The original document contains many footnotes, mostly concerning references for factual material.
These footnotes have not been noted or translated in this translation. Those interested in this type of
source material are asked to refer to the original Hebrew document.
HISTORY OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF GRODNO
by Dov Rabin
From the Beginning Until the Second World War
Chapter 1: The Beginning of the City of Grodno
According to one opinion, the source of the name Grodno is from the German-Scandinavian word
"Gardr", which means an enclosed and protected area. It is conjectured that this
area was used as a grain storehouse for Scandinavia during the time of the
Norman invasions in the 9th century of the Common Era. At that time,
Scandinavia was afflicted by famine, and obtained its food from the basins of
the rivers that flow into the Baltic Sea. According to another opinion, Grodno
was known to the Scandinavians by the name of "Garti".
The Lithuanians who ruled Grodno until the 12th century, called the city "Gardas" or
"Gardinas", which means an place fenced off for the raising of sheep. It was
situated in the central economic area of Lithuania. Lithuanian legend tells of
an idol Gardintas, the protector of lambs, to whom the inhabitants of this city
dedicated a grove outside of Grodno. This grove was holy to them. This city is
known to the Lithuanians as Gardintas until this very day. It seems that they
received this tradition from the Normans.
The German noblemen of
the Teutonic orders called Grodno by the name "Garten", which also has the
meaning of a fenced off area. It seems that this name was on account of the
spacious garden which in olden days surrounded the wooden fortress. Or perhaps
it was called "Garten" on account of "Gardinas". It was also known by the names
"Garton" and Gartena".
The city was known as
Horodno, Grodno, and Horodon by the Slavs. In their language, this word means,
city, fortress, or a fortified area. Some people explain "Grodno" as a short
form of "Grod Nov", which means a new city or fortress. The city was known as
Grodno by the Slavs in later times as well. It was also called that name by the
Jews, who also knew it as Horodni; and in writing Horodno, Hradni).
Grodno existed in
prehistoric times. In the suburb of "Koloza" and across the Nieman river,
remains of a settlement from the Neolithic era were discovered. In the area of
Koloza, Greek and Roman coins from before the Common Era have been found. This
provides evidence of an active economy in the area. Resident tradesman supplied
amber from the Baltic regions to the shores of the Black Sea, and to Greece and
The origin of the
first residents of Grodno is unknown. In the era of large scale population
movement during the 4th century, the Goths settled the area of the
Nieman. From evidence provided by archeological excavations that took place in
Grodno, it is clear that the area was already populated during the first
millenium of the Common Era. The historical period of the city begins in the 11th
century, when the city was first settled by the Jadwigim, or
Yatwiaga tribe, which originated in Latvia-Lithuania, and which was later
destroyed by the Russians.
Grodno is first
mentioned in ancient Russian records in the year 1127. During that time, it
served as the capital of the large principality of Grodno, and was the
of the Russian prince Vasvolod Davidovitz. In recent archeological excavations,
the remains of a brick fortress from the 12th century were
discovered. The chronicles attribute the founding of Grodno to the above
mentioned prince, who became aware of the strategic importance of the area
during his battle expeditions. The settlement sprung up on a cleft that slopes
into the right bank of the Nieman, in an arc that runs from the east to the
north, near the old peaceful ford, opposite a small island that was near the
mouth of the Horodnitza River (which was later known as the Horodnitzanka).
This location was a natural base for ruling over the important waterway, which
connected the area with the Baltic Sea.
Grodno was located at
the meeting point of three ethnic groups – the Russians, the Lithuanians,
and the local Poles – and not far away from the settlements of the Teutonic
Prussians. It became known as a city of strategic and economic importance. This
importance determined the fate of the city already from its earliest days, and
over the generations it changed hands many times. In 1241, the Tatars invaded,
and later it was conquered by the Lithuanians, however in 1253, it fell into
the hands of Daniel Romanovitz, the prince of Galicia-Volyn. He was not able to
maintain control for very long, for in 1270, the Lithuanians again ruled over
the city. However, for more than 100 years (1290-1400), the city was the target
of many invasions by legions of German knights, who razed it over and over
again. During the rule of the Lithuanian Archduke Witold (or Vitovt) who called
himself the "Prince of Grodno", it served from 1398 as the auxiliary capital of
the Lithuanian Archduchy.
