OSHMYANY


OSHMYANY (Pol. Oszmiana), town in Grodno district, Belarus. Oshmyany, one of the oldest settlements in Lithuania, was granted municipal status in 1537. A Jewish community developed there at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1765 there were 376 Jewish poll-tax payers in Oshmyany and the surrounding villages. In 1831, after a battle against Polish rebels, Russian soldiers set fire to Oshmyany and killed many of the town's inhabitants, including many Jews. In 1847 the community numbered 1,460, and by 1897 the number had increased to 3,808 (about 53% of the population). Jews earned their livelihood from small trade and crafts, essentially from tanning, shoemaking, tailoring, and carpentry. At the beginning of the 20th century most of the Jewish workers organized themselves into a trade union. There were seven synagogues in the town, three of them belonging to the unions of the tanners, shoemakers, and tailors. Prominent rabbis served the community during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, among them R. Meir Michael Kahana (1883), R. Mordecai b. Menahem *Rosenblatt (author of Aleh Ḥavaẓẓelet, 1891–1906), and R. Judah Leib Fein 1906–14).

The Great Synagogue of Oshmyana was erected in 1902. In the battles between the Red Army and the Polish Army in 1920, many Jews fell victim to the fighting. Between the two world wars (under Polish rule) the office of vice mayor was held by a Jewish delegate. During this period branches of all the Jewish parties were active in the town. The leading educational and cultural institutions were the Tarbut and Yavneh Hebrew schools, the CYSHO Yiddish school, a Hebrew library, and a drama circle. Between the years 1922 and 1925 a Jewish agricultural cooperative with 30 members functioned in the surroundings of Oshmyany.

[Arthur Cygielman]

Holocaust Period and After

The Germans occupied the town on June 26, 1941. On July 25 they ordered all male Jews to assemble in the square. The assembled, who numbered about 700, were taken to Bartel and murdered. In October 1941 a ghetto was established of 1,800 inhabitants; Jews from the neighboring towns of Olshan, Smorgon, and Krawo were brought in, and disease and hunger took many lives. On June 16, 1942, about 350 youths were transferred to a camp in Miligany. In October the Germans announced that too many Jews were still living in the ghetto and that the population must be decreased, which meant extermination for some of its occupants. Receiving the information, the *Judenrat in Vilna claimed that if it performed the Aktion the number of victims would be reduced. Headed by Salek Dresler, members of the Vilna Jewish police participated in the Aktion on Oct. 19, 1942, making their Selektion and kidnapping 406 Jews, who were taken in the direction of Oglyovo, about 4 mi. (7 km.) from Oshmyana, and murdered there.

This episode roused the Jews against both the Judenrat and the Vilna Jewish police. Jacob Gens, head of the Judenrat in Vilna, took full responsibility for the Aktion, claiming that by sacrificing part of the Jewish population there was a chance to save the rest. Early in 1943 an underground organization was established in the ghetto, and its members left for the forests to join the partisans. On April 28, 1943, the ghetto was liquidated. Some of its 2,500 inhabitants were transferred to the Vilna ghetto, some were deported to labor camps in the vicinity, and others were killed at Ponary. After World War II Jewish life in Oshmyany did not fully revive. In 1965 there were some 25 Jewish families living there, most of whom had not previously been residents of the city. A monument to Jewish martyrs murdered by the Nazis, erected outside the city, was repeatedly desecrated. In 1970 some 300 families from Oshmyany lived in Ereẓ Israel.

[Aharon Weiss]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

B. Wasiutyński, Ludność żydowska w Polsce w wiekach XIX i XX (1930), 82; Żydzi a powstanie styczniowe, materiały osijek i dokumenty (1963), index; Sefer Zikkaron li-Kehillat Oshminah (Heb., Yid., and some Eng., 1969).


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.