Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


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Davyd-Haradok Guidebook

Pol. Dawidgródek, Bel. Давыд-Гарадок, Yid. דוידהורודוק

Jewish school in Davyd-Haradok (1930's)
Jewish school in Davyd-Haradok (1930's) (Author: Sanko, Pavel)

Town on the Horyn

Davyd-Haradok was established in 1100 by Prince David, grandson of Yaroslav the Wise: the name of the prince gave the name to the town. Due to its location on the River Horyn, the town dwellers engaged in boat-building and river trade, centered at the local river port. Wood, bread, agricultural products, tar, and other goods were floated along the Horyn and further down the Pripyat and the Dnieper rivers to Kyiv, as well as through the Oginski Canal to the Neman and further on to the Baltic Sea. On January 22, 1796, Davyd-Haradok obtained a coat of arms, the design of which reflected those economic activities of the town and which had a symbol of the river with a golden harbour, gates on both sides, and a golden ship reaching the river bank with three bales of goods.

The Jews of Davyd-Haradok

Jews may have settled in Davyd-Haradok as early as the 14th–15th century but the process of Jewish settlement was particularly intense in 1521–1551, when the town came under the rule of Bona Sforza, the Polish queen and the Great Duchess of Lithuania. The Jewish community of Davyd-Haradok was subordinated to the kahal in Pinsk. A 1667 document notes that the kahal of Pinsk collected taxes from various Jewish communities, including the Jews of Davyd-Haradok. The Khmelnytsky Uprising in the mid-17th century left the town residents in a difficult financial situation, leading to a conflict between the Jewish communities of Davyd-Haradok and Pinsk that was resolved through the intervention of the Radziwiłł family, whose patronage made it possible that an independent kahal was established in Davyd-Haradok. Davyd-Haradok was a fairly small trade and craft centre, but still, in the 17th century its artisans engaged in 35 occupations. Prince Radziwiłł’s administration reform, which resulted in the town residents being categorised as serfs, did not affect Jews, who were allowed to continue to work as free residents in crafts and trade as well as to keep their shops, lumber mills, tailor and shoemaking workshops, and a bathhouse.

The bathhouse

The full bloom of the Jewish community

The number of Jews in Davyd-Haradok grew constantly. In 1782, the town had only one synagogue, but in 1865 it had three, and at the beginning of the 20th century, it had 5 shuls located close to one another: the Great Synagogue (also known as the Cold Synagogue, Yid.: Kalte shul), established thanks to the efforts of the glazier Pinchas Nowik; it was used from Passover to High Holidays, during late Spring–early Fall season, and was not used in winter as it was next to impossible to heat it. Therefore, it was called “cold” – not heated synagogue. There was also a beth midrash (study house) built by Zeev Yudovich; a beth midrash of the Ginsburg family; and the shul of Stoliner Hasidim (the so-called shtibl, derivative of the Yiddish for “chamber”), managed by Rabbi Abraham Kolton, known as “Malach” (Heb.: angel).

Even though Davyd-Haradok is located near Pinsk, Hasidim – those 18th-century religious enthusiasts – did not have much influence on the town’s Jewish community. The Jews of Davyd-Haradok were under the cultural influence of anti-Hasidic minded Litvaks, and in many houses, there was a portrait of Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, known as the Vilna Gaon (d. 1797), who vehemently opposed the Hasidic movement. Having finished cheder, young boys continued their education in Litvak yeshivot. From 1917 on, the town also had a Hebrew-based and pro-Zionist Tarbut school, whose many graduates moved to big cities in order to pursue higher education.

Still, a small local Hasidic dynasty that was a branch of the Kashevka dynasty (from the village known today as Kashivka in the Vohlynia, Ukraine) later in the 19th century appeared in Davyd-Haradok. The dynasty was founded by Rabbi Shmuel of Kashivka, who was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Yekhiel Mikhl of Kashivka; but this line was not very large and was virtually unknown in Volhynia. The second son of Shmuel of Kashivka was Rabbi Zeev-Wolf Ginsburg, who founded a Hasidic court in Davyd-Haradok in the mid-19th century. After Zeev-Wolf, the dynasty was led by David, grandson Israel-Josef (d. 1899) and great-grandson Rabbi Zeev-Wolf (d. 1921). The last representative of this dynasty, Moshe-Yehoshua Ginsburg, was killed in the Holocaust, and with his death the Kashivka dynasty disappeared.

Industrialization of the late 19th and early 20th centuries radically transformed the life of Davyd-Haradok. The town expanded to the left bank of the Horyn River, where two watermills were built on the old river bed – the left-bank part of the town is still called Watermills [Pol.: Wiatraki]. Workshops were also opened where pots, jugs, and containers for vineyards were manufactured out of metal sheets. The local distillery produced annually about 450 buckets (5,400 liters) of vodka made of potato, not of grain and called peysakhovka (suitable for Passover), as it did not contain leavened bread and was fit for Passover use.

