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Arkady Shulman
FIFTY NINE YEARS LATER

Rahmil Beilinson
DESTINY

Anton Paraskevin
A DAWN THAT TURNED INTO STONE

Anton Paraskevin
NUMBER 317

Konstantin Karpekin
JEWS AND THE SOVIET POWER IN THE TOWN OF SIROTINO

Gleb Zapalsky
THE MANEVICH FAMILY: BLACKSMITHS FROM SIROTINO

Klara Mindlina
THE STORY OF A MEMORIAL

Maya Sherbakovskaya
HE WAS A KIND, CLEVER AND CHEERFUL PERSON

JEWS AND THE SOVIET POWER IN THE TOWN OF SIROTINO
(in the 1920s)

Sirotino on the map of 1895
Sirotino on the map of 1895

For a modern civilized person freedom of faith is something that is self-evident. Nevertheless, in the Soviet Union the way to the freedom of religious faith was rather long and complicated. In the 1920s the movement was rather away, than towards such freedom. For Belarus the issue of religion was a significant one. In the first post-revolutionary decade almost 1/10 of the population followed Judaism, mostly Jews.

Currently not a trace is left from the majority of the synagogues… The former Jewish settlements have turned into villages or towns with practically no Jewish population.

Sirotino was one of such settlements. By collecting materials about the synagogues, the social status and age of the people, about anti-religious representatives of the Soviet authorities, we can restore a full picture of the life at that time.

Fate of Sirotino synagogues and the people who attended them

Today Sirotino is a village in Shumilino district, Vitebsk region. At the beginning of the 20th century it had 3 synagogues: Lubavichskaya, Habadskaya and Peschanskaya. They were all wooden. Lubavichskaya and Peschanskaya were built in 1910, while Habadskaya was most probably built before that.

When the Bolsheviks came to power, the aim was to reduce the number of religious establishments in the country and all the religious communities had to be registered.

By the end of 1922 only one synagogue was officially active. The communities of the two other synagogues probably did not manage to register in time.

On October 15th, 1923 all the three Sirotino Jewish communities were registered. In order to register themselves, the communities were to prepare a list of documents, including a registration application, a statute and a list of the people attending the synagogue, as well as a list of synagogue spiritual workers.

Due to these materials we can now find out the names of the rabbis of those communities, the number of people attending the synagogues, their social status and age. In particular, the Rabbi of Lubavichi synagogue was Roman Manevich, Peschanskaya synagogue – Girsh Abelev Iofe, Habadskaya synagogue – Israel Mendelev Zhitovsky.

Social status of community board members, 1923

Main occupations Community name

 

Lubavichskaya

Peschanskaya

Habadskaya

Shoichets

1

-

-

Blacksmiths

1

-

-

Hatters

-

-

1

Laborers

-

1

-

Tradesmen

-

-

1

Individuals, supported by children

3

4

3

Age of community board members, 1923

Age Community name

 

Lubavichskaya

Peschanskaya

Habadskaya

40 – 49

-

1

1

50 – 59

-

1

1

60 – 69

4

1

2

70 – 79

1

2

1

Social status of community members, 1923

Main occupations Community name  

 

Lubavichskaya

Peschanskaya

Habadskaya

Total

Shoichets

1

-

-

1

Blacksmiths

2

-

1

3

Tailors

1

-

-

1

Hatters

-

-

1

1

Shoemakers

-

-

2

2

Saddlers

-

1

-

1

Wool carders

1

-

1

2

Carpenters

-

-

3

3

Locksmiths

-

-

1

1

Tinmen

1

-

-

1

Glaziers

-

2

-

2

Butchers

-

-

1

1

Suppliers

1

-

1

2

Laborers

-

3

2

5

Shepherds

-

1

-

1

Traders

5

3

5

13

Artisans

1

-

-

1

Farmers

5

2

3

10

Pharmacists

1

-

-

1

Watchmakers

-

-

1

1

Householders

4

11

9

24

The unemployed and individuals, supported by their children and community members

30

27

19

76

Total

53

50

50

153

Age of community members, 1923

Age Community name  

 

Lubavichskaya*

Peschanskaya

Habadskaya

Total

Younger than 20

-

1

-

1

20 – 29

4

6

1

11

30 – 39

13

6

5

24

40 – 49

10

8

14

32

50 – 59

7

9

6

22

60 – 69

12

7

17

36

70 – 79

6

12

7

25

80 and older

-

1

-

1

Total

52

50

50

153

* Age was not specified for one of the members of Lubavichskaya synagogue.


In the autumn of 1923 the first step to reduce the number of the synagogues was made. A decree was issued by the Presidium of Vitebsk province executive Council “On allotment of corresponding premises for military training centers”. First the employees of the Council found 2 premises, which they assumed would be suitable for that purpose. However, a special commission, which was organized to inspect the premises, found out that one of the premises was completely decrepit and required considerable material expenses, while the second building was already being used as a school. By December 31st, 1923 the commission found a third solution to the problem: one of the synagogues. A request was filed to the executive Council about a possibility of using one of the synagogues and simultaneously a meeting with the members of the Jewish community was organized to find out their opinion. As a result, the community members voluntarily agreed to give away their synagogue and let it be used as a training center under a condition that they would be informed about the exact date when the synagogue would be returned to them. At that moment the authorities did not manage to tell them the exact date and the issue was not solved.

