The Jews of Belarus



Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky:

Prof. Zakhar Shibeko:

Dr. Konstantin Bondar:


Tel: 03-6405319

About the Project 


The goal of this project is to collect, catalogue and preserve documentary and archival material relating to the history of Jews in Belarus and Ukraine, as a valuable resource for current and future research on the topic.\


Ongoing Research by Dr. Smilovitsy


Database: The Jews of Belarus in the Modern Period

Over the course of his research Dr. Smilovitsky has amassed a vast collection of archival materials, which are in the process of being uploaded to a database on the Center’s website, which will include scanned documents, photographs and correspondence.


The Jews in Belarus, 1944–1953

Between 1944 and 1946, the remainder of the Jewish community took an active part in the renovation of the economic, cultural and scientific life of Belarus, and in certain areas even played a key role.  Beginning in 1946, the attitude of the authorities towards Jews became harsher, reaching a peak of bad relations in 1948-1953. The Jews were blamed for “bourgeoisie nationalism” on the one hand and “rootless cosmopolitanism” on the other.  Yiddish culture – which to that point was the only expression of Jewish nationalism – was made illegal and Jewish institutions were shut down. The peak of this attack involved the Doctor’s Libel in 1953. The short period between the end of World War II and the death of Stalin turned out to be a time of awakening for those Jews who had survived the Holocaust’s horrors and expected to reconstruct national Jewish life on Belarusian soil.


This research is primarily based on archival material from Israel, Belarus and Russia, as well as press clippings, collections of documents, statistical data, memoirs and interviews, and monographs published on the subject in different countries.  Elements of this research have already been published in various academic journals.


Correspondence and Personal Documents as Historical Sources: Jewish Soldiers in Belarus

This project examines the correspondence of Jewish soldiers in the Soviet Army during World War II. Dr. Smilovitsky is collecting and analyzing correspondence and personal documents (letters, diaries, certificates of awards, commendations, military letters of recommendation, casualty notifications, etc.), as well as memoirs and photographs, memories and personal stories from the Red Army soldiers and commanders, as well as members of their families, prominent figures of culture and science, who were evacuated to the areas of Central Asia, the Urals, Kazakhstan, Siberia, and the Far East during the period 1941-1945. The aim of this project is to decipher the military correspondence, compile a scholarly commentary, and create an online database available to researchers, students and all who are interested in World War II. The results of this work will serve as a basis for creating an archive of military correspondence and personal sources, publications of collections of letters, and preparation of a research monograph on the subject. The collection of wartime correspondence currently holds letters, documents, and other personal writings and objects relating to 287 different war participants (amounting to some 26,085 documents, photos and correspondence, including 7,367 letters). The documents are being catalogued by Leon Gershovich, a research assistant on the project.


Jewish Cemeteries as a Historical Source of Study of the Jewish Communities of Belarus

Dr. Smilovitsky has begun a new research project studying Jewish cemeteries as an important historical source on the existence of Jewish communities in Belarus. The project aims to encourage the preservation of these cemeteries as invaluable resources of the historical heritage of Belarus in general and the Jews of Belarus in particular by bringing the topic to the attention of government, academic and public leaders. The project will examine the role of Jewish communities as an integral part of the broader history of Belarus and will study the interethnic relations between Jews and the other populations in which they lived (Belarusians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Tatars). This project has the potential for far-reaching results, not only could it aid in preventing the destruction of Jewish cemeteries and the installation of Christian cemeteries in their place, but in doing so, it will raise the question of state responsibility for the preservation of Jewish heritage.


In 2018 Dr. Smilovitsky visited the following locations in Belarus, where Jewish communities once thrived, such as: Bogushevichi, Berezino, Bobr, Volpa, Grodno, Gorodeya, Derevnoe, Ivenets, Indura, Kamen, Krupki, Krugloe, Krucha, Lunno, Mogilev, Naliboki, New Sverzhen, Peski, Ross, Rubezhevichi, Slutsk, Minsk. There he collected data related to the current state of Jewish cemeteries, the mikvah, Jewish architecture, recorded stories from local people, and shot videos and photos.




