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[Page 11]

History of the City

The History of the Jews of Novogudok

by Yaakov Goldberg

Translated from Hebrew by Aviva Kamil

Novogrudok was situated in the Great Duchy of Lithuania and after the Polish-Lithuanian union it was under the rule of Poland.

Novogrudok was established around 1116 C. E. by the Galich-Volhynian principality and in the middle of the XIIIth century, as a result of a few small wars, came under the rule of Lithuania. [A number of historians consider that the town was founded in 1044 by Yaroslav the Wise, a Kievien Prince, who was, at the time, on a military expedition in the region. Other historians, the best known among them was Narbutt, name Yaropolk, the son of the famed Kievien Prince Vladimir Monomach, as the founder of Novogrudok in 1116. Other dates and name have also been mentioned. The evidence obtained by the archaeological expedition of F. D. Gurevich (1957-1984) shows that there was a settlement where Novogrudok now stands, at the end of the Xth century and a town with a citadel on the Zamok mound 50 years later. This evidence would support 1044 as the likely date the Novogrudok citadel was built. Who was the founder of the town has not been established beyond doubt. How Novogrudok came to be ruled in the XIIIth century by the Lithuanian Prince Mindovg (d. 1263) is also subject to many interpretations]

The language and culture of the inhabitants were preserved and to a great extent were adopted by the conquering Lithuanians. On arriving, the Jews took up the language of the local population, so that to the end of the XVIIIth century their common tongue was Belorussian. After the union of Krewo in 1385, two districts were established in Lithuania with administrations located in Vilno and Troki. Novogrudok was in the Vilno district, but the association with Vilno's governing body was weak. In 1569 the alliance between Lithuania and Poland was strengthened by the union of Lublin.

The new district of Novogrudok included the towns of: Slonim, Kletsk, Volkovysk and the principality of Slutsk.

The administrative arrangement, which was instituted in the XVIth century, lasted until 1795 i.e. until the 3rd and final partition of the Polish State by Russia, Prussia and Austria. In the second partition, in 1793, Russia occupied the eastern part of the district of Novogrudok with the town Nesvizh.

The district of Novogrudok was re-established after the first WW, when Poland regained its independence.

Novogrudok was an important town in the old days of the Polish State. Bi-annual sittings of the high court of the Great Duchy of Lithuanian took place there since 1581 [on alternate years it sat in Minsk]. But Vilno was, of course, the permanent location of all the high offices. The sittings of the Tribunal were of great importance to the Jewish community. Its leaders took part in the deliberations, which concerned not only local matters.

In 1775 the seat of the tribunal was transferred to Grodno. It happened, most likely, because Grodno was the center of the political life in those days. but that change occurred towards the end of the existence [of Poland and] the tribunal. Novogrudok was host to the Lithuanian tribunal for 200 years. Novogrudok retained local courts.

The sources of information about the Jews in Novogrudok are very limited, therefore we'll deal with only a few aspects of the Jewish life there.

The concentration of Jews in the eastern part of the Great Duchy of Lithuanian started in the XVIth century, they arrived mainly from the Jewish communities of Brest, Grodno and Pinsk and fewer came from other parts of Polese and from Volhyn.

At the same time Jews from Belorussia were also arriving in Novogrudok. The reason for that movement was economic.

In the XVth-XVIth centuries the Jews of Novogrudok earned their livelihood working for the government, [collecting] taxes and custom duties].

For a long period Russian Jews were not allowed by law to be traders.

Novogrudok was not situated on the main trading routes of the country. The trade routes from Krakov and Warsaw went through Minsk. Two routes led from Grodno to Smolensk, one through Vilna and the other through Novogrudok and Minsk.

This is the reason why towns such as Pinsk, Troki or Brest attracted more Jews.

All matters of collection of taxes and customs in the Lithuanian Duchy were in the hands of Jews. One of them, the well-known and wealthy Michael Aspovich was a favorite of King Zigmunt the Old (1506-1548), who bestowed on him in 1507 a high title [knighthood]. It was the only known case of such a title having been awarded to a Jew. Aspovich's brother, who was also awarded that title, was a convert.

In 1514 the King appointed Michael Aspovich to be head of the Jewish community of Lithuania. Other Jews, who were also collecting taxes, were: Agron Mehaimovich, Isak Pashovich and Shachna Golevich. It is not clear if they were living in Novogrudok, but they must have spent a lot of time there, as did Michael Aspovich, who, because of his connections, was able to help other Jews, like the people mentioned above, to earn their livelihood in Novogrudok.

There are indications that the Jewish community started to grow in 1529 with the help of Aspovich. In a governmental document of the Great Duchy of Lithuanian, dated 1529, a few towns, with Jewish populations are listed: Novogrudok, Brest, Grodno, Slutsk, Machislav (?), Pinsk, Slonim, Troki, Tichotin, Lachovich and Vladimir. Our information of the events in the XVIth century is limited only to Novogrudok. The sources are trade documents and court cases. The size of the businesses in Novogrudok was smaller than that of the Slutsk and Vladimir, but was greater than the businesses of the Vitebsk Jews.

