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[Pages 28-34]

The History of Kobrin

by Yitzchak Pinchuk

Yitzchak Pinchuk was one of the outstanding communal workers in Kobrin. He also was zealous about writing the history of Kobrin, our town. He published his articles about Kobrin in the “Kobriner Vochenblatt.” We are presenting his articles here as a memorial to his soul and as a; memorial to our Jewish communities. He documented the history of each town, its development, its status, its historical significance, the mythology of the town, the memories of its great personalities and leaders. They were born and lived in those towns. They made a great impact on them. All of this stimulates our feelings and arouses the interest of the native sons in our home towns. This was especially so when the town was predominantly Jewish and started as a small community and grew and developed into a large Jewish town. In spite of being confronted by disturbances, pressures and distress, the community had an outstanding creativity, strength and stamina which helped them to overcome tragedy and elevated the community to great prosperity.

It is very difficult to restore historical events, to research what occurred and to try to refresh the memory of the past. Unfortunately, the memory wanders and occasionally becomes short. Consequently many events are forgotten and the resources are few. There are not any museums or archives to research the past of our city, Kobrin. Therefore, one has to regard Pinchuk's work as an attempt to gather notes and dates of Kobrin's historical events, especially in reference to the Jewish community. Pinchuk's work was a very important historical and cultural document.

We do not have the exact resources and facts about the beginnings of Kobrin. We only know that Kobrin was built in the 11th century by the successors of the great Russian prince Izaslav (1054-1078). After his death the Russian kingdom disintegrated and after internal wars between the princes, the kingdom was divided into various principalities. Kobrin was an old Russian locality. In Polish its name was Grud, located by the rivers Mochevitz and Kobrinka. There used to be a castle dating from the middle ages, which was built on the shore of the two rivers and was used for military defense. At the end of the 12th century Kobrin was passed over to the principality of Vladimir Valinsk. We do not know to whom exactly among his two sons, Raman Mastislavich (1172-1205) or Daniel Vasilka.

In 1286 the Prince Vladimir Vasilkevich bequeathed Kobrin to his wife, Elga Rommanova. He bequeathed the town, its people, its taxes, the monastery (Hashaliach Hakadosh, the “Holy Messenger”), Haaradetz, and a number of villages. He ordered the people to abide by his rule. The inhabitants of the estates were divided into free people and slaves. Among the free were those serving in the army and the estate owners. The city dwellers as well as the villagers rented the land from the prince and in return paid exorbitant taxes, payable in money and hard work. The villagers were totally enslaved by the prince and he did whatever he wanted with them.

In the beginning of the 14th century, in approximately 1321, when the Lithuanian emperor Gadimin (1315-1341) conquered Polsia, Kobrin passed over to the Lithuanian rulers and it was later given to the successor of Olgirad. In the Polish Lithuanian Confederation in 1385, Kobrin belonged to Polin but Kobrin was still dependent on the large Lithuanian principality. In 1392 the great Lithuanian priest Vitoled (1340-1392) handed over Kobrin to Andrei Vladimirovitz, the successor of Vladimir Vasilokev who ruled Kobrin until the death of Vitolid (1340). Thereafter Kobrin belonged to the Pinsk princes. At the end of the 15th century Kobrin was passed over to Ivan Samiyanitch Kobrinski who was descended from Daniel Romanitch and Gadimin. So a special Kobrin principality was formed dependent on the great Lithuanian principality. The Kobrin municipality included (Davotshin) Prozshani and Haaradetz (according to other sources also named Pinsk). They did not survive for very long.

In the Russian/Hebrew Encyclopedia by Brokhoiz Efron there is the explanation that Haaradetz was part of Kobrin. We have to note that Haaradetz is situated about 20 kilometers from Kobrin and had a special task during the turmoil between the various princes in the 12th century. The assumption that the old Haaradetz was situated next to Kobrin is not true. In 1497 the Kobrinian prince Ivan Samianich erected a monastery by the Kobrinka River.

It's name was The Holy Sapes. Around the monasteries were many parcels of land and a flour mill. That monastery later became the Unitarian church on Kalashtarna Street, the small Zamochvitz, the courthouse building. The Kobrinka River which originated from the swampy dunes had previously been a wider river with a different direction, through the Mastva and Kalshtarna Streets up to the Mochevitz. The last Kobrin prince was Tadar Ivanovitch who is buried in that monastery. With the death of this prince at the beginning of the 16th century, the Kobrin principality ceased to exist and the region turned to the rule of the king of Poland, at that time the Old Zigmont (1506-1548).

