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Shchuchin (Belarus) Yizkor Book--Introductory Sections

Translated by Chaim Charutz

Donated by Gary Katz

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Yiddish for "Once I had a life"

This is a Yiddish poem - One page


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Book of Remembrance
for the Communities of Shtutshin, Vasilishki,
Ostrina, Novi Dvor, and Rozanka

The book comprises five sections (the number of communities), each section being a separate unit on its own. Each section has its own front page and the table of contents of each section is presented after its front page.


All Rights Reserved


Responsibility for production: L. Losh,

#4 Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv

"Orly" Printers - Tel Aviv

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The book's sections:

First Section
pp 25-114

Second Section
pp 115-292

Third Section
pp 293-378

Novi Dvor
pp 379-434

Fifth Section
pp 435-453

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Regional map

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Editor's Foreword

"…whether this was in your days or in the days of your fathers, tell it to your children, nd your children to their children, and their children to another generation." (Joel, chapter 1)

Five organizations in Israel, survivors of five towns/communities that were destroyed in the Holocaust, are presenting, in this Book of Remembrance, a monument to their communities and to their saints. These are five neighboring towns - in North-East Poland (Vilna Region), in the center of the triangle of cities next to it, Grodno and Volkovisk - five towns which all belonged, until the end of World War 2, to Shtutshin Province (Poviet). The provincial city acted as a socio-economic center in the lives of the aforementioned towns, which were on the edge of destruction. It was later also a vale of killing for the remnants of destruction from the region's Ghettoes. These remnants were concentrated in the region after their final destruction on the 8-9 May 1942.

There were about 8,000 Jews in the five aforementioned towns (Shtutshin, Vasilishki, Ostrina, Novi Dvor, Rozhanka) at the outbreak of WW2, of which only about 160 (2%) survived. Most of these survivors have been gathered in Israel. These remaining survivors have had a catharsis through this Book of Remembrance in a so-called repayment of the debt regarding those who were destroyed before their very eyes by the Nazi Ashmadai and his helpers. One prayer remains on their lips: to remind and not to forget!

Several of the story-tellers in this book (in each of its sections and its chapters), have reached a creditable level of literacy, since they merged into their memories/stories, a love and a grass-roots connection with the subject so dear to their hearts. Even if there are similarities, common lines, and even some sort of routine in the form and contents in all five sections gathered in this book of remembrance - something which could not be avoided and is also factually and qualitatively natural - each section excels in its uniqueness. Each section of the book is unique, not only in the power of expression of its participants, the cultivation and style of the preparers. (The general editor only supervised the collectors of the material and its cultivators/stylists.) Rather, (and this is the main thing), each community is reflected, in its section and in its characteristic lifelines, people and characters, and even in its different conditions of destruction.

All five of the editorial committees should be praised for gathering the material, its preparation and style. I wish to gratefully thank the following good friends: Pinchas Rosen, Shmuel Geller and Zara Kerman who have covered the collection of material, each one adding his own contribution to preparation, style, and editing. Honor and appreciation are due to my teacher-inspirer Yosef Cohen-Tzedek - writer, researcher and linguist - who has glorified this book's foreword by his scientific review of the history of the Jews in Shtutshin, Vasilishki, Ostrina, Novi Dvor, and Rozhanka.

This writer (born in Shtutshin) has been connected with these towns with all his soul, where he spent the five years before the destruction (1936-1941) in the field of education and culture. He has contributed to the preparation, fashioning and the publication of this book His desire was to commemorate the memory of five Jewish communities in one region, who were not separated either in life or in death.

May God grant that we remember these communities, and that their holy souls be written in the Book of Life of generations to come - the defenders of Israel's regeneration.

L. Losh

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"To the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent ones, in whom I delight." (Psalms 16, 3]

Oh Merciful God who lives on high, judge of widows and father of orphans, please find eternal rest on the wings of the Shechina, in the heights of the wonderful splendor of the pure and saintly, for the souls of the thousands of children of Israel of the holy communities:

Novi Dvor

Our parents, our brothers and sisters, our relatives and acquaintances, men, women and children, all saintly and pure, who were killed and slaughtered, throttled and burned and buried alive by the Nazi murderers and their helpers, during the Holocaust of the Second World War.

Let the Merciful One protect them under His wings forever, and inscribe their souls in the Book of Life, and let them rest in the Garden of Eden. God is their inheritance, He will remember their sacrifice, and let their righteousness stand before us and before all of Israel

Let the earth not hide their blood nor be a place for their protests; and by their rights, let all the dispersed of Israel return to their birthright. Let the saints of eternal memory testify before God, stand up to their fates, attain peace and lie in their resting place, and let them rise to life at the end of days; and let us say Amen.

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Yosef Cohen-Tzedek

The History of the Jews of Shtutshin - Vasilishki - Ostrina - Novi Dvor - Rozhanka
(Historical Review)

1. During the Period of the Kingdom of Poland (until 1772)


Jews entered the Duchy of Lithuania from two directions. The first were traditional and rabbinical Jews who reached the borders of Lithuania during the 12th century, from the areas over which the Kuzarians had ruled. When Gedimin, the prince of Lithuania, conquered the Russian Duchies to his South and East, he found Jews in Wohlin, in Galitsh, and in Kiev. He founded Vilna in 1320, transferred his capital there and settled some Jews there. In his former capital, Troki, he settled the traditional Jews. In the second wave of migration, came Jews from the German (Ashkenaz) countries, who left their places of origin because of the persecution of the Crusaders. Prince Vitold (1389) brought Jews from Crimea and settled them in Vilna.

The city of Grodno ("Hradna" according to ancient sources), was established by the Princes of Rus, and is first mentioned in a Chronicle from 1128. A significant number of Jews settled in Grodno, since this old city was bigger and better fortified than the capital, and because its trade, which used the River Neiman, was more convenient.

Eventually, when the towns of Vilna and Grodno developed, the Jewish community multiplied and spread over the area between these towns. In this way, the Jews settled in the town of Lida and its surroundings. For hundreds of years, all the small towns between Vilna, Lida, and Grodno were subject to the Grodno authorities; and their Jews were subject to the authority of the Grodno Jewish community [kahal].

In 1389, Vitold, Prince of Lithuania, granted the Jews of Grodno a bill of rights ("Cartia"), based on the rights given to the Jews of Poland by King Casimir the Great. According to this bill of rights, the Jews' life and property were well protected, as well as their freedom of movement and trade, their religious practice, rituals and customs. The bill also guaranteed the organization and local rule of the community in the hands of the Jews. The Jews did not pay the government taxes individually - the community leaders used to collect the required taxes from them according to their own judgment, and paid these taxes in the name of the whole community.

According to Vitold's bill of rights, it appears that the Jews of Grodno and its surroundings were involved in trade and the granting of interest-bearing loans on the basis of deposits. Some of them worked as governmental tax collectors. These people, by paying an annual fee to the Prince, "bought" the right to collect the state taxes from the farmers, the citizens and the nobles - for their own good.

In 1408, the Jews of Grodno were granted a renewed bill of rights, from which it appears that the Jews of the region also worked as tradesmen, and even as farmers. They also owned real estate (the land of their synagogues and cemeteries was their own property).

If the Jews of Germany were then, by status, "Kamerknechte" ("Crown Workers") and were regarded as the private property of the King, the Jews of Lithuania were free citizens, equal in status to the lower aristocracy. At the head of each community stood a "Community Elder", whose job was to establish the local Jews' rate of taxes. The community Rabbi was the judge in court cases between the Jews themselves; apart from criminal cases, that were judged by a state court, and apart from cases which the Jews applied by their own volition to the civil courts. The Shochet, the Cantor, and the Beadle were subject to the Rabbi's authority.

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The union of Poland and Lithuania, by Vladislav Yagilu, (1413), caused a deterioration in the situation of the Jews of Lithuania. Their rights were reduced and equalized with those of the Jews of Poland. However, King Casimir Yagilu (1442-1492) restored their previous rights.

The murder of a Jew was punished in the same way as the murder of a Lithuanian noble. A Christian who wrongly libeled a Jew would be punished in the same way that the Jew would have been punished had his guilt been proved. The Jewish tax collectors even ruled over state's nobles and were involved in "High Society".

Nevertheless, in 1439, there were incidents against the Jews. They were accused of inciting the Christian population to convert to Judaism and to immigrate to Turkey. The government-appointed committee to investigate the accusation, run amok against the Jews of the Grodno province, searched for the hidden converters to Judaism in the villages and towns, arrested many Jews, destroyed property, beat up many people, and injured the rest. The enlightened and graceful Queen Buna, of the House of Sforza (the wife of King Sigismunt "The Elder"), stood by the Jews. She refuted the accusation and released the Jews thereof.

A great argument then arose among the Jews of Grodno and its surroundings. The Yudich family took control of the Grodno Jewish community and appointed their son-in-law, Reb Yehuda, known as Bogdanovich (apparently, this can be translated as "son of the converter to Judaism") as the community Rabbi. Many Jews of the town disliked this Reb Yehuda, especially the communities that were subject to the Grodno Jewish community. The argument reached the ears of the Queen, who, in effect, ruled the country because of her husband's advanced age. She decided to appoint another Rabbi, while the Yudich family took on the status and position of "Community Elder".

