Sunday, January 24, 2016

Jews of Belarus (White Russia)

Nadene Goldfoot                                                          
Back from the 9th to 12th century, there was a state called Rus" that existed in Eastern Europe where Slavs lived.  It was the cradle of Kievian Rus'.  It was in existence where today's Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Poland now exist.
It was also referred to as White Russia or Belorussia, a Republic.  Jews went there originally from Poland and were living in Grodno by the 12th century; at Brest-Litovsk by the 14th century and in Pinsk from 1506 onward.
In Eastern White Russia, Jews were found to be living there in the 16th century, but the communities were not recognized at that time due to opposition from the local burghers.  Massacres took place at Polotsk in 1563; at Homel in 1649, at Mohilev and other places in 1655.  The Jewish population suffered severely at the end of the 17th century from the Polish-Cossack and Swedish wars.

"Some believe that the earliest Belarusan immigrants in America settled in the Colony of Virginia in the early 1600s. The reason is that Captain John Smith, who became the first Governor of Virginia in 1608, had visited Belarus in 1603. In his True Travels, Captain Smith recalls that he came to "Rezechica, upon the River Niper in the confines of Lithuania," and then he narrates how he traveled through southern Belarus, as Zora Kipel related in her article ( Zapisy, Volume 16, 1978). Thus, it is possible that Smith brought Belarusans with him to Virginia, together with Polish or Ukrainian manufacturing specialists. The question is, were they Jewish Belarusians?  I doubt it.  We had a boat of Sephardic Jews try to enter New York in the 1600s and were turned away except for the fact that they were connected with the Dutch Trading company.  However, Virginia was settled by business people more than religious people, so it is possible they allowed Jews to enter.  

Poland was partitioned in the latter 18th century which brought the Jews of White Russia under Russian rule and led to the abolition of their organized communal plans.  By 1804, the Moscow government went along with the opinions of Derzhavin.  Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin was one of the most highly esteemed Russian poets before Alexander Pushkin, as well as a statesman.
 After he had visited White Russia, he suggested that   the Jews must be indoctrinated with crafts and given a general education and then be resettled in Southern Ukraine.
By 1897 the Pale of Settlement was the only area in the Russian Empire where Jews were allowed to live.
This map shows where Jews were living by 1933, the start of WWII, at least in Germany.  "
 In 1897 there were 724,548 Jews in Belarus, i.e. 13.6% of the total population.  Some 800,000 Jews—90% of the Jewish population—were killed in Belarus during the Holocaust."
White Russia had become an important center of Jewish scholarship.  The Hasidism had developed there with Chabad, a Hasidic movement  and Haskalah or the Enlightenment Movement which started in 1832.. It was a movement for spreading modern European culture among Jews from about 1750 to 1880.  Chabad's attraction was intelletual and its main support came from White Russia with the founder being Shneour Zalman of Lyady who was against the Mitnaggedim led by the Vilna Gaon of Lithuania.   The community suffered a great deal during WWI when White Russia had become a war area and many Jews had been expelled to the interior. Update:  On March 20, 1917, Jews were allowed to move out of the Pale and into Russia.  This was the end of WWI.
In 1921, White Russia was partitioned between Russia and Poland. "Since 1922 it had formed part of the Soviet Union."  

By 1939, at the beginning of WWII, the entire area fell under Russian rule and many of the educated Jews and wealthier classes were exiled.  The area was under German occupation from 1941-1944.  Those Jews who did not escape into Russia were almost entirely exterminated by the Germans in cooperation with Belorussians and Lithuanians.  Those that escaped fought with the partisans.

The official 1989 Jewish population was 111,789.  " A few Belarusans, mainly the children of Jewish Belarusan marriages, came to the United States between the late 1930s and the end of 1941.
Haim-Moshe Shapira (Hebrewחיים משה שפירא‎, 26 March 1902 – 16 July 1970)Born to Zalman Shapira and Rosa Krupnik in the Russian Empire in Grodno in what is today Belarus
One famous person was Mosheh Hayyim Shapira, born 1902 in White Russia and died in 1970 in Israel. He was the founder of the Mizrahi youth movement started in 1919.  In 1925 he made aliyah to Palestine.  By 1935 he was elected to the Jewish Agency Executive and represented the National Religious Party which was formerly called Ha-Poel Ha-Mizrahi.   .  He became a member of the Knesset from 1949, 1 year after the birth of Israel on May 14, 1948.

"In 1936 he was elected as a member of the Zionist Directorate and a Director of the Aliyah department of the Jewish Agency, a role he filled until 1948. In 1938 he was sent on a special mission to try to save Jews in Austria following the takeover by Nazi Germany."   (My uncle from Germany was one of the last to get out in 1939 after being held in Dachau.) His family could only manage to save him while his mother, father and young 16 year old sister stayed behind because of the difficulties in getting out.)  

In the following Israel coalition governments, he served as Minister of Immigration, Health from 1948-1949, The Interior from 1949 to 1952, and since 1959, Religious Affairs and Social Welfare from 1952 to 1958, and Minister of Health from 1961 to 1970.

"78,859 Belarusian immigrants made aliyah to Israel (in the years 1989-2013).  

The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

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