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City of Bobruisk (Bobroisk)

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A Bobruisk History

Timeline and Chronology

Derived from the monograph of Yehuda Slutsky in the Bobruisk Yiskor Book

1316-1341 First mention of Bobruisk in documents from Lithuanian Grand Duke Gedemin.
1508 Bobruisk joins revolt against Lithuanian Duke Mikhail Glinsky, majority of Bobruisk citizens desire alliance with Russia.
1600 Bobruisk population reaches 2,000, Jesuit fathers erect stone church.
1611 Tax revolt in city against Starosta (Governor) Peter Trizna.
1648 Cossack rebellion in Ukraine spreads to Belarus, sympathetic Bobruisk residents join rebels.
1649 Cossack rebels in Bobruisk crushed by Polish troops.
1655 Bobruisk is destroyed by Cossack army under Zolotarenko in order to deny Polish use as military base. Area depopulated by 50%.
1702-1708 War between Sweden and Russia, Bobruisk suffers plundering, forced labor, epidemic disease.
1741 150 houses counted in Bobruisk.
1766 395 Jewish head-tax payers counted in Bobruisk, a small community compared to others in the area.
1768 Small fortress rebuilt in Bobruisk.
1789 889 citizens counted in Bobruisk, 32% Jews (281).
1792 Bobruisk under Russian military control, Minsk Gubernye established.
1795 Bobruisk raised to level of County Seat.
1810 Tsar Alexander I orders the building of Bobruisk Fortress, Jewish contractors fill important role in mobilizing laborers, organization of the work, furnishing building supplies.
1811 Bobruisk has the eighth-largest Jewish kehila in Minsk Gubernye, 655 Jewish men counted.
1812 Bobruisk Fortress unsuccessfully besieged four months by Napoleon's Polish Corps. Later, Russian authorities oblige Bobruisk Jews to quarter captured French Army prisoners in their homes.
1812-1820 Bobruisk Fortress building renewed on large scale, Jewish contractors profit.
1825-1855 Fortress building continues throughout reign of Tsar Nicholas I. Approximately 5,000 soldiers, a good many Jewish, stationed there during most of 19th century.
1823 First yeshiva founded in Bobruisk by Rabbi Akiva Altshul. Later, some of the greatest rabbis in Russia study there.
1851 Chief Rabbi Barukh Mordekhay Etingah emigrates to the Land of Israel, subsequently separate Rabbinates are established for Misnagdim and Hasidim, but they maintain good relations.
1854 First news of a great fire where "whole city goes up in smoke."
1863 Polish Uprising, Bobruisk fortress involved.
1869 Yakov Germeyze, the famous Maskil (Enlightener) of Minsk,complains about "the Bobruisk Jews, who hated the Enlightenment and their followers."
1873 Libave-Romner railway line built through Bobruisk, two stations and Berezina River bridge built.
1874 150 houses and 3 bes-medreshim burn down.
1878 Bobruisk ranked as second-largest city in Minsk Gubernye after Minsk itself, 17,935 Jews are counted. Secular education among Jews becomes more popular under the pressure of the military draft.
1881 Large fire breaks out in Bobruisk, but role of the anti-Semitic hooliganism of that year in the Pale of Settlement not established. Illegal traveling Yiddish theater troupes begin visiting Bobruisk.
1882 Jewish doctors in fortress falsely accused of selling bogus military medical exemptions.
1884 Jews comprise 88% of population, 97% of business volume and profits. Average Jewish merchant volume: 22,500 rubles a year.
1885 "Lovers of Zion" Union founded in Bobruisk.
1886 Bobruisk population reaches over 30,000. Volunteer fireman crew established. Shapiro misnagdic rabbinic dynasty begins.
1893 In response to an economic crisis, a charitable soup kitchen is established which later becomes the center of Zionist activity in city.
1897 Fortress loses its armaments, but remains as staging point for area summer military maneuvers. 34,336 citizens counted in new census including surrounding villages; of them 20,795 Jews, 60.5 %. Approximately 4,000 Jewish families, most employed in crafts, industry, and trade.
1898 Bobruisk is selected for site of illegal Bund press, later dispersed by secret police.
1900 Cooperative Movement founded in Bobruisk, later evolves into one of the largest and richest credit unions in all Jewry.
1901 Hasidic Rabbi Shemerihu Nokh Shniuerson opens a yeshiva, but most others begin to lose their students.
1902 Great Fire of Bobruisk, 2,500 families left homeless, 250 businesses, city market, 15 schools and synagogues destroyed. 7 million rubles in property damage. City quickly rebuilt with stone and brick structures. She'iri Tsion, an influential and pious Zionist union, founded.
1903 First street demonstrations by the Bund. Jewish boyuvke (armed self-defense units) organized and successfully deter pogroms in Bobruisk city.
