jews' homes and tapped wooden hammer on the door. This meant that it was the Sabbath and Jews were forbidden any physical and mental work.

According to the census of 1910 there were more than 3,400 Jews in Belz. At the beginning of World War I Belz was almost completely destroyed. Only burnt walls remained from the prayer house Eshre Leo, in Beth Midrash and Talmud Torah one third of the walls was destroyed, and in the Great synagogue in the years 1916-1918 an Austrian military hospital was located. Rebuilding Jewish holy sites occurred at the expense of the Rokah family, all the buildings were restored in 1930.

With the start of World War II the persecution of Jews began, the liquidation of organizations and physical elimination of the population of Belz. In 1942 Jewish shrines, including the Great Synagogue, Beth Midrash and Talmud Torah were destroyed. The ruins of these buildings were demolished in the Soviet times. To this day only the building of the societies of Eshre Leo cemetery and the remains with partly preserved matsevah were preserved. 

EthnographyDirect link for this paragraphGo back to indexGo back to index

Wedding ceremony in Belz

An important event for the city was wedding. Most often it was appointed in summer time, for rivh Jews lasted for 15-20 days. Musicians came 2-3 days before "chuppah" (wedding ceremony), sometimes stayed for a week after the wedding. Traditionally, on Jewish weddings instrumental music, dance and music for listening was played. The repertoire depended on the wealth of the family.

When meeting and seeing off guests played "Good night", for wishing health — "Zay gezunt." After the engagement (tna'im) and after the wedding (chuppah) sounded "Mazel tov" (Happiness to you), before chuppah — "Seating the bride" — "Bazetsn di Kale." At weddings people often danced at "Tish-nign" — table dance-tune, "Mekhutonim tants" — dancing of co-parents-in-law, "Broigez tants" — dance of grievance and "Sholem tants" — a dance of reconciliation. Among other wedding dances were "Beigele" (donut), "Hosid" (Hasid) Freilehs (joyful). For seeing off guests often sounded "gas-nign" (street melody), "skochna" and "cher". Unwounding the bride's braid was held under the sounds of violin, clarinet and contrabass. At the wedding, "chuppah-march" (wedding march) also played, after which everyone rejoiced and wept.

Belz — the city to which Messiah will come

There are beliefs according to which they thought Messiah had to come to Belz synagogue. Hasidic pilgrims visit the tombs of Belz rabbis which they consider wonderworking. It is believed that the coming of Messiah will begin from Belz synagogue.

Monuments of construction and architecture
In Belz nearly 50 historical and architectural monuments were saved, five of which are of national importance. The city has several historical pieces, each of which in its time played the leading role: Zamochok — the place where was old Belz founded, where once there was a castle, Downtown — the heart of the city with market square, city hall and monasteries, Lublin suburbs — home of the Jewish community.

Jewish monuments

All objects are kept at the level of the foundations laid of bricks, part of the walls lies at the depth of 20-30 cm under the ground.

The Great Synagogue

Between the years of 1839 and 1845 at the new location there appears a new brick synagogue, known as the Great Synagogue, and in 1849 it appears near Beth Midrash was built. The founder and architect of the Great Synagogue was Solomon Rokah. According to the legend, it was this temple that Messiah had to come down from heaven to in order to save his people. Not being a professional architect Rokah used the models of synagogues in other cities of Western Ukraine. Judging by the architectural style, the basic model was the synagogue of Zhovkva. In 1914, the famous architect Vladyslav Antonievych approvingly spoke of the chapel "among known for their architectural beauty Galician synagogues honorable place is taken by the brick temple in Belz. In the design it is similar to the synagogue in Krakow, Leszno, Zhovkva — by the general scheme with cross domes, relying on stone pillars." The Great Synagogue was built of brick. The old synagogue was blown up during World War II, the remains of the walls were demolished in 1951.

Opposite the Great Synagogue on the west side was built Beth Midrash (house of wisdom) — a Jewish school with library. It was a building in classic style, which with its object-composition solution of the matched the synagogue. Beth Midrash resembled a square in its shape. The main volume of the room was occupied by a prayer hall, from the west and to the north two-level rooms of the gallery were adjacent to it.
Mikvah was preserved until today. Opposite mikvah once there stood a large synagogue, today at this place a memorial wall was built. Today, hotel for pilgrims was attached to mikvah.

