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The Jewish Community in Minsk from 1917-1941 (cont'd)

by Aharon Rozin

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Some Demographic Data

The city of Minsk was founded in the 11th century. It belonged to Poland and Lithuania for a long time. It became part of the Russian empire only in 1793.

The Jewish settlement in Minsk began in the 15th century. A separate Jewish community, recognized by the Lithuanian council, already appeared in Minsk in 1623. The first Jewish yeshiva was founded in Minsk in 1684. With the passage of time, Minsk became a recognized and prominent center of Torah, to which Jews streamed from all corners of Poland and Lithuania.

There were 1,322 Jews in Minsk in 1766[1]. In 1802, there were 2,716 in Minsk, and there were 41 Jews among the 96 merchants of the city[2].

The growth and development of the Jewish settlement of Minsk took place in massive proportions. Throughout the 19th century, the Jewish settlement of the city grew more than 17-fold. According to the census of 1897, there were 47,562 Jews in Minsk, comprising 52.3% of the population of the city.

It must be noted that the level of growth of the Jewish population in the district of Minsk in general, and in the city of Minsk in particular, was much greater than in any other region of the Pale of Settlement. During the latter half of the 19th century, the growth of the Jewish population in the 9 western districts of Russia (Vilna, Vitebsk, Volhyn, Grodno, Kiev, Kovno, Mohilev, Podolia, and Minsk) was as follows[3]:

District Jewish Population Growth During
50 years
  1847 1897 Actual
All Districts Aside from Minsk 860,120 2,277,538 1,417,418 164[4]
District of Minsk 87,633 345,015 257,382 294
Within the city of Minsk 12,976 47,562 34,586 367

Comparatively, Byelorussia, including the District of Minsk, took first place with respect to Jewish population within the Pale of Settlement. The density of the Jewish population of Russia by district in 1897, as a percentage of total population in the district, was as follows[5]:

Fifteen Districts of the Russian Pale of Settlement 10.8%
Of these: Ukraine 9.2%
Bessarabia 11.8%
Byelorussia and Lithuania 14.1%
Of the above: District of Minsk 16.0%

According to the population census of 1897, Minsk was one of the largest Jewish settlements

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in Russia. It was fourth place in terms of actual Jewish population[6]: Odessa -- 138,915 Jews, Vilna -- 63,996; Kishinev 50,237; Minsk -- 47,562; Yekatrinoslav -- 40,009; Vitebsk -- 34,420; Kiev -- 31,801; Zhitomir -- 30,718; Kremenchug – 29,869.

It is appropriate to note that in 1897, Minsk was the largest Jewish settlement in terms of percentage of Jewish population. The Jewish population as a percentage of total population in the other large “Jewish” cities was as follows[7]:

Minsk 52.3%
Vitebsk 52.2%
Kremenchug 41.5%
Vilna 41.5%
Yekatrinoslav 35.5%
Odessa 34.4%
Kiev 12.3%

To analyze the development of the Jewish population of Minsk during the Soviet era, it is first necessary to verify the Jewish population of Russia in general, and Byelorussia and Minsk in particular, according to the censuses of 1897 and 1926.

Great changes took place in the Jewish population of Russia during those 30 years.

  Jewish Population in
Change in 1926
relative to 1897
  1897 1926 Actual
Number, in
As a
Entire Soviet Union[8] 2,572.7 2,672.0 +99.3 +3.9
Of this: Ukraine[9] 1,644.5 1,565.5 -79.0 -4.8
Byelorussia[10] 517.3 407.1 -110.2 -21.3
Other Republics[11] 410.9 699.4 +288.5 +70.2

From the above numbers, we see that the Jewish population in the Soviet Union (within the borders that existed until September 17, 1939), grew by less than 100,000 people,

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that is, by 3.9%. If we take into account the estimated natural increase of the Jewish population of that era, the Jewish population during those 30 years declined by no less than 750,000 people.

As is known, there were two factors for this: the significant emigration of Jews to North America and other lands, and the pogroms against the Jews. There are no detailed statistics regarding this. According to the estimation of the statisticians, the Jewish settlement of Russia lost approximately 650,000 people to emigration (factoring in the estimated natural increase of the émigrés), and 100,000 as a result of the pogroms.

The situation in specific sections of the Soviet Union was different. In Ukraine, the Jewish population declined by 79,000 people, or 4.8%. However, the Jewish population of Byelorussia declined by more than 110,000 people, or 21.3%. Factoring in the natural increase during this period, the Jewish population in Byelorussia declined by no less than 260,000 people, or more than 50%

Such a large decline of the Jewish population of Byelorussia was not only a result of these two aforementioned factors -- the immigration to other countries and the pogroms against the Jews -- which led to a decline in the Jewish population throughout Russia. Another important factor was operating at a large-scale in Byelorussia -- the flow of internal migration that began intensively after the 1917 revolution. This refers to the large-scale migration of Jews to the large centers of the Russian federation.

During that period, only the Jewish population of Moscow and Leningrad grew by more than 190,000 people, or more than 8 fold.

  Jewish Population  
  1897[12] 1926[13] Growth
Moscow 8,473 132,000 More than 15 fold
Leningrad 17,251 84,503 More than 5 fold
Both cities 25,7243 216,50 More than 8 fold

Of course, the massive growth of the Jewish population of Moscow and Leningrad did not occur only at the expense of the Jews of Byelorussia. However, it is possible to state without doubt that the stream of migration from Byelorussia was relatively much larger than from other places.

