A city on the Luga River (a tributary of the West Bug), Volodymyr Volyns’kyi (Pol., Włodzimierz; Yid., Ludmir; Latinized as Lodomeria) is the district center of Ukraine’s Volyn’ oblast. An important regional center of Volhynia since the tenth century, it passed in 1319 to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in 1569 to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and in 1795 to the Russian Empire. Between 1921 and 1939 it belonged to independent Poland.
First mentioned in 1171, the Jewish community of Ludmir was led during the last third of the thirteenth century by Rabbi Yitsḥak ben Mosheh, author of Or zaru‘a, and Rabbi Manoaḥ ben Ya‘akov. Russian chronicles mention Jews participating in the funeral of Prince Vladimir Vasil’kovich in 1289, and archeologists have uncovered Jewish tombstones from the fourteenth century.
In 1570, the Jews (who had returned to Ludmir after expulsion from Lithuania), together with the Christians, were exempted from paying trade duties, apart from those on salt and beeswax. Jews leased the right to collect taxes and engaged in trade and crafts, mainly in shoemaking and leather processing, despite competition with the non-Jewish shoemakers’ guild. Ludmir was represented on regional and national Jewish councils by, among others, Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, who served as community rabbi from 1634 to 1643.
The Jewish quarter of Ludmir developed in the northeast part of the town, along the defensive rampart. On the eve of the Khmel’nyts’kyi uprising, approximately 1,000 Jews lived in 159 homes in Ludmir. During the uprising, Cossacks murdered or took into captivity many of the local Jews. By the end of 1649, there were only 39 Jewish homes in the town. From 1653, the community’s leaders once again began taking part in Jewish regional administration, and in 1679 and 1699 the Polish–Lithuanian kings awarded one leader of regional and crown Jewish committees, Efrayim Fishel of Ludmir, the status of royal servant. By 1662, there were 318 Jews living in the town, and the 1765 census recorded 1,327 Jews in 159 houses.
When the founder of the Karliner Hasidic dynasty, Rabbi Shelomoh ha-Levi (murdered in 1792), settled in Ludmir in 1786, the town became an important Hasidic center. The “Maiden of Ludmir,” Khane-Rokhl Werbermacher (1806?–1888?), a local woman known for her righteousness and wisdom, also became a popular Hasidic leader; numerous Hasidim gathered in her bet midrash. After she moved to Jerusalem in 1861, her bet midrash was occupied by the Rakhmistrov Hasidim.
The Jewish population of Ludmir grew thanks to its status as a trade and crafts center located close to the border. Some 1,849 Jews were registered in the city in 1799; rising to 3,930 in 1847; and reaching 5,869 (about 60% of the population) in 1897. At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, permanent charitable and medical institutions were established. After 1910, a secular school for Jews and a yeshiva functioned, in addition to Talmud Torahs.
Ludmir suffered heavy damage during World War I. In 1918, however, the town was defended from pogroms by a people’s militia, organized by the Austrian occupation forces and joined by about 200 Jews. During the 1920s and 1930s, Zionist organizations were the most active among the Jewish political parties. Tarbut, Beys Yankev, and ORT schools operated. Jewish periodicals were also published. In 1937, there were 11,554 Jews in Ludmir (about 40% of the population).
At the beginning of World War II, refugees increased the Jewish population to 25,000. German troops occupied Ludmir on 25 June 1941, shooting 200–600 Jews each month until October. On 13 April 1942, about 22,000 Jews from Ludmir and the neighboring villages were forced into a ghetto. By 13 December, they had all been murdered.
About 140 Jews returned to the town after it was liberated by the Soviets on 22 July 1944. Most of the Jews of postwar Ludmir later emigrated to Poland, and from there to Israel and elsewhere. In the 1980s, about 70 Jews lived in the town; by 1999, there were no more than 30. In 1989, a memorial was erected at the site where 18,000 Jews had been murdered, on the road to Ustylug, near the village of Piatydny.
A. Koris, “Ludmir,” Yalkut Vohlin 16–17 (1953): 25–26; Ozer Libers, “Ludmir—haytah ha-‘ir ve-enena ‘od . . . ,” Yalkut Vohlin 55–56 (1998): 21–22; Zeev Nidriker, “Ludmir (Vladimir-Volinsk),” Yalkut Vohlin 3 (1946): 2–4; 4 (1946): 8; 6 (1946): 11–12; Pinkas Ludmir: Sefer zikaron li-kehilat Ludmir (Tel Aviv, 1962); Shmuel Spector, ed., “Ludmir (Vlodimyezh Volinski) / Włodzimierz Wołyński,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Polin, vol. 5, Vohlin ve-Polesieh, pp. 111–117 (Jerusalem, 1990).
Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson