Jewish Culture and Heritage in Lublin, Poland

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    Lublin has held a prominent position in the history of Hebrew and Yiddish culture for centuries, boasting the world’s largest Talmudic school during its heyday. Known as the “Jerusalem of the Polish Kingdom,” Lublin was the exclusive host of the country’s sole Jewish college.

    While Lublin endured significant destruction during World War II, its picturesque and historically rich Old Town has been meticulously preserved. It offers a captivating window into life in the 17th century, complete with a central city hall on Rynek Square, a Dominican church, well-maintained fortifications, and various city gates—all contributing to a vivid portrayal of the city’s illustrious past.

    Old Town, Lublin New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The district holds the prestigious status of being one of Poland’s officially recognized national historic monuments. Lublin is not only regarded as an appealing destination for foreign investment but also serves as a vibrant meeting point for a diverse array of individuals, including artists, scientists, students, and businesspeople from across Poland.

    Lublin’s Old Town is truly breathtaking, adorned with magnificent architecture, picturesque narrow streets, and a vibrant atmosphere. While the city is fascinating during the day, it truly becomes magical at night. The street cafes and their illuminated displays cast a golden glow, imbuing the arches with an almost irresistible allure. It feels as though they are beckoning you to step through and journey back in time to an era long gone by—seven centuries of history woven into the fabric of the city.

    Additionally, discovering the brass plaques set into the cobblestone streets, marking the boundaries of the ghetto during 1941–1942, serves as a poignant reminder of the city’s more recent history. In essence, Lublin is a gem of a Central European old town, compact in size but overflowing with enchantment, creating an indelible and cherished memory for anyone who visits.

    Old Town – Lublin New York Jewish Travel Guide

    A visit to Lublin would be incomplete without visiting the Maidanek camp, situated in one of the city’s suburbs. This camp holds immense historical importance as it houses the inaugural Mausoleum of Struggle and Martyrdom Museum and stands as Europe’s oldest memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism. Located on the grounds of the former German concentration camp, it serves as a poignant and powerful reminder of the atrocities of the past.

    Rollers for leveling roads – Maidanek camp

    Majdanek has been remarkably preserved, offering visitors an immersive experience of its original state. From the prisoners’ barracks with their cramped bunks to the displays of authentic prisoners’ clothing and piles of victims’ shoes, from the watchtowers flanking the barbed wire fences to the hauntingly preserved walls bearing the scratch marks of those who sought to escape, it’s as if time has stood still.

    Yet, perhaps the most harrowing aspect of Majdanek is the “hill of ashes” adjacent to the crematorium. This solemn mound serves as a poignant memorial, holding within it approximately 7 tons of ground-up human bones and ashes. These remains were painstakingly collected from the area, serving as a solemn testament to the countless lives lost.

    This museum stands as a powerful reminder of the immeasurable pain and suffering endured by the European Jewish and Polish communities during World War II and the profound impact of the Soviet liberation of the camp. It compels us to remember a chapter of history that should never be forgotten.

    Majdanek National Museum: The Mausoleum at Majdanek


    The Legend of Lublin’s Billy Goat

    When exploring Lublin, keep an eye out for an intriguing motif: a Billy Goat adorning lanterns, perched in an attic within the Old Town and prominently featured in the city center. This Billy goat, skillfully climbing vines, serves as Lublin’s proud coat of arms, with its origins rooted in a captivating legend.

    The tale recounts a time when Poland faced a Tatar invasion, and the young residents of what is now modern Lublin hastily fled their homes. Regrettably, they left without any provisions. Miraculously, a solitary goat remained in the defile—a benevolent creature that provided sustenance to the fleeing children, ensuring their survival. This iconic silver Billy Goat, with its gleaming golden hooves and horns, exudes an air of majesty. The grapevines encircling the Billy Goat symbolize fertility, while the Billy Goat’s upright stance on two legs signifies its power and strength. It’s a delightful treasure hunt to seek out this quintessential emblem of Lublin while exploring the city.

    Lublin Billy Goat – New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The Grodzka Gate-NN Theatre Centre, situated in Lublin, holds a vital role as a cultural institution under local government authority and is a significant landmark within the city. Historically referred to as the “Jewish Gate,” this structure served as both a boundary and a bridge between Lublin’s Christian and Jewish quarters, effectively connecting two distinct realms.

    In 1992, when the NN Theater established its presence within the Grodzka Gate, its members embraced a profound responsibility. They recognized that they had undertaken the noble task of preserving the collective memory of Lublin’s Polish and Jewish heritage. This relocation symbolized their commitment to safeguarding the rich historical legacy of the city and fostering a deeper understanding of its multicultural past.

    The Grodska Gate – New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The Memory Gate program in Lublin is dedicated to exploring the history of Polish-Jewish relations. It gathers articles, documents, and testimonies related to Lublin’s Jewish community. Over time, it has evolved to include artistic, educational, and publishing activities centered around Jewish cultural heritage.

    Lublin’s history includes a thriving Jewish community of about 43,000 individuals, symbolized by the 43,000 folders found at the Grodzka Gate Center. Tragically, most of these folders remain empty, containing only names, serving as a poignant reminder of the community that once thrived here. After World War II, only a tiny fraction, about 1/2 of 1%, of this population survived. The center also uncovered 3,000 glass negatives depicting Jewish life from the 1920s and ’30s, with only a few individuals identified—a stark reminder of the Holocaust’s profound impact.

