The Jewish settlement in the Podlasie Region dates back to the 15th century, when small groups of people of the Mosaic religion appeared in Bielsk Podlaski. In 1522, the Head of the Province of Troki - Olbracht Gasztołd, arranged for nine Jewish families to move to Tykocin.
The village, which had been established in the first half of the 15th century, became property of the Branicki family in 1685. As confirmed by the chronicle of the board of Jewish community in Tykocin, Jews had been among the village’s inhabitants as early as 1658. What is certain is that 75 Jews from Białystok had paid the poll tax in 1661. In 1663, a note was made in the chronicle that there were 75 men and women (older than 14 years of age) of Mosaic faith, living in Białystok. Obviously, the Białystok Jews were initially subordinate to the community of Tykocin.
The Branickis chartered the city in 1691. They made a lot of effort to encourage Jews to settle down there by providing them with housing infrastructure, shops and by founding a synagogue. Already in 1692, there was a Białystok kehilla, subordinated to the Tykocin community. A separate community was formed in 1745 with a population of 765 persons. The community from Białystok quickly acquired the leader’s position among other Jewish communities of the Podlasie region. In that same year Jan Klemens Branicki proclaimed Jews to be subject to bylaw and other local laws on par with the townsman. At the end of the 18th century, there were approximately 1,800 Jewish inhabitants, who constituted around 45% of the city’s population.
At the beginning of the 18th century (or, as other sources have it – after 1749) the development of the center undertaken by the Branicki family and their efforts to give it a true urban character had a decisive influence on the development of the Jewish settlement in Białystok. As stated by historical sources, after the city was granted city rights, Białystok was also presented with numerous privileges and tax exemptions, moreover, the act de non tolerandis Iudaeis (forbading Jewish settlements and trade conducted by Jewish parties within the city’s borders) was not in force. Jews were settling in the vicinity of what is presently the southern frontage of the marketplace.
In 1700, the Białystok rector rented a plot of land to the Jews. It was the so-called pastewnik in the neighbourhood of Suraska Street and was rented for the construction of the synagogue known under the name of “Nomer Tamid Beit Midrash” (hebr. Eternal Candle Flame). The exact date of its construction remains unknown, it is supposed that it could have been constructed in 1711, 1715 or in 1718. In 1718, Ner Tamid, an association dedicated to looking after the synagogue, was founded. Around this small wooden building, within the borders of the so-called synagogue square (present Suraska Street), grew, in subsequent years, the Białystok Jewish district called Szulhof (Shulhof). Supposedly, the first Białystok Jewish cemetery had already been created at the end of the 17th century, or maybe even about 1658, in the vicinity of the Old Catholic cemetery. It is known that it had been located along the southern frontage of the marketplace and that it was closed before 1770, when the plot was bought by Miron Josiowicz, with the intention to construct a brewery.
The years when the Branicki family acted as the owners of Białystok are considered a period of prosperity and dynamic growth of the local Jewish community. In 1745, Jews were granted full citizenship rights and in the same year, under Jan Klemens II Branicki’s charter ten Jewish merchants were given the disposal of the greater part of shops located near the marketplace. In 1771, there were 46 stalls next to the city hall, only two of which belonged to a Christian, the German merchant Jan Bogusław Szulc. It is estimated that in 1895, there were already about 100 stalls in the marketplace area.
The Białystok community was quite active a participant in the city’s life. Even though the Białystok Jews neither had the right to hold seats on the city council, nor to hold public posts, the kehilla’s chairman participated in the municipal government elections. The Jewish community, just like Christians living in Białystok, was at the same time obliged to perform certain duties and carry out other obligations for the benefit of the city, including the organization of night patrols aimed at protecting citizens from theft and arsons. Among the duties of the Białystok kehilla was also the maintenance of some segments of the fence encircling the city. As it was the case with other centers, the Jews of Białystok dealt mainly in trade and craftmanship. There were five Jewish butchers and five Jewish bakers operating in the city and out of the 37 tailors only five were Christians. Among the 42 breweries located in the city, 39 belonged to Jews. There were also 11 Jewish winemakers and also several Jewish inns, the most popular of which was the Samuel Josiefowicz Głuszko inn “Under the Swan’s Sign” (Pod znakiem Łabędzia) in Choroska Street, and a second one – known as “Under the Deer’s Sign”.