According to a theoretical calculation, the number of Byelorussian Jews who left Byelorussia for other areas of the Soviet Union by the end of 1926 was more than 120-130 thousand people, or half of the calculated growth during the period of 1897-1926.

Such a large internal migration of the Jews of Byelorussia was not a coincidental phenomenon. The economic recession in Byelorussia, the lack of natural resources in the district, the agrarian character of Byelorussia with very primitive agricultural methodologies caused a large-scale internal migration within the non-Jewish population as well. From the 20 year period (1896-1915), 560,000 farmers set out for Siberia from the districts of Minsk, Mohilev and Vitebsk[14]. Of course, the economic situation of Byelorussia left

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its stamp on the economic status of the Jewish population, and created a unique Jewish professional structure within the population of Jewish livelihood earners. In 1897, 39% of the Jewish livelihood earners were involved in commerce. More than 35% were involved with what was termed industry, which was also specifically Jewish -- primarily hand working in the fields of shoemaking, tailoring, and other areas that served the local population. It must be noted that the number of livelihood earners among the Jewish population in Byelorussia was very low, only reaching 29%[15] in 1897.

The flow of internal migration of the Jewish population of Byelorussia was already very intensive during the first years of Soviet rule. According to the census of 1926, the number of Jews had changed as follows with respect to the beginning of 1923 -- that is, within a period of less than four years[16]:

  Change in Jewish Population in 1926
relative to 1923
  Actual number Percent
Ukraine +91,000 +6.1
Byelorussia -16,000 -3.8
Russia and other areas
of the Soviet Union
+95,000 +18
Total +170,000 +7.0

Byelorussia was the only district in which the Jewish population declined by 3.8%. If we take the natural increase over the four years into account, the decline would be approximately 42,000 people, or 10%.

If one examines the Jewish population dynamics of Byelorussia during the four years of 1923-1926 by type of settlement, the picture is as follows[17]:

  Number of Jews in
+- in actual numbers +- in percentage
Settlement type Beginning
of 1923
End of
actual Factoring
in the
actual Factoring
in the
District cities 182.2 188 +5.8 -5.6 +3.2 -3.1
Other cities 71.9 68.8 -3.1 -7.4 -4.4 -10.3
Towns and village settlements 168.9 150.2 -18.7 -28.8 -11.1 -17
Total 4231 4071 -161 -41.81 -3.81 -10.2

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As we can see from this table, the decline in Jewish population in the towns and villages was very large. There was a constant stream of internal migration from the small towns. However, there was a noticeable exodus of Jewish residents even in the district cities, in which the Jewish population grew by 3.2%. As we see from the above table, the population of the district cities declined by 3.1% when one factors in the estimated theoretical natural increase.

The situation in Minsk was entirely different. During the four years of 1923-1926, the Jewish population of Minsk grew at a higher rate than the estimated natural increase. We see this from the following statistics of the population dynamics of Minsk[18]:

    Jews Non-Jews
Number of residents in the city 1923 48,312 62,614
1926 53,686 77,842
As a percentage of the population 1923 43.6 56.4
1926 40.8 59.2
Natural increase per thousand people   15.3 23
Estimated increase over 4 years   2,936 5,796
Actual increase over 4 years   5,374 15,228
Excess of actual increase over estimated increase   2,438 9,432

The above numbers demonstrate that the growth of the non-Jewish population in the city was three times that of the Jewish population. Similarly, we see that in relative terms, the Jewish population of Minsk declined from 43.6% to 40.8%. However, along with this, we must note that Minsk was the only city in Byelorussia where the city grew not only due to natural increase, but also due to migration from the smaller cities, primarily from towns and village settlements.

As the capital of Byelorussia, Minsk became the political and administrative center of the republic, and also began to turn into a large economic center, in which new and important branches of industry began to develop (even based upon raw materials that were brought from other regions of the Soviet Union). New sources of livelihood were formed. The social composition of the livelihood earners in Minsk was much better than in other places of Byelorussia. Thus, of the total population of Jewish livelihood earners in 1926, there are[19]:

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Social Composition
of the Jewish
Livelihood Earners
For all of
For all regions of
Byelorussia Except
for Minsk
For Minsk
Workers 16.7 15.8 22
Officials 16.9 15.4 26
All other Livelihood Earners 66.4 68.8 52
Totals 100 100 100

The socio-economic situation of the Jewish population of Minsk will be dealt with in greater detail in its own chapter. Here, we have brought a few numbers only to demonstrate that the Jews in Minsk had attained a better economic status than in others areas of Byelorussia. Therefore, the city became an attractive force, and it absorbed a certain number of Jews from other settlements.

Unfortunately, we do not have specific numbers regarding the Jews who entered and left Minsk. Such numbers surely existed. However, we can definitely ascertain that both flows took place simultaneously. During the time from the end of the 18th century until the beginning of the Soviet regime, the exodus from the city was predominant. During the first decade of Soviet rule, without doubt the Jewish migration into Minsk was predominant.

