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


NN Theatre

Dukla - guidebook

Ukr. Дукля, Yid. דוקלע

The town hall in Dukla
The town hall in Dukla (Author: Wejman, Wioletta)

On the Hungarian Route

Established in the 14th c, the town of Dukla gained in importance in mid-16th c., when a customs house on the route to Hungary was set up here. In 1588, King Sigismund III Vasa granted the town the right of wine storage, and from 1595 it was in Dukla that the customs on all the goods carried across the border had to be collected. The merchandise brought from the land on the Danube was mainly wine, but also beer, horses, dried fruit, cheeses, and iron. The goods carried in the opposite direction included cloth, yarn, hide, herrings, and honey. Hungarian wine trade was the main occupation of the first Jews who settled in Dukla at the turn of the 16th and 17th c. In 1676, 23 Jewish families lived here already. The Jewish community of Dukla was organizationally subordinated to the qahal in the nearby town of Nowy Żmigród. Information about an independent Jewish community (gmina) dates back to 1742.

A mention of Chaim, a rabbinic official from Dukla, can be found in the memoirs of Rabbi Dov Ber of Bolechów (Bolekhiv). In mid-18th c., Chaim was arrested in the Hugarian city of Miskolc after he had bought a large amount of wine for false coins. After a one-year investigation, it turned out that the coins came from the treasury of the Observants’ monastery in Dukla, where they had been contributed as alms from the nobility.


Traces of Dukla’s Jews

In 1758, a fire consumed the old wooden synagogue. An impressive new one of brick and stone was built in its place. The rectangular main hall measured 12 by 16 metres; on the west and north sides, the building was adjoined by extensions housing a porch, a library, and a prayer room for women. The synagogue was devastated by the Germans during World War II. What survives to this day is the walls of the prayer room with a stone portal and an alcove where there used to be the Aron Kodesh (Torah Ark). In some places it is still possible to discern traces of inscriptions with texts of Hebrew prayers.


Near the synagogue there also survives the building of a Beit Hamidrash (8 Cergowska St.), erected in 1884, after another fire of the town, on the initiative of Rabbi Tzvi Leitner. That fire, one of many that affected the town, destroyed not only the old Beit Hamidrash but also 104 houses of Jewish burghers and 6 houses of Christian burghers. A prayer house functioned in this building until 1940, when it was burnt down, and after the war it was converted and served as a storehouse for artificial fertilizers. At present, it houses a shop. Across the road, in the former mikveh (12 Cergowska St.), there is an emergency ambulance service, fire brigade, and voluntary mountain rescue service (GOPR) station. Another interesting memento of Dukla’s Jewish community is the building of the municipal nursery school (11 Kościuszki St.), founded by baron Maurycy Hirsch in 1895 as a four-grade Jewish primary school for boys. When visiting Dukla’s town square, it is also worth visiting the former rabbi’s house, which is currently a tourist house run by PTTK (Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society, 25 Rynek St.). It is possible to have dinner there or find affordable accommodation.

Former rabbi’s house in Dukla, 2014. Photo by Monika Tarajko, digital collection of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre –
Former rabbi’s house in Dukla, 2014. Photo by Monika Tarajko, digital collection of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre –


Under the Habsburg rule

In 1772, as part of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, Dukla was incorporated into the Habsburg Empire. Ten years later, the town became the administrative centre of the district (cyrkuł) established as a result of Josephine reforms, which gave an impulse to local development, but as soon as 1790 the centre was moved to Jasło and Dukla lost in importance. Wine trade continued, however, and the size and importance of the town’s Jewish community kept growing. In 1795, 574 Jews lived in Dukla. A century later – in 1900 – there were already 2,539 Jewish inhabitants here, who constituted 80% of the town's entire population, while the whole Jewish community (gmina) of Dukla had 3,046 members and possessed 3 religious schools, among other institutions.

Dukla was the birthplace of Józef Samuel Bloch (1850–1921) – a rabbi, a member of the Austro-Hungarian parliament, and a journalist fighting against anti-Semitism and false accusations of ritual murder.
Dukla was also the home town of Naftali and Gitel Rubinstein, parents of Helena Rubinstein – the founder of Helena Rubinstein Inc., a global leader in the cosmetic industry.


