Modern Grodno is a prominent administrative center with a rich history going back into centuries. Grodno has a well-developed infrastructure. Its history makes Grodno (Garodnia) one of the oldest cities in Belarus, while Jewish heritage is a significant part of it.
According to official chronicles, duke Vitovt granted the Jewish community a lot of privileges in 1389. Jews had a synagogue and a cemetery – the fact that let the Jews to pray and hold ritual arrangements freely in that period. Moreover, the privileges made it possible for the community to establish an independent authority system within it, that made the community a significant example for other Jewish communities around, as well as it was the model for the Vilna va'ad.
Despite the changing attitude to the community from the local authorities' side, there were several synagogues and heders still active in Grodno during the 16th century. The city also was the place for plenty Jewish craftsmen.
1623 was marked by making the Grodno community one of the main out of the three significant communities at the time. It helped the community to become prominent in the state, as well as let the local rabbis to take part in the va'ad.
Even the fact that Grodno fell under Russian rule did not impede the community – chronicles say there was a big amount of Jewish educational venues (for men and women as well) in 1907.
There were specialized courses to educate Jewish religious teachers for yeshivas etc. – one of that kind in the whole Russian Empire at the time.
During the two World War the community had been an object of persecution and mass oppression. The negative experience had so much influence on the community, that the local synagogue wasn't active even as of 1959 – although there were circa 1,800 Jews in the city
The hard times (of persecution)
While still under the Lithuanian rule, Jews suffered from fires and vandalism. They were executed after mendacious charges of killing Christians.
Jews weren't given a right to be a full members of the society under the Russian Empire rule as well. Chronicles tell about the destructive pogroms carried out by the duke Nikolay's troops in 1915.
The Nazi occupation from June 1941 to July 1944 has become one of the darkest pages in the history of Grodno's Jewish community. At the period there were two ghettos in the city, number of victims in there stands at 21,000.The genocide has been commemorated by establishing a memorial stone in 1991. Apart from it, the local authorities preserved a stairway that Jews of the ghetto built using the gravestones taken from the Jewish cemetery during the occupation in 1942-43.
Places of interest:
• The big choral synagogue, notable for being the oldest active synagogue in Belarus, and one of the oldest in Europe overall, being active from the 18th century. As for today, steps are taken forward to renovate the synagogue. The synagogue has a breath-taking architecture and impressive interior
• Shneur Zalman Rubashov – known as Zalman Shazar - the third President of Israel
• Hafetz Haim – legendary spiritual leader of Orthodox Jews
The community nowadays:
From the 2000s the community experiences revival. The community routine and religious life are being restored systematically. There are a Jewish culture club, as well as the regional union of the local Jewish communities and Jewish culture active.