When analyzing the dynamics and the development of the large Jewish settlement in Minsk, it is necessary to stress once again two important points:

  1. The Jewish settlement in Minsk shrank in relative terms with the passage of time. The rapid development of the city can be attributed primarily to the non-Jewish population. Whereas the Jews formed 52.3% of the population in 1897, by 1923 the adjusted proportion of the Jews was only 43.6%, and in 1926 only 40.8%. This trend continued through the following years.
  2. The growth of the Jewish population in Minsk was much smaller than in other large Jewish settlements in Russia, which grew at a speedy pace, both in actual terms and in relative terms. Whereas during the thirty year period from 1897-1926, the Jewish population grew by almost 13%, the Jewish population during that area grew 4.5 fold in Kiev, 7.5 fold in Kharkov, and 55% in Yekatrinoslav. We already noted the gigantic growth of the Jewish settlements in Moscow and Leningrad. New large Jewish settlements were also created, such as in Lugansk, Stalinov (Donetsk), and others.
It is obvious that the aforementioned shrinkage served as one of the factors why the Jewish community of Minsk lost its value as an important center of Jewry in Russia with the passage of time.

Unfortunately, we do not have statistical data regarding the development of the Jewish community of Minsk after the 1926 census. According to the information of the 1939 census, we only know the number of Jews in the entire Soviet Union as well as in each separate republic.

When we analyze the dynamics of the Jewish population in the Soviet Union according to the 1939 census, we see that the trend of internal migration of the Jewish population continues intensively -- in a smaller scale in Ukraine and in a larger scale in Byelorussia[20].

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  Number of Jews in
  1926 1939 Actual Percentage
Ukraine 1,565.5 1,533 -32.5 -2.1
Byelorussia 407.1 375 -32.1 -7.9
R.S.F.S.R and other areas 699.4 1,112 +412.6 59.0[8]
Entire Soviet Union 2,672 3,020 +348 +13.0

Within a period of 12 years, the Jewish population dropped by 32,000 people. Taking into account the natural increase of that period (estimated at 13%, based on the Jewish population in the Soviet Union as a whole), the Jewish population of Byelorussia dropped by close to 85,000 people, or more than 20%.

We do not have numbers regarding the decline in Jewish population by types of settlement, as we do have from the census of 1926. Therefore, it is impossible to break down the changes in Jewish population by settlement type.

In his book “Haam haMechudash” (The Renewed People), L. Singer sorts the Jewish population into two types of settlements: the city population and the village population. Singer includes the town population, comprising 25% of the entire Jewish population of Byelorussia, within the city population.

However, it is possible to state conclusively that the mass internal migration came primarily from the towns, villages, and smaller cities, where masses of Jews lost their sources of livelihood in a definitive fashion and were forced to move from their established places of residence and wander to new regions. It is possible to state definitively that the flow of Jewish migration to Minsk during the period of 1926-1939 was quite heavy, and exceeded the exodus from Minsk, which doubtlessly existed as well.

In his book “The Jewish Kibbutz and Agricultural Settlement in Soviet Byelorussia (1918-1932)” Ch. Shamrok includes interesting numbers that specify the new places of residence of the Jews who migrated from the towns of Byelorussia. In 1931, for example, 1,309 Jews left from 12 towns to the following destinations[21]:

1. Other places in Byelorussia (we can surmise that this was to large cities) 52.5%
2. The Russian Republic 27.9%
3. Ukraine 9.3%
4. Krim 1.3%
5. Other places in the Soviet Union 1.2%
6. America 0.4%
7. Other countries 0.8%
8. Unknown 6.6%

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It seems that it can be conclusively stated that the majority of those who went to “other places in Byelorussia” settled in Minsk. This is confirmed from another interesting table that points out the destinations of 236 youths who left the town of Uzda in 1929[22]:

Minsk 125
Moscow and Leningrad 54
Mohilev, Vitebsk, and other cities 35
Other places 22

As we can see, 53% of the youth who left Uzda settled in Minsk.

According to the census of 1939, the population of Minsk was 238.8 thousand people[23]. In other words, the population of the city had grown by 82% within 12 years.

According to the estimation of various researchers, on the eve of the Second World War, the Jewish population of Minsk was close to 90,000 people[24]. We can surmise that this significant growth within the 12 year period of 1926-1939, of a magnitude of close to 40,000 people or more than 70%, came to a large degree from the large stream of refugees from Poland as well as other areas of Soviet army occupation in September, 1939.

According to the census of 1959, the population of Minsk was 509,489, including only 38,842 Jews[25], or 7.6% of the population.

