An outline of Jewish history and of the town of Slutsk in the Minsk gubernia from 1583 to 1944


Compiled by Harry D. Boonin

Year  
862  Russian State established according to the Russian Chronicle. 
1096  First Crusade; Jews migrated eastward.
1116  First reference in the Chronicle to Slutsk. No Jews lived here at this time. Crusades in this year and in 1147 and 1196 caused a steady flow of Jews from the Rhine and Danube into Poland.
1495  Jews expelled from Lithuania (readmitted in 1503).
1569  Union of Lublin. Poland and Lithuania were merged into one state.
1583  First mention of Jews in Slutsk. The following information comes from a toll book located in Brest, in which different goods brought through there are identified: "February 23, 1583, Ilya Lipchitz and Merkel Novakhovich, from Slutsk to Lublin, goods: simple local goat skins, ermine, fox, otter, badger, Russian leather, wild goat, wolf skins, elk, sable, marten. Goods with duty already paid in Orsha, in Cherchesk, in Mstislav and in Bobobruisk. A part of the goods to Lublin, and the rest to the Gneznenskii Fair April 15th." At this time, Slutsk was owned by Sophie Olelkovich, who married Prince Janusz Radzivi1l on Oct. 1, 1600 in Brest. Through Sophie and this marriage the Radzivills acquired this land and held it until the 19th century. Slutsk was a Magnate town.
1623  Kahals of Lithuania withdrew from the Polish "Council of Four Lands" and established the "Lithuanian Vaad." This Vaad then consisted of Brest, Grodno and Pinsk; Vilna was added in 1652 and Slutsk in 1691,
1648  This year and the next several years are known in Eastern European history as the "Deluge." The Cossaks, under the leadership of Bogdan Khmelnitzki, murdered in excess of 100,000, Jews. 
1649  By the treaty of Borov, Jews forbidden to live in parts of southern Russia (i.e., Cherngov and Poltava).
1650  Civil war broke out. By treaty of 1651 Jewish resident rights in this area restored.
1651 Khmelnitzki entered into negotiations with the Russian Czar, Alexis Michaelovich, to join the Russian army.
1654  For the first time in hundreds of years the Russian Government tried to retake the lands west of the Dnieper. In the ensuing war with Poland, which continued on and off until 1667, Russia did fairly well. In 1654-56 Russian troops took Smolensk, Vilna, Kovno and Grodno. Although the Russians were unable to capture the fortress of Slutsk, the Jews, fearful for their lives, fled to Vilna in the summer of 1655. For a detailed map of the town of Slutsk and explanations, see Avotaynu, The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Summer 1997, pp. 34-39.
1667  End of Russo-Polish war; Treaty of Andusovo
1679  Chevra Kadisha of Slutsk begun. It includes entries in a pinkas (record book) of those who were buried in Slutsk. Pinkas still exists. Includes entries for over 20,000 Jews buried in the cemetery in Slutsk. The Historical Society of Slutsk is currently translating these entries. Entries were made in this record book from 1679 to 1924. The book was confiscated by the Nazis after their occupation of Slutsk on June 26, 1941, and the book was taken to Offenbach in Germany (well known Nazi hiding place for stolen Jewish articles and treasures). It was obtained by the Jewish National and University Library after World War II. For further information on the pinkas, see Avotaynu, The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Summer 1997, pp. 28-33.
1681  There were 193 Jewish homes and 922 Christian homes in Slutsk. The militia that year numbered 1,095 men. 
1683  Inwentarz. Census of Slutsk. Census still exists. The Historical Society of Slutsk has five microfilm reels of old Slutsk censuses. The census is in Polish. 
1689  According to the military census of 1689, the Jewish population was already incorporated into the town regiments and hundreds. For a detailed explanation of how these regiments and hundreds were comprised then, see The Militias of Magnates; Towns of Belorussia and Lithuania in the 16th - 18th Centuries, by Anatol Hryckiewicz (Minsk, Belarus), translated from the Polish for the Historical Society of Slutsk by Sigmund S. Birkenmayer and Eugenia J. Okoniewska. Available on the Slutsk Belarus SIG web site.
1691  Slutsk admitted into the Lithuanian Vaad
1704  Wonderful description of Slutsk in the Lubavitcher rabbi's MEMOIRS, vol. II, pp. 143?133.
1712  Census of Slutsk (in Polish)
1717  Jewish Communal council of Slutsk paid 4,700 polish zlotys of head tax (vol. Leg. Vi, 355).
1728  There were 228 Jewish homes in Slutsk (19.5% of all the homes then in Slutsk). Russian census taken that year still exists
1764  Last meeting of the Lithuanian Vaad met in Slutsk.
1765  Census of Slutsk taken. It is 225 pages and includes both Jews and non-Jews. The census takers started from the market square and then apparently went in ever widening circles to the outskirts of town. A copy of this census is owned by the Historical Society of Slutsk. It is on microfilm and it the HSS has printed it on paper. It is in Polish. An interesting note to the census states that at the time it was verified on May 1, 1765, such verification was done in the presence of the general Administrator, the "judge of the Slutsk synagogue," the Governor, honorable gentlemen (named, all Polish), the standard bearer of the Slutsk garrison, a superintendent of the Ureche Persian rug factory, the garrison adjutant, the Slutsk Chief constable, nobles holding keys to strong-rooms built of masonry, the deputy game warden, the guards of the forests surrounding Slutsk who also hold keys to the riding stable and to the menagerie in Zhupany, a bridge keeper, and many others. 
