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


NN Theatre


Pol. Iwie, Bel. Іўе, Yid. אייוויע



Located by the Ivyanka River, Ivye is mentioned in sources from the first half of the 15th century as a grand-ducal court. The origins of the town’s name are not quite clear: according to some sources, it comes from the name of a tree, the weeping willow, which is common to the local fauna; others point to a Tatar legend, which says that a castle was built here at the request of Duchess Eve, wife of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas, and that this gave rise to the settlement.

In the 16th century, when the Arian heresy was banished elsewhere in Europe, Poland welcomed the persecuted minority. Ivye became a centre of Arianism, with a printing house and an Arian school whose headmaster between 1585 and 1593 was the well-known thinker and educator Jan Licyniusz Namysłowski. The school became known as the Ivye Academy and provided education not only to the Arian children but also to Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics. The subjects taught there included ancient philosophy, history, law, rhetoric, ethics, music, medicine, physics, Justinian’s Code, Aristotelian logic, and, of course, languages – Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Polish, and Belarusian.

In 1598, Yvye had two taverns and 129 households, while 19 farms outside the town were allocated to the Tatars (who are believed to have been brought to the area by Duke Vytautas in the 14th century). In 1634, the town consisted of a market, three streets, and 180 households. The mid-17th-century wars led to a sharp decrease in the town population: according to the inventory of 1685, only 91 houses in Ivye and eight Tatar houses near the town were inhabited.

In 1795, the Ivye area was incorporated into the Russian Empire, with Ivye becoming the administrative centre of a commune in the County of Oszmiana (Ashmyany) in Vilnius Guberniya. From 1843, it belonged to the Zamoyski family.

In 1861, about 10,000 peasants in the Ivye land rebelled against the agrarian reform. The revolt, known as the 1861 Ivye Peasants’ Uprising was suppressed by substantial military forces (four companies of infantry regiments).

In 1864, eight fairs were held in Ivye: on January 1, February 2, May 28, June 18, September 29, November 1, and November 11. From June 29 to September 29, weekly fairs and bazaars took place on Sundays, and in the remaining part of the year they were organised on Wednesdays. The Ivye fairs were known mainly for cattle sales. Apart from the stalls set up on market days, 17 shops and four taverns operated in the town (data of 1897). Local inhabitants made their living also as craftsmen and fishermen.

In 1897, Ivye had 2,828 residents and 387 households. There were a church, a chapel, a synagogue, three other Jewish prayer houses, a mosque, a folk school, a pharmacy, a mill, 17 small shops, and four taverns. Fairs were held five times a year. In Napoleon Orda’s Guide to Lithuania and Belorussia (Vilnius, 1909), we read: “Ivye – a small town in the Oszmiana County in Vilnius Guberniya. Its 5,000 inhabitants include 3,500 Jews, 800 Catholics, 500 Tatars, and 30 Orthodox Russians.”

Tatars have been living in Ivye for centuries. The wooden mosque built in 1884 was the only operating mosque in the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic during the entire Soviet period. The town is sometimes called the “Tatar capital of Belarus.”


The Jews of Ivye

The first information about the Jews in Ivye comes from the 1685 town inventory. Out of 61 homesteads, nine were inhabited by Jews. The following are mentioned among them: Israel Szmailwicz, Yehiel Hoszkiewicz, Abram Morduchoiewicz, Szapszaj, Hoszko, Leyzer, Peyzel, and Hirszel; all of them lived in Nowogródzka St., which led to the marketplace.

Many Jews were artisans or craftsmen, working as tailors, shoemakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, or rope-makers. In 1852, they tried to organise a guild but the authorities rejected their request. As a result, a simplified craftsmen’s board was established, which consisted of the tailor Jankiel Zoseliowicz, the blacksmith Nachim Ginzburg, and the shoemaker Szmaj Bloch. The council included four master tailors, a blacksmith, and a master shoemaker. In addition, five Jews from Ivye – three carpenters, a rope-maker, and a day-worker – formed a so-called non-artisan guild. Many Jews worked in the “drinking” business – the production and sale of alcohol. According to 1866 records, there were 10 taverns and 4 inns in the town. Some Jews of Ivye tried to find a niche in the manufacturing industry; for example, Jankiel Lewin opened a match factory in 1890. Jews worked also in medicine. At the end of the 19th century, Leib Flaum was a freelance physician, while Arie Bojarski ran a pharmacy.

