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Jewish Families of Babruysk


Alternate names: Babruysk and бабруйск [Bel], Bobruysk and бобруйск [Rus], Bobroisk and באברויסק [Yid], Bobrujsk [Pol], Bobruisk, Babrujsk, Babruisk.
Located at 53°09' n, 29°14' e, in the Mogilev region of eastern Belarus , formerly in Bobruisk uezd, Minsk guberniya, 70 miles SW of Mogilev, 86 miles se of Minsk on the Berezina river (the name Babruysk (as well as that of the Babruyka river) probably originates from the Belarusian word Babyor (бабёр; beaver), many of which used to inhabit the Berezina).


It is mentioned the first time in official documents concerning Jews, issued in 1511. According to Yehuda Slutzky they were definitely not present in the town before 1639, and the first references to Jews in Bobruisk date back to the second quarter of the 16th century. In the 18th century, the kehillah of Bobruisk was under jurisdiction of the township of Smilovichi.

Jewish Population

Until the 18th century, the Jewish community was relatively small and not particularly wealthy, they mainly leased duties and taxes and held exclusive rights to sales of certain goods. There were 359 (or 395 - depending on source) poll-tax payers in the town in 1766.
Bobruisk was incorporated into the Russian empire after the second partition of Poland in 1793. The number of Bobruisk's Jewish inhabitants started to grow rapidly in the 19th century due to migration from Polish and Ukrainian territories and a positive demographic balance. The local fortress, established in 1810, under Alexander I, provided another growth impulse as its garrison included a number of Jews who were subject to mandatory military service in the Russian empire. 504 Jews lived in the town in 1808, 4,702 in 1847 and 8,861 in 1861. In 1882, the fortress's kosher canteen offered 150 meals in wintertime and as many as 300 in summertime. As Bobruisk’s role as a centre of commerce grew so did its Jewish population. The 1897 census showed even bigger numbers, there were 20,759 Jews living in Bobruisk (60% of the total population of 34,336). In 1898, there were a total of 19,125 Jewish inhabitants out of a population of 35,177. In 1914, the town was inhabited by 25,876 Jews, who made up 61% percent of the population. In 1923 Bobruisk had a Jewish population of 19,619 Jews (54% of the total); in 1926, 21,558 (42%); in 1935, approximately 19,300 (37%). In 1939 there were 26,703 Jewish inhabitants, making up 31.76% of the total population. In 1959 there were 15,600 Jews, in 1970, 14,500, in 1989,10,468 (5% of the total population), and in 1999, 1,260 (0.6%).


In the 19th century Bobruisk became one of the most important Jewish religious centres on the territories of the former grand duchy of Lithuania. The community was divided into Hasidim and Misnagdim, who lived harmoniously together. This is a partial list of the Rabbis who served in Bobruisk:

Chabad Rabbis

Rabbi Boruch Mordechai Ettinge, A.B.D. Babruysk (accepted by the Misnagdim too)
Reb Hillel Paritcher
Shmaryahu Noach Schneerson [Bobruisk] (Note: At the turn of the twentieth century there existed a great divide between two competing “courts” within Habad Hasidism: Kopyst and Lubavitch. When Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch (author of the responsa Tsemah Tsedek) passed in 1866, a dispute erupted over succession to the throne. The youngest son, Shmuel (Maharash), remained in Lubavitch and inherited control of that city. An older son, Yehudah Leib (Maharil), moved to the city of Kopyst, taking some of the Hasidim with him. When within a year of the Tsemah Tsedek’s passing, Yehudah Leib passed, his son Shelomo Zalman (author of the Hasidic work Magen Avot) became the Kopyster Rebbe. And when in 1900 the Kopyster Rebbe passed, he was succeeded by his younger brother Rabbi Shemaryah Noah Schneerson (author of the Hasidic work Shemen la-Ma’or). Though there was a brief attempt on the part of Rabbi Shemaryah Noah Schneerson to establish himself in the city of Kopyst, eventually he returned to his rabbinate in Bobroisk, which then became the center of this branch of Habad Hasidism. With the passing of the Rebbe of Bobroisk in 1923, this branch ceased to exist, leaving only the Lubavitch faction. At that point, remnants of the Bobroisker Hasidim transferred their allegiance to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.(Source))
Shmuel Bespalov

Misnagdim Rabbis

Rabbi Eliyohu Goldberg, A.B.D. Babruysk
Rabbi Refael Shapiro, Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva
Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Willowsky - The Ridvaz
R' Shmuel Moshe Shapiro, A.B.D. Ramygala, Korsun and then Bobruisk
R' Haim Zvi Hirsch Shapiro, A.B.D. Lapichi and then Bobruisk
R. Natan Rubin
Rabbi Zvi Drabkin, הי״ד

The Hebrew author Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Rabinson served as "government- appointed" rabbi from 1911.


