Why Lubartów ?


The Lubartworld project will reconstruct the itineraries of all Jewish inhabitants from the small Polish town of Lubartów. But why Lubartów? I chose this village for four main reasons.

Detail of the map of Lubartòw in 1915
© oldmapsonline.org

Ideal size

This choice is not the result of a “sample.” Nor should Lubartów be considered an “average shtetl.” It is not meant to be representative, and is not truly a shtetl according to the traditional definition of a small Eastern European town where Jews formed a majority of the population[1]Ben-Cion Pinchuk, “The Shtetl. An ethnic town in the Russian empire,” Cahiers du monde russe, … Continue reading. The Lubartów census counted 3,269 Jews in 1921, representing half of the population, and 3,411 Jews before the Second World War, out of a total of approximately 8,000 inhabitants.


Working on a population of approximately three thousand people ensures that social characteristics, itineraries, and collective processes are diverse and varied, without losing the ability to exhaustively reconstruct and compare each and every individual journey. Nevertheless, these numbers are not to be taken for granted, as one of the project’s main issues is to identify the different ways in which Jews and non-Jews were counted.

A great deal of information about the inhabitants can be gathered from local archives. Sources reveal the density of social relations in an established community, with women and men, children and the elderly, the rich and the poor, families and single individuals, religious believers and agnostics, and political activists of multiple stripes. The social structure of the Jewish community was diverse, including shopkeepers and entrepreneurs such as the owner of a glass factory, an oil refinery, and a groats manufacture, several booksellers and printers, journalists and doctors, farmers and artisans, and workers, among others…

Lublin and Lubartòw in 1915, Polish Military Institute of Geography
© oldmapsonline.org

A specific location

Located on the Wieprz River 30 kilometers from Lublin in a somewhat isolated area, Lubartów was a fairly ordinary small town. This allows researchers to work on a population with a high density of networks. The Jewish community was well-organized, with a synagogue, a ritual bath (mikvah), and a cemetery. There were several associations (e.g., the Jewish Craftsmen’s Union and the Small Business Association), and a number of charitable or political organizations: Communist Party cells and various Zionist organizations (from the orthodox Aguda Party to the Poale Zion Left, and the Bund) were active in town and the surrounding area. In 1929, a number of Jews were elected members of the Lubartów Town Council, and the community had representatives in the District Committee of the National Defense Fund established in 1938. This density of links led to the creation of several hometown associations across the globe (Landsmanshftn), which structured the transnational networks of migrants from Lubartów.

The Wieprz river in Lubartòw, circa 1910 ©fotopolska

Abundance of sources

The third reason for the choice, and perhaps the most important, is the profusion of sources already identified locally (Lublin Archives), nationally, and globally. Initial archival identification searches conducted in Poland, France and the United States over the last few months have revealed an abundance of several types of archives, which justify the choice of Lubartów.

Georges Perec in 1969 © rue des Archives

A tribute to Georges Perec

Last but not least, a fourth highly personal reason for this choice is to pay tribute to the French writer Georges Perec [2]Georges Perec, W ou le souvenir d’enfance, Paris, Denoël, coll. « Les Lettres nouvelles », … Continue reading, whose father was born in Lubartów, and whose eclectic spirit and systematic approach are integral to this project. There is always a degree of arbitrariness with micro-historical choices. What is central is not representativeness, but the conviction that focusing on specific and local cases can shed new light on persecution. The micro-scale is adopted to emphasize something other than large-scale generalizations. Connecting processes of migration and persecution in an intensive study based on the collective biography of the people living in a particular place enables generalizing from the description of micro-level configurations, relations, and social characteristics of actors.