VOLKOVYSK (Pol. Wolkowysk), city in Grodno oblast, Belorus. Jews were first mentioned as living in the environs of Volkovysk in 1577. In 1766 the Jews paying poll tax in the city and its environs numbered 1,282. Volkovysk was annexed by Russia in 1795, and by 1797 there were 1,477 Jews and Karaites, comprising 64% of the population. There were 1,429 Jews in 1847; 5,445 (64% of the total) in 1897; and 5,130 (46%) in 1921. In the 19th century the Jews engaged in shopkeeping, crafts, and marketing agricultural products; they founded textile plants, sawmills, a brewery, a tannery, and manufactured tobacco products. Many Jews earned their livelihood by providing services and purveying to the nearby Russian army camp. The Jewish proletariat began to organize in 1897 under the influence of the *Bund, which began its activities when a strike broke out in the tanneries. A large yeshivah was founded in Volkovysk in 1887 and existed up to World War I. Between the world wars all the Jewish parties were active in the city, as well as a branch of *He-Ḥalutz. The educational institutions of the community comprised a school and kindergarten of the *Tarbut network, a Hebrew high school named Herzliyya (founded 1927), Taḥkemoni and Yavneh schools, a talmud torah, and a CISHO (see *Education) school. There was also a cooperative farmers' union (with 35 farms) for the purchase of equipment and marketing of their produce. Between 1924 and 1929 a Yiddish weekly, Volkovisker Lebn, was published. The rabbis of the community included Jonathan b. Mordecai *Eliasberg in the 1890s; Isaac Elhanan *Spektor lived there in the 1830s. Eliyahu *Golomb, Raphael Klatzkin (the Habimah actor; d. 1987), and Naḥman Rachmilewitz (Lithuanian minister for Jewish affairs), were originally from Volkovysk.

[Dov Rubin]

Holocaust Period

With the outbreak of the German-Soviet war (June 22, 1941), Volkovysk was heavily bombed by the Germans. Several hundred Jews were among those killed. A few escaped with the retreating Soviet army. From the start of the Nazi occupation many Jews were massacred, some of them denounced by Poles. A ghetto was set up on Dec. 13, 1941. In May 1942 about 2,000 Jews were exterminated near the town. The head of the *Judenrat, Ajzik Weinberg, attempted to alleviate the suffering of the community and established contact with the partisans. A Jewish underground movement organized groups to join the partisans in the forests. Discovering that Jewish doctors had helped the partisans, the Germans arrested all 11 doctors in the ghetto, severely tortured them, and, when they refused to denounce their colleagues, hanged them in the town square. On Nov. 2, 1942 all of the Jews were rounded up in a former prisoner-of war camp, joined within a few days by all the Jews of the surrounding areas – a total of 20,000 persons. They lived in overcrowded huts below ground level. By the end of 1942, about 18,000 people were deported for extermination to the death camp of *Treblinka. The Volkovysk camp was liquidated on Jan. 12, 1943, and the remnants of the town's community were transferred to *Auschwitz.

[Aharon Weiss]


Ḥurban Wolkowysk (1946); B. Wasiutyński, Ludność żydowska w Polsce w wiekach XIX i XX (1930), 83, 87, 89; I. Schiper, Dzieje handlu żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich (1937), index; O. Margolis, Geshikhte fun Yidn in Rusland (1930), 281; M. Einhorn (ed.), Volkovisker Yisker-Bukh, 2 vols. (1949); J.S. Hertz et al. (eds.), Geshikhte fun Bund, 1 (1956), 38.

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