    Standing in front of the life-sized photograph of Heino Ytomirski, the last image taken shortly before the war, I couldn’t help but feel deeply moved. Heino, a young Jewish boy born and raised in Lublin, met a tragic fate at the age of nine when he was executed in a gas chamber at the Majdanek concentration camp. Heino’s poignant story became emblematic of the Holocaust through an annual education initiative called “Letters to Heino,” which features letters sent to him by other children, ensuring his memory lives on.

    Adjacent to this moving display, a wall of remembrance eloquently narrates the stories of various survivors, preserving their memories for future generations. Additionally, a vast-scale model of pre-war Lublin offers a poignant snapshot of history, depicting the castle alongside the soon-to-be-demolished Jewish quarter and the Christian quarter, reminding us of the city’s rich and complex past.

    The 13th-century Lublin Castle offers a commanding view of the town and surrounding area. It’s one of Poland’s oldest preserved royal residences, with a history alternating between grandeur and decay. The castle served as a Tsarist prison for 128 years and, notably, as a Nazi prison during their occupation, witnessing the passage of 40,000 to 80,000 individuals. In a grim chapter, the Nazis executed 300 prisoners here before retreating in 1944. In 1954, the castle prison closed, and today, it’s Lublin’s top tourist attraction, housing the Lublin Museum.

    The Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva,

    The Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, founded by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, held a prominent place as a vital hub for Torah study in Poland. Lublin earned monikers like “Jewish Oxford” and “Polish Jerusalem” due to its enduring tradition of scholarly pursuits. The synagogue nestled within the magnificent six-story yellow edifice, inaugurated in 1930 under the auspices of Rabbi Shapiro, stands as a living tribute to the city’s profound legacy of scholarship and unwavering spiritual dedication.

    Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva is now a four-star hotel named Hotel Ilan, Lublin New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The Yeshiva, operational until the Nazi invasion in 1939, served as a place for young Orthodox men to engage in rigorous Talmudic studies, delving into intricate Jewish law. When the Nazis seized control of Lublin, they desecrated the interior and set ablaze the extensive library in the town square. Following the war, it briefly housed a medical academy but was eventually returned to the Jewish community in 2004. Its synagogue, an inspiring symbol of resilience, was fully restored by the Jewish community of Poland, marking the first such renovation since World War II. On February 11, 2007, it was reopened.

    On October 13, 2013, a four-star hotel named Hotel Ilan was inaugurated within the premises. The hotel offers 44 rooms, including four suites, a restaurant specializing in Jewish cuisine, a lobby bar, a conference center, and a spa. Its logo features the slogan “Feel the tradition.” Guests find it ideally located near Lublin’s historic center and shopping malls, boasting spacious rooms, outstanding kosher cuisine (don’t miss the soup and pierogi!), and a hearty breakfast. The hotel staff’s warm hospitality ensures a memorable and delightful visit.

    The Synagogue in Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva – New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The Old Cemetery of Lublin, often referred to as the “Jewish cemetery in the city center,” remained under the administration of the Jewish community and holds a significant place in Lublin’s history. Within the city, there were three such cemeteries, each with its own unique story.

    The first, a Jewish cemetery in Wieniawa, no longer exists but is remembered through photographs and a commemorative plaque near the present-day Lublinianka stadium.

    The “Old Jewish Cemetery,” located on Kalinowszczyzna Street and Sienna, remains a testament to the past. Around 60 Matzevot (gravestones) can still be found here, with the oldest Matzeva dating back to 1541 still standing in its original position. Within this sacred ground, one can also find an Ohel (grave) dedicated to the renowned Tzadik, Jacob Isaac Horowitz-Szternfeld, known as the Seer of Lublin, a prominent figure in the Hasidic movement and a disciple of Rabbi Elimelech of Lezajsk. Additionally, the cemetery houses the resting places of other esteemed rabbis, such as Rabbi Shalom Shakna (founder of the Talmudic school, 1558), Talmud scholar Yehuda Leybush ben Meir Ashkenazi (1597), and Rabbi Itzhak Aizyk Segal (1735). These hallowed grounds offer a glimpse into Lublin’s rich Jewish heritage.

    The Old Cemetery – Lublin New York Jewish Travel Guide

    The Matzevot at this Jewish cemetery is not only inscribed with Hebrew text but also adorned with a variety of ornamental designs that carry profound symbolic meanings. Additionally, there is a third cemetery known as the “New Jewish Cemetery,” located on Walecznych Street, which continues to be a place of burial to this day. This cemetery holds a poignant connection to history, as it is the final resting place of the ashes of children from the Jewish Orphanage at 11 Grodzka Street who tragically lost their lives in 1942 and were subsequently transferred to this sacred ground.

    The Grave of the Seer of Lublin in the Old Jewish Cemetery- New York Jewish Travel Guide

    For more information, visit:

    To plan a trip to Poland, contact the Polish National Tourist Office in North America or log on to: and

    Story and photography by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel Guide, and New York Jewish Guide

    The author took part in a press trip sponsored by the Polish National Tourist Office in North America.


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