The first owners of passenger and cargo steamboats settled in town. A relatively small cargo and passenger steamboat, the “Leontina,” sailed on the Horyn and was used to deliver raw material from Volhynia to the Finkelstein’s tannery. Many residents worked at the local shipyard, established in 1830. Its last private owner was a Jew, Moshe Rymar. In 1939, after the town was captured by the Soviet army, the shipyard was taken away from the owner and nationalised.


World War II and the Holocaust

On the eve of the war, about 3,000 Jews lived in Davyd-Haradok. The town was captured by the Soviet army in September 1939, and incorporated into the BSSR. Then, on July 7, 1941, it was occupied by German forces. On August 10, 1941, 3,000 Jewish men aged 14 or older were shot in the Chinovsk-Horki forest, about four kilometers from the town. Women, children, and elderly people were forced to travel on foot and settle in the overcrowded ghetto in Stolin. Some people were billeted to live in the empty residences, some were taken in by relatives or friends. The others were sent back to Davyd-Haradok at the beginning of 1942, where a ghetto was established between Yukhnevicha, Lermontova, and Gorkogo Streets, on the right bank of the Senezhka River (a tributary of the Horyn). The number of prisoners, including the inhabitants of Olszany (Alshany) and Siemihościcze (Semigostichi), was 1,200. The ghetto was liquidated on September 10, 1942. Its inmates, mainly women and children, were shot in the deserted region of the Chinovsk valley. About 100 Jews managed to escape, and some of them joined the partisans.

The Nazis razed Jewish houses and synagogues and paved the road between Davyd-Haradok and Lakhva with material from the destroyed buildings (it was meant to be a retreat route for German troops).

Traces of Jewish presence

In Davyd-Haradok, as elsewhere in the private towns of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Jews lived in the central part of the town. Their houses frequently comprised a residential part as well as a store, workshop, and granary; the doors would open onto the street. Residents of Davyd-Haradok remember Jews as industrious people, good professionals who taught many Belarusians shoemaking and hairdressing. In the centre of the town lived a Jew called Rankin, who tanned hide and sewed boots (his house has survived at 1 Gorkogo St.). Certain Muravchik had a privately-owned manufacture in his house at 1 Yukhnevicha St., today a municipal library. The Borukhin family had a mill and sawmill; the building today is the seat of the Town Council, at 2 Yaroslavska St.

Neither the synagogue building nor either of the local Jewish cemeteries has survived. The synagogue was destroyed during the war, whereas the graveyards were washed away by the waters of the Horyn during water level rises in spring.

Present day

Davyd-Haradok has 6,500 residents and is the second largest town in the Stolin District – a good starting point for a cruise of the Pripat River or a trip to picturesque Polesie marshes.

Authors: Margarita Korzeniewska, Tamara Vershitskaya


Worth seeing

  • Davyd-Haradok History Museum (1908), a former school building, 11Yurchenko St., tel. +375165551337.
  • St. George’s Orthodox Church (1724).
  • Former Catholic church (1935–1936), Luchnikovskaya St.
  • Orthodox Church of Our Lady of Kazan (1913), Savetskaya St.
  • Monument to Prince David (2000), Savetskaya St.
  • Former headquarters of the Polish Border Protection Corps (1918–1931), Kalinina St.
  • Monument to Holocaust victims in Chinovsk forest wilderness, by Leonid Levin (7 km from the town).


Surrounding area

Turov (39 km): the place of origin of the Turov Gospel – the oldest Belarusian written text (11th c.); the castle mountain with a preserved fragment of the park; All Saints’ Orthodox Church (1810); Sts. Borys and Gleb cemetery at the site of the first Orthodox monastery and the burial place of St. Cyril of Turov; Jewish cemetery; wooden buildings; landscape museums.

Lakhva (93 km): in September 1942, an uprising broke out in the local ghetto; it was probably the first Jewish uprising during World War II; a Jewish cemetery; a memorial to Holocaust victims; former wooden Jewish houses; the Orthodox Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1870).

Lenin (110 km): a Jewish cemetery (16th c.), the only Jewish cemetery in the world with preserved wooden matzevot; a monument at the site of the mass execution of approx. 3,000 Jews.

Kozhan-Gorodok (134 km): a devastated Jewish cemetery; a memorial to the victims of the 1942 execution; the Uniate Church of St. Nicholas (1818); a 500-year-old oak, one of the oldest trees in Belarus.




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