1905 First Russian Revolution, general strikes organized in Bobruisk by Bund and Labor Zionists. Compared to other cities in Jewish Pale, state and local authorities show "great self-restraint." Rebellion of 800 fortress soldiers in "disciplinary regiments," later suppressed.
1906 Yearly draft board (priziv) of the Tsar's Army begins visiting Bobruisk. Secret police force the emigration to America of many Bund activists.
1908-1911 Most revolutionary organizations disintegrate, activity ceases.
1908 Zionist movement comes into its own in Bobruisk. Promotion of Hebrew language begins.
1909 Central city streets paved with cobblestones, street lamps installed.
1910-1912 Due to repressive zoning laws against shtetl Jews, thousands per year in Bobruisk County are forced to move to the city and many begin emigrating to America.
1910 The "Jewish Peoples' Library" in Bobruisk is reckoned among the "the four greatest social Jewish libraries" (in Russia).
1912 Revolutionary activity and strikes resume in Bobruisk.
1913 Due to overcrowding, a new Jewish cemetery is established distant from the city, "to where one had to travel by train."
1914 Outbreak of WW I. Bobruisk still about 61% Jewish.
1915 Front approaches Bobruisk. Despite growth of war-related employment, living conditions deteriorate as thousands of refugees stream into the city from the west. After Russian army retreats, groups of soldiers and Cossacks rampage through Jewish villages and hamlets in Bobruisk region.
1916 Zionist Hekhaluts (Pioneers) organized in Bobruisk.
1917 After the February Revolution, all restrictions on Jews are lifted, Pale of Settlement ceases to exist. Communist Party division founded in Bobruisk by Jewish youths. Bolshevist Caucus organized within the Bund. Constituent Assembly elections held in Bobruisk, Bolsheviks get 21% of the vote.
1918 Poles defeat Red Army and capture Bobruisk, Soviet laws in region nullified. Germans capture Bobruisk in March and rule for 9 months. Soviet authority returns at end of year.
1919 Red Army seizes supplies in Bobruisk, food reserves depleted, hunger reigns, black-market profiteering fuels severe inflation. Polish Army re-enters Bobruisk, units commit acts of mayhem against Jews.
1920 War in Bobruisk region renews itself; Belarussian partisans attack Polish divisions. Soviet Army recaptures Bobruisk.
1921 Anti-Communist Belarussian peasant gangs become organized, terrorize and kill hundreds of Jews in Bobruisk County, some hacked apart with axes. The kehila disintegrates under Soviet authority.
1923-1939 Although the general population of Bobruisk grows to 84,078, only 25-30% are Jews. Many emigrate to Poland and The Land of Israel. Anti-semitic incidents continue in the city.
1924 Twelve Jewish-Soviet schools teaching in Yiddish are opened.
1928 Despite heavy Communist pressure to close them, there are still 40 synagogues open in Bobruisk. Jacob Hakohen Ginzberg publishes the last Hebrew book in the Soviet Union, "The Calendar for 1929."
1929 Newspaper The Apikoyres (Heretic) is published by Jewish Communist atheists.
1938 Jewish societal activity comes to an end in Bobruisk.
1939 All Jewish schools in Bobruisk closed, Jewish students study in Russian and Belarussian schools.
1941 Hitler's army conquers Bobruisk. On Nov. 7, at the hands of the Nazi S. S. Einzatzgruppe B, in the town of Yeloviki, approx. 20,000 Bobruisk Jews are shot and buried in mass graves. A general slaughter is also carried out in Hlusk, Paritch, Uzarich and Dragonavka. Ghetto and labor camp are established near airstrip on southwest side of town. Some Jews previously evacuated by Soviets to Uzbekistan. Nazi authorities declare Bobruisk judenrein ("Jew-free").
1943 Ghetto and labor camp liquidated, remaining Jews killed.
1941-1944 A very few Jews escape the slaughter and join partisans in the forests around Bobruisk, attack railway lines through the city and other targets.
1944 The Red Army recaptures Bobruisk and annihlates 20,000 Nazi soldiers.
1946 6,500 Jews have returned to Bobruisk.
1950's New synagogue built by Bobruisk Jewish community is confiscated by authorities, converted into city archive.
1959 Approximately 30,000 Jews live in Bobruisk, but only a small minority speak Yiddish. The baking of Passover matsos is prohibited, and Bobriusk is not on the list of cities allowed to have foreign visitors.
1967 Bobruisk Yiskor Book is published in Tel Aviv, Israel by the Histradrut Labor Organisation with support from American Bobruisk landsmanshaftn.
1986 Explosion and fire at Chernobyl nuclear power plant , approx. 135 miles SE of Bobruisk; residents not informed until much later. Main radioactive plume misses Bobruisk, but renders areas to the east uninhabitable.
1997 Only 2,800 Jews remain in Bobruisk, most have emigrated to the US and Israel. Bobruisk Interest Group internet genealogy group is created under the auspices of JewishGen, Inc.

