Already in the early Middle Ages, Lublin was a significant political, religious and economic centre. Its importance was confirmed by the municipal charter granted in 1317. The city’s identity was shaped by its location at the junction of political, economic and cultural influences between Eastern and Western Europe. In Jewish history, Lublin went down, among others, as a famous centre of Talmudic studies, Hebrew printing and the Hasidic movement. Before the Second World War, the socially, politically, and religiously diverse Jewish minority constituted a third of 120,000 city inhabitants.
In September 1939, Lublin got bombed and occupied by the German army. The city became the seat of the authorities of the Lublin District, part of the General Government. The local population was soon affected by the occupant’s repressions, e.g. displacement, confiscation, and forced labor. The Jews were a particularly persecuted group.
On 24 March 1941, the Germans established a ghetto in Lublin. In a small area, they isolated about 35,000 Jews, condemning them to hunger, diseases and terror. Jews arbitrarily leaving the closed district — as well as those helping them — were punishable by death.
The liquidation of the Lublin Ghetto began on 16 March 1942. Within a month, the Germans deported around 28,000 people to the death camp in Bełżec and then started demolishing the Jewish quarter. It was the beginning of Operation Reinhardt, aimed at murdering all the Jews of the General Government, previously gathered in ghettos. The Nazis created extermination camps in Bełżec, Sobibór (Lublin District), and Treblinka (Warsaw District). Temporarily, the Majdanek camp near Lublin also served this purpose. Within twenty months, the Germans murdered approximately 2 million Jews in those locations. The operation, with its headquarters in Lublin, was commanded by the head of the SS and police in the Lublin District, Odilo Globocnik.
The Second World War dramatically affected Poland’s fate, bringing about the destruction of the country, changing its borders and imposing the communist system. 5.5 million citizens died, more than half of whom were Jewish. Nearly 90% of Polish Jews, constituting about a tenth of the pre-war state’s population, perished in the Holocaust.
In the People’s Republic of Poland, the history of Jews in Polish lands was actively erased. It was only after the fall of communism in 1989 that the rediscovery of the multicultural past began, also in the local dimension.
In Lublin, in the 1990s, the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre was established — a municipal cultural institution focusing on the history of Lublin Jews as an integral part of the city’s cultural heritage. The biographies presented at this exhibition are a selection from many stories that found their way to the “Grodzka Gate” as a result of searching for traces of the past in archives and memories of survivors and witnesses. Through such activities, the identity of the Holocaust victims is restored and their memory is preserved, showing the importance of finding even the smallest evidence of someone’s existence and giving voice to those who were never supposed to tell their stories.
Grodzka 21, 20-112