It is unclear when Lida was founded. According to Teodor Narbutt, the Principality of Dajnowo as well as Lida were founded in 1180. Another scholar, Stryjkowski, contends that Lida began in 1330; it was only in 1323, when Grand Duke of Lithuania Giediminas built a castle in the area, that more precise references to Lida appear. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that settlements had existed in the area earlier. Because Belarusian archaeologists have been unable to find traces of settlement from 1180, 1323 has been agreed on as an official year for the founding of the town.

An encyclopedia entitled Żywopisnaja Rossija contains information on Lida, describing it as the capital of a specific principality and an old settlement on the border of Lithuania, Slavic lands, and the lands around Dajnowo. The town played an important role in the shaping of the history of this borderland. Adam Kirkor, the author of the encyclopedia entry, believed that Lida could have served as a fortress in days past before Duke Gediminas built the castle, the ruins of which have survived to the present day. Kirkor wrote:

“Lida is located on the border between two tribes inhabiting this region, the Lithuanians and Black Ruthenians, who are separated by the Ditva river. The earliest capital of the tribes from Dajnowski region, Dajnawa, is now a small village near Lida. The Dajnowskie Principality existed there already by the beginning of the 13th century.”

In his book Diabły z historii życia narodu litewskiego, Kirkor added to his account and provided details on the castle:

“The town of Lida was founded on the very border of ancient Lithuania and the terrain inhabited by local Slavic tribes. It was founded in the second half of the 13th century, when the Dajnowskie sovereign principality [independent from the supreme authority (editor’s note)] became Lida, which, in the beginning, was probably a small Lithuanian settlement.”

A catalogue titled Osady miejskie w Imperium Rosyjskim dating to 1860 states:

“The town of Lida is one of the earliest Lithuanian settlements. The surrounding estates were individual contributions of the dukes from this area. The remains of their palace became part of the Dajnawa land estate near Lida.”

From the second half of the 14th century, Lida, along with the surrounding area, belonged to Lithuanian monarch Duke Algirdas. Sometime around 1377, the duke gave a mandate to his deputy Wojdyła to manage the town. After Wojdyła’s death, Lida fell under the rule of Jagiełło, king of Poland and Lithuania. He in turn handed the administration of Lida over to Dmitry Kaributas. The same year, the ruler Vytautas took over the city. In January, 1329, Teutonic Knights led by two commanders, Jan Rumpenheim and Kuno von Lichtenstein, and an army led by Vytautas (at that time in conflict with Jagiełło) crossed the Neman river and a frozen swamp near the town of Alytus to reach the castle of Lida. With them came English knights led by the young Henry Percy, commonly known as Sir Harry Hotspur, the elder son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland. Narbutt described the raid as follows:

“The front division of the Teutonic Knights reached Alytus in 1392. Jan Rumpenheim and Kuno von Lichtenstein together with participants from abroad took part in the march. Duke Vytautas was also there. When the army was about to leave Alytus, the British quarreled with the Germans over the right to carry the banner of St Jerome and a vicious skirmish broke out. Big names were involved in the fracas on both sides – Percy, the son of the earl of Northumberland commanded the British, and Ruprecht von Seckendorff led the Germans. Lida was the aim of the march, and Duke Kaributas and his army waited there to protect the country. Across the frozen swamps went the Teutonic Knights, who unexpectedly reached Lida. Kaributas failed to protect one of the best fortresses of Lithuania and fled with his court and the army leaving everything that was in the castle and the town as booty for the enemy. Many weapons were captured and substantial military emolument was seized.”

The fighter Harry Hotspur became one of the main characters in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.

A treaty drafted and signed in Ostrów vel Ostrowo near Lida on 4 April 1392. It was signed by Władysław II Jagiełło, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, with his wife Queen Jadwiga on one side and Vytautas, Duke of Grodno region, and his wife Anna on the other. The effectively ended a devastating war, recognising Vytautas as Grand Duke in Lithuania. The treaty put an end to the fratricidal struggle, led to the defeat of the Teutonic Knights at Grunwald and allowed the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to achieve considerable prosperity and power in a short span of time. Narbutt provided a clear and comprehensive account of the estate of Ostrów vel Ostrowo where the treaty was signed:

“Ostrów, in Lida district to the west of Lida, not far from Myta, behind the left bank of the Ditva river, previously owned by the Lithuanian treasure is home to a large palace whose foundations and basements have been preserved to this day and an orchard with an area of 9 morgens. Earlier it belonged to Tadeusz Narbutt, a Lithuanian chamberlain” [[ref:|as cited in: Narbutt T., Dzieje starożytne narodu litewskiego, vol. 5, Wilno 1839, p. 491.]].

