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Rzeszow

[Yiddish: Rayshe, Reyshe] - Granted its town charter in 1354, Rzeszow was an important trade center beginning in the late sixteenth century. Located on the trade route from Krakow to Rus', Rzeszow was known for its fairs; until 1772, the town was in private hands.

Jewish settlement is recorded as early as the mid-sixteenth century. Jews would lease the right to collect taxes and operate mills. They were also engaged in trade, including wine, broadcloth and canvas, goods which they also supplied to Gdansk. In a privilege granted in 1599 by Mikolaj Ligeza, they were forbidden from trading in products made by artisans; this, however, did not hamper the development of crafts. Jews were engaged in the production of spirits, and were tailors, jewellers, embroiderers, carpenters, glaziers, soap-makers and pharmacists.

The Ostrogski family, the town's owners, issued a decree in the first half of the seventeenth century stating that Jews could own seven buildings in Old Town and forty others located nearby, in New Town. These figures suggest that the Community had approximately 500 people. During this period, there was a synagogue (known as "Old"), which was built next to the defensive wall. The town was seriously affected during wars in the mid-seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, as well as by fires and disease. These events meant economic development stopped, though they did not hinder demographic growth in the Jewish Community. In 1765, it had approximately 1,200 members.
As a result of the first partition, the town fell under Austrian rule, and became the seat of the starosta (the local royal representative) and other government institutions. The economy was bolstered by the construction of railway links with Krakow, Lwow and Jaslo. Several industrial plants were located there, including a factory producing farm machinery. In addition, the goldsmiths' products were especially popular. The town was an important trade center for agricultural products; fairs were held for the sale of grain, cattle and horses. The town's population grew quickly, as did that of the Jewish Community: in 1800, the Jewish population was 3,500; in 1880, it was over 5,800 (or 52% of the population).

In the nineteenth century, a Jewish hospital, old people's home, schools and many cultural institutions were founded. Chasidism became very influential. Jewish political parties became active beginning in the late nineteenth century. These were Zionist for the most part, and became particularly influential during the interwar period.
In September 1939, there were approximately 14,000 Jews living in Rzeszow (or 47% of the town's total residents). Shortly after the Second World War broke out, Germans deported 6,000 Jews to Rzeszow from areas that had been annexed to the Reich. In January 1942, they created a ghetto, which eventually held a total of 25,000 people, of which approximately 16,000 were Jews from small nearby towns. Most of the ghetto's residents were killed at the Belzec death camp in the summer of 1942; several thousand were shot in the forest near Rudna. The ghetto was liquidated in September 1943. Those fit to work were sent to labor camps in Szebnie and Plaszow; the rest perished in Auschwitz. A few Jews remained in the local labor camp until July 1944.

In Rzeszow, two seventeenth-century synagogues have survived. The Old Town synagogue currently houses an archive, and the New Town synagogue has been made into a gallery. The cemetery, with nineteenth and twentieth century headstones, also has survived. The town's museum also has a rich collection of Judaica.
(H.W./CM)

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