A separate prince, subservient to the Polish Crown, ruled according to the First Law of Union between Poland and Lithuania (the union, from the period of Vladislaus Yagili) in Lithuania. At the end of the 15th Century, Prince Alexander ruled Lithuania, while his elder brother was King of Poland. Three years after the Expulsion of Jews from Spain, (in the year 1495), this Prince Alexander passed an inclusive expulsion order on all the Jews of his Duchy. Most of the Jews of the Raizen provinces moved out "with their walking sticks and back-packs" to Southern Russia or to Crimea, while most of the Jews from the Grodno province and its subsidiaries moved to the towns on the borders of neighboring Poland. There were those who converted to Christianity in order to remain in the country, and to these, the Prince granted land and titles of nobility. The reasons for expulsion were debts of the treasury, of the Lithuanian nobility, and of Lithuanian citizens to Jewish usurers, debts that were cancelled with the expulsion. Furthermore, the treasury inherited the assets of the expellees. Land was transferred in part to the monasteries and in part to the Prince.

As a result of the expulsion, internal trade, and especially foreign trade, ground to a halt. Alexander, who was deep in debt, was forced to repent and invite the expellees to return to their places. He even promised to return their property in full. The Prince gave the Property Return Bond in the aforementioned province to a Jew of Grodno, Lazer Moyzhitshovich (Eliezer, the son of Moshe), and to his friend, Yitschak Fayvushovich. Indeed, most of the Grodno Jews and the surrounding towns returned to their places, and even received their property back (some of them in part only), and also had their synagogues and cemeteries returned to them. This happened in 1503 and then began the series of trials that arose from the return of assets. The governor of Grodno, (Alexander Yureievich) was given an order to assist in the return of assets confiscated from the Jews all over the province, and the collection of debts owing to them by the gentiles. This caused a large number of legal complications that were settled only after many years. Even in the year 1526, King Sigismund I was forced to defend the Jews of Grodno and its environs from the whims of the "Starosta" (the regional minister) of Grodno, of the house of Radziwil, who strongly resisted the return of the loot confiscated from the Jews…


The Jews had to cover the large treasury deficits. Jewish traders sent the grain crops of the Grodno region on rafts on the Neiman river, to the Baltic countries. They sent the trees of the forest for wood for the construction of boats, to Danzig, and from there, they brought back produce from western countries - iron and steel products, textiles and various other products. The Jewish tax collectors collected state taxes with a heavy hand, often being accompanied by legions of armed policemen. Many of them became rich, and there were those who confiscated, on behalf of debts to the treasury, the assets of nobles, thus becoming Estate owners.

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In the days of Sigismund-August II, the position of the country's Jews improved. In 1551, the Jews were allowed to settle in Vilna without restrictions (although in certain streets only) - a right for which they had struggled for many years. In the days of this king, the Rabbi of Brest was appointed as a "State Official", and the Jew Shmuel Yisraelovich was a delegate of the Jews at the Chamber of the Viboda (district governor) in Vilna. The title of every Jew was "Pan" ("Sir"). He would don a sword, wear a gold chain, and on his ring was engraved his family emblem because of his family status. There was increased intermarriage between the Jews and the Nobles of the country. The Bishop of Vilna complained about this to the King in 1548, because the children of such marriages were educated according to the religion of their Jewish fathers. Therefore, according to 1566 constitution, the Jews were not allowed to wear luxurious clothes, to wear gold and silver rings, or to carry a decorative sword. The men had to wear yellow hats, and the women yellow head coverings; they also had to wear special clothes which would distinguish them from the Christians.

In 1520, the "Four Countries Committee" was established by State Order. This was the united government of the Jewish community in the whole of the united country -- in the internal affairs of the Jews. From the beginning, the committee was established to estimate the rates and taxes of the community, and to collect them as well as to organize Jewish community matters. Later, however, its authority was widened to cover the religious and cultural affairs of the Jews. The committee's statutes were legally binding, and it acted as a sort of Supreme Court of Appeals on the decision of local communities and rabbinical courts.

At first, the committee was called the "Three Countries Committee", these countries being Poland, Lithuania and Razein (White Russia or Belarus); it was later called the "Four Countries Committee", the countries being Greater Poland, Lesser Poland, Lithuania and Razein. The committee used to meet on Fair days in Lublin, in Yaroslav, in Kremenitz and at other places. After a century, (in 1623), Lithuania broke away from the Four Nations Committee, and set up "States Committee", which included three regions: Brisk, Horodna and Pinsk. They were joined later by the Vilna region and, more recently, by the Slutsk region. The "Four Countries Committee" ceased existence in 1764 at the orders of King Stanislav-August, while the Lithuanian "States Committee" existed until 1766.

Reb Mordechai Yaffe, the first head of the "Four Countries Committee" was the Rabbi of Grodno and surroundings (which included the Jewish Communities of that province). He was well known in the Diaspora as an authority in matters of Judaism. He was Head of a Yeshiva in Prague; and in the year 5321 (1560-1), he left there for Italy. In the year 5348 (1587-8), he was elected as the Rabbi of Lublin. Later, he went to Grodno and left his mark on Grodno and all its surroundings. He established and ran houses of study and Yeshivas in his city and the other communities under his control.

He was known as "Baal Halevushim" ("Owner of the Garments"), after his book "Levush Malchut" ("Garment of Royalty"), which had ten chapters ("The Blue Garment", "Gold Fringe Garment", etc.). In these chapters, he elucidated the laws of the "Arba Turim" ("Four Columns") and the "Shulchan Aruch" ("Laid Table'), as well as explaining Maimonides' "Guide to the Perplexed". Yet, he was also a "Mekubal" (expert in the Kabbala). The Kabbala was not his main interest, but rather the Talmud and its commentators.


During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there was no end to the struggles on Jewish rights in Poland and Lithuania in general, and in this region in particular, mainly with the municipal authorities, which tried to limit the activities of the Jews of Grodno, Vilna and their environs.

In the days of Sigismunt III (of the House of Vasa), a law was passed to the effect that any Jew who converted to Christianity was ennobled. This law was cancelled at the demand of the Nobility, in order to limit the number of "Nobles of the Children of Jerusalem"…, since the number of ennobled converted Jews multiplied, and their children married into the heights of power in the country…

The citizen's representatives from the towns around Grodno, Vilna and Lida tried, more than once, to limit the trade of the Jews in their towns, while the Christian Artisans' representatives, who were unionized in their closed Guilds, ("Tsachs"), tried to prevent the Jews from practicing their occupations. Indeed, they frequently succeeded in limiting the Jewish artisans in their towns by State regulations and court decisions, but these limitations were not applied to Jews in towns who were entitled to practice as artisans. In many towns and villages, a struggle went on regarding the rights of the Jews to manufacture resin wine and sell it to the Gentiles. This right sometimes was taken from them and at other times restored. Sometimes, the right was limited, while, at other times, these limitations were repealed. The justification for these bans and limitations on the sale and manufacture of these wines was "exploitation of the farmers" and their impoverishment because of their debts to the Jewish tavern owners.

During the sixteenth Century, the Jews of the province multiplied following the immigration of Jews from Germany and Bohemia to the cities and towns of Lithuania, because of the oppression in their countries of origin. Many of them settled in Vilna, Grodno, Lida and their environs. The Jews settled there in a limited number of streets, and were not allowed to live in all parts of the town.

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The Jewish Quarters of the three towns were small, narrow and overcrowded. The streets were dirty and moldy, and they were too small to contain the growing population. Many Jews, therefore, left the cities at the end of the 16th Century and spread to the provincial towns, thus producing new communities, such as Novogrodok, Tiktin and Novi-Dvor.

The desertion of Grodno was especially marked after the Great Fire of 1617, in which the whole Jewish Quarter was destroyed. The Grodno refugees settled in Shtutshin, Ostrina, Zhaludok, and Vasilishki, in which there already were existing Jewish communities subject to the Grodno Jewish Community [kahal]. This community also controlled communities such as Amdur, Skidal, Mosti, Siastichko, Kuznitza, Novi Dvor, Radun, Slonim, as well as a number of semi-rural Jewish communities. Even the original Jews, who lived in the Grodno province (which, at the time, spread over the two banks of the Neiman River from Vilna and Kovno at the one end, until Suvalk at the other end) were subject to the Grodno community.

The law of the Grodners was well known in the whole country; the name of the town "Hradana" was pronounced by the people of the period as "Har-Adani" (Hebrew for "Mount Adani"), and the surrounding communities depended on the City Leaders to manage their affairs. When a question of government arose regarding the community of Lida, which then was a small town, The Four Countries Committee decided (in 1623) that their government would be in the hands of the Grodno Jewish Community.


The number of Jews in Lida and its environs grew as a result of the holocaust that occurred in 1648 amongst the Jews of Ukraine, Podolia and Wohlin. Bogdan Chmielnitzki rose with his Cossacks to fight their war of religion and freedom against their Polish "tyrants" and landowners, as well as, by the by, against the Jews who acted as renters and middlemen in the service of the Polish Landowners. He gave the Jews of the conquered communities over to be killed and tortured (Ta"ch and Ta"t Murders). Many refugees fled from the South to the communities in the fortified towns of Vilna, Grodno, and the towns between them. These communities grew greatly, and many of the refugees remained in them even after the great storm, after the Messianic Cossacks were arrested on the outskirts of these towns.

After the Ta"ch and Ta"t Holocaust, there arose Messianic longings amongst the Jews of Lithuania, which caused the effervescence of the cult of "The Tribes of Tzvi". However, the shrewd Rabbis of Vilna and Grodno reined in the effervescence in their provinces, strengthened the traditional connection to the study of the Talmud, and even overthrew the devotees of the study of "Hidden Learning". Apart from Reb Heschil, a Vilna jeweler, who aroused crowds of ignorant people in favor of Shabtai Tzvi, his influence was not felt in this region at all.

