[Yiddish: Lizansk, Lezansk] - A town in the
Podkarpackie Voivodship that was granted its town charter in the late
fourteenth century. Jews are first noted in historical records in 1521.
In the tax list of 1538, seven Jewish families are named; in 1563, there
were twenty. It is known from historical sources that a Jewish street
and synagogue existed in the early seventeenth century. The Jews of
Lezajsk were engaged in crafts, trade and money-lending activities.
Sources from the mid-seventeenth century mention artisans from 51
different professions, including butchers, carpenters, and even doctors.
In 1635, King Wladyslaw IV gave them the right to brew and sell beer
and mead. In addition to local trade, they also sold cattle, hides and
fish at markets and fairs that were farther afield. They collected
customs duties and tolls. According to the census of 1765, there were
909 Jews living in Leżajsk and the nearby villages. In the late
eighteenth century, one of the founders and propagators of Chasidism,
Rabbi Elimelech, settled here; the city became one of the movement's
In 1800, there were approximately 2,000 Jews
living in Lezajsk (38% of its total residents). After 1815, the town
fell within in the Kingdom of Poland. During the entire nineteenth and
twentieth centuries, it was quite provincial; the large brewery was the
most important element of its economy. In 1921, the Jewish population
was just above 1,500 (31% of the town's population); in 1939, this
number was about 3,000. After the German army entered, in October 1939,
some of the Jewish population was deported to the Soviet zone of
occupation. Those who remained were crowded into the ghetto, and then
killed in death camps in 1942. Of those deported to the Soviet Union,
several hundred Jews survived. The unusual gravestone of Rabbi
Elimelech, dating back to 1776, is the only historic example of Jewish
sacral art that has survived; it is still an object of Chasidic
pilgrimage. The Germans destroyed the Jewish cemetery at its original
location, as well as the wooden synagogue, and used the matsevot
(headstones) to pave streets. H.W.