Most of the Jews lived in Bobruisk's poorest north-western district Sloboda. Provisioning of the garrison of the large fortress built there at the beginning of the 19th century became a major Jewish occupation. Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, many Jews became involved in the lumber and wood export industries. Bobruisk became an important lumbering centre, where timber from the adjacent forests was rafted or entrained to southern Russia or the Baltic ports.
Of great importance was the opening of the Liepāja (Lat.)–Romny (Ukr.) Railway line in the 1870s. According to a Russian national census of 1897, as many as 70 Jewish families in Bobruisk worked in farming. By 1902 most of the dairies were in the hands of Jews (110 families), who had lost all other resources for a livelihood since the introduction of the government monopoly of the liquor trade. In the vicinity of Bobruisk there were plantations, upon which about 100 Jewish girls would work in the summer. In the town there were 20 small factories employing 120 Jews. The manufacture of leather goods was considerable, many of the large workshops produced uppers for shoes for export to the neighbouring towns and villages. Brick-making was also well developed. In 1902 there were about 3,140 Jewish artisans, 285 tailoring establishments (employing 367 people), and 275 shoe-and boot-making establishments (employing 165 people). There were 444 Jewish labourers, employed chiefly in carting. Due to lack of sources, it is hard to trace the participation of Jews in Bobruisk’s economic life in the 1920s and 1930s. Most often mentioned workplaces where Jews were present, are those primarily connected with tailoring which was slowly transforming into the clothing industry. The union of seamstresses, which had 345 members, existed in Bobruisk in 1924. In the previous year, a workshop was opened to offer jobs for unemployed Jews. By 1925 it also specialised in tailoring. In 1927, it already employed 100 workers. Another clothing plant was reported to be employing nearly 200 people in 1929. Both enterprises were merged and transformed into a factory in 1930. The Bobruisk clothing industry employed 650 people in 1938, of whom 75% were Jewish.


In 1823 the Altshul yeshiva was established by Rabbi Akiva Altshuler, Rosh Yeshiva in Babruysk and Slutzk as the first yeshiva in the city. Amongst the teachers in the Yeshiva were: R' Avrohom Boruch Soloveitchik, A.B.D. Smolensk, Russia and Rav Yechiel Michel HaLevi Epstein "Aruch Hashulchan". In 1853 a state-sponsored Jewish school was opened.

Besides the four official synagogues (in 1902), the following charitable and social institutions were established: a Jewish hospital (opened in 1863) with male and female wards, a Chevra Kadisha, a cheap kitchen, an association to collect clothes for the poor, an institution for the aged, a society for the aid of the sick poor at their homes, a "Gmilat-Chasodim," which lends money without interest and a refuge for old men, which was founded by the philanthropist, Chaim Boaz Rabinowicz.
Besides the general schools, attended by comparatively few Jewish children, there were also - recorded in 1902 - schools for Jews exclusively: two private schools for girls (300 pupils), a female technical school (160 girls), a primary public school (160 boys), and the Jewish people's technical school (60 boys). The religious publishing house of Ya‘akov Kohen Ginzburg operated in the city until 1928. In 1927 it printed approximately 85,000 religious items (prayer books, calendars, children’s alphabet books, and so on.). In its last year the Ginzburg press issued the book Yagdil Torah, the last original Jewish religious work published in the USSR. It is worth noting that the facility continued its operation until 1928 and was the last Jewish institution of its kind to be shut down in the USSR, which tried to suppress religious activism.

Pre WWI era

During the 1890s, the citizens of Babruysk witnessed pogroms after the assassination of the Russian emperor Alexander II. Many of the attacks were repelled by armed Jewish self-defence.
On May 3, 1902, a fire destroyed the greatest part of the city, and thousands of Jewish families were rendered homeless. The best years for the Jewish community of Bobruisk came before World War one when the economic boom spread across Russia. In 1917, there were 42 synagogues in the town! The most prominent figures of the Jewish Bobruisk usually came from that period, which was a grand finale of a whole epoch. The fall of the Russian empire brought significant changes to the Bobruisk Jewish community. In 1917, the city changed hands several times and its inhabitants came under threat of pogroms. The first polish corps, commanded by general Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki, was among military units that stationed there. A network of 12 Jewish schools giving instruction in Yiddish was established in Bobruisk after the 1917 revolution, enrolling 3,000 pupils in 1936 and functioning until 1939.

