Józefów, Biłgoraj County

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For other places with the same name, see Józefów (disambiguation).
Józefów skyline as seen from the quary
Józefów skyline as seen from the quary
Coat of arms of Józefów
Coat of arms
Józefów is located in Poland
Coordinates: 50°29′N 23°3′E / 50.483°N 23.050°E / 50.483; 23.050
Country  Poland
Voivodeship Lublin
County Biłgoraj
Gmina Józefów
 • Mayor Roman Dziura
 • Total 5.00 km2 (1.93 sq mi)
Elevation 220 m (720 ft)
Population (2006)
 • Total 2,450
 • Density 490/km2 (1,300/sq mi)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 • Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Postal code 23-460
Car plates LBL
Website http://www.jozefow.miasto.woi.lublin.pl

Józefów pronounced [juˈzɛfuf'] also called Józefów Biłgorajski, Józefów Ordynacki and Józefów Roztoczański, is a town in Biłgoraj County, Lublin Voivodeship, Poland, with 2,436 inhabitants (2006). It lies on the Niepryszka river (pl), in historic Lesser Poland, among the hills of the Roztocze, and forests of Solska Wilderness. The distance to Biłgoraj is 24 kilometers, to Zamość 30 kilometers, and to Lublin - 92 kilometers.[1]


The town was founded in the 1720s in a location of the village of Majdan Nepryski. Józefów belonged to the Zamoyski family, and its name honors Tomasz Józef Zamoyski, the 5th Ordynat of the Zamość Estate (Ordynacja zamojska). In 1725, Józefów received Magdeburg rights, with the right to organize nine fairs a year. The town remained within boundaries of the Zamość Estate until 1939. Due to a convenient location in the middle of the Estate, Józefów quickly developed, becoming a local artisan center. In the late 18th century, however, following the Partitions of Poland, Józefów found itself in the Russian-controlled Congress Poland (1815), near the border with Austrian province of Galicia. Proximity of the border did not help, as governments of both empires were not in favor of international trade on local scale. In 1864, following January Uprising, Russian authorities stripped Józefów of its town charter, as a punishment for helping Polish rebels. At that time, the number of Jews living here steadily grew, reaching 72% of the population in 1905.

In the Second Polish Republic Józefów belonged to Lublin Voivodeship (1919–39). The village was poor and backward, with most of houses made of timber and with no access to electricity. It did not have a rail station, with the nearest one located 4 kilometers away, and its population was app. 2,000. First Wehrmacht units entered Józefów on September 17, 1939, after heavy fighting with Warsaw Armoured Motorized Brigade (see Battle of Tomaszów Lubelski). The Luftwaffe bombarded Józefów, destroying its center. On September 28, 1939, the town was seized by the Red Army, which later withdrew (see Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union). The village belonged to the General Government, and was an important center of Polish resistance, with numerous battles and skirmishes taking place in the area (see Zamość Uprising). On May 13, 1942, Germans killed 100 local Jews, and on July 13 - app. 1,500. On June 1, 1943, Józefów was partially destroyed for the killing of two SS officers by Polish partisans. In the same year, the village of Parsykówka, which now is a district of Józefów, was destroyed. German units retreated on July 24, 1944.

Jozefow regained its town charter in 1989. The town is now a popular tourist center, due to its picturesque location. It has a 19th-century synagogue, and a 19th-century parish church with a park and a cemetery.

Józefów Massacre[edit]

Monument in Józefów erected in 1974 to commemorate the 1942 massacre of its Jewish population by the German Nazis

Before the massacre, Józefów was a typical, relatively large village in Eastern Poland located twenty miles southeast of Biłgoraj.[2] It had a large Jewish population numbering around 2,000 individuals or 60 percent of the total population.[3] The substantial Jewish sector originated with the founding of the town in the early 18th century. Traditionally, the town was fairly poor and provincial with a large population of orthodox Jews.

