This is a postcard from 1909 with a photograph of the Jewish school in Mogilev, Belarus. The caption under the photograph reads “Mogilev The State Jewish School” in Russian and French. The school is located on a wide, cobbled street and is situated behind a walled fence with a large gate. The large, white school building has tall windows and an arched entryway. A man is seen crossing the street, while two other men are walking on the pavement. There are tall trees alongside the school building.
Mogilev is located in Eastern Belarus, formally part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and later the Russian Empire. Under Russian rule, Mogilev was part of the Pale of Settlement where Jews were obliged to live. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, more than half the population of Mogilev was Jewish. Mogilev was an important centre for Orthodox, secular, and Zionist Jews.
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The Jewish Community of Mogilev, Belarus – Mogilev is located in Eastern Belarus. Historically, the city was in Poland-Lithuania, Russia, and the Soviet Union; it is now in Belarus. This important Jewish centre was established in the sixteenth century when a few Jewish families settled in the city. Throughout the sixteenth century there were bad relations between the Jews and the non-Jews in Mogilev, with attempts to banish the Jews, attacks, and anti-Jewish laws. In 1654, the citizens of Mogilev agreed to surrender to Russia if the Jews were expelled and their property confiscated. The Tsar agreed, but instead of banishing the Jews, Russian troops massacred them on the outskirts of the city. In 1692 the remaining Jews of Mogilev were accused of a blood libel. At this time, Mogilev, under Russian rule, was included in the Pale of Settlement, the area where Jews were forced to live. Despite constant difficulties, the community grew, and by 1897, Jews comprised half of city’s population. The city was an important centre for both Chabad (Lubavitch) Hasidism and liberal, enlightened Jews. Before the Holocaust, more than 20,000 Jews were living in Mogilev. In 1941, the Nazis occupied the city, and the Jews were forced to live in the ghetto. The Nazis, together with locals, murdered many of the Jews of the city and surrounding villages and deported the rest to death camps. Today, there are around 5,000 Jews in Mogilev and a Jewish school, synagogue and community centre that are reviving Jewish life in the city.
Jewish Community of Belarus – Jews first settled in the geographical area of modern Belarus in the eighth century. During this early period, they were relatively prosperous and influential. In the Middle Ages, the situation of the Jews was dependent on the ruler and the power of the Church at the time, but the Jews were, mostly, protected and had autonomy on matters of religion. In 1495, the situation worsened dramatically and all Jews were exiled from Belarus and other countries ruled by the Lithuanian monarch. Soon after, in 1503, Jews were permitted to return to Belarus althought the middle of the sixteenth century saw a renewal of the antagonism between the Jews and non-Jews due to religious and economic reasons. The Cossack rebellion of the middle of the seventeenth century brought massacres and destruction to the Jewish communities of Belarus. The Jewish community slowly revived, and the seventeenth century, the first yeshivot, such as the Brest and Volozhin Yeshivas, were founded in Belarus by important rabbis. Upon the annexation of Belarus into the Russian Empire, it was included in the Pale of Settlement, and Belarus became a major Jewish cultural centre. On one hand, Belarus was an important Hassidic centre and on the other hand it was also a centre for Jewish Enlightenment and a hub of Zionist and Bund (Socialist) activity. During the nineteenth century, the Jews suffered from pogroms and anti-Semitic decrees, and many emigrated to the United States, South Africa, and also pre-state Israel. In the twentieth century, Belarus came under Soviet rule. Prior to Stalin’s rule, Jews held influential posts, and for some time Yiddish was recognised as an official language. With the Nazi occupation of Belarus, Jews were rounded up and shot by German Einsatzgruppen and local anti-Semites. During the Holocaust, more than a quarter of a million of the Jews of Belarus, 66% of the total Jewish community, were murdered. After the war, Belarus again became part of the Soviet Union. In the second half of the twentieth century, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Belarus, a large wave of Jews immigrated from Belarus to Israel and the United States. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 25,000 Jews live in Belarus; the majority live in Minsk, and there are some smaller communities such as Brest, Mogilev, and Babruysk. The community has social organisations, religious institutions, and schools.