Between the wars

In the 1920s, now under the Soviet rule, the number of Jews living in the city started to decline. According to a 1926 census, Bobruisk had 21,558 Jewish inhabitants that made up 42% of the town’s total population. However, the Jewish culture and education in Bobruisk thrived in the first half of the 1920s due to the soviet policy of “Korenizatsiya” (Nativisation), or spreading the ideological propaganda through the cultures and languages which used to be part of the now fallen Russian empire. At the same time political repression intensified, which was especially targeted against religious life. The people’s education commissariat of Byelorussia banned the activity of cheders and yeshivas already in 1922. Nevertheless, Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin managed to publish a Jewish religious publication there as late as 1928, which turned out to be the last Hebrew publication in the history of the USSR. In the 1930s, all forms of cultural autonomy were abolished. Separate ethnic schools and cultural institutions were closed down. However, education facilities with Yiddish as the language of instruction continued to exist in Bobruisk until the outbreak of world war two.

From 1918 to 1921 the Jewish population suffered from the civil war and the soviet–polish war. On Yom Kippur 1919, polish soldiers mocked worshipers and chased them from the Magid synagogue; in 1920 they looted Jewish property.
During the late 1920s a number of Heders were still operating, along with approximately 40 synagogues, almost all of which were closed by the end of the 1930s. On the eve of their closure in the summer of 1938, seven Yiddish schools in Bobruisk had more than 1,100 pupils. Blood libel rumours circulated in the spring of 1926 but the authorities intervened, averting a pogrom. In November 1928, after a Jewish woman named Barshai was insulted at a glass factory near Bobruisk, the Byelorussian authorities began a campaign against antisemitism.

Nazi era

The Germans took over Bobruisk on 28 June 1941, just six days after they launched their invasion on the Soviet Union. By that time, about 7000 local Jews managed to escape to the eastern parts of the country. Many Jews stayed behind, believing that German troops would not target civilians. 3,500 Jews were murdered at the beginning of July. The Germans also issued an order compelling Jews to wear a yellow armband. 250 people were executed in the village of Kamionka, nine kilometres away from the town already in July. On august 5, 1941, SS members and soldiers of police battalion 307 assembled a large group of 800 Jewish men under the pretext of transferring them to a labour camp. They were murdered in unknown place. By early August 1941 a ghetto was set up the city outskirts near the airfield and in early October the Jews were transferred to a smaller ghetto. In total the two ghettos held over 20,000 inhabitants, including 4,571 refugees from other places. The conditions inside the camps were horrible and involved lack of food, lack of sanitation and perpetual abuse by the Nazi guards. One closed district was situated near the sweets factory, in the area delineated by the following streets: Szossiejnoj (today’s Bachariewa), Zaturienskoj and Nowyje Płany; the second one was established at Puszkinskoj street. A Judenrat was set up, with E. Rozenberg as its chairman. Mass shootings began in September and October. In one aktion on 5–7 November, 10,000 Jews were killed. Thereafter, only “specialists” remained in the ghetto, along with those who had successfully hidden during the November roundup. The tragic plight of their fellowmen influenced the attitudes of surviving Jews. The preserved German reports speak of refusals to wear identification signs, strikes and attempts to establish contacts with guerrillas. A second aktion took place on 30 December with the killing of 5,281 Jews. The ghetto was demolished including the execution of rabbis Szmuel Aleksandrow and Shmuel Bespalov, which in practice meant the total annihilation of the Bobruisk Jewish population. A total of 14,000 Jews perished in Bobruisk. The few Jews who escaped joined Soviet partisan forces in the surrounding forest and went about attacking enemy railroad lines. There is a small memorial dedicated to the memory of Babruisk Jews killed in the holocaust, located in the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery, Giv'atayim, Israel, as part of the Babi Yar memorial.
Collaborators also took part in the cruel massacres. Former communist Szkurow “distinguished himself” having killed the last Bobruisk rabbi Shmuel Bespalov by hammering nails into his head. One more group of 3,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto was transported to Bobruisk in 1942. They were forced to do digging work, after which they were executed. There were few survivors who were saved by their neighbours. Bobruysk was liberated by the red army on june 29, 1944. a city population of 84,107 in 1939 remained 28,352. Thousands of workers and German prisoners of war were mobilized to rehabilitate the ruined city. After the war, as many as 15 Bobruisk inhabitants were named righteous among the nations. It should be stressed that a number of those who were responsible for the extermination in Bobruisk were quickly tried and sentenced. Between 15 and 29 January 1946, a trial of 14 Germans and collaborators was held in Minsk. They were sentenced to death by hanging, and so was the former town commander major Reinhard Moll.


