Bilgoraj Oldest Jewish Cemetery
Biłgoraj was founded in 1578 as a private town under Magdeburg Law. By the time the town was established, there was likely a Jewish quarter in the north-western part of the town where the synagogue complex with the oldest cemetery was built. In 1664, the poll tax was paid by 183 families, including some 40 Jewish families. In 1897, Jews numbered 3,486 individuals among a total population of 5,846 inhabitants (60%). From the 1880’s to the interwar period, a well-known Hebrew printing house that published mainly religious books operated in Biłgoraj. At that time, the local rabbis were the Zilbermans – ancestors of the Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer. In 1931, Jews accounted for 4,596 individuals among the total 8,173 inhabitants (56%), a number which increased to 5,010 in 1939 (60% of the total population). During World War II, the Germans destroyed the synagogue complex (a new housing estate was built there after the war) and, in 1942, deported the Jews from the ghetto to the extermination camp in Bełżec, murdering an additional several hundred people on the spot.
The first Jewish cemetery in Biłgoraj was likely built shortly after the town was founded, though the exact date is unknown. Reports from the interwar period notes tombstones from the 16th century. The cemetery was located about 200 metres from the market square, within the synagogue complex and bordered the synagogue on the east side. The cemetery covered a quadrilateral-shaped plot of land and had an area of 0.22 hectares. It was in use until around 1730, until the establishment of the second cemetery. In the interwar period, single matzevot were visible though the area was covered with grass. During World War II, the cemetery and the synagogue complex were totally destroyed, and after the war, apartment blocks and garages were built in its place. The cemetery is marked with a boulder monument with an inscription. No tombstones from this cemetery have since been found.