The Old Country
Hometown in Europe

Boguslav, Ukraine
Birthplace and home of Shaia Rjawsky.

Odessa, Ukraine
Birthplace of David Orans and home of the Orans family: Clara, Lou, David, Moe, Emil and Fonia.

Sosnowiec, Poland
Birthplace of Regina Orans and home of the family of Mendel Szapiro.

Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania
Birthplace and home of Aniuta Rjawsky.

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Boguslav, Ukraine
Jews lived here from the start of the 17th century, and by 1926, the Jewish population numbered 6,432. In 1941, the community was annihilated after the Nazi occupation.

Early History - 17th through 19th Centuries
A city in Kiev province, Ukrainian SSR, passed to Russia from Poland in 1793. Jews were living in Boguslav from the beginning of the 17th century and an imposing synagogue was built there soon after the community was founded. In 1620 they were restricted in leasing property because the burghers complained that Jews had taken over most of the houses and stores in the marketplace and were competing with the local traders. The Jews in Boguslav suffered during the Haidamack revolts in the area. During the uprising of 1768 they fled from the city; their homes were destroyed and their property looted. Although 574 Jewish poll - tax payers in Boguslav are recorded in 1765, only 251 remained after 1768. The community developed after Boguslav became part of Russia in 1793. A Hebrew printing press was established there in 1820 - 21, and Jewish - owned enterprises included textile and tanning factories. Jews also engaged in handicrafts and dealt in grain and fruit. The Jewish population numbered 5,294 in 1847 and 7,445 in 1897 (650f the total).

The 20th Century
After World War I, the Jews in Boguslav suffered severely in the civil war. On May 13, 1919, they were attacked by gangs of marauding peasants and on August 27, Denikin's "white" army, which occupied the city, pillaged all the houses there, and massacred about 40 Jews. Subsequently a Jewish self - defence force was formed in Boguslav (under the auspices of the Soviet government) which comprised the entire male population of abut 1,000 citizens. It fought off the gangs and also took part in the punitive actions in the neighboring villages. Boguslav then became an asylum for thousands of Jewish refugees from the towns and villages of the surrounding areas. The self - defence force was disbanded in 1923. the Jewish population numbered 6,432 in 1926 (530f the total). The community in Boguslav was annihilated after the Nazi occupation of the Ukraine in 1941.

Courtesy of:
"Encyclopedia Judaica"
1972, Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd
Jerusalem, Israel

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Odessa, Ukraine
Jews are traced to the late 18th century and numbered 180,000 by 1939. During the Holocaust, Jews were shot, burned alive and placed in mass graves. 180,000 Jews were estimated by 1959.

General Importance
The capital of Odessa oblast, Ukrainian SSR, Odessa became the industrial and commercial center for southern Russia. From the 1880's until the 1920's its Jewish community was the second largest in all of Russia (after Warsaw, the capital of Poland, then within Czarist Russia). Odessa is particularly important because of the rapid and constant growth of the Jewish population and its economic activity, the "Western" character of its cultural life, the social and political involvement of the Jewish public and the Hebrew literary center which emerged there.

Growth of the Jewish Population
Jewish presence in Odessa dates from the late 18th century, when five Jews were among those who received plots for the erection of shops. Jews formed approximately 100f the total population in 1795. In the 1840's they comprised 2020030054f the population (75,000 persons); 25 0n 1887 (75,000) and 34.4(165,0000) by the eve of World War I. By 1939, there were 180,000 Jews in Odessa, 29.84413f the population.

Economic Status
From the start, the Jews of Odessa engaged in retail trade and crafts and their representation in these occupations remained important. In 1910, 560f the small shops were still owned by Jews and they constituted 6320030054f the town's craftsmen. Jewish economy in Odessa was distinguished by the role played by Jews in grain export, wholesale trade, banking and industry. There were large numbers of Jews in the liberal professions and a large Jewish proletariat (about one - third of the total) in variegated employment. At the beginning of the 20th century, 700f the banks of Odessa were administered by Jews and 406f the industrialists were Jews.

