About Belarus

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The history of Bykhov

updated on 22/09/2015

The city of Bykhov lies about 50 km south of Mogilev. It is a harbour on the Dnieper River and is a railway and motorway junction connecting Mogilev, Rogachev and Bobruisk. In 2007 Bykhov numbered over 17000 residents.

Bykhov evolved from a fortified settlement, first mentioned in 14 century. Since 15 century it was a property of the Drutskies and the Gashtolds and later on it was a property of the Grand Duke of Lithuania. The family of Khodkevichys owned it since 1560s and established a gun factory. The town's fortifications were being developed by the new owners on the steep bank of the Dnieper. That made the town one of the top class fortifications of Belarus at that time. When New Bykhov was established in the early 17th century Bykhov got the prefix Old.

old map of bykhov

Old Bykhov, an old map of the Russian Empire

At approximately the same time Jews started to settle in Bykhov and in the 1640s a fortified synagogue was built.

Upon the first partition of Rech Pospolitaya in 1772 Bykhov landed on the map of the Russian Empire and became a center of an uezd (county). In 1781 a coat of arms was allocated to the town which by that time numbered 2600 residents, had over 500 houses and a school.

Bykhov fortified synagogue featuring Baroque style dates back to the 1600s. A corner tower makes it look more like a fortress. Windows are on different level and there are loopholes on the top floor - all the features of a fortification.

The 17-18 centuries saw only two solid buildings erected in Bykhov - the feudal's castle and the synagogue. All the other buildings were wooden, including tamples. It's quite natural that the hazards through which Bykhov went further on flattened all the heritage and damaged the synagogue and the castle.

Fortified synagogue of Bykhov

Fortified synagogue of Bykhov, 1640s.

Today's Russian Orthodox Church is located slightly away from the old architecture pieces - it was built in 19 century and was not included into the town's general plan.

In 1902 Bykhov became a railway station. Later on a movie theatre was built and a bridge over the Dnieper. In 1924 Bykhov became a center of a district. In 1939 it had 11 000 residents. During the war the Nazi killed 9158 area residents. The town was liberated by the troops of the 2nd Belarusian Front of the Soviet Army.

A house, typical of Southern Belarus in Bykhov

A typical wooden house in Bykhov

The city of Bykhov was rebuilt and today it has a couple of factories, several schools and an area museum. The city has a number of memorials to the civilians and soldiers who lost their lives during the Great Patriotic War.

The Jews of Bykhov

In the early 1600s Jews settle in Bykhov. In the 1640s they built a reinforced synagogue and in 1648 the community was affected by the Khmelnitsky uprising. The city withstood all assaults until 1659 when it was taken by the Moscow’s army. A survivor of the tragic invasion left an account in which he described a massacre with several hundred Jews killed and the others captured into slavery. According to 1766 census there were 887 Jews in Bykhov, all of whom became Russian citizens in 1772.

In the early 19 century the Jewish population of Bykhov turned over 1200 people with the number of synagogues growing from 6 to 11 throughout the century. By the 1890s Jews made a half of the town’s population.

The building of a Bykhov synagogue

The building of a Bykhov synagogue in the "rich" district, now a cafe

Jews, predominantly town dwellers, were mostly buying and selling agricultural products and producing clothing. The town had over a dozen factories and small plants. All craftsmen in the Bykhov area were Jewish and a Jewish agricultural colony existed as well. Before the First World War the Jews owned a printing house, a few bookstores and photography kiosks. The community had 8 synagogues, a charity and a cemetery.

The Jewish elementary school was closed by the 1930s while several synagogues were still operational – all religious establishments had been shut by the Soviets by the late 1930s.

Traditionally, Jews of lower financial standing lived closer to the river while the richer ones were based on the other end of the city. A synagogue that later was turned into a salt warehouse has been recently purchased by a businessman and works as a café.

While in the 1920s the Jews made up one third of the town’s population, by 1939 there were about 2300 Jews (20 per cent). A local historian estimates the number of Jews living in the area at around 6 800 of which 5000 people were destroyed by the Nazi in 1941-1942.

Bykhov ghetto area - the old castle of the Sapega Family

Bykhov ghetto area - the old castle of the Sapega Family

The Nazi shot 252 men in an anti-tank trench (Gonkin Ditch, 1 km away from Bykhov) on 28 August 1941. In September 1941 the Jews of Bykhov – Communists, civilians and refugees from elsewhere were forced into a small area between the castle and an old church in the east of the city.

4679 persons were kept there for a week with no food or water supplies and then within the two days were convoyed out of the ghetto to Maslovichy forest and executed. From September to October 1941 the Jews of Bykhov remaining in the hideouts were being arrested and killed in the sites outside Bykhov. Later on the Soviet POWs were forced to eliminate the traces of these crimes and then were also killed. Only a few survivors escaped death with the help of the locals or by chance.

In 1947 the remains of the Jewish victims of the Nazi were reburied at the old Jewish cemetery of Bykhov. In 2007 the Lazarus Family Fund sponsored the construction of two memorials: one in Gonkin Ditch and one on entrance to Bykhov from Gomel. The current Jewish population of Bykhov is around 30 persons.

Bykhov Maslovshina site memorial

Bykhov Maslovshina site memorial

If you are planning a tour to Bykhov to trace Bykhov family roots I will be happy to help with the logistics of the journey.

Flying over Old Bykhov

Questions are welcome!

Andrei Burdenkov - your personal guide in Belarus
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