“Jews from the USSR Write Abroad (Letters and Diaries of World War II as a Historical Source)”, Part One and Two, Russian Archives, 2017, № 5 (1), p. 12-32; Russian Archives, 2017, № 5 (2), p. 106-124.


“Love at the War: Women and Men in the Red Army (On the Pages of the Letters and Diaries of Soviet Jews in 1941–1945)”, Part 1, Russkaya Starina, (Russian Antiquity) 2017, 8(2): 173-185.


“A Gift in the War in its Personal, Public and State Dimension (Through Pages of Letters and Diaries 1941-1945)”, Hippocrene: Scientific and Methodical Journal of the Institute of Parliamentarism and Entrepreneurship of the Republic of Belarus. No. 2 (31), 2017, p. 160-180.


“War, Reflected in the Child's Mind: Correspondence of Jewish Children with Their Parents, Servicemen of the Red Army during the Soviet-German War of 1941-1945”, Wschód Europy. Studia humanistyczno-społeczne, Vol 3, No 1 (2017), pp. 217-276.


“The Holocaust in Loev", Most, No. 900, September 6, 2017, p. 26-27; Banks, No. 9 September 2017, p. 6-7.


"Smilovitsky in Smilovichi", Most, No. 901, September 13, 2017, p. 26-29.


"Cherven. Jewish Cemetery: Past and Present”, Most, No. 902, September 19, 2017, p. 26-28.


"Krichev: Crosses in the Jewish Cemetery", Most, No. 903, September 27, 2017, p. 26-27.


“Starye Dorogi. New Cemetery”, Most, No. 904, October 3, 2017, with. 22-24.


“Kamai. An Example to Follow”, Most, No. 905, October 10, 2017, p. 16-18.


“Rechitsa. Memory of the Past”, Most, No. 906, October 18, 2017, p. 24-26.


"Tours. Diligence is not According to Reason”, Most, No. 907, October 25, 2017, p. 24-26.


"Cemetery in Loev. Where are the Old Monuments?” Most, No. 908, November 1, 2017, p. 24-26.


“Loev. Repetition of the Past”, Most, No. 928, March 21, 2018, p. 26-27.



“Jewish Genes and Great Diligence”. On the 90th Anniversary of Mark Taits, Berega, July 5, 2017 No. 891, p. 22-24.


“For Whom Soviet Censorship Served during the War 1941-1945”, Aviv, No. 3-4, June-July 2017, p. 12.


“Raspberry Beret”, Most, No. 910, November 15, 2017, p. 18-19.


“Purim in Natania”, Bridge, No. 926, March 7, 2018, p. 14.



The Dr. Kiryl Kascian (Germany) project “Nation and Statehood in the Constitutional Acts of Post-Soviet Eastern Europe: Finding Equilibrium between Historical Experiences and Europeanization” for the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


The Ida Shenderovich and Alexander Litin project (Mogilev) “We Lived Side by Side, We Lived Together”, the Genesis Foundation in Yad Vashem, September 3, 2017.


Submitted Articles

“Conditions for Writing Front-line Letters (Pages of Letters and Diaries of 1941-1945)”, Bulletin of the Brest State Technical University: Scientific and Theoretical Journal – The Humanities (2018).


“Germany and the Germans through the Eyes of Jews, as Soviet Soldiers and Officers (On Pages of Letters and Diaries of 1944-1945)”, Annalese, Universitatis Maria Curie-Sklodowska, section M – Balcaniensis et Carpathiensis, # 3, 2018.


“Postal Items as a Characteristic of the Front Correspondence and Rear in the Years of the Soviet-German War, 1941-1945)”, Annalese, Universitatis Maria Curie-Sklodowska, section M – Balcaniensis et Carpathiensis, # 4, 2018.


“About Life and Death in the War (On the Pages of Letters and Diaries of the Jews of Fighters and Commanders of the Red Army of 1941-1945)”, Studia Zydowski. Almanach (Jewish Studies. Almanac). Panstwowa Wyzsza Szkola Zawodowa im. Szymona Szymonowiciu w Zamosciu (2018).


