Cathedral on Góra Chełmska


Coat of arms
Coordinates: 51°07′56″N 23°28′40″E / 51.13222°N 23.47778°E / 51.13222; 23.47778
Country  Poland
Voivodeship Lublin
County city County
Established 10th century
Town rights 1392
  Mayor Wiesław Kociuba
  City 35.28 km2 (13.62 sq mi)
Highest elevation 153 m (502 ft)
Lowest elevation 80 m (260 ft)
Population (2015)
  City 63,949[1]
  Density 1,812/km2 (4,690/sq mi)
  Metro 78,419
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
  Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Postal code 22-100 to 22-118
Area code(s) +48 082
Car plates LC

Chełm [xɛu̯m] ( listen) (German: Kulm, Ukrainian: Холм) is a city in eastern Poland with 63,949 inhabitants (2015). It is located to the south-east of Lublin, north of Zamość and south of Biała Podlaska, some 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the border with Ukraine. Chełm used to be the capital of the Chełm Voivodeship until it became part of the Lublin Voivodeship in 1999.

The city is of mostly industrial character, though it also features numerous notable historical monuments and tourist attractions. Chełm is a multiple (former) bishopric. Its etymology stems from the Slavic word "cholm", a hill, in reference to the Wysoka Górka gord.[2]


The first traces of settlement in the area of modern Chełm date back to at the least 9th century. The following century, a Slavic fortified town (gord) was created and initially served as a centre of pagan worship. The etymology of the name is unclear, though most scholars derive it from the Slavic noun denoting a flat hill. The town's centre is located on a hill called góra chełmska. However, it is also theorized that the name is derived from some Celtic root. In 981 the town, then inhabited by the Eastern Slavic tribe of Buzhans, was made a part of Kievan Rus', along with the surrounding Cherven Towns. According to a local legend, Vladimir the Great built the first stone castle there in 1001. Following the Polish capture of Kiev in 1018, the region became part of Poland until returning to Kievan rule in 1031.

In 1235, Danylo Romanovych of Halych granted the town a city charter and moved the capital of his domain in 1241–1272 after destruction of Halych by Mongols in 1240–1241. Danylo also built a new castle atop the hill in 1237, one of the few Ruthenian castles that withstood Mongol attacks, and established an Orthodox eparchy (diocese) centered at the Basilica of the Birth of the Virgin Mary. Until the 14th century, the town developed as part of Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia and then as part of the short-lived Princedom of Chełm and Belz (see Duchy of Belz). In 1366, king Casimir III the Great annexed the region to Poland during the Galicia–Volhynia Wars. On 4 January 1392, the town was relocated and Magdeburg Law was granted with vast internal autonomy.

A Latin Rite Catholic diocese of Chełm was created in 1359, but its seat was moved to Krasnystaw after 1480.[3] Renamed as Diocese of Chełm–Lublin in 1790, it was suppressed in 1805, but since 2005 Chełm is nominally restored and listed by the Catholic Church as Latin titular bishopric.[4]

The Orthodox bishopric entered communion with the see of Rome in the late 16th century as Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Chełm–Bełz, retaining its Byzantine Rite, but in 1867 it became part of the imperial Russian Orthodox Church, [3]and is now the Archdiocese of Lublin and Chełm of the Polish Orthodox Church.

The town was the capital of a historical region of the Land of Chełm, administratively a part of the Ruthenian Voivodeship with the capital in Lviv (Lwów). The city prospered in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was then that The Golem of Chełm by Rabbi Elijah Ba'al Shem of Chelm became famous, but the city declined in the 17th century due to the wars which ravaged Poland. In the 18th century, the situation in eastern Poland stabilized and the town started to slowly recover from the damages suffered during The Deluge and the Khmelnytsky's uprising. It attracted a number of new settlers from all parts of Poland, including people of Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish faiths. In 1794, the Chełm Voivodeship was established. Chełm was one of the first towns to join the Kościuszko's Uprising later that year. In the Battle of Chełm of 8 June 1794, the forces of Gen. Józef Zajączek were defeated by the Russians under Valerian Zubov and Boris Lacy, the town was yet again sacked by the invading armies. The following year, as a result of the Third Partition of Poland, the town was annexed by the Austrian Empire.