Chapter 2: The Beginnings of Jewish Settlement
The "Permit of Residence" of 1389
In their desire to develop their kingdom, the Lithuanian rulers of the 14th century
required new elements travelling middlemen, merchants, and artisans
and they opened up the gates of the land to immigration. They regarded with favor
the arrival of Jews into Lithuania in general, and into the area of Grodno
The first record of Jews in Grodno is from 1389 – a "Permit of Residence" issued by
the Lithuanian Archduke Witold. The opinion of the historians is divided with
regard to the place of origin of the first Jewish residents of Grodno and of
north-central Greater Lithuania in general. According to the theory of Avraham
Eliahu Harkavi and Dr. Y. Brutzkus, they came from the southeast, from Russia.
According to a second opinion they came from the west, from Poland, and from
refugees of the black plague, and the persecutions of Germany. According to the
researcher Meir Balaban, the first Jewish residents of Lithuania were composed
of two elements, just as they were in Poland: the first ones were the
easterners, who came from the Khazaria 
via the Kiev area of Russia, and perhaps via the
Moscow area of Russia, and secondly, there was the western Ashkenazic element
who arrived somewhat later. M. Balaban writes that it would seem that a large
wave of Jews arrived in Lithuania at the time that it was joined to Poland; who
would have been Jews from Lvov who lived under the "Permit of Residence" issued
by the Lithuanian Archduke Witold in 1388 to the Jews of Brisk and Trakai,
which was a copy of the older Letter of Permit issued by King Kazimierz the Great to
the Jews of Lvov in 1364.
A special Permit of
Residence for the Jews of Grodno was given to them on June 18, 1389 in Luitzk
(Lutzk), and granted them additional rights and freedoms over and above what
was granted to the Jews of Brisk. Due to the uniqueness of this Permit of
Residence, which was distinctively different from the text of the western permits, we will
bring down the main part of this permit in full:
"The Jews of Horodno may
continue to live and to retain possession of those sections in which they now
dwell, that is to say, the area starting from the bridge of the Horodno
fortress, which leads to the marketplace, on both sides of the street up until
the road that leads from the road of the fortress to the slope (Podol); the
back side of these yards face the houses that belong to the church of /
Wlido / along the length of its banks / to the fortress that is next to the small church. / These / these areas above the
Horodnitza, upon which stands the Jewish house of G-d.
cemetery, where they bury their dead, near the portions of land of the Jews
above the Horodnitza, until the Horodnitza river itself, and until the property
of the lord Ivan Feodorovitz: and from the other side of the river, along its
length, until lane, up until the Catholic / church.
For that cemetery, and
for whatever they now own or whatever plots of land they will acquire / for
themselves / in the future, just as the land of their Jewish house of G-d, they
will not have to pay any payment or taxes to our land.
Furthermore, we permit
them to hold any kind of foodstuffs in their houses, and to pour any kind of
drinks in their houses, whether home made, or whether bought from what is
imported into the city, and they will pay to our land the yearly tax.
They are permitted to
conduct commerce and business in the marketplace, in stores, and on the street,
on an equal footing with the local residents. Similarly, they are permitted to
engage in various types of work.
It is permitted to sell
in an open manner to the Jewish butchers who buy cattle, entire carcasses, or
quartered carcasses to anyone who wishes to purchase, and similarly to cut the
carcasses up into pieces, without / them being required / to remit to our land
any kind of tax, neither from the shoulders nor from the fats.
They are permitted to
use the arable land and meadows, which they now own or which they will acquire
in the future, if they remit / a tax / to our land equivalent to what would be
remitted by the local residents."
From the text of this
Permit of Residence, which was authorized later on in the centuries that
followed by the kings of Poland Zygmunt August (August 19, 1547), Jan Kazimierz
(June 20, 1655), and Stanislaw August Poniatowski (December 19, 1785) –
that at the time it was first issued, there already was a Jewish community in
Grodno, that Jews dwelt in specific streets near the slope of the banks of the
Horodnitza river (this area of Grodno was called by the locals from that time
on, until our own time "Jorzika", that is to say "Yorizdika" – the area
Yorisdiktzia, which had a separate legal system from that of the remainder of
the city), that Jews had their own "house of G-d" (i.e. house of worship) which
overlooked the slope to the river bank, they had their own cemetery (along the
line of the slope eastward, which is indeed the location of the ancient Jewish
cemetery), they had houses and other property, and they owned land for planting
and pasturing around the city, and that they earned their livelihood by
business, work and agriculture.