Novogrudok Jews traded mainly with Lublin, where they were supplying furs, honey, fish, milk and the like. Some Jewish names started to appear in the documents of 1540. One Jew, for example, Yeheskiel Shmoilovich sued Mosihek Itzkovich, whom he accused of breaking a trade agreement. In the first few decades the economic status of the Jews improved and thus grew their importance in Lithuania. Of course they sometimes had disputes and quarrels with their Christian neighbors, and some serious clashes occurred with the “Shlachta” [landed gentry]. One of these erupted in 1551. Two Christians, Ivan Kmiticz Stratovicz and Lukasz Stanislavovicz Drabski blamed the Jew Yankl Pashovich of arranging burglaries. They were two of his victims [they claimed]. Yankl Pashovich defended himself vigorously and sued them for libel. The accusers did not appear in court and Yankl Pashovich was awarded a sum of money for the libel. Monetary compensation was an accepted method [of redress] and it was paid in accordance with the person's status, Jewish peasants were low on that scale. Yankl Pashovich did not take the money and was satisfied that he was cleared of the charge. It could be that fear prevented him from taking the money or that the sum of money offered was only nominal. As far as we know there were not many occurrences such as this.

Quarrels and disputes with the common people were prevalent. In 1559 a dispute broke out between the local governing body and Yaakov Yehilevich from Brest and Nisan Haimovich from Grodno, who leased the breweries at Novogrudok. The local people maintained that the local brewery should be leased to local people, for that was their right. They presented their case to the King and lost. The king's council decided that there were no privileges in that matter. But there was another case in 1568, when the Jew Nathan Nairovich from Grodno sued two citizens of Novogrudok for beating and injuring him. He thought that the witness, who was one of the gentry, would assist him at the trial, but he did not appear. The court found against him.

There were disputes between the Orthodox Church and the Jews in the first century of Jewish settlement in Novogrudok [the Jewish settlement in Novogrudok had probably begun first in the XI or XII century, when such disputes were unlikely]. Those were individual disputes [as opposed to clashes between communities]. In the courts Jews had to swear on the Bible. As it happened, in 1541, the head of the Orthodox Church refused to accept the oath of a Jew named Metatshiz. The Jew complained to queen Bona. The outcome [of the case] is unknown to us. Disputes and antagonism spread. In 1567, the plebeian Franciszek Kasziszovski (?) from Novogrudok attacked the house of Shaya Lazerovich wounding him and his wife and robbing them of their valuables. The situation of the Jews in Lithuania was fair, in comparison to the situation in the Polish ethnographical areas, but it was fast deteriorating. There were persecutions of the Jews as a whole. The locals wanted to limit the number of Jews in Novogrudok. They wanted them out of the center of town, so that they would not be a competing with the local Christian traders.

On the 30th of September 1563 a delegation of the locals to King Zigmunt [Sigismond] August obtained a special order from him to create a Jewish Ghetto in Novogrudok. The King appointed the governor of the district Pavel Spieha [one of the nobility] to execute the order, and he in turn appointed another aristocrat Bogdan Spieha as a special town supervisor. The latter, with the help of the locals, decided which streets to allocate to Jews. The King's order was that the Jews should live in separate streets, which he named. It is hard to identify now the streets of XVIth century Novogrudok. They carried the names of towns in Lithuania which they led to. [pre 39-45 war most streets which radiated from the central market square carried the names of the towns they led to and some of the streets retained these names to this day eg Grodienskaya, Minskaya]. The order also marked the topographical position of the streets Jews had to live in. By that order, they had to move from the center of town, even if they owned houses there, and relocate outside of the citadel.

Despite the expulsion order the Jews stayed put. The Christian residents obtained a second order [a year after the original order]. They insisted on severe sanctions for the disobedience and for staying in the houses in Podolska Street. An official was appointed, from the Byelorussia aristocracy, Jan Jorvich Bogomatka. He was instructed to destroy every house that owners refuse to vacate. Christian citizens also demanded a high penalty: 1600 gold ducats. They considered Jewish houses on Podolska Street an affront to their sovereignty. The Christian residents needed some documents to attain their aim, but they did not have any. The Jews of Novogrudok did not accept the order to create a Ghetto. They turned to the crown court in Warsaw and presented a claim against the local government in Novogrudok, which wanted to oust them from Podolska Street. The crown court was a King's chamber, which dealt with matters relating to the King's towns as opposed to privately owned towns [owned by the landed gentry and the church]. The Warsaw court favored the King's towns. The same court found in favor of the Jews when the brewery dispute occurred, and the Novogrudok Jews turned to it again with the Ghetto order. The procedure this time was much more difficult and expensive, authorized people had to be sent time and again to court sessions in Warsaw. The representatives were chosen: Mandel Gershonovich, Shmuel Mandelevich, Lazer Shmuelevich and Yankl Pashovich. The date of the hearing was the 25th of November 1564. Because of hardship on the way, the fear of robbers and Polish soldiers, who did not hesitate to rob too, the representatives arrived very late. The court ruled in favor of the Christian residents, it ruled that the Jews had no right to live in Podolska Street and ordered them to relinquish their homes and gardens to the Christians. The court based its judgment on the fact that the representatives did not bring any documents with them to prove their ownership. The reason the Jews did not bring the documents was the fear of being robbed of them, as events like that were a common occurrence in those days, especially by their litigants, who wanted to rob them of proof. The outcome of the dispute is not known, but it must have finished in favor of the Jews because, as we know, they went on living in Podolska Street. It was by no means the end to their troubles. When the Christian residents could not remove the Jews from favorable locations in the town, they tried to limit their commercial activities. In 1598 they forbade the Jews to sell meat at the market and so on, but the Jews persisted and succeeded. The Jews in Novogrudok fought for their right of residence and trade. It is a pity that not much information is left about the first century of Jewish existence in Novogrudok [but see note above]. We don't know much about their struggle to survive.

