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A Brief History of Jews in Krivichi

From 1795 until World War I, Krivichi was part of the Russian empire. During the interwar period it was part of Poland, and known as Krzywicze. After World War II, it was part of the Soviet Union, and again known as Krivichi. Since 1991 it has been part of Belarus, and known as Kryvichy.


Jews came to settle in Krivichi in 1691, when the region was part of the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania. After the Partition of Poland at the end of the 18th century, the region came under the rule of the czarist Russian empire, at which point the Jews were subjected to a number of restrictions and persecutions. Jews who lived in nearby villages were forced to abandon their lands and move to Krivichi.

As time went on, the town and the Jewish community developed. By the middle of the 19th century there were close to 700 Jews living in Krivichi. Community institutions included a beit midrash, a Talmud Torah school as well as a number of cheders, a mikvah, a public bath, and chevra kaddisha. Charity institutions included a loan fund and a mutual aid society.

Most of the local Jews worked as small traders. The weekly market day took place on Wednesdays, and villagers from the surrounding area would come to Krivichi to trade and to shop. Additionally, trade with Vilna and bigger towns helped to improve the local economy. Other Jews worked as shopkeepers and artisans, and there were a few workshops for combing and dying wool.

After World War I, the region became part of Poland and economic conditions further improved. The town became a center for markets and fairs, and also had a local council, a police force, and a court of justice. Jews who had left the town during the war returned, homes were renovated, and a new beit midrash was built. A Hebrew-language school, which would later join the Tarbut network, opened in Krivichi in 1923. Nevertheless, there were still a significant number of poor people within the community, and some emigrated abroad during the interwar period.

Zionism became popular during the 1920s and 1930s. The middle of the decade saw the establishment of local branches of the Zionist Hehalutz movement, the General Zionist Party, Hanoar Hatzioni, and Hashomer Hatzair. A number of youth were trained locally in preparation for emigration to Palestine.

During the 1930s, about 300 Jews were living in Krivichi.

World War II

On September 17, 1939, sixteen days after Germany ignited World War II with its invasion of Poland from the west, the Soviet Union annexed eastern Poland, including Krivichi. Many Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Poland fled to eastern Poland, and the number of Jews living in Krivichi increased to 800.

Under Soviet rule all private enterprise was forbidden. The authorities closed down community and religious institutions. The beit midrash was converted into a warehouse, and the school was turned into offices. The local men were conscripted for various menial tasks. Many people were arrested and deported to Siberia or Kazakhstan, including war refugees, members of the professions, community leaders, civil servants, soldiers in the Polish army, and the families of all of the above. Among the Jews who were deported, those who managed to survive the harsh conditions in the east were spared the threat of extermination soon to be faced by the Jews who stayed home:

Yosef, his sister Malka, and his mother Sonia were sent to Siberia [in 1940] because Yosef's father, as a Polish officer, was considered an enemy of Russia. The entire shtetl of Krivichi went to the train station to see the family off. Yosef remembers that someone said to them, “Don’t cry. The day may come when we wish we were with you.” How true that turned out to be! Yosef, his mother Sonia, and his sister Malka were among the few Jews from Krivichi who survived the war. —Talks with Survivors from Krivichi

On June 22, 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union and its occupied territories. The Nazis occupied Krivichi on July 1, 1941, and restrictions were immediately imposed on the approximately 450 Jews who were still living there. On April 28, 1942, the Germans, aided by local collaborators, killed about 250 Jewish residents of Krivichi by shooting and burning. Some surviving Jews were sent to a German forced labor camp. The remaining Jews (about 80) were confined to a small ghetto, which was liquidated in September 1942. (See The Holocaust in Krivichi.)

A small number of Jews managed to escape. They fled to the woods, and some joined the partisans. Krivichi was liberated by the Red Army on July 4, 1944.


A number of survivors returned to Krivichi after the war. From the fields and woods surrounding the town, they gathered the victims' bones for burial. In 1996, former Krivichi Jews living in Israel traveled to Krivichi and erected a memorial stone on the mass grave.

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