The Jews of Grodno in the 15th Century Expulsion and Return
The Jews of Grodno
enjoyed equal rights with the rest of the citizens, and they were able to lead
their lives without disturbance even during the time of the 1440s, when the
"Magdeburg Law" was introduced as the legal system. This law was brought to
Poland and Lithuania by the Germans who were invited to settle in their cities,
and excluded the Jews from its jurisdiction, and thus also from business and
Map on page 21-22
Grodno of the 13th-15th centuries.
This map contains a legend, and also labels directly on the map.
Labels on the map are as follows:
Scale in upper left area
is in meters. The mark below indicates that the north direction is at the top
of the map.
Thin river flowing from upper left corner is the Horodnitza.
Thick river flowing along the lower left area is the Nieman, and an island
is shown on the left side of the river.
The area above the Nieman, just
above the island, is called Koloza.
In the upper right area, to the right of
the Horodnitza Stream, the area marked with gravestones is the Old Jewish
Cemetery. Below it, the building marked with the Magen David is the synagogue.
The street that starts at the right edge, near the top is Dominikanska
Street, also known as Vilna Road.
Going off of Dominikanska toward the
cemetery (near 4) is the Street of the Jews.
Going left from the bottom of
Dominikanska is the Street of the Fortress.
At the right edge, near the
center, just right of the Street of the Fortress is the Old Marketplace.
Going down from the right edge, just below the Old Marketplace is the
road to Podol, also called Karel Street. Just to the right of it, in brackets
The German Market
The Upper Fortress
The Lower Fortress during the days of Witold
The Threefold Church
Pravoslavi house of worship
House of worship in Koloza (Pravoslav)
Bernardine Church – palace of the Lithuanian Archduke
Kazimierz Hiagloni who ruled
over Lithuania from 1447-1492, followed in the path of Archduke Witold. He
ruled over Poland, and was known for his good relations with the Jews. He lived
most of his days in Grodno, and he died there. There is mention of Jews in
Grodno in the documents of the second half of the 15th century –
Bogdanovitz, Chatzkovitz, and Kunczicz – the owners of farms and fields,
meadows, fish ponds, and mills. The Grodno Jew Yanko Yatzkovitz, and his sons
Yitzchak and Moshe were responsible for collecting the tolls from those who
crossed the Grodno bridge. The wealthy Jew Yehuda Bogdanovitz, known as the son
of Matityahu, one of the most important tax collectors in Lithuania, was
responsible for the first tax offices. During that century, the Jews of Grodno
did business with Kovno, Danzig and Königsberg. They would go downstream on
Nieman River to Kovno, and further on to Königsberg, bringing with them rye,
flaxseed, flour, and cattle hides. They would return upstream with salt and
herring to sell in Grodno and other places. The Jews of Grodno were engaged in
competition with their compatriots from Brisk in the areas of business and tax
collecting. The Brisk residents had the upper hand during that time, since the
Jews of Grodno were dependent on their brethren in Brisk at that time, since
Briskers had possession of the Permits of Residence for all of Lithuania. Only
in the third quarter of the 16th century did the Jews of Grodno
succeed in obtaining their own copy of Permit of Residence, for the needs of
their own community.
data that we have describes a load of cargo that was transported by a Jewish
wholesaler, Shimon the son of Nachum of Grodno, to Königsberg, and the cargo
brought in return. This data gives us reason to surmise that the business
ventures of the Jewish merchants were conducted on a large scale. When a Jewish
merchant from Grodno was robbed by an official of the "Großmeister" (a title
of the head of an order of Teutonic knights) in Prussia, around 1948, on his way
Danzig, he brought Kazimierz the Fourth Hiagloni, the King of Poland and
Archduke of Lithuania with him, and requested return of the stolen property.
In 1495, three years
after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the Archduke Alexander Hiagloni
expelled the Jews from all of Lithuania. The Jews of Grodno found refuge in
neighboring Poland. The non-moveable property of the Jews was taken from them,
and the loans which were owed to them by the Christians were cancelled, or
alternatively, were required to be paid to the coffers of the Archduke.