With the establishment of a Jewish autonomy and the Committee of the Lithuanian Jews in the Polish State, the Jewish leadership was resident in Brest. There was always a close relationship between the Jews of Novogrudok and Brest and it lasted until the termination of the autonomy in 1765. The nature of the relationship was in matters of tradition and religion. ”The Answers” by Rabbi Shlomo Luria [16th century] deserves a special mention. Rabbi Luria settled in Brest and then moved to Lublin. He discussed many problems in his “answers” . He mentions the small young Jewish community of Novogrudok and deals with an incident when a Jewish man insulted a Jewish woman because she refused his invitation to dance with him and so on. The Renaissance reached Poland and Lithuania and influenced the Jews there to a certain degree. They knew of light entertainment such as games and dance and cultural performances were not rare events in their community.

It is impossible to find out the exact number of Jews in Novogrudok in the XVIth, XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries, but by comparing the taxes in certain towns we can conclude that the Jewish population was small. The Jews in the Great Duchy of Lithuania had to pay tax of 4000 “kopas” groshes in 1563. Of that sum the Jews of Pinsk had to pay 600 “kopas”, Slutsk- only 15 and Novogrudok not much more then 30 “kopas” groshes, [kopa means 60 in polish].

In 1765 the number of Jews in the whole of the Grand Duchy was approx. 12030. Their number in Novogrudok is unknown. We can assume that judging by the number of people and houses it was an average size town. The earliest statistics we have are for 1790. We know that in Novogrudok there were 394 buildings and approx. 3000 residents. In that year there were in the in the towns of that district 8932 houses, of which 2401 belonged to Jews, which is 27% of the real estate in the towns of that district. At that time there were 1424 buildings in Vilna, 1108 in Grodno and 602 in Brest. Novogrudok was the fourth in size [in the Great Duchy of Lithuania], and a large part of the population was Jewish. In the first hundred years they managed to achieve some sort of stability, but disasters struck in the first half of the 17th century, when fire, robbery by soldiers and the plague of 1630 took many Jewish lives. Twenty years later a huge fire destroyed a great part of the city, the town hall, churches, shops and residential houses went up in flames. The market place burnt down and, as Jews lived around it and traded there, we can assume that they suffered greatly as a result of the fire.

Another shock came when the Swedes attacked the Polish State. The Swedes did not conquer Novogrudok, but as a result of the Polish-Russian war of 1655 the Russians invaded Novogrudok and looted it. In 1659 the Polish army under the command of hetman Pavel Spieha retrieved the area. A year later the Russians invaded Novogrudok again under the command of Prince Chubanski, who stayed there until June 1660. Then the Prince, before leaving, appointed a governor and gave a clear instruction to the soldiers to treat the population well. But to no avail, they kept on robbing people. After a few months the Polish army returned under the command of the same hetman Spieha and the famous Polish commander Stefan Czarniecki. The situation did not improve, as far as we can tell the opposite happened. The Polish army and its commanders considered themselves the defenders of their faith, Catholicism. They fought the Protestants and Swedes but the Jews were their first victims. So we can assume that the fate of the Jews in Novogrudok was not different to the fate of Jews in other Polish places.

The disasters of the XVIIth century, being so numerous, retarded the rate recovery. As a result, the Polish sejm issued in 1676 a special law for the towns: Novogrudok, Lida and Orsha, part of it was that in order to assist the recovery of these towns all the residents were exempt from a number of duties including the support of the army [Magdeburg law]. Many Russian towns and villages were granted similar exemptions. The first time Novogrudok received such a benefit was by the 1652 law passed by the sejm. They were given relief because of the great fire of 1650. Generally these laws were not for the Jews, but those exemptions would indicate that the Jews suffered great loses in the second half of the XVIIth century. They could not repay their loans and taxes. Cases were brought before the Tribunal of the Great Duchy of Lithuania, which sat at Minsk, Vilno and Novogrudok. In the years 1670-1699 one of the landed gentry Yozef Brzozovski sued Baruch Smuelevich, Shimon Tubishovich, Hanan Yudkovich, Laib Haimovich, Abraham Movshovich and Yosef Robinovich, the Jewish community representatives, because he claimed that the community owed him the large sum of 1490 zloty.