“The Role of Photography in the Correspondence between the Front and Rear. On Pages of the Red Army Servicemen Letters and Diaries of 1941-1945”, Russkaya Starina, (Russian Antiquity), 2018.


“The Attitude to the Soviet State Holidays in Private Correspondence between the Front and the Rear of 1941-1945)”, Homo Historicus (2018). Alexander Smalianchuk (Ed.). Vilna, European Humanities University.


Academic Adviser

Leon Gershovich, Ph.D. student whose dissertation examines the topic: “Jewish Life in South-East Belarus: The Case of Gomel, 1917–1941”.


Boris Maftsir, Until the Last Step. A documentary film on the Holocaust in Belarus during WW2. Produced by Nonstop Media and Zvi Shefy Productions.




April 24–25 , 2018

Dr. Smilovitsky represented the Center at an international conference which took place in Vilnius on the topic “Jews in Belarus History”, where he delivered a lecture entitled “Who Were the Jews for Belarus?: The Contribution of Jews to the Development of Culture, Economics, and Spiritual Development”.


May 10, 2018

Dr. Smilovitsky represented the Center at an international conference which took place in Moscow on the topic “Victory in the Great Patriotic War: As an Historical Event in the Life of the Jewish People”, where he delivered a lecture entitled “Victory Day May 9, 1945 through the Eyes of Contemporaries”.


November 1–2, 2018

Dr. Smilovitsky represented the Center at an international research workshop which took place in Moscow on the topic “The Minsk Ghetto: 75 Years Later”, where he delivered a lecture entitled “The Holocaust in Belarus and the Fate of Minsk”.



Ongoing Research by Prof. Shibeko


Jews and Jewish Life in Minsk, 1795–1917

Prof. Shibeko specializes in the history of Minsk during the period of 1861–1914. Building on earlier research, he has started working on a monograph devoted to the history of the Jews in Minsk. Joining the Center has provided the opportunity to research new sources and publications, which will allow him to recreate a panoramic image of the life of the Jews of Minsk during the period of 1795–1917, when the city was part of the Russian Empire.


This volume, based on careful study of a single, particular city, will provide a detailed reconstruction of the urban life of Jews in a certain historical epoch.  Strangely, there has until now been no significant research on the history of the Jews in Minsk, which is the present capital of Belarus and which was one of the most important Jewish centers in the past. The current availability of sources makes it possible to reconstruct a vast panorama of the life of the Minsk Jews, in a city typical of the Belorussian region of the Russian Empire. Prof. Shibeko’s work examines a number of different topics: the Minsk Jewish community in its historical retrospective, the living conditions of the Jews in the capital of a governorate, the Jews in the structure of the Minsk population, the role of the Minsk Jews in the economy of the city and the region, the specific features of the Jewish self-government, the peculiarities of their spiritual, cultural, and everyday life, the participation of the Minsk Jews in the all-Russian political struggle, and in the national (Zionist) movement. The book will be concluded with two chapters of a memorial and reference character: “The Minsk Jews in Memory, Literature, and the Arts,” and “The Jewish Addresses of the Old City.” The book itself will become a kind of a monument to Jewish Minsk, where at the end of the nineteenth century the Jews formed 51% of the inhabitants. Probably, a vast panorama of the research would make it possible to understand how the Belorussian regionalism influenced the national self-identification of the Jewish people. At present, it is not completely clear to us why Czarist Russia failed to assimilate the Lithuanian Jews to the same degree as the Jews in Poland, and even the Ukraine, to say nothing about France and other European countries. It is possible that the preservation of their individuality was due also to some Belorussian factors. Moreover, a study of a single, concrete location, covered by a plethora of sources, will make it possible to establish methods and experience necessary for working on a promising international project on the history of the Lithuanian Jews.

During the 2018–2019 academic year, Prof. Shibeko temporarily suspended work on this project.