Turning mud into gold

In 1854, in the village of Bóbrka, located 11 km from Dukli, Polish pharmacist and inventor of kerosene lamp Ignacy Łukasiewicz together with his associates established the first oil mine in the world. Further oil mines and distilleries began to emerge. Jewish entrepreneurs from Dukla, such as Izaak Reich or M. H. Ehrenreich, were in the oil extraction and processing business too. With time, the deposits were depleted and the oil industry began to move to other places, but the first oil mine in Bóbrka continues to operate to this day. There is the Ignacy Łukasiewicz Museum of Oil and Gas Industry at the mine. The place also lies on the tourist route called the Oil Trail, which links sites associated with the emergence of the oil industry in south-east Poland and south-west Ukraine.


The Battles of the Dukla Pass

Town hall in Dukla, 1918-1936; collection of the National Digital Archives, Poland
Town hall in Dukla, 1918-1936; collection of the National Digital Archives, Poland

The Dukla Pass is a comfortable passage for merchants travelling across the Carpathians, but it was also a trail that armies used to make their way during the great wars of the 20th c. During World War I, in 1914-1915, the Austro-Russian front passed through the town several times. Soldiers of both armies killed during the fighting for the pass are buried in the military cemetery in Dukla. Further bloody fighting took place here in 1944 and also left a cemetery in the town.



In 1920–1939, a Communal Craft Guild functioned in Dukla that associated 58 handicraft workshops, including 15 shoemakers and 15 boot makers, 8 butchers and 8 ham and sausage makers, 7 bakers, 6 tailors, 3 carpenters, 3 hairdressers, 3 clockmakers, as well as blacksmiths and locksmiths, metalsmiths, coopers, as well as a glazier, a varnisher, a tuner, a painter, and a photographer. More than half of the master craftsmen in the guild – 38 – were Jews. Jewish craftsmen worked in the fields of shoemaking, bakery, butchery, hairdressing, clock and watch repair, and sheet-metal work. The only photographer in Dukla, Natan Laner, was a Jew as well. His studio was located at 4 Rynek St.


World War II and the extermination of the Jews

From the beginning of the German occupation, which started in September 1939, Dukla’s inhabitants, especially the Jews living here, faced persecutions. On the feast of Yom Kippur (22 September 1939), German soldiers dragged praying Jews out of the synagogue and beat them. A week later, during the feast of Sukkot, the Jews of Dukla were rounded up in the square in front of the palace and forced to pay a ransom; then they were ordered to leave the town and move across the San, to the Soviet occupation zone. Some of the Jewish inhabitants of Dukla did move to the USSR at the time, but a majority did not want to leave their homes and stayed in the town. In 1940, fire was set to the synagogue in Dukla. In June 1942, there were about 1600 Jews in Dukla, of whom 300 had been displaced from Polish territories incorporated into the Reich. In July 1942, the Germans ordered the Jews living in the nearby villages to move to Dukla, as a result of which further 600 people appeared in the town. In August 1942, Dukla’s Jews were again rounded up in the square in front of the palace, surrounded with barbed wire, and the liquidation of the ghetto began. A group of about 100 members of the Jewish intelligentsia were taken away in the direction of Tylawa and shot there, on the slope of the Błudna. About 200 strong and healthy men were sent to the forced labour camp set up near Dukla’s synagogue. The remaining group of about 2000 Jews – mainly women, children, and elderly people – were transported to the extermination camp in Bełżec. Prisoners of the labour camp were shot during work, and those who survived were transported in December 1942 to the ghetto in Rzeszów, where most of them were killed. About 150 of Dukla’s Jews survived the war.
In 1944, the Dukla Pass again became the site of fierce fighting – this time between the armies of the USSR and Nazi Germany. The war damaged 85% of the town's buildings.

In the village of Zyndramowa, 16 km from Dukla, there is the Lemko Culture Museum, whose exhibition since 1994 includes the house of the Oliners – a Jewish family from that village. This was made possible when, after many years, contact was established between Holocaust survivor Samuel Oliner, currently a professor at Berkeley, and Fedor Gocz, a Lemko, the founder of the museum. As a little boy, Samuel Oliner was a pupil at the cheder in Dukla, and in spring 1941 he witnessed the mass execution of Jews from the local ghetto. After the war, he left for the USA and made himself a name as a sociologist studying altruistic behaviours. What inspired Oliner’s choice of this particular subject matter for research was the experience of World War II, including above all the selfless help he received from Balbina Piecuch from the village of Bystra.



