Slonim
Slonim is a large Byelorrusian city which is now part of Grodno province. The word "Slonim" itself apparently stems from "Slenis" or "Slenumas," meaning lowland. Slonim actually lies in a valley and is surrounded by rolling hills of varying heights. As early as the 12th century there was a princely court. In the 14th century the area was ruled by Lithuanian Prince Gedimin, and Slonim was incorporated into his domain. It was around that time that Jews began settling in the area, although the Jewish community there was not established until the 16th century.



Slonim had a Jewish Quarter - the old courtyard with the Great Synagogue in the center, a baroque building that went back to 1642. The famous large synagogue was considered the most beautiful house of worship in the Lithuanian duchy.

The synagogue was encircled by a dozen Study Houses with names like "The Building," "The Shoemakers Synagogue," "The Tailors Synagogue," "The Lubavitcher Shtiebl," and a few others. Near the Great Synagogue sprawled the "Old Marketplace," full of butcher shops, herring stalls, flour stores, and the workshops of various Jewish craftsmen.

You could see Jewish women with big baskets on their shoulders, porters, coachmen, peasants, buyers, and sellers. There was a little street called "Rubinovski's" that led from the old marketplace to the new marketplace, which again was lined with Jewish stores, workshops, inns and taverns. And wherever you looked you saw friendly Jews, always busy and absorbed and in the pursuit of earning a livelihood.
Directly outside the synagogue courtyard, between the Tailors Synagogue and the Slaughterhouse, the street led uphill to "The Mountain," a densely populated working-class neighborhood where in a dozen crooked, narrow little street the Jewish poor huddled together in their crowded little homes.

In the low-lying streets along the banks of the Szeczara River and the canal there was more Jewish poverty and overcrowding. Between the Szcara and the canal, on an elongated island, there were two streets, Balione and Zhabinke, and two more synagogues. A third synagogue was located on Breger Street. There was also Ruzany Street with its Jewish cemetery.



Exotic and fascinating was the Hassidic court on Skorbibve Street. In the center of the yard was the shtiebl, from which came a constant stream of fervent melodies. Melodies that made the Slonim Hasidic dynasty famous far beyond. Their very Rebbe was beloved and respected by the rapturous and ecstatic Hasidim of Slonim.

Slonim Jews were credited with the development of commerce in the 15th century. In the second half of that century, under King Kasimir the Fourth of greater Poland Lithuania, Jews enjoyed full rights and privileges. In 1495 the Lithuanian duchy decreed the expulsion of all Jews from Lithuanian duchy including Slonim. The decree remained in effect for eight years. In 1503 it was nullified and Slonim Jews returned to their homes and reclaimed their properties. The Jewish population in the 16th century rose to 400, or 15 percent of the total population. In 1569 Lithuania was annexed by Poland and the immigration of Polish Jews to Slonim increased. In 1660 The Jews suffered persecutions by the armies of Stephan Czarniecki.

Early in the 17th century, Slonim hired its first rabbi, Moshe Lima, who later served as rabbi of Bresk and Vilna. While in Slonim, Rabbi Lima was considered to be the highest authority on Halacha (Jewish law) in Lithuania. The Jewish population reached 1200 by the middle of the 17th century and 1400 by 1797.

Rabbi Moses Ben Isaac Judah Lima (?1605-1658), studied in the yeshiva of Joshua Falk in Cracow, where he became friendly with many who later were leaders of the generation. At the age of 32 in 1637 he served as rabbi of Slonim and in 1650 was av bet din of Vilna, his colleagues being Ephraim b. Jacob ha-Kohen and Shabbetai Ben Meir Ha-Kohen (1621-1662) author of the Sifrei Kohen on the Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah. In 1655 he was appointed rabbi where he served until his death. One of his three sons, Raphael, published his father's work Helkat Mehokek (Cracow, 1670), a commentary on the Shulhan Arukh. Even ha-Ezer, outstanding for its critical perceptiveness and profundity and acknowledged as one of the best halakhic works of the later generations. It was accepted as an authoritative work in its field, despite its difficult style, which at time makes a super-commentary necessary. The Beit Shemuel of Samuel b. Uri Shraga Phoebus is devoted largely to a discussion of Liman's book. For the benefit of rabbis and posekim Lima and Samuel complied Kunteres ha-Agunot appended to chapter 17 of Even ha-Ezer containing the essence of hundreds of books and responsa concerning the permission of agunot to remarry. Of Lima'a other works, there remain only a number of responsa in various collections.

