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Records of the Minsk Jewish Community Council

 Collection
Identifier: RG 12

Scope and Content Note

The collection includes materials pertaining to: the implementation of the 1827 imperial decree on Jewish conscription, the reaction to the decree on Jewish conscription, the creation of conscription lists, and the methods through which the Kahal administrated Jewish military service and supplied Jewish recruits for the Minsk district, 1827-1844; birth and death statistics of the Jewish population of the Minsk district, civil status of Minsk Jewish residents, and personal matters, 1840-1842, 1866-1917; Korobka (tax on meat or candles imposed by the Kahal upon its members for communal purpose), tax apportionment, collection of tax arrears, financial records of Jewish institutions in the city of Minsk and Minsk district, 1825-1908; residential rights and registration status of members of the Minsk Jewish community, 1836-1844; criminal and civil cases, 1835-1848; public auctions for lease-holding contracts of products, places, or tax farming on kosher meat, 1839-1843. The collection also includes miscellaneous records some of which provide material of special interest for scholars of social history.

The collection consists of vital records, membership lists and contribution lists to major synagogues in the city of Minsk and Minsk district, financial records, reports regarding tax collection, petitions to the Minsk Kahal by individuals regarding a variety of issues and the Kahal’s resolutions to the petitions. A large part of the collection consists of correspondence between the Minsk Kahal and local authorities (original copies of incoming mail, and copies of outgoing mail, reports, and statements). The local authorities include the Governor of the Minsk Province, the Minsk Chief of Police, the Military Service Office of the Department of Revenue (Kazennaia Palata), the District Attorney of Minsk, the Minsk Civil Governor (Minskii grazhdanskii gubernator), the Minsk Municipal Duma (Minskaia gorodskaia duma); the Minsk Province Administration (Minskoe gubernskoe pravlenie), the Department of Public Instruction (Ministerstvo narodnogo prosveshcheniia), the Minsk Jewish Hospital (Minskaia evreiskaia bolnitsa), the Minsk Treasury, the Minsk Consolidated Criminal and Civil Courts (Minskaia soedinennaia palata ugolovnogo i grazhdanskogo suda), the Minsk Orphans’ Court (Minskii sirotskii sud), and the Minsk City Magistrate (Minskii gorodovoi magistrat).

Some of the most interesting materials in this collection bear witness to the immediate reaction of the Kahal to the issuing of Tsar Nicholas I decree on Jewish conscription, with copies of letters the Kahal sent to the Minsk Civil Governor two days after the issuing of the new law. The materials pertaining to military service provide information about the bureaucratic process that the implementation of Jewish recruitment entailed for the Jewish body politic: from the issuing of the decree, to the creation of conscription lists, the approval by the city police and other local authorities of the lists, and the petitions by young Jews (or family members on their behalf) requesting to be included or excluded from the conscription lists. Overall, the records of the Minsk Jewish community council represent a unique source for the study of Jewish life in Russia in the 19th and early 20th century.

Dates

  • 1825-1917

Creator

Language of Materials

Russian with some Polish, Hebrew, and Yiddish.

Access Restrictions

The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.

Use Restrictions

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Historical Note

The first Jew to lease the custom duties of Minsk was Mikhel Danilevich from Troki (Trakai), in 1489; Jewish families began to settle in the city of Minsk during the 16th century. In 1579, King Stefan Batory granted the Jews a charter allowing them to engage in commerce in the city; in 1606, by request of the Christian population, King Sigismund III invalidated the charter, but by 1629 he reinstated the Jews’ commercial rights, permitting them to open shops in Minsk. In 1633, King Ladislav IV granted the Jewish community permission to buy land for a new cemetery and acquire real estate on the market square.

In 1623, the leaders of the Jewish community council attended the first meeting of the Lithuanian Va’ad as representatives of an independent community; this in spite of the fact that until 1631 the Minsk community was still subordinated to the Kahal of the Brest-Litovsk district. During the Russian-Polish war (1654-1667) Minsk was occupied by Russian troops and the majority of the Jews left the city (1655); as soon as Minsk was returned to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1658) the Jewish community was reestablished. Since their right to settle within the borders of Minsk was restricted to specific areas, mostly controlled by the King, many Jews lived outside the city on land they rented from Uniates (Greek Catholics), and often suffered the consequences of the antagonism existing between the Russian Orthodox merchants of Minsk and the Uniates; in 1671, the Orthodox townspeople initiated a pogrom against Uniates and Jews. In 1679, King Jan III Sobeski restored the Jewish community the right to engage in trade and allowed the Jews to own land plots and homes in the city.

