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Mstislavl
Mogilev Gubernia

by Graham Zeitlin

Mstislavl is called “Byelorussian Suzdal”. First mentioned 1156, it was one of the towns of Smolensk Principality.  In 1180 it was the centre of a separate principality. It was part of Poland/Lithuania until1772. 

In 1708, on 28 Ellul 5468, Peter the Great entered the town during war with the Swedes. Many Jews were injured. Peter eventually stopped the pogrom and hanged 13 of the attackers. 

In 1772 the area became Russian (as part of the first partition of Poland). 

In 1777 a Rabbi resolved the dispute between Old Mstislavl & New Mstislavl. 

In 1787 the Mstislavl Rabbi was unable to attend an anti-Hassidim meeting but confirmed his support. Action agreed included not providing lodgings & classing their meat as treife. 

Mstislavl was a place of many historical events. It is a highly developed cultural town. There are many architectural monuments and was made famous by production of ceramics, tiles and glass. The architectural image was defined by a wooden castle, with Nicolsky Temple in the centre, numerous wooden & stone churches, cloisters and towers. Today, tourists can see Castle Mountain and Girl Mountain, Alexander Nevski’s church & Nicolayevsky Cathedral. 

Peter Mstivlavets was one of first slavonic printers. Stepan Polubes (Ivanov) was master of tiles, used by Peter I to decorate Moscow Temples. 

The Jews

Jews arrived in Belarus in the 1380s. By 1847, there were 88k in Mogilev gubernia. 

In 1897, there were 1.2 million in Belarus, 14% of the population. In Mogilev gub there were 204k (12% of total); in individual towns, the number was :

Mogilev 22k. (52.4%)
Gomel 20k
Orsha 7k.
Shklov 5k
Rogachev 5k.
Mstislavl 5k. (60%)

Jewish occupations were identified as
39% commerce
37% crafts
5% agriculture.

In other main towns of Belarus:
Vitebsk 53%
Minsk 59%

By 1939, emigration had reduced the Jewish population to 375k. Of these, 300k were killed by the Nazis. 

In 1989, out of a total population in Belarus of 10 million, there were 112k Jews. There are now only between 40k & 70k.

  Jewish inhabitants were massacred by Chmielnicki’s Cossacks 1648 – 1656. 

Mstislavl Jews.  

Known to Jews as Amtchislav 

First recorded mid 16th c. when Jews leased the taxes. First record of Jewish inhabitants in 1590. First known shul in 1639. In this same year, the community was so poor it had to pawn, (to a Christian !) its Shul decorations, silver crown & 2 engraved tablets with bells. 

1765: 552 Jews paying poll tax. 1808: 271 poor Jews left for Southern Russia. 

1843: Mstislavl Revolt. Quarrel with soldiers. Czar ordered 10% to join army, but revoked. 

1847: 3815 Jews registered. 

1897: 5076 Jews registered (60% of population) 1000 artisans 112 day labourers Most were “ mitnaggedim” Minority were Habad hasidim. Talmud Torah. 75 attended city school. Visits to the sick & pecuniary assistance to the needy. 

1926: 3371 Jews (42% of population) 

1941: October 900 Jews murdered by Nazis. 

Mstislavl sent one representative to the First Zionist Congress, 1897, out of a total of 55 from all Russia.

Last modified March 17, 2001