The seventh century was the most difficult of periods until then in the lives of the Jews in this region. While they were not harmed by the Ta"ch and Ta"t Murders, (they even strengthened and grew), they were harmed by the Russo-Swedish war (1654-1667), which started as a quarrel between Russia and Poland regarding the Ukraine. In 1655, the Russians conquered Vilna and Grodno. There were riots in Vilna, and the Jewish Quarter was set on fire. In the whole province, persecutions of the Jews and plunder of their property started. When Poland was weakened, the King of Sweden, Karl-Gustav X came to conquer it. His armies reached the region with which we are dealing. Here, they encountered the Russians (who had, in the meantime, reconciled with the Poles). The Swedes conquered the region and ruled for four years over Grodno and its province. They did not kill Jews especially, but they extorted their money. The situation of the Jews worsened, however, when the armies of the Lithuanian Prince Yanosh Radziwil invaded the Vilna-Grodno region. Radziwil had betrayed his King, Jan-Kasimir and set out to fight him on behalf of the Swedes.

About fifty years later (1707), the Russian armies of King Peter the Great once more ran riot in the provinces of Vilna and Grodno in their war against the Swedes, who had attacked the Poles. In 1702, the Russians conquered Vilna and exacted a punitive fine of 22,115 thalers, most of which was extorted from the Jews (Grodno also suffered badly from this conquest). Karl the Great (XII), the dauntless King of Sweden, liberated Grodno and Vilna from the Russian armies who retreated to Poltava. There, Karl suffered his downfall. The Jews were again ground between the grindstones of the two armies, and were forced to pay punitive taxes to both of them.

Between these two wars, the Jews of the Vilna and Grodno provinces were forced to struggle for their civil rights, mainly for the right to be doctors and barbers among the non-Jewish population. On the other hand, [they struggled] for the right to employ servants and wet-nurses from the Christians in their midst. The nobles in the towns and villages were free to persecute those who lived on their lands; and there were those who did so harshly.

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The anarchy and the lawlessness which overtook the law and the lives of the public and the state in all of Poland, as a result of the rise of the Nobility's status and power, caused increased suffering for the Jews of this region. According to its legal status, Lithuania was separated from Poland. The legal complications caused an increase in the Feudal anarchy, and in the arbitrariness of the Nobility over the Jews. The Nobility's motto was, "Everyone doing his own thing!".


The Vilna Jewish Community, which had been closed within the walls of the Ghetto since the time of King Vladislav IV (in the year 1619), grew and extended. In 1652, the Four Countries Committee recognized the Vilna Jewish Community as a "Major Community". Despite all the troubles and persecutions, the population grew and its material situation also improved. On the other hand, the number of Yeshivas, study houses and other educational institutions multiplied; in these, young and old studied. Charitable institutions were also established to help the needy. In this way, the community's spiritual influence increased, and was even greater than that of Grodno. The large concentration of "Students of the Wise" in Vilna caused it to be called "The Jerusalem of Lithuania", and it became obvious that the whole region between "Har-Adani" (Grodno) and "Lithuanian Jerusalem" (Vilna) could not remain aloof from the founts of Torah and wisdom. A thick network of large and small Houses of Study and Yeshivas with many students, from whom there arose Leaders in Torah, covered most of this region.

The Vilna Center's influence was especially strong on Jewish learning, in the towns surrounding Lida, which had, in the meantime, become a regional town in the Vilna Province. The Gaon (Genius), Reb Eliyahu Ben Shlomo-Zalman, who was known as the "Gera" (Hebrew acronym for Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu), or the Vilna Gaon, (1720-1797) tried to increase the status of the Torah, not only within his city, but also in the outlying towns, through his students and delegates. His student, Reb Chaim, established the Volozhin Yeshiva. Some of his other students went so far as to carry his Torah, and widened the borders of Talmudic learning, from Shaklov on the one hand, to Safed and Jerusalem, on the other. In Grodno too, there were then Leaders in Torah, such as Eliezer Ben Tsvi-Hirsh and Alexander Ziskind Ben Moshe, the Mekubal, (author of "The Foundation and Root of Work", published in Novi Dvor in the year 5542 - {1783-1784}).

In Lida, the Rabbi was Reb Dovid'l Ben Arye-Leib, who was known as the "Lider". He was knowledgeable in Talmud, a preacher and a Mekubal (he wrote many books on the Torah, such as "City of Refuge", "City of David", and others). His son, Reb Pitchiya, and his grandson, Reb David, were also Rabbis in Lida and were well known as very wise men and as innovators in the Torah.

The expansion of Talmudic Learning, characteristic of Lithuanian Jews, fenced off and dammed the infiltration of Chassidism into the Vilna-Grodno region as well as into the Lida province. Those who most strongly resisted this infiltration were the rabbis of the Vilner Gaon's School: The excommunication that he imposed on the Chassidim (for fear that they would end up in the same way as the Shabtai Tsvi cult), acted as a moderating influence.

Even the "Karliner" Chassidism, which arose in the Lithuanian area, did not develop in this region. Reb Shlomo Karliner, the founder of this form of Chassidism, and Reb Yitschak-Levi, who was the Rabbi of the Pinsk Chassidim, were both evicted from their communities. Reb Shlomo was forced to go to Vladimir in Wolitz, and Reb Yitschak-Levi went to Berditchev. Similarly, the Chabad form of Chasidism, the origin of which was in nearby Raizen, did not strike roots in the Lida region, although in Amdur, near Grodno, there was a Chabad center headed by Reb Chaim-Chaika, a student of the Preacher of Dubnow. The Amdur Chassidim did not continue after the deaths of their Rabbi, Reb Chaim, in the year 5547 (1786-1787), and his son, Reb Shmuel in 5558 (1797-1798).

The few Chassidim who were considered as the hidden leaders of Chassidism, when discovered, were oppressed in the towns of the Lida region by the community leaders as well as by the local residents, who interfered in the lives of the Chassidim and in their incomes. The Rabbis even strictly prohibited intermarriage with them. The few remaining Chassidim were later forced to emigrate Eastwards or to change their attitudes.

During this period (the second half of the 18th century), the total Jewish population [was as follows:

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2. The Historical Development of the Aforementioned Cities


Just before the division of Poland between Russia, Prussia and Austria, Lida already had become a provincial capital. In the Census of 1766, there were 5,291 Jews in the whole province (head-tax payers). These were divided as follows: In the city of Gofa - 1,167; in Shtutshin - 405; in Ostrina - 400; in Vasilishki - 398; in Novi Dvor - 294; in Zholudok - 287; and in Rozhanka - a few only.


The town of Shtutshin was then the estate of the Noble House of Scipion. This was a family known for its love of wisdom and knowledge, who established in Shtutshin, in 1726, a higher school ("Collegium") for monks named for Pope Pius ("Piarim"), as well as a school for the common people. The family appointed, as head of the Collegium, one of their relatives - the "Vitky" (Minister of the Army) of the city of Polotsk -- Chalivitsky-Yosepovitch. This was a University School that taught ancient and modern foreign languages, History, Natural Sciences, Mathematics, Theology, Ethics, Logic, and other sciences.

In the year 1742, the Lady Theresa Scipion (of the house of Chalivitsky-Yosepovitch, the Cashtilaness of Smolensk), gathered a group of Sisters of Mercy, and established a Hospital in Shtutshin. This was one of the most modern Hospitals in the State at the time.

After the third division of Poland (1795), the Russian authorities confiscated Shtutshin from the Scipion Family because of their Polish Patriotism. It was transferred to the Princes of Drutsky-Lubatsky, who supported the rule of the Russian Czars.

The name Shtutshin was given to the town because of the River Shtutshinka that flows nearby. The river was thus called because of the many "Water-Wolf" fishes therein. These are called "Chuka" in Polish and Russian.


Shtutshin's closest neighbor is Rozhanka, which was, before the division of Poland, the estate of the well-known nobles of the house of Patz. The town was thus called "Rozhanka-Patzovska", to distinguish it from another Rozhanka. A General Patz defeated the armies of Bogdan Chmielnitsky in the year 1650, thus saving Vilna and Grodno from the invasion of the Cossacks. (There is a common assumption that the Patz Family's origin is Jewish.)

The Viavoda (General) of the House of Patz established, in 1764, the Luxurious Cathedral of the Apostles Peter and Paul, in Rozhanka. During the 1830's, Rozhanka was confiscated from the House of Patz because they participated in the Polish Rebellion against the Russians. During the 1860's, when Czar Alexander II freed the Serfs, the lands of Rozhanka were given to the serfs on the condition that they would repay the price at long-term payments.

Few Jews lived in Rozhanka. Their settlement there started during the 1880's, when the Railway Line passing nearby was laid. In the 1860's, a colony of Jewish farmers was set up near Rozhanka in a village called Malivitzia.


The town Ostrina , on the banks of the River Ostrinka, was once bigger and older than Shtutshin. Its name was first mentioned in connection with the appointment of the deputy Minister of Finance of the Duchy of Lithuania, the Honorable Pidko Bohadanovitch-Hariptovich, in 1508, as Governor of this town.

In 1641, Ostrina received municipal status from King Vladislav IV. In 1641, the Lithuanian Governor of the House of Patz built a luxurious Catholic Cathedral in the town, together with the Nobles of the House of Di-Malgi (who originated in Spain).