The History of Retail Trade in Belarus  

The History of Retail Trade in Belarus” is a Belorussian-Israeli research project started in 2013, which is financed by the Belorussian company MENKA and is under the scholarly supervision by Prof. Shibeko. The goal of the project is to write a research monograph on the history of trade in Belorussia from ancient times to the 1990s. Nineteen Belorussian historians, archeologists, ethnographers and economists will take part in creating scholarly studies to be included in the future monograph. This is the first time that such a large-scale research project on the history of trade is being undertaken within the territory of the former Soviet Union.  One of the central topics will be the participation of Jews in trade in Belorussian lands, their role in the development of the trade, and their interaction with non-Jews in the Belorussian consumer market.


The planned research will consider various aspects of the entrepreneurial activity of merchants in a close connection with market conditions and consumers’ demands. The research will study the development of trade through an examination of human activity, highlighted by the use of an anthropological-historical methodology.


During the 2018-2019 academic year, Professor Shibeko continued editing the full text of the monograph The History of Trade in Belarus.


Jewish Trade in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the End of the Fourteenth Century to the Nineteenth Century

The idea of writing a book on the topic of Jewish trade in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania emerged during the course of work on his collective monograph entitled The History of Trade in Belarus. The research is being carried out primarily on the basis of published primary sources, as the main sources on the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) have already been published. While the available studies published in Israel, Belarus, Poland, and Lithuania focus on the spiritual life, culture, and self-government of the Jews in the GDL, in this monograph, trade, as one of the most widespread economic occupations of the Jews, is taken as the subject of research. The factors of language, religion, and self-government kept the Jews largely isolated from other peoples in the GDL, and it was only at the market that they came into contact with non-Jews. In the process of trade and the resulting interaction with Gentiles, carriers of the local culture could not but affect the development of the Lithuanian Jewish community, a subdivision of the broader Ashkenazi Jewish community. However, very little research has been conducted on this cultural impact of trade on the Lithuanian Jewish community. The planned book will study the general context of Jewish life in the GDL, the sources, the consumer market, the legal and financial conditions for trade activity at the consumer market, Jewish trade itself, and the relations of Jews with the consumers, non-Jews included. Prof. Shibeko will try to determine how the interaction between the Jews and Belarusians was implemented through trade. The source-oriented character of the book would become a reference point for more detailed studies of Jewish trade in Old Lithuania by future researchers.


During the 2018–2019 academic year, Prof. Shibeko temporarily suspended work on this project.




“Belarusian-Jewish Intercultural Dialogue during the Belarusian Nation-building”, International Centre for Ethnic and Linguistic Diversity Studies, 2018.


“Why Did Vilnius Not Become the Capital of the Belarusian People's Republic?”, Shljahami Belaruskaj Narodnaj Respubliki. Managrafija. Vilnus, 2018, pp. 4–12. [in Belarusian].


Articles in Preparation for Publication

 “The Path to the Belarusian People’s Republic under the German Occupation (1915–1918): The Role of Germany in an Attempt to Restore the Belarusian Statehood”, accepted for publication in the scientific journal Belarusian Review, Prague.


Editing and Review

A. Smolenchuk, Roman Skirmunt (1868–1939): The Edges of the Life of a Citizen, Minsk, 2018, 700 pp.


Sergei Ablomejco, The Politics of the Soviet Authorities Regarding the Old City in Minsk in 1920–1956, doctoral thesis, Bialystok 2018.



Prof. Shibeko was a consultant to a Belarusian-Jewish group from the Netherlands which is creating an animated film for children on the main events of Belarusian history.


Prof. Shibeko is an editorial board member of the scientific historical journals: Archivist (Minsk), Białoruskie Zeszyty Historyczne (Bialystok, Poland), Belarusian Review (Prague), and Wschód Europy. Studia humanistyczno-społeczne (Lublin). He is also a reviewer for the scientific journal Acta Baltico-Slavica (Warsaw).



Prof. Shibeko received the Medal of Saints Cyril and Methodius from the Center for Eastern Europe at the Marie Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin (Poland)



Ongoing Research by Dr. Bondar


Hebrew-Slavic Contacts in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Dr. Bondar’s research examines the relationships and points of cultural contact that existed between Jews and the Slavic populations among whom they lived in the area of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (modern Belarus, Volhynia, Polesia, the Kiev Region and the Upper Dnieper) during the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, Jews in Belarus and parts of Ukraine that were under the authority of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania lived in compact communities in close proximity with the surrounding non-Jewish population. As such, the phenomenon of inter-cultural text translations can be seen as a window into the social, religious, scientific, and cultural life of the two groups.


