Rosa Luxemburg in her teens (c. 1885) and modern-day Zamość, Poland. The city was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.
On 5 March 1871, Rosa Luxemburg was born in the small Polish city of Zamość, which had a population of less than 10,000. Despite it’s size, Zamość played an important role in the history of the Polish Jews, as the second city of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) in Poland.
It is renowned as the birthplace of three great Jewish figures, all different but united by their home city and their contribution to Polish history ; Aleksander Zederbaum (1816- 1893), Isaac Leib Peretz (1852- 1915) and Rosa Luxemburg (1871- 1919).
Aleksander Zederbaum left Zamość as a young man and moved to Odessa, where he became a leader of the Haskalah movement, which sought to reform and modernise Judaism. Writing in Hebrew, Polish, Russian and German, he spread his ideas and the Haskalah, achieving influence not just among the Jewish population but even with the Tsarist authorities, whom he lobbied to prevent injustices against the Jews.
I. L. Peretz and Zamość City Hall
Isaac Leib Peretz (1852- 1915) lived in Zamość until 1888, when he moved to Warsaw. He is recognised as one of the greatest ever writers in Yiddish and Hebrew, and many of his stories are set in Zamość. At the time of his death in 1915, Peretz was the most important and popular Jewish writer in eastern Europe. His funeral in Warsaw attracted around 100,000 mourners.
Count Jan Zamoyski (1542- 1605), founder of the city of Zamość
Zamość was founded by Polish landowner Count Zamoyski in 1580, and Jews were part of the new city’s population almost from the start. The Count granted a community of Sephardic Jews, from Turkey, Italy and Spain, permission to reside in his city in 1588. They had built a Synagogue by 1620 and during the 17th century, the community flourished, alongside Poles, Armenians, Greeks and others. An important trade centre, Zamość grew during the 17th and 18th centuries, and its Jewish population evolved as some Sephardic families left, and Ashkenazi Jews arrived.
At the time of the First Partition of Poland in 1772, there were around 1,000 Jews in Zamość (about a quarter of the city’s population). The partition saw the city fall under the control of the Austrian Empire, but following the Napoleonic Wars Zamość was taken by the Russians, who formed the Kindgom of Poland, with its capital at Warsaw but ruled directly by the Russian Tsar. Zamość remained a part of the Russian Empire until 1918.
During the Russian period (1815- 1918), the Jewish population of Zamość suffered official and cultural anti-Semitism, yet it continued to develop and grow. By 1897, there were 7,040 Jews (62.9% of the city’s population). The city’s inhabitants, Poles and Jews alike, participated in the Polish uprisings against Russian rule in 1830 and 1863. The Jews of Zamość were renowned as particularly well-educated and produced outstanding writers, doctors and intellectuals.
Rosa Luxemburg’s father Eliasz and the Zamość Synagogue.
Rosa Luxemburg’s family were part of the merchant class who embraced the Haskalah movement and supported it financially and with the written word. Her father Eliasz and grandfather Abraham were prominent members of the Jewish community, as businessmen and educated proponents of the reform of the Jewish religion and traditions.
In 1873, when Rosa Luxemburg was two years old, her parents moved to Warsaw and never returned to live in Zamość. Other relatives remained there though, and there were Luxemburgs living in the city until the Second World War. During the later 19th and first half of the twentieth-century, Zamość’s Jewish community continued to grow and prosper, with the Synagogue, library, educational institutions, social and sports clubs and various political organisations (including Bundists, Socialists, Zionists). In 1918, Zamość became part of the newly independent Polish Republic.
Jewish forced labour in Zamość’s famous central city square, c. 1939- 42
Jews in the Zamość Ghetto, c. 1941- 42
Deportation of Jews from Zamość, probably 1942
In 1939, there were around 12,000 Jewish residents in Zamość, around half of the city’s population. When Poland was invaded by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that year, many of Zamość’s Jews fled east, hoping that they would be safer with the Soviets than the Nazis. The Nazi occupiers forced those Jews who remained in Zamość into a ghetto, where they were joined by Jews deported from Germany, Czechoslovakia and other parts of Poland. In Spring 1942, many of the inhabitants of the Zamość ghetto were deported to the Belzec death camp, where they perished. On 16 October 1942, the remaining survivors in the ghetto were forced to march twenty-five miles to Izbica, from where they were also transported to Belzec death camp. Following liberation in 1945, around 300 Jews returned to Zamość, mainly from the Soviet Union, but were unable to remain there because of murders and attacks by Polish antisemites. Most emigrated to western Europe, north America, Argentina and Israel, where their descendents now live.
In 2011, the Zamość Synagogue was fully restored and re-opened, to serve as a cultural centre, with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski as honourary patron.
Sources and Links:
M. W. Bernstein, (ed.) and J. S. Berger (trans.), Pinḳes Zamoshṭsh [Pinkas Zamość]= The Zamość Memorial Book: a memorial book of a center of Jewish life destroyed by the Nazis: published at the fifteenth anniversary (1942- 1957) after the first slaughter of the Jews of Zamość (USA: NJ, 2004)
Professor Wacław Wierzbieniec, “Zamość.” YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe: http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Zamosc
‘Zamosc Ghetto’ at Holocaust Research Project: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ghettos/zamosc.html
The Israeli Ogranization of Zamoc Jewry: http://zamosc-jews.com/wb/pages/en/news-and-events.php
Remember Jewish Zamość: http://chelm.freeyellow.com/zamosc.html