In August 1948, after a long struggle, the Jews of Bobruisk succeeded in opening a synagogue, registering a religious community, of more than 1,000 members. Authorities closed it after a few months. Thereafter, worshipers gathered for prayer in private homes and underground minyanim. A Jewish religious community was next permitted to register officially in 1989.

In the post-war period the Jewish population continued to decline. In 1959 there were 15,600 Jews, in 1970, 14,500, in 1989,10,468 (5% of the total population), and in 1999, 1,260 (0.6%).
Most of the Jews emigrated in the 1990s as the Jewish population of Belarus dropped by over 75%.

In September 1988 the Mendele Moykher-Sforim Jewish culture club was established. Avanim, a literary and art anthology, appeared the following year, and a monthly, Mishpokha, in 1998. In 2001 a Jewish community centre opened and Jewish life began to revive with a synagogue, day school, and Sunday school in operation.

Famous persona

(See here for a full list of Babruysk profiles)

Pauline Iulievna Wengeroff
Nissan Katznelson
Rav Yechiel Michel HaLevi Epstein "Aruch Hashulchan"
Rabbi Yitzchok Nissenbaum (1868–1942) – Mizrachi leader
Berl Katznelson
Klim (Kadish) Luz
Abba Ahimeir Achimeir
Aleksandr Orłow (originally Lejb Feldbing, 1895–1973)
Abram Lurie (1895–1948) - economist
Szepszel Hodosz (1895–1951) - trade union activist
Isidor Bołotin (originally Izrael Bołotnyj, 1907–1961) - singer
Zalman Gorelik
Izaak Dawidowicz (1911–1993) - painter
Sołomon Kazimirowski (1915–2011) - film director
Rabbi Shmuel Alexandrov (1865 - 1941) – Zionist thinker
Gary Vaynerchuk
Efraim Sevela - writer, screenwriter, director, producer
Celia Dropkin
Arkadi Duchin - Israeli singer-songwriter and musical producer
Dovid Raskin
Yitzchak Tabenkin
Avraam Zak
David Shimoni
Yoysef Tunkel, Der Tunkeler
Eliyahu Dobkin
Rachel Katznelson Shazar
Joshua Louis Goldberg (January 6, 1896 – December 24, 1994) a Belarusian-born American rabbi, who was the first rabbi to be commissioned as a U.S. navy chaplain in world war ii (and only the third to serve in the navy in its history), the first to reach the rank of navy captain (the equivalent of army colonel), and the first to retire after a full active-duty career
Dr Avraham Katsnelson Nissan

Political movements

A branch of the Cḥibat Ziyon movement was established in 1885, and the Jewish socialist movement began to develop in the 1890s. The bund set up an underground printing press in 1898, only to be seized in by the police in that year. Zionist groups became active in the early 1900s: Po‘ale Ziyon in 1901; Sha‘are Ziyon, a religious Zionist group headed by rabbi Shmuel Aleksandrov (1865–1941) in 1902; and various women’s groups. A Zionist “model” or “reformed” Heder (Heder Metukan) opened in the city in 1900. It provided comprehensive Hebrew instruction and did much to raise the standard of Hebrew education. The Katsnelson family played an important role in Jewish cultural and public life.

In 1917, the bund, Po‘ale Ziyon, Tze‘ire Ziyon, Zionist organizations, and Fareynikte showed heightened activity. The Bobruisk bund split in December 1918, leading to the founding of one of the first communist bund (kombund) organizations in the country.

Membership in Hashomer Hatza‘ir reached 300 and the organization remained active until the arrest of its members in march 1926. In 1925 there were also 40 members of Hachalutz. In 1925 a court operating in Yiddish was established in the city and also a Jewish workers’ university that functioned in Yiddish. In October 1926 the Yiddish literary circle Yunger Arbeter was formed.


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