The first information about Jews in Bielsk Podlaski dates back to the end of the 15th century. In 1487 King Kazimierz Jagiellończyk leased the duty collection to two Jews from the town of Łuck. At that time the Jewish community in Bielsk Podlaski was small and was not organized. It was only in 1542 that an organized Synagogue Community came into being.
In 1561, Zygmunt August leased the right to brew beer to Jews in Bielsk, Narew and Kleszczele for 4.5 years. In the end of the 16th century in 1564 there was a conflict between Christians and Jews. Two years later Jews were given new privileges in town by King Zygmunt August. It did not last long though. The census from 1580 and the one from 1591 do not record any Jews in Bielsk Podlaski at that time. It was probably the result of laws that limited the settlement of Jews in cities, which was a tendency mainly in royal cities. According to other sources the Synagogue Community existed there until the year 1662.

Renewed Jewish migration to Bielsk Podlaski took place in the end of the 18th century. As early as 1802 or 1803, Jews were given official consent to settle in town. In 1807 a new Synagogue Community was created and consisted of 31 members. Jewish people were slowly but surely migrating to Bielsk Podlaski. In 1847 the Synagogue Community of Bielski District numbered 298. In 1861 there were three synagogues or houses of prayer for 1,256 Jews. In 1878 Bielsk Podlaski had 5,810 inhabitants, of whom 3,968 were Jewish. In the beginning of the 20th century the number of Jews started to decrease. In 1938, the Jewish population made up 38 percent of all inhabitants of Bielsk Podlaski.

Most of the Jewish shops and houses were around the marketplace and the town hall. Jews lived at main streets of Bielsk Podlaski – Mickiewicza, Szkolna, Bóżnicza, Wąska, Widowska and Ogrodowa Streets. The main town synagogue was made out of wood, stood in the center and was surrounded by a couple of houses of prayer that were pulled down after the war. Not far away there was a Hasidic synagogue. An old Jewish cemetery, to be utterly destroyed in years to come, was located in the center of the town. A new cemetery was established next to the main road towards the town of Brańsk.

In 1898 the old main synagogue was replaced by a new wooden one. It was named Jafe Einan (Beautiful Eyes). The huge building had a span roof with roof tiles and underwent a few restorations. In the beginning of the 20th century the building was rebuilt for the last time only to be dismantled during the war.

Next to the main synagogue at Orla Street there was an old one named after its establisher and sponsor – Icł’s Beth Midrasz. The building was atypical as its entrance steps led down as in a cellar. Supposedly a magnificent aron kodesh (the Torah arc) was placed there with its beautiful engravings of instruments used in the temple in Jerusalem. The members of the synagogue consisted mainly of poor craftsmen.

At Bóżnicza Street (Synagogue Street) the third synagogue called Shaarey Zion Beth Midrash was located. This wooden building was erected to replace the old one that burned in the First World War. In the vicinity of the synagogue there were baths, Talmud and Torah school, a yeshiva and an orphanage.

In 1889 Jowel Landau and Tanchiel Grodziński built the fourth synagogue at Rynkowa and Puszkina Streets.
Between WW I and WW II there were arrangements to build another synagogue yet they were never carried out. Mosze Aron Bendas was the last rabbi in Bielsk Podlaski.

Under the Russian rule the town hosted 6,000 of Jews, mostly refugees from the areas occupied by the Germans.

During the German occupation a ghetto was created for Jews from Bielski District, Narwia and Orla. After the dissolution of the ghetto Jews were murdered in Treblinka camp.

 

Bibliography:

  • Bielsk Podlaski, [w:] Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 19331945, vol. II, red. M. Dean, M. Hecker, Bloomington – Indianapolis 2009, ss. 871–872.
  • Wiśniewski T., Bożnice Białostocczyzny, Białystok 1992, s. 140.

 

 

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