Alexander distributed the property, villages, houses, and gardens of the exiles
to the priests, monks, boyars , citizens and also the apostate Jews. Control over taxation was transferred to the boyars, apostate Jews, and settlers who were brought in from Germany and Sweden. The reason for the expulsion was attributed to the
financial difficulties of the Archduke at that time. Apparently, Alexander
hoped to free himself in this manner from his debts and obligations to the Jews, and
to increase his income from their expropriated property.
In 1503, Alexander
rescinded the order of expulsion, and permitted the exiles – via a
letter in the name of the Grodno Jews Eliezer the son of Moshe (Leizer
Moizeszovitz), and Yitzchak the son of Feivel (Eizik Fiszovitz) – the
settle in any place where they had previously resided. He commanded "their
synagogue, cemetery, fields, farms, and meadows to be returned to them", and he
commanded the "dukes, princes, boyars, and citizens from the area of Grodno who
owed money or the value of money" to the Jews to pay their debts. He also
commanded the Jews to reimburse the temporary Christian landlords for all the
expenditures which were paid in "gifts" to the Archduke for the property which
was given to them, and any expenditure for the increase and maintenance of the
property. He also commanded the Jews to pay for a troop of one thousand
horsemen for the Lithuanian army (in 1514, they were released from this obligation).
There is reason to surmise that the special "Powrotny" tax (return tax) that
the Jews of Lithuania used to be required to pay in the olden days was also imposed
on them after the rescinding of the order of expulsion.
The turn of events which
brought about the return of the Jews to Lithuania was tied in part to factors
which existed prior to the expulsion: first and foremost, the financial
difficulties of the Lithuanian treasury due to the war with Russia, and in
addition, the slowdown of business, and the reduction of income from taxes,
As well, Alexander, who was crowned in 1501 over all of Poland, would be unable
to forbid the Jews from residing in only part of his land. The return of the
Jews to Lithuania was also good "business" for the Lithuanian treasury due to
all the payments which were imposed on the Jews, as described above.
The acquisition of
property became easier only after a significant amount of friction, and in
King Zygmunt the First gave a letter to the Jews of Grodno, at their own
request, which made it obligatory to return to them, by authority of the
of King Alexander, the houses, stalls in the marketplace, fields and meadows
which belonged to them prior to the expulsion. Furthermore, in 1525, the king
presented Yehuda Bogdanovitz with the rights of acquisition of land, which had
previously been purchased by his father Bogdan in the area of Grodno prior to
Chapter 3: The Period of Growth (1503-1647)
1. The General and Economic Situation
Status of the Jews of Grodno
In the days of the rule
of Zygmunt the First (1506-1548) the community of Grodno established itself and
expanded, and even began to send roots out to the surrounding area. Already by
1522, some residents settled in Tiktin, having received their permit of
residence in Grodno. This permit granted them various rights in their new
At approximately the same time period, Jews of Grodno also set up the nearby
community of Nowy Dwor. It is recorded in the annals of 1541, that the Jewish
'Kozlaski' family in this town chased away with force or arms men of rank who
wished to appropriate their homes. We learn in this timeframe the Jews of
Lithuania (the Pans – landowners and other men of rank), wore swords upon
loins, in the same manner as the gentile nobility. This had been forbidden to
them up until that time.
According to the
Lustracja (the royal listing of property – for the purpose of
1560, the Jews of Grodno owned 60 plots of land upon which houses were built
out of a total of 543 built up plots in all of Grodno. This represents 11% of
the total. However, the percentage of Jews in the total population was somewhat
larger, as can be deduced from the percentage of taxes that they were required
to pay. In 1549, according to this number, the Jews represented 17% of the
taxpayers of Grodno.