Age of partitions

During the Napoleonic Wars in 1809, in the effect of the Polish–Austrian War, the town was briefly part of the Duchy of Warsaw. However, the Congress of Vienna of 1815 awarded it to Imperial Russia. The town entered a period of decline as the local administrative and religious offices (including the bishopric) were moved to Lublin. In the mid-19th century, the Russian Army turned the town into a strong garrison, which made the Russian soldiers a significant part of the population. The period of decline ended in 1866, when the town was connected to a new railroad. In 1875, the Uniate bishopric was liquidated by the Russian authorities and all of the local Uniates were forcibly converted to the Russian Orthodox Church. In the late 19th century, the local administrative offices were restored and in 1912 a local gubernia was created. During the Russian revolution of 1905 in the city was established the Ukrainian enlightenment society of Prosvita.

During the World War I in 1915 most of the Ukrainian and Russian population was evacuated to the Sloboda Ukraine and the Russian chernozem regions, after which percentage of the Polish population rose significantly. In 1918, following World War I and the end of imperial domination over Poland, the town became part of Lublin Voivodeship (1919–39) in the reborn Second Polish Republic.

World War II

On 27 September 1939 the invading Soviet Red Army occupied Chełm, but withdrew two weeks later in accordance with the German-Soviet Frontier Treaty. As early as 7–9 October 1939 the renamed city of Kulm was occupied by Germans forces.[5][6] On Friday, 1 December 1939, at 8 o'clock, the local defenseless Jews were driven at dawn to the market-square ("Okrąglak" or "Rinek") surrounded by the fell German SS formations and local indigenous officials.[7] They were forced on a death march to Hrubieszów.[8][9][10]

Jewish cemetery in Chełm

Until 1940, the German Reich established 16 forced labor camps in the new Lublin district and in 1942, during Operation Reinhard, the highly secretive Bełżec and the Sobibór extermination camps were built near the forced labor camps and conducted mass murder of Polish Jews, some of whom also formed the Sonderkommando.[11] Prisoners employed by forced labour were also local people from neighboring villages and towns of Chełm (also Khelm or Kulm in German), which was then connected to the main railroad line through a 40 km (25 mi) railroad branch line to further sites of industrialised mass murder. Almost all of the Jewish population was killed in the Sobibór extermination camp during the Holocaust in occupied Poland. Some survivors managed to find shelter in the Chełm Chalk Tunnels.

Following the 1941 Operation Barbarossa the Germans established a POW camp in Chełm, called Stalag 319 for the Red Army soldiers captured in eastern Poland and modern Ukraine or Belarus, on top of prisoners brought in from the West (mostly France) for the total of some 200,000 until July 1944. In three years, some 90,000 prisoners lost their lives there. The monument commemorating the victims of Stalag 319 was unveiled in Chełm in May 2009 in the presence of foreign diplomats.[12]

From 1942 through to 1945, Chełm was one of numerous locations of the Volhynian massacres by death squads of OUN-UPA and the bands of Ukrainian nationalists. The city and its environs witnessed the revenge killings as well,[13][14] between Ukrainians and its Polish self-defence.[15][16] As noted by historians Grzegorz Motyka and Volodymyr Viatrovych, the subject is highly controversial, because in 1944, Roman Shukhevych, leader of OUN-UPA issued an order to fabricate proofs of Polish responsibility for war crimes committed there.[17][18]

Chełm in Jewish literature

By the end of World War II, only a remnant of Chełm's Jewish population of c. 18,000 survived. They managed to emigrate to Israel, North America, Central America, South America, or South Africa. Chełm became well-known thanks to Jewish storytellers and writers such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Nobel Prize-winning novelist in the Yiddish language, who wrote The Fools of Chełm and Their History (published in English translation in 1973), and the great Yiddish poet Ovsey Driz (yi) who wrote stories in verse. Notable adaptations of the Chełm Jewish folklore include the comedy Chelmer Khakhomim ("The Wise Men of Chelm") by Aaron Zeitlin, The Heroes of Chelm (1942) by Shlomo Simon, published in English translation as The Wise Men of Helm (Simon, 1945) and More Wise Men of Helm (Simon, 1965), as well as the book Chelmer Khakhomim by Y. Y. Trunk.[19] Allen Mandelbaum's "Chelmaxioms : The Maxims, Axioms, Maxioms of Chelm" (David R. Godine, 1978) treats the wise men of the Jewish Chełm as scholars who are knowledgeable but lacking sense. The Chełm stories emulate the interpretive process of Midrash and the Talmudic style of argumentation,[20] and continue the dialogue between rabbinic texts and their manifestation in the daily arena.[21][22] The seemingly tangential questioning that is typical of the Chełm Jewish Council can be interpreted as a comedic hint at the vastness of Talmudic literature. The combination of paralleled argumentation and linguistic commonality allows the Jewish textual tradition, namely Talmudic, to shine through Chełm folklore.[23]


After Poland's independence, the Polish census of 1921 found a population of 23,221, with 12,064 Jews, 9,492 Roman Catholics (Poles), 1,369 Orthodox Christians (Ukrainian, Ruthenians and Belarusians) and 207 Lutherans (Germans).

