One Small Town


Zolynia Centre in the late 1930s, just before the Second World War. On the left is the school and on the right is St. Jany Catholic Church, just north and east of the market square,


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Prior to the Second World War, there were over 20,000 shtetls in Central and Eastern Europe, little towns and villages with substantial Jewish populations. This is the story of Zolynia (Żołynia in Polish), just one of hundreds of small towns in rural southeastern Poland. It's on the highway between the larger towns of Lancut and Lezasjk, not far from the cities of Rzeszow, Jaraslow and Premysl. For two centuries, until 1942, people who were Jewish lived and worked in Zolynia and its surrounding villages. Today, there are no Jews there. Their shops are gone, their language is unspoken, their entire culture almost erased. Almost. This site is a memorial to them, a testimony to their existence, and to what happened to them.

Just prior to the Second World War, over 800 Jews lived in the Kehilla (Jewish Community) of Zolynia and more than a dozen surrounding villages. This is the world known by some of our grandparents and great–grandparents. If memory of that world disappears, it would be a victory for the Nazis who attempted to erase it.

This isn't a story just about Jewish people. The other people around them, Poles and Ukrainians and others, were part of their lives and part of the story, too. Since the 1990s, Żołynia there has been a growing desire, particularly among younger citizens, to uncover and examine painful and disturbing events that reshaped Poland. The relationships between the Jews and Gentiles of Zolynia were often complex, and sometimes there is no one correct answer to some difficult questions.

What happened in Zolynia isn't a unique story, but perhaps there are important lessons to be learned from what happened in this one small town, and thousands like it throughout Europe. Lessons about tolerance and acceptance. Lessons about the danger of leaders who work to convince a large majority that their problems are imposed upon them by a small minority. Or perhaps it's just a story about people placed in an impossible, horrible situation.

In any case, this site attempts to provide information in a factual, balanced manner, trying to avoid hysterics, exaggerations and generalizations. Not everyone will be pleased by some of what is presented. But as reknowned Polish-born writer Eva Hoffman suggested in her 1997 book, Shtetl:

…the truth and the past were far more striated, textured and many-sided than either nostalgia or bitterness would admit.

Belzec Memorial

Part of the original memorial at the site of the Belzec death camp, erected in 1957


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