More background info:
Lublin has a long history going back to the early Middle Ages, during which it changed hands repeatedly, once even being part of the Austrian
empires. In the early years of independent Poland
Lublin was even briefly the seat of government.
Lublin had long had a large Jewish community that in the 19th century constituted about 50% of the inhabitants and by the 1930s was still at about a third of the total population.
But then came WWII
, the Nazi
German occupation and with it the Holocaust
. First the Jews of Lublin were forced into an infamous ghetto and later a large proportion of them were murdered in the gas chambers of the death camps
. In fact the whole Operation Reinhard
that saw to the so-called “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” (in the cynical Nazi parlance of the day) had its headquarters in Lublin under the infamous Odilo Globočnik. After the end of Operation Reinhard in early November 1943 virtually all the remaining Jews of Lublin still alive in labour camps (including Majdanek
) were murdered in an operation cynically called “Aktion Erntefest” (‘Operation Harvest Festival’). This was done in the style of the earlier Einsatzgruppen
mass shootings (cf. e.g. Babyn Yar
Lublin was liberated by the Soviet
Red Army in the summer of 1944 and briefly became the capital of the Soviet-installed communist
government of Poland
was re-established as the country’s capital city in early 1945.
After the war Lublin re-emerged as a regional centre and grew to a population size of over 350,000 at its peak (around the turn of the millennium). After the end of the communist era, Lublin’s industries declined but its service sector grew. Lublin has long been a university town and currently is home to no fewer than five separate universities, which are also the largest employers in the city. Thanks to the universities, Lublin is a rather young city (students form more than a third of the total population) with a thriving cultural scene.
Today there’s only a tiny Jewish community in Lublin, but many traces of the once significant Jewish presence in the city can still be found (see below
What there is to see:
Lublin is important in terms of dark tourism primarily for the memorial site of one of the best preserved concentration camps
Furthermore Lublin makes a good base for day excursions to yet more significant dark places further east and south – see under dark combinations below
But the city also has a few dark places itself. One is in fact amongst its prime tourist sights: Lublin Castle
with its striking neo-Gothic facade located just outside the central Old Town. The castle had long functioned as a prison as well, but especially so during the Nazi German occupation in WWII
when some 40,000 people, primarily members of the Polish resistance and intellectuals were incarcerated here. Some 300 were also executed here. The site continued being used as a prison in the early communist era as well, now mainly anti-communists were held here until the mid-1950s, after which the Castle was turned into a cultural venue also housing the Lublin Museum.
Lublin has – or had – two Jewish cemeteries. The Old Jewish Cemetery
on a hill north of the Old Town was in use up to the 19th century. Like so many other such places it suffered severely during the occupation by Nazi Germany
when many of the thousands of grave stones (matzevot) were destroyed or damaged. But not all the damage to the ca. 200 matzevot still in place goes back to the Nazis – some were already damaged by Christian troops in the late 19th century and vandalism also continued into the 1980s and 90s. The cemetery is surrounded by a brick wall; a sign on it explains that the key to the premises can be obtained from the Hotel Ilan, which is also the house of the Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin
(Old University of Wise Men of Lublin), once the world’s largest Talmudic university, as well as now housing an active synagogue serving the current (small) Jewish community of the city.
The New Jewish Cemetery
is located a bit further north next to a large Christian cemetery. Established in the first half of the 19th century, this too was largely destroyed by the Nazis
. A partial restoration saw the creation of a wall made from symbolic matzevot, a memorial to the murdered Jews of Lublin and a concrete Lublin Jews Memorial Hall
. The cemetery today also serves as the active burial ground for the current Jewish community.
In the historic Old Town you can also find various plaques marking buildings that had or have a connection to Jewish life in Lublin. On the north-eastern corner of the Rynek (the main Old Town square) is also a Jewish restaurant.
The main building for the city’s dominant Catholic community is the St. John the Baptist Cathedral, located on the southern edge of the Old Town. Inside I found a replica of the famous Shroud of Turin! The original was long believed to have been the shroud in which the dead body of Jesus Christ was wrapped after his crucifixion (until modern forensic methods proved it’s a fake), so that’s kind of dark too.
Not related to religion as such but to politics and Poland
’s resistance struggle during the communist era is a small monument
by the road south towards Majdanek that commemorates the strikes
that broke out in Lublin in early July 1980
, first at the State Aviation Works but soon spreading to other industries in the region. The shocked communist authorities were taken by surprise and agreed to make some concessions in an agreement reached on 11 July. This can be seen as an early inspiration for what later followed elsewhere in Poland, especially in Gdańsk
with the formation of the Solidarność
in eastern Poland
, ca. 100 miles (160 km) south-east of Warsaw
, 140 miles (225 km) north-east of Kraków
and ca. 50 miles (80 km) west of the border with Ukraine
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: far east but relatively easy to get to; inexpensive
: Getting to Lublin is fairly easy; by train from Warsaw
it takes just over two hours (connections from other Polish cities almost always go via Warsaw), there are several direct connections a day at very affordable prices; there are also cheap overland bus connections or you could drive yourself if you have a (hire) car. Theoretically you could also fly in, but that is really unnecessary given the good overland connections.
