Shtetl Vitebsk, a Jewish town in the Russian empire
Vitebsk was the tenth largest Jewish center in the Pale of Settlement,
after Warsaw (219,149 Jews), Odessa (138,915), Lodz (98,677), Vilna (64,000),
Kishinev (50,237), Minsk (47,562), Bialystok (41,900), Berdichev (41,617),
Yekaterinoslavl (aka Dnepropetrovsk, 40,009). Vitebsk, on the shores of
Dvina river, was a major trade and cultural center, a stronghold
of Orthodox Judaism with a strong hasidic presence. At the turn of the XX century
there were almost 35,000 Jews living in Vitebsk, 52.4% of the total population.
From the data of The First All-Russia Census of 1897 for
the Vitebsk gubernia (LDS microfilm 1732226):
- Total population of Vitebsk gubernia: 1,489,246 (of those, 215,919 living in cities)
- Jews and karaims: 175,635 (113,848 in cities)
- Yiddish as mother tongue: 174,240 (112,455 in cities)
- Total population of Vitebsk: 33,345 men; 32,374 women
- Jews in Vitebsk: 15,897 men; 17,555 women
- Age distribution of the Jews of Vitebsk gubernia:
| <1|| 2,558|| 2,474|
| 30-40|| 8,637|| 9,777|
| 40-50|| 7,328|| 8,370|
| 50-60|| 4,972|| 5,492|
| 60-70|| 3,173|| 3,140|
| 70-80|| 1,361|| 1,161|
| 80-90|| 316|| 256|
|90-100|| 35|| 46|
- `The majority of Jews (52.09%) is concentrated, obviously, in the cities
and towns ["mestechki", shtetls] where almost all of the industry and trade
is in their hands. In every town of the [Vitebsk] gubernia ... Jews make up
at least 1/2 of the total population.'
- Religious affiliation among Jews: Judaism 99.94%, Russian Orthodox 0.03%,
Catholics 0.01%, Protestants 0.01%, others 0.01%
The Soviet times
With the advent of the Soviet rule the Vitebsk Jewish community rapidly declined.
In 1923 there were 39,714 Jews (43.7% of the total population), and in 1926 there were
The self-proclaimed "first web page about Vitebsk"
by Kirill Yurchenko is an excellent representation of how the history of Vitebsk
was re-written in the Soviet times, to erase all traces of Jewish life. The author,
probably a well-meaning Vitebsk native is clearly unaware of anything Jewish about Vitebsk.
The web site does have some modern maps and both modern and historical images, all of them of
christian landmarks. As far as I understand, only
one image may be of some interest
to Jewish genealogists: I believe the Jewish quarter was located immediately to the right of the
bridge depicted there. If anybody knows otherwise, please correct me.