In 1771, Ostrina was transferred to Andrei Zinkovich, and was turned into a provincial capital ("Starostvo"). The province included twenty-five villages, with a population 3,366, but the town declined in status, following the War of the Swedes. Close to the Partition of Poland, Ostrina had only 436 households paying head-tax, four hundred of which were Jewish households.

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The town of Zholudok, on the banks of the river Zoludchanka, also got its name from the river. This river was thus named for the many oak trees that flourished on the banks of the river and dropped their fruit there. These acorns are called "Zholod" in Russian. In the days of the Polish Kings, they privately owned the lands of Zholudok; and the town was a provincial capital, a "Starosta" settlement. King Casimir Yagilonchik built the Cathedral in 1480. The Cathedral was burnt down in 1506 during the Tartar Invasion and was rebuilt in 1529 by King Zigismunt (Sigismunt) I.

In 1535, two Russian nobles fled from Moscow to Poland, from the anger of their Czar, Ivan the Terrible. These were Simon Beilski and Ivan Latzki. Zigismund the Elder, whose patronage they sought, granted them lands. Ivan Latzki received Zholudok. Eventually, the town passed to the ownership of the Mapiah family, and later to the Rodziman-Franzkeievich family.

At the beginning of the 18th century, Zholudok passed to the ownership of the Tinzhaus (Tinzhoys) family. From the Tinzhauses, it passed, at the Partition of Poland, to the hands of the Oruski family. Its population was then just 650 tax paying souls, of whom 287 households were Jewish.


The town of Vasilishki is connected to the historic events in the relationship between Poland and Lithuania. Near it is the village of Shaibakapolia ("Shaibak Field"), where the Lithuanian Prince Radziwil, in 1242, defeated the Tartar General Shaibak, who was head of Khan Batai's armies. Khan Batai was Ghengis Khan's grandson. Radziwil's victory saved the whole of Europe from a renewed invasion of the Tartars, who threatened to destroy all the settlements in their way.

King Casimir built the Cathedral in Vasilishki in 1489. After the Cathedral gradually deteriorated, it was renovated in 1747. Vasilishki had, by this time, become "Starostvo" (capital city) of the region, which included more than 20 rural settlements. Among its rulers, called "Starosto", were: 1499 - Jan Statkovich; 1501 - Vasil Lavovitch Helinski; 1505 - Stanislav Kishka; 1507 - Jan Tchitovich; 1518 - Yakov Kontzivich; 1523 - Jan Radziwil; 1546 - Caspar Kantsivich; 1547 - Prince Nikolay Radziwil; 1569 - Jan Volkovich.

The Lida Regional Judge, Martin Limon, established the Dominican Monastery in Vasilishki in 1658. During the Swedish War, in 1706, King Stanislav Litchinski camped in this town and received the surrender of the Lithuanian Nobles who fought on the side of Karl XII, King of Sweden.

In 1766, the "Starosta" was the well-known Vilnian Viavoda, Michael-Casimir Oginski (1728-1800), who owned the lands of Vasilishki. The last "Starosta" was the "Podkomorni" Alexandrovich, to whom ownership of the town passed. With the annexation of the region to Russia, after the Partition of Poland, the "Starotsvo" in Vasilishki was canceled.


Novi Dvor is one of the oldest Jewish communities in Lithuania. According to the Grodno Civil Court records, that were kept in the Vilna Legal Archives, court-cases were held between Novi Dvor's Jews and its Gentiles in the year 1540. In the Book of Records ("Kasinga Pistsova") of the "Grodnian Economy", Novi Dvor: "…is on the Main Road from Grodno to Zabilotzia, a distance of 140 versts from Vilna, 52 versts from Lida, and 28 versts from Shtutshin…". In 1558, there were Jewish householders and farmers in twelve households. A Jewish "Schola" was also mentioned. (It is not clear whether this was a school or a synagogue as both were translated from Yiddish to Polish as "schola".) In 1623, the "Four Countries Committee" decided that the Novi Dvor community would belong to the Grodno community. In 1765, the Novi Dvor community, together with its surroundings, consisted of 299 tax-paying Jews.

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At about the time of the Partition of Poland, Novi Dvor received municipal status from King August II (in 1720); however, Novi Dvor had already been, since 1678, the seat of the "Starosta" - the governor of all the villages in the area. The Noble, Andrei Gonzitski bought the town from the kingdom's treasury and so became the "Starosta". In 1766, Ignatz Gonzitski became the "Starosta", and the town passed from him to Antony Romer, famous in the history of Poland. In his time, there were 294 tax-paying Jewish households.


The town Orlova was mentioned in the "State Register" of the "Lithuanian State Major Communities Committee" in the year 1729. The Greek-Catholic (Provo-Slavic) Cathedral was established there in the year 1783 after the first Partition of Poland. In 1847, the total population of Orlova was 804 men and women.

The town of Kaminka is not an old town. It is mentioned in the History of Poland as the encampment of King Karl XII (the Swede) in 1706, when he fought against Peter the Great.

3. The Period of the Russian Conquest (1772-1914).


Three times Russia, Prussia and Austria partitioned Poland, which was torn by internal quarrels (1772 - 1793 - 1795). In 1772, Lida Province, like the whole of Vilna and Grodno region, became part of Russia. The conquerors, influenced by the progressive trends from the West, granted the Jews, their new subjects, a civil status equal to that of the Gentiles, with the right to vote for and to be elected to the municipalities, and to run community government in internal affairs.

The first partition left Poland as a rump state. The second partition (1793), however, ended the possibility of its existence. This caused the Polish nation to rebel under the leadership of Thaddeus Kosciusko. The Jews of Poland took part in the rebellion, under the leadership of a Jewish troop-leader, Barak (Dov-Behr) Yosilevich (1765-1809). He was a Lithuanian Jew, born in the town of Kartingen, in Zamut. Initially, he was the agent of the Bishop of Vilna, Masaleski. During the rebellion, Yosilevich passed through the cities and towns of Lithuania and gathered volunteers for his regiment, among who were volunteers from our region. His regiment fought bravely in the ruins of Praga, (a suburb of Warsaw), against the Russians in 1794. Many of his men fell in this battle. Yosilevich escaped and was attached to the regiment of General Dombrovski, who had served in France. He returned with Napoleon's armies to Warsaw, in the days of the "Warsaw Duchy", which had been established by Napoleon. In the war against the Austrians (1809), he died as a hero in a cavalry battle, near the city of Kotzk.

Even in these "Days of Awe" for the simple people, the Blood Libels against the Jews did not stop. In 1790, a Jew called Eliezer, an inhabitant of Werblova (near Grodno), was accused of using the blood of a Christian baby for the Passover, and was sentenced to death by amputation of the limbs and the head ("Vierteilung").


After the third partition (1795), when most of Poland was transferred to the Russian Government, (apart from Posen, which passed to Prussia, and Galicia, which passed to Austria), the Jews of Poland found themselves governed by the Czarina Catherine the Great. The first steps of the "enlightened" Czarina were to establish the "Pale of Settlement" for these Jews. In other words, the Jews were forbidden to live in the provinces of Russia proper, but were allowed to stay in the former Polish and Lithuanian regions, as well as in the Ukraine, which was then considered a province for settlement. This law remained on the books until the destruction of Czarist Russia.

In religious matters, government remained in the hands of the communities. These were responsible for collecting taxes from the Jews, who were taxed at double the rate of their Gentile neighbors (quadruple in Grodno Province). The Jews were, nevertheless, exempted from military service on payment of a very high ransom; however, they were subject to many decrees, such as a prohibition on running inns, taverns, or distilleries. Participation in trade and artisanship were allowed without restriction, but Jews living in the villages were registered as urban-dwellers and were forced to leave the villages.

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The expulsion from the villages began in 1804, but was not completed because of difficulties in integrating the expellees into the cities, and because of Napoleon's invasion of Russia… The Jews did not support the French invaders. Their Rabbis regarded Napoleon as a promoter of Atheism. Reb Shneiur-Zalman from Liady publicly announced that he preferred the oppressive Russian Regime, rather than the liberating French Regime, which would distance the Jews from their forefathers in Heaven. Many Jews aided the Russians in passing news on the movements of the invading army, hid retreating Russian soldiers in their houses, acted as runners and guides for the Russians, and served as military suppliers. There were Jews who received decorations and praises from the Russian Government, for their aid to the Czarist armies fighting the French. Among these was Reb Eliezer Zhamudski, whose descendants at the beginning of this century lived in Shtutshin (Eliezer Zhamudski received two medals for his important assistance to the Russians).

The French conquerors caused many problems for the Jews. They desecrated synagogues and cemeteries, imposed heavy taxes, and demanded the conscription of men to their army. When they retreated, they robbed and looted the Jews. The head of the Russian Partisans, the famous General Davidoff, liberated Grodno and found it disorganized and leaderless. He appointed the Jewish "Community" to run the municipality until a permanent government was established. The French caused destruction during their retreat, set fire to houses and shot their inhabitants. This happened in Grodno and Novogrodok, in Troki and in Shtutshin, when a French regiment arrived in the town and demanded supplies. Even though the supplies were given to them as demanded, the soldiers started shooting at the inhabitants. They ran amok in the town's streets during the whole night. Some of the inhabitants were shot and killed. Many were injured when the Jews tried to defend themselves.