Area History

The White Russian area of Byelorussia, now Belarus, was the westernmost part of the former USSR near its boundary with Poland and Lithuania. The area passed to Russia after the Second Partition of Poland in 1795. One of the larger and perhaps somewhat more prosperous cities in this area was called Bobruisk, located about 85 miles southeast of Minsk, and about 135 miles northwest of Chernobyl in the neighboring republic of Ukraine.

The town had little importance until the early part of the 19th century, but the population grew significantly when Tsar Alexander I built his fortress in Bobruisk in 1810 to meet the threat of Napoleon's Army. In pre-Revolutionary times, it was within the Minsk gubyernia. The city is situated at the confluence of two not very large rivers, the Bobr (now pretty much dried up) and the Berezina, and is bordered by them on two sides.

Since these rivers flow ultimately into the Dniepr and thence to Kiev and on to the Black Sea, Bobruisk was for a long time a fairly important shipping city, with timber as one of its major exports. By the middle of the 19th century, the town had became an important lumbering center where timber from the adjacent forests or timber camps to the south of the city was rafted or entrained to southern Russia or the Baltic ports. Vessels traveling to northern and southern Russia were frequent visitors to the port. Other major Bobruisk commerce consisted of dry goods and grain; all of these industries were primarily in Jewish hands by the 1800's.

The Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. III, says that there were some Jews in Bobruisk as early as 1583, but some speculate that Jews first came to the area, if not specifically to this city, during the 1400's out of the Polish-Lithuanian Empire. Traditionally Jewish settlement here is first mentioned at the end of the 17th Century in the kehillah of Bobruisk (named for the beaver, bobyor in Russian) and was first included in the jurisdiction of the township of Smilovichi. 395 poll tax payers are recorded in Bobruisk in 1766. The community increased appreciably after Bobruisk's accession to Russia. During the 1812 French invasion, Napoleon set up camp on the west bank of the Berezina, just over 40 km south of Bobruisk.

From the 1790's through 1880, there was political calm, particularly under the somewhat benign rule of Tsar Alexander II, in the "Pale of Settlement" zone, the Polish-Russian border area where Russian-Polish Jews were forced to live by virtue of edicts proclaimed in 1792 and subsequently in 1835. On March 1, 1881, terrorists assassinated Tsar Alexander II, and the sun which had risen on Jewish life in the 1850's suddenly set.

The last decade of the 19th century and continuing on into the early 20th century was characterized by economic stagnation, Tsarist oppression, periods of political instability and religious persecution. The assassination set off waves of pogroms. Around the turn of the century, the Russian Imperialist government periodically allowed groups of Cossack police to roam freely through the Byelorussian Jewish areas, randomly shooting and beating people, burning and destroying homes and businesses. Between 1881 and 1883, there were 224 pogroms in the Pale. The Jews of Bobruisk city, however, formed armed self-defence units called boyuvkes which deterred the pogorm-mongers from attempting any assault on the city. The Bobruisk Yiskor Book states that , in fact, hardly any pogroms occurred in the entire Minsk Gubernia during this period.

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