Text Footnotes

  1. Z. Rubashov, the article of Minsk in the Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume 11, page 86 (Russian). Return
  2. A. Ginsberg, Minsk, the Jewish Encyclopedia, volume 11, page 87 (Russian). Return
  3. Yaakov Leshchinsky. The Jewish People in Numbers, Berlin, 1922, page 31 (Yiddish). Return
  4. The Growth of the Jewish Population in the separate districts ranged from 125% in the District of Podolia to 248% in the District of Vitebsk. Return
  5. Leshchinsky, page 42, 44. Return
  6. Leshchinsky, page 71. Return
  7. Estimated from ancient sources. Return
  8. L. Singer, the New People, Moscow, 1941, page 35 (Yiddish). Return
  9. A. Weitzblit, The Dynamics of the Jewish Population of Ukraine from the years 1897-1926 (Yiddish). Return
  10. Y. Peikin, Several Summaries from the Demographic Library in 1926, in “Zeitschrift”, volume 4, the Byelorussian Academy of Sciences, Minsk, 1930, page 148 (Yiddish). Return
  11. By calculation. Return
  12. Leshchinsky, page 84. Return
  13. Paikin, page 152. Return
  14. Ch. Shamrok, The Jewish Population and Jewish Agricultural Settlement in Soviet Byelorussia (1918-1932), Jerusalem 5721 (1961), page 10. Return
  15. Ch. Shamrok, page 10. Return
  16. Ch. Shamrok, page 22. Return
  17. Numbers from District Cities and Other Cities -- Paikin, page 148. Numbers from Towns and Jewish Village Settlements -- by estimate. Return
  18. Ch. Shamrok, page 25. Return
  19. Estimated by H. Aleksandrov “Jewish Population in Minsk According to the Census of 1897 and 1926.” In Zeitschrift, Volume IV, The Byelorussian Academy of Sciences. Minsk, 1930. Page 209 (Yiddish). Return
  20. Singer, page 36. Return
  21. Ch. Shamrok, page 29. Return
  22. Ch Shamrok, page 31. Return
  23. The Large Soviet Encyclopedia, Volume 27, Moscow, 1954, page 545 (Russian). Return
  24. The General Encyclopedia Volume 4, 5719 (1959), page 312, states that “On the eve of the Second World War, there were close to 90,000 Jews in Minsk.” In his book “Anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union”, New York, 1952, page 245 (Russian), M. M. Schwartz relies on various sources and establishes that on the eve of the Second World War there were 90,000 Jews in Minsk. Return
  25. M. Altschuler. Demographic Trends of the Jewish Population in the Soviet Union,, in “Gesher”, number 2-3, 1966. Page 20. Return

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The Jewish Community in Minsk from 1917-1941 (Cont'd)

by Aharon Rozin

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Socio-Economic Characteristics

As has been previously noted, the proportion of livelihood earners amongst the Jewish population of Minsk in 1926 was quite low, only 39.3%. This means that for every 100 livelihood earners, there were 154 non-earners. The situation was more normal among the gentile population of the city, where the livelihood earners numbered 44.9%, or 122 non-earners for every 100 earners.

Without doubt, the percentage of earners was an important measure. Nevertheless, it does not fully characterize the economic makeup of the population. We must stress that the number of livelihood earners also includes those who lacked employment but had sporadic income, as well as those who did not work a full workday or work week. It even included some who were unemployed. For example, in 1926, there were 2,694 unemployed people in Minsk out of a total of 20,991 livelihood earners (12.8% of the livelihood earners)[1].

Above, we have seen the specific professional makeup of the Jewish livelihood earners in general terms. Nevertheless, this requires additional, more detailed elucidation.

The population census of 1897 shows:[2]

  1. Almost no Jews were found in what is termed the developed classes of the civic economy (management, law, police, communal and professional service, railway, post, telegraph, telephone). 13.5% of the gentile livelihood earners were employed in this area. Along with their families, the developed classes sustained 20% of the gentile population of the city.
  2. Jews numbered 52.3% of the city population. However, their proportion in trades was 71.2%, and in commerce 88%.
  3. 41% of the livelihood earning Jews were employed in manufacturing and hand-working trades. 42% of the Jewish population earned their livelihood from this branch.
When analyzing an area of labor, one must first stress that the enterprises in Minsk were very small. For the most part, they employed relatives and family members. Enterprises with hired workers included:[3] with one worker – 2,955; with 2-3 workers – 1,099; with 4-5 workers – 73; with 6-10 workers 11. With regard to manufacturing, in 1897, there were only 48 factory enterprises with 1,304 workers, and in 1909, there were 55 such enterprises with 1,310 workers. It seems that there were generally 24-27 workers in each of the largest of such enterprises[4].

From the Jewish related statistics, we can see a picture of the professional makeup of the Jewish population of Russia. Jewish professions existed that were created by historic factors, and in which the Jews took the first place (tailoring, for example). Jews were represented in particularly small numbers, in any case much less than their relative proportion within the general population, in the first tier of professions that were especially developed and were important in the economic development of the state.

When we analyze this phenomenon with respect to the realities of Minsk, we must note that every branch of labor in the city

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was Jewish in essence. There was nothing that was known as heavy manufacturing in Minsk. The area of labor was handcrafting in essence. Smiths, locksmiths and other such trades formed the primary representation within the metal working branch. 43.4% of those who earned their livelihoods in the trades were involved in the clothing branch. Therefore, the Jews took the decisive role in almost all these trades. Whereas the Jews formed 52.3% of the population, and in the trades they formed 71.2%, their participation was especially small in only 4 areas of manufacturing[5]:

  1. In the metal shavings trade, there were 40 workers, not one of whom was a Jew.
  2. Jews only formed 30.1% of the ceramics workers.
  3. Jews formed 49.3% of the metal workers.
  4. Jews formed 54.2% of those involved in liquor distilling
In the rest of the 14 branches of manufacturing, Jews made up between 70% and 98% of the participants according to the census of 1897.