During the partition period, Jews had to abide by numerous restrictions. The occupying countries pursued a repressive policy towards the Jews; it was aimed at undermining their hitherto economic position, and forcing them to assimilate with the rest of the society. After the Third Partition the Branicki family sold the city to the Prussians, who restricted the rights of the Jewish people. During the years of the Prussian partition (1795 – 1807), thanks to the contacts that were maintained with the German Jews, the ideas of the Haskalah movement began to spread throughout Białystok. The Białystok’s Maskils (Hebrew: Maskilim) were in possession of their own house of prayer and remained in a state of unrelenting conflict with the traditionally oriented local Jewish community. Among the most prominent personas of this movement, it is a must to mention such names as Eliezer Halberstam, who settled in Białystok in 1833, Abraham Szapiro, author of the Toledot Israel ve-Sifruto (1892), or Jehiel Michał Zabłudowski, the co-author of the Hebrew periodical Ha-Karmel and the author of the book Ru’ah Hayyim (1860), and also the poet Menahem Mendel Dolicki.
Appearing amid the propagators of this movement is also the Zamenhof family. The wish to set an agreement that would go beyond borders of ethical or religious nature inclined Ludwik Zamenhof to create a universal language – Esperanto. In the meantime more Hasidic followers were coming into or popping up in the city – among the movement’s leaders active in the city, one must mention Rabbi Chaim Herz Halpern. With the beginning of the 1880’s, the Zionist movement Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) made an appearance encouraging Jews to settle in Palestine. In the following years Białystok became an important center of the Zionist movement, at the forefront of which stood Białystok’s famous Rabbi – Samuel Mohilewer, as well as Josef Chasanowicz.
The community’s population grew rapidly, only to drop dramatically at the beginning of the 1930’s as a result of a cholera epidemic. At the beginning of the 19th century, there was one large synagogue open in the city, four or five batei midrash and about 10 small prayer houses. In 1834, another brick synagogue was constructed; it was called the Choir Synagogue (Synagoga Chóralna) or Zabłudowscy Synagogue. In 1890, in the Piaski district – "Piaskover Beth Midrash” (it was lit with electric light) was built. A publishing house and a Hebrew printing house, which operated until 1824, were founded in the city in 1890.
The city was located on the far western borders of the Russian Empire, which favored Białystok in terms of trade development and the opportunities for Białystok merchants to enter Russian markets. A year prior to the incorporation of Białystok into the Russian Empire, former Napoleon soldiers of Saxon descent set up the first textile workshop. The Tsar’s authorities designated a so-called Jewish settlement zone (that is an area covering the western districts of the Russian Empire, where Jews were given permission to live) which contributed to a mass settlement of the Jewish population originating from the eastern regions; they were the so-called litvaks, that is people expelled under tsar’s orders (ukazy) from the regions of Brześć and Vilnius, and also from the outskirt regions of Russia.
From the second decade of the 19th century onwards, Izaak Zabłudowski, Abram Grodzieński and Aron Erbstein earned fortunes on the mediation between Congress Poland and the Russian Empire. Jewish merchants from Białystok were also the ones to dominate the suppliers market for goods for the Russian army. In the second half of the 19th century, Białystok became one of the fastest-growing industry and trade centers in the western part of the Russian Empire. The main incentive for the development of the second and third sectors during that time was the introduction of restrictive custom duties on the border between the Congress Poland and the Russian Empire, within the framework of repressions after the November Uprising (1831). In such circumstances, many Jewish entrepreneurs, including textile manufacturers from Łódź and Zgierz, moved their factories to Białystok and nearby towns.