New Synagogue

It was built opposite the cemetery together with a house for pilgrims.

Prayer house and poor company "Eshre Leo"

Prayer house in the city center, where there was the company supporting the sick and the poor "Eshre Leo" (1910), is now in disrepair. The wooden tower bent down. The house stood on the corner of the former Torgova and Kushnirska Street in 1909 at the expense of influential Belz inhabitant Faivel Taube. Taube was the founder of "Eshre Leo". The prayer house received its modern view due to rebuilding after World War I. Originally it was a sound synagogue building with expensive magnificently decorated altar.


Here three members of the famous dynasty of Belz tzadiks were buried: Solomon, Joshua and Itssahar Rokah. In 1817 Solomon Rokah settled in the city — the founder of the new, after the dynasty of old-law rabbis Adlers (Samuel, Bail, Aaron and Khaim), Belz dynasty of Hasids-rabbis. Aharon Dov, Belz tzadik in the fourth generation, survived the Second World War and settled in Israel. In the summer of 2007 sacred for Jews kirkut, where several generations of Belz tzadiks Rokahs were buried, was fenced by brick fence with a sign "sacred place." Every year many pilgrims come here.

Other attractions

Dominican Fathers Monastery

Dominican Order came to Belz in 1394 at the invitation of Prince Zemovit. Soon a wooden church and cells were built in the city. In the middle of the XVI century they were replaced with the stone ones. The church was built as a three-part basilica with a transept and an elongated circular altar. The walls were reinforced with buttresses. During its existence, the building underwent re-buildings, the largest of which occurred at the beginning of the XVIII century. At this time the monastery tower was built, which is preserved till our time. The bell tower was built as a two-tiered baroque edifice, decorated with pilasters with Ionian capitals, volutes on pediments and on decor.

Along with the bell tower remained north cell building with four-level tower. The tower was built in the Baroque style and topped with a modern lantern. In 1920, a clock was installed on it, and the building itself was converted into the city hall. Today it hosts the city council of Belz. Both buildings were restored in 2006.
In 2004, on the third floor of the tower were found the only surviving mural paintings of the monastery. The remaining buildings of the monastery were lost in 1944. The Soviet artillery left only fragments of walls from the church itself.

The Church and Convent of Dominican sisters

The first wooden monastery was built in the Lublin suburbs of Belz, but in 1647 it was burned by the Tatars. On the eve of Tatar the raid the monastery bought land in the city near the monastery of the Dominican fathers. In 1635 works began on the construction of the church and the convent of the Dominican Sisters at the expense of Sofia Hodkevychivna. The convent was founded in 1635 under the privilege of Polish King Wladyslaw IV. Originally the church was built outside the city, but during the Khmelnytsky Uprising it was destroyed. And in 1653 new buildings of the brick church of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and wooden cell buildings, which were replaced by the stone ones in 1743. The church was built in the Baroque style. It had basilica form with two symmetrical towers on the facade. In the XVIII century in the niches on the facade were installed 4 sculptures of saints Ursula, Catherine of Siena, St. Rosalia and unattributed saint. The convent consisted of the church to which the convent cells were adjacent, built in 1743. The interior walls in XIX century were painted with oil paints in the style of Rococo.

Since 1772 Belz falls under the rule of the Habsburg monarchy, and in 1785, according to Josyfinska reform, the monastery was liquidated as a "not performing any useful work." The church was transferred to the Greek-Catholic community of the city and renamed into St. Nicholas church. From the wooden church of Holy Spirit iconostasis and individual icons were moved to the church. In 1861, the domes of the church of Holy Spirit were covered with copper and the church itself was covered with white plate. In 1893, a new iconostasis was installed, made by peremyshski painters. Since the XIX century here were located Greek Catholic parson, district court, school, notaries office, archive. In 1951, Usterik Dolishnih district in Bieszczady was exchanged for Zabuzkyi district (the center of which was Belz). According to the When moving, the Polish community took away the whole church structure and the parish archives. In the Soviet period the church was a warehouse. In 1991 it was returned to the Greek-Catholic community. St.Nicholas Church (the former Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary) remained in pretty good condition. In 1900 the church was painted by Lviv painter Mykhailo Boiarskyi. After the completion of these works, part of old images that came from the destroyed Belz churches were presented to the collection of the newly created National Museum in Lviv.