The October Revolution of 1917 brought a decline in the comercial status of Odessa as well as the process of socialization. While Jews' livelihoods were affected, much of their experience and many of their skills were utilized in the new economic structure, under different designations. By 1926, Jews comprised the majority of commercial clerks, 900f the tailors' union, and figured in large numbers in the printing union, timber industries, municipal workers and free professionals unions.

Cultural and Educational Aspects
From the cultural aspect, Odessa was the most "Western" in character in the Pale of Settlement. Linguistic and cultural Russian assimilation emcompassed widespread classes and formed a social basis for the community's role in spreading Russian education among the Jews of southern Russia. Standards of Torah scholarship were low and Odessa Jews were ignorant of and apathetic to Judaism. Odessa was the first community in Russia to be directed by "maskilim, " who retained control over its administration throughout its existance.

The cultural character of the community was reflected in its educational institutions. At the beginning of the 20th century, less than half of young Jewish children attended the "hadarim, " while most attended Jewish elementary schools, of public governmental or semi - public categories. The language of instruction in these schools was Russian, while Jewish subjects held an insignificant place or were ignored. Many Jewsih pupils studied at government secondary schools and there were hundreds as well in university, government music and arts colleges, as well as advanced private professional colleges. The educational institutions of Odessa became models for an attempt to provide general and modern Hebrew education. A prototype of this kind of school, under the direction of Bezalel Stern had much influence within the Haskalah Movement. Other influential institutions were the synagogue of the "Brodyists, " which introduced modern singing and an organ, as well as various orphanages, agricultural training farms, summer camps, and so forth.

Social and Political Activities
The political activism of Odessa's Jews had considerable influence on the rest of Russian Jewry. Community leaders and "maskilim" frequently petitioned for improved conditions for the Jews and for legal equality. They publically defended Jews in the Russian - Jewish press, which they had established. Displaying social and political awareness, Odessa Jews played an extensive part in all trends of the Russian liberation, as well as the Zionist movement.

The Pogroms
The social and political awakening of the masses resulted in five anti - Jewish outbreaks from 1821 to 1905, as well as numerous unsuccessful attempts to provoke them. Almost every sector of the Christian population participated in these pogroms, including wealthy Russian merchants, nationalist Ukrainian intellectuals and members of the liberal professions. The government supported the pogroms as a means of punishing the Jews for their participation in a revolutionary movement.

The severest pogroms occurred in 1905, with the collaboration of the government. Over 300 Jews were killed and thousands of families injured. Among the victims were 50 members of the Jewish self - defense movement, a group which had previously deterred other attempted pogroms.

Zionist and Literary Center
From the inception of the Hibbat Zion movement, Odessa served as its chief center. The Benei Moshe society, which attempted to organize the intellectuals and activists of the movement was also establised in Odessa. The Odessa Committee was the only legally authorized institution of the Zionist activists in Russia. The list of propagandists who rallied arond the Zionist cause included many authors such as Lilienblum, Ussishkin, Dizengoff and Tchernowitz. Literary forums edited by men such as Bialik, Ahad Ha - Am and Rawnitzky became influential through the ideological integrity of their publications. Noted authors, such as Mendele Mokher Seforim, Dubnow, Ben - Davi and Ben - Ammi, were attracted to and became active in Odessa's stimulating "Hebrew climate, " published many works and extended their influence far beyond Odessa. With the advent of the Soviet regime, Odessa's role as Jewish cultural center, came to an end. During the 20's Odessa's Jews increasingly assimlated. By 1926 over 770f the Jewsih pupils attended Russian schools. In the later 30's, Jewish cultural activity ceased.

Holocaust Period
When Odessa was occupied on Oct. 16, 1941 by the Fourth Rumanian Army assisted by German units, 80 - 90,000 Jews reamined in Odessa. Two special commando groups assigned to the army killed 8,000 Jews the first day of occupation. In retaliation for an explosion in Rumanian military headquarters which killed officers and soldiers, 5,000 persons, mostly Jews were hanged the next day. In addition, one member from every household was taken to the square at the harbor and burned. Another 16,000 were brutally massacred the following day. 5,000 Jews were subsequently arrested and deported to camps set up in Bogdanovka, Domanevka and other villages.