Those sued never replied to the court order and never appeared before it. By doing so they hoped to postpone the time of payment of the money they did not have and would be forced to pay it by any means. Being in debt was a common occurrence in Jewish communities in Poland of the XVIIIth century. And it was no different in Novogrudok. The Jews protested against all sorts of taxes that were imposed on them. In 1702, after the Swedes conquered Vilno, the governing body tried to bring back the taxation system that existed before the exemption given in 1676 [Magdeburg law]. A tax collector from Minsk by the name of Damien Shishko sued a number of Jewish merchants from the Great Duchy of Lithuania for not paying their taxes. From the Jews of Novogrudok he asked 365 zloty. The Jews based their opposition to it on the rule of the sejm which released them from the payment of that tax in 1676. In the XVIIth century there were also times when the Jews set out to protect their interests even by using force. In 1667 the residents of the town: Aaron Gushkovich, Yuchel Izraelovich, Shlomo Pashovich and Izik Shlomovich attacked on a market day the servant of the aristocrat Azrovich, took his horses and a certain sum of money. It's possible that it was their only way to get back whatever the Count owed them and was reluctant to pay. Anyway this little story tells us that some Jews were far from being obedient and ready to surrender. The Jews could not only present themselves well at the courts but also, in certain instances, could use force.

Through the age of the Reformation, in the second half of the XVIIIth century; the persecution of the Jews intensified in Novogrudok. A committee of Poles and Lithuanians – ”a police committee of two nations”– took care of Jewish affairs. Its task was to protect the King's towns.

In 1792 Jewish representatives brought a complaint to the attention of that committee. They asked for justice to be done in their quarrels with the Christian communities of Novogrudok, Grodno, Shavli and other cities. There are no historical documents to find out the grounds for those disputes, but it is possible to deduce that the Christians wanted the Jews debarred from commerce.

Events like that happened everywhere and they were discussed in high places and echoed in the Polish papers of those days. The central Jewish Autonomy ceased to exist, but a few chosen representatives [from Novogrudok too] dealt with the problems of the Jewish community.

In the XVIth century Jews looked for protection of the court and King . But in the late XVIIIth century they appeared as a unified body and asked for recognition and justice. At that time something else arose in Novogrudok, which had no precedent in any other town in Poland or even Europe. It was the financing of the army by the Jews. The first laws and privileges given to the Jews spoke about the Jews financing the army [a certain numbers of soldiers]. Prince Aleksander Jagiellonczyk in the second half of the XVth century ordered the Jews to finance 1000 horsemen, but he cancelled it. By the order of King Zigmunt [Sigismond] the Old in 1514, the Jews, like anyone else, had to provide accommodation etc as long as the army was in town. The situation changed completely in the 80's & 90's of the XVIIIth century. Conscription was introduced for young people from villages and state towns [to differentiate them from privately owned towns?] In Novogrudok most of the households belonging to the landed gentry or to Jews and so the people residing in them were not subject the conscription law. The town council turned to the police and they decided that every household should be subject to conscription. Therefore, the Jews also had to provide their quota of conscripts. That made them, as far as we know, the only Jewish conscripts in the State of Poland. But the conscription of Jews was not executed after all.

After a few months there was a change of rules - at the Confederation of Targowica (14 May 1792) they decided to reduce the size of the army. [The pro-Russian Confederation of Targowica was formed with the support of the conservative gentry and with the connivance of the Empress Catherine of Russia. They opposed the Polish constitution of 1791 (the 3rd of May constitution). After the invasion of Poland by Russian troops (May 1792) and the installation of a Russian client regime (July 1792) – the Confederation of Targowica – many opponents of the invasion fled abroad.].

Relations in the feudal Republic endangered the Jews, they were threatened by the locals, but they could cope with them. But aristocracy was a different matter: difficult to stand up to because of their power and wealth.

The Jewish merchants in Novogrudok were in close contact with the court of the Princes Radziwill, they did business with them since the days of old. In Novogrudok, their main supplier at the beginning of the XIXth century was a Jew by the name of Kalman Movtovich. In this town like in other state towns an enclave was created [a special area in the town which belonged to Prince Radziwill with rules of its own, not under the jurisdiction of the local municipality]. It was called: ”Radziwillian juridica”

The area behind the castle [zamek] was the one which in the XVIIth century they wanted to turn into a Jewish quarter. It was a ”juridica“ too, but by the rule issued by the “sejm” in 1641 it became part of the municipality.

The Radziwills had “juridicas” in Vilno, Grodno, Minsk and Brest. Large concentrations of Jews were found in towns which were owned by the Radziwills such as: Nieswiez, Slutsk, Korelicze and more. Some Jews lived in the “juridica “ of Novogrudok, they paid taxes and enjoyed the protection of the Princes. In that “ juridica” was a street called Korelicka which lead to Korelicze, a town which belonged to the Radziwills, and was famous for its textile industry. Included in the “juridica” were the streets Podlaska and Kowalska [one of them was called in the XXth century Troitzka (?)]. At the beginning of the XIXth century the streets Korelicka and Sieniezycka were part of the “juridica”.

In the fourth decade of the XIXth century the ”juridica” passed from the hand of the Radziwills to Prince Wittgenstein.

The “great sejm ” in its sessions between the years 1788-1792 cancelled all the “juridicas” in the Polish Republic, but the one in Novogrudok existed till the mid XIXth century.

After the division of Poland, when Novogrudok was under Russian rule, the ”juridica” still existed under the ownership of that powerful family, The administration did not act against them, and even awarded some of them titles in the court of the Russian Tsar.

