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Cathedral on Góra Chełmska
Cathedral on Góra Chełmska
Flag of Chełm
Coat of arms of Chełm
Coat of arms
Chełm is located in Poland
Country  Poland
Voivodeship Lublin
County city County
Established 10th century
Town rights 1392
 • Mayor Agata Fisz
 • City 35.28 km2 (13.62 sq mi)
Highest elevation 153 m (502 ft)
Lowest elevation 80 m (260 ft)
Population (2007)
 • City 67,702
 • Density 1,900/km2 (5,000/sq mi)
 • Metro 80,743
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 (German: Kulm, Ukrainian: Холм, meaning a hill) is a city in eastern Poland with 67,702 inhabitants (2007). 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. Since 1999 located in the Lublin Voivodeship, previously the town was the capital of a separate voivodeship.

The city is of mostly industrial character, though it also houses numerous notable historical monuments and tourist attractions. Chełm gives its name to the protected area known as Chełm Landscape Park, which lies to the north and east of the city.


  • History 1
    • Age of partitions 1.1
    • World War II 1.2
  • Population 2
  • Sports 3
  • Notable people 4
  • "Wise Men of Chelm" 5
    • Relation to the Jewish textual tradition 5.1
  • Politics 6
    • Biała Podlaska/Chełm/Zamość constituency 6.1
  • International relations 7
    • Twin towns — Sister cities 7.1
  • References 8
  • External links 9


The first traces of settlement in the area of modern Chełm date back to at least 9th century. The following century a Slavic fortified town was created there 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. In fact the town's centre is located atop of such a hill called góra chełmska in modern times. However, there are also theories deriving the name 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, it was Vladimir the Great who built the first stone castle there in 1001. Following the Polish capture of Kiev in 1018, the region for a short time was part of Poland, but returned to Kievan rule in 1031.

In 1235 Danylo Romanovych of Halych granted the town a city charter and moved the capital of his domain there. He also built a new castle atop the hill in 1240 and created an Orthodox bishopric there (now the Basilica of the Birth of the Virgin Mary). Until the 14th century the town developed as part of that state and then as part of the short-lived Princedom of Chełm and Bełz. In 1366 king Casimir III the Great annexed the region to Poland. On 4 January 1392 the town was relocated and Magdeburg Law was granted with vast internal autonomy.

A Latin Catholic diocese of Chełm was created in 1359, but was moved to Krasnystaw after 1480.[1] No longer a residential bishopric, Chełm is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.[2] The Orthodox bishopric entered communion with the see of Rome in the late 16th century, but in 1867 it became part of the Russian Orthodox Church.[1]

Throughout time, 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 at the time. In the 18th century the situation in eastern Poland was 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 faiths and Jewish observance. In 1794 the Chełm Voivodeship was established. However, later that year Kościuszko's Uprising started, and Chełm became one of the first towns to join it. In the effect of the battle of Chełm of 8 June 1794, in which the forces of Gen. Józef Zajączek were defeated by the Russians under Gen. Derfelden, Valerian Zubov and Boris Lacy, the town was yet again sacked by the assaulting armies. The following year, as a result of the Third Partition of Poland, the town was annexed by the Austrian Empire.

Age of partitions

Łuczkowski Square

During the Napoleonic Wars in 1809, in the effect of the Polish-Austrian War, the town was briefly attached to 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 rail road. 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.

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

Jewish cemetery in Chełm

On September 27, 1939 the invading Soviet Red Army occupied Chełm after a battle from 21st to 25–27 September 1939, but withdrew two weeks later in accordance with the German-Soviet Frontier Treaty. As early as October 7–9, 1939 the renamed city of Kulm was occupied by Germans forces.[3][4] On Friday, the 1st of 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.[5] They were forced on to a death march to Hrubieszów.[6][7][8] As of 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.[9] 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 sights 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.[10]

Also during World War II, from 1942 through to 1945 the city area was one of numerous locations of the Volhynian massacres by multiple domestic parties. The city and its environs were subject to massacres and revenge killings[11][12][13] between Ukrainians and Poles, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.[14][15] 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.[16][17]

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.


Wysoka Górka, medieval hill fort
Statue of Pope John Paul II
Orthodox church

In 1921: out of a total population of 23,221 there were 12,064 Jews, 9,492 Roman Catholics (Poles), 1,369 Orthodox Christians (Ukrainian and Belarusians), and 207 Lutherans (Germans).

In September 1939, Jews constituted 60 percent (18,000) of the city's inhabitants.[18]


Notable people

"Wise Men of Chelm"

Jewish folklore makes fun of the Jewish residents of Chełm (Yiddish: כעלעם, Hebrew: חלם; often transcribed as Helm) as well-meaning fools. There stories often center around the "wise" men and their silly decisions.

