views updated May 23 2018


SMOLENSK, city in western Russia. From 1404 to 1514 Smolensk was a Lithuanian possession and from 1611 to 1654 it came under Polish rule. Jews are first mentioned in Smolensk at the end of the 15th century; in 1489 there were three Jewish tax farmers in the city. Although King Sigismund ii prohibited Jews from residing in Smolensk when the city passed to Poland, Jews nevertheless continued to live there. According to the "Old Responsa" of the Bah (R. Joel Sirkes), about 80 Jews resided in Smolensk in 1616. When Smolensk was re-conquered by the Russians (1654), Jews were compelled to convert and those who did not do so were either put to death or taken captive and deported to the Russian interior. Jewish merchants from Lithuania, however, continued to visit Smolensk or pass through the city on their way to Moscow even after the Russian conquest. At the beginning of the 18th century Lithuanian Jews again began to settle in Smolensk and its vicinity. They engaged in commerce and the lease of various utilities. This activity aroused the jealousy of their Christian rivals, and in 1722 two Christian townsmen of Smolensk appealed to the Synod for Jews to be expelled from the region on the claim that the Jews derided Christianity. One Jew, Baruch b. Leib (who was also accused a few years later of having converted a Russian officer, Alexander *Voznitsin, to Judaism) had erected a synagogue in his home village of Zverovich, near Smolensk. In 1727, on the basis of Christian complaints, instructions were given for Baruch and his coreligionists to be expelled from the region of Smolensk. During the same year Czarina Anna ordered the expulsion of all the Jews of Russia, but by 1731 Jewish merchants were authorized to visit Smolensk for business purposes. For all practical purposes Jews continued to live in Smolensk on a permanent basis. When the *Pale of Settlement was established in 1791 the region of Smolensk was not included in it, and until the abolition of the Pale in 1917, Jews were officially prohibited from living in the Smolensk region. Even so, some Jews who fell into the categories of those authorized to live outside the Pale settled in Smolensk during the 19th century, where they continued to play an especially active role in the timber trade of the region. In 1897 the number of Jews in Smolensk was 4,651, forming 10% of the total population. In the whole of the region there were 11,185 Jews. The number of Jews in Smolensk increased considerably after the 1917 Revolution; in 1926 there were 12,887 Jews (16.2% of the population) in the city. In 1922 the Great Synagogue was confiscated by Soviet authorities. In 1929 the Jewish Teachers' Seminary, founded by the *Yevsektsiya, was transferred to Smolensk from Gomel. The Germans occupied the city in August 1941 and almost immediately established a ghetto for the Jews of Smolensk in Sadki. In June–July 1942 about 2,000 Jews were murdered. In the late 1960s there was a Jewish population of about 5,000. There was no synagogue. In the early 2000s, after the emigration of the 1990s, there were bearly 1,000 Jews in the entire Smolensk district. The city had a synagogue, a Jewish community center, a newspaper called Yachad, a youth club, a Sunday school, a drama club, a group of performers called Menora, and a social service that distributes food packages.


B. Katz, Le-Korot ha-Yehudim be-Rusyah, Polin ve-Lita (1898), 56; S. Ginsburg, Historishe Verk, 3 (1937), 142–3; R. Brainin, Fun Mayn Lebns Bukh (1946), 111–47; M. Osherowitch, Shtet un Shtetlekh in Ukraine, 2 (1948), 213–25; Kh.D. Rivkin, Yevrei v Smolenske (1910).

[Yehuda Slutsky]


views updated Jun 11 2018

Smolensk City on the upper reaches of the River Dnieper, near the Belarus border, e Russia; capital of Smolensk oblast. First mentioned in 882 bc, it was an important medieval commercial centre on the routes from Byzantium to the Baltic, and from Moscow to Warsaw. The capital of Belorussia in the 12th century, it was sacked (1238–1240) by the Mongols. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it was a battleground for Polish and Russian forces. In 1812, Napoleon I seized the city and burned it in retreat from the Russian Army. Occupied (1941–43) by German forces, it was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in World War 2. It remains an important transport and distribution centre. Industries: linen, textile machines, timber, electrical goods, flour milling, distilling, brewing. Pop. (2000) 353,400.