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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Chelm

Documents about Jews in Chelm since 1442 - community life - anti-Semitism and Chmielnicki massacres - criminal Church - numbers - Holocaust with withdrawal of the Soviet army with Jews - death march, Slovakian Jews - deportations - Jews of Chelm in the Soviet and Polish army - Jews from Chelm in the whole world since 1945 - Jewish Chelm folklore

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Chelm, vol. 5, col.
                  372. The Chelm synagogue photographed in 1939.
                  Jerusalem, Yad Vashem Archives.
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Chelm, vol. 5, col. 372. The Chelm synagogue
photographed in 1939. Jerusalem, Yad Vashem Archives.

from: Chelm; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 5

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



<CHELM, city S.E. of Lublin, Poland.

[Jewish settlement - documents since 1442 - rabbis - tax records of 16th century]

The community is considered one of the oldest in Poland, possibly dating from the 12th century, although the first recorded evidence of its existence is a tombstone dating from 1442. The ancient synagogue of Chelm was built in the characteristic style of the early synagogues of Poland (see *Synagogues, Architecture of). Jews of Chelm are mentioned as royal tax farmers from the end of the 15th century. R. Judah Aaron of Chelm, appointed tax farmer in 1520, was apparently also rabbi of the community (in documents he is mentioned by the title Doctor Legis Mosaicae). In 1522 he headed the communities in the districts of Lublin, Chelm, and Belz. His son was the kabbalist Elijah Ba'al Shem of Chelm (d. 1583), associated with stories of a *Golem. There is also information from this period about the yeshivah [[religious Torah school]] in Chelm: its principals, Simeon Auerbach and Solomon Zalman, are mentioned by David Gans in his Zemah (Ẓemaḥ) David (1592 / 93). In 1550, the community numbered 371 persons living in 40 houses. The tax records for 1564 indicate that the Jews shouldered the major share of the town taxes.

[Confrontation with "Christianity" - anti-Semitism and riots - Chmielnicki massacres with 400 killed Jews - criminal Church]

Frequent disputes between Jews and Christians in Chelm on money matters were litigated in court. In 1580 and 1582 there were anti-Jewish outbreaks following incitement by the clergy. Samuel (col. 371)

Eliezer b. Jodah *Edels (Maharha) was rabbi of Chelm from 1606 to 1615. During the *Chmielnicki massacres of 1648, 400 Jews perished in Chelm, probably including refugees from the surrounding areas. The few survivors were persecuted by the local populace and clergy, who attempted to dispossess the Jews of their property and abolish their legal rights.

[Community life in 18th century - trade]

The community had revived by the beginning of the 18th century, when Jews of Chelm took an important part in the export trade. From 1726 to 1739, the representative of Chelm in the *Councils of the Lands, Heshel b. Meir, served as parnas [[communal leader]] and ne'eman of the council. Prominent figures in Chelm in this period were Solomon b. Moses *Chelm and Zevi (Ẓevi) b. Joseph, who in 1789 published a pamphlet in Polish on the "Jewish problem".

At the be beginning of the 19th century the zaddik (ẓaddik) [[ultra-Orthodox]] R. Nata (d. 1812) lived in Chelm and founded a local hasidic (ḥasidic) [[Orthodox]] dynasty there. Subsequently the rabbis of the community were Hasidim (Ḥasidim).

[Numbers - community life]

The community numbered 1,500 in 1765, 1,902 in 1827 (68% of the total population), 2,493 in 1857 (68%), 7,226 in 1897 (56%), 13,537 in 1931 (46.5%), and approximately 15,000 (almost 50% of the town's population) in 1939.

[[The last number of 15,000 Jews for the year of 1939 does not seem right because there was a large emigration wave of a big part of the young generation from 1921 to 1939 and a sinking birth rate by the emigration of the younger generation. The number of Jews must have been much much lower, perhaps 8,000, see *Poland]].

In addition to religious institutions it maintained an orphanage, an old-age home, a yeshivah [[religious Torah school]], and a secondary school. Two Jewish weeklies were published in Chelm during the 1920s and '30s.


[[The events of the economic crisis in Poland because of the national borderlines since 1919 (see *Joint) and the anti-Semitic Polish government (see *Joint) with all it's discriminations and boycotts (see *Boycott, anti-Jewish) against the Jewish economy are not mentioned. These were the reasons for a large emigration wave of the young generation 1919-1939. Also the work of the Jewish aid organizations are not mentioned, see *Joint]].