The Napoleonic wars greatly impoverished the Jews. The masses sunk into abject poverty. Illiteracy was widespread. The bitter dissension between the Chassidim and the Misnogdim increased and caused a diminution of the rights of the communities. Many Jews were forced to earn a living as middlemen, including criminal activities. The Jews living near the borders were forced into smuggling until the authorities banned them from living in the border regions. This expulsion caused even greater poverty among the Jews.

Czar Alexander I set up a Committee "For the Solution of the Jewish Problem", which recommended transferring the Jews to agricultural settlements. For the raising of funds for the realization of this recommendation, the communities of the Vilna Province ordered the collection of gold ornaments from Jewish women. This resulted, however, in the settlement of very few Jews.

In 1808, a group of the Vilna Gaon's pupils emigrated to the Land of Israel (Palestine). Among them were people from Vilna (some of them from towns in the area). In total, there were about 420 people. These people established the "Dissident" settlement in Safed and in Jerusalem. Committees were established in Vilna and Lida to support these immigrants.

In 1816, the blood libels, which had been previously banned by the Czar, started up again. In 1819, the Jews of the region were prohibited from leasing estates from the Gentiles, while in 1823 Jews were expelled from the villages of the Lida region.


Of all the decrees and suppressions which the Jews of Czarist Russia suffered, the hardest and most inhuman was that of army enlistment as enacted by Czar Nicholas I in 1827. It was called the "Cantonist Decree". The sons of the Russian soldiers ("Cantonists") were "enserfed" to the state and educated for military service in special institutions until the age of eighteen. At this stage, they were considered fit for proper military service. By a decree passed in 1805, the sons of rebels against the state were also taken for this special education as well as the sons of "nomads" ("brodiages") who were homeless, as well as deniers of the State Religion, and criminals. In 1827, the sons of Jews were also included in this decree. The children of Gentiles were enlisted in the army at the age of eighteen (for twenty-five years). However, the decree ordered that the sons of Jews were to be enlisted at the age of twelve, to go to the "Cantonist" institutions until the age of eighteen, and to learn the official State language… The proper military service for these recruits was also considered as twenty-five continuous years, from the age of eighteen.

Each community in the region was expected to fill a certain quota of soldiers. The "trustees" of the community were made personally responsible to carry the order out. Three types were exempted from army service: traders who paid up to 1,000 Rubles for a trader's license ("guilda"), artisans who had an artisan's certificate of qualification, and religious tools. Later, only sons were also exempted.

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When call-up time came for the conscripts, many youngsters fled and dodged the draft. They hid in the forests and villages. As a result, there was a quota shortage. The communities were punished by a decree stating: for each missing conscript, the community had to substitute three new conscripts. The trustees were forced to grab whomever they could, (even eight-year-old children were kidnapped and given over to the recruitment bureaus). The trustees hired Jewish and Gentile kidnappers who went searching for children, and forcefully grabbing them from their parents' arms. The custom of "dilaturia" ("informers") then developed. These paid professional informers used to detect young children and inform on them to the kidnappers. Our community did not keep exact registration of births. Many of those without birth certificates were abducted according to the law of the "nomads" while others were fraudulently abducted and used as "victims" replacing those who were really subject to recruitment.

The "Cantonist" Y. Itskovich, (from Vilna Province) tells in his memoirs that he was abducted at the age of seven; A. S. Friedberg (of Grodno County) was abducted at age five; while M. Spiegel (Lida Province) was abducted in 1852 at the age of eight. The little abductees, who did not know the official state language, could not defend themselves against the forgeries or testify on their own behalf. They were registered as aged twelve in their conscription booklets. The young children were taken by cart in the middle of winter, (and on foot in summer), to the furthest provinces of Russia proper in order to isolate them from their Jewish influence. The transports went slowly, sometimes up to a year from stage to stage. Those coming from the Minsk guberniya were shipped to Astrakhan, while those from Lida (and other Vilna Counties) were sent to the Perm Province on the Kama River near the Urals on the border of Europe and Asia.

The purpose of the recruitment was largely to change their religion. From the moment of their arrival at the barracks, they were regularly beaten, tortured, humiliated, oppressed, and ordered to convert to Christianity. During the years 1836-1842, 381 children of the Perm Battalion (from the Lida region) became Christians. In 1843, the priest of this Battalion (Terepevo), received a medal for the conversion of 215 children. In 1845, Bishop ("Archierey") Arkady reported to the Synod that in the Perm Battalion, no Jewish Cantonists remained, since all of them had converted to Christianity. The conversion of the remaining ninety-five children was performed publicly and with great celebrations. The converts took on the names of their patrons. Eliyahu Miletski became Nikolay Andreyev; Alter Resnick became Vladimir Ferov; and Shlomo Gordon became Michael Yefgropov… (all of them from Lida province). These children did not easily agree to become Christians. The soldier Dimitri Kauffman of this Battalion said: "Hadiadka, the Yefreiter, hit me with a stick on my hands, stuck needles into me under my fingernails, and prevented me from eating for two days. I refused for a month until I broke down and submitted."… The soldier Egay Marashinski, from the same battalion, said that all his hair was torn out in clumps and that his whole head was bleeding. The two gave these testimonies at their courts-martial, after announcing many years after their conversion, that they were returning to their ancestral religion and were sentenced to hard labor for their repentance.

Those few who protested their forced conversion to Christianity and their torture when they were young were not allowed to return to their people and their religion. They were punished with most severe punishments: exile to Siberia with hard labor for all their lives or to the Monasteries. Only a few of the older children, those who were given over to the Cantonists after their Bar Mitzvah, were able to withstand the tortures and not to convert. These were about ten percent of the Cantonist children. They managed to return to their people after thirty-one years of military service and managed to survive as Jews within Russia. (The "Nikolayevian Soldiers" were allowed to live there as well).

In 1849, five converts were sent to prisoner-regiments ("Orestontske Rottes") from the Permian Battalion because they announced that they had converted against their will. In 1860, eleven year later, two of them, Shlomo Shkotsov and Ben-Zion Nesperov, were still suffering in the town of Sviaborg. The "Cantonist" incidents ended in 1856 (after the decree had stood for 30 years) on the coronation of Alexander II.


In 1831, the Poles rebelled against the Czar but the Jews of Lida were as indifferent to the Poles as they were to the Russians. They took no part in the rebellion. At the same time, a Cholera plague broke out, causing many casualties, especially among the Christians. Nevertheless, there was no shortage of casualties among the poorer Jews. In 1835, the expulsion of Jews from the villages in the Province was renewed. The refugees were sent to Grodno, Lida and Vilna.

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Mendelsohn-style Enlightenment started penetrating our region at the beginning of the 19th Century and, as in the rest of Lithuania, it took on a strong nationalistic flavor. As opposed to Poland, where the movement led to assimilation, its meaning in the Vilna, Grodno and Lida provinces was seen as the taking on of Western wisdom and knowledge, without dropping Jewish customs and traditions. Lithuanian style Enlightenment demanded knowledge of the Bible, which had been neglected in the past because of an excessive interest in Talmud study. It demanded knowledge of Hebrew and its grammar, as well as a love for the Land of Israel. It also demanded knowledge of the local country's language as well as of German, which was then thought to be the source of knowledge and science. The Rabbis of Vilna, Grodno, and Lida did not strongly oppose the Enlightenment movement. They even introduced the learning of the local language and mathematics into the Yeshivas. In 1841, there were Jewish schools in Vilna, Lida and Grodno that taught the poor the local language, Arithmetic and Geography, as well as Hebrew and Bible studies. Many of the people in the region used to come learn there.

This rush for general education required the printing of books. In 1785, a large printing house in Grodno already existed while a second one was established in 1793. After the center of cultural activity moved from Grodno to Vilna, both printing houses were transferred there in 1799. The son of Reb Menachem Mann, the owner of the first printing house in Grodno, moved it to Vilna. This well-known printing house was later known as the "Rom Widow and Sons Press", which supplied religious and educational books to all the Diaspora communities over the ages. The increase in printers irritated the authorities, who closed them on orders from above (1836). Only three remained: one in Vilna (Rom Press), one in Warsaw, and one in Zhitomir.

In 1841, the Government ordered the examination of all the Hebrew and Yiddish literature before its release from the printers and stamping all those considered "kosher", with a special "Hechsher" stamp. In 1844, the Government established, in Vilna and in Zhitomir, two institutions for the training of "governmental" Jewish teachers, for the spread of the Enlightenment among the Jews. The graduates of these institutions eventually disseminated the Enlightenment among the Jews of the Lida region as teachers in the Jewish Schools (as defined by the State) that were established there. To improve education, the government decided to reduce community involvement and totally scrapped their rights. From then on, the authorities themselves directly collected governmental taxes together with the Jewish taxes (the "Korobaka" and the "Taksa"), while the charitable activities, formerly handled by the communities, were transferred to the Synagogue Gabbais.

To "increase the education of the Jews", the government decided to cancel their special clothing. In 1839, a special tax was placed on the traditional Jewish clothing, while in 1850, this style of dress was totally banned. The use of a "Kippa" or "Yarmulke" was not banned but an annual tax of five Rubles was imposed on its usage. This decree, one of the hardest for the Jews of Poland and Ukraine, was not received as a decree in the Lida region and it towns. In the previous generation, (at the beginning of the 19th century), with the beginning of the penetration of the Enlightenment from Germany into the Lithuanian provinces, the Western forms of dress also penetrated. To these, the Jews of Vilna, Grodno, Lida and the surrounding towns were accustomed. The "Shtreimel" remained a symbol of the Rabbis only, while the "short" jacket became common among the masses. The "Cylinder" (Top Hat) became popular among the Community notables while the "Kapota" went out of fashion. The governmental decree regarding the shaving of brides' heads after their weddings also was a serious imposition on the Lida region. By that time, very few women carried out this custom, which was banned in 1851. Compared to this, the decree against the growth of beards and side-curls was regarded as a serious imposition in the Lida region. This was so, even if the government did not fight against the growth of beards and side-locks in the rural areas as stringently as it did in the larger cities.