The “juridica” was only cancelled in 1861. The Radziwills protected the Jews in their “juridica”. In the second half of the XVIIth century, the army tried to settle in houses in the “juridica”. The Radziwills interfered and the commanders responsible to that deed were punished severely. Incidents like these occurred mainly under the rule of the King Ian Sobieski the third in years 1678-1679.

A table of the number of Jewish and Christian families who resided in the Radziwill “juridica” between the years 1759-1859.

Year Christian
1759 5 13 1805 5 11
1771 6 9 1806 11 8
1778 7 8 1834 3 9
1781 9 6 1851 3 8
1782 8 6 1859 3 9

The “juridica” families, Jews and Christians, paid special taxes to the Prince, but were exempt from any other taxes that the other town residents had to pay. They were freed from serfdom by paying the Prince a certain sum of money.

As a rule the Jews paid higher taxes then the Christians. In 1702 they presented a complaint to the Prince and asked him to lighten their load.

For a few years, in the second half of the XIXth century, they did not pay duty.

With the passing of the ”juridica” into the hands of Prince Wittgenstein, the Jews tried to change the assessment of their duty payments, because the existing tax was far beyond their capacity to pay. Most of the Jews who resided in the town in the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries were poor and the taxes that they paid to the Radziwill and the Wittgenstein administrations made them even poorer.

Some Jews managed inns and sold brandy. It was a common occupation in the Polish Republic.

The Jews, sometimes, had disputes among themselves in the “juridica”, and on different occasions it attracted the attention of the clerks at Prince Wittgenstein administration. One such dispute broke out in 1842, between two residents, Movsha Murdoch and Nochim Izraelovich. The former was an owner of a house in Troitzka Street. He received permission from the management of the Prince's estate to buy another lot of land in the same street. But his rival Nochim Izraelovich protested and complained to the Prince's representatives, they in turn advised the management: ”As it is known from here and there that Movsha Morduch is in dispute with Nochim Izraelovich who owns an inn and accommodation which borders with the above mentioned lot, it is worthwhile to attract attention to the matter that by giving permission to buy an allotment of land—not to give the nearby residents a just reason to complain.” It was typical of the ”juridica” owners always tried to solve their residents' problems on their own; they did not want outside interference.

Apart from the closed area of the “juridica” there is in Novogrudok the old palace of the Radziwills which lost its importance in the end of the XVIIIth century, which was due to the political activities of Prince Karol Radziwill, who was nicknamed “panie kochanku” [my beloved sir], which was his manner of addressing all and sundry. [The Confederation of Bar (formed in Feb. 29, 1768) was a league of Polish nobles and gentry that was formed to defend the privileges of the Roman Catholic church and the independence of Poland from Russian encroachment. Its activities precipitated a civil war, foreign intervention, and the First Partition of Poland. Prince Karol Radziwill was one of the ardent supporters of the Confederation.] He stayed after the fall of the Confederation of Bar (1772) outside the country as a political refugee.

In his absence the palace fell into ruin. The Prince was an eccentric, he was light hearted with all people: peasants, Jews and the town residents. Shlomo Maimon, the known Jewish philosopher, who stemmed from the estate of the Radziwills near Niesviez, said that in spite of his unusual character [or perhaps, because of it] he did not show any hatred towards the Jews. At one time there was a Jew who was the manager of the palace and he lived there with his family. It was at the beginning of the XVIIIth century. The palace bordered with the town hall and with the wall of the Dominican church.

The irony is that in 1808 two Jews of Novogrudok, David Ariovich and Ale Laibovich bought the ruined palace from the Radziwills and used its bricks to build new Jewish houses.

In the first half of the XIXth century the places of abode of the Jews changed. Between the XVIIth and XIXth centuries most of them were concentrated in the market square. In the XIXth c. they concentrated in the Jewish street and Volevska Street . In the writings of I. Yatskovski we read: ” In the mid XIXth century one came to Novogrudok and climbed up the streets to the center of town. The town was built on a mountain, on top of which there was a great flat area called The Market Square. On the square were built diagonally two rows of Jewish shops. It reminded one of the time when ”bnei dat Moshe ”[sons of the Moses] crossed “yam-suf” [the Red Sea] and erected their tents.”

The houses on the Market Square belonged to well established Christian residents and the town officials.

In the second half of the XVIIIth c. the economic importance of Novogrudok diminished because of its unfavorable geographic position.

In 1881 there were in Novogrudok 3 small breweries, beehives and a factory making bricks and ceramic, which employed altogether a few dozen people. A few things hindered development: shortage of water, few connecting routes and an undeveloped local market.

Export to great Russia was in the hands of other industrial towns, so a large part of the Jewish population was in small trade and craft. In Novogrudok, development was minimal in the last century. The population did grow, but it was considered to be an average town in the Lithuanian-Byelorussian region.

In the first half of the XIXth c. the Jewish population suffered most from the hands of the soldiers of the Russian army that camped there. They found a special enjoyment in taunting the Jews. Many Jews sympathized with the Polish liberation movement. One of them called Perez was sentenced to prison in 1863 for helping a known commander from the days of the uprising of January 1863, Vitold Mildovski, to escape.