Józefów was first touched directly by violence in 1939, when the town was bombed by the German and subsequently occupied by Soviet troops. The Soviet occupation was short-lived, however, and the Red Army left promptly upon German invasion of Eastern Poland. As many as 1,000 Jews left the town during this time, mostly those with the means and relations to relocate to other areas, especially the Soviet Union.[3] Those remaining in Jozefow continued living relatively normal lives, under Nazi occupation, governed by the Jewish Committee or Judenrat. In 1941, an influx of 1,100 poor Jews were relocated to Jozefow from Konin. As a result, conditions in the already struggling town deteriorated. There was not enough food or housing for the growing Jewish population and the Nazi presence became harder to ignore. There were also growing health concerns as Jozefow become a hot spot for the epidemic in Biłgoraj County in 1941 and 1942.[3] There were no doctors remaining in the town to tend to the sick and deaths from Typhus were common. Limited rations, overcrowding, and the continuous influx of poor Jews from surrounding areas made Józefów a difficult and depressed town even before the massacre.

The Józefów Massacre was carried about by the men of Nazi German Reserve Police Battalion 101. The battalion had eleven officers, five administrators and 486 men and led by Major Wilhelm Trapp (“Pappa Trapp”). The servicemen of Police Battalion 101 were not dedicated Nazis, but ordinary Germans from Hamburg and the surrounding region. They were primarily Evangelical Protestants and most were older with wives and families of their own.[4] The fact that these men were only police battalion members, and had not volunteered for the SS or Gestapo duty indicates that they were not particularly strong advocates of Nazism. By 1942 only 25% were members of the Nazi Party.[5]

These men were also mostly from the working class, dock workers and truck drivers, but some were lower-middle class or skilled laborers. Few had been educated beyond the age of fifteen. The average age in the battalion was thirty-nine, meaning most had grown up and experienced life before the rise of Hitler and Nazism.[5] Overall, they were an average collection of Hamburg men, seemingly unlikely participants in mass murder. On July 12, the day before the massacre was to take place, Major Trapp relayed the orders to the officers. A reserve Lieutenant in the 1st Company declared himself unfit for the task. Instead, he was reassigned to transport Jews to work in Lublin.[6] Sometime between the hours of 12 a.m and 2 a.m., the battalion left for Jozefow.[7] When they arrived, Major Trapp delivered the order calling for the mass extermination of the village’s Jews. One witness recalled,

He announced that in the locality before us we were to carry out a mass killing by shooting and he brought out clearly that those whom we were supposed to shoot were Jews. During his address he bid us to think of our women and children in our homeland who had to endure aerial bombardments. In particular, we were supposed to bear in mind that many women and children lose their lives in these attacks. Thinking of these facts would make it easier for us to carry out the order during the upcoming [killing] action. Major Trapp remarked that the action was entirely not in his spirit, but that he had received this order from higher authority.[8]

It is unclear whether referencing German women and children was meant to encourage or deter the men from fulfilling their duties. Regardless, Trapp then requested that any man who did not feel up to the task should step forward. Between ten and twelve opted out and were reassigned to guard or transport duties.[8]

First, the Jews were driven out of their homes and rounded up in the market place. Any Jew who resisted, hid, or was unable to make it to the market was ordered to be shot on the spot.[9] Around 10 a.m, all the young men who were deemed fit to work were separated and the group (about 400) was sent to work in Lublin.[8] During part of the selection process, the 1st Company gathered in a semi-circle around Dr. Schoenfelder where the battalion’s physician proceeded to instruct the men to shoot their victims in the back of the neck. Then, the remaining Jews were loaded into trucks and driven to the nearby forest. Each member of the firing squad was paired with a Jewish man, woman, or child. Together, members of the 1st Company and Jews marched into a clearing and executions were carried out after a squad leader issued the order. By noon, the 1st Company was joined by the 2nd Company.[10] Between 1200 and 1500 Jews were exterminated in a single day.[11] The battalion left the corpses in the forest and the responsibility for their burial fell to the mayor of Jozefow.[10]


