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Zolkiew Church during the occupation (Tall Trees Archive)

During the 1930's, some 4,400 Jews lived in Zolkiew, representing approximately half of the city's population. They earned their livelihood from commerce, and various forms of artisanship, and many were destitute. Zolkiew had a number of welfare organisations. Among the Jewish political parties, the Zionists were especially dominant and they organised the cultural activities in the city.

On September 18, 1939, Zolkiew was occupied by the Germans, and on September 24, 1939, the city was handed over to the Soviets. During this period, hundreds of Jewish refugees thronged to it from western Poland. Under the Soviets, private commerce was almost completely discontinued and most of the Jewish artisans were integrated into the co-operatives and Jewish Communists became involved in the local administration of the city. In the Spring of 1940, a number of 'bourgeois' families were exiled from the city, and in June 1940, hundreds of Jewish refugees were deported to the Soviet Union. The Jews of Zolkiew established a council to aid and maintain a certain level of contact with those that had been exiled.

On June 28, 1941, the Germans again occupied Zolkiew and burned down the great synagogue the following day. In July 1941, a Jewish Council (Judenrat) was established, headed by Fobins Rubinsfeld, as was a Jewish Order Service, which was under the command of P. Chachkes. A number of anti-Jewish decrees were issued. Jewish inhabitants were compelled to wear a Star-of David, they were forbidden to shop in the municipal market. Their valuables were confiscated and they were required to pay fines to the Germans and they were required to perform forced labour. Jews were also evicted from their homes, which were used to house German officers.

During August and September 1941, a number of Jews who sympathised with the Soviet regime were arrested, interrogated and eventually executed. In December 1941, the Jews were ordered to hand over all furs in their possession. In the winter of 1941/42, starvation and typhus became rampant within the Jewish community. Using its meagre means, the Judenrat established a hospital, public soup kitchens and extended assistance to the needy, but this help only slightly alleviated the suffering. From late 1941, to early 1942, approximately thirty teachers secretly organised small school classes for the children of the community.

On March 15, 1942, German police units under the command of Helmut Tanzmann carried out an 'aktion' in Zolkiew. The Germans deported to Belzec death camp some 700 sick and elderly Jews who were on a list of unemployed Jews drawn up by the Judenrat. attempted to ascertain the fate of the deportees, as their transport was the first ever from the entire area to leave for Belzec; the Judenrat did determine what had happened to the deportees through investigations carried out among local farmers. Some time later, SS-men seized sixty Jews for the Lackie labour camp located near Zloczow.

In the summer of 1942, the Judenrat and the Jewish Order Service extended assistance to Jews deported from other localities who, after jumping off the death trains headed for the Belzec death camp, had arrived in Zolkiew. They offered the fugitives asylum, food and medical care. Upon learning that the Germans were searching the hospital for the escapees, they were put up in private homes.

On November 22-23, 1942, the Germans carried out another 'aktion' in Zolkiew. More than 2,000 Jews, including residents of nearby villages, were rounded up in the courtyard of the local castle. Those Jews assembled were subjected to prolonged abuse, culminating in the deaths of several dozen people and the rest were deported in trains to the Belzec death camp. Many of the deported jumped from the train cars, but few of the individuals managed to return to Zolkiew. Two Jewish women from Zolkiew, managed to escape from Belzec death camp. Mina Astman and Malka Talenfeld were deported from Zolkiew at the end of March 1942. They managed to return to Zolkiew and their accounts were recorded. Their fates are unknown, but is likely neither survived. When the November 'aktion' ended, the Jews of Zolkiew located the bodies of approximately 300 people. The deceased were collected from where they lay, from the streets, the local castle, or where they had jumped from the trains and given a proper Jewish burial.

About one week after the 'aktion' on December 1, 1942, the surviving members of the Zolkiew Jewish community were concentrated into a ghetto along with numerous Jews from other nearby localities. The ghetto was located on Sobieski, Peretz, Reich, Senizarska Streets, and the left side of the Dominican Square. The ghetto was encircled by barbed wire fences and was guarded on the outside by Germans and Ukrainian forces, and on the inside by members of the Jewish Order Service. The inhabitants were forbidden to leave its grounds. Poor sanitary conditions and severe overcrowding in the ghetto led to an outbreak of typhus, that caused numerous deaths. Several Jews managed to escape from the ghetto with false 'Aryan' documents or by finding a place to hide with Christian acquaintances. The majority of the residents prepared places of concealment and attempted to join the lists of workers considered essential to the German economy. On March 15, 1943, some 618 Jews considered fit for work were removed from the ghetto to the Janowska Labour Camp in the suburbs of Lvov.

The ghetto was liquidated in two murder 'aktions' carried out on March 25 and April 6, 1943, by a Gestapo unit from Lvov, under the command of Erich Engels, aided by units of the Gendarmerie and Ukrainian police. A brutal search was carried out in the ghetto, in which walls and floor tiles were smashed. Approximately 150 men and women were sent to the Janowska Labour Camp, and another 60 skilled workers were left in Zolkiew. The rest of the Jews, about 3,500 in number, including the last remaining members of the Judenrat and the Jewish Order Service, were taken to a forest located some three kilometres from Zolkiew, and shot to death. The skilled workers were concentrated outside the ghetto and assigned the task of sorting through the belongings of the murdered victims, and other assorted jobs. Most of these skilled workers were murdered on July 10, 1943.

A considerable number of Jews continued to hide in the ruins of the ghetto, in the city and in the surrounding forests, and the hunt for the fugitives continued until the liberation. Those who were caught were rounded up in groups and executed in the Jewish cemetery. Other groups were sent to the Janowska Camp in Lvov during the autumn of 1943.

Zolkiew was liberated by Soviet troops on July 23, 1944, less than 100 Jews survived the Nazi occupation.


The Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933-1945, USHMM, Indiana University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012


Photograph: Tall Trees Archive

Holocaust Historical Society 2018