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History and Geography of Grodno

History and Geography of Grodno
The Grodno district is located in northwest Byelorussia, bordering on
the north with Lithuania and on the west with Poland. The population
was largely Byelorussian, Lithuanian, and Polish. Four rivers - the
Bug, Narew, Nieman, and Bover - run through the district; there are a
number of lakes in the north and east. The agricultural produce of the
area consisted of rye, wheat, linen, tobacco, fruits and vegetables.

Industrial products have been diverse, including textiles, pelts,
wool, bricks, and alcoholic spirits.

Between the two world wars Grodno served as the county seat in the
district of Bialystok. It is located on the high right bank of the
Nieman River, near the Polish border, and is situated at an important
railroad junction on the main road from Warsaw to St. Petersburg. It
was a commercial center for grains and the site of a variety of
industries: large spinning mills, tanneries, and factories producing
tobacco and cigarettes, shoes, glass, paper, soap, and agricultural

Although Grodno was already inhabited during the first millennium
C.E., it is not mentioned in historical documents until the year 1128,
when it appears as the seat of its first prince, Vsevolod Davidovich.
In 1224, it was destroyed by German knights, and in 1241, during the
reign of its fifth and last prince, Yuri Glebovich, by the Tatars.
Immediately afterward it was captured by the Lithuanians. In the early
fourteenth century Grodno was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In
1444 it was granted city status (Magdeburg city rights).

Grodno was devastated in 1284, and again in 1391, in the wars between
Lithuania and the Teutonic Order (from eastern Prussia). In 1398,
Prince Vitold of Lithuania made Grodno his second capital, after
Vilna. The king and his entourage occasionally stayed in Grodno, and
after the union between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of
Lithuania (the Union of Lublin, 1569) the Polish Sejm (national
assembly) met there. King Stefan Batory of Poland resided in Grodno,
where he died in 1586.

During the period of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Grodno was an
important Catholic center, and impressive church edifices from that
period still exist there. From 1655 to 1657 the Russians, who were at
war with Poland, occupied Grodno; they were followed by the Swedes.
Charles XII encamped there from 1705 to 1708, on the eve of his
invasion of Russia. Important sessions of the Polish Sejm were held in
Grodno: the Silent Sejm (1793), which was forced to approve the second
partition of the country; and the Sejm of 1795, prior to the third
partition, after which Grodno was annexed to the Russian Empire. In
1801, Grodno became the main city of a Russian province.

On the eve of World War I, Grodnoís defenses were reinforced, and it
was incorporated into the second line of fortifications in western
Russia, but in September 1915 it fell to the Germans without
resistance. In 1918, Grodno was returned to Poland and included in the
Bialystok district. With the partition of Poland between Nazi Germany
and Soviet Russia in September 1939, in accordance with the
Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Grodno was annexed to the Byelorussian Soviet
Republic. Grodno was one of the first Soviet cities captured by the
Germans in 1941. In June 1944, it was retaken by the Red Army. Today,
as the twentieth century draws to a close, Grodno is a city in the
state of Byelarus.

Early History of Grodno Jewry

Grodno was one of the oldest Jewish communities in Greater Lithuania.
It appears that Jews already resided there at the end of the twelfth
century - refugees from the Kingdom of Kiev and from western Europe
who fled from the Crusades - but this cannot be confirmed. The first
reliable evidence of a Jewish community at the site is a charter of
privileges (a settlement permit specifying rights and obligations)
from 1389, granted to the Jews by Grand Duke Vitold of Lithuania. The
document suggests that the Grodno Jews had already established a
synagogue and a cemetery and also owned real estate in and around the
town; they made a living from commerce, crafts, agriculture, and
leasing land. The charter, which was intended primarily to regularize
the Jews' rights vis-a-vis the Christian townspeople, permitted their
use of public grazing fields, forests, and meadows. The synagogue and
cemetery were exempted from all taxation.

Population of Grodno Jewry- 1560-1931 for the rest go to