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 A HISTORY OF BIALYSTOK, POLAND

Early History

First accounts of Jewish settlement in Bialystok date from 1658 to 1661. In 1692 there was a branch of the kahal of the Tykocin community operating in Bialystok to serve the needs of local Jews. Tradition has it that the Jews came to Bialystok in 1749 by invitation from Count Branitzky, who built houses and stores for them as well as a wooden synagogue. Throughout its history, the city remained predominately Jewish. An industrial city 52 miles southwest of Grodno, Bialystok (also known as Byelostok) prospered from its two major products—cloth and tobacco.

In the early part of the nineteenth century Bialystok had a Hebrew printing-office, from which the first book known to have been printed was issued in 1805 and the last in 1824. Bialystok had one large synagogue, four or five large batei midrash and about twice as many small minyanim. It also had of the finest Jewish hospitals in the area, plus a home for the aged, two free loan institutions, a Talmud Torah with about 500 pupils in 1900, and many other benevolent societies. (Excerpted from the 1900 article The Jewish Encyclopedia at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=1636&letter=B&search=bialystok)

The Museum of Tolerance provides pictures, maps and information on pre-Holocaust Jewish life in Bialystok (http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/pages/t008/t00828.html)

The Pogrom of 1906

June 1, 1906 saw the outbreak of a pogrom by the Czarist forces (http://www.zabludow.com/bialystokpogromdavidsohn.html) that resulted in the flight of many Jews from the city. Some of them came to New York City and contributed to the growth of the Bialystok community on the Lower East Side.

The Holocaust in Bialystok

To see what Bialystok looked like in 1939 on the eve of World War II, watch this eleven minute Yiddish video with English subtitles (http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2rq1s_jewish-life-in-bialystok-1939_politics).

On June 27, 1941, the Nazis occupied the city, which at that point had 50,000 Jews in it and 350,000 in the province. Over the course of the next month, the Nazis burned down the synagogue and murdered 5,000 people. On August 1, 1941, the remaining Jewish population was enclosed in a ghetto. 

The Holocaust Research Project has pictures of the Bialystok Ghetto (http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ghettos/bialystokgal/index.html)

On February 12, 1943, the Nazis began to liquidate the ghetto. When they entered the ghetto on August 16, 1943 to complete the liquidation, the Nazis were met by resistance fighters led by Mordechai Tenenbaum (Tamaroff), who had previously been attacking the Nazis from the forests. The Ghetto fighters, lead by Zerach Zylberberg, Hershel Rosenthal, Haika Grosman and Israel Margulies, held out for a month. 

Learn more about the revolt from the writings of Tilford Bartman (http://www.zabludow.com/Bialystok.html) and from The Jewish Virtual Library (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/Bialystoktoc.html)

In the end, the Nazis deported 40,000 Jews to Treblinka and Majdanek.

Post-War Bialystok

After the war, 1,085 Jews were left in the city, 900 local inhabitants and the rest from the neighboring villages.The 1890 Piaskower Beth Midrash on Piekna Street, one of the few surviving synagogue buildings in Bialystok, was renovated in 1997 (http://www.isjm.org/jhr/no2/bialystok.htm)

Today Bialystok’s tour guides still note the presence of a Jewish community there, but all of the verbs are in the past tense (http://www.diapozytyw.pl/en/site/slady_i_judaica/bialystok)

The Memory Remains

The memory of the community lives on—commemorated through projects such as that initiated by Tomasz Wisniewski of Poland, Tilford Bartman of the U.S., Mark Halpern of the U.S. and Ada Holtzman of Israel. (http://www.zchor.org/bialystok/bialystok.htm) Their online memorial to Jewish Bialystok provides links to people, such as those who are seeking family from the city (http://www.zchor.org/bialystok/bialygen.htm) to places, like Kiriat Bialystok in Yehud, Israel (http://www.zchor.org/bialystok/kiriat_bialystok2.htm). There's also a Yizkor book that recounts the city's history and tells about the Bialystokers worldwide (http://www.zchor.org/bialystok/yizkor13.htm)

The past lives on in songs and films about the city as well. Some examples include

“Bialistok Mayn Heym,” with words by Avrom Shevakh and music by J. Ciganari (http://digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/freedman/lookupartist?hr=&what=1711)

The 1939 film “Jewish Life in Bialystok” directed by Saul Goskind (http://www.cine-holocaust.de/cgi-bin/gdq?efw00fbw000234.gd)

 Genealogical Records

For those seeking genealogical records about family from Bialystok, try the following resources:

Tilford Bartman’s Bialystok Links http://www.zchor.org/bialystok/bialygen.htm

The Bialystok Region Research Group (BRRG) http://www2.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/BialystokRRG.htm

Jewish Records Indexing—Poland http://www2.jewishgen.org/jri-pl/bialy.htm

 


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