On January 2nd, 1924 all the circumstances were given to Vitebsk authorities. The explanatory note stated that it was not necessary to inform the members of the Jewish community about the exact time when the synagogue would be returned to them, since, firstly, the training center was established for a long period of time and secondly, the other two synagogues would be enough to serve the Jewish community in Sirotino.

In the end, there was a decision to hold another meeting with the Jewish population of Sirotino. The announcement stated that the individuals that failed to come to the meeting would be considered as not having any relation to the synagogue. There is no information as to how many people came to the meeting, but it is known that 48 people took part in the voting. 40 people were for “sacrificing” Habadskaya synagogue t be used as the training center, 8 people – for Peschanskaya and none for Lubavichskaya. After that the Presidium of Vitebsk province executive Council permitted the temporary usage of Habadskaya synagogue as a military training center.

As it turned out later, establishment of the training center was postponed, however the local authorities insisted on closing one of the synagogues. The Jewish communities decided then to cast lots as to which synagogue was to be given to the local authorities.

This time it was Peschanskaya synagogue. However, the people who were attending the synagogue, thought such a decision unfair and, without informing the followers of Habadskaya synagogue, gave the authorities a permission to close the latter. At the beginning of March, 1924, the doors of the synagogue were locked, and the building officially belonged to the local executive Council. The local Jews considered it unfair, since they claimed that decision had been made without their involvement. As a result they filed a request to Vitebsk province Council to return the synagogue to them.

Then another meeting of the Jewish community members followed on April 3rd, 1924. Nevertheless, it was still decided the atheists would be given Habadskaya synagogue.

In the autumn of 1924 there was another campaign which required registration of all existing religious communities. This time the lists of Lubavichskaya and Peschanskaya community members were longer, most probably due to the fact that Habadskaya synagogue had been closed and its members had joined either of the remaining two communities. Lubavichskaya synagogue was now regularly attended by 60 people, while Peshanskaya – by 80.

Social status of Lubavichskaya community members, 1924

Main occupations

Number

Blacksmiths

2

Tailors

1

Wool carders

1

Artisans

1

Suppliers

2

Traders

5

Farmers

7

Pharmacists

1

Workmen

1

Householders

3

The unemployed or individuals, supported by children

36

Age of Lubavichskaya community members, 1924

Age

Number

20 – 29

4

30 – 39

11

40 – 49

13

50 – 59

8

60 – 69

16

70 – 79

8

According to archive documents of the second half of the 1920s, Lubavichskaya and Peschanskaya synagogues were still active and the communities were registered. The fate of the communities and their synagogues in the 1930s is unfortunately unclear due to absence of any documentary evidence.

Sirotino heder.

Apart from the synagogues, Sirotino also had a heder – a Jewish religious school. As soon as the Soviet rule was established the policy was to suppress religious education in the country and therefore the local authorities started taking steps to close the heder in Sirotino. The principal of the local Soviet Jewish school sent a letter to the local authorities stating that because of the religious school, a considerable number of girls and all boys left his non-religious school. There was a request to close the heder, since the Soviet school had the capacity to teach all the local children of the school age. Several months later the heder was closed.

Nevertheless, there still was religious education in Sitorino in the second half of the 1920s. According to archive documents, about 20 children were studying under the guidance of two melameds at the beginning of 1927. Some of them attended the Soviet school at the same time.

At the beginning of 1929 there research was done on education in Vitebsk region and it turned out that the heder in Sirotino was being attended by 85% of children of the school age. Therefore, in the 1920s atheists did not succeed in liquidating Jewish religious education – one of the most significant ways of transferring religious knowledge.

Atheistic propaganda – confrontation to Judaism.

When talking about the relationship between the Soviet authorities and Judaism, it is also necessary to mention the antireligious propaganda. As a rule, anti-Jewish activities took place in spring and autumn – the time of the most significant holidays – Passover, Rosh-ha-shana, Yom Kippur.

The antireligious campaigns “had to involve all groups of the Jewish population”. The idea was to involve the Jewish atheistic teachers and it was stressed that “the campaign was not to take the clear features of anti-religious activity”.


However it is possible to say that in the second half of the 1920s there was no stable system of antireligious establishments and all the anti-Jewish propaganda represented a number of separate activities.

***

This is a short story of Sirotino synagogues and their followers in the 1920s. It is based on archive documents and highlights only the most basic sides of relationships between Judaism and the Soviet power. There is still space for further research and discoveries.

Konstantin Karpekin,
chief research associate of the State archive of Vitebsk region

Еврейское местечко под Минском


Jewish settlements in Vitebsk region

Vitebsk Albrehtovo Babinovichi Baran Bayevo Begoml Beshenkovichi Bocheikovo Bogushevsk Borkovichi Braslav Bychiha Chashniki Disna Dobromysli Dokshitsy Druya Dubrovno Glubokoye Gorodok Kamen Kohanovo Kolyshki Kopys Krasnopolie Kublichi Lepel Liady Liozno Lukoml Luzhki Lyntupy Miory Obol Oboltsy Orsha Osintorf Ostrovno Parafianovo Plissa Polotsk Prozorki Senno Sharkovshina Shumilino Sirotino Slaveni Smolyany Surazh Tolochin Ulla Verhnedvinsk Vidzy Volyntsy Yanovichi Yezerishe Zhary Ziabki

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