There are only two historians who have written in detail of the March 1942 Jozefow Massacre: Christopher Browning and Daniel Goldhagen. In 1992, Browning wrote Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, which is an expanded work of his essay, “One Day in Jozefow: Initiation to Mass Murder.” This essay proves that the men of Police Battalion 101 did not follow through with the execution out of fear of being punished by their leader, but rather they committed these horrible acts on their own accord. Browning argues that these officers, mostly married men with families from the lower class, “were certainly not a group carefully selected for their suitability as mass murderers, nor were they given special training and indoctrination for the task that awaited them.”[12] Yet, due to a variety of reasons, they were able to shoot 1,500 Jewish men, women and children within a day even when they had the option to opt out. Browning’s work is frequently criticized for his reliance on German documents rather than obtaining testimony from non-Jews living in the area of Jozefow or from survivors of the massacre. Browning does a good job of presenting the facts, however, in this essay he does not adequately answer the question: why were these ordinary men eager to slaughter so many innocent people if they were not facing punishment for not complying with orders? He includes some testimony from officers claiming that they committed these acts because they were concerned with appearing as a coward and had to keep their careers in mind. He also points out that the question of has largely been ignored, but then comes to an abrupt conclusion that “Like any other unit, Reserve Police Battalion 101 killed the Jews they had been told to kill.”[13]

Daniel Goldhagen has also written on Police Battalion 101 and the Józefów Massacre. In his book, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, Goldhagen includes a chapter titled “Police Battalion 101: The Men’s Deeds” in which he details the events of the massacre, providing testimony from officers in the battalion. Goldhagen, too, does not include testimony from non-Jewish citizens who were living in the area at the time or from survivors. However, he does focus on General Trapp’s orders more specifically than Browning and asserts that a highly emotional Trapp supposedly exclaimed, “My God, why must I do this.”[14] Through detailing the individual orders and meetings that Trapp and the men participated in, the reader is able to fully understand that Police Battalion 101 was fully aware of the circumstances and brutality of the situation they were about to embark upon. Goldhagen conveys well the reality that all men in the battalion truly did have the option to not participate in the killing. He goes on to spend a vast portion of this chapter outlining the way in which the massacre was carried out and the sheer brutality of the killings. “The executioners were gruesomely soiled with blood, brain matter, and bone splinters. It stuck to their clothes.”[15] Unlike Browning, Goldhagen includes useful information on how the men reacted immediately after the slaughter in addition to their sentiments in the post-war years. Many men quickly took to drinking to numb their horror, while others argued about who killed the most Jews and how they could have killed more effectively. Goldhagen proves that despite, “Their having had the opportunity to extricate themselves from the killing, from the grisly, disgusting duty, almost all of them chose to carry out their lethal tasks.”[16]

While Goldhagen and Browning come to the same conclusion, Goldhagen is more successful in including a detailed history of the massacre while simultaneously bringing to light the sentiment of the members of Police Battalion 101 both during and immediately after the massacre and in the post war years. Both historians could have enriched their arguments if they had included testimony from non-Jews living in Józefów in 1942 or from men who had survived the massacre and were sent to labor camps. However, these accounts would have been almost impossible to come by.[17][18]

After the Józefów massacre[edit]

Józefów former synagogue, now a heritage library, 2013.[19]

The aftermath of the Józefów massacre includes consequences for the Jewish population, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, and the current state of the town. In total, 1,500 men, women, and children died as a result of the massacre, which was the great majority of the Jewish population of 1,800 and a significant percentage of the total population of the town. However, some Jews did manage to escape the shootings and return. One source estimates that 200 to 300 Jews survived the Józefów massacre by hiding in homes, city buildings, and the forest.[20] Many of the survivors came back to their town. Jews from surrounding towns were also relocated to Józefów. The remaining Jewish population was subsequently killed in the September and November 1942 deportation actions. The town was proclaimed to be Judenfrei: free of Jews. Meanwhile, two members of the Mart family from the German minority residing in Józefów were shot by Polish underground thereafter for cooperation with the enemy.[21]

For their part, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 had some consequences for their actions. The psychological effects of Jozefow were apparent in all the men. The members of the Battalion did not speak directly after the massacre. Many would not speak of Jozefow many years after 1942. The personal responsibility of killing Jews at point-blank range affected the men. Browning notes that many Battalion members could speak of participating in other genocidal measures, such as loading Jews onto trains for concentration camps, because they felt detachment from the actual murder.[22] The psychological differences between methods of murder reflected the larger reasoning behind the Nazi use of gas chambers. Einsatzgruppen, mobile SS death squads, used guns as their primary means of killing Jews. However, Nazi authorities noticed the physical and mental effects of shooting on groups such as Reserve Police Battalion 101.[23] Nazis were also concerned with the sheer efficiency of gun use for mass killing. Thus, gas chambers were later established as the principal means of killing the Jewish population.