According to the
Lustracja of that time period (1552-1566), the community of Grodno was the
second largest of Lithuania, second to Brisk of Lithuania where the Jews owned
90 houses (out of 746 in the city, which is 12%). In Pinsk they owned 43 houses
(16.4%), in Kobrin 27 (12%), and in Nowy Dwor next to Grodno – 16 (14%),
The Jewish historian
Yitzchak Shifer estimates that a Jewish household in that time period consisted
of approximately 28 people. Therefore it is possible to estimate that the
population of Grodno in 1560 was about 1,700. However, according to the
researcher S. Brashodski, the number of people in a household was only about
According to that estimate, the Jewish population of Grodno would have been
exception of those Jews who lived in areas of the city where the majority of
residents were not Jewish, the Jews were concentrated in the following area:
Jewish Street, from the fortress to the marketplace (in our day the "Area of
Kosher Butchers" or in Yiddish the "Koshere Yatkes"), and on the Narrow Jewish
Street (known in our day as the "Butcher's Street", or in Yiddish the "Treife
(i.e. non Kosher) Yetkes", which went out from the large Street of the
and also in the street along the length of the Horodnitza valley.
This area, pretty much
with the same boundaries, served as Ghetto A in the days of the end of the
community when it was under Nazi rule. This was the large ghetto, and the only
gate to this prison was on the Narrow Jewish Street. In 1560 as in prior
generations, the area along the length of the Horodnitza served as the dwelling
place for the poorer people. We find in the Lustracja that the smaller plots of
land were located in that area.
In that year, the
Lustracja notes the following Jewish communal buildings: the synagogue, and a
hospital on Plebanska Street (that is "the Street of the Priest", known in our
day as "The Lane of the Rope Makers", Shmuklereshe Lane in Yiddish; known
officially as Market Street, and in Polish "Rinkowa").
The community of Grodno
flourished greatly during the reign of King Stefan Batori of Poland
who was kindly disposed toward the Jews, and granted them their rights in 1578.
In his attempt to cement the union of Lithuania and Poland, in 1569 Batori
Grodno as his favored residence. He received the representatives of Czar Ivan
the Terrible of Russia, and of Elizabeth Queen of England in the castle which
built in the area of the ancient fortress.
Remnants of the "Shulhof" ghetto.
location of the ancient Jewish quarter. Photographed at the end of the 1940s
from the Lurzike side. Above the hilltop, on the left left is the area of the
old Jewish cemetery.
Grodno in the 16th century.
A gravure from 1578.
During the reign of Zygmunt
the Third (1587-1632), men of the Order of Salvation began to appear in
Lithuania. They were invited in to fortify the Catholics against the
movement, which began to spread there in 1616. The Salvationists established
themselves also in Grodno, and with their arrival a period of libels and
accusations against the Jews began, which grew stronger with the passing years.
The Beginnings of Oppression by the Christian Citizens
citizens (the "mieszczans") of Grodno looked from that time on with a grudging
eye upon the continual successful development of the Jewish community in the
city. Already in the 15th century, the rights to purchase salt,
herring and wheat directly from the farmers and merchants of Königsberg and
Kovno was removed from the Jewish residents – so that they would be
forced to buy these things from the citizens of Grodno. In order to impose further
hardship on the businesses of the Jews, they were only permitted to deal in
In 1549, a group of Christian citizens of Grodno brought a complaint before Queen Bona
Sporca (the wife of Zygmunt the First, who was active in affairs of the state,
and visited in the city from time to time on account of her properties which
she owned in the vicinity of the city), that the Jews of Grodno were not willing to
pay one quarter of the Srebszczyzna tax that was imposed upon Grodno, which
they had customarily paid in the past. (This tax was paid in silver coins.) In
addition they complained that they were derelict in other payments and civic
obligations. The Jews retorted that they had never borne such a large portion
of the civic payments. The queen decided that the local Jews were required from
that time on to pay 17% of the total royal taxes that were imposed upon Grodno.
The citizens were also
resentful that the Jews, who were beginning to become cramped in their own
quarter, had begun to spread out of their boundaries. The mieszczans complained
to the queen also about that situation. The queen decided that buildings and
agricultural land which the Jews had already purchased from the citizens up to
that time would be free from civic law and taxes. However in the future it
be forbidden for the Jews to purchase houses from the Christians without a
special permit from her, and those that would be purchased in legal fashion
would be subject to the local civic law (and not the law of the king, whose
jurisdiction extended over the Jews and their property on account of the Permit
the Christian citizens of Grodno again complained before the king that the Jews
of the city refused to pay the Srebszczyzna tax. The Jews retorted that the
which convened in Vilna in 1551 imposed on them, and upon all the Jews of
Lithuania, a special annual head tax, and freed them from the Srebszczyzna.
retort was accepted by the king, who decided the law accordingly.
