(Yid., Rayshe, Reyshe), city in southeastern Poland. Founded in 1354, Rzeszów was a privately owned town until 1845. The first mention of Jews residing there dates from 1550. Rzeszów’s owners supported Jewish settlement, and by 1592, six Jews owned houses. Local Jews made their livings as traders and artisans. In 1648 the town’s Jewish population had risen to approximately 680, augmented by Jews fleeing westward from the Cossack uprising led by Bohdan Khmel’nyts’kyi. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, 412 of the 473 merchants in Rzeszów were Jewish. By 1765, the number of Jews in the town had risen to about 1,200.
In the early seventeenth century, Jews built a brick synagogue on a street that became known as Jewish Street; nearby was the Jewish cemetery. A second synagogue, known as the Nowomiejska (New City) synagogue, was built in the early 1700s, and a second cemetery was established in the mid-nineteenth century. Jews as well as Christians shared an obligation to defend the city. After a dispute with the community in Przemyśl over a rabbinical appointment, Rzeszów seceded from the “land” of Ruthenia and, from about 1715, was represented as an independent entity in the Council of Four Lands. In 1730, the city’s owner, Jerzy Ignacy Lubomirski, charged them with the defense of four of the eight city gates.
In 1772, with the first partition of Poland, Rzeszów fell under Austrian rule, and a number of restrictions were placed upon the city’s Jews. Despite these difficulties, Rzeszów’s Jewish residents continued to dominate retail trade. During most of the nineteenth century, Jews made up the majority of the town’s inhabitants: in 1816, they numbered 3,575, or 77.6 percent; in 1880, they totaled 5,820, or 52.1 percent; in 1900, there were 6,320, or 42.1 percent; and in 1910, the numbers reached 8,785, or 37.1 percent.
From the end of the nineteenth century a number of Jewish political parties, most of them Zionist, became active in Rzeszów, and the Zionist movement markedly increased in strength after World War I. On 3 May 1919, anti-Jewish violence broke out, with beatings, lootings, and destruction of property. In 1922, Rabbi Aharon Lewin (1879–1941) was elected as a deputy to the Polish Sejm, representing the Orthodox Agudas Yisroel party. In 1921, the city was home to 11,361 Jews, who made up 45.5 percent of its population. In 1928 a donation from Adolf Tannenbaum allowed for the building of a “People’s House,” which beginning in 1931 housed a private Jewish secondary school. In the 1934 municipal elections, Jews won 15 of 35 seats on the city council.
At the outbreak of World War II, more than 13,000 Jews were living in Rzeszów. After 1939, the population grew, augmented by Jews forcibly resettled out of Polish territories annexed to the German Reich. In December 1941, the Germans created a ghetto, crowding more than 23,000 persons within its confines. The first significant deportation from Rzeszów occurred between 7 and 13 July 1942, when the Germans sent the elderly and the sick—a total of about 2,000 Jews—to the Bór forest near Głogów Małopolski, where they were shot to death; another 14,000 were sent to Bełżec. Subsequent deportations were carried out on 8 August and 15 November of that year. In November 1942, the Rzeszów ghetto was turned into a “secondary” ghetto for Jews from the already liquidated ghettos of Krosno, Jasło, and Sanok. It was then divided into two parts: Ost (East) for those able to work, and West for all others. In September 1943, the inhabitants of the former were deported to a camp in Szebiny, where most were murdered; the West ghetto was liquidated that November, its inhabitants ending up in Auschwitz. The few dozen Jews who had been left in Rzeszów to clean up the ghetto were deported in February 1944.
On 9 September 1944, about 300 Jewish survivors formed a new community, whose numbers diminished after antisemitic attitudes erupted into violence on 12 June 1945. In 1947, the remaining Jews of Rzeszów erected a memorial to victims of the Holocaust in the new Jewish cemetery.
Henry Armin Herzog, And Heaven Shed No Tears (London, 1996); Franciszek Kotula, Losy Żydów rzeszowskich, 1939–1944: Kronika tamtych dni (Rzeszów, Pol., 1999); Wacław Wierzbieniec, “Ustrój i organizacja rzeszowskiej gminy żydowskiej w okresie autonomii Galicji i II Rzeczypospolitej,” in Z przeszłości Rzeszowa, ed. Małgorzata Jarosińska (Rzeszów, Pol., 1995); Moshe Yaari-Wald, ed., Kehilat Risha: Sefer zikaron (Tel Aviv, 1967).
Translated from Polish by Anna Grojec