The Teutonic Order attacked Lida and Navahrudak yet again in the winter of 1394. English knights led by earl Beaufort as well as a unit comprised of the French knights took part in the campaign. Narbutt writes:

“In Prussia, in winter, new guests from Germany gathered –graf Lenningen as well as from England – John Beaufort, and equally famous French knights. (…)The attack was directed toward the Ruthenian part of Lithuania. The campaign began on the Three Kings' Day. They crossed frozen swamps, passed Grodno, and moved toward Navahrudak. Nevertheless, the Teutonic Knights found the town burnt down by the dwellers; some of them had prepared themselves for the defense of the castle and the rest hid in a remote wilderness. Leaving behind destroyed villages, the Teutonic Knights reached Lida, where they saw the fortified castle standing amid a burnt settlement. Šalčininkai, and then perhaps Vilnius, were supposed to be the next aims of the attack. However, the big freeze soon let up. A thaw came and the Teutonic Knights learned about the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which had left Vilnius, and about the threat posed by Grodno…This forced them to flee from Lida through the swamps of the Ditva river…This time, the Teutonic Knights captured 2,200 prisoners, 1,400 horses and many farm animals.”

John Beaufort, the earl of Somerset, appears in the first act of Henry IV.

From the end of the 14th century to the beginning of the 16th century, Lida, a royal town, was among the five most important cities in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

From 1396-1399, in accordance with Vytautas’ wishes, the areas around Lida belonged to Tokhtamysh, a prominent khan of the Volga Tatars, and later, from 1440-1446, to Hacı I Giray Melek. In the summer of 1405, a wife and children of the duke of Smolensk, Yuri Svyatoslavich, were taken captive by Vytautas and held in the castle of Lida.

On 15 July 1410, the army of Lida took part in the Battle of Grunwald. In June 1415, King Władysław Jagiełło visited Lida and spent some time in Myta.

In 1422, Pope Martin V sent Antoni Zeno, a lawyer and educated clerk, to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in order to examine the condition of the region. Jagiełło and Vytautas welcomed him in the castle of Lida, at that time the residence of the Supreme Duke of Lithuania. According to Polish historical sources, Sophia of Halshany, the fourth wife of Władysław Jagiełło the future Queen of Poland and the “mother of the kings" of the Jagiellonian dynasty, was present for the meeting.

In 1433, Lida was burned down by Duke Švitrigaila. In 1504, King Alexander transferred the town from Giliński to Drozd. Two years later, the Tatar army approached Lida, and the terminally ill King Alexander had to flee from the castle. In the Belarusian Kronika Bychowca described the events:

“In the summer of 1015, from Christmas in 1507, after the liberation of Lithuanian land from the yoke of the ungodly Tatars, the King and Grand Duke Alexander came to Vilnius. Troubled by his powerlessness, he convened a meeting in Lida. During his stay with his comrades in Lida, he heard the terrible news that Sultan Bity-Kirejew and Sultan Burnoj had come to Slutsk with twenty thousand people and had gone further to Navahrudak…The Tatars came to Navahrudak and soon crossed the Neman, surrounded Lida and burnt Orthodox churches and houses and took prisoners and killed them.”

The Tatars did not dare to storm the castle. At the time, a mass mobilization of nearly 10,000 people (levée en masse) took place. The fighters repelled the invaders a mile away from the town of Lida.

It is recorded that Lida paid 600 Lithuanian currency as a tax in the 16th century.

Jews settled in Lida beginning in the time of Stephen Báthory. They worked mainly in trade, and the town thrived thanks to their work.

On September 17, 1590, Sigismund III Vasa conferred Magdeburg rights on Lida and presented the city with a coat of arms depicting a lion with two keys above its head. The privilege of 1611 confirmed the long-standing practice of special market days in the city. These took place each week on Mondays, and larger fairs were organized twice a year. In 1638, the decision was made to build a warehouse adjacent to the walls of the castle of Lida to house court records and the town’s archives. On 20 April 1640 in Warsaw, Władysław IV Vasa confirmed the Magdeburg rights for the town without introducing any changes.

Industry and trade developed poorly in Lida. Documents from the 17th century only mention breweries located near the castle farms and on an Orthodox farm in Kurowszczyzna and in Nowosiołki. Some breweries were also owned by several townspeople. Only blacksmiths, gravediggers and butchers are mentioned among craftsmen. Inns selling honey, vodka and beer existed as early as in the 15th century in the days of Casimir IV. In Lida in 1680 there were 19 inns. Ten belonged to local Christians (one was owned by Mayor Jan Omantowicz) and 9 to Jews. 