The economic growth was one of the factors behind an accelerated rise in the number of Jewish inhabitants. Jews comprised 80% of all entrepreneurs of Białystok. In 1857, the Jewish population of 9,547 accounted for 67% of the total population of the city. The city’s dynamic rate of growth was further accelerated in 1862, with the introduction of the Warsaw-Sankt Petersburg train line which was to pass right though Białystok – the city was dubbed Manchester of the North. A crucial role in the development of the Białystok textile industry was also played by the local Jewish entrepreneurs. In 1850, a textile factory was opened there, founded by Nahum Minc and Sender Bloch. Nahum Minc was also the first entrepreneur from Białystok to introduce steam engines into his factory, and later on – electric engine machines. As the textile industry continued to expand, Białystok Jews became richer, gradually taking over the market from German entrepreneurs. Jewish merchants traded with Russia, while the industrialists built factories, mainly textile ones. The tobacco industry was also soon taken over by Jews.
Thanks to these activities, throughout the 19th century, the Białystok community underwent dynamic development, both economic and demographic, which brought a significant growth in the Jewish community with respect to the total number of its population. In 1847, less than 7,000 Jewish citizens lived there, but only 50 years later that is in 1897, the Białystok Jewish population had 41,905 members and constituted 63% of the city’s total population.
In 1860, 19 out of 44 textile factories belonged to Jewish owners. In 1898, out of 372 industrial workshops operating in the city, 299 belonged to Jews, and almost 60% of the workers employed there were Jewish. Jewish owners also had small food processing plants as well as small wood processing plants, metal works and moderate size construction companies. The tobacco industry continued to remain almost exclusively under the control of Jewish entrepreneurs. Out of 3,628 Białystok merchants and shopkeepers, 3,186 (90%) were of Jewish origin.
In the first half of the 19th century, in particular between the years 1825 – 1835 and in 1845, the discriminating Russian legislation and the incoming wave of Jewish migrants arriving in the city from nearby shtetls and villages were the reason behind the rapid increase in the number of people with financial difficulties. At that time, numerous aid and charity associations and organizations were being founded in the city, including the Chevra Kadisha Burial Brotherhood Society, the Bikur Cholim and Linas Ha-Tzedek associations, as well as the Tzedaka Gedola association.
At the end of the 19th century, Białystok had two functioning synagogues, 16 batei ha-midrash, and several dozens of prayer houses. There were many active social institutions and organizations of various types, and numerous schools, including orthodox and reformed cheders, vocational schools and schools for girls. In 1840, a renowned Jewish hospital was opened there, founded by Elize Halbersztam. In 1855, the first Jewish-Russian school was opened there, run by Kasriel Kaplan, and in 1882 – a Jewish home for elderly. In 1899, a Voluntary Fire Brigade was organized in the city; 90% of its members were Jewish. In 1912, the first Jewish Hebrew nursery school was opened in Białystok. In 1914, it was transformed into an orphanage. In 1900, about 500 boys were studying in the Talmud Torah School organized by the community.
Between 1908 and 1913, an enormous splendid synagogue with a tall dome with a spire, later called the Great Synagogue, was constructed in place of the former beth midrash from the beginning of the 18th century. One year prior to the outbreak of World War I, the Jewish population of 61,500 persons constituted 70% of the total number of people living in the city, referred to at the time as the Jerusalem of the North[1.1].
