Rzeszow Old Jewish Cemetery
Rzeszów was founded under Magdeburg Law as a private city in 1354. Jews are known to have lived there from at least the beginning of the 16th century. Until 1696, there were restrictions on house-ownership within the town for Jews. They mainly settled in the north-eastern suburbs, which in the first half of the 17th century was transformed into the “New Town”. A cemetery was established there, and two synagogues (Staromiejska and Nowomiejska) were built next to it. Around 1700, among approximately 3,000 inhabitants of Rzeszów, there were approximately 1,600 Jews (50%); in the 1930s, about 14,000 Jews (about 35%). From the turn of the 19th century, the influence of Haskalah and Hasidism was visible. One of the eminent Jews of Rzeszów was Rabbi Aaron Lewin, who was also a member of the Polish Parliament (from 1922). After 1944, about only 300 Jewish residents returned to Rzeszów.
The first cemetery was established in the first half of the 16th century, approximately 120m north-east of the market square, behind the Mikośka River, which is the northern border of the city. The oldest tombstone is from 1553. In 1626, after the Tatar invasion, in the south-eastern part of the cemetery, an earthwork, which was a section of the city’s fortification line, was raised. From the 18th century, when the earthwork was no longer required for defense, it was used as a burial place. The cemetery was gradually enlarged towards the north, with this part being called the new cemetery. The cemetery was closed in the mid-19th century for sanitary reasons. The area of approximately 2 hectares was shaped as an irregular polygon. It was surrounded by a brick wall and covered with trees. In the north-west corner of the old part of the cemetery, there was a funeral house. The old part was separated from the new one by a road, which is currently called Sobieskiego Street. In 1939–1942, the Germans completely destroyed the cemetery and leveled the earthwork. The empty area served as a selection site before deportation. After 1945, the Ghetto Victims Square was established there. In 2005, a modest monument commemorating the cemetery and the victims of the Holocaust was erected there. A few fragments of tombstones from the 17th and 18th centuries are the only remnants of the cemetery and are currently kept in the local museum.