About Belarus

Articles dedicated to Belarus history, Belarus politics, Belarus economy, Belarus culture and other issues and Belarus tourist destinations.

Stolbtsy and Novy Sverzhen

updated on 04/08/2016

Stolbtsy (Stolpce)

The most credible legend about the city origin says it was a merchant crossing and an overnight place. To reinforce the marshy banks of the river, wooden poles (stolpcy) were hit into the soil where cargo barges and boats could be tied.

In writing Stolbtsy were first mentioned in the 16 century. A century later the Slushka family owned it. The family established the Church of St. Kazimir (destroyed during the war) and a monastery of Dominicans. In 1729 Stolbtsy got Magdeburg right and on the King’s orders two fairs were hosted in Stolptsy – in January and in June. At that point slightly over 1000 people were living in Stolbtsy.

stolpce old map

Old map of Stolbtsy (Stolpce) and Novy Sverzhen

Jewish merchants of Stolbtsy are mentioned in the court papers in Minsk (1600s) as traders in salt and salted fish. During the 18th century Jews there engaged in the export of agricultural products, flax and timber (using the Neman River) to Kenigsberg, and the import of salt, spices and cloths.

The town development heavily depended on the river harbor and a ferry crossing on the Neman. In 1799 a bridge was built across Neman to connect the place with Novy Sverzhen and the roads to Nesvizh and Mir. In 1825 a stone church of St. Anna was built (now in Sovetskaya Street) on the initiative of the Chartoryisky family. For their part in the uprising of 1831 the town was confiscated and became a state property.

The construction of the railway in 1871 was of particular significance as was a telegraph station the year before. The train station was built two kilometers away from town. The railroad connected Moscow and Brest, a depot and some factories were built soon after.

The 1897 census revealed 2400 Jews vs. 1340 Christians in Stolbtsy.

At the Stolpce Jewish cemetery

At the Stolpce cemetery

In August 1924, while Stolbtsy was part of the Second Polish Republic, the town was the site of a Soviet-Polish border incident in which a company of Soviets attacked its police station and government building in order to free two imprisoned communist activists.

In June 1941, there were more than 3,000 Jews living in the town, including several hundred refugees from the German occupied parts of Poland. The city was under German occupation from 1941 to 1944. After a week of occupation, the Germans shot around 200 Jews together with several dozen non-Jews, allegedly as a reprisal for sniper fire directed at German soldiers.

On September 23, 1942, some 450 Jews were sent to their workplaces, and 750 Jews, most of them women, were shot in a forest, while another 850 either managed to flee or remained in hiding in the ghetto. On October 2, another 488 Jews, composed mostly of women and children were shot. Another 350 Jews were killed on October 11.

On January 31, 1943, the remaining 254 Jews, including those brought in from Novy Sverzhen, were shot. In the following days, the captured Jews were also shot and 293 Jews had been shot by February 4, 1943. Some of the Jews who fled the ghetto survived by joining the Bielski partisan unit in the nearby Naliboki Forest.

Today’s population of Stolbtsy is slightly over 15000.

Novy Sverzhen (Sverzhna)

First mentioned in writing in 1428, Sverzhno was a manor in Novogrudok area, presented by the Grand Duke Vitovt to his wife, Yuliana Golshanska along with other lands. Having changed a few more owners afterwards, Sverzhno had a church and a water mill. On the right bank of the Neman River there was a castle. In 1568 the castle and the manor were sold to different owners.

The new landlord Nikolai Radziwill built a Roman Catholic Church of StSt. Peter and Paul here in 1588 and a Russian-Orthodox Church in 1590. A church existed here since the 1400s to baptize pagans who were hiding in the local forests after Christianity was introduced by the Grand Dukes.

Novy Sverzhen synagogue ruins

Novy Sverzhen synagogue ruins

The 1647 census listed 5 streets and 84 households in town, in 1681 there were also 44 shops. In the 17-18 centuries Sverzhen was a part of Mir County and it got burnt by the Swedes in 1706.

A Bazilian monastery with a seminary was founded by one of the Radziwills there. In 1742 a porcelain manufacture was established there. At that time 3 mills worked in town, 20 warehouses were on the bank of the Neman river – the trade route to Kenigsberg started from here.

The 1747 census listed 160 households and about 200 forty years later. At that point the town was called Novy Swerzhen and a nearby village – Stary Sverzhen.

Upon the second partition of Rech Pospolita in 1793 Novy Sverzhen turned out to be a Russian territory to become an area center in Minsk povet.

During the 1812 war a battle took place by the town in November between the French and the Russians and the latter won. Where an obelisk was placed a 100 years later there is now a monument to Lenin.

In 1860 there were 178 households, a public school, a Catholic Church and a chapel, a Russian-Orthodox Church, 2 mills, about 20 shops, a tavern, a post office with two fairs held regularly.

novy sverzhen jewish memorial

Novy Sverzhen Jewish memorial (at the cemetery)

In the early 20 century there were 297 households and around 1700 residents in Novy Sverzhen. According to Riga Treaty in 1921 Novy Sverzhen became a Polish town until 1939. Upon the Soviet takeover the status of the town was lowered to that of a village. Before the Great Patriotic War the Jews made up to about 40 per cent of the population.

The Nazi established a ghetto there which was liquidated in summer 1943. In January 1943 about 140 Jews broke out of the ghetto to reach the partisan camps in the nearby forests. Other Jews were destroyed by the poice and collaborators. Most of the surviors left Novy Sverzhen for Israel and USA.

Slightly over 2000 persons live here today.

If you wish to find your ancestry in Stolbtsy or Novy Sverzhen or take an ancestral trip to the area, do not hesitate to contact me.

Questions are welcome!

Andrei Burdenkov - your personal guide in Belarus
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