In the southern part of the town, by the Hungarian Route towards Barwinek, Jewish cemeteries are located. In the new cemetery, set up c. 1870 and situated closer to the road, surrounded by a wall, about 200 matzevot from the 19th and 20th c. have survived. Near the entrance, there is a memorial to the victims of the mass execution that took place in the cemetery in 1942. Slightly higher, there is the old cemetery, probably set up in the 18th c., with a few dozen matzevot surviving. The owner of both necropolises is the Jewish Heritage Protection Foundation.

The new Jewish cemetery in Dukla, 2014. Photo by Monika Tarajko, digital collection of  the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre –
The new Jewish cemetery in Dukla, 2014. Photo by Monika Tarajko, digital collection of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre –



Present-day Dukla is a small town inhabited by about 2,000 people, situated by a busy road to Slovakia. The enchanting place is an excellent base from which to explore the Low Beskid. The Society for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in the Dukla Region “The Shtetl of Dukla,” founded by a retired Border Guard officer Jacek Koszczan, looks after the town’s Jewish cemeteries, and each summer since 2012 it has organised the Days Jewish Culture in Dukla “To Save the Memory.” Among other initiatives, this non-governmental organisation also initiated the production of two amateur feature films about the Jews of Dukla – Why? and Conscience.


Authors: Paweł Sygowski, Emil Majuk
Judaika from Jacek Koszczan’s collection in Dukla, 2015. Photo by Emil Majuk, digital collection of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre –
Judaika from Jacek Koszczan’s collection in Dukla, 2015. Photo by Emil Majuk, digital collection of the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre –

Sites to see

  • Ruins of the synagogue (18th c.), Cergowska St.
  • Jewish cemeteries, Trakt Węgierski St.
  • The Mniszech Palace (16th–18th c.) with a park, currently the Historical Museum, 5 Trakt Węgierski St.
  • Observantine Monastery and Church (1761–1764), 5 Pocztowa St.
  • St Mary Magdalene’s Church (1765), 18 Trakt Węgierski St.
  • Town hall (17th c.), Rynek St.
  • Tenement houses (18th/19th c.)
  • Military cemetery and memorial to the fallen of the Battle of the Dukla Pass (1915)

Surrounding area

Trzciana (1.5 km): the hermitage of St John of Dukla (18th c.)

Tylawa (11 km): former Greek Catholic and subsequently Orthodox Lemko church of the western type (1784), currently the Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God; obelisk on the mass grave of people murdered by the Nazis in the forest at the foot of Błudna Hill behind the manor house

Bóbrka (11 km): the Ignacy Łukasiewicz Museum of Oil and Gas Industry; two functioning boreholes, “Franek” and “Janina,” a few caved-in oil wells and 8 wooden buildings (19th c.): a machine shop, a forge, boiler houses, pump treadmills, warehouses, administration and residential spaces

Nowy Żmigród (14 km): Jewish cemetery in Jasielska St. (17th c.); World War I cemetery

Barwinek (15 km): about 2 km north of the village there is an obelisk commemorating about 500 murdered Jews from Dukla, Jaśliska, and Rymanów

Zyndranowa (16 km): the Lemko Culture Museum

Jaśliska (18 km): Umgebinde wooden houses (mid-19th c.) in the market square; St Catherine’s Church (1724–1756)

Żarnowiec (18 km): the Maria Konopnicka Museum; a folk school with a restored former classroom (1886)

Trzcinica (36 km): open-air archaeological museum “Karpacka Troja”; the wooden Church of St. Dorothy (late 15th c.); a manor complex with an orangery (20th c.)

Jasło (39 km): the neo-Gothic Sroczyński Palace (1858); the Collegiate Church of the Assumption of the BVM (15th, 18th, 20th c.); the Church of St Stanislaus the Bishop (19th c.); the municipal park with a summer house with a figure of Aeolus; the Jewish cemetery in Floriańska St (19th c.) with a section for World War I soldiers, a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust and unmarked mass graves of about 200 victims killed in 1942.

Niebylec (49 km): a synagogue, currently a library (19th c.), with unique polychromes; a Jewish cemetery (17th/19th c.); the Machowski manor complex (16th c.); the Church of the Invention of the Holy Cross and the Assumption of the BVM (early 20th c.)

Brzostek (56 km): a Jewish cemetery (mid-19th c.); the former synagogue (late 19th c.), currently used by the School Complex; a memorial plaque to the town’s Jewish inhabitants on the town hall building; burghers’ apartment houses at the market square (18th–19th c.)

Wooden Architecture Trail: Route IV (Sanok-Dukla), comprising 13 buildings