Welcome to Jewish Research in Lida Uezd in Vilna Guberniya

 Today in Belarus and Lithuania

     Grodno Guberniya 1801-1842, Vilna Guberniya 1842-1917, part of the Russian Empire prior to the World War I, and part of Poland (1920-1939)

Lida Uezd Homepage
Lida Uezd History
Lida Uezd Towns
Lida Uezd Maps
Searchable Databases
Lida Uezd during the Holocaust
JewishGen Home Page
KehilaLinks Home Page
Compiled and Copyright© 1999-2014 by
Ellen Sadove Renck

Webmaster: Irene Pupko Newhouse
Documentary Research: Judy Baston
Updated: October 2014


Composer Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz, born in New Jersey in 1918, was taken at age five to Rozanka at the insistence of his grandfather, Gershon Rabinowitz, who had wanted to see the grandchildren he had never met. Jerome's father immigrated to the States in the early 1900s without his parents. Jerome's mother, Lena, took him and his older sister Sonia to Rozanka. Quoted from The Life of Jerome Robbins, ISBN: 978-0-7679-0420-9 (0-7679-0420-6). "Although it is gone now, there was once a village called Rozanka, which stood in the vast, flat plain that stretches between Poland and Russia, the land that is now Lithuania and Belarus. In the old days these miles of pasture and cropland, punctuated by patches of forest and the onion domes of churches, belonged to the kings of Poland, but by 1888, when Herschel Rabinowitz was born, they had come under the rule of the czar of all the Russias.’

Almost equidistant from the bustling towns of Vilna and Bialystok, Rozanka was a rural backwater of less than a thousand residents, two-thirds of them Jews, who lived in wooden houses, some with only earthen floors, that were built around the central marketplace and along the village's four streets-Mill Street, Bridge Street, Szczuczyn Road, and Connected Street. There were butchers and bakers, blacksmiths and tailors, cobblers and carpenters; there were two flour mills near the river, an eighteenth-century stone church for the gentiles, and a wooden synagogue of somewhat later date for the Jews. In addition, because the synagogue had no furnace and could not be used in the winters, there were two bet midrashim, the houses of worship and study where the faithful gathered for prayers and earnest yeshiva students came to learn and read the holy books.

There was a mikvah, a ritual bath for women's monthly cleansing; a cheder, the one-room school where the little boys sat on wooden benches and learned their lessons over the squawking of the rebbe's wife's chickens; and a bustling market where farmers brought their produce and livestock, merchants sold pots and pans and crockery and cloth, and villagers came to poke and pinch and buy and sell and exchange news and gossip. And there were Sabbath evenings when candles were lit in all the houses and braided bread was laid on the tables and prayers were said over the meal. Rozanka was a place out of time-"an unforgettable place," as the writer Sholem Aleichem said of another shtetl in the Jewish Pale of Settlement, which he called Voronko-"small but beautiful and full of charm. With strong legs, you can traverse the entire village in half an hour. It has no railroad, no sea, no tumult. . . . Although it's a small village, the many fine stories and legends about it could fill a book."

In this village of Rozanka, Herschel, the third son of Nathan Mayer Rabinowitz, the baker, was born on September 11, 1888. He and his brothers, Julius, Samuel, and Theodore, attended the cheder while their sister, Ruth, stayed home to learn from their mother, Sara, how to keep the house; they made wooden swords for Tishah b'Av and dreidels for Hanukkah; they swam in the river and played in the fields. And when they grew older, they worried not about the Torah portions they had to learn to chant for their bar mitzvahs but about becoming one of the Jewish boys who were conscripted each year into the czar's army, where they were often mistreated or forced to convert to Christianity.

It was to avoid this fate that first Julius and Teddy, then Herschel, and finally Samuel fled to America, where other emigrants from Rozanka had found a new home. When Herschel came of age for conscription, his father, Nathan, fearing reprisals for draft evasion, bought a burial plot and bribed an official to issue a death certificate for his son. The family took off their shoes and covered their looking glasses and sat shiva for him and put an empty coffin in the earth; his mother, Sara, sewed money and a steamship ticket into the lining of his coat; and Herschel, who at sixteen had never seen anything beyond the horizon of Rozanka, set off alone for the goldeneh medina on the other side of an ocean he could only imagine. He traveled on foot at night to escape detection, staying clear of towns and checkpoints, of barriers and strangers, sleeping in barns or haystacks, and scavenging food where he could. He was lonely and afraid, but then he acquired a comrade, a handsome, strapping young Russian deserter who showed him how to cross the borders, stepping carefully to avoid the raked areas that would show the slightest footprint. One night the two of them dared to get their dinner in a tavern, and they were served by a pretty young village girl; the soldier flirted with her and she blushed and giggled at his attentions, and young Herschel watched the byplay with yearning. The next day the two young men went on, making their way across Poland to Germany and then on to Holland; and when Herschel came to the pier in Rotterdam and "realized that the wall rising up beside him was the side of a ship"-he told his own son many years afterwards-"he burst into tears. For he had never seen anything so enormous."

Herschel Rabinowitz debarked from the SS Statendam in New York on January 4, 1905. His welcome to the United States was the cacophonous inquisition of the Registry Room on Ellis Island, where immigration agents pinned a numbered tag to his coat bearing the page and line in the Statendam's manifest on which his name appeared, and barked a series of questions: Name? Age? Occupation? Marital status? Herschel Rabinowitz told them he was eighteen; he was a baker, he said, and unmarried. ...

Eventually all the Rabinowitz siblings found their way to New York from Rozanka, along with a number of other landsmen from the village-enough that there was an association of Rozanka dwellers who met regularly for feasts and dancing and sent money back to the village to help pay for a library or a new bet midrash.."

In his personal journal quoted in the Vail book, Robbins remembered his visit thus: "At night after dinner by kerosene lamps, songs were sung. I remember apples, embroidery, mud pies. It was all lovely, all lovely. I do not remember one unhappy moment."

If you have Lida uezd materials to share, please considering donating it. If you read Yiddish or Hebrew, please contact us.

Records are held both in Grodno and Vilna archives.For Lida records translation, your tax deductible contribution by credit card via the secure server at either group or by mail will grow our knowledge. For a $100 donation, you receive all these records translated two years ahead of their posting on JewishGen. Every penny collected is used for Lida uezd projects only. Records include censuses; family lists; marriages, births, death records; prenumeraten lists; and more. Please contact Judy Baston with any questions.For current translations, please see the ALD: All Lithuanian Database and Belarus SIG Database.
Lida District genealogical records translation is a joint effort of Lida District Researchers of Belarus SIG and Lida District Research Group (DRG) of LitvakSIG. Record translations cover all shtetls (towns) in the Lida Uyezd (district) of Vilnius Guberniya (region) of Lithuania including the town of Lida itself. This page is hosted at no cost to the public by JewishGen, Inc., a non-profit corporation. If useful or if you are moved by this effort to preserve the memory of our lost communities, your JewishGen-erosity will be appreciated.