Wolpa , Volpe , Wolpe , Wolp , Woupa -- today's name
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Relatively little has been written specifically about the history of Volpa. For this use, the history of the area has been researched using the nearest city, Grodno as the point of reference. When available, details specific to Volpa are included.
Throughout its history, Grodno and its environs have variously been a part of Lithuania, Poland, Russia, and since 1990, it has been part of the Republic of Belarus.
By the 9th century, the inhabitants of the region were Slavic, The former inhabitants of the Baltic tribes were defeated by the Slavic tribes and the area around Grodno was dominated by the Kryvicy, The Kryvicy settled in northern and north central Belarus.
For the history of Grodno, beginning in the 13th century, we refer the reader to the detailed "History of Grodno," by Ellen Sadove Renck at http://www.jewishgen.org/belarus/info_history_of_grodno.htm
In the 16th century Prince Holshinsky built a church in Volpa. He encouraged Jews to settle in the village in order to leverage commerce and handcrafting. In 1656 the Swedish invaded the village and it was put on fire: most of the Jew's houses were destroyed, except for the famous Wooden Synagogue.
In 1781 thr Polish Siem declared the Wooden Synagogue of Volpa as an Artistic Monument. By end of the 18th century Volpa was annexed to the Russian Empire, which let the Jews be self governing.
During the 19th century the main railroad line was not situated near Volpa and thus, the village remained small, undeveloped, and agriculture-based. Most of the Jews in Volpa lived from agriculture crops (vegetables, fruits and tobacco), on land they leased from non-Jews. The livlihood of others was based on commerce and handcrafting. In 1887, the population of Grodno uzed was 130,742. Of these less than 2% or 2,027 people lived in Volpa. About 50% of them Jews. Most of the 25 shops belonged to Jews. They ran an elementary school (Cheder and Talmud Tora) and two high schools (Bet Midrash).
The "Rabbi from Volpa" is famous in the Chasidic tradition as one of the students of the Rabbi of Mezeritch.
During WW1 Volpa was occupied by the German, and there was lack of food. After the war the Polish government settled retired soldier in the town. Due to discrimination and unrealistic high taxes imposed on Jews, their economical situation deteriorated drastically. The Jews lived now mainly from agriculture and commerce. Those who had made their livelihood by growing and processing tobacco had to look for other jobs since the government announced that it was making tobacco and its processing, a state-owned monopoly. As a result more Jews left to the US and South America.
Most of the Jews in Volpa in the 1930's were observant of Jewish religious laws, and were led by Rabbi Mordechai Segal Though the Hebrew school "Tora Vaavoda" was not financed by the government, most of the Jewish children studied there. After the Hebrew sch, some went to Polish public school, and some went to the Hebrew gymnasium (high school) in the nearby cities of Grodno and Bialystok.
The Zionists movement started to florish - Hachalutz, Hashomer Hatsair and Beitar - who also prepared the young for Kibbutz life ("Hachshara"), and some of them arrived to Israel.
On September 17, 1939 the Russian invaded the city. Everyday life for the Jews continued with only reasonable modifications. This changed however, when on June 25, 1941 the German began their by bombing Volpa. Most of the homes of the Jews, as well as the famous wooden synagogue went up in flames.
By the beginning of July. the German army marched in and enforced new rules which made the Jews' lives worthless. Most of the local population behaved accordingly. The Jews were ordered to build shelters instead of restoring their burned houses. Fishel Robinson was selected as Yudenrat (head of Jewish community).
On Nnovember 2, 1942 all Jews were ordered to stand in the town center with their belongings. They gathered to discuss their options, and decided to show up since they estimated that the alternative would be worse. Two young people decided to run away. The German said that they would shoot 15 Jews for any missing person, but the Yudenrat succeeded in reversing the order. When everyone was gathered, the SS soldiers ordered them to leave all their belongings, the whole Jewish community was marched to Wolkowysk, a nearby city, where an additional 2,000 Jews from the area were also gathered.
Sixty-six old and sick people, who could not join the assembly in the center of town were picked up and tortured, especially their leader, Rabbi Segal. Then, they were all marched to the Jewish cemetery, murdered on the spot, and buried in a mass grave.