The economic situation of the Jews of the city was difficult. Many people received help from the various philanthropic organizations. According to information from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1,719 Jewish families, or 17.2% of the Jewish families of the city, requested assistance for Passover in 1898. The organization for assistance of the Jewish poor helped 1,050 people with money and 925 people with goods and provisions in 1905. The organization for assistance of the Jewish sick offered medical assistance to 5,000 sick Jews that year. There was a low-price kitchen next to the main synagogue. A soup kitchen also operated in which the Jewish poor would eat on Sabbaths and festivals[6].

What changes took place in the socio-economic makeup of the Jewish population of Minsk during the Soviet era?

After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, a unique socio-economic problem affected the entire Jewish population of Russia, of course including Minsk – the problem of changing the social status of the Jewish population. This problem was created as a result of the specific social makeup of the Jewish population from one side; and from the other side by the Soviet policies that manifested themselves already during the first years following the revolution, which were directed against those who were known as the bourgeois classes.

The merchants were designated as bourgeois. This designation included not only the first tier, large-scale merchants. Even the small-scale merchants who owned tiny stores, where they worked alone with their wives, were included in the bourgeois class. A tradesman who had one hired worker was called bourgeois. A tradesman who worked very hard himself was known as petite bourgeois. All of these groups, the bourgeois and the petite bourgeois, who together with their families made up more than 2/3 of the Jewish population, were forced to liquidate their sources of livelihood and to search for work and new sources of livelihood – or, as it was termed, to turn themselves into productive persons.

According to the census of 1926, the social makeup[7] of the Jewish population was as follows (in percentages):

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Social Classes Ukraine Byelorussia Moscow[8] Leningrad[8] Minsk[9]
1. Proletariat (workers, officials, unemployed, pensioners) 46.8 44.0 75.0 70.7 64.7
2. Non-proletariat workers (free professions, owners with assistance from family members, individuals) 32.0 37.2 10.8 11.3 18.2
3. Bourgeois (owners with employees, merchants, those without a designated source of livelihood, those who do not sustain themselves through work income) 17.3 15.4 6.4 7.4 10.4
Those who lost their status .4 0.4 0.03 0.05 0.3
Others 3.5 3.0 7.8 10.6 6.4
Totals 100 100 100 100 100

The table shows that the process of liquidation of what was known as the Capitalist economy was progressing in full force already during the first years of Soviet rule. In Minsk, this process was progressing with far greater energy than in the rest of Byelorussia and Ukraine. The social makeup of the Jewish population of the city was similar in composition to that of the Jewish population of Moscow and Leningrad, where large Jewish populations were formed during the Soviet era.

During six years of Soviet rule (1921-1926), the number of merchants declined by a factor of three, and the number of owners with employees was liquidated almost entirely, reaching to only 306 people, or 1.4% of the livelihood earners. It is difficult to verify the division of population by branch of work from the data from the censuses of 1897 and 1926, since the censuses were not conducted by the same principles. Nevertheless, when we compare the groupings from 1897 to 1926, we can verify some branches of work. The following picture is drawn:[10]

  Jews Gentiles
  1897 1926 1897 1926
General population 47,562 53,686 43,350 78,217
Number of Livelihood Earners 18,145 20,991 18,514 31,715
Of these:        
Labor and building 7,664 7,693 3,094 5,027
Railway 21 48 1,703 2,511
Institutions 19 2,918 1,134 6,798
Jurists; teachers; literary, art and scientific workers; doctors and health care workers 761 1,270 938 1,922
Private commerce 4,350 1,527 594 209
Government and cooperative commerce -- 1,691 -- 1,377
Agriculture 122 284 602 1,069
Others 5,208 5,560 10,449 12,802

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This table shows:

  1. Even in 1926, the relative proportion of Jews in trades and building reached 60.5%. At the same time we see that during the period of 30 years (1897-1926), despite the increase of Jewish population in the city by 13%, the actual number of Jews in trades and building did not increase. The number of those employed in this area grew by 2,000 people only through the gentile population. The relative proportion of Jews dropped from 71.2% to 60.5%.
  2. The number of Jews in the railway industry remained negligible. This branch of industry remained as a non-Jewish monopoly, as it was in Czarist Russia. The gentile participation in this branch of industry grew by a factor of 35 greater than the Jewish participation.
  3. The Jews penetrated into a new branch of industry – the institutions, where they played a recognizable role (30%), albeit much lower than their relative proportion in the population (40.7%).
  4. The number of Jews in private business shrank by a factor of 3 in terms of actual numbers, and by more than a factor of 3 in relative terms. However, the adjusted proportion of Jews in this area remained overwhelming, at 88%.
Later on, during the 1930s, private enterprise was completely liquidated.

