Yurevichi, Belarus

Rechitsa Uyezd, Minsk Gubernia

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A Belorussian Border Shtetl In The 1920s And 1930s

Smilovitsky, Leonid. “A Belorussian Border Shtetl in the 1920s and 1930s: The Case of Turov.” Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe Summer, 1 (50) 2003: Pages 109-137.

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These notes relate to the border town of Turov, unless otherwise.


  • Jewish community in Turov starts in 16th century
  • Regime changes
    • WWI, Revolution, Civil War
    • Germans, Bolsheviks, Germans, Bolsheviks, Poles, Balak-Balakhvich
    • Accompanied by requisitions, pogroms, killings, rape, looting.
  • Restrictions on entry, nighttime curfews, customs inspections existed until the outbreak of WWII
    • atmosphere of suspicions
    • youth and children take part in identifying suspicius people
  • 1920s: Soviet legislation divides citizens into those with right to vote and those deprived right to vote (the lishentsy)
    • Lishentsy blocked from politics, government, banking (loans/credit), middle and higher educational.
    • High percentage of lishentsy (25%) are Jews because of their occupation: merchants, privately employed (including those who refused to join coops or engaged in private enterprise like leasing gardens, stables, bakeries, small scale butchers), entrepreneurs who had their own businesses (windmills, wood processing, owners of inns), and members of the clergy (rabbis and ritual slaughterers)
  • 1924-1926: administered by 3 soviets (Jewish, Jewish-Belorussian, Belorussian) in Yiddish, Belorussian and Russian.
  • 1927: Soviet becomes Jewish-Belorussian, with pressure to use Belorussian language
  • 1935: Soviet terror. Paranoid accusations result in Jews being imprisoned or exiled
  • April 20 1939, soviets liquidated
  • Sept 1, 1939: Soviet invasion of Poland. Country's border shifted 100s km west, easing border regulations.


  • 1897: trade and crafts
  • Until WWII, restrictions on imports and movement
    • hampered economic development
    • hampered importing of goods
  • NEP of 1921 improves economic situation
    • steam-powered mill
    • increase in stores and meat shops
    • semi-annual fairs with turnover of 10,000s roubles
    • crafts workshops with machinery for wool, tanning leather, hulling grain, producing wax, cheese making, other agricultural items
    • sawmill, brick factories, flour mill and fulling mill
  • 1925, cooperative associations account for 50% of consumption
    • offering lower prices by 25%-35% for manufactured goods and services
    • 5-10% lower prices for other goods
  • 1925: heavy taxation on retailers and craftsmen, leaving many “destitute”
    • authorities encourage Jews to join coops (artels)
    • craftsmen with family/friends create a coop in order to receive credit or discount on raw materials, but then divide benefits and continue to work independently
  • 1927: 112 jews working in Turov cooperatives: shoe-makers, tailers, sock makers, sheepskin, garden and smiths.
  • 1930s: forced collectivization

Home Economics

Jewish occupations were mostly in trade, crafts, merchants. Few were farmers, but most families raised domesticated animals for food and clothing. Called “supplementary economies”.

In 1926, Belorussian farmers refused to allow Jews to pasture their animals, demanding Jews pay 10-15 rubles per cow per summer. Jews' livestock sent to the woods across the Pripyat river to be fed.

Jewish Occupations

Jewish occupations in the 1920s

  • Craftsmen, the largest group.
    • Majority employed in season work. Some smiths hired employees. “Poor” earned 20-25 rubles/month (50% of this group); “Middle” earned 25-50 rubles/month (35% of group); “well-off” earned 100 rubles per month (15% of group)
    • shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, table makers, smiths, transportation (of goods or people) by wagon, leather shops, wool-worker shops, hatmaker, shoe top maker, harness maker, photographer, barber, tin smith, butter maker, forester
    • Main obstacle were: taxes, lack of working capital, shortage of raw materials
    • Worked all daylight hours
    • 1925 avg taxes for craftsman: 15.5 rubles per month, consisting of 8 rubles for the license and 7.5 rubles in income taxes
  • Merchants, most merchants were Jewish
    • Shopkeepers: retailers. 25% poor, 40% stable and 35% well off.
    • Peddlers: petty merchants who peddled their wares. 60% poor, 30% stable, 10% well off
    • Majority of merchants were poor, as evidenced by shop's inventory and taxes assessed. Merchants paid an avg 32 rubles semi-annually. Assessed taxes for merchants were lower than crafstmen.
    • Private merchants faced competition from the state and cooperatives. Competed on flexibility and quality. Provided customers with credit. Benefited from long-term relationships with customers.
    • Private business lost to cooperatives and state enterprises.
  • Workers and Employees
    • most socially privileged.
    • administrators, inter-branch trade union posts.
    • Monthly salary was 35 rubles. 8 hour workday.
    • Employees exempt from some taxes
  • No Defined Occupation
    • individuals who did not indicate offical employment, incomplete families with one breadwinner, families headed by an invalid or widow, impoverished.
    • Dependent on their children or relatives who sent aid from America.

Occupations in the 1930s

Occupations for Jews (throughout country) divided in 1930s into:

  • workers
  • employees
  • craftsmen
  • collective farmers


  • First Jews in 16th century
  • 1897: 2,52 Jews (52.3% of population).
  • Village was divided between Jewish and non-Jewish parts, until 1923
  • Number of jews drops steadily from 1897 to 1939; non-jewish population increases
    • Jews emigrating between 1928 and 1931
    • migration mainly to Leningrad and moscow; then to Kharkov, Kiev and other cities in Belorussia.
      • Moving rquired leaving property behind
      • jews most mobile group of population, able to adapt to new life
  • 1925: “destitute craftsmen” were significant segment of jewish population
    • unable to pay taxes
sources/articles/a_belorussian_border_shtetl_in_the_1920s_and_1930s.txt · Last modified: 2013/12/13 15:04 (external edit)