There were other spiritual leaders of Slonim, including Joshua Isaac Ben Jehiel Shapira, (d.1873), rabbi and Talmudist. Known as Eizel Harif ("sharp") because he was one of the keenest intellects and most outstanding pilpulists of his day, he was av bet din successively at Kalvarija, Kutno, Tiktin, and finally Slonim. His work Nahalat Yehoshu'a was a response on several halakhot and various subjects in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. Shapira was one of the few scholars in his generation who attached as much value to the Jerusalem Talmud as to the Babylonian, a fact amply reflected in his commentaries.

In the mid-19th century, R. Abraham b. Isaac Weinberg (1804-1884) founded a new branch of Hasidism and became the first of the Slonim dynasty. The Slonim yeshivah was one of the oldest and most honored Lithuanian yeshivot, and came under the trend of Hasidism.

R. Abraham Ben Issac Mattathias Weinbergs' teachers in Hasidism were the zaddikim Noah of Lachowicze (Lyakhovichi) and Moses of Kobrin. When Moses died, Abraham assumed the role of zaddik and became one of the leading rabbis of his time. His influence extended mainly throughout the northwestern part of the province of Polesie, Poland-Lithuania, between the cities of Slonim and Brest-Litovsk and between Kobrin and Baranovichi.

R. Abrahams' writings include Hesed le-Abraham (1886) and Yesod ha-Avodah (1892). His works, which include principles of his Hasidic teachings, attest great scholarship. He advocated the study of Torah for its own sake, prayer with devotion (devekut), love and fear of the Creator, humility and confidence. He saw asceticism and mourning as ways of repentance. He also wrote a homiletic commentary on Mekhilta, entitled Be-er Avraham (1927). During R. Abraham's lifetime, his grandson Noah (d. 1927) emigrated to Erez Israel and settled Tiberias, where Slonim Hasidim found a special place in the history of Hasidism in Erez Israel from the late 19th century. The letters of the rabbis of Slonim to their fellow Hasidim in Erez Israel were included in their writings. Abraham's disciple Menahem Nahum Epstein established his own dynasty of zaddikim in Bialystok. Another grandson, Samuel (d.1916) succeeded Abraham as rabbi and excelled in strengthening religious life and institutions as well as in collecting funds for the Jewish community in Erez Israel. Under Samuel, the Slonim dynasty became famous beyond its own circles for its special Hasidic melodies. Samuel's teaching were incorporated in the works of his Hasidim, Kunteres Kitvei Kodesh (1948), Kunteres Beit Avraham (5. vols., 1950-1954) After Samuel's death, a split occurred among the Slonim Hasidim. The majority chose as their leader Samuel's younger son, Abraham (II; d. 1933) who lived in Bialystok, and later in Baranovichi. In 1918 Abraham II established a major yeshiva in Baranovichi called Torat Hesed, where Lithuanian-Jewish scholarship and Hasidism were combined.

R. Abraham made journeys to Palestine to visit his Hasidic following there (1929,1933). His teachings on the weekly portion of the Torah were published by his Hasidim in the Beit Avraham. His successor in Baranovichi was his son Solomon, who perished in the Holocaust in 1943 with many of his fellow Hasidim. His teachings and letters were published in the Zikhron Kadosh (1967). Meanwhile in Slonim itself, Samuel's eldest son, Issachar Aryeh (d. 1928) inherited his father's position. On Issachar's death his son Abraham succeeded him and emigrated to Palestine in 1935, but did not serve as admor. In 1942, the Slonim Hasidim in Jerusalem established Yeshivat Slonim Beit Avraham. In 1955 Slonim Hasidim elected Abraham III;(b. 1889), the son of Noah who emigrated to Erez Israel in his youth , as their admor. (Admor - plur. Admorim, is the title by which Hasidic rabbis are known. The term is an abbreviation of the Hebrew "our L-rd, Teacher, and Master").