The professional makeup of the participants in the various branches of trade and building is illustrative. The following table shows data with respect to 11 primary manufacturing areas, covering 96% in 1897 and 85% in 1926 of participants in this sector of the economy:[11]

  Jews Gentiles Percent of Jews
in the Profession
Profession 1897 1926 1897 1926 1897 1926
Metal 582 803 509 1,289 50.1 38.8
Wood 785 514 305 473 72.0 52.9
Printing and Paper 411 743 97 286 72.2 80.9
Textile 195 302 54 96 78.3 75.9
Tailoring 3,591 1,326 1,072 226 77.0 85.4
Hides 239 1,424 82 697 74.5 67.1
Food 587 690 259 374 69.4 64.8
Tobacco 103 47 2 3 98.1 94.0
Chemicals 90 37 19 23 82.6 61.7
Minerals 59 42 137 354 30.1 10.6
Building 775 607 322 491 70.6 55.3
Totals 7,417 6,535 2,948 4,312 71.5 60.2

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From this table, we learn: a. The total number of participants in the 11 primary manufacturing occupations listed in this table grew by 4.7% during the 30 year period. However, with respect to Jews, the number shrank by 12%; whereas with respect to gentiles, it increased by 46%. The relative proportion of Jews among the participations of the aforementioned primary occupations declined from 71.5% to 60.2%. b. The proportion of the various occupations changed significantly both in terms of numbers and proportion. For example, the number of metal workers grew by 78%, the number of hide workers grew by a factor of 7, and the number of tailors declined by a factor of 3. c. The point made by the statisticians of the Yevsektsia that a process of blurring of what was termed the distinctness of the Jewish professional makeup already began during the first period of Soviet rule is contradicted. On the contrary, the table shows that this distinctness became even more pronounced in Minsk, as is demonstrated by the percentages of Jews in various professions:

  1897 1926
Metal workers 50.1 38.8
Wood workers 72.0 52.9
Mineral workers 30.1 10.6
Tailors 77.0 85.4

A unique situation existed with the makeup of the Jewish working youth. We have definitive facts from the survey conducted by the popular commissary for the preservation of health in Byelorussia in 1925. The survey encompasses the working youth until the age of 20, and also includes the youth who were studying at professional schools. The unemployed and the students of the technical schools and high schools were not included in the survey. The survey took place in all district cities and larger cities. Therefore, we can assume that the Jewish working youth, who were centered in the cities, were almost entirely encompassed by this survey, and that the data demonstrates the composition of the Jewish youth during that time. The following data demonstrates the professional makeup of the working youth of Byelorussia:

Profession Jews
Total % of
Tailors 745 127 872 85.4
Shoemakers 728 204 932 78.1
Hide workers 513 87 600 85.5
Wood workers 491 461 952 51.6
Metal workers 741 826 1,567 47.3
Building workers 161 80 241 66.8
Food workers 131 73 204 64.2
Print workers 110 25 135 81.5
Officials 823 712 1,535 53.6
Other professions 621 989 1,610 48.6
Totals 5,064 3,584 8,648 58.6

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Unfortunately, we do not have exact numbers regarding the professional composition of the Jewish working youth in Minsk itself. However, we have basis to assume that the aforementioned numbers typifying all the cities of Byelorussia including Minsk are also valid for Minsk itself.

What does the above table teach us?

a. The Jewish working youth until the age of 20 comprised 58.6% of the working youth of Byelorussia. If we take into account that the Jewish population of the cities and urban settlements form 44.1% of the population, the number of working Jewish youth is relatively large. This was certainly the case in the city of Minsk itself.

This phenomenon can be explained by the unique economic process that was taking place among the Jewish population at that time. The process of the liquidation of the large class of merchants, who were literally pushed out of their economic status and remained without a source of livelihood, forced the children of the merchants to search for what was known as productivity. They began to stream en masse to workshops as apprentices and to trade schools in order to obtain some sort of trade.

This hypothesis is confirmed by analyzing the age composition of the Jewish and gentile working youth. According to the aforementioned survey, the relative age composition is illustrated as follows[14]:

  Youth below the
age of 15, and
15, 16, 17
Youth 18, 19, and
older than 19
Jews 46.8 53.2
Gentiles 30.1 68.9

These numbers demonstrate that the rush to make arrangements and search for livelihood was significantly greater among the youngest segment of Jewish youth (age 15-17) than among the gentile youth of the same age. We must note that aside from the aforementioned factor that led a large stream of Jewish youth to what was called productivity; there was another important factor – the restriction of the acceptance of the children of “the foreign streams” and the children of the “Lycentzes” to the second level of school. This was due to an official directive of the government authorities.

In the Minsk regional convention of Jewish cultural workers that took place in January 1930, the question of increasing supervision over the acceptance of children to school was discussed. It was determined that:[15] “the places accepted at the beginning of the school year demonstrate clearly that a stringent social selection was taking place in the acceptance of students to the fifth grade. Nevertheless, there were cases where the directive was not carried out, and the children of merchants and other foreign strata were accepted. It is our duty to stringently actualize the social class situation in the arena of the school.”

b. Secondly, the aforementioned numbers show us that the Jewish working youth were primarily involved in handiwork. The Jewish working youth formed the decisive majority in the manufacturing of clothing, shoes, and the like. Many of the Jewish youth worked in the printing and food industries. The survey shows that there was not one Jewish worker in the railway. This is additional confirmation that the hypothesis of the Yevsektsia that Soviet rule had abolished what was known as Jewish professions was baseless. The fact that Jewish youth of age 15, 16, 17 could not penetrate into the railway industry

[Page 37]

or the factories and enterprises of heavy industry, and were forced to the traditional workshops of tailors and shoemakers, cannot be explained as an “inheritance” from the days of the Czar.

