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Smolensk

Smolensk, Smolensk County, Smolensk District, Russia

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The Jewish community in Smolensk became a significant one at the beginning of the 17th century. As a result of the Russian – Polish war (1654–1667) Smolensk became a part of Russia. The Russian authorities immediately forced the Jews to convert to Russian Orthodoxy; those who did not were either murdered or imprisoned. After 1667 the Jews of Smolensk were allowed to leave the town for Poland or Lithuania. Although residence in Smolensk was forbidden to non-converted Jews, at the beginning of the 18th century Lithuanian Jews began to settle in the city and its suburbs. In spite of the fact that Smolensk was not included in the Pale of Settlement, the Jewish population of the city increased. By 1904 the Jewish population of Smolensk had reached 2,500, which was almost 4 per cent of the total. In 1905-1907 the Jews who did not have permission to live outside the Pale of Settlement, as well as a number of those who did, were expelled from the city. In 1910, on the eve of Passover, a blood libel against the local Jews created a pre-pogrom atmosphere but the guilty parties were punished. During World War I the Jewish population of the city grew when many Jewish refugees sought refuge in Smolensk.
Under the Soviets, in 1929 a Yiddish-language teacher-training college was relocated to Smolensk from Gomel. In 1939 Smolensk's 14,812 Jews comprised 9.5 percent of the total population of the city.
Many Jews left or were evacuated before Smolensk was occupied by the Germans on July 16, 1941. Several dozen Jewish residents, mostly members of the intelligentsia, were murdered during the first week of the occupation. On July 28 or 30, 1941 (according to other sources, in August), Jews age 10 and over were ordered to wear yellow armbands and to sew Jewish badges onto their clothing. The ghettoization of between 1,200 and 2,000 Jews from Smolensk and refugees from Belorussia began on August 5, 1941 (or at the end of July, according to other sources). The selected area, called the Sadki settlement, was located near the Jewish cemetery across the Dnieper River. The ghetto was surrounded with barbed wire and its original inhabitants were evicted. The ghetto population was forced into 70 small houses with neither electricity nor sufficient space for the inmates to sleep at night. All able-bodied Jews were take daily to perform forced labor. Those who became too exhausted to continue working were shot and buried on the spot. In the winter of 1941-1942 more than 200 people, mostly children and old people, perished from starvation, the cold, or disease. The killing of Jews in Smolensk continued throughout the entire period of the ghetto's existence. Jews were shot for attempting to escape, for not wearing the Star of David, and for being outside of the ghetto without permission. On July 15 (or July 16) 1942 the ghetto was liquidated. The Germans took the inmates to a trench that had been prepared in advance and shot them to death.
Smolensk was liberated by the Red Army on September 25, 1943.