19th-beginning of 20th century: List of Jewish Political Prisoners from Belarus sent to Siberia .

During the 18th-19th centuries in the Russian Empire, one of the harshest punishments was the transport of criminals to hard-labor camps in eastern Siberia. The climate there was terrible: In the winter, it was freezing; and in the summer it was very hot and humid. Swarms of mosquitoes and many wild animals made living conditions worse.

The first prisoners were sent to Siberia at the end of the 16th century. By the end of the 17th century, some 1,500 prisoners were transported there.

In the mid-18th century, the first mass wave of prisoners was sent, because the death penalty had been replaced by hard labor for life. During the second half of the 19th century, the second mass wave of prisoners were sent, and this continued until the 1917 Revolution.

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Politcal prisoners: Sitting on the bed to the left is Shkolnik Maria ( Mir’yam ) and on the right is Fialka Reveka

The majority of prisoners during the second wave were educated people who were against the Tzar.

By the early 20th century, some 300,000 people were sent there; some were Jews. Single Jewish men were allowed to marry, and local matchmakers would bring poor Jewish girls from the Pale of Settlement.

However, those services were extremely expensive, and the majority of Jewish prisoners couldn’t afford it. They complained to the local governor and asked permission to bring Kalmyk girls, who would agree to convert to Judaism.  In the mid-19th century, they received that permission.

Witnesses said that the converted Kalmyk wives observed all Jewish laws and attended synagogue regularly. After serving their terms of punishment, many Jews stayed in Siberia and started businesses. Soon Jews dominated trade in eastern Siberia, which made the local residents unhappy.

Because of this, and to stop the growth of the Jewish population, a new law was passed in the second half of the 19th century. This law did not allow wives or husbands to join their spouses in Siberia, but the prisoners were allowed to bring their children, if the boys were younger than 5 and the girls under 10

By 1897, nearly 32,600 Jews, with their families, were living in Siberia. This number includes prisoners who decided to stay, with their families. At that time, Siberian Jewish life was flourishing. Following the 1917 Revolution, all prisoners in Siberia were set free.

Here is list of 30 political prisoners who were sent to Siberia from Belarus:

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1945-1946 List of Polish-born Jews, who returned to Poland from town Lida of Belarus

In September 1939, as a result of the agreement between Germany and USSR, part of the eastern region of Poland was added to Belarus. More than 350,000 Polish Jews became citizens of the USSR.

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Vilenskaya Street (currently Sovetskaya Street ) in town Lida – Beginning 20th century 

In 1940, an additional 66.000 Polish Jews asked the Soviet government for asylum and moved to Belarus. During the Holocaust almost all former Polish Jews were murdered.

On July 5, 1945, the Soviet government allowed former Polish citizens, who could prove their status, to return to Poland. A main condition was to leave all property in the USSR. They could take only a small amount of money and personal items.

After WWII, almost 232.000 people had exercised their right to return to Poland. The majority of returnees were ethnic Polish, and not many Jews.

Below is a chart with the names of 39 heads of Jewish households who returned to Poland from July 25, 1945 to January 6, 1946. They had lived in Lida, Belarus.

In the original document, there is a full family description with the names and ages of each family member, and the final destination in Poland. For more information, email us at jhrg@jhrgbelarus.org

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A Grodno Treasure

Earlier this month, during demolition of an old house in Grodno, contractors found a container hidden in a basement wall.

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It contained 11 gold coins dating back to 1897-98, and a gold wedding ring inscribed in Hebrew: “Rebecca, beginning of Iyar.” The estimated value of the find is $3,000.

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The house is on today’s Antonova Street, which was called Jerusalimskaya Street before WWII. It was built in the early 20th-century and belonged to a Jewish family. Historians are now working on discovering the family’s surname.

Some 50 years earlier, another find of gold and silver coins and cutlery was discovered on the same street in a different house.

During WWII, Jerusalimskaya Street was part of Ghetto 2, where some 10,000 prisoners lived. The final ghetto prisoners were murdered in May 1943.

Five years ago, in a pre-war Jewish-owned house on the same street, a large photo album was found in the attic.

 

 

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1929: Jewish families from Belarus move to Birobidjan

On March 28, 1928, the Communists decided to create a Jewish autonomous region in Siberia, near the Chinese border.

The regional capital was to be at the site of a small railroad station, then called Tikhonkaya; later changed to Birobidjan. In early May 1928, the first Jewish migrants arrived by train. Among them were Jews from Belarus.

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1930s Railroad station Tikhonkaya.  

 

By 1933, some 20,000 Jews had moved to Birobidjan. However, the initial enthusiasm quickly faded and the people became discouraged. Geographically, the region was marsh and deep forest, making it extremely difficult to cultivate land. Additionally, there was frequent flooding, long freezing winters and incessant swarms of mosquitos, which made living there unbearable.

From 1931-1933, nearly 9.500 Jews returned to their original towns. However, despite all the difficulties, from 1928-1931, those who remained were able to organize production of horse buggies, chairs, suitcases, shoes, clothing and stockings, as well as building a brick factory.

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Modern time monument in Birobidjan to the first Jewish settlers.

 

In fall 1929, a JOINT delegation visited Birobidjan. The report issued by the delegation said: The Jews are living in shacks surrounded by dirt, their houses look like prisons, many are extremely poor; to feed their children, some women had no other choice but to become prostitutes. …

After 1937, Jews stopped moving to Birobidjan. By 1941, the Jewish population of it was about 18,000 people. Today, the Jewish population is some 2,000 residents.

