BIELSK PODLASKI, town in N.E. Poland, Bialystok district. Jews are mentioned there in 1487 leasing the local customs house. An organized community existed in Bielsk in the early 16th century and a synagogue was built in 1542. In 1564 a Jewish tax-collector in the town was condemned to death following a blood libel. The Jewish population numbered 94 in 1816 and 298 in 1847. With the coming of the railroad, trade and industry developed and the Jewish population rose to 4,079 in 1897 (54.6% of the total). In 1920 a Jewish school was founded and the Zionist youth organizations began their educational work in the town. Between the world wars the economic condition of the Jews deteriorated as a result of discriminatory government measures and the generally depressed economy
[Shlomo Netzer (2nd ed.)]
In 1921 Bielsk had 2,392 Jews, but under Soviet rule (1939–41) its Jewish population increased to 6,000 when large numbers of refugees arrived from the western parts of Poland occupied by the Germans. In the summer of 1940 a number of refugees were exiled to the Soviet interior. In the spring of 1941 young Jews were drafted into the Soviet Army. When the war broke out between Germany and the U.S.S.R. (June 22, 1941), groups
of Jews attempted to flee eastward with the retreating Soviet forces, but few of them succeeded. The Germans entered Bielsk on June 24, 1941. Within ten days they assembled 30 of the Jewish leaders and intellectuals and put them to death. The Germans exacted a fine of four kilograms of gold and 200,000 rubles from the Jewish community. They also imposed a Judenrat, headed by Shlomo Epstein. In August 1941 an "open" ghetto was established. In February 1942 the ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire and closed off from contact with the outside. In Feb. 1943, the Germans rounded up over 5,000 ghetto inhabitants for the Treblinka death camp and murdered 200 old and sick Jews in the local Jewish cemetery. About 40 experts and skilled craftsmen were picked out and sent to the *Bialystok ghetto, where they were eventually liquidated along with the rest of the Jewish inmates. The community was not reconstituted after the war.
I. Schipper (ed.), Dzieje handlu żydowskiego na ziemiach polskich (1937), index.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.