From the very beginning of the existence of the Jewish community in Białystok, the city was an important religious center. Many well-known rabbis were active there, as well as Jewish scholars. It is assumed that, according to historical sources, the first rabbi of Białystok was rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Lichtenstein, brother of Abraham Jekutiel who wrote Zer'a Abraham (Dyhernfurth [Brzeg Dolny], 1811). The records from the second half of the 19th century mention rabbi Solomon from Białystok and his successor – rabbi Arie Lejb ben Baruch Bendet (1815–1820), the author of Shaagat Aryeh printed in Białystok in 1805. His successor was, most probably, rabbi Nehemia, though some historians are not one hundred percent certain. In 1824, Mojżesz Ze'eb became the Białystok rabbi; formerly the rabbi of Tykocin, he wrote Mareot ha-Zobeot and Aggudat Ezob, printed in Białystok in 1810 and in 1824 respectively. After his death, Eliakim Getzel became the head of the community, but he was not granted the title of the City’s Rabbi. He held his post until 1860 (or, according to other sources until 1849), when Yom-Tov Lipman Heilprin became the rabbi of Białystok. The latter was famous as an ardent opponent of smoking tobacco in synagogues. After Heilprin’s death in 1878, the post was given to his son Haim Herz, who held it for 5 years. In 1883 Samuel Mohilever from Radom, a future Zionist activist, became the rabbi of Białystok. After his death in 1898, Haim Herz Heilprin became once again the rabbi, and his successor - Meir Marcus, a graduate of the rabbis’ seminar in Vilnius, held this position for the following 30 years.
Founded in 1897, the Białystok Bund unit rapidly gained widespread support among the town’s blue collar workers to soon become the most influential political force within the Jewish community. In 1898, Białystok saw the first strike organized by Bund Jewish blue collar workers. Moreover, a secret unit of the communist party was also active in the city.
The activity of the Bund’s supporters during the years of the Russian revolution (1905 - 1906) caused serious repressions of Russian authorities targeted at the Jewish population and the city’s authorities. There were two pogroms initiated by the Tsar’s army in Białystok at that time. In the summer of 1905 two people died and a dozen were injured, as a result of a shooting in the Jewish district triggered by a group of tsar’s soldiers. A year later, between 1 and 3 June 1906 another massacre took place resulting in about 70 deaths among Jews and six among Christians, and at least 90 severely wounded; numerous lootings of Jewish properties were noted. Pogroms, which stemmed from mutual prejudices and national antagonisms, were carried out by Christian citizens with an active support of the local police and local governing elites. Although those tragic events initiated the emigration of Jews from Białystok to, for example, New York, it did not hinder the mass settlement of Jewish newcomers in the city. The community was comprised of rich owners of the factories and palaces, representatives of intelligentsia, workers and the poor alike. The Jewish population lived mainly in the city center, by the marketplace, as well as in the quater between Lipowa Street, the Biała River, along Mikołajewska Street (the present Sienkiewicza Street) and Suraska Street.
The oldest part of the Jewish district called Szulhof (Shulhof), with the majority of its inhabitants being orthodox, was concentrated around the main synagogue and it was located in the southern part of Suraska Street. The second center of religious life was located in the vicinity of Kupiecka (Malmeda) Street, Żydowska (Dr Ireny Białówny) Street and Giełdowa (Spółdzielcza) Street. Its center was a modern synagogue called Chorszul. In the 18th and the 19th centuries, the districts ”Chanajki” and “Piaski” (Streets: Młynowa, Grunwaldzka, Kijowska, Mławska, Cieszyńska, Angielska, Sosnowa and Rynek Sienny), were home to the poorest members of the Jewish population of Białystok. These districts were dominated by single storey wooden buildings, though some brick buildings did also appear, including a three-storey building at 23 Młynowa Street, where a Jewish nail factory had been located before the war.
The years of World War I, which took the life of about 6,000 Jews from Białystok, were a time of deepening economic crisis. The community fought the crisis by organizing aid for the most needy. The city’s aid and philanthropy societies arranged homes for children, sleeping places and eating-houses. The number of Jewish persons had fallen almost by half already during the years of World War I. There were 39,602 living there in 1921, that is 51% of the total population. The difficult economic situation caused by recession, rapid economic changes and general crises in the textile industry, contributed to another emigration wave of Jews from Białystok, which continued in the 1920s and 1930s. After a short period of relative prosperity (1926–1928), when Jewish textile producers and merchants from Białystok begun to expand onto far-east markets, Hungary and the Balkans, the 1930’s welcomed yet another period of stagnation. Some of the largest factories were demolished at that time, causing a 25% drop in production and contributing to a further deepening of the economic crisis. Only 110 factories survived till 1939.