Here is the list of the heads of 104 families who moved to Birobidjan from Belarus in 1929.

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1887 – Jewish owners of linen-processing factories in Belarus

By the mid-19th century, Russia had become the largest country exporting linen to Europe. It was used for in the production of fabric, oil, cords and cables. It became one of the fastest-growing industries in Russia.
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Process of creating linen threads in the early 20th century
Some wealthy Jews were investing in linen processing factories, most of which were in northwest Russia, including today’s Belarus.
By the end of the 19th-century, in the territory that’s now known as Belarus, had some 70 linen-processing factories; 41 were Jewsh-owned.
Here is the 1887 list of Jewish owners of linen-processing factories in Belarus:
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1915: List of Jewish army deserters from Slonim uezd

In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, there were some 400,000 Jewish soldiers and officers in the Russian Empire’s army.

By 1916, their numbers had increased to 500,000, about 9% of all the soldiers in the army.

During WW1, nearly 100,000 Jewish soldiers were killed, and some 2,500 soldiers received the highest honor, “Cross of Georgiy.”

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1915 Russian-Jewish army draft

On the other hand, there were Jews who deserted the army. In early 1915 in Grodno guberniya, most deserters were from Slonim uezd.

A group of 44 draftees, aged 20-22, jumped off the train on their way to the front. All were declared wanted men.

Here is the list of deserters from Slonim uezd who escaped in 1915. Each file has a detailed description of the person; some files even include photos. The records do not provide information as to whether the individual was captured or not.

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1902 Largest Jewish businesses in shtetl Shklov

We are continuing series of posts about Shklov Jewish community 19th-beginning of 20th century. At that time, Shklov Jewish community was the most established out of all Jewish communities of Mogilev guberniya.

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Shopping center in Shklov beginning of 20th century, which has been recently rebuilt.

Below is the list of largest Jewish businesses in shtetl Shklov, 1902.

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Shklov: Facts about Jewish religious life in Shklov from the late 1890s-early 1900s

By 1897, the Jewish population of Shklov was 5,122, or 78% of its total population. There were 11 registered synagogues and a yeshiva, a branch of the famous yeshiva in Slobodka.

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Former main synagogue of shtetl Shklov 

Before 1906, Shklov’s chief Rabbi was Meir Shwartz, a member of the Orthodox Misnagdim movement. Following Rabbi Shwartz was Rabbi Yehuda-Leib Don-Yah’ya, who was affiliated with the Lubavich Chasidim.

Religious school teachers (melamed) from Mogilev-guberniya taught Torah in Shklov because the Shklov Jewish community was known to be where Jews lived better than in other communities.

By 1926, the Jewish population of Shklov decreased to 3,119, or 37.6% of the town’s total population. This was due to the mass immigration abroad of Jews in the early 20th century and the migration of many Jewish residents to larger towns in Russia following the 1917 Revolution. By 1930, when the Communists took over, all of Shkov’s synagogues – and its Yeshiva – were closed.

Below is a list of 35 melameds (religious school teachers) who were teaching in 1902 in Shklov.

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1946 JDC List of Jewish Residents of Belarus Who Survived WWII

In early 1946, after the end of WWII, the International Red Cross Committee was sent to the Soviet Union to estimate the magnitude of destruction and how to help survivors.

While touring many places around the Soviet Union, the committee stopped in a few towns and shtetls in Belarus.

Among the committee members was the Joint Distribution Committee’s representative, who compiled a list of those who had survived the Holocaust and returned to their pre-war homes. The goal was to send parcels of food and clothing to those people and families.

The list includes more than 80 heads of Jewish households in Belarus, including names, place of residency and, in some cases, the address.

Due to the importance of this information, we are publishing the full list below:

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The Mezhirech agricultural colony, founded in 1846 by Jews from Mogilev guberniya

In the mid-19th-century, one goal of the Russian government was to encourage Jews to work the land.

The government provided land in six guberniyas (provinces) of the Russian Empire for this purpose, including Yekaterinoslavskaya guberniya (today Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozh’ye region in Ukraine).

One of these was the agricultural colony of Mezhirech. The Tzar provided many benefits for Jews who moved to these agricultural colonies. They received free land, government-built houses, no-interest government loans to buy cattle, paid moving expenses and, importantly, their sons were exempt from the 25-year army conscription.

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Jewish residents of agricultural colony

In summer 1846, 40 Jewish families from the town of Mogilev and Mogilev guberniya set off on a two-week journey by horse to Yekaterinoslavskaya guberniya. When the group arrived, they discovered that their promised houses weren’t ready, and they were housed in peasant homes in nearby villages.

In fall 1847, the new houses were finally ready, a year later. The walls were constructed of clay, the roofs of dry grass. In spring 1848, the population, almost all adults, was sick with scurvy, while 30 others had died from various illnesses during the winter.

In 1853, another group of Jews from Mogilev guberniya joined the settlers, and the total population of Mezhirech was 372 residents. By 1890, this colony had became one of the most successful in the region. Each family lived in its own wooden house; each family had two or more cows. The colony also had its own synagogue, mikvah, Jewish day school and cemetery.

Here is a list of the heads of the first 40 Mogilev guberniya families who arrived in 1846:

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