In 1563, King Zygmunt
August imposed upon the Jews of Grodno a payment of 200 szok of Groszy (szok =
60, 60 groszy = 2 gold coins – known as zloty). This sum of 200 was from
amongst the 4,000 that was imposed as an annual head tax upon the Jews of all of
Lithuania. This compares to the 264 szok of groszy imposed on Brisk, 100 on
When a fire
broke out on the Jewish street in 1617, and burnt down the wooden synagogue
King Zygmunt the Third permitted the building of a new synagogue of stone or
brick in the same place, on the condition that it would not be higher than
buildings. He also permitted them to rebuild their houses in the ramparts,
the "Jewish Street which crossed the Street of the Fortress" (The Street of the
Fortress is "Shloss Gass" or "Zamkowa"). Due to pressure from the citizens, he
forbade them to acquire new property in the city, or to build in additional
Later on in 1633,
King Wladislaw the Fourth permitted the Jews of Grodno to build new shops of
brick in the marketplace and in their homes, that would replace the temporary
wooden stores and huts. He permitted this in order to prevent further fires
– however he forbade them to acquire new buildings or to enlarge the existing
Means of Livelihood of the Jews
We have a great
deal of information about the means of livelihood of the Jews in Grodno from
annals of the regional courthouse of the city from 1539-1542 which was
by the "Vilna Archival Committee". In Grodno, we find Jews who had business
dealings with Shklov, Vilna, Kovno, Königsberg, and Danzig from one side, and
with Posen from the other side. The Jewish merchants of Grodno exported to
places wheat, honey, wax and other local products, and imported woven goods,
cloth, metal products (such as sickles), etc. In a later period, from 1569, the
Jewish wholesalers from Grodno traveled to fairs in Lublin. They brought to
Lublin various hides, cloth, wax and furs, and brought in return hats, woven
goods, papers, spices, haberdashery, steel, rice, soap, silk, sugar, and other
We know of Jews in Grodno in the 16th and beginning of the 17th
centuries who owned agricultural lands, meadows, even forests in the areas
surrounding the city, and vegetable gardens in the city itself. Many of these
properties were bought from Christians in return for loans which were due to
After the "Uniat"
of Lublin, (the unification of Lithuania with the Kingdom of Poland), in 1569,
which raised the standard of the Lithuanian nobility to that of the Polish
nobility and granted them further rights – the number of Jewish
Grodno diminished, since they were no longer able to compete in this area on an
equal footing with the nobility. We find during this period indication of the
sale of property "in perpetuity" by the Jews to the gentiles.
In the annals of the
above mentioned courthouse, there is ample evidence of loans with interest of
the Jews of Grodno – Koniuk, Yechezkel and Yosef Lazarovitch, and others,
particular the above mentioned Yehuda Bogdanovitch and his children (the
"Yehuditzes"). These loans were made with obligation of return of money or the
equivalent of money, such as wheat, honey, wax, and also service. Some of the
borrowers would provide members of their household as surety to the lenders.
Thus, Zachariash Shevelevitz "of the King's Boyars", and his wife had their son
boarded with Nissan Chatzkovitz – until they could repay the loan which
received. Yechezkel and Moshe the sons of Yitzchak Choroshenkaya of Grodno
received an entire group of servants from the Catholic Priest Simeon Ponoiawski
as surety for a loan. Even greater was the number of Jews who loaned out small
sums to the farmers, local citizens, and Tatars in the Grodno areas (Lososna),
whether for obligations or for pledges. The Tatars took up residence around
Grodno already from the days of Archduke Witold at the end of the 14th
century. They also had a quarter in the city itself which existed until the end of the 19th
century, and until Polish control returned to this city in 1919, their name was still associated
with one of the streets.
The Jews of
Grodno continued with various rental arrangements in the city and outside of it
– based on their monopoly of the salt trade and the candle tax. These
included malt factories and inns. Yitzchak the son of Nissan of Grodno arrived
at the end of the 16th century in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and leased
there all of the bars, the "moyt" toll collection (the tax which was paid at
crossroads and bridges upon entrance to a city or a region), and the candle
tax. Jews of Grodno also leased the flour mills that were located on the nearby
rivers, including the Lososianka.
