The first references to Jews in Nesvizh date back to the beginning of the 16th century. The community developed under the auspices of the Radziwiłł family, and the Magdeburg privilege granted the Jews equal rights with other burghers (including the representation in the municipal council), although they were not subject to the municipal but to the castle court.
In 1589, Radziwiłł called the Little Orphan settled the rights and obligations of the Nesvizh Jews. They had their own quarter with gates closed for the night; during the Holy Week, these gates were not allowed to be opened for three days. In terms of religious subordination, Nesvizh was subordinate to the Jewish kehilla in Brest. The owner of the town also authorised the construction of a freestanding house of prayer. By virtue of this privilege, the Great Synagogue was built at the turn of the 17th century. The monumental rectangular building was expanded at the turn of the 19th century and existed until World War II. Largely ruined, it was dismantled after 1945. In 1654, during the Russo-Polish War, Nesvizh was burned down.
In the second half of the 17th century, competition intensified between Jewish and Christian merchants and craftsmen. In 1688, influenced by the complaints of Christians, Jan III Sobieski ordered the municipal administration not to accept Jews to public offices in the future, and to deprive them of the right to collect fees during fairs.
Despite this, the Nesvizh community was very influential. It had jurisdiction over a number of communities in smaller towns and was among the most affluent in Lithuania. It is mentioned in just about all the protocols of the Lithuanian Va’ad. Apart from trade, one of the main activities of Nesvizh Jews was gardening, especially in the period from the 16th to the 18th century. In 1765, the poll tax was paid by 1,097 local Jews.
In 1847, the Jewish community had 3,449 members. In 1874, Mowsza Goldin was the head of the Municipal Council. In 1880, the local branch of Hovevei Zion was established. In 1896, eight synagogues operated in the town.
According to the census of 1897, Nesvizh was inhabited by 4,887 Jews. The total population amounted to 8,459 residents. There were already 13 synagogues in the town, including two Hasidic (Chabad and Kojdan groups) synagogues and one servicing craftsmen.
At the turn of the 20th century, Jews lived primarily off of trade in such goods as leather, hemp and cereal. Almost all the shops, taverns and hotels were owned by Jews. In 1910, three schools were opened – one-grade school for men, a private school for women, and a four-grade private school for men. In 1912, a Jewish savings and loan association was established. In 1913, Jews owned two medicine stores and 30 shops. On the eve of World War I, there were nine synagogues and a yeshiva in the town.
In the years 1919-1939, Nesvizh belonged to Poland. In 1931, the number of Jews in the town amounted to 3,364 out of the total population of 7,586 inhabitants. The period of the Second Republic of Poland was beneficial for institutions propagating Hebrew and Yiddish languages, as well as for the growth of Zionist movements. A Hebrew school was opened in the town in 1918; in 1922 it became part of the Tarbut network. In 1919, a Yiddish school was opened. In 1922, a branch of the Jewish People's Bank started to operate in Nesvizh. In 1933, the HaShomer HaTzair youth group had as many as 550 members.
In September 1939, the town was seized by the Red Army. Under the Soviet occupation, the building of one of the synagogues was transformed into a club, while the second one into a warehouse. On the eve of the Soviet-German war, there were 4,500 Jews (57% of the town’s population) in Nesvizh – their number was rising due to the influx of refugees from western Poland.
Germans seized the town on 27 June 1941. Jews were ordered to wear the Star of David on their clothing. On 1 September 1941, they were moved out from the centre of the town to the outskirts. On 30 October 1941, Germans carried out a selection. Jews were divided into two groups: specialists and others. The first group numbered around 560 people (according to other sources – 585), the second group – about 4,000. Germans led the second group to the Radziwiłł Park near the road leading to Snoŭ and shot them.
Jewish specialists were left alive (180 out of 560 were locals, the rest were refugees) and enclosed in a small ghetto. They founded an underground organisation under the command of Shalom Cholawski, consisting of members of the Zionist youth movements that had been made illegal during the Soviet occupation. Its members, working outside the ghetto in German warehouses, smuggled weapons and explosives into the closed district, and attempted to establish contact with the partisans. On 17 July 1942, when the news of the German genocide in the nearby Haradzeya arrived to Nesvizh, the underground activists began to dig bunkers and hide their (mostly melee) weapons. When the German and Belarusian police entered the ghetto on 22 July (according to other sources – 17 July), an uprising broke out. The ghetto was set on fire, with 40 casualties on the side of the occupiers and collaborators. Some Jews managed to escape, but most of them were killed on their way to the forest or turned in by the local population; 25 people survived, including the commander of the resistance, Cholawski. The rest of the imprisoned were taken by Germans to Haradzeya and executed.
In the post-war period, the victims were commemorated with plaques in the Radziwiłł Park and along the road to Snoŭ. In 1965, the bodies from the mass graves in the park were exhumed and moved to the Christian cemetery.