Getting around in the city can mostly be done on foot – for longer distances (such as to Majdanek
) taxis are a good option here. There are several taxi ranks dotted around the Old Town, and from restaurants, hotels or museums you can have one called for you. Flagging taxis down on the street is not the done thing here. Fares are very low – hardly more than what you would pay for a bus ride in many other cities. So I found myself using them a lot, especially since I had a hotel a good distance from the centre.
There are plenty of accommodation options, many very affordable as well. The same can be said for most restaurants. Value for money is really good in Lublin … not least in what I now regard as one of my favourite craft-beer bars anywhere (called “U Fotografa”, located bang in the centre of the Old Town just off the Rynek on Złota).
Time required: to do the city justice and also do all the possible day excursions to other major dark sites to the east and south of Lublin, you should factor in at least three whole days, better four or five.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
also under the administration of the Majdanek
memorial are the two death camp memorials at Sobibór
. The latter is nearly 100 miles (150 km) further south-east from Lublin close to the Ukrainian border north of Lviv, the former is about 60 miles (100 km) to the east near the River Bug that forms the border to Ukraine
There is even a tour operator that offers excursions to both Sobibór and Bełżec in one single day (in a 12-hour tour!). But that might be a bit much to take in on the same day. Especially if you have a (hire) car then I’d recommend visiting them separately on two different days. Sobibór could also be combined with a stopover at Chełm (see under Sobibór > combinations
). And en route to or from Bełżec
stopovers at Izbica
and maybe Zamość
can be built in. The latter is a pretty town with a fabulous large central square, and south of the Old Town is the Rotunda, which was a massacre site during the Nazi
era and there’s a memorial and small museum (open daily 7 a.m. to dusk in winter, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter, free).
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Lublin has a very quaint Old Town, which is the main tourist attraction here. It’s much smaller than the Old Towns in Warsaw
, but unlike those Lublin’s is genuine and does indeed ooze an ancient historical authenticity, cut only by the many outside seating areas of the numerous restaurants and cafes that have grown around the main square, the Rynek with the old town hall, and along the main drag, Grodzka. The whole Old Town is pedestrianized, or almost, but only local residents are allowed to drive vehicles in. All others, including taxis, are banned from here.
Outside the Old Town, heading west, another pedestrianized street, Krakowskie Przedmieście, leads to the newer centre’s main square Plac Litewski. Further south and north of the Old Town is more late 19th century architecture, but further out it’s the usual socialist-era prefab apartment blocks that dominate. However, even there Lublin is quite a green city with many trees lining roads and wide parks.
Overall, Lublin is far less touristy than, say Kraków
. This also means you cannot expect that English will be spoken everywhere. Taxi drivers often do not speak English, and outside the Old Town English restaurant menus are not so common. But within the Old Town you’ll get by and foreign visitors are not such a rarity. I’ve heard quite a bit of English spoken. Many foreign visitors to Lublin, especially from the USA
, come here as Jewish roots tourists
. And that is indeed one of the key draws – as also reflected in the dark attractions listed above.
The countryside around Lublin is somewhat less spectacular than other parts of Poland, but it does include a couple of fairly visitable quaint places too, such as Kazimierz Dolny or Sandomierz.
See also under Poland
- Lublin 01 - Krakow Gate
- Lublin 02 - Rynek
- Lublin 03 - old city hall
- Lublin 04 - Old Town
- Lublin 05 - Konopnica tenement house
- Lublin 06 - boarded-up houses in the Old Town
- Lublin 07 - Jewish restaurant
- Lublin 08 - Jewish traces
- Lublin 09 - Trynitarska tower
- Lublin 10 - looking out from the Old Town to the Castle
- Lublin 11 - the Castle
- Lublin 12 - looking back towards the Old Town
- Lublin 13 - Plac Zamkovy
- Lublin 14 - ruins and model of a 13th century church
- Lublin 15 - St John the Baptist Cathedral
- Lublin 16 - replica of the shroud of Turin
- Lublin 17 - Old Town at dusk
- Lublin 18 - Old Town by night
- Lublin 19 - replica plane suspended over Bramowa
- Lublin 20 - outside the Old Town
- Lublin 21 - Plac Litewski
- Lublin 22 - Solidarity flags by a monument commemorating the July 1980 Lublin strikes