Bimah in the seventeenth-century wooden synagogue, Zabłudów, Poland, ca. 1920s. (YIVO)

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(Yid., Zabludove), town on the Meletina River (in the Western Bug basin) in the Białystok district and province of Poland. Zabłudów is first mentioned in archival sources in 1525. From 1569, the town was in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth; from 1795 it was belonged to East Prussia; from 1807 to 1918 it was in the Russian Empire.

In 1596, two dwellings (out of 101) belonged to Jews; in 1622, Jews owned 16 out of 296, and in 1685, the Jewish population consisted of 296 individuals living in 85 dwellings around the market square.

Zabłudów’s location on the border between Lithuanian and Polish territories led to a long-term dispute between the Council of Four Lands and the Lithuanian Council. Both claimed jurisdiction over the area’s Jews, and debates centered on whether Zabłudów was a responsibility of Tykocin in Poland or Grodno in Lithuania. Attempts at resolving the dispute divided jurisdiction between the two cities. Still, after a period in which Tykocin predominated, from the mid-seventeenth century the Zabłudów community was a member of the Lithuanian Council, whose sessions it hosted in 1664 and 1676.

In 1638 and 1645, the Jews of Zabłudów received privileges confirming their right to own a synagogue, a hospital, a cemetery, and an abattoir. Fragments of the community register (pinkas) from 1646 to 1816 have been preserved. The wooden synagogue built in the 1630s became one of the most remarkable specimens of that type of synagogue architecture. In 1646, a woman’s section was added to the structure, and the wall paintings were renovated in 1712. The building was renovated both in 1765 and in the early nineteenth century.

In 1660, Russian troops caused heavy damage to Zabłudów’s Jews. However, the community quickly recovered, thanks to the production and sale of beer and vodka, and to intensive trade at urban markets and fairs. Fierce competition with merchants in the town led to ritual murder accusations in the 1690s.

In 1752, the Jewish tailors’ and furriers’ craft guild split. In addition to these groups, there were at least six other religious and charitable societies in Zabłudów. The minute book of the burial society for the years 1701–1819 has been preserved. In 1764, some 831 Jews lived in Zabłudów; in 1807, there were 1,831 (representing 50% of the town’s population); in 1847, there were 2,165; and in 1897 the numbers had risen to 2,621 (68.6%). Notable Jews included the prominent maskil Ḥayim Zelig Słonimski, who lived in Zabłudów from 1827 for nearly 10 years. He was a member of the Talmud Study Society and taught in a local bet midrash.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Jews established weaving and spinning mills and leather processing enterprises in Zabłudów. Jewish workers began to organize at the turn of the century, forming a cell of the Zionist Socialist Workers Party in 1906. Emigration to the United States, Argentina, and Chile began in the 1880s, and swelled after 1905 and 1914.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Zabłudów boasted a synagogue, four study houses, a private boys’ school, and a Talmud Torah. During World War I, the town’s public institutions declined, eventually to be restored with aid from the U.S.-based Committee of Former Zabłudów Residents.

After the town became part of independent Poland in 1918, Jews began to participate in the Zabłudów city council. In 1921, some 1,817 Jews lived in Zabłudów; in 1925, they numbered 2,200; in 1931, there were 1,952; and in 1939, there were approximately 1,900 (representing more than 50% of the population). Centers of Zionist activity included the Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir organization, the local library, and the Bet ‘Am Club, where lectures and educational and amateur talent activities took place; the club also organized regular events to gather money for the Jewish community in Palestine. In 1925, Zabłudów’s last rabbi, Yoḥanan Mirsky, organized a Talmud Torah in which the Hebrew language and secular subjects were taught.

With western Belorussia’s annexation to the USSR and the arrival of the Red Army in September 1939, private enterprises were closed and prominent politicians and business leaders were arrested. Nonetheless, Jews continued to play an important role in city government, the education system, and cultural activities. The number of Jews in the town increased as many war refugees arrived from Poland.

When the Nazis overtook the town on 25 June 1941, they burned down its central part, including the old synagogue. Many Jews then fled to Białystok. At the end of July of that year, the Nazis established a ghetto on the premises of the local tannery. Jews were forced to work at processing leather and constructing roads. On 2 November 1942, the Nazis liquidated the Zabłudów ghetto and deported about 1,400 Jews to Treblinka. In January 1943, the Jews who had been deported to the Pruzhany’ ghetto (including Rabbi Mirsky) were sent to Auschwitz. The last Jews of the town were murdered in the Białystok ghetto in February and August 1943. No Jews returned to Zabłudów after World War II.

Suggested Reading

Sh. Asaf, “Mi-Pinkas Zabludove,” Kiryat sefer: Riv‘on bibliyografi shel Bet ha-sefarim ha-le’umi veha-universita’i bi-Yerushalayim 4 (Jerusalem, 1925): 307–317; Yisra’el Halperin, “Ḥavarot ba‘ale mela’khah be-Polin ve-Lita,” in Tsiyon 1 (1937): 88–89; Yankev Kreplyak, ed., Zabludover pinkes (New York, [1925]); Maria and Kazimerz Piechotka, “Zabłudów,” in Heaven’s Gates: Wooden Synagogues in the Territories of the Former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, pp. 372–379 (Warsaw, 2004); Neḥamah Shemu’eli-Shamush and Ya‘akov Tur’el-Gotlib, eds., Zabludov: Dapim mitokh Yizker-bukh (Argentina 1961) (Tel Aviv, 1987), translation of selections from the Yiddish yizker-bukh with new material; Shmuel Tsesler, Yoysef Reznik, and Yitskhok Tsesler, eds., Zabludove: Yizker-bukh (Buenos Aires, 1961).



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson