Chełm was founded in the 10th century and, like most towns along the eastern border, shifted between the Polish Piast crown and the Kyivan duchy on various occasions. King Kazimierz III Wielki eventually got hold of the area in 1366 and King Władysław II Jagiełło established a bishopric here some 50 years later.

Around this time Jews began to settle in the town, and swiftly grew in number. By the end of the 18th century, 60% of the town’s population was Jewish.

As happened elsewhere in the country, Chełm’s golden era ended in the war-torn 17th century. Later came the Polish Partitions, and the town fell under Austrian and later Russian occupation. It wasn’t until WWI that Chełm began to recover as part of independent Poland, only to be cast down again by the horrors of WWII two decades later. This included the extermination of the town’s 17,000 Jews by the Germans.