It is hard to assess how the “ Hasidut” and “ Haskala ”influenced the Jewish community in Novogrudok, though they were not far from the center of those movements. The strong political and social trends among the Jews of Novogrudok in the XXth c. was inspired by centuries of struggle and fight for their livelihood and existence. Their's was a life of tradition and culture, which is no more.

With their lives, most sources about their past were destroyed too, and it is impossible to believe that that they are lost.

[Page 19]

History of the town

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

The town of Novogrudok is the capital of the sub- district (ujezd) Novogrudok and was before the First World War part of the Minsk gubernia. The town is situated 143 km southwest of Minsk, close by a small stream, which flows into the river Neman. Novogrudok is surrounded by many well-known towns and townships. North of Novogrudok, at the same distance as from Minsk, is Vilno. Novogrudok is situated on a mountain. Within the city there is a mound, the Zamok, which was thought to have been erected, but it looks as if it is natural [it is natural, though the ravine around it was probably dug out]. The nature around this mountain is very beautiful, particularly in the summer, when the trees and fields around present a splendid vista. Around the fields is a dark ring of pine forests which is miles wide. A large part of the town is located in the valleys, such as the historical Rachelo. It is said that there the Grand Prince of Lithuania Mindog [Mindaugas] was crowned as the king of Lithuania. He obtained the title from the Pope, because he had converted to Catholicism. Mindog was the first ruler of Lithuania and Novogrudok was its first capital.

In the center of Novogrudok is a big market square, from which radiate the main streets of the town. In the center of the square is “the row of shops” built in a very nice style [actually a long rectangle, with a plurality of small shops arranged on all four sides]. The houses around the square are the nicest buildings in town.

The remarkable monuments of the town are: the Zamok [citadel] mound with the ruin of the citadel of the ancient Lithuanian princes, old Jewish memorials include the old synagogue which was built in a pleasing style, the Mohammedan mosque on Valiker Street, two Russian churches, one of which, named Borysoglebski, is very old [XII century], two Catholic churches, of which the Fara (parish church) is very old and well known. There is also the house in which the great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz was born and brought up [Mickiewicz was born in the family estate in Zaosie].

The climate of the Novogrudok area is moderate in summer and cold in winter. The air is dry and clear. Around the town springs abound, which provide good quality water. Particularly good and healthy is the water from Brichinke [Brecianka], which was used for cooking and making tea in samovars.

Economically Novogrudok was dependent on the farming population. Mondays and Thursdays were market days and several times a year there were large fairs: in January and March as well as in the summer before the harvest. The merchants of Novogrudok obtained their wares from Vilno and Warsaw [and many other centers, notably Lodz and Bialystok].

Novogrudok was the cultural center of the surrounding district. The high school was established in the distant past and there was a good library, which was taken over by the Jewish community after the First World War. Since then the library distinguished itself as a source of excellent books.

The population of Novogrudok consisted of Jews, Belorussians, Poles and Tatars and in the past Karaites. In 1888 the population of Novogrudok was about 12,000, of which there were 8,270 Jews, 2,200 Poles, 470 Belorussians, and 1,160 Tatars.

By the year 1897 the number of Jews was reduced to 7887. From then on the Jewish population of Novogrudok continued to decline. Before the First World War there were 5000 Jews in Novogrudok. The immigration to the United States and Western Europe had attracted a large proportion of young Jews.

The founding of the town

Novogrudok is a very old town. It existed in the XII century. It has not been determined when the town was founded, but it is assumed that one of the Kievian princes established it. It may have been Yaroslav the Wise, who built a fortress to defend the borders from the Yatviags, a bloodthirsty and savage tribe, which was threatening to overrun the whole region. [The history of Novogrudok is now better known due to the discoveries of the archaeological expedition of F. D. Gurevich, which worked in Novogrudok for 25 summers after the II WW. In the late X century there was a settlement on the site of Novogrudok. Yaroslav the Wise may have been in Novogrudok. About that time - middle of the XI century - the Zamok mound was fortified by a bank. Some historians consider it the beginning of the town of Novogrudok, as opposed to the early settlement.] The history of Novogrudok in the era of the Galich Volhynian prince Daniel Romanovich and the Lithuanian prince Mindog, who had converted to Catholicism and was crowned as king of Lithuania by the papal Nuncio, is better known. Mindog had given the town to his son Voisalk. In the year 1277 the Galich Volhynians with the help of the Tatars had tried to take Novogrudok from Lithuania. The siege ended with the Tatars burning the town and killing the inhabitants. [The Zamok, where the inhabitants took refuge, was not taken by the invaders]. Since that time, under the Grand Prince Gedimin [1315-1340], [who moved the capital of Lithuania from Novogrudok to Vilno] Novogrudok was again in the possession of Lithuania, which was governed by Gedimin's children and grandchildren, who were orthodox and russified.

In the year 1314 the Grand Master of Prussia's Teutonic order Hinrich von Plozke had attacked Lithuania and Belorussia. He captured and burned Novogrudok, but the population of the town fled to the citadel, where they defended themselves and repulsed all attacks. Later they emerged from the citadel, expelled the Teutonic invaders and pushed them back to the river Neman, where they defeated the aggressors. The Teutonic knights retreated in disorder to their country, having lost on the way many warriors due to hunger and sickness.