Numerous written sources exist from the period – the works of both Christian scribes and Jewish scholars – many of them Hebrew texts translated into Slavic languages (particularly Old Belarusian and Old Ukrainian). These texts, and the subject of Jewish participation in the translation process, have not yet been sufficiently studied by scholars. Dr. Bondar’s work seeks to redress this deficiency. Topics of investigation for this study include translations of Holy Scriptures and prayers, retellings of Midrashim, revisions of biblical texts, and the influence of Jews on the spiritual and ideological movements in Muscovy.

During the 20182019 academic year, Dr. Bondar completed the preparation of his book Between Knaan and Ruthenia: The Hebrew-Slavic Writings and Scribes, based on his research over the last several years. It will soon be published by Burago Publishing House in Kiev.






Between Knaan and Ruthenia: The Hebrew-Slavic Writings and Scribes (Russian), Kiev, Burago Publishing, 2019, 240 pp.


Sketches and Experiences about the “Miracle” (Russian), LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2019, 64 pp.


“I Lived My Favorite Thing…” (Russian), LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2019, 140 pp.


Beilin, Solomon, Wandering or World-wide Legends in Ancient Rabbinic Writing (Russian), Text prepared by Reuven Kipervasser, commentaries by Reuven Kipervasser and Konstantin Bondar Moscow, Gesharim, 2018, 352 pp.


From Efrosin to “Laurus”: Essays on Philologists and Writers (Russian), Kharkov, Planet-print Ltd., 2018, 136 pp.


The Psalter of Feodor: A New Critical Edition and Commentaries, edited by Constantine Zukerman (Paris) and Konstantin Bondar (in preparation).




“On the Jewish Influence to the Biblical Tradition of Slavs”, Toronto Slavic Quarterly: International Slavistics Journal, Toronto 2018, V. 63.


“Bohdanko, the Tushino Thief”, in cooperation with Abraham Torpusman (Electronic Jewish Encyclopedia, Jerusalem); Network portal "Notes on Jewish History", ed. by Dr. Evgeniy Berkovich, No. 2–3 (206), 2018.


“From ‘Man Has the Right’ to ‘Let My People Go’: A Dialogue between Tatiana Livshits-Azaz and Konstantin Bondar” (Russian), Windows [«Окна»], weekly supplement to the newspaper Vesti, May 3, 2018, pp. 12–15. Also, "We are Here!", International Internet Journal No. 567, June 2018.


"Reading and Rereading of Vodolazkin: An International Conference in Krakow" (Russian), Ukrainian Association of Russian Language and Literature Teachers, May 31, 2018.


"In Search of Answers", Most (Bridge) newspaper (Kiryat Gat). No. 940, 13 June, 2018, pp. 24–25.


"Reading of Vodolazkin Slowly", Toronto Slavic Quarterly, University of Toronto, Academic Electronic Journal in Slavic Studies, 2018. No. 65


"Lonely Warrior: Nahum Pereferkovich as a Linguist and Translator", Methodology and historiography of linguistics: materials of the V scientific and practical Internet conference, 2018, Pp. 10–15.


"A Word about a Forgotten Writer (Touches to the Portrait of Ivan Yavlensky)", COLLEGIUM, 2018, No. 29–30.


“Who Knows Uncle Iriney?”, Libera Hominis: Kiev: Burago Publishing, 2019. pp. 141–145.


Submitted Articles

“The Psalter of Feodor: Linguistic, Historical and Literary Aspects", Bulletin of Vologda State University, Series: Humanitarian, Social, Pedagogical Sciences, Vologda, Russia, 2019.


"Old Belarusian and Old Ukrainian Features in Late Medieval Translations from Hebrew", Khazar’s Miscellany, Moscow, 2018–2019. Vol. 16.


