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Jewish life in Belarus

The Final Decade of the Stalin Regime, 1944-1953

Leonid Smilovitsky

Publication Year: 2014

The present study examines for the first time Soviet State policy toward the Jews of Belorussia during the years following WWII.

Published by: Central European University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

List of Abbreviations

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pp. vii-viii

List of Tables

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

The idea of this book was conceived in the early 1990s, but it was a long time in writing. It is likely that it would not have come into being at all had I not emigrated from Belarus to make my home in Israel, where I was exposed for the first time to the world of Jewish tradition and community life, which had more or less disappeared in the Soviet Union in the postwar period....

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Introduction: Belarusian Jewry Prior to the Revolution and Until World War II

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pp. 1-14

The recorded history of Belarusian Jews goes back seven hundred years. They were first mentioned in records relating to the fourteenth century. In the following centuries Jews enjoyed religious autonomy. They could elect their rabbis, conduct legal proceedings, observe their religious traditions, and educate their children at their own educational institutions. These rights were all retained after the Partition of Poland at the end of the eighteenth century, when Belarus became a part of the Russian Empire....

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1 The Demography of the Jews of Belarus

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pp. 15-30

The tragedy of the German occupation of Belarus during WWII had had a devastating impact on the Jewish population. Almost all of those who had remained in the occupied territories had been killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. Those who had been able to escape to the Soviet hinterland in time had extreme difficulty in preserving a traditional Jewish lifestyle....

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2 Soviet Policy Toward the Practice of Judaism in the Postwar Period

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pp. 31-46

The regime repeatedly stated that all religious denominations in the Soviet Union should enjoy equal rights, without any one of them dominating or persecuting another.1 In spring 1944, a new special state body was created, in addition to the existing Council for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church that had been established in 1943 to oversee and regulate all relations between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church as the country’s majority religion. The new body was called the Council for the Affairs...

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3 The Decline of the Synagogue

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pp. 47-86

Prior to the 1917 Revolution, there had been 3,147 synagogues officially registered in the territory of the Russian Empire. By the late 1940s, only 175 of them had been granted official recognition by the Soviet authorities; 137 synagogues were registered at the CARC as having functioned earlier and 43 synagogues as being newly established. Of the applications for opening synagogues, 235 had been rejected. On the whole, the general...

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4 Religious Life

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pp. 87-164

In a virulently atheistic environment, with anti-religious norms, ideals, and legislation, maintaining a religious lifestyle became increasing difficult in postwar Belarus. It meant observing the Sabbath on a day on which one was obliged to work and celebrating Jewish holidays that called into question one’s allegiance to one’s country. There were also enormous difficulties in obtaining the necessities for celebrating the holidays, whether ...

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5 In the Aftermath of the Holocaust

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pp. 165-178

After the war, Jews living in different parts of the Soviet Union developed their own ceremonies and customs to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.1 Six candles were lit in memory of the six million Jews who perished; public prayers, specifically the yizkor and the kaddish were recited in synagogues; rabbis dedicated sermons to the subject; psalms were intoned, and passages from Yitzhak Katzenelson’s famous poem, “The Song of the Murdered Jewish People,”2 as well as the poems of...

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6 Cultural Life

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pp. 179-198

Access to religious literature was a basic prerequisite for reviving Jewish religious life, but publishing it was a major problem. After the war the Torah, the Bible, the Talmud, and siddurim—in fact, any books in Hebrew or Yiddish—became rarities. In the occupied territories a large number of sacred books were burnt or destroyed by the Nazis and their accomplices from the local population during the massacres of the Jews or soon after...

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7 Jews in the Reconstruction of the Economy and Cultural Life

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pp. 199-210

The Nazi occupation inflicted enormous material losses on Belarus. These were estimated at 75 billion rubles, 35 times more than the total 1940 budget of the republic. The restoration of the economy was carried out under difficult circumstances. Many enterprises could not fulfill government production quotas and suffered major losses because of poor organization of production processes. Despite the fact that in 1945 Belarus...

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8 International Contacts

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pp. 211-226

Not only was the leadership of a congregation responsible for all financial and administrative matters, but also for preventing any “anti-Soviet activity and propaganda.” It was up to the local authorities to decide what exactly constituted anti-Sovietism, which they did quite arbitrarily....

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9 The Policy of State Anti-Semitism

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pp. 227-256

One of the cruel ironies of Soviet rule was that the authorities publicly condemned anti-Semitism, while in practice state policies were in fact anti-Semitic in the extreme. The Belarusian municipal bodies lent no support to the efforts being made to restore Jewish communal life and propagated atheism in the mass media. Synagogues were under constant surveillance and Communist Party members and employees in governmental...

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pp. 257

By the eve of World War II, Jewish life had been absorbed within the framework of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. It had taken Soviet power only two decades to break down the resistance of the Jewish community to communism. The members of the Bund had been absorbed into the Soviet establishment from where they had successfully dealt with the threat from Zionism. The traditional Jewish education system ...

Appendix 1: Documents

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Appendix 2: Tables

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pp. 285-294


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pp. 295-304


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pp. 305-322


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pp. 323-327

Back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9789633860267
Print-ISBN-13: 9789633860250

Page Count: 346
Publication Year: 2014