KLETSK (Pol. Kleck ), town in Minsk district, Belarus, formerly within Poland. A document of 1529 confirms the existence of a community in the town. At that time, Isaac *Jozefowicz of Brest held various leases in Kletsk. In 1552 living there were four Jewish families, who owned their houses and land outside town. Tax assessments of 1556 and 1563 indicate that the community was regarded as one of the most important in Lithuania. According to the regulations of the *Council of Lithuania of 1623, the Kletsk community was under the jurisdiction of the Pinsk community.
The old synagogue (bet ha-midrash) of the community was built during the late 17th century, and several years later a Jewish cemetery was opened. Construction of the Great Synagogue was completed in 1796, by the town owner, Count Radziwill. There were 29 Jewish poll tax payers in 1766. Noted rabbis of Kletsk during the 18th century were Michael Eisenstadt and his son Moses. The philosopher Solomon *Maimon lived in the neighborhood of Kletsk for several years. R. Meir Berlin (Bar-Ilan; 1880–1949), who was the leader of the Mizrachi movement, was born and raised there. In 1811 there were 662 Jewish male inhabitants in Kletsk and its surroundings, of whom 65 were craftsmen (33 tailors) and 40 lived in the villages. The community numbered 2,138 persons in 1847. In 1885 a considerable part of the town was destroyed by fire. In the 19th and 20th centuries Jews lived mainly from trade in farm products, though some dealt in crafts. The economic crisis which ensued compelled many Jews to emigrate from the town. The authors Yehoshua *Barzillai and Benzion *Eisenstadt lived in Kletsk. Jews from Kletsk also immigrated to Ereẓ Israel during the Second and Third Aliyah. In 1897 there were 3,415 Jews (73% of the total population) living in Kletsk.
In the first democratic elections to the municipality of Kletsk, held in 1918, 17 of the 24 delegates elected to the municipal council were Jews, one of whom was appointed vice-mayor. In 1932, when the Jewish delegates opposed the arbitrary limitation of their number in the municipal council, the authorities made an abortive attempt to accuse them of having violated the regulations concerning foreign currency and the trade in gold. In 1921 there were 4,190 Jews (74%) in Kletsk, of whom 40% were occupied in crafts and 30% in shopkeeping; the wealthiest engaged in the horse and cattle trade and the lease of orchards. In 1921, the Slutsk yeshivah in Kletsk was headed by Aaron *Kotler, who was one of the leading yeshivah heads of his time. There were also a reformed ḥeder (founded in 1903), a Hebrew *Tarbut school (from 1924), and a Beth Jacob school in Kletsk. The Zionist parties, particularly the *He-Ḥalutz organization, were strong in the community.
In the fall of 1939 Kletsk came under Soviet rule and Jews from the western parts of Poland found refuge there. Under the Soviet regime, large apartments and enterprises were nationalized, and the yeshivah building was requisitioned for a municipal club (the Jewish population declined at first to attend). The three Jewish high schools were merged into one school. The language of instruction was Yiddish until 1940–41, when the school became Russian.
Under the Nazis
On June 25, 1941, Kletsk fell to German troops. A Belorussian police force was set up and began attacking the Jewish population. On Oct. 24, 1941, 35 Jews were arrested on charges of Communism and were shot and buried near the Catholic cemetery. A Judenrat was set up by the German authorities, headed by Itzhak Czerkowicz. On Oct. 30, 1941, the Jews were ordered to assemble in the marketplace, where they were surrounded by Germans and Lithuanians. They were divided into two separate groups. About 1,400 persons were led to the Great Synagogue and kept alive; the second group of 3,880 were murdered near the Catholic cemetery. The Aktion was commanded by Einsatzkommando 8. On July 21, 1942, the Germans came to liquidate the ghetto. Upon a sign from the underground headed by Moshe Fish, its members set fire to the ghetto houses. Some were burned alive, others shot, and about 400 tried to escape, but only a few dozen succeeded in reaching the forests. Some of them were the founders of the Jewish partisan unit which operated under the command of Lyova Gilchik in the Kopil woods. In summer of 1944, after Kletsk was liberated, some 25 survivors, most of them partisans, returned to the town but soon left for the West.
[Aharon Weiss /
Shmuel Spector (2nd ed.)]
S. Dubnow (ed.), Pinkas ha-Medinah (1925), nos. 44, 89; A.L. Feinstein, Ir Tehillah (1886), 57, 111; S. Ginzburg, Ketavim Historiyyim: Ha-Malshin Binyamin Goldberg (Brafman) (1944); Pinkas Kletsk (Heb. and Yid., 1959).