Former Jewish Yeshiva in Polish City of Lublin Transforms Into Shelter for Ukrainian Refugees

Hotel Ilan, in Lublin, Poland. Photo: Ryan Kellman / NPR.

March 21, 2022

A prominent building in the eastern Polish city of Lublin that served as a yeshiva for Jewish students before World War II now has a new purpose — sheltering Ukrainian refugees who fled the Russian invasion of their country.

Lublin was once home to a large and thriving Jewish community, but it was nearly completely wiped out by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

“The vast majority of the students were killed,” Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich told National Public Radio. “Most of the library was destroyed … and then the Jewish community received the building back as part of communal restitution, about 10 years ago, and the question [became] what we’re doing to do.”

Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich. Photo: Patrick Wood / NPR.


The building — which had previously become a medical school following World War II — was transformed into Hotel Ilan, owned by the Jewish Community of Warsaw.

Last month, however, after the Russian military invaded Ukraine, the hotel stopped booking regular guests, and it opened its doors to the Ukrainian refugees who were pouring across the border into Poland.

The hotel’s director, Agnieszka Kolibska, said, “We owe a debt. My father survived the Holocaust. I am second generation.”

Agnieszka Kolibska. Photo: Ryan Kellman / NPR.


One of the hotel’s conference rooms is currently being used as a supply center, providing clothing and other donated items to the refugees.

“They need all the basics,” volunteer Agnieszka Litman said. “We also have some toys for kids, and just to make their life a little bit better, a little bit more fun.”

A young Ukrainian girl picks out items from donated supplies at Hotel Ilan, in Lublin, Poland. Photo: Ryan Kellman / NPR.

“There are people coming here that lost their whole life,” another volunteer Jacob Hincza noted. “They are still smiling, they are still nice.”

Natalia Mishchenko, who fled Ukraine with her two children while her husband was forced to stay behind because he is of military age, said, “I feel very scared, because I don’t know what to do next.”

Natalia Mishchenko. Photo: Ryan Kellman / NPR.


Rabbi Schudrich commented on the historical irony of Poland becoming a safe haven for Jews, saying, “For hundreds of years, we are used to the stories of Jews fleeing Poland. Now Jews are fleeing into Poland and they’re safe.”

“It’s too overwhelming,” he added. “And it does show the human capacity for change, that we need to be aware of the fact that history is important but does not dictate the future. We dictate the future.”

A Ukrainian refugee woman is seen at Hotel Ilan, in Lublin, Poland. Photo: Ryan Kellman / NPR.