The activity of the Bund’s supporters during the years of the Russian revolution (1905 - 1906) caused serious repressions of Russian authorities targeted at the Jewish population and the city’s authorities. There were two pogroms initiated by the tsar’s army in Białystok at that time. In the summer of 1905, two people died and a dozen were injured, as a result of a shooting in the Jewish district triggered by a group of tsar’s soldiers. A year later, between 1 and 3 June 1906, another massacre took place resulting in about 70 deaths among Jews and six among Christians, and at least 90 severely wounded; numerous lootings of Jewish properties were noted. Pogroms, which stemmed from mutual prejudices and national antagonisms, were carried out by Christian citizens with an active support of the local police and local governing elites [6.1]. Although those tragic events initiated the emigration of Jews from Białystok to, for example, New York, it did not hinder the mass settlement of Jewish newcomers in the city. The community was comprised of rich owners of the factories and palaces, representatives of intelligentsia, workers and the poor. The Jewish population lived mainly in the city center, by the marketplace, as well as in the quater between Lipowa Street, the Biała River, along Mikołajewska Street (the present Sienkiewicza Street) and Suraska Street.
The oldest part of the Jewish district called Szulhof (Shulhof), with the majority of its inhabitants being orthodox, was revolved around the main synagogue and it was located in the southern part of Suraska Street. The second center of religious life was located in the vicinity of Kupiecka (now: Malmeda) Street, Żydowska (now: Fornalska) Street and Giełdowa (now: Spółdzielcza) Street. Its center was a modern synagogue called Chorszul [6.2]. In the 18th and the 19th centuries, the districts ”Chanajki” and “Piaski” (Streets: Młynowa, Grunwaldzka, Kijowska, Mławska, Cieszyńska, Angielska, Sosnowa and Rynek Sienny), were home to the poorest members of the Jewish population of Białystok. These districts were dominated by single storey wooden buildings, though some brick buildings did also appear, including a three-storey building at 23 Młynowa Street, where a Jewish nail factory had been located before the war.
The years of World War I, which took the life of about 6,000 Jews from Bialystok, were a time of deepening economic crisis. The community fought the crisis by organizing aid for the most needy. The city’s aid and philanthropy societies arranged homes for children, sleeping places and eating-houses. The number of the Jewish community fell almost by half already during the years of World War I. In 1921, there were 39,602 Jews living there, which was 51% of the total population. The difficult economic situation caused by recession, rapid economic changes and general crises in the textile industry, contributed to another emigration wave of Jews from Bialystok, which continued in the 1920s and 1930s. After a short period of relative prosperity (1926–1928), when Jewish textile producers and merchants from Bialystok begun to expand onto far-east markets, Hungary and the Balkans, the 1930’s welcomed yet another period of stagnation. Some of the largest factories were liquidated at that time, causing a 25% drop in production and contributing to a further deepening of the economic crisis. Only 110 factories survived till 1939 [6.3].
During the interwar period, due to, among other factors, mass migration of Jews from Bialystok to the USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Palestine, and also because of the gradual processes of assimilation and secularization, which touched some of the Jewish intelligentsia, the percentage of Jewish believers in Białystok started to decline, reaching a low level of 43% of the city population in 1936.
[6.1] Encyclopaedia Judaica, F. Skolnik, M. Berenbaum (eds.), vol. 3, Detroit – New York – San Francisco – New Haven – Waterville – London, (2007), 567; Der Bialystoker Yizkor Buch, New York, (1982), 15–18
[6.2] T. Wiśniewski, Bóżnice białostocczyzny, Białystok, (1992), 136; M. Sokołowski, Historia bialostokich Żydów 1658-1943 [online] http://www.szlak.uwb.edu.pl/historia.html [Accessed 21 March 2014]
[6.3] Bialystok, in: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, Sz. Spector, G. Wigoder (eds.), vol. I, New York (2001), 139.
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