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Gomel

Gomel, Gomel County, Gomel District, Belarus

To enlarge the map click here Zamkovaya Street (now Lenin Boulevard) in Gomel, beginning of the 20th century Zamkovaya Street (now Lenin Boulevard) in Gomel, beginning of the 20th century YVA Photo Collection 2986/31 Members of the Jewish self-defence organization in Gomel, 1920 Members of the Jewish self-defence organization in Gomel, 1920 Photo Collection of Ghetto Fighters' House Building of one of the former Gomel synagogues 
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Photo by Inna Gerasimova, 2010 Building of one of the former Gomel synagogues
Photo by Inna Gerasimova, 2010
Courtesy Inna Gerasimova

Jews began living in Gomel around the first half of the 16th century. During the Chmielnitsky Uprising (1648-1649) many Jews in the city were murdered by the Cossacks. At the end of the 19th century Gomel grew dramatically, becoming a hub of Jewish religious, political, and communal life. From the end of the 19th century many Gomel Jews were active politically, belonging to Zionist organization and the social-democratic party, the Bund. In 1897 20,385 Jews lived in Gomel, comprising about 55 percent of the total population. In a pogrom in 1903 10 Jews of Gomel were murdered, many were wounded, and Jewish property was looted. During this pogrom members of a Jewish self-defense organization led by Yekhezkiel Henkin, who would later become a founder of the haShomer, the Jewish defense organization in Eretz Israel, resisted the pogromists. Although the Jewish defenders were put on trial, most of them were acquitted. In 1906 many Jewish houses were burned down during a three day pogrom.
During World War I many Jewish refugees from the western areas of Russian Empire arrived in Gomel. Staff and students from several yeshivot in Poland and Lithuania also sought refuge in the city. Among the outstanding Jewish religious leaders who lived in Gomel at this time was the Hafetz Chaim (Rabbi Israel Meir haCohen), one of the founders of the Orthodox Jewish party Agudat Israel.
Gomel Jews were seriously affected by the calamities of the revolutionary years in Russia. In March 1919 an anti-Soviet revolt of two Red Army regiments in Gomel was accompanied by a pogrom.
After the establishment of Soviet rule, Jewish religious life continued, but was ultimately suppressed by the authorities. During the 1920-1930s almost all the synagogues and prayer houses were transformed into living quarters or entertainment facilities. In 1921 the trial of Rabbi Barishanskiy, the first trial against Jewish religious activists in Soviet Russia, took place in Gomel. In the 1920s and 1930s there were several Yiddish schools and a Yiddish pedagogical college. In the 1920s there was also a department of the city court where deliberations were conducted in Yiddish.
In the 1920s the proportion of Jews among Gomel's population began to decrease, largely due to the influx of non-Jews from the countryside. After liquidation of private trade at the beginning of the 1930s, a majority of Gomel's Jews were industrial workers, government officials, or craftsmen.
40,880 Jews lived in Gomel in 1939, when they comprised 29.4 percent of the total population.
Most of the Jews succeeded in leaving the city before August 19, 1941, when Gomel was occupied by German troops. Almost immediately afterwards, the Jews who remained were ordered to wear yellow patches on their clothes and an armband with the Star of David. The Jews of Gomel were incarcerated in three ghettos - 800 inmates in the ghetto in the Monastyryok suburb, 500 (including about 100 Jews brought from the town of Loyev) in the ghetto on Novolyubenskaya Street, and several hundred in the ghetto on Bykhovskaya Street. There was another ghetto in Novo-Belitsa, a neighborhood on the left bank of the Sozh River. In September 1941 200 of the inmates from Novo-Belitsa were transferred to the Monastyryok ghetto. About 1,000 Jews were incarcerated in two labor camps established in the city. Some Gomel Jews were also sent to dig peat at the nearby Kabovka labor camp, where many of them perished.
The mortality rates in all ghettos were very high because the inmates received only meager food and lived in extremely overcrowded and very poor sanitary conditions. The ghetto inmates were forced to perform all kinds of debilitating and senseless work, such as moving stones or logs from one place to another for no reason. They were required to hand over to the Germans all their money, valuables, and furs and were forbidden to leave the ghetto or to have contact with the non-Jewish population. Any deviance from German orders was punished by beating, often to death.
The killing of Jews started almost immediately after the German take- over of the city. Between August and October 1941 dozens of Jews were murdered in and around Gomel, often after being accused of aiding the partisans.
The majority of the inmates of the three Gomel ghettos were murdered early in November 1941 in a large scale massacre carried out by members of Einsatzkommando 8 and local auxiliary policemen. These victims were also accused of aiding the partisans. After this mass murder the killings continued of Jews who were caught after having escaped with their lives earlier. In December 1941 52 Jews who had attempted to hide their identity were murdered.
The total number of Holocaust victims from Gomel is estimated at between 3,000 and 4,000.
Gomel was liberated by the Red Army on November 26, 1943.