In 1860 36 to 55 percent of the peasants in Grodno were serfs.

The first mention of Hrodna (Grodno in Russian and Harodnya in old Belarusian) appeared in 1128 A.D. in the Ipat'ev Chronicle. The name of the city stems from the eastern slavonic work for town, "gorod," and refers to a "fenced settlement." Hrodna was founded on a high hill overlooking the confluence of the rivers Nyoman and Hradnichanka.  MAP

From the second half of the XII Century Hrodna was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and in 1569 it merged with the Kingdom of Poland to form Rzech Pospolita Polsko-Litewska  - the Commonweath of Poland and Lithuania. At that time natives called the area Rus', while foreigners called it Litva. The name Belarus appears only later. During the period of the Vitaut Duchy and the reign of King Stefan Batory of Rzhech Pospolita Hrodna was their residence and the capital of entire state.

In 1588, there were two castles in Hrodna, nine Orthodox and three Catholic churches, one synagogue, 31 streets and 4,000 inhabitants.

Between 1760 and 1780 the mayor of Hrodna, Antonij Tyzenhaus, founded a number of royal manufacturing businesses. Also, during that period there was a medical academy in Hrodna with Dr. Jan Emmanuel Jiliber, a French surgeon and botanist, serving as rector. He founded the botanical garden in Hrodna which at the time was considered the best in Europe. The Central City Park is located now in place of his garden.

In 1795 Hrodna was incorporated into the Russian Empire.  Hrodna was occupied in 1812 as Napoleon's Army marched toward Moscow. It was liberated in the wake of Napoleon's defeat.

From the Smorgon Yizkor book:

In the year 1388 we find a considerable Jewish community in Brisk (Brest - Litovsk) that was receiving a bill of rights from the Grand Duke of Witthold. The bill of rights received by the Jews of Lvov was a template. One of the rights the Jews received excuses them from the duty to harbor Christians in their house.

In 1389 we find a Jewish community in Grodno also. The community has a cemetery and a synagogue. On the 18th of June, 1389, the Jews of Grodno received the same rights that the Jews of Brisk enjoyed and they are as follows - freedom to own a business and to do trades, to work the land, to make alcoholic drinks and be able to sell them, slaughtering beef and selling meat wholesale.

Jews in Grodno used the rights that were given to them. They dealt in agriculture and all kinds of craftwork, did artisanry (all detailed in the bill of rights).

In 1399, Witthold brought prisoners of war, amongst them were Jews from southern Russia and the Crimea. Karaites that were taken as prisoners of war, he separated from the other Jews and placed them in Troki which, after a while, became the spiritual center of the Karaites.

In 1441 the Jews of Troki also received a bill of rights. According to the Magdaburg laws, they received full autonomy.

In April of 1495, the Jews of Lithuania were expelled and all of their belongings were confiscated. But after 8 years, in 1503, the Jews returned to their places in Lithuania. The Jews of Brisk, Grodno and Troki returned and they re-established their communities according to their previously received bill of rights.

In 1506, three years after the cancellation of the expulsion edict, a community was formed in Pinsk. Jews received the same rights that the community of Brisk enjoyed. The Jews of Grodno established two more communities in 1522 - one in Tiktin and one in Novodvor.

They wanted to recognize a leader that was foisted on them. They yearned for independence in terms of community affairs.

In 1529, there were communities in Pinsk, Grodno, Brisk, Troki, Tiktin, Novodvor, Kobryn, Klodzk, and Ludmir. Brisk, the first and foremost of the communities became the center of Torah from which God's word went out to all of the cities of Lithuania. In Brisk, the Jewish painting house was established and, in 1546, the Chumash was printed. About four years after the Chumash appeared in print, in 1550, a kind of Yeshiva was formed there. In 1550, the number of Jews in Lithuania went up to about 10,000. In 1551, we find communities in Slonim, Mastevov, and Kremenitz. That same year, permission was granted to two rich Jews from Krakow to rent stores and houses in Vilna and to business but not to reside there. The right to live in Vilna and build a community there was not given to the Jews because of its importance as a capital. The same difficulties and obstacles were met by Jews in Kovno.

After awhile, Jews were permitted to come and settle in the city on condition that they would live in houses that were purchased by members of the Duke's Council, because the city dwellers did not want to give the Jews the opportunity to freely set foot wherever they wanted in their rich city.

The Jews of Pinsk founded a community in Klotzk. The Jews of Lithuania paid about a quarter of the total collected from all of the cities. In 1555 we find Jews in Josly. In 1556 Jews were permitted to reside only on one street that was reserved for them in the city of Koval. This street belonged completely to the Jews and the Christian city dwellers were not allowed to build their houses there.

In 1560 there are 3 streets in Grodno that were only for the settling of Jews, and these are their names - Street of the Jews, Street of the Synagogue, and Narrow Street of the Jews. Also in Novogrodok, the Jews were concentrated onto a specific street. In 1563, the communities of Ostroja, Dvoretz, Lachevitz, and Toratz were founded.

In 1563 a special tax was levied on the Lithuanian Jews - 12,000 grushim. Here is the way the taxes were divided among the Jews of Lithuania: On Minsk - 600 grushim; Stroja - 600; Lotzk - 550; Ludmir - 500; Troki - 376; Brisk - 264; Grodno - 200; Kremenitz - 140; Tiktin - 100; Dvoretz - 60; Novogrodok - 30; Lachevitz - 30; Klotzk - 15.

In 1564 an epidemic erupted in Vilna. Everybody ran away, including the ruler.

The Duke's representative, before we ran for his life, elected two defacto rulers. One was a Jew by the name of Shmuel Ben-Israel of Lachevitz.

In 1566 we count in Brisk 85 homeowners, in Grodno - 60, Lutzk - 56, Kremenitz -48, Tiktin - 37, Pinsk - 24, Kobrin - 22, Novodvor - 12, and in Klotzk - 4.

In the census conducted in 1566 in Brisk, two Jews are mentioned: the name of a printer named Yakov and the son-in-law of Reb Shmuel Wohl, Dovid Druker.

In the same year, taxes were levied on the Jews of Lithuania in the amount of 6,000 shuk grushim. The following communities were told to pay 3,760: Brisk - 1300; Lutzk - 500; Ostroja - 500; Ludmir - 300, Troki - 300; Grodno - 200; Tiktin - 170; Kremenitz - 150; the Jews of Novogrodok, Slonim, Lachevitz, Klotzk, Toretz, Chochri, Makas, Vilna and Kovno - altogether - 250.

Copyright H. David Marshak, All Rights Reserved