The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Chapel of St. Valentine

The church was built from 1906 to 1911 and took the name of St. Valentine. The architect of the new brick church was Kalikst Kryzhanivskyi. The temple was built in the modern style with elements of Gothic. The facade is asymmetrical, the tower is located to the right of the entrance. Cannon balls are immured in the facade of the, and on top of it inscription is engraved "O Mario Matko Boza Ratuj Nas". In the interwar period the church was used as a garrison one. In 1933-1938 by the project of architect Witold Rawski the construction of the whole church just complex was completed. In particular, in 1935 a new field altar of St.Valentine was installed, where a new copy of the icon is now stored. The field altar was built in the style of functionalism. In 1933 bell tower was built in the modern style with elements of Romanticism. It is two-leveled, brick, topped by a crown, resembling a chess rook. The facade contains one of the historic emblems of Belz — image of griffin. The tower is fairly well preserved.

The gate of the church was made in 1935. By its form it is a three-arch building. It shows another emblem of Belz — a artilleryman with a gun and a Latin inscription «Belz constant fidelis» (Belz always true). The gate like the bell is not restored, however well preserved. The Cross road was built the last — in 1938. It consists of brick walls with 14 stations. The two rear corners are accented with cornerstone chapels. Since 1939, when Belz, like all Poland was occupied by the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, there was the German border observation post, since the new border of the Third Reich with the Soviet Union was located along the Solokiya River near the church. Since 1951, when Belz moved from the Republic of Poland to the USSR, there the Soviet border garrison was located. Since 1991 the church was transferred to the Orthodox community, since then it received the name of St. Nicholas.

Arian Tower

it was built in 1606. Its intended purpose still arises debates. Some sources call it a chapel, others suggest that it was an arsenal. The building stands at the parish square and some time served as the archive of rural certificates transferred there from the castle cellar. During World War II the emblem, dating and other inscriptions were lost. Today the building is partially restored.

The wooden church of St. Paraskevi

The oldest survived church of Belz is the wooden church of St. Paraskevi Friday located in Lublin suburb. It is believed that this church goes back to the XV century but there are no direct documentary evidence of this. The tax register of 1472 mentions four churches, among which could be the Friday one. In the XVII century the church was mentioned in the context of the fight between the Uniates and the Orthodox for churches, at the same time under the decree of the royal commissioners St. Paraskeva was given to the Orthodox community. Since 1774, the church ceases to be parish and joins the City Parish Church of the Holy Spirit. It is used as a burial chapel because the Austrian government liquidated cemeteries at churches, and the only city cemetery was created around the church of St. Paraskeva. Until now, the church stands on the city cemetery. In 1896 the church underwent significant alterations — the porch was dismantled and replaced by a new one, almost equal to the width of the nave.

Market Square

City Hall

The exact date of construction of the first hall is unknown. In the schematic illustration of Belz of 1428 the City Hall was already depicted as a house with a tower crowned with a flag, but that does not give grounds to assert that the schematic picture may show at least a little resemble the real architectural forms of the City Hall. The first mentioning of Belz City Hall dates back to 1712. It was a wooden structure, which stood in the swampy middle of the market square. It was burned during the great fire in 1806. The Hall was rectangular in shape, with a large entrance gate, covered with a sloping roof without the tower. Which house was passed to the city government after the fire is also unknown. The next City Hall was built only in 1886. It was destroyed during World War I by the Russian troops in September 1914. Belz city administration moved to an old building of the monastery of the Dominican fathers. On the top floor of the tower of this building as a traditional element of the hall, a clockwork was installed with the bell round clockfaces and the windows. 

Moving sights
Connected with Belz is the history of Our Lady of Czestochowa, also known as Belz icon of the Virgin. According to legend, the icon was painted by Luke the Evangelist in Jerusalem on the table cover of the Holy Family. When and how the icon got to Belz is not known, but the first mentioning of the monument date back to the XII century. The icon belongs to the most famous and respected bot by Catholics and Orthodox icons of Poland and Central-Eastern Europe. Due to the dark shade of the face it is also known as "Black Madonna." During the war the icon was taken to Czestochowa.

