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The Long Life and Swift Death of Jewish Rechitsa

A Community in Belarus, 1625–2000

Albert Kaganovitch

Publication Year: 2013

Located on the Dnieper River at the crossroads of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, the town of Rechitsa had one of the oldest Jewish communities in Belarus, dating back to medieval times. By the late nineteenth century, Jews constituted more than half of the town’s population. Rich in tradition, Jewish Rechitsa was part of a distinctive Lithuanian-Belorussian culture full of stories, vibrant personalities, achievement, and epic struggle that was gradually lost through migration, pogroms, and the Holocaust. Now, in Albert Kaganovitch’s meticulously researched history, this forgotten Jewish world is brought to life.
    Based on extensive use of Soviet and Israeli archives, interviews, memoirs, and secondary sources, Kaganovitch’s acclaimed work, originally published in Russian, is presented here in a significantly revised English translation by the author. Details of demographic, social, economic, and cultural changes in Rechitsa’s evolution, presented over the sweep of centuries, reveal a microcosm of daily Jewish life in Rechitsa and similar communities. Kaganovitch looks closely at such critical developments as the spread of Chabad Hasidism, the impact of multiple political transformations and global changes, and the mass murder of Rechitsa’s remaining Jews by the German army in November to December 1941.
    Kaganovitch also documents the evolving status of Jews in the postwar era, starting with the reconstitution of a Jewish community in Rechitsa not long after liberation in 1943 and continuing with economic, social, and political trends under Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev, and finally emigration from post-Soviet Belarus. The Long Life and Swift Death of Jewish Rechitsa is a major achievement.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

List of Illustrations and Tables

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This study is dedicated to Rechitsa, a town that evokes my fondest memories of childhood. Almost fifteen years ago, after I had begun writing my dissertation about Bukharan Jews’ history in the Departments of Jewish Studies and Oriental Studies of Jerusalem University, I got the idea of researching the history of the Jews in Rechitsa as well. I began collecting relevant materials, but as it turned out, ...

Transliteration Notes and Territorial Definitions

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pp. xiii-17

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pp. 3-18

In August 1898 a famous scholar of the history of the Jewish people, the social activist and journalist Semën (Shimon) Dubnov (1860–1941), recorded the deep impressions made on him by his visit to the Rechitsa synagogue accompanied by his friend Markus Kagan (Mordechai Ben Hillel ha-Koen, 1856–1936) on the ninth day of the month of Av ...

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1. Rechitsa and the Jews under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

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pp. 19-53

Rechitsa extends along the right bank of the Dnieper River in Eastern Polesia. The town’s picturesque setting left its impression on travelers who came there. The writer and ethnographer Pavel Shpilevskii (1821–1861), who traveled in this area, wrote: “Rechitsa Uezd is particularly famed for its majestic oak groves along the banks of the Dnieper, places where, perhaps, the ancient Krivichi had ...

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2. Under Russian Rule, 1793–1917

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pp. 54-91

After the second partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Rechitsa Powiat, along with the whole of the Minsk Voivodship, came under Russian rule. Rechitsa Uezd—as the former powiat was called in the Russian administrative system—was reconstituted at the end of October 1796 with the addition of the northern part of the former Kiev Voivodship. At the end of August 1797, the uezd ...

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3. The Economy of the Town in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

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pp. 92-124

The vigorous economic activity of Jews in the Duchy of Lithuania for the ten years prior to the second partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth continued unabated under Russian rule.1 Vladimir Bronevskii, writing in 1810 from Minsk, cited the same old grievances: “The local Yids pestered us so badly with ...

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4. Demography of the Social-Economic Landscape in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

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pp. 125-153

The main result of the resettlement order issued by Catherine II in 1795 was a 45 percent increase in the number of Jews in Rechitsa between 1789 and 1795. Among the 245 Jews registered in Rechitsa in 1795 were 148 women, that is, 60.4 percent of the Jewish population.1 Such a sexual imbalance among Jews (among Christians males slightly outnumbered females) suggests that relatively many ...

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5. Prerevolutionary Jewish Social Life and Education

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pp. 154-192

At the very end of the eighteenth century, Hasidism spread through Minsk Province, and its followers gradually displaced the Mitnagdim.1 Hasidism came to Rechitsa at this time as well, and the two tendencies were in conflict there during the first third of the nineteenth century. By the 1830s, Hasidism had become the ...

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6. Between Revolution and War, 1917–1941

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pp. 193-253

The February Revolution brought the Jews equal rights and democratic freedoms that they had not previously enjoyed. Inspired by these new opportunities, the Jews, and the young generation and intelligentsia in particular, plunged euphorically into establishing Jewish social and communal organizations and began participating more actively in political movements outside their own community. ...

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7. Under German Occupation, 1941–1943

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pp. 254-283

Rechitsa suffered less from German bombardment than many of the other towns in Belorussia at the beginning of the war. But the first bomb was dropped on the town as early as the evening of June 22, 1941, from a reconnaissance aircraft attracted by the closely situated railway and automobile bridges across the Dnieper. The bomb burst near the town’s center; no one was killed and nothing ...

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8. From Liberation to the Collapse of the USSR, 1943–1991

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pp. 284-307

By the end of 1943, almost immediately after liberation, some though not all of Rechitsa’s Jewish residents began gradually returning from evacuation.1 For the majority of Jewish refugees, the several years spent in evacuation were an arduous trial. It was especially difficult for families with children, invalids, and the elderly. ...

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pp. 308-313

The tolerance toward Jews in the Grand Duchy of Lithuanian and the broad range of economic opportunities that opened up in the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth centuries encouraged them to settle in the duchy’s eastern counties. Jews settled in Rechitsa as well at the turn of the sixteenth century. But in the mid--seventeenth century, the Jewish community in Rechitsa, as in other towns and ...


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pp. 315-366


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pp. 367-388


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pp. 389-402

E-ISBN-13: 9780299289836
E-ISBN-10: 0299289834
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299289843
Print-ISBN-10: 0299289842

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 21 b/w photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013