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Chapter 3 The Decline of the Synagogue Synagogues in the USSR in the Postwar Period 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 number of places of worship of all denominations had decreased from 39,511 in 1917 down to 8,381 in 1947. Synagogues functioning by January 1, 1949, were distributed over the Soviet republics as depicted in Table 3.1.1 Table 3.1. Number of synagogues in the USSR on January 1, 1949. Name of republic Jewish population (Jan 01, 1959)2 % of total Jewish population in the USSR No. of synagogues % of total no. of synagogues The Russian Federation 875,307 38.6 33 18.3 Ukraine 840,311 37.1 70 38.9 Belarus 150,084 6.6 2 1.1 Georgia 51,600 2.3 31 17.2 Moldavia 95,107 4.2 13 7.2 1   The table has been compiled on the basis of Soldatov, Itogi Vsesoyuznoi, Souz SSR, 202, 206–9, as well as GARF, F. 6991, Op. 4, D. 23, 2; Op. 3, D. 51, 196, 199 (a copy in YVA, M-46/39). i5.5 Smilovitsky 00 book.indb 47 2014.07.01. 15:09 48 JEWISH LIFE IN BELARUS Name of republic Jewish population (Jan 01, 1959)2 % of total Jewish population in the USSR No. of synagogues % of total no. of synagogues Lithuania 25,100 1.1 2 1.1 Latvia 36,592 1.6 5 2.7 Estonia 5,000 0.2 1 0.6 Armenia 1,000 0.04 0 0 Azerbaijan 40,200 0.2 3 1.7 Uzbekistan 94,300 4.2 10 5.5 Kazakhstan 28,000 1.2 1 0.6 Tajikistan 12,400 0.5 3 1.6 Kirghizia 8,600 0.3 1 0.6 Turkmenistan 4,100 0.2 – – Total 2,267,701 175 100 2 It is worth noting that most of the registrations were granted to synagogues in the Asian areas of the USSR (27.2 percent), which held only 8.9 percent of the Jewish population. Furthermore, 31 synagogues (17.2 percent) were registered in Georgia, whose Jewish population was only 2.3 percent of the total Jewish population of the country. In the Caucasus and Central Asia, Jews were more zealous in their religious observance, and local authorities would make concessions more easily. In the European areas, the Jews turned out to be more prone to secularization. The number of synagogues revealed striking differences between the different Soviet areas. In postwar Belarus where the Jewish population was three times as large as that of Georgia, only two synagogues, one in Minsk and the other in Kalinkovichi , were granted registration permits. Many towns once renowned as prominent Jewish centers not only in Belarus and Russia, but in the whole Eastern Europe, now had not even a single synagogue or a legally recognized place of prayer. According to the 1959 census,3 the Jewish population in major Belarusian cities was as follows: 3,745 in Grodno, 6,012 in Brest, 15,600 in Bobruisk, 18,986 in Vitebsk, 28,438 in Mogilev, and 45,007 in Gomel. However, in none of these cities did the authorities grant permission for the functioning of even a single synagogue.4 2    Though the number of synagogues relates to 01/1/1949, the size of the Jewish population relates only to 01/1/1959, which was the first time there had been a population census in the USSR since 1939. The Kremlin had been anxious not to inform the general public that between 30 and 40 million Soviet citizens had lost their lives in what was promulgated as “the great victory” against fascist Germany. 3   See the previous footnote. 4  Soldatov, Itogi Vsesoyuznoi… Belorusskaia SSR, 126. i5.5 Smilovitsky 00 book.indb 48 2014.07.01. 15:09 49 The Decline of the Synagogue All synagogues in the territory of the USSR, whether large or small, whether of architectural or historical interest, were assigned a uniform status. None had the status of the state’s main synagogue, despite the fact that, in official documents, the Moscow synagogue on...


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