The Enlightenment stood for Jewish agricultural settlement; and its propaganda in this field had positive results. Many of the Jews in the towns of the Lida region started working part-time in agriculture, as a source of extra income and started developing dairy and poultry farms. Among those active in the Enlightenment, and famous for their writings, were some who originated in the Vilna and Grodno Provinces. Adam Hacohen Levenson was born in Michailishok. Reb Menashe Ben-Porat, the Dayan of Smorgon, was born in Iliya. M. A. Gintzberg was born in Salant; Prof. A. A. Harkavy was born in Novogrodok. There were many active supporters of the Enlightenment in the Lida region. The Hebrew newspapers that appeared then - "Hamagid" (from 1856), "Hamelitz" (1860), "Hatzfira" (1862), "Hashachar" (1869) - were read in all the towns of our region.

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One of those active in the Enlightenment movement and its dissemination in Yiddish, was the author Yehuda-Leib Ostrinsky, born in the town of Ostrina, after which he was named. He settled in Vilna and worked together with some of the better-known Yiddish Enlightenment authors of those days: Isaac-Meir Dick and Y. L. Bodohan. Y. L. Ostrinsky wrote many stories, (most were published under nom-de-plumes), among them "Liebe Nochen Toyt", which appeared in many editions (the first in 1895 and the last in 1927). Yehuda-Leib Gordon ("Yalag"), the great Enlightenment poet, was born in Vilna, but his father was from Midnik (near Oshmina) and his mother was from Ostrina.


When Alexander II became Czar (1855), liberalization occurred in Russian life, and with this, relief for the Jews. First, we should note the annulment of the military conscription laws, with equalization between Jews and Gentiles in this matter. (The conscriptions because of financial debts and a lack of birth certificates also were canceled.) In Vilna and in Kovno, Jews were allowed to settle in all parts of the city while Karaites were allowed to settle everywhere in the State.

The freeing of the farmers from serfdom to the Landowners (1861), freed them also for independent economic activity. This increased the sources of income of the Jews, who were the suppliers of urban services. The Jews also were allowed to work in distilling and the sale of spirits, running inns and taverns in the villages. These were important sources of income for the Jews in the towns.

The Jews enjoyed all these changes, so when the second Polish rebellion broke out (1863), the Jews of the region did not take part. (Only a few educated Jews passively supported the idea of Polish National Liberation.) Because of their abstention from this national struggle, the Jews of the region suffered from both sides: The Polish antipathy towards them grew. The Cossacks of the Vilnian Governor-General Muroviov ("The Hangman") looted and robbed them, especially in the more isolated towns of the region. As the storm brewed, the Russians exiled many Polish Landowners to Siberia; their estates were sold as such to the Jews through Christian agents as third parties. These lands were registered in the agents' names because of the continued ban at that time on Jews owning estates.

Following three continuous years of drought (1867-1869), the debt-ridden farmers were impoverished by a tax on their lands that they had to pay to their landowners on being freed from serfdom. Therefore, the Jewish suppliers of goods to the farmers were also impoverished. The years of drought ended with a very rainy and snowy winter. This caused a plague of Cholera that, in turn, caused many casualties both among the Gentiles and among the poorer Jews, mainly in the smaller towns.

The scarcity of income sources because of competition among the Jews and their poor living conditions caused a mass emigration from the towns to larger urban centers, both near and far. Industry started developing there; workshops and factories were established. As a result of this, the number of workers from our impoverished area increased in workshops in Vilna, Grodno and Bialystok. Those with means chose to move to the developing commercial cities (Warsaw and Odessa). Those without means emigrated to the land of equal political opportunities and economic welfare, the United States of America. This country started to attract all the poor and oppressed nations in Europe (from about the middle of the 19th century).

The Jews of Lida did not increase in number over a period of about fifty years from the beginning of the 19th century to the middle of the century. In Vasilishki in 1847, for example, 2,081 Jewish residents were registered; while in 1866, (about twenty years later), there were only 1,383 Jews registered. In Ostrina, there was only a slight increase over a period of one hundred years; from 405 tax-paying Jews in 1766 to 669 tax-paying Jews in 1866. The same phenomenon occurred in the towns Shtutshin, Rozhanka, Novi Dor and others.

In 1870, the towns with a Jewish majority, Jew were allowed to elect a third of the town councilors but not allowed to act as mayors. In 1862, the printing-houses, that had been closed, were allowed to renew their activities. The governmental elementary schools also opened their gates (free of charge) for the Jews of Vilna, Grodno and Lida. Many of the residents of the towns sent their children to learn in these cities; and once again, those who did not know the official state language were rare. Among the town dwellers, many finished secondary, or even tertiary education, but most of these moved to the urban centers.

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In those days, Reb Yisrael Lipkin (1810-1883), better known as Reb Yisrael Salanter, was active as a preacher. He was a religious intellectual who established the "Musar" (Ethics) movement as a counterbalance to the Chassidic movement on the one hand, and the Enlightenment movement on the other. The main points of his doctrine were: the requirement for ethical perfection of the individual, seclusion and abstinence as human measures for the correction of the world of the individual and of the public. This doctrine circulated mainly in the Russian provinces of Lithuania, and his movement aimed at overcoming the frost of religious life by preaching ethical self-elevation of the individual through moderate abstention. At first, he organized groups for the learning of the "Doctrine of Ethics" ("Musar-Shtibelach") next to the Prayer-houses and Yeshivas. However, with the growth and strengthening of the movement, (despite the interference of the Rabbis who were conservative), special Yeshivas were established, in which teaching followed the "Musaraim" or the "Prushim"system. Yeshivas were set up in Slobodka, Vilna, Eisishok, Novogrodok, Mir, Shtutshin, and elsewhere. Books on Musar infiltrated and were studied also in the Yeshivas of Zholudok, Ostrina and Vasilishki.


The period of Czar Alexander III (1881-1894) was a period of serious reaction. As a reaction to the increased participation of Jewish youths in the revolutionary movements, a number of pogroms took place against the Jews. These pogroms were organized and instigated by the leaders of the Reaction in co-operation with the Czarist Police. The pogromists conspired to create pogroms in the Lithuanian provinces as well. However, there they came up against the strenuous opposition of the Governor-General of Vilna, Todelban, who prevented their occurrence in his regions. Nevertheless, the number of fires as a result of arson by aroused farmers increased in the region of mostly wooden buildings,.

The wave of pogroms increased emigration from Russia in general. Our region did not miss this movement. The factors influencing this were mainly the reduction of work opportunities resulting from restrictions on Jews settling in the villages, on acquisition of lands, and on work on Sundays and on Christian Holidays. From the restrictions on settling in the villages, the main casualties were the Jews of the towns. These were the owners of flourmills, dairy and vegetable farms, and tanneries. Restrictions were placed on Jewish artisans from living outside the "Pale of Settlement", and on Jewish lawyers appearing in courts (1892). The law banned Jews from voting for municipalities and restricted the number of Jews studying at the Universities (1887) to ten percent within the Pale of Settlement, five percent outside, three percent in the two capitals (Moscow and St. Petersburg). Only one government school remained open to Jews - the School for Teachers in Vilna.

The pogroms of the 1880's aroused the concept of nationalism, a yearning for redemption, and a revival of the Hebrew language. Reb Shmuel Goldberg, from Lida, started collecting money for the settlement of the Land of Israel and, for this purpose, also visited the towns of our region. In 1879, the article, "A Notable Question", by A. Perlman (Eliezer Ben Yehuda, born in the town of Lushki near our region) appeared in Hashachar, widely circulated throughout Lithuania,. In 1880, in Grodno, an organization for the purchase of lands in Palestine was set up, with the aim of settling one family every year from the town and its environs in Palestine. In 1882, a conference on the settlement of the Land of Israel was held in Grodno. This conference was much discussed among the "Yeshiva Bochers" of the region. At the same time, "Dorshei Zion Veyerushalaim" (Exponents of Zion and Jerusalem) Society was set up in Grodno. This society corresponded with its supporters in the surrounding towns. In 1887, the "Sha'alu Shlom Yerushalaim" (Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem) Society was established in Vilna. This society also had many supporters in the province.

Aliya from the Lida region was very limited since most of the emigrants went to America, a few to Southern Africa, and a small minority to Canada. Nevertheless, among the first Laborers in Petach-Tikva, Ekron and Hadera, as well as some of the first settlers of Rehovot, we find people originating in our region (Spokuini in Rehovot, Amdursky in Petach-Tikva, and Reznick in Ekron). Petach Tikva, founded in 1878 by Jerusalemites, was abandoned in 1882 because of the difficulties experienced by its first settlers. A Mr. Avraham Koppelman (born in Vasilishki), was then sent to Russia (by Y.M. Pines), in order to sell plots of land and to attract settlers to Petach Tikva. He visited the towns of our region. Later, he traveled to those places where he had established contact with supporters of the "Chibat Zion" (Love of Zion) movement and sold plots of land in various parts of Lithuania.

