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[Page 24]

Grodno

Grodno, Dubrowa's nearest large city, was the second oldest Jewish community in Lithuania, then loosely united with Poland. In 1389 the Jews were granted a charter giving them certain civil and religious rights including a synagogue and cemetery. Although one of the five principal Lithuanian Jewish communities, Grodno always was a poor region with little industry or commerce. However, it was a religious and cultural center, the site of the first Hebrew publishing house in Lithuania (1789) and the home of several prominent Hassidic rabbis.

 

dab024.gif
An early woodcut (1561) by the German cartographer Sebastian Munster shows Grodno situated on the Neman River. This map was derived from an earlier version made in 1526.

 

In 1805 a German tourist who visited the Grodno area found it to be impoverished and remarked on the influx of Jews into the area in the wake of the recent Polish partition. He made numerous anti-Semitic remarks, but acknowledged that “among all the beauties of Poland, those (women) among the Jews bear away the palm; some of whom might have animated the pencil of an Appeles, a Venus of Medicis, or a Guido for a Madonna.” He also found that the Jews had “a greater degree of cultivation than the Polish middle classes”, and that although the towns were still desolated from the recent wars, the Poles were well satisfied with their new Russian masters.

Seven years later in 1812, the southern flank of Napoleon's army, headed by Napoleon's inept brother Jerome Bonaparte, King of Westphalia and Saxony, swept northeast from Bialystok to Grodno. No important battles were fought in this area but, some of these Prussian troops later settled in the towns, helped to establish the textile industry in Bialystok, and may have brought the first breath of the Enlightenment to the region.

[Page 25]

 

dab025.gif
Title page and part of text from G. Reinbeck's Travels
from St. Petersburgh to Germany in the Year
1805.

 

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