During the 17th and 18th centuries Minsk turned into a center for misnagdic religious scholarship: the first yeshiva was founded in 1685. The distinguished Talmudist, cabbalist and author of historical chronicles Yehiel Heilprin (1660 ca.-1746 ca.) taught here; in 1733 the Talmudist Aryeh Leyb b. Asher Ginzberg (1695-1785) established the second yeshiva of Minsk; both institutions attracted Jewish youth from all over Poland and Lithuania. By the end of the 19th century there were 99 synagogues and batei midroshim in Minsk; of these only 3 were Hasidic. One of the largest yeshivas in Minsk in the 19th century was the so-called Blumkes kloyz; Jeroham Judah Leib Perelman (1835-1896), known as the Minsker godl, served there as a rabbi at the end of the 19th century. The Minsk Choral Synagogue was inaugurated in 1904.

With a population of 47,562 Jews (53.2% of the city population), at the turn of the 20th century Minsk was one of the largest Jewish communities in Russia. The city counted numerous Jewish institutions: khadorim, Talmud-Toyres, a private modern Jewish school, a Jewish elementary school, two Jewish dental schools, a Jewish trade schools for boys and girls, a Jewish library, a Jewish model agricultural farm, a Jewish hospital, a branch of the Jewish Colonization Society (Evreiskoe kolonizatsionnoe obshchestvo), a local section of the Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment Among the Jews of Russia (Obshchestvo dlia rasprostraneniia prosveshcheniia mezhdu evreiami) and one of the Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jews (Obshchestvo zdravookhraneniia evreev; in inter-war Poland renamed TOZ, Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia Ludności Żydowskiej).

By the mid-19th century, Minsk became one of the most prominent Haskalah centers in the north-western provinces of the Russian Empire, and by the latter part of the century it grew to be a center of modern Jewish political movements. It became a stronghold for the activities of the Jewish labor party Bund and the Marxist-Zionist Poale Zion. In 1902, with the permission of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Second Conference of Russian Zionists was held in Minsk, with 526 participants. Jews played an important role in the anti-Tsarist demonstrations and strikes that took place in Minsk at the time of the 1905 Revolution. The Zionist Semyon Rozenbaum (1860-1934) was elected as the Minsk province deputy to the First Russian Duma (1906).

During World War I, thousands of Jewish refugees were concentrated in Minsk: the Jewish population grew from 45 thousand in 1914 to 67 thousand in 1917. After the February Revolution numerous Jewish periodicals were issued in the city, in Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian. With the Bolshevik rise to power, the Minsk Jewish community was disbanded, and by the early 1920s all Jewish parties (with the exception of the Poale Zion, which continued to exist until 1928) were dissolved. In line with official ideology the Jewish section of the Belorussian Communist Party (Evsektsiya) persecuted Jewish religion and Zionist groups, closing down synagogues and organizing trials against local rabbis and melamdim. Since its formation as an independent Soviet Socialist Republic on 1 August 1920, Belorussia was the only republic in the USSR where the constitution guaranteed an official status to Yiddish as a state language. As the capital of the BSSR, Minsk became one of the main centers for Yiddish culture in the Soviet Union: by the early 1930s there were in Minsk 8 Yiddish kindergartens, 12 Yiddish schools, a Pedagogical Institute, a Jewish Division in the Institute for Belorussian Culture, a Jewish Section at Belorussian State University, the Jewish National Court of Justice, the daily newspaper Oktyabr (1925-1941), the literary journal Shtern (1925-1941) and the Belorussian Yiddish State Theater which was housed in the building of the former Minsk Choral synagogue. Most Yiddish institutions were closed down in July 1938 as part of a campaign against national minorities.

