Children 1939

Children in costumes for a Purim play at the Beit Ha-am at Lancut in 1939. The Purim holiday celebrates the defeat of a plot to exterminate the Jewish people in ancient Persia.



Ultimately, the Nazis failed and did not destroy all the Jews of Zolynia. When the Second World War began, there were some 597 Jews in Zolynia and another 271 or so in the outlying villages of the Zolynia Kehilla. In 1945, the survivors were now measured in the dozens, but there were survivors. They ended up in Israel, the United States, Canada and a few European countries. Perhaps a few who fled or were driven across the San River in the fall of 1939 stayed in the Soviet Union. We will never have a full census of survivors. About 91 percent of the 3.4 million Jews living in Poland in 1939 did not survive the war. It appears that the survival rate in Zolynia was similar.

Debate and Discussion in Poland

The people of Poland have been engaged in a growing discussion, debate and argument about the nature of relations between Poles and Jews during and after the Second World War. The subject has come to the fore in the past seven years. The European Union has pressed the Polish government to resolve issues of post-war property seizures. A series of new books, such as those by Polish-born Jan Gross, have ignited controversy, criticism and curiousity about the subject. Every year, perhaps a few thousand Poles discover, sometimes from a deathbed confession by a parent or grandparent, that their family was Jewish before the war and changed their identity. The presence and growing visibility of Jewish congregations in at least eight Polish cities, and visits by hundreds of Hassidic Jews to holy places in towns like Lezajsk, have reintroduced a small Jewish presence into the lives of more and more Poles.

Six decades after the war and the events that occurred in its immediate aftermath, many Poles feel that they have been unfairly stigmatized by the Holocaust, because so many Jews died in towns, killing centers and actions in Poland.

It should not be forgotten that as many as three million non-Jewish Polish citizens lost their lives in 1939-1945. It was extremely difficult, perhaps not possible, for a Jew to have survived without some help from a Christian Pole, even if it was a small act of kindness. For example, Jews from Zolynia in the Huta Komarowska and Biedsiadka labor camps were able to occassionally beg for food from Christian farmers in the vicinity. Others were helped more directly, given shelter or a hiding place.

And yet, Jewish and Christian Polish citizens did not come together after the catastrophe, did not lay aside pre-war tensions and conflicts, real or perceived.


Zolynia war plaqueThis plaque in the Zolynia market square was erected in 1983. 24 names of Zolynia residents who were killed by the Nazis are memorialized. It is the only war memorial in Zolynia. This plaque was featured In a 2001 study by Professor Slawomir Kapralski, now with the Warsaw Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities. Dr. Kapralski suggested that the plaque was representative of a type of historical distortion common during the era of Communist control in Poland. He asserted that plaques like these in former Galicia "excluded the Jews from the town’s collective memory" and promoted a "glorious and tragic, but exclusively Polish history."


There are between 8,000 and 12,000 self-described Jews in Poland today. However, there are tens of thousands more people who are at least partly of Jewish heritage. Some are only just learning about their roots, and why their families felt they had to .

In 2007, Jan Krasniewski, born in Poland in 1987 told his personal story to The Times newspaper (London). When he was 13, a school lesson inadvertedly led to an unexpected revelation:

Told at school that Polish names ending in "ski" sometimes denoted an aristocratic background, he came home buzzing with excitement. Could it be, he asked his father, that the family had noble estates tucked away in some corner of Poland?

His father sighed. “It’s time for you to know something,” he said. “Our name is really Kirszenbaum.”

In this case, the family changed its identity after a cousin was killed in the 1946 Kielce pogrom. For years after the war, some young Poles had no idea that their families were anything but Catholic. Some found out the truth about their Jewish backgrounds when they were expelled from schools, public positions and even from Poland itself during a 1968 purges of Jews by the Communist Party in 1956 and 1968.

Now, after the fall of communism, more and more Polish parents and grandparents are determining that being Jewish is no longer as precarious and the secrecy can come to an end. Most of these "new" Jews are not practicing their family's old faith, but they and their loved ones have a renewed curiousity about it and about the culture which once existed in every corner of their country.

A Small Jewish Revival

While some Poles, particularly of the older wartime generation, still see Jews as incompatible with ''real" Poles, surveys show that they are clearly not a majority. Polish government officials have denounced anti-Semitism and tried to change the image of intolerance that has lingered since the 1930s and 1940s. The ultra-nationalist radio station Radio Maryja sometimes broadcasts Jewish conspiracy theories, but it is frequently attacked for doing so in other Polish media. Poland now has at least two Jewish schools, and at least four full-time rabbis.