Not in vain does was the compiler of the aforementioned information required to state:[16] “In this manner, we see the economic aspirations of specific national groups for specific trades, created under the influence of complex social and economic factors, were preserved among the circles of the youth to a significant degree.”

We must also examine the characteristics of the Jewish managers in Minsk. According to the census of 1926, they numbered 5,568 people, or 26.5% of the Jewish livelihood earners. At that time, the Jewish managers comprised 32% of the managers in the city.

The breakdown of the Jewish officials by industry was as follows:[17]

    As a percentage
Branch of industry Number of
Of the total
number of
Of the total
number of
managers in
that branch
of industry
Institutions 2,649 47.6 30.6
Commerce and Credit 1,562 28.1 56.0
Factory manufacturing 679 12.2 54.6
Home and hand-
working manufacturing
188 3.3 71.2
Other branches 490 8.8 11.9
Totals 5,586 100 32.0

According to profession or area of employment, the breakdown of Jewish supervisors was as follows:[18]

    As a percentage
Profession Number of
Of the total
number of
Of the total
number of
managers in
that branch
of industry
Bookkeeping and
administrative staff
1,858 33.5 39.8
Estate staff 956 17.3 62.1
Medical and healthcare
698 12.5 47.6
Cultural staff 523 9.5 40.2
Engineering and
technical staff
261 4.7 38.4
Other staff 632 11.4 10.7
Totals 5,568 100 32.0

[Page 38]

From the aforementioned numbers, we see that the Jewish managers had the upper hand in home based manufacturing and hand-working, factory manufacturing and commerce. Jews were employed to a lesser degree in the institutions, and to a very small degree in other branches of industry (communications, telephone, telegraph, security services, etc.). According to profession or employment, Jews had the upper hand among the estate managers, and they had a recognizable place in the other areas of industry. However, there were specific professions in which very few or no Jews at all were employed: [19]

Profession Total number
of managers
in this
of Jews
% of
Judges 22 2 9.1
Telegraph and telephone
108 5 4.6
Prison guards 68 3 4.4
Police 278 6 2.2
Firefighters 109 1 0.9

During the first years of Soviet rule, the Jews played a prominent role in the party, professional and Soviet apparatus in Byelorussia in general, and in Minsk in particular.

Here are some numbers that demonstrate this:[20]

  1922 1923
Percent Actual
Party committees 28 45.9 36 40.9
Technical party apparatus   85 48.3
Delegates to the party conventions 75 50.7 140 47.9
Central apparatus of interdisciplinary bodies 44 77.2 36 66.6
Regional divisions of professional organizations 87 49.4 93 57.1
Directors of commissaries     92 39.2
Other commissary officials     1,938 30.4
Delegates to the republic conventions 52 24.2 66 26.4
Members of the central committee 17 34.0 36 37.9

To our great dismay, we have no official statistics that delineate the participation of Jews in the party, professional and Soviet apparatuses during the 1930s. However, it is known to all and can be established beyond doubt that during the latter half of the 1930s, the acceptance of Jews into the management apparatuses began to become more restricted.

It is impossible to provide detailed numbers of the social and professional makeup of the

[Page 39]

Jewish population of Minsk during the years following the census 1926, since such classified information was not published. However, it is possible to establish with certainty the processes that were unfolding.

During the 1930s, there was already a decisive liquidation of what was known as the capitalist stream of economy. That means that merchants, business owners with hired workers, and independent tradesman ceased to exist as socio-economic sectors.

The process of industrialization and the resulting proliferation of factory workers was speedier in Byelorussia and especially in Minsk than in other parts of the Soviet Union. During the years 1919-1928, the growth in the number of factories was:[21] 9% throughout the Soviet Union, 8.3% in Ukraine, 10.7% in Moscow, and 20.8% in Byelorussia.

During the five years following the 1926 census, the increase in factory workers was as follows:[22]

of Jews
% of
1926 31,744 10,639 33.5
February 1930 47,149 16,974 36.0
January 1931 73,232 24,680 33.7

As we see, the total number of factory workers grew by a factor of 2.3 during the five years. There was a similar level of growth among the Jewish workers.

The changes in the national composition of the factory workers during the years 1926-1930 in the various branches of industry is also illustrative. We see this from the following table:[23]:

  Jews Non-Jews
  1926 1930 1926 1930
Clothing and shoes 674 5,430 39 2,374
Wood working 1,087 1,736 2,798 4,681
Mineral working 136 435 2,424 4,703
Chemical manufacturing 270 1,495 1,240 4,208
Food manufacturing 668 1,510 757 2,272
Textiles 992 758 1,651 2,322

The changes in the fields of clothing and shoe making, composed of the producers of tailoring, shoe products and socks, were especially prominent. In 1926, only 713 workers were employed in this field; whereas in 1930, there were 7,804 workers. This significant growth in manufacturers began due to the fact that the clothing industry we rebuilt on a high technical foundation and was expanded through new upbuilding. (In the years 1925-1926, they began to build a large factory for clothing and another large factory for shoes. These factories began to operate in 1929.) Within five years, the number of Jewish workers in this field grew to 4,756 Jews and 2,335 gentiles. Relatively, the number of Jewish workers grew by a factor of 7, and the number of gentile workers grew by a factor of 60. In other words, at first, there were

[Page 40]

virtually no gentile workers, whereas by 1930 they had reached 30%.

