Remnants of Jewish Zolynia

Jewish remnants

The 1938 map shows the color-coded location of some buildings that were important to the Jewish community still standing in Zolynia today. The red circle indicates the Jewish cemetery. Clockwise from upper left is (1) the mikvah (baths used for ritual purification by men on Fridays and women once per month). Today it is used as a kindergarten building. (2) The home of Rabbi Aron Kornreich, the last official rabbi of the Zolynia Kehilla. The house was reconstructed after the war, but the first floor is original. (3) The kosher slaughterhouse was a vital place to the Jews of Zolynia. This is where the women would bring chickens and other animals to be butchered strictly according to the Laws of Kashrut (kosher). The shocket, a specially-trained butcher, also rendered the animal's fat, a vital component in Jewish cooking.


A Close Community

For centuries, Jews in Poland were able to maintain their religion, culture and identity in large part through their own sophisticated system of community self-governance and enforcement of complex traditions and rituals. The lives of Zolynia's Jewish residents were organized around their religion and their responsibilities within the Jewish community.

They were subject to all civil laws, but on all-important social and religious questions, even the "settlers" in the villages at the edges of the Kehilla travelled into Zolynia to consult with the head rabbi. For more serious matters and disputes, there was a Bet Din, a religious court over which the chief rabbi of Zolynia presided. Each party in a dispute could present their side, often through an advocate with some religious training, and the court would rule on financial disputes, divorces and other civil matters.

The cohesive Jewish congregation taxed itself and pooled the money into mutual funds to help support its poor and its orphans, to bury its dead and even to provide interest-free loans to struggling shopkeepers to get by. By tradition, many families would invite a very poor person, even a begger or a total stranger passing through, to a Sabbath meal so that there would be at least one nutritious meal for them that week.

The detailed rituals also kept them somewhat separate from the Christians of Zolynia. They dressed very differently. The strict Jewish dietary laws made it almost impossible for Jews and Christians to share a meal at the same table. Jewish boys spent most afternoons after school in religious school. Jewish families did not keep animals in the house as pets, according to an interpretation of a passage in the Talmud, the book of laws and ethical interpretations.

For the very religious, even clipping one's nails involved a very specific ritual, once every week, never before Wednesday.

By the 1920s, Poland had mandatory military service and many of the Jewish men from Zolynia were being exposed to an utterly different lifestyle and culture. Some went to large cities for business transactions or to find work. The ideas of some of the Zionist and other Jewish political organizations stressed more modern, secular ideas about careers and the relationships between men and women that were at odds with those of Hasidic and Orthodox rabbis. Boys and young men shortened their peyos, long sidelocks of hair, so that they were hard to see, or shaved them completely. Pictures from family members in the United States and other countries showed loved ones in modern dress, further encouraged deviation from the old norms.

Prior to the Second World War, most young men in the town no longer wore beards and were completely modern in dress. Men and women worked side by side in some of the Zionist organizations. These things would have been almost unthinkable in the little town only a generation or two before.


Possible Jewish building

This building, shown in the 1960s, has been identified as having been owned by the Jewish community, but it appears to have been reconstructed since the war and has not been recognized by Jewish survivors. It was demolished in 1970 after being used as a dormitory for high school boys for over twenty years.

Downtown today

Streets have been straightened and there has been minor rearranging, but the basic configuration of Zolynia Centre remains intact today. Here are the locations of the same buildings (see left) on a modern street map. The red "S" is the location of the new synagogue, dismantled during the war.


More Information

The page entitled "Congregation Zholyn" contains details on the villages that were officially part of the Zolynia Jewish community, and about the Zolynia synagogue.


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