In Krakow, there are now a few "Jewish-style" restaurants where customers can taste Galicia-style sweet gefilte fish and perogies. One features a klezmer band. Very few of the patrons are Jews, except for some tourists from other countries. There are perhaps 300 Jews living in Krakow now, and a small congregation is slowly building. There were 70,000 before the Second World War. Now, every June, a Jewish Festival is held. There are concerts, exhibits, sing-a-longs and lectures. Along one street in Kamierz, the city's former Jewish Quarter, merchants hang signs in the style of Jewish shopkeepers in the 1930s in an attempt to recreate the atmosphere that another generation detested. Those at the restaurants and the festivals are almost all younger Poles. The interest in Jewish culture comes from a generation that It is younger Poles who are reviving interest in Jewish culture.

An Israeli newspaper columnist recently joked that "there are more Jewish festivals in Poland than Jews." But more and more Poles are coming to learn that over the centuries Jews made a significant cultural contribution to Poland and to thousands of its villages and towns.


Herbert Marcuse, the eminent German-born philosopher and sociologist wrote, “To forget is also to forgive what should not be forgiven.”

There is no one answer to many of the questions some may ask about what happened to the Jews of Zolynia and hundreds of other little towns like it. But the questions should be asked, in order not to forget.


Markowa memorials

In 1973, a plaque (above, left) was placed on the municipal building of Markowa, a village nine miles (14 km) south of Zolynia, outside Lancut, memorializing ten villagers who were killed as part of the wartime resistance. At least two of those listed, Jozef Cwynar and Jozef Ulma were actually put to death for hiding Jews. The Ulma family was murdered in a horrific June 1944 atrocity. In 2004, the village erected a new monument to the Ulma family (above right) that acknowledges their deaths for protecting "Older Brothers in Faith." The dedication ceremonies drew international positive attention, and the village now takes pride in the revelations that the Ulma, Bar, Kielar, Przybylak and Szylar families, and perhaps others, aided Jews during the occupation. The Ulmas have been beautified by the Catholic Church and recognized in Israel for their sacrifice.


In 1983, the Polish government named Zolynia to the Order of the Grunwald Cross, named after a 1410 Polish battle against Teutonic Knights. The order recognized towns where there had been a resistance during the German occupation. The government made numerous attempts to associate itself with Polish history and nationalism after the rise of Solidarity and strong opposition in the early 1980s.

More Information

Thousands of Poles risked their own lives and those of their families to save Jews. More than 6,000 Poles—the most in any country—have been named "Righteous Among the Nations," a title granted to non-Jews who helped Jews escape Nazi persecution.

Emmanuel Ringelblum was a Polish-Jewish historian whose chronicles of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust were discovered after the war. While hidden in a bunker outside in the "Aryan" section of Warsaw in 1943, he wrote:

I myself am concrete proof that the contention of some Jewish circles that the whole Polish population is supposedly delighted over the fate of the Jews, that there do not exist on the Aryan side people with heart, who are pained by…the tragedy of the Jewish people in Poland, is far from the truth.

Ringelbaum, who was discovered and murdered in March 1944, did write with regret that many or most Poles were indifferent to the fate of Jews in their country. He suggested that in Holland, strong appeals by the resistance organizations and the Church had generated much higher levels of sympathy for Dutch Jews, and a much larger percentage of them were hidden and saved.

It is also true, however, that the Nazis saw most Northern Europeans and Nordic people as racially comparable to Germans, and the occupation in those countries was in some ways less brutal and penalties for acts of resistance less severe.

About 1968, the Polish government erected a tablet at the site of the former Pelkinie transit camp, where some 600 Jews from Zolynia were carted in early August 1942 and selected for death or slave labor.10,000 Jews from Zolynia, Lancut, Lezajsk, Rzeszow, Grodzisko Dolne, Radymino and other nearby communities passed through Pelkinie that week, most on their way to Belzec and some killed in or nearby the transit camp. The tablet mentions only the Soviet POWs who were starved at Pelkinie prior to its use as a sorting camp in connection with the Belzec camp killing operation.

By the early 1970s, there were at least 126 official tablet, markers and memorials commemorating the Second World War within the Rzeszow Voivodship, including the Lancut and Lezajsk Counties. No more than 14 of them refer to Jews or to killing operations which were targeted at Jews. A marker erected at Rakszawa referred to the shooting of 15 "civilians," all of whom were ethnic Poles and some of whom may have been shot for hiding Jews.


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