In the annals of that
time period, there are also recorded judgements against Jews who owed money to
noblemen and Christian merchants. The received loans from them with liens upon
their immovable property, and even upon their clothing. Many incidents are also
recorded of small scale merchants – and apparently the majority of the
Jewish businessmen in Grodno were small scale merchants – requiring small loans
for business. They received these loans from civic officials, Christian citizens
and also priests. These small scale businessmen were also deeply in debt to Jewish
wholesalers and banks. There were incidents where Jews would give over members
of their household, and even their wives, as surety for a loan. We will speak
more about such incidents later.
Struggles of the Jewish Artisans
In 1601, the
city of Grodno complained to the royal authorities that the Jews were buying
from the Grodno marketplace, and shipping it by river to Kovno and Königsberg,
where they bought salt and herring to bring back to Grodno. The complaint
that in such a manner they were taking away the livelihood of the Christians,
and causing great inflation and famine in the city and in the Grodno region.
King Zygmunt August forbade the Jews of Grodno with serious consequences from
doing wholesale business in bread, salt, and herring. In a reply to the leaders
of Lithuania, the king stated that "It is forbidden to do business in bread,
and other wholesale business, with the exception of alcoholic drinks and retail
business in haberdashery".
This marked the
beginning of the period of continual conspiracy of the Christian citizens to
push the Jews out of their strong position in the economic structure of the
artisans of Grodno were caught up in a prolonged struggle. Their number had
increased in Grodno, as in all of Lithuania, due to the increase of the Jewish
population, the additional artisans who came from among the Jewish immigrants
from the west, the pushing out of Jews from other means of livelihood, and the
increased competition among the remainder – in particular in the latter
half of the 17th century after the disasters which befell a large portion of
our people, and the wars which visited upon Grodno and its Jews.
Jewish tailors, furriers, and hat makers met with opposition from the Christian
guilds when they would bring their work to the market to sell to the farmers.
The Christian artisans claimed for themselves, according to the "Magdeburg Law"
the rights to the monopoly in the area of work, even though the royal
"privileges" freed the Jews of Lithuania from the authority of the Christian
guilds. In 1652, a complaint was brought by the union of Christian tailors in
Grodno against their Jewish fellow-tradesmen, complaining that "for several
decades" they did not accept the authority of the Christian guild and did not
pay dues to it. This complaint was bought before an arbitrator (since the local
court refused to adjudicate the complaint, as the matter was dependent on royal
"privileges"). A compromise that was acceptable to the Jews was proposed. The
tailors and furriers were required to pay a yearly payment of money and
combustible material to the Christian guild, and in return they would be
permitted to engage in those trades, and also in hat making. They would be
permitted to sell their wares in the market and in their stores, and also to
employ Christian workers and apprentices. They were also almost completely
freed from any authority of the Christian guilds, and they were not required to pay
the candle tax for the altars of the Churches, and to participate in any of
their religious ceremonies.
The situation of the
Jewish artisans in Grodno was better than that in other communities of
Lithuania and Poland. Nevertheless, these rights which were granted in Grodno did not
last for a long time.
||The Khazars, or Kuzarians (Kuzarim) in Hebrew, are people of the land of
Khazaria (Kuzaria), which was located in southwestern Europe,
between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. In the late 8th century, the king of
Khazaria converted to Judaism, and much of his people
followed him in this step. There are some theories, including the one mentioned here,
that the westward migration of the Khazar Jews formed at least part
of the nucleus of the early Jewish settlement in Poland and Russia. Other
theories maintain that the present day mountain Jews of the Caucasus, may be
descended from the Khazars. Still another theory maintains that the Turkish
speaking Karaites of Crimea and Poland, who are just about extinct today, were
descended from these Khazars. My own opinion is that there is likely some
element of truth (although it is debatable how much), to all the above
theories. When the Khazar empire broke up around the 10th century due to Russian and Mongol invasions, the residents were most likely scattered in various directions. Return
||These separators / are included in the Hebrew
text. It is not clear what exactly they signify. They may signify page breaks
in the original document. They most probably signify lacunae, since the document
is somewhat disjointed. Return
||A boyar is a Russian aristocrat. Return
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