After the Second World War, the majority of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 returned to their working and middle class jobs. Some of the men, including men who chose not to participate in the shooting at the Jozefow Massacre, were promoted to jobs with the police.[22] It was not until many years after the war that the actions committed during the Jozefow Massacre were investigated. Major Trapp, the leader of the unit, and three other men were brought to Poland for trial in 1947, and was executed for murder of 74 Polish citizens.[24] The killing of Jews was not mentioned in their trial. The Jozefow massacre itself was not investigated until 1962. Hamburg authorities interviewed 210 members of Reserve Police Battalion 101 about their involvement in the massacre. From these interviews, 14 men were found guilty of war crimes, but ultimately only three men served prison time as a result of their actions.[25]

The town of Jozefow currently has several reminders of the former Jewish population. The synagogue, originally dating from the 18th century, is now used as a public library and a hostel.[26] The Jewish Cemetery, dating back to the early 18th century, was partially destroyed during World War II and from the lack of care and upkeep. However, the Jewish Cemetery and the Synagogue were restored in an effort to remember the Jewish population of Jozefow. In 1975, a memorial was built on the outskirts of town to mark the mass grave from the massacre and to commemorate perished Jews from Jozefow. Although there are remnants and memorials remembering former Jewish life in the town, there is no longer an active Jewish population. One converted Jewish resident currently lives in Jozefow.[27]


  1. ^ Artur Pawłowski (2000). "Józefów". Roztocze. Puszcza solska, lasy janowskie i wyżyna wołyńska (część polska). Przewodnik turystyczny (in Polish). Warszawa: Roztocze.com (reprint). Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: Harpercollins, 1992), 99.
  3. ^ a b c "Jozefow Biłgorajski." ARC "Aktion Reinhard Camps" website featuring list of reliable sources but also selected first-party allegations based on hearsay. Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team, 28 May 2006.
  4. ^ Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York: Knopf, 1996), 209.
  5. ^ a b Browning, 97.
  6. ^ Browning, 98.
  7. ^ Goldhagen, 212; and Browning, 98.
  8. ^ a b c Goldhagen, 212.
  9. ^ Browning, 99.
  10. ^ a b Goldhagen, 219.
  11. ^ Goldhagen, 219; and Browning, 98.
  12. ^ Browning, 103.
  13. ^ Browning, 105.
  14. ^ Goldhagen, 213
  15. ^ Goldhagen, 218.
  16. ^ Goldhagen, 222.
  17. ^ Goldhagen, 211-222.
  18. ^ Browning, 93-105.
  19. ^ IAS, "Biblioteka do modernizacji" Regionalny Serwis Biłgoraj.com.pl (in Polish), 2012. Renovations at the cost of 900,000 zloty (75% from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage), aimed at raising the Synagogue to the highest Polish heritage standard of "Certyfikat+".
  20. ^ Chris Webb and Robert Kuwalek, “Jozefow” Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team, accessed February 29, 2012.
  21. ^ Zygmunt Puźniak, Eksterminacja ludności cywilnej i zagłada Żydów józefowskich (Killing of civilians and the annihilation of Jews of Józefów) Rzeczpospolita Jozefowska.wordpress.com, see: Zygmunt Klukowski, Dziennik z lat okupacji, "17 lipca"; and T. Bernstein, Martyrologia, opór i zagłada ludności żydowskiej w dystrykcie lubelskim. Retrieved June 27, 2014.
  22. ^ a b Browning, 102.
  23. ^ Laurence Rees, The Nazis: A Warning From History (New York: New Press, 1997), 197.
  24. ^ “Culture of Murder, Culture of Complicity: Anti-Semitism and the Origins of the Holocaust,” http:// www.suu.edu/faculty/ping/culture_of_murder.htm (accessed February 29, 2012).
  25. ^ “Culture of Murder, Culture of Complicity: Anti-Semitism and the Origins of the Holocaust.”
  26. ^ Yossi Avni, “Jozefow, Poland” (PDF file, direct download) accessed February 29, 2012. Page 20.
  27. ^ Kuwalek and Webb.

Coordinates: 50°29′N 23°03′E / 50.483°N 23.050°E / 50.483; 23.050