By December 1942 only 5,000 Jews were left in Wolkowysk. Most of them were transported to Treblinka and murdered in gas chambers. About 900 people who lived in Volpa were murdered. Only one person, Mr. Itzhak Vodovoz, survived as he escaped from the wagon transporting bodies to the cemetery. Others who tried to escape were unfortunately caught by local peasants, who turned them over to the Germans. These unfortunates were murdered after being tortured.
Itzhak Vodovoz succeeded in taking reprisals against some of the peasants who had turned on the Jews. Later, he joined Soviet Partisans in the Kalbaniza woods, then the Red Army where he fought in Stalingrad and got several medals. In 1948 he made Aliya to Israel and lived in Petach Tikva.
Today, Volpa is not much larger than before WW2, but Jews does not live there any more.
For more information on the history of the shtetl and region:
The first Jews emigrated to Poland in the 12th century. During the 16th and 17th centuries, ("the Golden Century"), the Jews developed their synagogue building tradition. Those were characterized with multi-layer high roofs, multi-beamed domes, galleries, wooden balconies and arches - and a prayer-hall (Bima) built in the middle of the synagogue. The ornaments included paintings of animals, interwoven with stylized painting of passages in ornamented Hebrew script.
The story says that a Polish Prince was traveling with his son, and while passing through Volpe - his son became very ill. The Jews of Volpe cared very much for his son and prayed for his health. And when he was back to health, the Prince was so appreciative that he gave the Congregation enough money to built this beautiful synagogue.
Those synagogues were impressive buildings which rose above the houses of the village. Their roofs has two to four slopes standing one on top of the other, creating an interesting architecture effect, one that historian called "the style of wooden synagogue of Eastern Europe". Those wooden synagogues were also the highest achievement of baroque architecture, even in European dimensions.
Forests flourished in Poland and wood was readily available, thus it was only natural to use wood as a building material. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century in the areas that is now in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania, there were more than 180 valuable and historically important wooden synagogues. Due to fires and the devastation of war, the oldest known synagogue is from the 17th century. During the massacres of the 17th century by the Cossack hordes of Chmilinski, hundreds of synagogues were destroyed. They were rebuilt by the Jews, and before WW2 some 100 were still standing including the synagogue in Volpa. Unfortunately, not even one of them survived the destruction of WW2. The Nazis and their accomplices destroyed them all. All the information we have today is based on remaining photographs and pictures.
The synagogues fulfilled both a religious and social role in the lives of the Jewish communities. They were places for prayer, for discussion of matters affecting the community, judging the guilty, teaching and for study of the Torah. The building faced east and the other buildings of the Jewish community surrounded the synagogue. Only the east wall, in accordance with the directives of the Talmud, remained free of outbuildings.
The Volpa Synagogue was built in 1643 (the roof was renovated in 1798). The Germans burned it in November 1942. Its dimensions were 20x24m, by 24m in height. It It was considered one of the most significant synagogues in Poland. Four supporting pillars surrounded the beautiful carved raised Bima in the middle. The carved Ark of the Law (Aron Kodesh) was also a lovely work of art. The woman sections were on both sides of the synagogue. It was in daily use only during summer time, since there was no stove in it. In the winter it was open only on Saturdays, and only few people came, and they used to tell the Rabbi "make it fast - it's cold!…"
On September 17, 1939 the Russian invaded the town. The daily life of the Jews continued with reasonable changes.
On June 25, 1941 the German attack started with the bombing of the town: most of the houses of the Jews, as well as the famous Wooden Synagogue went up in flames. A week later the German army marched in.
The Jews were ordered to build shelters to replace the burned houses. On November 2, 1942 all Jews were ordered to stand in the town center. Sixty-six old and sick people, who could not join the stand up in the town center, where picked up and tortured, especially their leader Rabbi Segal. Then, the SS soldiers ordered everybody march to Wolkowysk, a nearby city, where other 2,000 Jews from the area were also gathered. Then, they were all marched to the Jewish cemetery, murdered on the spot, and buried in a mass grave. On December 1942 only 5,000 Jews were left in Wolkowysk. Most of them were transported to Treblinka and murdered in gas chambers. About 900 people who lived in Volpa were murdered. Only one person from Volpa is known to have survived the camps. Mr. Itzhak Vodovoz, survived, in part, because he escaped from Treblinka. Mr. Vodovoz' testimony can be found in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem (file# 03/3432). Others who escaped were unfortunately caught by local peasants, given to the German.