In the year 1323 the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gedimin had granted the Franciscan order a large property in Novogrudok. The order built a monastery, which spread Catholicism in the district.

At the end of the 14-century Novogrudok had became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania governed by Witold [Vytautas] the Great. The next ruler was the Grand Duke Jagello, who later became the king of Poland.

In the year 1394 Novogrudok was attacked again by the Teutonic knights. The town was burned down, but the attacker could not retain it and had to retreat to Drohichin. In 1451 Witold rebuilt Novogrudok.

In the same year the orthodox Patriarch had called a consistory in Novogrudok of all the elders of the churches of Russia, among whom were the bishops of Chernigov, Polock, Luck, Chelm, Vladimir, Smolensk, Tchervensk and Turov. At the consistory the metropolit of Kiev was elected. He resided in both Kiev and Novogrudok. From that time Novogrudok had become the seat of the Kiev metropolit and the center of the orthodox church of all Russia and the Ukraine.

Large festivals took place in Novogrudok. In the year 1422 the fourth son of the Polish King Jagello married a Holshtin princess. The wedding was celebrated in Novogrudok. [On the wall of the Fara church in Novogrudok a plaque reads that in 1422 king Wladyslaw Jagello (and not his son) married (his fourth wife) Zofia, princes of Holsztyn. The marriage produced the Polish kings Wladyslaw Warnenczyk and Kazimerz Jagellonczyk, who in tern produced a line of Polish and other kings.] In 1426 the Grand Duke Witold had a great victory over the Russians and celebrated his success in Novogrudok.

In the year 1444 the king of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania Casimir had bestowed on Novogrudok the Magdeburg rights (this was the name of the privilege which bestowed on a town the right of self-government with an elected mayor and city council, with its own police force and court). The Magdeburg rights had released the inhabitants from the duty to perform physical work for the king and pay taxes, which the peasants were obliged to do. Magdeburg is the name of a German town. Its laws set an example for all laws in Europe. The Polish nobility, who were opposed to the extension of any rights to the inhabitants, had protested at the Lublin sejm which sat in 1447, against the extension of any benefits granted to the city of Novogrudok. In answer to this protest the King had recalled the Lithuanian sejm in Novogrudok and confirmed the granting of the privileges.

The above-mentioned session of the Lithuanian sejm was not unique, it was sitting frequently in Novogrudok. One such sitting occurred in 1537. At the same time the Polish sejm was sitting in Lwow (Lemberg). In the year 1581, King Stefan Batory had convened the highest tribunal in Lithuania. He conducted the sittings alternately in Novogrudok and Minsk. The archives of the tribunal were kept in Novogrudok.

In January 1638 the archives were granted a special constitution. A high official was appointed to look after the archives. At the same time in the Franciscan monastery in Novogrudok an archive of the Catholic Church was founded. In the year 1662 the Tsarist army under the command of Prince Trubeckoy occupied Novogrudok. On the 1 May 1751 a large fire enveloped Novogrudok. 67 homes were destroyed as well as the building of the archives. In 1776 the remains of the archives were transferred to Grodno. In the year 1676 king Jan Sobieski granted the city of Novogrudok the following privileges:

  1. It was exempt from the duty to provide quarters for the king's army.
  2. It was given the privilege of a free town (it would appear that the Magdeburg rights granted by King Casimir in the year 1444 and confirmed by Zygmund the Old in 1511, had in time been abolished or were reduced and Jan Sobieski had renewed this privilege).

In the XVII century Novogrudok had 8 Catholic and Orthodox churches. Among them were 2 monasteries, a Franciscan and a Dominican one. There was an Orthodox monastery in the vicinity of Novogrudok, which was built on land granted by the commanding officer of the Lithuanian forces, Hetman Constantin Ostrogski, in Bykowicze of the Tsyrin sub-district. The monastery was called Borysoglebsk and was in existence until the year 1830.

Under the Polish rule, Novogrudok was the capital of the Novogrudok wojewodstwo. Under Russian rule Novogrudok was degraded to a powiat town, but even then it was one of the biggest powiats in Tsarist Russia. According to the census of 1897 the population of the Novogrudok sub-district was 247,000 of which there were 30,043 Jews. In that census the following figures were obtained for the population in the towns of the Novogrudok sub-district listed below:

Shtetl All Population Jewish population
Novogrudok 7.887 5.015
Lubcha 3.374 2.463
Stolovichi 929 515
Vselub 1.306 645
Goradzeya 754 668
Goradzishcha 2.631 2.108
Deliatichi 1.439 461
Yaremichi 865 258
Korelichi 2.559 1.840
Kroshin, Yurzdyka, Scheda 966 151
Mir 5.401 3.319
Mysh Novaya 2.995 1.764
Nechnevichi 610 276
Polonka 645 549
Rozvodava 4.692 2.171
Snov 707 526
Strelova 529 66
Turets 1.616 737
Tsyryn 649 144

In total the population in the towns (not counting Novogrudok) amounted to 32, 657. This included 18,658 Jews, which is over 60% percent of the total population. In fact the towns and townships were totally Jewish, since the non-Jewish population was engaged largely in agriculture such as gardening, dairy, chicken farming, and fruit production. Other tasks in the towns were only performed occasionally.