The years between 1654 and 1663 were marked by hardship. In the autumn of 1655, the town was destroyed by Ukrainian Cossacks. In 1656 the population was decimated by famine, and in the autumn of 1657 by epidemics. In 1658, an assembly (Polish: sejmik) was relocated to Myto due to the risk of epidemics in Lida. In 1659, Russian troops led by Khovansky completely destroyed the town after a long siege on the castle.

In 1669, owing to the disasters that had befallen Lida, King Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki ordered that both Jews settled in the town and other residents cover all liabilities, but he released townspeople from having to work on state lands and from paying for the maintenance of dams. On 19 April 1670, on the basis of a privilege issued in Warsaw, the King confirmed the Magdeburg rights. The privilege of 1676 exempted inhabitants from paying taxes.

A fire that broke out on 29 June 1679 devastated almost the entire town. Its exact cause is unknown, but it is certain that dry weather and strong winds caused the fire to sweep rapidly through the town. Within an hour, the blaze destroyed 38 houses, for which inhabitants had to pay taxes to the state treasury, as well as a monastery and buildings belonging to the nobility. Many Christians and Jews were burned alive in the fire, and many of the town’s dwellers suffered severe burns. All of their possessions, including livestock, fell victim to the fire.

In 1702, the town was plundered by the Swedes. Within four years, very high taxes were imposed on the town’s inhabitants. In order to support the development of Lida, the decision was made to maintain all previously-granted concessions and privileges and to withdraw troops from the town. On 7 April 1727, King Augustus II the Strong confirmed the rights already granted to the town and introduced a trade tax on warehouses and slaughterhouses. By a decree announced on 12 November 1744, Augustus III of Saxony confirmed previously granted rights, and in 1776 he issued a privilege whereby Lida was classified as a Lithuanian city with Magdeburg rights. From that moment, the town began a slow recovery. In 1784-1787 the Commissio Boni Oridins (Commission of Good Order) examined overall conditions in the town and the current status of all payments.

Lida went on to become an administrative, judicial and commercial center of the district and later of the whole region. The town hosted various important hearings, and it was visited often as a center for government and trade and a popular place for socializing in the region. In 1759-1834, a high school existed, a collegium, whose graduates made notable contributions to science and literature. Stanisław Bonifacy Jundziłł, a prominent botanist and professor at the University of Vilinius, attended this school.

In 1792, there were 242 houses and 1,243 inhabitants in Lida, most of whom were Jews. After the third partition of Poland, the town was incorporated into the Russian Empire.

At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, the inhabitants of Lida played witness to many important historical events: the Kościuszko Uprising (1794), the inspection of the corps led by Dokhturov (1812), the invasion and the retreat of Napoleon’s army and the fights between uprising insurgents commanded by Chłopicki and Russian forces (23 May 1831).

In the first half of the 19th century, Lida attracted the attention of itinerant theatrical troupes, an enormously popular form of entertainment in the 1830’s and 40’s. Some of the most prominent troupes was one led by Wikentij Wierzbicki, director of the Russian-Polish theatre in Minsk in the 1840’s, and Stanisław Nowakowski’s troup, considered one of the most exemplary theatrical troupes of the period. The former performed in Lida in 1832, and the latter visited the town for the first time in October, 1840 would go on to perform in Lida numerous times. In the 19th century, troupes run by Majewski, Grunwald, Kłakocki and many others came to Lida.

In 1825, there were nearly 1500 inhabitants living in Lida. There were 4 brick houses and 269 wooden ones, 2 Orthodox churches, 2 monasteries, a school, 2 homes for the elderly, a bath, 2 orchards, a bench, 2 small beverage parlous and 50 inns. The only cities with more inns at the time were Vilnius (630), Vitebsk and Mogilev (159), Grodno (100), Minsk (99), Slonim (90), Slutsk (76), Brest (71), and Polotsk (54).

In 1826, the town was engulfed in flames yet again. The fire broke out in the Jewish bath in May of 1843 and gutted the school building, some houses located in the vicinity of the market square and the entirety of Vilnius Street.

In 1851, there were 2 brick houses and 248 wooden ones in Lida. The population stood at 4,845. In subsequent years, the population dropped slightly to about 4,344 people (2,103 men and 2,241 women) of whom 2,053 were Jews. In the town, there were 216 nobles, 19 members of the clergy, and 25 merchants. The population of the whole region of Lida at the time was 103,787.

