The People of Stavisht

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life reports the Jewish population of Stavisht ranged from 699 in the year 1765 to approximately 3,917 in 1897 representing a little less than half (48%) of the total population. Most Jews were Hasids and the shtetl was proud to open a Talmud Torah and private boys' school which combined religious and general studies. At the start of World War II in 1939, under Soviet rule, the Jewish population had shrunk to only 319.1 The Stavisht Yizkor Book and the family memories posted on this site bring many of the shtetl's residents to life. Work your way through links to both written and oral family stories and the chapters of the Yizkor Book to read about Rabbi Yitzhak Avraham Gaisinsky, the cantor who coughed whenever he sang, and the memories of Yosl Golub who outlines the families, shops and synagogues of Stavisht circa 1919-1920.

Be sure to view the photos of our beloved Stavishters on the Photo Gallery page. While you scan the images of the Lechtzer family, take the time to listen as Rose Lessure Mayers tells about her family's emigration from Stavisht on an Ellis Island Oral History Project interview recorded in 1993, or read her essay on the Reads page.

Most importantly, don't forget to look for your family names in the Stavisht Resident Database. The database, created and submitted by Karen I. Sanders, is in Excel/PDF format and includes close to 2500 names. Each name comes along with a source code explaining where Karen found the information. Also check some additional names of inhabitants of Stavisht (and Zhashkov) in 1913 by trade. These names have not yet been entered into Karen's database.

As you explore the narratives and photos of the people of Stavisht, please remember that this site has been put together with the personal collections and research of only a few individuals. Your contributions to this site, whether it be family stories, recipes, documents or photographs, will help continue to grow the site and keep it interesting and vibrant to descendants of our Stavisht families. If you have an item you are willing to share, corrections or other names to include in the database, please contact the web master.

Introduction to the Resident Database

by Karen Isabel Sanders

Several years ago, I was looking for the immigration records for my great aunts, Feige and Sheve Lewit. They were from the shtetl of Stavisht. I knew that they had arrived around the same time as my grandmother in 1921. My grandparents had traveled separately. Their surnames were reported very differently, so I knew to look for variations of their names. I decided that perhaps my great aunts came under very different names. I started searching solely for people from the village of Stavisht.

I routinely kept records of names and details about everyone I found from that village. I searched ship manifests from all ports; draft registration cards; Yad Vashem; naturalization papers; the JewishGen web site; and, all Internet sources that I could find. Soon, my list contained over 1,000 names. I recorded occupations, dates of birth, and names of other relatives, etc. I felt as if I was resurrecting the little shtetl of Stavisht. It felt good. My search for former Stavisht residents became an obsession that was almost as compulsive as my genealogy hobby. I felt that the Jewish population of Stavisht, which no longer existed, should be remembered for the vibrant community that it once was.

My next step in finding my aunts was to post an inquiry on the JewishGen discussion lists to see if I could get help with locating them, and of finding out more about Stavisht. I got an overwhelming response. I was directed to the ship manifests for my aunts by the wonderful members of JewishGen. I still felt driven to find the rest of the residents of Stavisht. I found out that the Yizkor book had been translated, but not yet published on the web. I received emails from other Stavisht descendants, and started up new friendships with these "cousins".

I received a copy of the Yizkor Book, translated by Ida Selavan Schwarcz, and read it. Now I knew why my relatives never spoke about their hometown. The Yizkor Book contained stories of the horrors of the pogroms and of the loss of loved ones. However, there were also richly detailed stories and memories of everyday life, funny characters, and wonderful landscapes. I felt that the rest of my landsleit should be able to read these stories. I typed up the book's essays into Word (it had been done on a typewriter) and Vivian Linderman and I contacted Ida to see if she would review and re-edit the book for publication on JewishGen. After much work, it was accomplished. An added bonus to reading the book was the addition of several hundred more names for my database.

There are still people unaccounted for based on estimates in various sources. I know I am missing information on many that did not emigrate to the United States. However, I can feel my grandparents, great grandparents, great aunts and uncles and cousins all smiling down on me for the work I have done so far.

Notes on the Database

Access the Stavisht Resident Database

Database References


1Spector, S. (Ed.). (2001). Encyclopedia of Jewish life before and during the Holocaust: Vol. 3. New York: New York University Press.