MSTISLAVL (referred to by the Jews as Amtchislav), city in Mogilev district, Belarus; until 1772 in Poland-Lithuania; under czarist rule, part of Mogilev province. Jews are first mentioned as inhabitants of Mstislavl in 1590, although they had leased the taxes of the area from the mid-16th century. In 1639 there was a synagogue in Mstislavl. During the Northern War between Peter the Great and Charles XII of Sweden, Peter's troops entered Mstislavl (1708) and many Jews were injured. In 1765 there were 552 Jews registered as paying poll tax in the town and surrounding villages. As a result of their critical economic situation, 271 Jews left the town and district in 1808 for agricultural settlements in southern Russia. At the end of December 1843 a quarrel broke out between some Jews and a group of soldiers who had come to confiscate some smuggled merchandise in a Jewish shop. Magnifying the incident, the local authorities described it to the government as a Jewish rebellion against the authorities. When informed of the affair, Nicholas I ordered that every tenth Jew in the town be impressed into the army. It was only after numerous intercessions in the capital that investigators from St. Petersburg were sent to Mstislavl. The accusations of rebellion were refuted and the collective punishment revoked. Subsequently, the day the decree was rescinded (Kislev 3) was celebrated as the Purim D'Amtchislav. In 1847 there were 3,815 Jews registered in Mstislavl and in 1897 they numbered 5,076 (59.7% of the population). Because of the Jewish merchants, the town turned into an important commercial center. There were 194 Jewish artisans out of a total of 291. Most of them were Mitnaggedim, but there was also a considerable minority of *Ḥabad Ḥasidim. After World War I the Jewish population decreased, until in 1926 only 3,371 (42% of the total population) remained, and it dropped further to 2,067 (20% of the total) in 1939. A Yiddish school operated there from 1927, and two kolkhozes, with 110 families, were in the town in the 1930s. The Germans captured Mstislavl on July 14, 1941, and in early October killed 30 elderly Jews. On October 15, 1941, together with the local police, they murdered 850 (or perhaps 1,300) Jews in the marketplace. S. *Dubnow was a native of Mstislavl, as was Dr. Moshe Rachmilevich, one of the founders of the Hebrew University Medical School.
Dubnow, in: He-Avar, 1 (1918), 63–75; 8 (1961), 149–52; Lifshits, ibid., 8 (1961), 81–100; Smilak, in: Reshumot, 4 (1926), 287–94; Dubnow, in: YIVO Bleter, 1 (1931), 404–7; Dubnow, in: Voskhod, no. 1 (1889), 176–84; no. 8 (1893), 24–28; no. 9 (1899), 33–59; Gessen, in: Perezhitoye, 2 (1910), 54–77; Anski, ibid., 248–57.
[Yehuda Slutsky /
Shmuel Spector (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.