In the second half of the 19th century, intensive industrial development began with the construction of a railway line that spurred the town’s growth. Lida was flourishing and its population was on the rise. New facilities were opened in the town: beer cellars, tobacco shops, steel mills, machine factories, sawmills, sweets and pasta factories, shops, restaurants and hotels. In 1870, a telegraph connection was established between Lida and Vilnius. By 1886, a Polessian railway line ran through the town, and by 1905 the Nikolayevsk railway line was established.

After the dissolution of the Piarist school in 1834, a district school for the local bourgeoisie was opened, which was then turned into a five-year school for the children of descendants of nobles in 1836. In 1864 it was again made into a two-year district school, and, in 1902, a three-year town school. A two-year parish town school was established in 1834, and a women’s state school was moved in 1886 to Lida from Dubrownia, In the town, there was also a men's Talmudic school, several cheders, a private women’s gymnasium and a men’s and women’s pro-gymnasium.

In 1897, a municipal library with a reading room is mentioned in historical records for the first time. It was opened next to a tea room on 12 January 1897 in accordance with the decision of the Committee for National Protection and Temperance (Lidzki Powiatowy Komitet Opieki I Wstrzemięźliwości Narodowej). The collection of the library was not very impressive. Another library was opened in the Nowicka women's gymnasium in 1902.

By 1895, 7,864 people (3,954 men and 3,910 women) called Lida home. A total of 5,326 inhabitants were Jewish. The social structure of the  town included 485 members of the nobility, 48 clergy, 129 tradesmen, 5,693 bourgeoisie, 1,178 peasants and 311 soldiers. At the end of the 19th century, the population of Lida increased to 9,500. The town measured 160 hectares and had 14 streets, 7 alleys and 4 squares. Eight streets and alleys were paved. Of 708 total houses, there were 200 two story brick houses and 272 of the houses included toilets. A district and parish school operated in the town at this time as well as a Jewish two-year state school and a boarding house for Jewish women. There were 10 factories: two tobacco factories, two distilleries, four tanneries, three factories producing sparkling water, and two companies producing plugs and a factory producing paper cores. One could also find slaughterhouse and numerous small workshops. Three hospitals could admit a total 45 patients at once (one town hospital with 20 beds, a Jewish hospital, and a prison hospital). There was also a pharmacy in the town. A mill that belonged to the town was located on the Lidziejka river.

On 7 October 1891, a fire swept through the central part of the town and destroyed 444 houses and around 600 other buildings, including the town hall which was completely burnt down. In the wake of the fire, housing and food prices rose for an extended period of time. The fire, however, contributed to the construction of more brick buildings Lida. In 1898, a Jewish hospital with 25 beds was opened.

In 1904, the population of Lida was 15,025. There were 14 factories and plants which employed nearly 400 inhabitants. The town’s productive output was valued at about 1.2 million roubles. One hundred and seventy craft workshops operated and employed 204 craftsmen. The town organized four yearly fairs. Income from the sale of cattle alone was about 100 thousand roubles. Organized markets were held every day. Thirteen hotels, 24 beverage parlors and a number of eateries and tea rooms operated in Lida. Exchange and notarial offices were also located in the town. The town had 10 insurance agencies. There were 25 streets and alleys, 2 squares, 1000 residential buildings (275 brick and 725 wooden, 20 houses with sheet covered roofing, 680 with shingled roofs, and 300 with tiled covered roofs, as well as 60 gas lanterns in all). Four hospitals with 115 beds operated in Lida and there were two pharmacies and 5 pharmacy warehouses in the town. Six doctors and 6 midwives worked in Lida. 4 men’s and 2 women’s elementary schools as well as a two-year district school for 60 people functioned in the town, which was home to 23 teachers and 700 students. There were 3 printing houses, a photography studio and a library with a reading room. The municipal fire department had 4 fire pumps and six firefighter barrels. Men earned an average income of 10 rubles and women 5. Illegally employed men usually received 70 kopecks and women 50 kopecks per day.

In 1909, the number of inhabitants reached 17m360. There was a wholesaler, two distilleries, a sawmill, an ironworks plant, three tobacco processing factories, a soap factory, and a slaughterhouse included in a grand total of 54 enterprises. The production costs were estimated at 1,216,415 rubles. The factories employed 473 workers. There were two printing plants as well as an exchange office and a company that lent small loans of up to 100 rubles. Lida’s trade prospered; markets were held every Monday and the town also organized a few small fairs. Most sellers handled mainly cattle, domestic fowl and other agricultural products. A regiment of the Russian army was stationed in Lida at the time. The junction of two railway lines in the city and a significant number of clerks working in the area generated high demand for houses, and the prices of goods were relatively quite high. Several amateur theatres and a card club were among the town’s sources of entertainment.