In September 1939, at the onset of World War II, Jews constituted 60% (18,000) of the city's inhabitants.[24]


Notable people


Most influential Members of Parliament (Sejm) elected from the Biała Podlaska/Chełm/Zamość constituency (2006) included: Badach Tadeusz (SLD-UP), Bratkowski Arkadiusz (PSL), Byra Jan (SLD-UP), Janowski Zbigniew (SLD-UP), Kwiatkowski Marian (Samoobrona), Lewczuk Henryk (LPR), Michalski Jerzy (Samoobrona), Nikolski Lech (SLD-UP), Skomra Szczepan (SLD-UP), Stanibuła Ryszard (PSL),[25] Stefaniuk Franciszek (PSL), Żmijan Stanisław (PO) and Matuszczak Zbigniew (SLD).

International relations

Twin towns – Sister cities

Chełm is twinned with:


  1. "Chełm". (in Polish). Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  2. "Historia miejscowości - Informacje o mieście - Chełm - Wirtualny Sztetl". (in Polish). Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  3. 1 2 Halina Lerski, Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945 (ABC CLIO 1996 ISBN 978-0-31303456-5), p. 63
  4. Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 868
  5. "Communal History - Chelm". Encyclopedia Judaica 1972, Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd. Chelmer Organization of Israel. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  6. "The Jews of Chełm & Escape from Borek Forest". Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team. 2008. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  7. Bakalczuk-Felin, Meilech and Moshe M. Shavit. "Preface". The History of the Jews in Chelm. JewishGen, Inc. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  8. Berkenstat Freund, Gloria and Ben-Tzion Bruker, Lazar Kahan, Y. Herc, Yitzhak Groskop, J. Grinszpan. "The Slaughter of the Jews in Chelm". Destruction of Chelm. 2013 by JewishGen, Inc. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  9. Meltzer, Rae and Dr. Philip Frydman. "The Beginning and the History of a Yiddish Community". The History of the Jews in Chelm. 2013 by JewishGen, Inc. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  10. Berkenstat Freund, Gloria, Irene Szajewicz and Gitl Libhober. "Witness Testimony by Gitl Libhober". DESTRUCTION OF CHELM. 2013 by JewishGen, Inc. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  11. Aktion Reinhard Camps. Sobibor Labour Camps. 15 June 2006. ARC Website.
  12. Jacek Barczyński (8 May 2009). "Obóz Stalag 319". Media Regionalne. Dziennik Wschodni. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  13. Ihor Ilyushin (11 September 2009), Розділ 5. Бойові дії ОУН і УПА на антипольському фроиі. Chapter 5, pp. 264–266, in the Ukrainian language. From: Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Institute of Ukrainian History, Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.
  14. Grzegorz Motyka, Zapomnijcie o Giedroyciu: Polacy, Ukraińcy, IPN
  15. "Orthodox New Martyrs canonized". The Byzantine Forum 2013. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  16. Marples, David R. (2007). Heroes and villains: creating national history in contemporary Ukraine. Budapest: Central European University Press. p. 210.
  17. Motyka, Grzegorz (2011). Od rzezi wołyńskiej do Akcji "Wisła". Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie. p. 228. ISBN 8308045766. Sprawa dotyczyła wsi wymordowanych przez UPA.
  18. Jasiak, Marek. "Overcoming Ukrainian Resistance", in Ther, Philipp; Siljak, Ana (2001). Redrawing nations: ethnic cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944–1948. Oxford: Rowman & Littfield. p. 174.
  19. "The Myth of Chełm in Jewish Literature"
  20. Rogovin, Or. 'Chelm as Shtetl.' Prooftexts. 29.2 (2009): 242-72. Print.
  21. Krakowski, Stefan, and Aryeh-Leib Kalish. 'Chelm.' Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 4. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 588-589. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 5 March 2013.
  22. Herr, Moshe David. 'Midrash.' Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 14. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 182-185. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 10 March 2013.
  23. Harshav, Benjamin. The Meaning of Yiddish United States of America: University of California Press, 1990. 112. Print.)
  24. Rosemary Horowitz. Memorial Books of Eastern European Jewry: Essays on the History and Meanings of Yizker Volumes. McFarland. 2011. pp. 73-74
  25. Link in Polish Archived 27 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine. with relevant pop-ups.
  26. "City Directory". Sister Cities International. Retrieved 25 March 2014.

Coordinates: 51°08′N 23°29′E / 51.133°N 23.483°E / 51.133; 23.483

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