During the interwar period, due to, among other factors, mass migration of Jews from Białystok to the USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Palestine, and also because of the gradual processes of assimilation and secularization which touched some of the Jewish intelligentsia, the percentage of Jewish believers in Białystok started to decline, reaching a low of 43% of the city population in 1936.
The interwar period was also a time of political activity – all of the most prominent Jewish political parties of Poland functioned in the city, and the Białystok Jewish society was a mosaic of quite antagonized and diversified political opinions. The conservative groups (Agudat Israel), aimed at maintaining the community’s unity based on a common religious identity functioned aside Zionist parties (Poale Zion, Mizrachi), whose goal was to create the state of Israel on Palestinian territory and also the worker’s party Bund, which claimed Poland to be the homeland to all Jews. Associated with each particular political group were the youth organizations and organizations dealing with social, cultural and charity matters. The city’s Jewish educational system (elementary and secondary level) was prospering and cultural life was booming. In 1912, Nahum Zemach set up the Jewish theatre “Habima” (Hebrew for scene) in Białystok, which later laid foundations for the Jewish National Theatre in Tel Aviv. The theatre staged mainly modern plays in the Hebrew language. In 1913, a theatre group from Białystok went on tour to Vienna, where, during the 11th Zionist Congress, they performed a play by Osip Dymow, Shma Israel (Listen Israel). The theatre, abolished during World War I, was reactivated by N. Zemach in Moscow. In 1915, on the initiative of the Association of Jewish Youth and the Association of Polish Youth, the Szolem Alejchem library was opened in Białystok. It had over 10,000 Polish and Yiddish books and a rich collection of Judaica. In 1921, the Jewish Literary Association was brought to life. Moreover, there were two Jewish cinemas (“Apollo” and “Modern”) operating there, as well as sports clubs, including the Jewish Sports Club “Makabi” or “Morgensztern”. Several Jewish daily newspapers were published in the city, including (founded in 1919) “Dos Naye Leben”, “Unser Leben”, leftist: “Bialistoker Werker”, “Der Bialistoker Arbayter” (issued since 1897) and “Bialistoker Shtern”, Zionist “Unser Veg”, ”Bialistoker Tagblat” to name a few.
In this period, Białystok was also an important Jewish religious center. Almost all existing religious groups and sects were active there, both orthodox and Hasidic alike. Apart from two large synagogues, there were about 100 beit ha-midrashes and private prayer houses, often having their own large libraries. Moreover, functioning under the community’s patronage was a twelve-grade Talmud Torah School and a yeshiva, which gained a significant position after World War I.
On 15 September 1939, the city was taken over by Germans, however, merely a week later, the Red Army entered Białystok under the German-Soviet agreement. On 27 September, the city was incorporated into the USSR as a part of the Byelorussian People’s Republic. Jewish companies were then closed down, while Jewish political, social and educational institutions were to be from then on considered illegal. Many Jewish and also Polish “capitalists” were arrested and deported to Siberia. At the same time thousands of refugees from other parts of the country occupied by the German army began to pour into the city. According to estimates, the number of Jews staying in the city at the turn of 1939 and 1940 could have been anywhere from about fifty to sixty thousand.
Germans seized Białystok again on 27 June 1941, and stayed there until 27 July 1944. On 27 June 1941, the Nazis quenched and burned down the Jewish district “Chanaiki”, together with the building of the Great Synagogue, with 1,000 – 2,000 people locked inside (“Red Friday”). According to records, about 5,000 Jews died at that time. On 3rd July, in the fields of nearby Pietrasze, Germans committed a mass murder of about 300 Jewish intellectualists. A similar execution was carried out in that same place on 12th July – about 2,000 – 5,000 men were killed (“Black Saturday”).
