Józefów Biłgorajski

High School in Józefów Biłgorajski

Józefów Biłgorajski was their home from the 18th century. In 1785, there were only 2 houses in the town’s market square that were owned by Christians, others were inhabited by Jews. Before the war, Józefów Biłgorajski was a typical shtetl where Jewish community constituted 70% of its population. There was a synagogue, bath, Jewish school and rabbi’s house in the town. Six Jewish wineries operated there, and from 1830 a Hebrew printing house. Wooden arcade houses based on five columns and covered with gabled roof predominated in Józefów, today they are considered treasures of wooden architecture. The synagogue building, which now houses the local library, and the cemetery on the town outskirts, are the only traces of Jewish presence in Józefów.

The workshops organised by the School of Dialogue in Józefów were aimed to bring back the memory of Jewish residents of the town in people who live there today. And to present the history of Józefów that for years was in majority inhabited by Jews. To bring back what is forgotten and to show what is hidden or unveiled, put away in arcades, behind shelves in the local library, in high grass in the cemetery outside the town. Discovering local history may prove to be quite an adventure, suggested Forum for Dialogue educators, and students quickly understood why. They let conversations with their families and elderly people living in the town.

During consecutive workshops, several students told family stories about the pre-war times, recollections of their grandparents about the life in the town back then. The high school students managed to find some old maps and could localize the market square, the town hall and Jewish stalls.

When visiting the synagogue, they came across a letter of David Roskies, Professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and descendant of Jews from Józefów. In 1993, he visited Józefów, and upon returning to the USA, he sent a letter to the Library with a menorah enclosed in it.  He kindly requested to place it at Aron ha-Kodesz. He wanted the menorah to prove that the building was a synagogue before. The letter and a seven-branched menorah placed in a niche of the wall of the library/synagogue made the students realize that they were doing something important. Something that is useful and necessary. History should not be forgotten. Jews of  Józefów did pray in the synagogue several decades ago. They lived in the market square and in Sitarska Street, they studied at cheders of Majmon and Sztern. They were merchants, craftsmen, produced alcohol. They printed official forms and books which they then sold in Turkey and Russia. They contributed to the town development and constituted its part, and their stories are still close to our hearts, even if Jews are no longer here.

Józefów Biłgorajski

High School in Józefów Biłgorajski
1st and 2nd year students
Elżbieta Olędzka
Małgorzata Nowicka, Monika Oszmaniec

To read more about Józefów visit Virtual Shtetl:


Program co-financed from the funds granted by The Rothschild Foundation Europe.


In appreciation to Friends of the Forum for supporting the School of Dialogue educational program.

FOF właściwe