In the 1930's before the Holocaust, there were about 8,605 Jews living in Slonim about 52.9% of the population. Immediately after the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939), Slonim was inundated by thousands of Jewish refugees escaping from the advancing German army. Under the Soviet-German agreement the city passed to Soviet rule. In 1939-41 all Jewish community life was repressed. On April 12, 1940, about 1,000 Jewish refugees were exiled to Russia, among them Yizhak Efrat, head of the Jewish Community in Slonim.

On June 25, 1941, after war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union, Slonim fell to German troops, who began to attack the Jews. On July 17, they carried out an Aktion in which 1,200 Jewish men were rounded up and murdered on the outskirts of the city. Jewish men were taken to a stadium where for three days they were not given food or water, and had to sleep in the open. In places where Jews were permitted to spend the night - in the Great Synagogue, the Nazis created a hellish atmosphere. Early in the morning they would take groups of Jews out to "work" but those who went out never came back. On Breger Street a German with the face of a bulldog was having a good time. With many gentiles looking on, he commands the Jews to dance. "Tanzen sie,verfluchten Juden!" (Dance you damn Jews). Then he orders them to sing, as the Gentiles standing around keep time with their hands to show they are on the side of the bulldog. Beaten, dirty, their clothes torn, the victims were driven in to the theater yard, where bullies in uniform closely inspected their pockets and tossed everything into a sack. It goes without saying that this entire procedure was punctuated by punches, blows with rifle butts and billy clubs.

The news of this "episode" reached Rabbi Yehuda Leyb Fein, who immediately ran to the place, naively believing that he could influence the murderers and protect his "flock." The German guards, apparently affected by his saintly face, stopped him and advised him to go home, but the Rabbi insisted on speaking with the "head man." Again they advised him to go home, unless he wished to join his flock in the yard. "If necessary, I'll go where my people are!" the Rabbi protested.

The guards took him into headquarters and reported what he had said. The bulldog, drunk on whiskey and Jewish blood, scowled and before Rabbi Fein could say a work he grabbed his beautiful white beard.

"You have my permission! Go where your people are!" And with a few slashes of his dagger he cut off the old man's beard and threw it to the crowed with a gesture of disgust. He then tore off the Rabbi's hat and with a wave of his hand ordered his "assistants" to welcome the holy man with their truncheons.

As the Jewish prisoners witnessed this degradation of the saintly Rabbi they felt as if they themselves were being beaten. And to ease his shame, Zerach Krupenia, a grain merchant from Lower Skrorbive Street, put his own hat on the Rabbi's head.

Finally the Germans divided the Jews into groups of 21 and 30 and ordered them to sit down on the ground and sing Yiddish songs while they waited for the trucks that would take them "out to work…"

With the help of Zerach Krupenia and others, the Rabbi climbed up on one of the trucks. Along the entire route he comforted and encouraged his flock, reminding them that from earliest times Jews have been tortured and burned for their Torah. His example raised the spirits of the men.

The truck passed the Zamosche lake. Beyond the village of Petralevici. On a narrow road deep into the woods, the trucks stopped and he was the slaughter-house. Five newly dug ditches were already piled high with bodies of hundreds of Jews. The Rabbi stepped forward, spoke to his group: "We are about to fulfill the sacred commandment of Kiddush Ha-Shem. We are living in Moshiach's time, which goes hand-in-hand with the most terrible suffering and bloodshed…"

The guards ordered the Jews to undress. A burst of machine-gun fire put an end to the beating of thirty Jewish hearts.

Yehuda Leyb Fein, the last Rabbi of Slomin, died in that first massacre. He had become Rabbi in Slonim after the death of Rabbi Mordkhele Oshmener. The first massacre had been organized with military precision. In an 8-hour work-day the German murder -squads had killed 1200 Jews.

The camps for Soviet prisoners of war were in two camps - one in the Elementary School on Skrobive Street, the other in the factory buildings near the highway bridge. The prisoners were constantly subjected to all sorts of nightmarish tortures. They got very little to eat. Colds, fever, lice, filth, shootings, were their everyday fare.