On 26 July 1941, a ghetto was created in Białystok; it became a prison for about 40,000 to 60,000 Jews from the city and nearby towns. At the beginning, the twelve-person Judenrat was headed by Doctor Gedalia Rosenmann, but after merely a month a new Judenrat was formed, headed by Efraim Barasz, a former deputy to G. Rosenmann. The Białystok ghetto, which was shut down on 1 August 1941 was stretched over the following streets: Lipowa, Przejazd, Poleska and Sienkiewicza and was surrounded with a wall with three guarded entrance gates. The eastern and western parts of the ghetto were separated from one another by the valley of the Biała River. All the ghetto’s inhabitants between 15 and 65 years of age were employed in forced labor factories run by Germans.
About 2,000 people were employed by the Białystok’s Judenrat in numerous workshops and small factories which operated in the ghetto and produced textiles and weapons to meet the demand of the occupant. As was the situation in other ghettos, the members of the Białystok Judenrat believed that by arranging production work for the local population it would be possible to save the Jewish community from the holocaust. Apart from the official production for Germans, the aforementioned factories produced goods to cater for the needs of the ghetto’s inhabitants. The first year of ghetto’s existence was relatively calm, even though its inhabitants, deprived of their belongings, had to pay high taxes and contributions. As there was a constant shortage of food, the cultivation of vegetables within the ghetto walls was organized. The Judenrat also ran a canteen for the poor, two hospitals, three chemist’s shops, first aid site, two schools and a court. Over 200 men served in the Jewish police force organized in the ghetto.
Between September and October 1941, somewhere between five and six thousand Jews were driven away from the Białystok ghetto to the ghetto in Prużany (Belarus), where they were killed in January 1943.
From 1942 onwards, Białystok became an important center of the Jewish underground resistance movement. In August that year, members of pre-war youth organization Hashomer Hatzair and members of the Bund created within the ghetto walls an underground resistance movement organization called Block A. Mordechaj Tenenbaum (Tamaroff), who had been sent to Białystok in October 1942 by the Jewish Combat Organization in Warsaw from among members of several other such organizations and who established a second organization known as Block B. At the end of July 1943, a uniform anti-Nazi organization was brought to life; it began to undertake actions to organize an uprising in the Białystok ghetto. Mordechaj Tenenbaum became the commandant of the resistance movement, with Daniel Moszkowicz as his deputy. Among the leading activists it is a must to mention names such as Zerach Zylberberg, Herszel Rosenthal, Haika Grosman, Israel Margulies and Edek Boraks. Also under the auspices of this organization, the secret archives of the resistance movement were set up, organized on the basis of the Warsaw’s Ringelblum Archive; they functioned up until April 1943. The Archive collected journals, Judenrat and German administration documents as well as other materials. In the spring of 1943, the Archive was hidden on the “Aryan side” of the ghetto to be recovered after the war. Most of its documents are currently kept in the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem.
In the beginning, the Białystok ghetto’s resistance movement was supported by, amongst others, the Head of the Judenrat, Efraim Barasz, who supplied the insurgents with financial aid, and also with information and copies of confidential German documents. Up until January 1943, the Białystok resistance movement remained in close contact with the Jewish Combat Organization in Warsaw, members of the Vilnius resistance movement and many units operating in other ghettos and active in the guerrilla divisions in the surrounding forests. The Jewish resistance movement in Białystok also received support and aid in the form of armaments, maps and medical supplies, as well as intelligence information from German antifascist organizations.
The dissolution of the ghetto started in February 1943. The first act was the murder carried out from 5 to 12 February 1943 on some 1,000 to 2,000 people, who were shot dead on the spot while about 10,000 people were driven out from the Fabryczny (Poleski) Railway Station to the extermination camp in Treblinka. On 13 March 1943, 1,148 people from the dissolved ghetto in Grodno were brought into the ghetto in Białystok. During the dissolution process, members of the resistance movement started feverish preparations to put up armed resistance in case of future deportations.