During December 1941 almost all of these were killed by special troups of Sonderkommando, aided by Rumanian police soldiers and Ukrainian militia.

Approximately 30,000 Jews still lived in Odessa and were segregated into two ghettos established at Slobodka and Dalnik. As only a small number could find shelter in the few houses there, most froze within a few days in the snow and storm. Typhus accounted for hundreds more victims daily.

When Odessa became the capital of Transistria, steps were taken to make it Judenrein. After confiscating all their valuable objects, the transfer of Jews to camps in the Berezovka and Golta regions began, on Jan. 12. By Feb. 23, 19,582 Jews were dispatched, first in cattle trucks and then by train, to the camps. Most sent to the Golta region died there from starvation or disease, in the stables where they were quartered. The people sent to the Berezovka district were all killed by SS commando units consisting of local Germans. Survivors were sent to work on local Rumanian farms and those who managed to receive the aid sent from the Jewish Relief Committee in Bucharest, survived.

After the last convoy left on Feb. 23, 1942, Odessa was proclaimed "judenrein." Local inhabitants looted Jewish property, the cemetery was desecrated and tombstones sold. It is estimated that at the time of liberation, a few thousand Jews were living in Odessa, some under false documents, some having been sheltered by non - Jewish families and others having hidden in catacombs.

Contemporary Period
After the Jewish survivors returned, Odessa became one of the largest Jewish centers of the Soviet Union. However, there was no manifestation of Jewish communal life. As of 1959, Odessa Jews numbered approximately 180,000 and one synagogue remained. From 1968, several families have been allowed to emigrate.

Courtesy of:
"Encyclopedia Judaica"
1972, Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd
Jerusalem, Israel

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Sosnowiec, Poland
Location: City in S. Poland
Jewish Presence: From late 1890's
Pre-Holocaust Jewish Population: 28,000 in 1939
Fate of the Jews: Deported to Auschwitz in 3 groups in 1942; others ghettoized and deported to Auschwitz - 1943
Post-war: About 700 resettled but emigrated later.

The Start of the German Occupation
(Also Sosnowice, Sosnovets), city in southwest Poland. On the eve of World War II its population was 130,000, including 28,000 Jews.

On September 4, 1939, the Germans occupied Sosnowiec. On Saturday, September 9, they burned the Great Synagogue. Jewish possessions and businesses were expropriated, and in the first days of the occupation, Moshe Merin was appointed head of the Judenrat (Jewish Council). Early in 1940 the Zentrale der Judischen Altestenrate in Oberschlesien (Central Office of the Jewish Councils of Elders in Upper Silesia) was created in Sosnowiec, representing about forty - five communities and headed by Merin. In the spring of 1940 the Jews of several towns in Polish Silesia were deported to cities in which the Zentrale operated.

Forced Labor
The drafting of Jews for forced - labor was enforced by the Sonderbeauftragter des Reichsfuhrers - SS. fur Fremdvolkischen Arbeitseinsatz in Oberschlesien (Special Representative of the Reichsfuhrer - SS for the Employment of Foreign Labor in Upper Silesia), Albrecht Schmelt, who administered Organisation Schmelt. The Judenrat was responsible for organizing the sending of forced labor workers to the camps. It also helped set up German - owned workshops. The heads of the Judenrat regarded activity this as "rescue through work."

Zionist Youth Activities
The Zionist youth movements renewed their educational activity when the schools failed to open. They engaged in vocational training and welfare work. On the outskirts of the city, agricultural plots became a focus for their activities.

The First Waves of Deportation and Jewish Response to Them
From May 10 to 12, 1942, about 1,500 Jews were sent to Auschwitz and in June, about 2,000 more Jews were sent there. On August 12 the remaining Jews in Sosnowiec and towns in the area were ordered to report to the large central square. After a Selektion lasting until August 18, 8,000 of them were deported to the notorious extermination camp. The youth movements and their leaders, among them Zvi Dunski, urged the Jews not to report for the deportations. They also began to organize underground resistance cells, but met with difficulties, since the conditions in the area were not suitable for effective self - defense. Their efforts to make contact with Polish underground movements also proved unsuccessful. Opinions were divided between underground members who advocated armed defense inside the ghetto, and those who favored escape.