Intangible assets
In the early XIX century Belz became one of the centers of Hasidism in Galicia. The city also became the seat of its own Hasidic dynasty, when Solomon (Shalom) Rokah moved here (1779-1855). Rabbi was called Sar Shalom, he was a pupil of Jacob Yitzhak Na-Jose (clairvoyant) from Lublin. Sar Shalom was Rabbi in Belz in 1817-1855. After the death of his teacher in 1815 he was recognized a tzadik. According to Shalom Rokah's initiative in 1843 Great Synagogue and Beth Midrash were built in Belz.

The current of Hasidism founded by Israel Baal Shem Tov in the middle of the XVIII century gained great development in the Eastern Europe. The basis of Hasidism was the study of the Torah and Kabbalah, and exceedingly great importance is held by tzadik — spiritual supervisor. Belz tzadik Rabbi Solomon Rokah spread old-law traditions in northern Galicia, Volyn and Hungary. Legends of the miraculous rabbis tell that their family originates from tzar David. Solomon Rokah distributed the old-law traditions among the Jewish people. It is believed that he had a gift of healing people (both Jews and Christians). The fame of miracle worker who helped in difficult moments, spread far beyond Galicia, Volyn and Bukovyna. Belz became a place of pilgrimage. Hundreds of Jews came to Belz to get blessing from Rabbi. He died in 1855. He was buried at the cemetery of Belz, among hundreds of Matsevahs in a small stone chapel. Jews came there in the important vital needs of with the request that the deceased pleaded for them before God.

The place of Solomon Rokah was taken by his son his Elizar Rokah. To strengthen Hasidism, he founded the program "Day and Night" aimed against the influence of secular education. He directed his followers to allegiance to the Torah and keeping the Commandments. Under the supervision of Elizar Rokah Belz became a center of spiritual inspiration. Due to his efforts the city obtained a house of Torah study (schools for boys, especially poor ones and orphans). After Elizar in 1894 leader of the Hasids became Issachar his son who was blessed for this mission by Solomon Rokah. Issachar continued maintaining the Jewish traditions and education, was the luminary of the leaders of Judaism in Galicia and Hungary. He was considered a miraculous rabbi. Like before, thousands of pilgrims were coming to Belz from different countries for blessing. Active community life of Belz was interrupted by World War I. Already in the first days of the occupation the Russian troops burned almost all the houses of the Jews in the market and the surrounding streets. Isahar Rokah had to leave Belz, by going to Mukachevo. Only later he came back.

Despite the difficulties, Belz community life gradually revived. Since 1926 the community was led by Aaron's (born in 1880), Issachar's son, assistant rabbi was his son Moshe Rokah (born in 1905). Aron Rokah went through persecution during World War II. In 1944 Rabbi Aaron moved to Tel Aviv and the center of Belz Hasidism was transferred to Jerusalem.

The dynasty of Belz rabbis:

Shalom Rokah (1779-1855, the first Belz rabbi from 1815)

Yehoshua Rokah (1825-1894, the second Belz rabbi from 1855)

Issachar Dov Rokah (I) (1854-1926, the hird Belz rabbi)

Aaron Rokah (1880-1957 the fourth Belz rabbi)

Issachar Dov Rokah (II), 1957 — the fifth Belz rabbi)

MuseumsDirect link for this paragraphGo back to indexGo back to index

State Historical and Cultural Reserve of Belz city. Address: Belz city, Savenka str., 1 tel. fax: (03257) 5-41-57, Email: [email protected]

Sites of memory
The execution place of the Jewish community is near the forest, next to the kirkut. The occupation authorities drove together the Jews to Belz from nearby settlements. Here was created a Jewish working camp. On June 2, 1942 about a thousand Jews were deported from Belz to Sobibor, in September — about 500. They all were killed. In 1944 the dilapidated Belz again became part of Poland, and in 1951 returned to the USSR. In 1945, 220 Jews returned to Belz. Almost all of them emigrated to Israel or to other countries in the late 1990s. 

Tourist infrastructureDirect link for this paragraphGo back to indexGo back to index

A pilgrimage center for Jewish visitors is built in Belz, located next to the mikvah. There is no other tourist infrastructure in Belz.


Author: Bozhena Zakaliuzna