Belz (Белз, Polish: Bełz, Yiddish: בעלז), a small town in the Lviv Oblast (province) of western Ukraine, near the border with Poland, is located between the Solokiya river (affluent of the Bug river, called Western Bug) and the Rzeczyca stream.

The current estimated population is 2408 (as of 2004).

Origin of name

There are three versions of the origin of the name:

  1. the Celtic language − 'belz' (water) or 'pelz' (stream),
  2. the so called "Old Slavic language" − «белз» or «бевз» (muddy place),
  3. the so called "Old Russian language" − «бълизь» (white place, a glade in the midst of dark woods).

The name occurs in two other places:

  1. 'Belz' (department Morbihan), Brittany, France
  2. Bălţi (Beltsy, also known in Yiddish as 'Belz'), Moldova (Bessarabia)


The town has existed since at least the 10th century, as one of the Burgs of Czerwień (Ruthenian) strongholds under Bohemian and Polish rule. From 981 Belz was a part of Rus'-Ukraine (Principality of Kievan Rus', Principality of Halych and Volodymir), except 1018–1030 when it belonged to Poland. In 1366 it became a permanent part of the Kingdom of Poland, until the First Partition of Poland in 1772. It then passed to the Austrian Empire, later the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where it was a part of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria.

The Jewish (Ashkenazi) Kahal (hebr. קהלה kehilla) in Belz was established in the Late Middle Ages (ca. 14th c.). In 1665 Jews in Belz got equal rights and duties. The town became home to a Hasidic dynasty of Belz in the early 19th century. , Shalom Rokeach of Belz (1779 - 1855), also known as the Sar Shalom, was a student of Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Lublin, known as "The Chozeh of Lublin" (החוזה מלובלין, The Seer of Lublin) and the first Belzer Rebbe from 1817 to 1855. At the beginning of World War I, Belz counted 6100 inhabitants, including 3600 Jews, 1600 Ukrainians, and 900 Poles. During the war Belz Hasidic Court with many Jews fled the shtetl.

With the collapse of Austria-Hungary following World War I in November 1918, Belz was included in the Western Ukrainian People's Republic, but came under Polish control in 1919, which was confirmed in the PolandUkrainian People's Republic agreement in April 1920. From 1919 to 1939 Belz belonged to the Second Polish Republic. The Hasidic Court returned in 1925 and Jews gradually returned to Belz thereafter.

Then from 1939 to 1944 Belz was occupied by Germany as a part of the General Government. Belz is situated on left, north waterside of the Solokiya river (affluent of the Bug river), which was German-Soviet border in 1939-1941. Most of the Jews of Belz fled before the German invasion. However, by May 1942, there were over 1,540 Jewish refugees in Belz. On June 2, 1942, 1,000 Jews were deported to Hrubieszów and from there to the Sobibór extermination camp. Another 504 were brought to Hrubieszów in September of that year, after they were no longer needed to work on the farms in the area.

After the war Belz reverted to Poland until 1951 when, after a border readjustment (see: 1951 Polish-Soviet territorial exchange), it passed to the Soviet Union (Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic). Since 1991 it has been part of independent Ukraine.

Cultural trivia

The Yiddish song “Beltz, Mayn Shtetele” is a moving evocation of a happy childhood spent in a shtetl. Originally this song was composed for a town which bears a similarly sounding name in Yiddish (belts), called Bălţi in Moldovan/Romanian, and is located in Bessarabia (presently the Moldova Republic). Later interpretations may have had Belz in mind, though.

Belz is also a very important place for Ukrainian Catholics and Polish Catholics as a place where the Black Madonna of Częstochowa (this icon was believed to have painted by St. Luke the Evangelist) had resided for several centuries until 1382, when Władysław Opolczyk, duke of Opole, took the icon home to his principality after ending his service as the Royal emissary for Halychyna for Louis I of Hungary.

Notable residents

See also


External links


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