Holocaust Period.

[Soviet occupation and sovietization - withdrawal of the Soviet army with Jews in the army - German occupation since 7 October 1939 - pogroms, death march]

On Sept. 14, 1939 the Soviet Army occupied Chelm, but withdrew two weeks later in accordance with the Soviet-German agreement. At least several hundred young Jews also left the town during the Soviet army's withdrawal.

The German army took over the city on Oct. 7, 1939, and immediately initiated a series of pogroms in which scores of Jews lost their lives.

On December 1, 1,800 Jewish men between the ages of 15 and 60 were driven in a death march to the Soviet-held town of Sokal. en route 1,400 of the men were shot, and the 400 survivors were allowed to enter Sokal.

The Jews in Chelm were forced to live in restricted quarters, but a closed ghetto was not established there.

[Jews from Slovakia arriving at Chelm - deportation waves]

In May 1941 about 2,000 Jews from Slovakia were deported to Chelm. The first mass deportation from Chelm took place on May 21-23, 1942, at which time 4,300 Jews (including all the deportees from Slovakia) were sent to the *Sobibor death camp. On November 6, the entire Jewish population was dispatched in a final Aktion to Sobibor for extermination. Only a handful of workers were left in the town's prison; of these 15 survived and were liberated with the town [[occupied by Soviet troops]] on July 22, 1944.

[[Soviet Gulag terror system is never mentioned in Encyclopaedia Judaica]].

The Germans had destroyed all Jewish public buildings, among them the 700-year-old synagogue.

[Jews of Chelm in the Soviet and Polish armies]

Most Jews who left for the Soviet Union in 1939 joined the Soviet or Polish armies. (col. 372)

[[Death rate in the Soviet and Polish armies is not indicated, but normally for Jews the death rate was very high]].

[1945-1970: Jews from Chelm in the whole world]

[[The Polish anti-Semitism since 1945, return of Jews from central Russia, the Polish pogroms and the Jewish emigration wave of 1946-1948 are not mentioned. The article only says in general]]:

Until the 1950s, several Jewish families lived in postwar Chelm. Organizations of Jews from Chelm are active in [[racist Zionist Free Mason CIA Herzl]] Israel, South Africa, the [[criminal racist]] United States, France, Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Brazil.

[[So there must have been a great emigration wave 1921 to 1939 and another great emigration wave from 1944 to 1970 with many survivors of the Holocaust. Add to this probably some Jews who had gone to central Russia in 1939 were staying in Russia]].

Chelm in Folklore.

Chelm has a niche of its own in Jewish folklore and humor because of the reputed naiveté of its inhabitants. Numerous stories circulated about the doings of the Chelm community. The council is traditionally depicted as sitting "seven days and seven nights" to solve the problems brought before it. Hence "Chelm" has become a byword for an assembly of simpletons, and the "Chelmer" (person from Chelm) for the simpleton. The dilemmas which arise and solutions arrived at are both comic and unrealistic, generally involving questions of practical and theoretical wisdom in which the Chelmer is invariably expected to be out of his depth. The tales and their variants are similar to the stories related about "noodles" in towns of "wise men" in other cultural environments, told of Abdera in Greece and Gotham in England, for instance. The Chelm stories depict a community baffled by its surroundings and constantly faced with the predicament of applying "theory" to practice. The leaders of Chelm, and frequently the whole community, have been given by Jewish folklore the nickname Chelmer Khakhomim ("Wise Men of Chelm") while an inhabitant of Chelm is referred to as a Chelmer Khokhem ("Sage of chelm").



-- Halpern, Pinkas, index
-- D. Dawidowicz: Battei-Keneset be-Polin ve-Hurbanam (1960), index
-- Yisker-Bukh "Chelm" (1954)
-- F. Heilprin: Hakhmei Helm (1948)
-- idem: Helm ve-Hakhameha (1952)
-- S. Tenenbaum: The Wise Men of Chelm (1965)
-- S. Simon: The Wise Men of Helm (1945)
-- idem: Die Helden fun Khelem [[The Heroes of Chelm]] (1942)
-- Berenstein, in: Bleter far Geshikhte [[History Papers]], 3 nos. 1-2 (1950), 65-77, table no. 4> (col. 373)

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Chelm, vol.
                        5, col. 371-372
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Chelm, vol. 5, col. 371-372
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Chelm, vol.
                        5, col. 373
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Chelm, vol. 5, col. 373

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