(Yid., Zamoch, Zamoshtsh), city in Lublin province. Founded in 1580 by Jan Zamoyski, Zamość became the principal town of his family estate. The first mention of Jews in Zamość dates from 1583; Zamoyski granted them a privilege of settlement in 1588. This privilege was for Sephardic Jews only, with the expectation that they would bring economic benefits—particularly trading contacts. The Jewish quarter was situated in the northwestern sector, where Jews were permitted to build a synagogue and a mikveh. The synagogue was built of brick in the Renaissance style between about 1610 and 1618.
The first Jewish settlers were chiefly merchants from Turkey and Italy who had come to Zamość by way of Lwów. After 1620, another group arrived from Holland and Flanders, while the largest migration of Sephardic Jews to Zamość occurred in the 1630s. At that time Jews owned 15 houses in the city. Among the settlers were members of such prominent Sephardic families as de Campos, Castiell, Salomon, Uziel, and Zakuto.
With its Jewish and Armenian residents, late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Zamość served as an important node in trade networks with the Islamic world. In the first half of the seventeenth century, the town was also the most important center for Jewish cloth manufacturing in Ruthenia. In the decades that followed, some of the Sephardic Jews left, particularly in the second half of the seventeenth century, due to restrictions on trade with the East. The influx of Ashkenazic Jews increased, however, until by the mid-seventeenth century they began to dominate both numerically and economically. This situation changed the legal status of Zamość’s Jews, as Ashkenazic residents were subject to rulings of the regional Jewish councils. Eventually, however, Zamość, together with other Jewish communities on the Zamoyski estate, established its own regional council, probably after 1693.
During the Khmel’nyts’kyi uprising, the residents of Zamość, both Jewish and Christian, paid ransom to Cossack armies to spare the city. In 1657, Jews owned 19 of the 222 houses in Zamość; in 1691, they owned 36. Subsequent decades saw a marked growth in the city’s Jewish population, which reached more than 1,000 by 1770, (representing some 25% of the total). In addition to commerce, the city’s Jews also made their living as artisans or through running credit operations. In the eighteenth century, Jews slowly began to dominate both wholesale and retail trade, while non-Jewish residents sought unsuccessfully to limit Jews’ roles in commerce and crafts.
Table: The Jewish Population of Zamość
As a result of the first partition of Poland in 1772, Zamość came under Austrian rule; in 1815, however, it was attached to the Kingdom of Poland. In 1821, Zamość was purchased by the government and ceased to be a private town. The nineteenth century saw a significant rise in the number of the city’s Jews. In 1827, there were 2,874 Jews in the city (53.1% of the population); by 1897 this number had risen to 7,040 (62.9%). In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Zamość became an important center of the Haskalah in the kingdom, second only to Warsaw. One of the earliest East European maskilim, Yisra’el of Zamość, came from the city. Two other well-known maskilim, Arye Leib Kinderfreund and Efraim Fischel Fischelson, were born in Zamość; other prominent figures such as Y. L. Peretz and Rosa Luxemburg came from there as well.
By the early twentieth century, two synagogues and nine prayer houses functioned in Zamość, and a new cemetery was established in 1906. Jewish political life also flourished. The Bund was active by 1905, and before World War I, a Po‘ale Tsiyon group thrived. During the war, a Mizraḥi group founded the Tse‘ire Tsiyon organization. An amateur Jewish theater opened in 1905; its director, Berish Bekierman, is considered one of the pioneers of Jewish theater in Poland.
In 1921, the Jewish population of Zamość was 9,383 (49.3% of the total population). Despite the difficult economic situation of most Jews in Zamość and the growth of antisemitism during the interwar period, the city saw Jewish economic, political, and cultural organizations flourish. In 1920, Agudas Yisroel was established, and the General Zionists as well as Zionist youth organizations were extremely active. In 1928, the city council had 12 Jewish deputies, half the total number. Several Jewish periodicals were published during this period, including Unzer gayst, Zamoshtsher shtime, and Zamoshtsher vort.
In 1939, approximately 12,000 Jews were living in Zamość. At the start of World War II, many left the city, where the Germans forcibly resettled Jews from western Poland, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. Jews were forced to live in Nowe Miasto (New City), the most neglected section, where a ghetto was established in the spring of 1941. In April and May 1942, the Germans deported some of Zamość’s Jews to the death camp at Bełżec, while on 16 October the remaining Jews were forced to march 25 miles to Izbica, to be transported to Bełżec. After liberation, some Jews who had originally been from Zamość returned, while others moved in from elsewhere, mostly on their way to further migration. Some 300 Jews settled in the city, establishing a Jewish committee mainly to provide material aid. In response to news of murders by Polish antisemites, most Jews had left Zamość by the end of 1945.
Mordechai Wolf Bernstein, ed., Pinkes Zamoshtsh / The Zamosc Memorial Book, trans. Jacob Solomon Berger (Mahwah, N.J., 2004); Adam Kopciowski, “Der Judenrat in Zamość,” Theresienstädter Studien und Dokumente (2002): 221–245; Janina Morgensztern, “O osadnictwie Żydów w Zamościu na przełomie XVI i XVII w.,” Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego 43–44 (1962): 3–17; Bogumiła Sawa, “Przyczynek do sytuacji prawnej Żydów zamojskich od II połowy XVI do XIX w.,” Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego 99 (1976): 27–40, English summary included.
Translated from Polish by Anna Grojec