Another source of information came from Menachem Goldin. He served in the Polish Army, and was a POW when the Russian invaded Poland. He escaped prison and arrived to Israel in 1940. Here he met Miriam Ludsin, who arrived to Israel a few years before. In 1945, as they realized that nobody survived from Volpa, they wrote down a list of all family houses in the village, as they remembered it. This list may be the only existing list of Volpa Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. It is probably not complete - they may have forgotten some, or people may have moved before the murders started - but it's a good baseline and unfortunately the only one.
There are Testimony Pages in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem: those pages represents people who lived in Volpa during the war, as filled up by their relatives. Those family names which has a Testimony Page in Yad Vashem are marked in this list (above), to inform you that such a testimony page exist in Yad Vashem.
As far as we know for sure today (April 2002), only one Jewish person who lived in Volpa after the German invasion survived the Holocaust. This man, Mr. Itzhak Vodovoz, was succided to escape the Treblinka camp, then he joined the partisans, later on he joined the Russian army, and after the war he settled in Israel. He gave his testimony to Yad Vashem (file# 03/3432). He arrived to Israel in 1950 . He married Leah and lived in Petach Tikva, where he died in 1973.
Other survivals are those who has left Volpa just before the war:
1. Mr. Menachem Goldin served in the Pol Army, and a POW when the Russian invaded Poland. He escaped prison and crossed the border to Turkey. He later jumped from a ship near the Tel Aviv seashore and swam to the shore, where he was caught and jailed by the . He arrived to Israel in 1940. He married Zipora Eagle and gave birth to Haya (Ariav) and Simcha. He lived in Haifa, Israel until his death in 1982.
2. Mrs. Miriam Ludsin immigrated to Israel in 1935. She now lives in Florida.
3. Mrs. Nehama Kaplan immigrated to Israel in 1935. She now lives in Haifa, Israel.
4. Mr. Yoshua Hezov immigrated to Israel before the war. He lived in Haifa, .
5. Mrs. Shoshana Knopf (Labzovsky) (1908-1980) immigrated to Israel 1929. She married Josef Labzovsky and lived in Petach Tikva, Israel. They gave birth to three children: Shmuel, Amiram and Miriam.
6. Mrs. Rivka Blumberg (Labzovsky) (1909-1979) immigrated to Israel 1932. She graduated the Tarbut gymnasy, Grodno. She married Moshe Labzovsky (Warsaw) and lived in Petach Tikva, Israel. Rivka and Moshe gave birth to three children: Shaike (Yeshayahu) Daliot Blumberg (s_daliot@ netvision.net.il), Haya Mintz and Rachel Boyim.
7. Mrs. Pesiya Koren (Labzovsky) (1912-1986) immigrated to Israel 1937 with her husband Gershon Kovalsky and son Arik. They lived in Kibutz Ashdot Yaakov, Israel. They gave birth to four children: Arik, Yochai (fall in the line of duty), Dan and Ester. Arik (1931) is an artist who lives in Kfar Saba, Israel. He has contributed his drawings of Volpa to this site.
8. Mr. Eliezer Shavit immigrated to Israel before the war. He lived in Kfar Saba, Israel.
9. Mrs. Vita Weinstein (Berlin) immigrated to Israel before the war. She lived in Jerusalem, Israel.
10. Mr. Shraga Kaplan immigrated to Israel before the war. He lived in Petach Tikva, Israel.
11. Mr. Berlin (Shohet Ubodek) immigrated to Israel in the 1920's. He lived in Kfar Hasidim, Israel. His son Shimon Ariel lived in Kfar Ata, and his son Efraim Ariel lived in Kfar Saba.
12. Aaron ???, survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Israel in 1946. People accused him of collaborating, and he left for the US.
Yad Vashem has built The Valley of the Communities as a memorial to the destroyed communities during WWII. See pictures below.
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When they left Volpa, the Jews scattered all over the world, but of those that left prior to WWI, many went to New York City. This section explores some of the remnants of that early community.
At www.ellisisland.org you can find and order a copy of the authentic document listing the arrival of one of her ancestors to America.