The history of the Jews in the Polish Lithuanian provinces during the Middle Ages and also much later is filled with turmoil and laws directed against the Jews by both the church and the municipalities. To curb their sources of livelihood they were forced to live only on special streets. Their lives were constantly at stake, whether they were lynched, killed or burned.

The Jews settled on special streets like the Armenians and the Germans and each group had their streets named accordingly, the German street, the Armenian street, all according to their professions. The Jews, who tended to settle on Jewish ethnic streets for psychological reasons, resisted the attempts to liquidate them and to reduce their numbers. There was a street in Kobrin as well on which lived only Jews. It is difficult to note precisely when this ghetto existed. With reference to the Jewish population in Kobrin in the year 1563, here is an illustration: On Pinsker Street to the right, the owners of homes were Yaska Yakobovitz, Moshe Yatzkevitz, Abraham Shmulvitz, the Synagogue Shmuel Abramvich, Yitzchak Kmilitshitesh, David Shlomitz, Shabtai Yaskovitz, Yaakov Yaskovitz. On Pinsker Street to the left, Shlomo Davidovitz, Lazar Ilulovitz, Chalbana Levkovitz, Payim Yaskovitz, Yaska Yazkevitz (2 houses), Pesach Shlomitz, Fibish Kalvanovitz and Misan Yatzkevitz.

On Astrawatzka Street (Bovroiska): Fibish Yaskovitz.

On Brisker Street, Chalvana Levkovitz, Shmuel Abromovitz (3 houses). Altogether there were 25 houses of Jews and 233 Christian houses. (It is very difficult to document the exact number of the Jews. According to Barshadski there were 17. According to the Russian/Hebrew Encyclopedia there were 22. Generally it mentions owners of Jewish houses. The number of Jewish families was probably larger.)

This version confronts us with the fact that there were other Jews on different streets, indicating there was not a special Jewish street. It is also possible that the Jews mentioned on Brisker and Astromatzka Streets were tax collectors.

In particular, an individual by the name of Fibish Yaskovitz, from Astromatzka Street, is mentioned as being a tax collector, which means he had many more rights than other Jews had. As far as the rest of the Jews, it is possible that they were also tax collectors or lived all by themselves in their own homes on Pinsker Street. It is also conceivable that because they had special tasks they were permitted to live outside of the Jewish streets.

As evidence supporting this version, we read a story about one Michael Itzkovitz who enjoyed special privileges and was allowed to live in the market with additional legal rights which allowed him to be a merchant and sell wine. This occurrence is dated from the beginning of the 18th century and proves that there was a Jewish street. The fact that on Pinsker Street there were Christian homes, as well as the testimony that the Polish church was located there, does not change the fact that in many cities the Jews and the Christians resided on the same streets, despite the fact that, according to the laws from the year 1564, it was forbidden to do so. It is possible that at that time there was a Jewish street called Pinsker Street (which was called “The Jewish Street”) and that on it were all the Jewish establishments such as the synagogue, the bath house, the cemetery, etc.

Quite a few restrictions were imposed on the Jews in that era, including that the men were forbidden to wear gold belts and the women were forbidden to wear gold and silver jewelry. They also were not permitted to wear yellow turbans or hats. They were required to wear yellow dresses, to be noticeable in contrast to Christian women folk. Also, it was forbidden to employ Christians as servants in their homes.

However, all these laws (from the 1566 Lithuanian Statutes) were not abided by the Jews in everyday life.

At the end of the Zigmont August rule, the Polish and Lithuanian Kingdoms were unified. The Lithuanian one was reduced and many privileges were eliminated. Kobrin was included in the Lithuanian principality. The King of Poland and Lithuania was dependent on the nobility and this worsened the situation of the Jews.

After the death of Zigmont August (1572), he was succeeded by Prince Volo. Prince Volo treated the Jews badly. He was also in close contact with the priesthood.

Prince Volo's days were short. His successor was Prince Stefan Batari (1576). During his reign the Jews saw better times. He recognized the rights of the Jews and fought vigorously against the false accusations of blood libel and the many abuses against them. After his death (1586), according to the ruling of the Seim, the Polish parliament, Kobrin was granted to the widow of Stefan Batari, Anna Yaglanka.

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