For example: One Jewish Chełm resident bought a fish on Friday in order to cook it for Sabbath. He put the live fish underneath his coat and the fish slapped his face with his tail. He went to the Chełm court to submit a charge and the court sentenced the fish to death by drowning.

Most of these stories have become well-known thanks to storytellers and writers such as Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Nobel Prize-winning Jewish writer in the Yiddish language, who wrote The Fools of Chełm and Their History (published in English translation in 1973), аnd the great Soviet Yiddish poet Ovsey Driz who wrote stories in verse. The latter achieved great popularity in the Soviet Union in Russian and Ukrainian translations, and were made into several animated films.

Other notable adaptations of folklore Chełm stories into the mainstream culture are 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 (Solomon Simon, 1945) and More Wise Men of Helm (Solomon Simon, 1965), and the book Chelmer Khakhomim by Y. Y. Trunk.[19] The animated short film comedy Village of Idiots also recounts Chełm tales.

Relation to the Jewish textual tradition

While superficially Chełm stories seem light-hearted and trivial, they do emulate the interpretive process of Midrash and the Talmudic style of argumentation.[20] Born in the challenge of applying theory to practice, Chełm stories continue the dialogue between rabbinic texts and their manifestation or employment in the daily arena.[21] For example, in Yehiel Yeshaia Trunk’s The Wise Men of Chelm; or, the Jews from the Wisest Town in the World, the protagonist Yoysef Loksh is attacked by three dogs, which he interprets as gilgulim, or transmigrations of Jewish souls. After subsequent analysis of the situation, the protagonist determines that the town’s mezuzahs must be inspected.[20] While seemingly farfetched, this homiletic approach links the following text to experience:

"When dogs howl, [this is a sign that] the Angel of Death has come to town. But when dogs frolic [this is a sign that] Elijah the prophet has come to town"[22]

This interpretive progression born in biblical or rabbinic text is a defining characteristic of the aggadic, midrashic tradition.[23]

The Talmudic form and style of argumentation are brought to life intrinsically, as the Yiddish language is spotted with phrases of Talmudic origin, and in depicting scenes of intellectual discourse.[20] Just as the Talmud is structured as a “juxtaposition of oral arguments…raising all possible questions and solutions to a problem”,[24] so are Chełm tales; this oral forum of questions and answers commonly surfaces in Chełm texts as a council of townspeople or elders sitting seven days and seven nights in theoretical argument.[21] Furthermore, the seemingly tangential questioning that is typical of the aforementioned Chełm council can be interpreted as a comedic hint at the vastness of Talmudic literature; the continuous raising of hypothetical situations, even regarding minute details, echoes the argumentative form of the Talmud. The combination of paralleled argumentation and linguistic commonality allows the Jewish textual tradition, namely Talmudic, to shine through Chełm folklore.


Biała Podlaska/Chełm/Zamość constituency

Members of Parliament (Sejm) elected from this constituency include: 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. ^ a b (ABC CLIO 1996 ISBN 978-0-31303456-5), p. 63Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945Halina Lerski,
  2. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 868
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Aktion Reinhard Camps. Sobibor Labour Camps. 15 June 2006. ARC Website.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Institute of Ukrainian History, Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, , Chapter 5, p. 264Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army Written by Ihor Ilyushin.
  12. ^ Institute of Ukrainian History, Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, , Chapter 5, p. 266Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army Written by Ihor Ilyushin.
  13. ^ Grzegorz Motyka, Zapomnijcie o Giedroyciu: Polacy, Ukraińcy, IPN
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Jasiak, Marek. "Overcoming Ukrainian Resistance", in
  18. ^ Rosemary Horowitz. Memorial Books of Eastern European Jewry: Essays on the History and Meanings of Yizker Volumes. McFarland. 2011. pp. 73-74
  19. ^ “The Myth of Chełm in Jewish Literature”
  20. ^ a b c Rogovin, Or. 'Chelm as Shtetl.' Prooftexts. 29.2 (2009): 242-72. Print.
  21. ^ a b 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. ^ Talmud, Baba Kamma 60B
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Harshav, Benjamin. The Meaning of Yiddish United States of America: University of California Press, 1990. 112. Print.)
  25. ^ Link in Polish with relevant pop-ups.
  26. ^

External links

  • (English) Chełm official English-language home page
  • (Polish)
  • (Polish) Chełm Online

  • Essay on the history of Chełm
  • Chełm in photography
  • Organization for Chelmers in Israel
  • Remember Jewish Chelm
  • "Here Their Stories Will Be Told..." The Valley of the Communities at Yad Vashem, Chelm, at Yad Vashem website.
  • Volodymyr Kubijovyč, Kholm in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, 2013
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