Alexander Grishchenko, The Edited Slavonic-Russian Pentateuch from the 15th Century: The Preliminary Results of the Linguistic and Textological Study, Moscow, 2018. 176 p. Book review in: Judaic-Slavic Journal (Moscow, SEFER Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization), 2019, No. 2.


Editing of Academic Journal

“Khazar’s Miscellany”. Vol. 16. Kiev (Institute of Oriental Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine) – Moscow (Institute of Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Science), 2018-2019 (in print). Dr. Bondar served as a member of the volume’s editorial board.




"The Psalter of Feodor: 110 years later" ("Byzantine Heritage of Rus’–Ukraine", 2nd International Conference, Institute of History, Nacional Academy of Science of Ukraine, Kiev, 2018).


“Old Russian Literature in the fiction by Yevgeny Vodolazkin” (International Conference "Familiar names of contemporary Russian literature. Yevgeny Vodolazkin", Jagiellonian University (Krakow, Poland), 2018.



Michael Shil’nov, Independent Researcher (Kharkov, Ukraine – Goteborg, Sweden): “Jewish Folk Music in the Carpathian Environment”.


Anastasia Strakhova, PhD student (Atlanta University, USA): “Jewish Immigrants from Russia in the USA in the Last Quarter of the 19th Century”.


Nikita Marienko, PhD student (Kharkov National University n. a. V. N. Karazin): “The Jewish Question: In Politics and the Public Sphere of the Russian Empire, 1894–1917".



February 4–6, 2018

Dr. Bondar represented the Center at the XXV international conference at the Moscow Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization “Sefer” of the Russian Academy of Science. The title of Dr. Bondar's lecture was "On the Question of Old Belarusian among the Jews of Grand Duchy of Lithuania".


March 5, 2018

Dr. Bondar participated in the Center’s research workshop “The Life of the Jews and Jewish Life in the Soviet Union” in which he delivered a lecture entitled “Kharkov-Tel Aviv: Readings in Memory of Lev Livshits and its Renewal”.


May 16-18, 2018

Dr. Bondar represented the Center at an international conference held in Krakow on the topic “Familiar Names of Contemporary Russian Literature: Eugene Vodolazkin”, where he delivered a lecture entitled “The Role of Old Russian Literature in the Novels of Vodolazkin”.


October 25-27, 2018

Dr. Bondar represented the Center at an international conference held in Kiev on the topic “The Byzantine Heritage of Rus’–Ukraine”, where he delivered a lecture entitled “The Psalter of Feodor: 110 Years Later”.



"Old Russian Scribe’s Craft and its Fruits", Lecture, May 02, 2018; "Reading and Translations of the Bible in Russia", Lecture. May 13, 2018; "Knaan on the Dnieper River: the Jews of Old Rus’ and Hebrew-Slavic contacts", Lecture June 16, 2018   “Heritage” Publishing lecture hall.


Jewish Question in Russia, December 6, 2018; “They Commanded to Hnatch His Tongue and Burned it…” Judaizers Heresy, “Babel” Bookstore, March 14, 2019


Lecture on the Jewish-Slavic Medieval Contacts in Teacher Training Courses, Open University of Israel, December 12, 2018.



Collaborative Work 

Сontinuation of scientific cooperation with following researches: Vitaly Chernoivanenko (Kyiv, Ukraine, National University "Kyiv-Mohyla Academy"), Alexander Grischenko (Moscow, Russia, Institute of Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Science), Basil Lurje (Sanct-Petersburg, Russia, “Scrinium” journal), Vladimir Petrukhin (Moscow, Russia, Institute of Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Science), Anna Pichkhadze (Moscow, Russia, Institute of Russian Language, Russian Academy of Science), Andrew Shpirt (Moscow, Russia, Institute of History, Russian Academy of Science), Sergey Temchin (Vilnius, Lithuania, Institute of Linguistics, Lithuanian Academy of Sciences), Abraham Torpusman (Electronic Jewish Encyclopedia, Jerusalem, Israel), Jurgita Verbickene (Vilnius, Lithuania, Vilnius University), Tatyana Vilkul (Kiev, Ukraine, Institute of History, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine), Constantine Zuckerman (Paris, France, École pratique des hautes études).

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