Yehuda Leib Bloch’s memoirs illustrate the ubiquitous poverty reigning among the Jews in Ivye:


Notable people

Ivye was the birthplace of Haim Ozer Grodzieński (1863–1940) – a halakhist, religious and social activist, and spiritual leader of the Lithuanian Orthodox Jewish community; the (unofficial) Chief Rabbi of Vilnius. The main street of the Israeli town of Petah Tikva bears his name.

Other noted people born in the town include Shakhno Epstein (1881–1945) – a social activist, journalist, and literary critic. He was the chief editor of the Kharkov magazine Di Rojte Welt (Yid.: The Red World). Between 1942 and 1945, he was secretary-in-charge of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee.


World War II and the Holocaust

After the Soviets attacked Poland in September 1939, Ivye became part of the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Then, from June 29, 1941, to July 7, 1944, the Ivye land was occupied by the Germans, who established a ghetto in the town (February 1942), confining 3,000 people there. The ghetto was liquidated on May 12, 1942. After the war, 2,524 bodies were found in a mass grave near the village of Staniewicze at the southern edge of the forest. What happened to the others is unknown.

Only a few Jews survived: Four families from the Ivye region have been awarded the title of “Righteous Gentiles.”


Traces of the Jewish presence

Three buildings of the synagogue complex of Ivye have been preserved (houses no. 9, 11, and 13 located on Pervomaiskaia St.); in one of them there is now a sports school. Late 19th-century and early 20th-century Jewish houses are located on Karla Marksa St., Pervomaiskaia St., and Komsomolski Square. One of them features a fragment of a Hebrew inscription with the year when the building was established, according to the Gregorian calendar (1929). Not much is left of the Jewish cemetery of Ivye. It has been partially built over and only fragments of its stone wall have survived.

A stele was erected in 1957 at the mass grave of ghetto prisoners killed near the village of Staniavichy. Every year, Jews gather for prayers in the Staniavichy forest on the Memorial Day for the Jewish community of Ivye (May 12). In 1989, a memorial was set up in Staniavichy, with the words of the Soviet Yiddish poet Aaron Vergelis inscribed on the monument. In 1994, a performance was staged there that was directed by the American ballet dancer, choreographer, and director Tamar Rogoff, whose grandfather left Ivye in 1911.



After the war, six Jewish families lived in Ivye. Tamara Borodach (Koshcher), long-time school director in the town of Lida, now living in Israel, grew up in one of them. Born in 1949 into a large and happy Jewish family, she is the initiator of the “Roots” international project and organises trips for Jews with ancestry in Belorussia to the places where their families lived and died. Over 25 years, 2,500 people have taken part in such trips.

The year of 2012 saw the unveiling of a monument in honour of the friendship and harmony of religions in the Ivye land – Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Ivye also features the Museum of National Cultures, the only institution of this kind in the Republic of Belarus, with its permanent exhibition devoted to the history and culture of this multi-ethnic town. One of the museum rooms tells the story of Jewish culture.

Authors: Ina Sorkina, Tamara Vershitskaya


Worth seeing

  • Former synagogue complex – the main synagogue and two beth midrashim (late 19th–early 20th c.), 11 Pervomaiskaia St.
  • Ivye Museum of National Cultures 6 17 Verasnia St.; tel. +375 159 526 896.
  • Church of Sts. Peter and Paul (15th–17th c.), Karla Marksa St.
  • Mosque (1884), the only operating mosque in Belarus during the Soviet era, 76 Savetskaia St.
  • Tatar cemetery, Savetskaia St.
  • Chapel of St. Barbara (first half of the 19th c.)
  • Orthodox Church of St, Gabriel Zabłudowski (1994–1995), 1 Pervomayskaya St.
  • Watermill (19th–early 20th c.).
  • Elements of urban architecture dating back to the late 19th c. and early 20th c.

Surrounding area

Lipnishki (15 km): a Jewish cemetery; Church of St. Casimir (19th/20th c.); a manor park with a preserved outbuilding.

Traby (30 km): former Jewish houses (early 20th c.) including the rabbi’s house; Judaica in a school museum; a cemetery with approx. 100 matzevot; the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1900–1905); Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church

Lida (42 km): Gediminas’ Castle (14th c.); the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (1770); the Piarist church, now the Orthodox Church of St. Michael the Archangel; the remains of a monastery which housed a Piarist college; a wooden church in the Slabodka district (1930s); a Jewish cemetery, a Catholic cemetery (1797); barracks of the 77th Infantry Regiment; a brewery (1876); the building of Hetman Karol Chodkiewicz Gymnasium (secondary school) (1929).