The Jews of Pinsk, 1881 to 1941

The Jews of Pinsk, 1881 to 1941

The Jews of Pinsk, 1881 to 1941

The Jews of Pinsk, 1881 to 1941

Synopsis

The Jews of Pinsk is the most detailed and comprehensive history of a single Jewish community in any language. This second portion of this study focuses on Pinsk's turbulent final sixty years, showing the reality of life in this important, and in many ways representative, Eastern European Jewish community. Pinsk's role in the bloody aftermath of World War One is still the subject of scholarly debates: the murder of 35 Jewish men from Pinsk, many from its educated elite, provoked the American and British leaders to send emissaries to Pinsk. Shohet argues that the executions were a deliberate ploy by the Polish military and government to intimidate the Jewish population of the new Poland. Despite an increasingly hostile Polish state, Pinsk's Jews managed to maintain their community through the 1920s and 30s-until World War Two brought a grim Soviet interregnum succeeded by the entry of the Nazis on July 4th, 1941. For the first volume of this two-volume collection, see The Jews of Pinsk, 1506-1880.

Excerpt

Mark Jay Mirsky

This past year, I spoke about The Jews of Pinsk to a group of painters, sculptors, and intellectuals who meet to read the twentieth-century literature of Central and Eastern Europe. I was surprised by their enthusiasm about this exhaustive study of a small town in Eastern Europe. I might have expected it from academic historians of Europe or professors of Jewish Studies, but not contemporaries busy as creative artists. I explained my own fascination with Pinsk in a preface to The Jews of Pinsk, 1506 to 1880. My father was born there, in 1905 or 1906; the discrepancy in record keeping speaks to a drama of nationalities: Russian, Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, as well as religions and cultures. Its plot begins in 1506 on the first page of Mordechai Nadav’s history of the Jews of Pinsk but does not end in 1941 when the last page of this second volume, Azriel Shohet’s [also spelled Shohat, Shochat], is turned. The city’s extinction as a vital Jewish community lies a year beyond.

Nadav’s volume starts with a privilege signed by the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Prince Feodor Ivanovych Yaroslavich, in 1506, though there were Jews in Pinsk before. It grants permission to build a synagogue, establish a cemetery, and confirms their rights. The document corroborates the Jewish presence at this point of loading and unloading of goods. Pinsk lies at the juncture of a river system that stretches east and west, north and south. Long before 1506 its waters brought the goods of faraway worlds from the kingdoms of the Vikings to the courts of Byzantium through its muddy streets. The waters of the Pina and Pripet linked this small town to the Baltic and the Black Sea in an international trade that girded the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. Pinsk seems to be in a forlorn backwater of Eastern Europe, stranded in the . . .

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