The Jewish town councils (kehila)

The kehila in Novogrudok was one of the oldest in Lithuania. A Jewish institution in Novogrudok is mentioned first in a document in 1484, when the Polish King Casimir Jagellon leased the customs duties of the town to Ilia Moiseyevich, Rubim Sakovich, Avram Danilovich, and Eska Shelemovich, Jews of Troki. Novogrudok is mentioned in two documents of 1529. . On Jan. 21 of that year the Jews there, with those in other Lithuanian towns, were made subject to the payment of a special military tax. On March 4, of the same year, King Sigismund ordered the wojewoda of Novogrudok to render all necessary aid to the collector of taxes, Michael Jesofovich, in the collection of customs duties throughout the whole district. In a document of 1531, Novogrudok is mentioned among the cities which were exempted from the payment of the special tax called the 'serebschizna' (tax on silver). In 1551 the Jew Jankel Pejsachovich from Novogrudok was sentenced for having been accused slanderously by a landholder Kmitich. His case was dealt later in the crown court which set him free. From another source we learn that the above named Jankel Pejsachovich was the tax collector of Novogrudok and the district. He was also one of the eminent members of the Jewish community in Novogrudok.

In the year 1559 the king Sigismund August had ordered the city authorities not to place obstacles in the way of the Jewish leaseholders Jacob Ikhelovich of Brest-Litovsk and Nissan Khaimovich of Grodno in their work of collecting custom duties.

In the year 1563 the Jewish kehila is mentioned in a list of the towns of the Brest district, which payed the 'head' tax. The tax was 30x60 groshes. In the same year Grodno paid 200x60 groshes, Pinsk 600x60 groshes, that is Pinsk paid 20 times more tax than Novogrudok. At that time 12,00 Jews were paying head tax in the Pinsk district. We must assume, therefore that there were 20 times more Jews living in Pinsk than in Novogrudok. It follows that at the time there were 500-600 Jewish tax payers in Novogrudok.

In the year 1665, i.e. a hundred years later, there were in Novogrudok and district 12,031 tax payers. In the town there were 893 tax payers. It would seem that in the 100 years the Jewish population of Novogrudok had grown a little. Until the year 1563 the Jews lived in Novogrudok among the Christian population, that is in the Podlasie Street. But on the 30 September 1563 king Sigismund August announced to the head of the sub-district, the mayor of the town and the members of the city council that he ordered the kings official Bogdan Teodorowich Sapieha to remove the Jews from the Podlasie street and settle them outside the Zamok (citadel) mound in the Vilno and Trumco streets, so that the Jews would be separated from other citizens of the town. The Jews appealed against this order. At the same time the non-Jews appealed to the high court. Both appeals were to be heard on the 20 September 1564 in the high court, when both parties were to appear, but the high court could not reach a verdict and transferred the case to the crown court. The crown court was to hear the submissions of both parties on the 11 November 1564, but if one side would not appear the case would be considered in its absence. On the appointed day the four representatives of the town appeared, but the Jewish party was absent. The case was heard in the absence of the Jews. The Christian representatives have presented the order of the king of the 20 September 1563 to the wojewoda Pawel Ivanovich Sapieha. The court passed the verdict. In the new order it was decided that the Jews must move to a place which was provided to them. At the same time the king ordered his representatives to demolish the Jewish homes in Podlasie Street, if the Jews would not obey the royal order. In addition the Jews had to pay 1600 gold ducats for the land of the Christians which they have occupied.

Two weeks after this final decision there appeared in court H. Gershenovich, Shmuel Mendelovich, Lejzer Shmulovich and Jankel Pejsachovich and argued that they did not appear in court because the king's soldiers prevented them from doing so. Because they could not prove their case and had no convincing documents to support their arguments the king has given all their gardens and other lands to the Christians.

The kehila of Novogrudok is mentioned in many documents of the XVI century, from which it can be seen that it occupied a reputable place among the kehilas of the time.

In the XVIII century Novogrudok is mentioned frequently in connection with rabbinical matters, because it was a “mother town” among the Jews (ir vam be Isroel), which was the home of famous rabbis and learned men.

In olden days Karaites lived in Novogrudok, a fact which is little known, but which is supported by documents found in the Tzar's library in St Petersburg. It can be deduced from some of these documents that at the beginning of the XVII century Karaites were already well settled in Novogrudok. It follows from the writings of the XVIII century that Novogrudok was a center of the Karaite gatherings. In 1740 deputies from Troki, Zytomir and other places came to Novogrudok to discuss the matter of taxes (Adolf Nayboyer of the St Petersburg library “Presentations and documents of the Karaites” Leipzig 81,73,1866). There is no earlier documentary evidence to indicate when the Karaites have settled here. It is possible that they arrived together with the Tatars at the end of the XIV century, when the Lithuanian Grand Duke Witold settled Karaites and captured (prisoners of war?) Tatars in Lithuania.

Photograph 1 This was the appearance of Novogrudok
Photograph 2 The market place
Photograph 3 The market from the east side
Photograph 4 The old synagogue
Photograph 5 The bimah in the old synagogue
Photograph 6 The ruins of the Zamok (citadel)

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