1772  First partition (or the unification) of Poland. Slutsk still a part of the old Polish Republic.
1793  Second partition of Poland. As the Russians say, Slutsk was "reunited" with Mother Russia at this time (the Poles say that Poland was "partitioned.")
1800  There were four synagogues in Slutsk. According to the tax assessment book for this year, there were three Christian merchants and 47 Jewish merchants in 1800. In the same year there were 641 Christian petty bourgeois (meshchanin) and 1,537 Jewish petty bourgeois.
1815  Inn in Rachevichi, about 12 miles west of Slutsk. Many of our ancestors owned inns in rural Russia. This is a description of one such inn from the year 1815: "The Inn: is not far from the village of Rachkevichi, on the Slutsk highway from Belevichi and Borki. Built of round pine logs 50 years ago, with a thatched roof, it is 46 ells long and 12 ells wide supported by beams and cross beams. Inside there is one barn with 2 single gates made of lathing; there is one room and one storeroom, each one with a swinging door made of single hewn boards. There are eight windows made of thin white opaque glass - partly broken; there are three stoves made of ordinary gray titles and one stove plastered, rising above the ceiling. The ceiling is of hewn boards, and the floor is made of clay. There is an old grain crib, built of round logs 20 years old with a thatched roof 6 ells long and 6 ells wide, locked with iron bolts."
1818  Census of Slutsk; it is 103 pages and in Polish; still exists and is found today in Warsaw. A copy of this census is owned by the Historical Society of Slutsk. It is on microfilm. We have not yet learned why a Polish census would be taken 25 years after the town became part of the Russian empire and while the 6th Russian Revision was being taken 
1845  Town of Slutsk purchased by the Russian government from Prince Louis Sayn-Wittenstein.
1847  According to the inspection (census) of 1847, there were 5,897 Jews in the town of Slutsk.
1866  That year there were 928 inhabited places in the Slutsk District. These were: (1) the District town of Slutsk; (2) the supernumerary town of Nesvizh; (3) eleven small towns, i.e., Bobovnia, Timkovichi, Kletz, Kopyl, Lakhovichi, Nedveditsa, Romanov, Semezhevo, Siniavka, Starobin, and Vyzhna; (4) forty-three large villages; (5) five settlements; (6) four hundred and three small villages; (7) and four hundred and sixty four granges, yoemen's settlements and other smaller estates. The words town, small town, and village had very specific meaning in 19th century Russian law (these differences have been ignored in English for the purposes of this chronology).
19th Century.  Beginning about the time the town was purchased in 1845, and earlier, Jews started to migrate into the town of Slutsk from the small surrounding farming settlements and granges. This was done for several reasons. Once the railroads were built from Moscow to Warsaw, no longer did stage coaches provide the primary means of transportation, and the stage coach routes, up to that time, criss-crossed the countryside. Till the middle of the 19th century, our ancestors earned a good livelihood as managers of the inns along these routes. The inns were placed on highways in and out of Slutsk and many of them were run by local Jews. The coming of the railroads destroyed this old way of life. No longer did rich Jews trading in Warsaw and Lublin have to go on the roads leading into and out of Slutsk. They just by-passed the town. Inns were also located strategically along these road: for example, on the highway out of Slutsk going west there were stage coach stops in the small towns and townlets of (going from east to west): Sinnitza, Matskevich, Lyubenitz, and Siniavka. The second reason Jews started to move to the town of Slutsk was the industrial revolution, which brought many poor farmers, mostly Jews, into Slutsk. And lastly, there were the May law of 1882 (the Temporary Rules) that forced many Jews to abandon their long-time hovels in the countryside and head for the town of Slutsk. And the population of Slutsk grew quickly. Were we able to trace our ancestors back far enough, I am sure that many of us would find we have agrarian roots. One surprise, among many we have encountered in the pinkas, is how many small towns are referenced. Many Jews buried in the cemetery in Slutsk were not from Slutsk, but from the surrounding town. Many of them may have been brought to Slutsk after their death. In many cases the deceased was brought to Slutsk within one day of his or her death. In the pinkas of the Chevra Kadisha of Slutsk, there are references to over two hundred inhabited places surrounding Slutsk, but how many of the 928 populated places inside the Slutsk District were within a day's horse ride from the town of Slutsk is unknown. We are trying to place many of these. Some must have been so small to be more of a farmstead, or, as stated above, a yoemen's settlement or a grange. Some, possibly, had one street, i.e., Bokshitzi had one main street and less than 100 Jews. It was three miles north of Slutsk.