As opposed to the "Chibat Zion" movement, the Socialist Revolutionary, or "Popular" ("Narodniks") Movement also strengthened. A. S. Lieberman and Aaron Zondelbich worked among the intelligentsia of Vilna, Grodno, Lida and their surroundings. Morris Vinchevski (also known as Ben-Zion Nobachovich,) born in the nearby town of Yagova, propagandized in all the towns of our region and set up secret revolutionary societies.

[Page 20]


In 1897, a census was held in Russia. In the town of Lida, 9,310 Jews were counted, being 56.8% of the total population. In the whole of the Vilna region, out of 204,686 inhabitants, 12.9% were Jews. In the Grodno region, there were 280,489 inhabitants, of whom 17.5% were Jews (the highest percentage of Jews in the Diaspora of the time).

In Shtutshin, the number of Jews decreased rather than increased; their number stood at 1,356. In Vasilishki, the number increased slightly to 2,081. In Zholudok, the number increased to 2,376. In Ostrina, the numbers did not increase because of the fires and the plagues, etc., and stood at 1,440. In Rozhanka, the number of Jews remained at six hundred. In Novi Dvor, the number remained at 490. In Orlova, the number rose by one hundred to 354.

During the following years, the Socialist tendencies among the Jewish public increased. In the year of the establishment of the Zionist Movement at the Basle Congress (1897), the "Bund" movement was established in Vilna. Its propaganda covered all the towns of our region and "made big waves" there.

The "Poalei Zion" Party, founded in 1900, also attracted many supporters in our region. Theodore Herzl's visit to Vilna in 1903 created loud echoes in the whole region, especially after the blood-libel in Vilna against a Jew by the name of Blondas in 1900.

The Zionist Idea took strong root in all the provinces of Lithuania; and the number of Zionist societies increased. In Kishineff, at the time, was a "Correspondence Center" to coordinate work of the Zionists. In 1898, this center handled the exchange of fourteen societies in the Vilna region, among them, those of Lida, Smorgon, Shtutshin and Vasilishok. In 1902, thirty-seven shekels were sold in Ostrina, about twenty-five in little Rozhanka. One thousand shares of the "Jewish Settlement Treasury" were sold in various towns in the Lida region, among them Shtutshin, Ostrina, Zholudok, Vasilishki and others.

In 1904, the Hebrew daily newspaper "Hazman" appeared in Vilna. This newspaper had many readers in our region. In this paper, the well-known Hebrew (and Yiddish) author Ben-Avigdor - also known as Avraham-Leib Shalkovich (1867-1921) took part. In the same paper, the well-known Hebrew author (and Yiddish journalist) Moshe Ben-Eliezer (Glembotski), born in Shtutshin (1882-1194), also participated.

In 1902, the "Mizrachi" movement was established. This movement drew its origins from "Chibat Zion" which was connected with Shmuel Mohliver of Bialystok. The founder of "Mizrachi" was Reb Yitschak-Yaakov Reines, the Rabbi of Lida. It should not be surprising, therefore, that many Rabbis from the region were drawn to this movement, and that its influence was strongly felt in all the towns of our region. At Rabbi Reines's Yeshiva in Lida, students were taught the Bible, Hebrew language and grammar, Jewish History, as well as the local State language. (Volozhin Yeshiva, which had previously closed, reopened in 1894/5.)

At the beginning of the century, many of the towns' children studied in private Russian Gymnasia in Lithuania's major cities. In some of these, there were "improved Cheiders" which later became the foundation of Hebrew Schools. "The Distributors of Education" Company established pedagogic courses in Grodno. This institution later became Hebrew Teachers' Training College under the management of Dr. S. Tesherago. The institution supplied Hebrew teachers to the region's towns.

A lively correspondence took place in the years 1911-1914 between the Zionist Societies of Shtutshin (Tsvi Baradach and Shmuel Mouzovistki) and of Vasilishki (Lis) with the Center in Lida and with the Provincial Committee of the Zionist Federation in Grodno. (The Center was managed by Leib Yaffe who, in the years after WW1, lived in Vilna and acted as Head of the Community.) In these letters, they discussed current problems in Zionist activities, mainly problems of organization, distribution of Shekels, donations to the JNF, elections to congresses, and the organization of Zionist Balls at Hanukah, etc.

[Page 21]

4. From World War One until the Holocaust (1914-1939)


The widespread propaganda of the revolutionary elements in Russia and the anti-Semitic behavior of its government caused hatred for them among the Jewish masses. Thus, in the field towns, there was no patriotic fervor for "Mother Russia" when WW1 broke out. Only in the large cities did the Jews try to prove their devotion to "The Homeland" to the Gentiles. They did this by substantial financial donations to war-effort operations (such as the Red Cross, setting up hospitals, etc.), with the aim of justifying their demands for equal rights. In effect, many of the inhabitants of the larger cities dodged the draft by hiding or by self-injury to get exemptions from conscription.

With the advance of the German Armies on the Western Front (i.e., the Lithuanian Front), rumors spread among the retreating Russian armies about Jewish betrayals and their support for the Germans - provision of information, spying, etc. The Chief of the High Command, Prince Nikolay Nikolayevitsch, the uncle of Czar Nicholas II, ordered the expulsion of the Jews from those areas nearest the front, to the interior provinces of Russia. Humiliations and pogroms accompanied their expulsion, murder, looting and rapes, which spread out over all the towns near the front. The Jews of Grodno and its environs were then exiled (1915). The Jews of Novi-Dvor were also expelled, thus destroying this ancient community. Only when the expulsion of the Jews of Volkovisk began did the advance of the German invasion end the operation end.

When the towns of our region were conquered, the Germans attempted to return their lives to normal. For the first time in the history in these places, Jews were appointed as mayors in almost all the towns of our region. Jews were also appointed as policemen and clerks in the municipalities and courts. In some of these towns, the new authorities established German schools in which the Jewish children studied.

The confiscation of foodstuffs, crops, and animals, etc. for army use impoverished the Gentile farmers, the Jewish owners of stores and flourmills, and wholesale traders. Because of this, the town inhabitants suffered a shortage in many commodities; while in the larger cities, there was mass starvation that caused many casualties, especially among the poor. When the fighting stopped, most of the region's towns had sparser populations. The richer inhabitants left their homes during the Russian authorities’ evacuation period and went with them to the interior Russian provinces.

After the defeat of Czarist Russia, came the division of the spoils: national governments (Polish and Lithuanian) established in Warsaw and in Kovno. They competed with each other to annex the border regions. Our region, in which the Lithuanians were an insignificant minority, was annexed by Poland. Poland, at the time, was involved in a bloody struggle against Soviet Russia. Like locusts carried by the storm, the Bolshevik armies invaded and flooded the area, reaching as far as the outskirts of Warsaw, sowing destruction in their wake. Like waves at low tide, they flowed back later, retreating from the force of the Polish Army, which looted and tortured the Jews along the way. Only when a stable Polish government arose was there some relief for the Jewish inhabitants of these towns; and they began repairing their ruins (1921).

The Joint Distribution (= Support) Committee of America rushed in to assist in the rehabilitation of the destroyed and impoverished towns. The "Joint" assisted freely in the form of clothing, food, construction materials, and various commodities, and especially in the form of cheap credit, for the rehabilitation of those in need. (It also gave handouts to those in need.) Thanks to this assistance, the lives of the Jews slowly returned to normal.

The Jews were not called to take part in local government, and were not allowed to set up a community organization with meaningful powers except in the larger cities. They were, however, allowed to set up educational institutions of their own, which were regarded as "private" organizations. Indeed, Jewish schools were set up in all the towns, both by the "Tarbut" Hebrew society and by the Yiddishist "C.I.S.O." society. Jewish children did not study at first in the governmental junior schools at all. Only after a few years did their numbers in these schools grow, as the education was free.

The network of large Yeshivas was re-established in nearly all the towns of the region. Even the traditional "Cheiders" were not lacking in students. The Rabbis, some great in Torah and God-fearing, sat in office in our towns and managed religious affairs. Some were famous; Rabbi Yaakov Tabshonski, the Rabbi and head of the Beit Din of Ostrina; the great Rabbi Yehuda-Leib, son of Raphael Hessman, head of the Yeshiva and head of the Beit Din of Shtutshin; and after him, Rabbi Yechiel-Michal Rabinowitz.

[Page 22]

The old argument about the language of instruction in the schools - Hebrew or Yiddish - became fiercer in all the Jewish settlements and caused local arguments between various sectors. In every town, the public officials, as well as those active in public affairs, were divided into two camps -- the Zionist camp with all its factions ("General" Zionists, "Young" Zionists, Mizrachi, etc.) on the one hand, and their opponents ("Bundists", "Volkists" and the like) on the other hand.


The Polish Authorities were narrow-minded about the quantitative and qualitative increase of the Jews and searched for ways to limit them economically, mainly in the field of Jewish trade. The slogan "Movoy Do Moveno!" - the slogan of the boycott of Jewish trade - did not succeed, except in the large cities. In these cities, Polish traders, supplied with cheap credit, aose in competition with the Jewish traders. In the small towns, the Jewish traders knew how to stand up to the Christian peddlers who came to the towns only on Market and Fair days. Attempts at pressuring the Jews increased when Vladislav Grabsky became Polish Prime Minister (1924).