The Srodula Ghetto and its Liquidation
In the spring of 1943 the remaining Jews in Sosnowiec were transferred to the ghetto established in the Srodula suburb. It was located near Kamionka, where a ghetto for the Jews of Bedzin was established. The two sites became a single ghetto. With great effort, the members of the youth movements and even several Jews in the ghetto acquired a few weapons, and many others began to prepare bunkers in order to hide and defend their lives. On August 1, 1943, the general deportation and liquidation of the ghetto began. A Ha - Noar ha - Tsiyyoni group began to take some of its members out of the ghetto, but met with difficulties after the head of the group, Jozek (Azriel) Kozuch, was killed at the beginning of the deportation. A few members of the youth movements together with a small number of adults defended themselves with arms. The Aktion lasted about two weeks, instead of the few days anticipated by the Germans. About a thousand Jews remained in the locality, and at the end of the year they too were sent to Auschwitz. Scores of youth movement members managed to escape to Slovakia and to Hungary, and from there reached Palestine.

After the war dozens of Jews settled in Sosnowiec; in 1946 they numbered about four hundred, but subsequently they too left the area.

Courtesy of:
"Encyclopedia of the Holocaust"
1990 Macmillan Publishing Company
New York, NY 10022

Links to Sosnowiec

  Sefer Sosnowiec v'hasviva b'Zaglembie
Book of Sosnowiec and the Surrounding Area of Zaglembie
(Yizkor Book of Sosnowiec published online by JewishGen
A short History of Sosnowiec (from the Sosnowiec municpal pages)

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Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania
Location: capital of Lithuania "Jerusalem of Lithuania"
Jewish Presence: from mid -16th century
Jewish Population in 1931:55,000 (28111346f the total population)
Fate of the Jews during WWII: from 1941,100,000 were ghettoized, and murdered in Aktionen
Post-war: 6,000 survived, and returned there.

Flight from Vilna.
(Lithuanian., Vilnius; Polish., Wilno), capital of the Lithuanian SSR. From 1920 to 1939 Vilna was under Polish rule, and on the eve of World War II it had a population of about two hundred thousand and a Jewish population was over fifty - five thousand. On September 19, 1939, the Soviets entered Vilna, but a few weeks later it was handed over to the Lithuanians. Some twelve thousand to fifteen thousand Jewish refugees from Poland made their way there. In July 1940, Lithuania became a Soviet republic.

In the period from September 1939 to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, sixty - five hundred Jewish refugees left Vilna for Palestine, the United States, China, Japan, and other places. On June 24, 1941, the Germans occupied Vilna. Three thousand Jews fled into the Soviet interior before the Germans took the city; the Jewish population then stood at fifty-seven thousand.

Initial Anti - Jewish Measures and the First Murder Aktion.
A few days later, the German military authorities and the Lithuanian administration issued a series of anti - Jewish decrees. On July 4 the Germans ordered the establishment of a Judenrat. In July, Einsatzkommando 9, assisted by Ypatingi Buriai ("the special ones"; Lithuanian volunteers), rounded up five thousand Jewish men and killed them at Ponary, 7.5 miles (12 km) from Vilna. Between the end of July and early August, Lithuania was transferred from military rule to the Reichskommissariat Ostland.

Continuing Murder and the Establishment of the Ghettos.
From August 31 to September 3, 1941, eight thousand more Jews were murdered at Ponary. From September 3 to 5, two ghettos were set up - Ghetto No. 1 and Ghetto No. 2 - and on September 6 most of the remaining Jews were forced to move into them. Another six thousand were killed at Ponary. On the following day the Germans established two Judenrate, with Anatol Fried chairman in Ghetto No. 1 and Eisik Lejbowicz in Ghetto No. 2. A Jewish police force was also established under Jacob Gens.

