Bialystok [Yiddish, Bialistok] - Granted its town charter in 1749, Bialystok was owned by the Branickis, and served as their family seat. The Jews were invited to the town in the second half of the seventeenth century; their presence was first noted in a document from 1658. In the beginning, the Community was under the jurisdiction of the kahal in Tykocin; in 1745, it gained full independence. In 1765, according to the census, there were 761 Jews living in Bialystok; by 1799, there were already 1788 (almost 50% of the town's total residents). Beginning in 1795, Bialystok was under the Prussian partition; after 1809, it fell under Russian rule.

In the nineteenth century, the city became an important hub for the textile industry as the center of the Bialystok Industrial District. The development of the textile industry prompted the introduction of customs duties on textile products manufactured in the Kingdom of Poland that were then exported to Russia proper. In order to avoid these fees, the textile plants in the Kingdom were moved to the Bialystok District. During this period, the Bialystok Jewish Community became one of the most influential in all the lands of the old Commonwealth. The railroad links to Warsaw and Petersburg also spurred economic development, and the population increased several times over.
Jews began arriving who had been forced to leave the guberniia that lay outside the pale of settlement, as well as those from nearby small towns and villages who came in search of work in the large factories.
In 1878, over 20,000 Jews were living in Bialystok, or 59% of its total residents. In 1895, this figure was 47,000 (76%). In 1899, Jews owned 299 of the 372 textile manufacturing plants, most of which were small workshops producing cheap, low-quality textiles. In the late nineteenth century, Bialystok became an important center of Jewish political life. In 1880, the Zionist group Mizrachi was founded there, led by Rabbi S. Mohilewer. Beginning in 1897, the Bund party was active in Bialystok as well, and published a newspaper, Der Bialistoker Arbaiter (Yiddish, The Bialystok Worker). There were also Jewish unions and professional organizations. The city became a significant cultural center. The Haskalah wielded a strong influence there, and there were many progressive Jewish schools, as well as sports and youth organizations.

On June 3, 1906, Bialystok was the scene of a violent pogrom instigated by the tsarist secret police, the okhrana. Seventy people died, and ninety were wounded. In the early twentieth century, the city began to lose its importance as an industrial center. Many of its residents decided to move in search of work, mostly to the United States, where they founded organizations for Jews from Bialystok.
Although emigration meant the proportion of Jews in Bialystok's total population fell significantly, the city remained home to one of the largest Jewish communities in interwar Poland. In 1932, there were approximately 39,000 Jews living in Bialystok, or 52% of its population.
In 1939, the city found itself under Soviet occupation. After the Germans entered on July 26, 1941, a ghetto was created, which grouped together Jews from the surrounding area and held a total of 40,000 people. In November 1942, M. Tenenbaum, sent from the Warsaw ghetto, managed to enter the ghetto in Bialystok; his mission was to organize a resistance movement. In February 1943, during the first liquidation action, at which time approximately 10,000 people were sent to Treblinka, an attempt was made to wage an armed resistance. During the final liquidation of the ghetto on August 16, 1943, there was an uprising, led by Tenenbaum and D. Moskowicz. After it failed, both committed suicide. In the course of five days, all the ghetto's residents were sent to the Treblinka and Majdanek death camps.

After the Second World War, a Jewish Committee was active in Bialystok until 1947, as well as numerous cultural, religious and professional institutions. Currently, the city has no Jewish organizations. Only one synagogue remains in Bialystok, dating back to the early twentieth century, the "Beit Shmuel", which today houses a sports center; one of the five original cemeteries remains, which has several thousand graves.
(H.W., G.Z./CM)

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