At the beginning of 1941 there were almost 90,000 Jews in Minsk (37% of the city population). When the Germans occupied the city on June 28, 1941 the Jewish population reached 100,000 due to the numerous refugees from Białystok and other areas of western Belorussia. The Minsk ghetto was established in July 1941 at the outskirts of the city, in close proximity of the Jewish cemetery. About 8,000 German, Austrian and Czech Jews were deported to Minsk and imprisoned in the ghetto. The majority of the ghetto inhabitants (the total amounted to 85.000) were killed during the Aktionen carried out by the Germans from November 1941 to July 1942. In 1941, a group of Jews (among them the Polish Jew Hersh Smolar) organized a resistance movement in the ghetto: in collaboration with the Minsk Communist underground movement, the members of the ghetto resistance organized acts of sabotage and, working together with the Judenrat, diverted the production from the workshops and factories of the ghetto to the partisans. The resistance enabled thousands of Jews to escape from the ghetto into the forests, where they founded seven partisan brigades, one of which, in September 1943, organized the assassination of the General-Governor of Belorussia Wilhelm Kube. About 10,000 Minsk Jews succeeded in escaping from the Minsk ghetto, a proportion without parallel in the history of the Holocaust. In 1945, the first memorial to the Jewish victims in Minsk, and the only one in the USSR with a Yiddish inscription explicitly mentioning the Jewishness of the victims, was erected in Minsk.

As part of the state-sponsored anti-Semitic and anti-cosmopolitan campaigns of the 1940s and early 1950s, on Stalin’s orders, the chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and director of the Moscow Yiddish State Theater Solomon Mikhoels (1890-1948) was murdered in Minsk on January 13, 1948; the Belorussian State Yiddish Theater was closed down in 1949, and many Minsk Jews, accused of being enemies of the Soviet Union, were dismissed from their jobs and arrested. In 1959 the main synagogue in use in Minsk was closed down, and in the late 1960s the Jewish cemetery was destroyed. Several Yiddish writers were active in Minsk in the post-Stalin years, most notably Khaym Maltinskii (1910-1984) and Hirsh Reles (1913-2005).

Extent

3.3 Linear Feet

Abstract

Part of the Lithuanian Kingdom from the beginning of the fourteenth century, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the mid-sixteenth century, Minsk was annexed to the Russian Empire in 1793, following the second partition of Poland. Under tsarist rule, the city became the capital of the Minsk province. From 1920 to 1991, it was the capital of the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR). At present, Minsk is the capital of the Republic of Belarus. The Records of the Minsk Jewish Community Council, or Kahal, are a fragment of the original archives of the Minsk Jewish community, which dates back to the sixteenth century. Most of the documents in this collection, which covers the tsarist period from the 1820s to the 1917 Russian Revolution, were assembled between the last decade of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. The collection is of fragmentary nature, and consists of miscellaneous materials that relate to the role and activities of the Minsk Kahal in Jewish life; the relation between the Jewish body politic and local authorities; and between the Jewish body politic and the Jewish residents in the Minsk province

Arrangement

The collection is arranged thematically

Custodial History

After the Bolshevik rise to power and the dissolution of the Minsk Kahal in 1921, the archives of the Jewish Community Council were transferred to the newly established Soviet Jewish scholarly institution in Minsk, the Jewish Division of the Institute for Belorussian Culture, renamed in 1929 Jewish Section of the Belorussian Academy of Sciences. The Minsk community records were preserved here until 1938, when most Yiddish institutions in the city were closed down; the records were then relocated to the Minsk Historical Archive (now Natsionalnyi istoricheskii arkhiv Belarusii).

During the Nazi occupation of Minsk, in 1942, the records were looted by the Einsatzstab Rosenberg and sent to the NSDAP Institute zur Erforschung der Judenfrage in Frankfurt-am-Main. In 1945 they were recovered by the U.S. army and returned to the YIVO in New York, via the U.S. army archival depot in Offenbach. The records arrived in New York in 1947.

Related Materials

Part of the original archives of the Minsk Jewish community is now in the custody of the National Historical Archives of Belarus (Natsionalnyi istoricheskii arkhiv Belarusii).
Title
Guide to the Records of the Minsk Jewish Community Council 1825-1917 RG 12
Status
In Progress
Author
Originally processed by Elissa Bemporad. Materials further processed, described, prepared for digitization and finding aid encoded by Yakov Il'ich Sklar in 2015.
Date
©2015
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
Processed, conserved and digitized as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022). Additional work funded by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference) (2016). Earlier work funded by the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation (2006) and the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (2012).

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

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