In the period from September 15 to October 21, families in which neither parent was employed were transferred into Ghetto No. 2. The other Jews were put into Ghetto No. 1. It was during this period that the "Yom Kippur Aktion" (October 1, 1941) took place. In three more Aktionen, on October 3 - 4, 15 - 16, and 21, Ghetto No. 2 was liquidated and its inhabitants murdered at Ponary. The Germans distributed 3,000 yellow colored "Schein" among the Jews in Ghetto No. 1. A "yellow Schein" enabled its bearer to register on it the other parent and two children. On October 24 and November 35 the "yellow Schein Aktionen" took place, followed in December by further smaller Aktionen. By the end of 1941, the Germans had killed 33,500 Jews. Another 3,500 had fled to Belorussian cities and towns, or had hidden outside the ghetto.

A Year of Quiet - Life in the Ghetto.
For about a year there were no mass Aktionen. The Judenrat's policy, of rescue through work, was based on the assumption that if the ghetto were productive, it would be worthwhile for economic reasons for the Germans to keep it going. The dominant figure in the ghetto leadership was the Jacob Gens, who in July 1942 replaced Anatol Fried as Judenrat chairman. The ghetto had schools; a rich cultural life; social - welfare institutions; and a medical care system. In the spring and summer of 1943, the situation of the Jews in the Vilna area deteriorated; nearby small ghettos and labor camps were liquidated.

The Underground.
At the beginning of 1942, the underground Fareynegte Partizaner Organizatsye (United Partisan Organization; FPO) had been established. Its first open clash with Gens occurred when he tried to remove several underground leaders from the ghetto. Another confrontation took place in mid - July 1943, when Yitzhak Wittenberg, the commander of the FPO, was freed by FPO members while under arrest. The Nazis demanded his return, threatening the ghetto population. After further threats by Gens, the FPO command agreed to surrender Wittenberg.

The Vilna Ghetto Uprising.
In Aktionen on August 4 and 24 and September 1 and 4, over seven thousand men and women capable of working were sent to concentration camps in Estonia. During these Aktionen, the FPO called on the ghetto to revolt. The inhabitants did not heed this call. In the late afternoon of September 1, a clash broke out between the underground and the German forces. In order to forestall more violence, Gens, who believed that armed revolt would lead to the total liquidation of the ghetto, offered to provide the German authorities with the required quota for deportation. The Germans agreed, and the clashes in the ghetto came to an end. Following the expulsions to Estonia, twelve thousand people were left in Vilna. On September 14, Gens was shot by the Gestapo.

The Liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto.
The final liquidation of the Vilna ghetto took place on September 23 and 24, 1943. Thirty - seven hundred Jews were sent to camps in Estonia and Latvia; over four thousand children, women, and old men were sent to Sobibor and several hundred children, women and old men were killed at Ponary. About twenty - five hundred Jews were left in Vilna labor camps. Over one thousand Jews had gone into hiding inside the ghetto, but in the ensuing months, most of them were caught. A few hundred members of the FPO established themselves in two partisan groups in the Rudninkai and Naroch forests. Eighty Jewish prisoners were kept in Ponary to open up the mass graves and burn the bodies of the victims who had been buried there. On July 2 and 3, 1944, ten days before Vilna was liberated, the Jews in the local labor camps were taken to Ponary to be killed, though between one hundred fifty and two hundred were able to flee before the final liquidation.

Liberation and Aftermath.
On July 13, 1944, Vilna was liberated; afterward, several hundred survivors gathered in the city; all told between two thousand and three thousand out of the original fifty - seven thousand survived. About a third of them had taken refuge in the forests. The rest survived in concentration camps in Estonia and Germany, in hiding places, or by having had "Aryan" documents in their possession.

Courtesy of:
"Encyclopedia of the Holocaust"
1990 Macmillan Publishing Company
New York, NY 10022

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From: Multimedia Learning Center of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Copyright 1997, The Simon Wiesenthal Center

9760 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90035

Orans Family Index
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Last Modified: 2:00 PM on February 19, 2001