During the nighttime between 15 and 16 August, German soldiers and the SS divisions supported by Ukrainian divisions surrounded the ghetto. On 16 August, upon the announcement that an order had been issued for the immediate deportation of 30,000 people from the Białystok ghetto, the resistance movement called for the uprising to begin. The main aim of the action was to break the German defense line, which would have allowed the maximum number of people to escape the ghetto and head for the neighboring forests. Under the leadership of Mordechaj Tenenbaum and Daniel Moszkowicz, a small group – of about 300 to 500 insurgents armed mainly with handguns and home-made grenades fought against about 3,000 German soldiers, their tanks, bullet-proof cars and airplanes. Many lives were lost during the battle; leaders of the uprising - Tenenbaum and Moszkowicz, recognizing that their rebellion was doomed, committed suicide. About 150 combatants managed to run away to the Knyszyńska Forest where they joined the active guerrilla groups. Soon, they formed the Jewish guerrilla group “Kadimah”, which in turn, was incorporated into a Soviet guerrilla movement at the end of 1943. Today, historians refer to the uprising in the Białystok ghetto as the second greatest Jewish uprising directed against Germans, in terms of both size and importance.
After the uprising had been suppressed, deportations continued on between 18 and 20 August. Jews capable of working were sent to labor camps, such as the one in Poniatowa, in the Lubelskie district. Also then, some 12,000 people from the Białystok ghetto were sent to the extermination camp in Treblinka (10 transportations) and to Auschwitz (2 transportations). Around 1,200 Jewish children from Białystok were sent to the ghetto in Terezin (Theresienstadt), in the Czech Republic, where they were kept for about six weeks. In the mean time, Germans took up negotiations concerning the possibility of exchanging Jewish children for German citizens who had been imprisoned by the British. When the talks resulted in a lack of consensus, on 5 October 1943, 1,196 children and their 53 caretakers were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp; two days later all of them were killed in gas chambers.
As a result of these actions, there were only about 1,000 to 2,000 people remaining in the Białystok ghetto. They were placed in the “little ghetto” and employed in cleaning and manual work. The “little ghetto” was dissolved on 8 October 1943, and its inhabitants were sent to the labor camp in Poniatowa, in the Lubelskie district, or to extermination camps in Bełżec, Auschwitz, or to the Majdanek concentration camp. Some of them died on 3 November 1943, during the “Ernfest” (harvest) action when Germans murdered about 42,000 Jews. It is estimated that of more or less 50,000 to 60,000 ghetto citizens, only 260 survived the war, mainly in camps and guerrilla divisions, some hidden away on the “Aryan side”.
After the war ended, about 1,085 Jews returned to Białystok from the city and the surrounding areas. Despite the difficult situation and devastations caused by the war, the Jewish Diaspora begun to revive. The Cytron Synagogue (Tsitron Beys-medresh), which managed to avoid destruction, took on the role of the community’s main synagogue, while in 1948 the Socio-Cultural Jewish Society was given a location for its headquarters in the former building of Piaskower Beys-Medresh. On 16 August 1945, on the second anniversary of the ghetto’s dissolution, thanks to the initiative of the surviving Białystok citizens, a stone obelisk was erected at the cemetery at Żabia Street, bearing the inscription:
In memory of 60,000 Jewish Brothers from the Białystok ghetto murdered by the Germans – who will live in the hearts of the few Jews who survived. The nation of Israel lives on. (Pamięci 60.000 żydowskich Braci z getta białostockiego zamordowanych przez Niemców – poświęca resztka pozostałych przy życiu Żydów. Naród Izraela żyje.).
In 1946, another monument was founded in memory of the combatants in the ghetto, and two years later, at the Jewish cemetery a mausoleum was constructed in memory of the Jewish insurgents. As a result of anti-Semitic attacks that took place in the 1960s, and directly due to events that took place on March 1968, a large group of Białystok Diaspora members emigrated from Poland in the years 1967-1972.
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- T. Wiśniewski, Cmentarze Żydowskie w Białymstoku, „Studia Podlaskie”, 2 (1989).
- T. Wiśniewski, Ważniejsze białostockie synagogi, „Białostocczyzna”, 4 (1986).
- [1.1] Nazwa ta pojawiała się także wobec Wilna – przyp. red.