The heart-rending cries from those camps, which could be heard in the surrounding neighborhood, depressed the spirits of the population, especially the Jews, who saw these prisoners as people who were even more unfortunate than they. Every morning the Germans would march the Jewish slave-laborers from their barracks past the barbed wire fence of the camp near the bridge. And every day hundreds of begging hands would be waiting for them; hundreds of pairs of eyes would be pleading with these Jews who themselves had been condemned to death by the same jailers. At the risk of their own lives these Jews would toss their last bits of food over the barbed wire and the skeletons on the other side would fall upon the crumbs like a flock of birds.

The Second Massacre - On November 14th . At 8 am the jackals began their murderous work . They broke in to Jewish homes with a maniacal screaming They dragged women out by the hair. They used their fists and their feet, their clubs and their rifle-butts. The cries of the children were heart-breaking. Infants were torn away from their mothers and piled onto trucks like logs. The half-crazed women were kept away from the trucks with clubs and dogs. In columns of six, with 500 in each group, the Jews were forced to march through the street under heavy guard. On the highway bridge the guards leading one column tore babies from their mothers' arms and threw them into the Szczara River below. A moment later there was nothing on the surface of the water but little children's caps and flecks of blood.

Mira Isaacowitz, a teacher in the Jewish elementary school, who was loved and revered by all (she had educated several generations of students), had been seized for forced labor. People would weep as they watched her marching to work barefoot and with a shovel on her shoulder. Standing at the edge of the ditch , she cursed her murderers - and they let her speak for a few moments. "You are heroes at shooting defenseless women and children, but you'll never beat the Soviet Union! You are supposed to be a superior, culture people, but your army is nothing but a gang of depraved killers! The Red Army will wipe you out like a plague!" With a hysterical cry of curses, the Nazis tortured her until she took her last breath.

As thousands of despairing Jews took their last steps on earth Meir Iznaidin's daughter Elka kept fighting. Along the entire line of march she shouted anti-Nazi slogans in Yiddish, Russian, Polish and German. "Death to the German murders!" Her courage raised the spirits of the despairing . Along Skrobive Street several Polish underworld characters scared at her: Damn Jews - you won't suck our blood any more!" Elka was not intimidated. "You're celebrating too soon," she shouted back at them. "Today it's the Jews - tomorrow it will be the honorable Poles!"

Fanya Katzenelnbogen did the same, slapping and scratching the face of a German officer before she was killed.

cities of Slonim and Brest-Litovsk and between Kobrin and Baranovichi.

Avrom Moyshe Melamed , shames of the Great Synagogue standing at the edge of the mass grave, shook the air with his powerful Av Harachamim- and the executioners did not stop him. The "Amen" of the condemned congregation served as a release from their pain.

On November 14, 1941, in a second Aktion, Germans, Lithuanians, and Belorussians murdered 9,000 Jews in nearby Czpielow. Only a few escaped the death pits. The ghetto which now had about 15,000 Jews including refugees was closed.

On June 29, 1942, the Germans and their collaborators surrounded the ghetto and set it on fire. This Aktion continued for two weeks, many Jews perished in the flames, those who escaped and were caught were murdered in the fields of Pietralewicze. The S.S. and their helpers went through the houses that the fire had spared. The skilled were selected and permitted to take along their wives and one child. The rest were taken away to be imprisoned or shot. Unbearable scenes took when parents had to make a choice of which child to take with them. Many parents refused to do this and chose death with their families. For three consecutive days the Germans ruthlessly set fire to house after house. For two weeks the Nazis did not let the Jews catch their breath. Everywhere lay death.. All this time the non-Jews in Slonim stood behind their shuttered windows and looked out. When the "Aryan" population of the city was given permission to use the Balione Bridge and Ulan Street their eyes were met by a fearful sight.

Thus in 1942, the Jewish community of Slonim was finally annihilated by the "supermen" of the Third Reich

On July 10, 1944, when the city was taken by the Soviet forces, only 80 Jews were found. Former Jewish partisans joined the Soviet army to continue the fighting against the Germans until the end of the war. In 1946 there were about 30 Jews living in Slonim.


Sources:
  • The Destruction of Slonim Jewry
  • The Story or the Jews of Slonim
  • by Nachum Alpert -1989
  • Translated from the Yiddish by Max Rosenfeld
  • Publisher: Holocaust Library 216 W 18 St. NYC
  • Encyclopedia Judaic
Copyright © 2004 by Stanley Mann
Michlalah Jerusalem College All Rights Reserved

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