By 1914, Lida was home to 18,000 inhabitants and 40 businesses including a concrete and cement factory, Polaczek's sawmill, Wileńczyk's tobacco factory, Pupko's brewery, Papirmeister's brewery, the pasta and sweets factory, Struczan's distillery and Ajzik Epstein's soap factory. An iron foundry and machine factory owned by the Szapiro brothers produced horse mills, machine tools for the care of horses, threshers, chaff cutters, ploughs, harrows, fanners and iron crosses for memorials and copper casts. At the beginning of the 20th century, the town began construction of a military airport.

In the autumn of 1918, Samoobrona Ziemi Lidzkiej (the Self-defense of Lida) was founded by second lieutenant Wacław Szukiewicz. This was a Polish organisation aimed at protecting Lida from the Bolsheviks. After German soldiers left Lida at the beginning of 1919, Samoobrona gained control over the city and worked to defeat the oncoming Red Army. In January 1919, the Polish troops left the town to defend Vilnius from the Bolsheviks. As a result, Lida was taken over by the Bolsheviks without a fight. The town was regained by the Polish Regular Army after heavy fighting from 16-17 April 1919. On 7 June 1919, the town, along with the entire Lida district, became a part of Vilnius district administrated by Zarząd Cywilny Ziem Wschodnich (the Civil Government of the Eastern Lands), a temporary Polish administrative unit. In the summer of 1920., Lida was again occupied by the Bolsheviks, and again regained by the Poles on September 30, 1920. In 1921, Lida was officially transferred to the Second Republic of Poland.

Because of more than a century within the Russian Empire, the region of Lida was one of the most economically underdeveloped regions in the new Poland. There were no large cities or major industrial points, and small towns were mainly of historical rather than significance. Until 1927, Lida was the third most developed town in the area after Slonim and Baranovichi. Nonetheless, only 338 people worked in industry in Lida region at the time.

Rapid economic growth commenced in the second half of 1927 and continued until the end of 1929. At the time, Lida drew the attention of ambitious businessmen and was able to attract a fair amount of capital investment. These entrpreneurs were mostly Jewish industrialists and businessmen, whose contributions enabled them to make numerous investments in the town. In Lida between 1927 and 1929, many new factories were set up including mills, sawmills, tile factories, the Korona chemical factory and the Ardal rubber footwear factory. There was a substantial amount of cheap, unskilled labor in the area. Thanks to its favorable location near many railway lines, Lida, unlike most towns in the Navahrudak province, had excellent conditions for development. By 1930, it was a leader in the region in industrial production. Various factories employed about 800 people; the Ardal factory employed nearly one third of them.

From the autumn of 1932 until the winter of 1933, the general economic situation was in crisis, affecting the lives of Lida’s the workers. Many factories reduced the volume of production and, consequently, unemployment rose. In 1931, there were 122 registered unemployed inhabitants, and between 1932-1933 their number increased considerably. The years 1935-1939 marked a period of significant improvement of the town’s economic situation. Lida transformed from an impoverished provincial town into a major industrial center. The population increased as well. In 1921, there were 13,401 inhabitants, and in 1938 the number doubled as confirmed by statistics obtained from 17 September 1938. Władysław Abramowicz, an editor of Ziemia Lidzka, wrote in his sightseeing notes in 1938 that, “At present, the town has 15 large industrial centers, which employ about 3,000 workers.”

Numerous large and mid-sized industrial factories (50 in total) were opened before September 1939. The most important were the Ardal rubber footwear factory, the Benland and Poland rubber product factories, the Drutindustria wire and nail factory, the Zwój spring factory, the Korona chemical factory, 2 breweries, 3 sweet factories, the Tanur, Raaf, Neszer  tail roof factories, 2 wool processing factories, 2 oil factories, 6 sawmills, 8 general mills, 8 bakeries and 4 printing houses.

During World War Two, the Nazi occupiers killed almost all of Lida’s Jews. The activities of the NKVD, the German occupation and several waves of emigration to Poland considerably changed Lida. After the war, few original inhabitants of Lida remained in the town. The old part of the town was destroyed during the bombing which took place on 22-23 June 1941 and due to disastrous fires.

 

Bibliography:

  • Jarmontt E., W cieniu zamku Gedymina, Toruń 2004.

  • "Lida", [in:] Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich, vol. 5, F. Sulimierski, W. Walewski (eds.), Warsaw 1880, pp. 215–218.

  • Pamiać: Lida. Lidski rajon. Hist.-dak. chroniki haradou i rajonau Biełarusi, R. Baranau (ed.), Minsk 2004.

 

 

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