1897 The 1897 census for Slutsk indicated that there were 14, 349 inhabitants of Slutsk, of whom 10,264 were Jewish. It is not known if this census survived. Other censuses from 1897 have recently been located. Perhaps more will be found.
1907  After the quick collapse of the first two Dumas (1906 and 1907), Jews were registered to vote for a 3rd Duma on July 23, 1907. These registration lists, which include the names of over 1,000 Jewish men from the town of Slutsk, exist and are available on the Belarus SIG web site. An explanation of this record for Slutsk may be found in Avotaynu, The International review of Jewish Genealogy, Vol. XVI, No. 2, Summer 2000, pp. 38-41.
1908  In August of 1908, an agricultural exhibit opened in Slutsk, and it included some of the most up-to-date farm equipment then available in Russia. A photograph of this exhibition is in the Slutsk Yiskor book. At this time there were twenty shuls or synagogues in Slutsk. These are listed in the Slutsk Yiskor book.
1914  World War I. Recruits had to march to Ureche (to the southeast) to board trains as there was no railroad serving Slutsk as late as 1914. Due to the First World War a general Mobilization took place in the summer of 1914. The city was rife with mobilization. In as much as the town of Slutsk still had no train in 1914, the soldiers went on foot to the next railroad station at Ureche. Every day when a group would leave - Christians and Jews - great crying and wailing took place. Men gave their wives conditional divorces, and since there were few Yiddish actors in Slutsk benefit performances were arranged. In the kalter shul a great concert was arranged with the artist Lensky. The war brought out great tension. Newspapers from Minsk, Moscow, and Petersburg were snatched up immediately. The printer Thomashov began to issue daily bulletins and great crowds gathered by the print shop to wait. (much more information included in the Slutsk Yiskor book, pages 285 and 286).
1915  Russians claim that Slutsk was electrified in 1915. Others claim that this was done by occupying Germans. This period of the history of the town is not understood.
1919  After the end of the war in 1917, the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed in Smolensk on January 1, 1919. It consisted of the provinces of Minsk, Smolensk, Vitebsk, Grodno and Mogilev. The Poles took advantage of the weakness of this new government and captured Slutsk. In the beginning of 1919, the White Poles invaded the territory of the new Belorussian republic. In March 1919, Slutsk, Bobruisk and Novogrudok guard companies were united into a Slutsk composite voluntary battalion and they set off for the western front. In April, the Slutsk party organization (they mobilized 130 members) was sent to the front, but on August 10, 1919, the Poles took the town. From May 1, 1919, a newspaper was issued in Slutsk called the Plow and the Hammer and many of the details of this time period may have been printed in this paper. Polish legions murdered and plundered the town. A military court on August 15, 1919, ordered E.V. Suchmil and Yuri Ferapontoff shot. The White Poles restored a capitalistic form of government. They countermanded legislative acts of the Soviet authorities and private property was reinstated; the land was returned to the landowners.
1920  According to entries in the pinkas of the Chevra Kadisha (no. 578, 580-582) several Jews were killed in February 1920. On April 24, 1920, a total of 14 Russian partisans were condemned to death by a military court and the sentence was carried out in the town cemetery the following day. Going to their execution, the partisans sang the Internationale. The policemen forced the condemned men to dig their own graves and the partisans died with these words: "We die, but the Red Army soon will banish you." When the July 1920 offensive of the Red Army began, Slutsk was retaken (on July 15, 1920, the 2nd Division of the Red Army entered Slutsk) Things remained calm until October 12, 1920. Entries from the pinkas of the Chevra Kadisha (Nos. 502 to 509) concern October 12, 1920. 
1924  Entries in the pinkas of the Chevra Kadisha cease. It was just about this time that the Soviets consolidated enough power to start their programs of extinguishing Jewish life as our ancestors knew it. In the different towns, this happened at different times. Perhaps, burials continued to be made in the cemetery in Slutsk right up to June 26, 1941, but entries were not made in Hebrew in the pinkas.
1930's Many American Jews, who had earned enough money to return to the land of their birth, traveled to Russia, and some to Slutsk. In the Boonin family we have unidentified photographs from this period. Samuel and Miriam (Boonin) Cantor returned to Slutsk to see their families. 
1941  The Nazis overran the town of Slutsk on the 4th day of the war, i.e., June 26, 1941. The destruction of the Jews of the town and the town itself was well documented at the Neurenburg trials. In fact, one document, 1104-PS, dated October 30, 1941, and introduced at the trials, see Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Vol. III, U.S. Government Printing Office Washington, D.C., 1946, pp. 785-789, is one of the most quoted documents from the Holocaust. It documents the destruction of the Jews of Slutsk.
1944  A newspaper article in the New York Herald, December 14, 1944, documents how a Jew traveling with the Red Army saw Slutsk as the Red Army pushed westward towards Berlin in the closing period of the war. The article was written by Maurice Hindus, a correspondent for the American press with the Red Army, had been born in Slutsk. The town was so utterly destroyed that he did not recognize the town of his youth (in fact, he went miles past the town before he realized that he had missed the town, so complete was the devastation). 

Copyright 2001 by Harry Boonin

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