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Preface 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. I was born in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, ten years after the end of WWII and was not familiar with the horror of the Holocaust that had annihilated almost half of world Jewry. But in my genetic memory it would seem that live shoots of this tragedy were still sensitive, and in the ditches and pits of Belarus lay the remnants of relatives, close and less close, who were still a part of me. My grandfather, Isroel Aharon Chechick, who lived in a shtetl near Rechitsa, in the province of Gomel, was a mild man who never opposed the authorities nor said a word against them. Throughout his life he was an observant Jew, keeping the mitzvot and studying the Torah. In his younger years grandfather had been a melamed, but when heders were restricted and finally closed, he chose employment where he would not be obliged to desecrate the holiness of Shabbat. I remember the stories he told me from the Bible which I absorbed as fairytales. It is hard to imagine what his reaction might have been to the book you have before you on the Jews of Belarus, knowing that it had been written by his grandson. Jewish life in Belarus after the war was an inaccessible subject—officially regarded as being completely non-existent—and in the ideological atmosphere of the time research into the subject was impossible. Jewish i5.5 Smilovitsky 00 book.indb 11 2014.07.01. 15:09 xii Preface community life had been wiped out by the Nazis, and its unreasonable attempt to come back to life was given short shrift by the communists. For more than half a century the truth about Jewish life during this period was sealed in archives to which researchers had no access. The Jews of Belarus preferred to keep silent rather than expose themselves to the spleen of the authorities. Western scholars, having no access to the archives, had to confine themselves to official materials available from Soviet sources, such as publications on history, politics, law, scientific research, legislative acts related to religious and ethnic matters, periodicals , as well as indirect evidence derived from memoirs of contemporaries, who participated in or witnessed particular events. In recent years, the corpus of sources on the subject has expanded, and many archival materials are now available, which, combined with evidence collected from contemporaries, makes it possible for the first time to relate the authentic history of Belarusian Jewry under the communist regime. A number of studies have been conducted that focus on the prewar period, among which are major works by Mordechai Altshuler, Abraham Greenbaum, Elissa Bemporad, David E. Fishman, Sholom Duber Levin, Albert Kaganovitch, Shaul Stampfer, Aron Skir, and Arkadi Zeltser. Considerably less study has been made on the postwar years. Major works focusing on this period are by Ben-Zion Goldberg, Joshua Rothenberg, Rabbi N.Z. Gottlieb, Yaacov Ro’i, Abraham Greenbaum, and Mordechai Altshuler.1 There are almost no publications on the practice of Judaism in Belarus. The few books published in Belarus in the 1960s can hardly be considered unbiased, as they portray Judaism in a distorted manner—as an ideological doctrine aimed at diverting Soviet Jews from the supreme mission of strengthening communist society.2 Pioneer studies of the situation of observant Jews in Belarus in the last years of Stalin’s life were carried out by Aharon Gershuni, Roman Zaichik, and Gita Gluskina. Some documents shedding light on Jewish life have appeared in recent years. General information on the situation of the religious population in the Soviet Union is provided in the works by John Anderson, 1   See the works mentioned in the Bibliography. 2   Greenblat, “O proiskhozhdenii i klassovoi sushchnosti iudaisma,” 121–35; Livshits, Religia i tserkov v proshlom i nastoyashschem; Zalessky and Azarov (eds.), Dokumenty oblichayut. Reaktsionnaya rol’ religii i tserkvi na territorii Belorussii; Gubanov, Tsameryan, and Andreev (eds.), Prichiny sushchestvovania i puti preodolenia religioznykh perezhitkov. i5.5 Smilovitsky 00 book.indb 12 2014.07.01. 15:09 xiii Preface Jane Ellis, James Forest...


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