In 1930, for everyone 100 factory workers in Byelorussia, there were the following numbers of workers in the fields of clothing and shoes:[24] Jews – 34; Russians – 10.3; Poles – 8.3; Byelorussians – 7.8. In the Menshevy clothing factory of Minsk, there were 830 workers in 1929, including 631 Jews, or 76%[25].

During the five years, the general number of workers of the textile industry grew by 437 people, or 17%. The number of Jewish workers shrank by 234 people, or 24%.

In the chemical industry, the number of Jewish workers grew by 4,193 people, of whom only 1,225 were Jews.

In the mineral industry, the number of gentile workers grew by 2,279 people in this era, and the number of Jews only by 299. The Jews comprised only 8.5% of this field.

There were 4,750 factory workers in Minsk in 1926. Of them, there were 2,285 Jews, or 48.1%[26]. We do not have specific information about the number of Jewish workers at the end of the 1920s and the 1930s. Incidental information from newspapers shows that alongside the significant economic development in Minsk and increase in factory workers, the actual number of Jewish workers also grew. However, we can definitely state that their proportion shrank significantly, since the serious level of economic development in Minsk was primarily built upon the large influx of the gentile rural population to the city.

Thus, for example, there were the following numbers of Jews in five factories in Minsk in 1935:[27]

number of
Voroshilov 985 311
Bolshevik 750 400
Komonarka 1,223 436
Kropskaya 952 312
Molotov 870 282

In total, Jews comprised 34.3% of the workers in these five factories. There were 30,000 workers in Minsk at the end of 1937[28]. There is reason to estimate that the number of Jewish workers in the city was 10,000 at the time.

In his book “The Renewed People”, L. Singer establishes that, according to the 1929 census, the social composition of the Jewish population in the Soviet Union was as follows: workers and managers – 71.2%; Kolkhozes – 5.8%; workers in cooperatives – 16.1%; non cooperatives – 4%, others – 2.9%. We would not be too far off the mark if we estimate that approximately 80% of the Jewish livelihood earners in Minsk were workers and managers at the eve of the Second World War, whereas approximately 20% were tradesman organized in cooperatives. Aside from the cooperatives, there were only isolated people in the city.

Text Footnotes

  1. H. Aleksandrov, the Jewish Population of Minsk According to the Censuses of the Years 1897 and 1926, page 207. The Byelorussian Academy of Sciences, Jewish Section, “Zeitschrift”, Volume 4, Minsk, 1930 (Yiddish). Return
  2. Estimated by Aleksandrov, pages 222-224. Return
  3. Aleksandrov, page 211. Return
  4. Aleksandrov, page 212. Return
  5. leksandrov, page 214. Return
  6. A. Ginzberg, Minsk, The Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume 11, pages 87-88 (Russia). Return
  7. Estimate by Y. Paikin in his work “Some Data on the Demographic Census of 1926.” The Byelorussian Academy of Sciences, Jewish section, “Zeitschrift”, Volume 4, Minsk, 1930. Return
  8. Estimated by Z. L. Mindlin, The Makeup and Primary Occupations of the Jewish Population of the U.S.S.R. Jews in the U.S.S.R, booklet 4, page 7, Moscow, 1929 (Russian). Return
  9. Estimated by Aleksandrov, page 206-207. Return
  10. Estimated by Aleksandrov, pages 210, 215, 216, 219, 222, 223, 224. Return
  11. Aleksandrov, page 214. Return
  12. Dr. D. Einhorn, The Jewish Working Youth of Byelorussia, pages 393-394, “Zeitschrift” 2, Minsk, 1928 (Yiddish). Return
  13. Einhorn, estimated by relative numbers, pages 383-384. Return
  14. Einhorn, estimated, pages 387-388. Return
  15. The Correct Class Methodology for the Building of Jewish Culture, “Octiober”, January 25, 1930, Minsk (Yiddish). Return
  16. Einhorn, page 385. Return
  17. Aleksandrov, page 217. Return
  18. Aleksandrov, page 218. Return
  19. Jews in Byelorussia, Statistical Material, pages 66-107. The Byelorussian Academy of Sciences, Jewish Section, Minsk, 1929 (Yiddish). Return
  20. Y. Korolnik, Jews in Professional Unions and the Apparatus of the Republic of Byelorussia, Demographic Pages, Jewish Statistics and Economy, 3, 1923, pages 196-198 (Yiddish). Return
  21. H. Aleksandrov, Socialist Industry in the U.S.S.R. and the Problem of Industrialization of the Manufacturing Proletariat. In the socio-economic anthology “Fifteenth Anniversary of the October Revolution”, the Byelorussian Academy of Sciences, Jewish Section, Minsk, 1932, page 120. Return
  22. Anthology, Estimated, pages 116, 121, 122. Return
  23. Anthology, estimated by tables, pages 116, 121. Return
  24. Anthology, page 125. Return
  25. Jews in Byelorussia, pages 124-126. Return
  26. Anthology, page 114. Return
  27. “Emes”, Moscow, from August 3, 1935, Y. Goldstein, Work within the Minsk Factories amongst the National Minorities (Yiddish). Return
  28. “Octiober”, Minsk, November 4, 1937, P. Shenker, Minsk the Capital of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Yiddish). Return

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