The tried and tested method of granting cheap governmental/bank credit to the Christian traders and peddlers led to the economic reorganization of the Jews. They developed a network of co-operative popular banks for the granting of productive credit for those in simple need, mainly to artisans and traders. These banks were established in nearly every town and played a pivotal role in the economic life of the Jewish towns.

Then came the crushing ruse: the transfer of the Market Day to Saturday. The economy of the towns was based largely on the Market Day. On Market Day, the farmers from all the villages used to gather in the town square, in order to sell their produce and to buy manufactured goods in the Jewish shops. The above ruse failed dismally in most of the towns. The Jews refrained from buying agricultural produce from the farmers while the Christian peddlers were unable to supply the demand for goods sufficiently.

Another decree caused a decline in Jewish trade: the prohibition on opening of Jewish shops on Sundays and on Christian Holidays. This prohibition first hit the Jews in the large cities only but later also in the towns.

Since the beginning of the renewed Polish government, Shtutshin had a field town in the Lida district (powiat). Shtutshin became a regional center of the Lida powiat in 1934, within the framework of the "Viavodstve" of Novogrodok. As a result of this, the regional and governmental institutions began renovating and developing the town. Government institutions moved in. Government clerks started living there. Indeed, in 1936, Shtutshin became a major independent regional area ("powiat") that included the towns: Rozhanka, Vasilishok, Ostrin, Zholudok, Novi Dvor, Orlova and Kaminka with all their dependencies.


Authorities’ attempts to push the Jews out of senior economic positions eventually achieved their aims. Poverty increased in all the towns and reached proportions that threatened their very existence. The battle of the Jews for their living became bitterer, while no way out could be seen on the horizon. In addition to the "Yekapa" company, which established a network of co-operative banks, on the economic side also stood the "Oza" company, which helped them in the field of Public Hygiene and health control. This company was established in Petersburg in 1912. However, in the years about which we are speaking, they set up 287 institutions in Poland for improving the level of public and personal hygiene of the Jewish population, concentrating mainly on the proper development of the younger generation. To fulfill these aims, "Oza" developed a wide ranging medical and social operation and waged a war on social diseases by a system of institutions and institutes, especially targeting children and youth by medical supervision. The company changed its name in Poland after the war, to "Toz". Toz played a large part in the hygienic and sanitary improvement of the Jews in our towns, especially of the schoolchildren. Starting in 1922, the company's headquarters in Warsaw and Vilna sebd medical emissaries to perform medical check-ups on the students of the Jewish schools in our towns. The doctors' visits were frequent in the towns of Shtutshin, Ostrina, Zholudok, Vasilishok, etc.

As a result of the increasing poverty of the towns, "Toz" turned to the large philanthropic organizations overseas for assistance. They immediately received assistance from the American "Joint" and the French Jewish organization "Alliance" that had not acted in these areas of Poland and Lithuania. They had, until then, only operated in Middle-Eastern countries. The money of these organizations was used to organize feeding schemes for the children of the Jewish schools - bread, jam and hot milk. Sixty-seven towns in the Vilna Province, including our towns (a total of 108 educational institutions) benefited from this support.

[Page 23]

In Vasilishok, for example, one hundred children received support through the "Yavne" schools (the educational organization of the Mizrachi Party). In Zholudok, 115 children received aid through the CISO school, seventy children through the "Tarbut" school, and forty children through the Yavne school. In 1937, a letter from Kaminka was published in the newspaper "Sociale Medizin" (belonging to "Toz"): "… We have been blocked and cut off from all sources of income… the schoolchildren are not being fed. Most of them are wandering around hungry and naked… many of them are sitting at home for lack of clothes for the time of cold weather… disease is sapping their strength… we have to save them by giving them some milk…". The economic pressure on the Jews of Poland, in the name of the government, set itself a clear target: forcing the Jews out of the country. Most of the increasing number of young Jews found no way of making a living. Most of them, therefore, set their sights on emigration.

The unstable situation in Palestine was without great hope. Bloody riots took place there. Economic crises hit that population. Immigration laws were very strict. Emigration to Palestine from our towns dwindled to a thin stream. Nevertheless, many succeeded, after years of hard work and "training" at the "Hechalutz" Federation Kibbutzim, in receiving "certificates" allowing them to emigrate into Palestine. Some settled down to life on Kibbutzim and Moshavim, while those with trades or professions settled in the towns.

In the period between the two World Wars, quite a number of people in our towns who managed to overcome the limitations on immigration to the USA, thanks to their relatives from the previous wave of emigration to America. "Landsmanschaften" organizations were set up in the USA. These supported their relatives from our towns - sending clothes, goods and money. They also organized relatives from their own towns who reached America. When the American immigration laws tightened, youngsters from our towns started looking for ways to reach countries to which, until then, very few had emigrated, such as Canada, Central and South America (Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Argentine), Southern Africa, and even Australia. Some immigrated to Western European countries that needed workers, such as France and Belgium. A few hundred people from our region were absorbed into these countries. In the twenty years of the existence of independent Poland (until WW2), the Jewish population of our region stagnated, mainly because of emigration to all corners of the world. The only exception was the town of Shtutshin which, as a provincial town, grew in the late 1930's by absorbing Jews from the surrounding regions.


The gates of Palestine closed to Jewish immigrants from Poland. Pressured by the Polish government to emigrate, disappointment increased in the Jewish youth in our towns. These young people vented their feelings in the Zionist opposition organizations: Hatsoar, Hatsach (New Zionist Federation), Beitar, and the Soldiers' League. Beitar cells were established in all our towns and organized increased activities for paramilitary education and for psychological training towards future active opposition against the mandatory government. When the illegal immigration to Palestine was first organized, tens of youngsters from our region managed to emigrate to Palestine on the boat "Af-al-pi-chen" ("Nevertheless").

The "Hechalutz" federation in our region was based mainly on the "Shomer-Hatsair" and "Dror" ("Freiheit") youth movements, also the backbone of the "League for the Land-of-Israel Workers". This movement was involved in Zionist-Socialist education and practical training for Aliya. It was also involved in work for the Zionist Funds, distribution of Shekels for the Zionist Congresses, and the "Tarbut" network of schools. The "Hechalutz" centers in Warsaw and Vilna established "training" points in Shtutshin, Vasilishok, and Zholudok, in which the pioneers from Congress Poland concentrated. The Zionist Parties ("Poalei-Zion", "Eit Livnot" and "Al Hamishmar"), who were strong in Congress Poland and in Galicia, hardly existed in our region. "Agudat Israel", which organized a public anti-Zionist policy in Poland, was weak here, its influence was not felt in our region except among Rabbinical circles and Yeshiva students. The special "Aguda" educational network, ("Chorev"), had very few schools in our region. Rabbis active in "Aguda", held high positions in Shtutshin, Ostrina and a few other towns. Nevertheless, almost all our towns had branches of "Mizrachi" and "Hapoel Hamizrachi".

There were branches of the "Bund" and "Zukunft" in our towns that attracted poor people studying at CISO schools.

[Page 24]

In those days (just before the German invasion of Poland), the Polish Jails were filled with Jewish prisoners from the Communist underground movements. The Communist underground was active in our towns. Some individuals slipped over the border into Russia, in order to salvage their hopeless lives in Poland.

In mid-September 1939, the armies of Soviet Russia invaded Poland in broad daylight. Within a few days, they reached our area and took control of the region. The independent economic, social and cultural life of the Jews in the Shtutshin region stopped completely. Then, began a period of decline and destruction, after which came the terrible Holocaust.

The pages of this memorial book are dedicated to the history of the Jews in our towns between the World Wars and in the period of destruction and the Holocaust.

5. Bibliographical List

1) Prof. S. Dubnow: "History of an Eternal Nation ", Dvir, 1950.

2) Dr. Zvi Graetz: "History of Israel", Achiseifer, Warsaw, 1920

3) Prof. Y. Elbogen: "History of Israel in the last 100 Years", "Yizre'el" Publishers, Tel Aviv, 1956.

4) Prof. P. Phillipson: "History of Israel in Recent Generations", "Yizre'el" Publishers, Tel Aviv, 1956.

5) "Encyclopedia of the History of the Great Men of Israel", Y.Chachik Publishers, Jerusalem, 1940.

6) "Hebrew Encyclopedia"(General, Jewish, Israel), Encyclopedia Company Publishers.

7) "Algemeine Encyclopedia", "Dubnow-Fond, New York, 1963.

8) Shaul Ginzberg ,"Historische Werk" New York, 1937.

9) "Yevreiskaia Encyclopedia" (Russian), Brokhoiz-Efron, Petersburg.

10) A.S. Bershadsky: "Russka-Yevreiski Archiv" (Russian), 1882.

11) A.S.Bershadsky: "Litavskie Yevrei" (Russian), 1883

12) "Book of Lithuanian Jews" (the articles on "History of the Jews in Lithuania" by Y. Klozner).

13) Raphael Mahler: "Statistik fun Yiddische Gemeindes".

14) B. Brotzkos: "Statistika Yevreiskano Naselenyia; Y. Shabad: "Vilenskaya Gubernia", both in Russian from the journal "Vascao" (1903, 1905).

15) Julius Gessen: Die Geschichte fun Yidden in Rusland" (Yiddish)

16) Slownik Geograf. Krolestwa Poslkiego, Nakad W. Waalewkieego, 1984.

17) S. Oberland: Encyklopedia Powszechnaa, Warsawa, 1903.

18) Geschichte der Deutschen Juden, Dr. A. Kohut, Berlin, 1898.

19) "Das Land Ober-Ost", Stuttgart, 1917

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