Dagda cemetary (1998)
Tombstone in Dagda:
Tovia ben Abraham Moshe d. 1896
Street in Dagda
Polotsk is a town in the Polotsk oblast, before WWII it was in Vitebsk oblast, Belarus.
One of the oldest Jewish communities in Lithuania. There is evidence that Jews settled in Polotsk toward the end of the 15th Century.
In 1551 the Jews of the city were exempted from paying a special tax, known as the "Srebrzczyzna". When Ivan the Terrible captured Polotsk in 1563, he ordered that all the Jews, who refused to be baptized (around 300), should be drowned in the Dvina River. (Memorial prayers for these martyrs were recited in Polotsk each year on the 25th of Kislev). The Jewish community was revived soon after, but in 1580, when the town adopted the "Magdeburg Law", it forbade Jewish commerce and purchase of real estate within the city. Jews lived on six landholdings outside municipal jurisdiction.
The Jewish community was destroyed in 1654 by Cossack rebels, but was rebuilt shortly after.
When local residents complained in 1681that the Jews were purchasing land within the city without paying municipal taxes, King John III Sobieski ordered them to pay.
In 1765 there were 1,003 poll-tax paying Jews in Polotsk. The city was one of the earliest centers of Chasidism in Belarus, and Israel of Polotsk was a leader of Chasidic immigration to Eretz Israel in 1777.
Polotsk had 2,600 Jews in 1815 (56.3% of the total population). The figure rose to 7,275 by 1847 and to 12,481 in 1897 (61% of the total population).
In the late 19th Century the city became a center of anti-Jewish agitation, largely because several Russian orthodox monasteries and an officers’ training school were located there. When the pogroms broke out in October 1905, the authorities prohibited Jewish self-defense activities in the city. There were 19,252 Jews living in Polotsk in 1910.
The Kehilla (Jewish community organization) was abolished under Soviet rule in 1918, along with many other Jewish public institutions.
In 1926 the number of Jews had fallen to 8,186 (32% of the total population).
With the German conquest in WWII, the 8,000 Jews remaining in Polotsk were herded into a bricks factory near the city, and in December 1941 all were murdered.
In 1870 the Jewish population of Polotsk was estimated at about 500. There was no synagogue.
(Information from Beth Hatefutsoth, Israel - URL-address: http://www.bh.org.il
|Mary Antin was born in Polotsk in 1881 and in her book "The Promised Land" (first published in 1912, latest edition 1997 by Penguin Books Inc. ) (ISBN 0-14-018985-8), she vividly describes her life in Polotsk until she and her family emigrated.
After reading it, you almost feel as if you have been there. So much so, that the black-and-white photographs from Polotsk seem to be redundant. You seem to know the people, and lingering in your consciousness is the fragrance of the deep-red Dahlias in her grandfather's garden, of:
"...the wild flowers that grew on the grassy slopes of the Vall..." and "the small daisy, popularly called "blind flowers" because it was supposed to cause blindness in rash children who picked it..."(p. 68)
The last part of the book is dedicated to the tale of emigration and the struggle to find a new life in the promised land, America. That too is an interesting story - Mary Antin shares with us the hopes and dreams that make the immigrant's life endurable.
Only a few examples can be quoted here, but the book has - fortunately - been reprinted and is therefore still available.
"Among the medieval customs which were preserved in the Pale when the rest of the world had long fogotten them, was the use of popular sobriquets in place of surnames proper." (p. 36) With these words Mary Antin takes us for a journey through the Pale, through the years, and she introduces us to her family and invites us to her parents’ wedding and lets us witness their struggle of daily life: "Let me spread out my family tree, raise aloft my coat-of-arms, and see what heroes have left a mark by which I may be distinguished. Let me hunt for my name in the chronicles of the Pale". (p. 36)
"Ours was a quiet neighbourhood. Across the narrow street was the orderly front of th Korpus, or military academy, with straight rows of unshuttered windoes. It was an imposing edifice in the eyes of us all, because it was built of brick, and was several stories high." (p. 66)... "In the summer-time I lived outdoors considerably. I found many occasions to visit my mother in the store, which gave me a long walk. If my errand was not pressing - or perhaps even if it was - I made a long stop on the Platz, .... . The Platz was a rectangular space in the centre of a roomy square, with a shady promenade around its level lawn. The Korpus faced on the Platz, which was its drill ground. Around the square were grouped the fine residences of the officers of the Korpus, with a great white church occupying one side. ...." (p. 68)
It was not far from the limits of Polotzk to the fields and woods. My father was fond of taking us children for a long walk on a Sabbath afternoon.... The first landmark on the sunny, dusty road is the house of a peasant acquaintance where we stopped for rest and a drink. I remember a cool gray interior, ..." (p. 69-70)
|After this short appetizer I wish you some pleasant hours in company with Mary Antin.|
Please send any comments and further information to Elsebeth Paikin