Jews in Bialystok According to German Sources
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Jews in Bialystok were the preponderant force compared to the non-Jewish population both in number and in commerce and trade at the end of the 18th century,
as A. K. Von Holshe, the German geographical researcher during the time of the rule of [Jan Klemens] Bronicki's widow in Bialystok, describes in his book of 1800. The Prussians began to rule in the Bialystok Department during the annexation period. He complains about it and comments with bitterness about the Bialystok Department:
It is a mistake that the majority of the cities emphasized agricultural work and that, in general, there is no industry in the agrarian cities; the consequence of this is that the Jews who are not involved with any agricultural work are firmly established in all of the branches of nourishment and many citizens had to leave the cities for the suburbs, the villages and become farmers. The majority of cities have the right to brew and to have breweries, but it is rare to find a Christian citizen who is involved with this. This is an inheritance of the Jews along with the tavern. Christians are not involved with commerce at all and there are very few professionals among them. However, on the contrary, Jews are involved with various trades because trades do not require any great bodily exertion. An example of this is the city of Goniadz that according to the existing information was a blossoming city of over 600 citizens' houses 150 to 200 years ago and it had the privilege that a Jew was not permitted to live in it; it became a complete ruin through fires and plagues. But recently, the citizens began to move back to it.
The basic concept of the new East Prussian Siemiatycze,[1*] wanting to increase their income and make their city into a large place of commerce, was to build a large city hall with more than 100 shops for their Jews. The extent to which this basic concept did not achieve its purpose can be seen when Bialystok is compared with Suwalk. Bialystok, the majority of whose 3,370 residents were Jewish, had a city hall with 40 shops and 1,000 wagons would come to its weekly market compared to Suwalk, which was free of Jews and had a large church with a large
market, at which there was nothing to buy. The villages around the Jewish cities also were brought to life.
Jews were very numerous and reached approximately a tenth of all of the residents. Jews in the Bialystok Department have over 100 synagogues. The number of cities in the Bialystok Department is 86. Bialystok County has 10 cities, Bialystok, Choroszcz, Gradek, Janow, Jasinowka, Knyszyn, Adelsk, Sokolka, Zabludowe and Waszlikowke; of them five are royal and five noble (aristocratic). Bialystok is a noble state of Count Bronicki. Many royal cities had explicit limitations that no Jews could live in their own houses.
Consequently, what Bobrowski says is entirely false, that until 1803 no Jews were found in many cities in the county that was called the Bialystok Department, but the Prussian government gave them the right to settle there and from then on their numbers grew a great deal. On the contrary, as we will further see, the Prussian government took strong means not to allow any new Jews to settle in the Bialystok Department because it had been fully settled earlier by Jews who were involved with commerce and trade. The Prussian government enacted laws whose purpose was to limit and reduce the number of Jews in the entire area.
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