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Dąbrowa Białostocka - the outline of history

Dąbrowa Białostocka - the outline of history

The beginnings of the town are dated back to the second half of the 16th  century. Piotr Wiesiołowski, Court Marshal of Lithuania  founded the church in the village Małyszówka and equipped with a mill and surrounded by six land levelers of ground . It was confirmed on 12 April 1595 by the privilege dated 29 January 1595. The church was built in Małyszówka in the place called Dąbrowa. Dąbrowa was the part of the village Małyszówka constituting ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The name Dąbrowa is a topographical name which means the oak forest. This type of forests was an object of pagans worship, mainly the Balts – Sudovians and the Lithuanians. Not without reason Christianity located its religious centers in these primeval holly places. The similar situation occured in Korycin which initially was called Dąbrówka. In written source materials terminology Dąbrowa with reference to the place where the church worked, appeared  initially in 1616 and 1617.

The information about fairs, taking place on Sundays and  religious  holidays near the church, and the guest house appeared in 1650. In the first half of the 18th  century the settlement was mentioned in the documents  as a village. Only once in 1712 in the inventory of Nowy Dwór forestry it was mentioned that the beekeepers lived in Dąbrowa town. The most important document, which certified that Dąbrowa was a town, is king August II royal privilege dated 8 March 1713 giving the town fairs and rights for Jewish people.

This document is the first certificate – royal privilege confirming city charter to Dąbrowa. It was said that Dąbrowa was given the city charter between 1768 – 1775 as a result of Antoni Tyzenhauz – Lithuanian treasurer efforts. During that time Tyzenhauz changed the visage of Dąbrowa by measuring the market and building several made of bricks houses. In fact, none of the privileges based on Magdeburg’s law, was established and Dąbrowa was a typical urban center in our region, so called a small town. Apart from the trade exchanging and craft concentration, the urban character of the town was proved by numerous Jewish people living there and dealing with urban activities.

Jews appeared in Dąbrowa in the first half of the 17th  century. Their settlement can be associated with functioning of nearby church fairs. In 1650 it was reported “ the guest house near [ …] gardeners [ Kamienna manor ] and the second in the village Dąbrowa near the church where market used to take place on Sundays and holidays”. The beginnings of Jews settlement ( arguably several of them ) in Dąbrowa  should be connected with  Poświętne parish priest who had six drag benefice in Dąbrowa.

In the half of the 17th century individual Jews also lived  on the royal grounds. They were dealing with Kamienna manor’s grounds , taverns and mills leasing.  It was evidenced in the inventory of Grodno royal treasury dated 1650 in which Jew-  tavern renter – was mentioned. Another Jew rented three mills in Kamienna.

There is little  information about Jews in Dąbrowa at the second half of the  17th century. Perhaps their number increased enough for founding separate Jewish religious community which was probably like  other surrounding  communities, przykahałem- a part of  Grodno province. When the king passed the fairs privilege for Dąbrowa in 1713 it was said in it that Jewish school called bóżnica, baths and cemetery had already existed in Dąbrowa. They were all necessary elements  for having their own religious community. It was also stated that there were no fees for them. The inspector describing manor incomes in 1712 stated that: “Nowy Dwór forestry leasing under one contract, which owned  an  alcohol tawern in Kamień dominion, which should be one only, but with the settlement of Jews on Poświętne place in Dąbrowa and settling them on the royal rural grounds, they all sell alcohol in rented taverns and several Jews settled in the villages”. This notation  proves that more significant Jewish settlement in Dąbrowa was then a relatively new issue, especially on the royal grounds in Dąbrowa and in relation to Jews leasing taverns in surrounding villages. Jews as townspeople inhabited mainly Dąbrowa and their history is connected mostly with this town where community owned a synagogue,  houses of prayer, schools and graveyards existed.

In 1789 it was mentioned that there were 39 Jewish houses where 135 people lived and 10 Christian houses ( 49 people ) in  Dąbrowa town. Furthermore, an inspection in Dąbrowa parson’s property  showed 32 urban houses where 137 lived, 10 retinue and no Jews. Moreover, there was  the royal village Dąbrowa – 17 houses with 67 people and Dąbrowa government with 3 people. In spite of having different owners and the distinction between a village and town Dąbrowa, it was one unity. And the mentioned Jews were 1/3 of inhabitants of so understood Dąbrowa. In the next inventory in 1792 it was noted down 58 Jews, 9 Christians and Tatars.

Prussians treated the town and village Dąbrowa, Dabrowa’s government and parson’s property like one unity – the town Dąbrowa. At the turn of 1799 and 1800 the location was inhabited by 737 people – 283 Jews that was 38% of the inhabitants. In 1807 at the end of Prussian governance, there were 481 Jews that constituted 54% of the inhabitants.

In 1880 Dąbrowa was described as nadetatowe  town of Sokółka district with 207 houses and 1438 inhabitants ( 685 men and 753 women ). Among inhabitants, there were 1132 Israelites, 264 Catholics, 29 Muslims and 13 Orthodox. And there were 9431 people I Catholic parish.

An important event in the town existence  was the raising of the new big and made of brick church. The notable priest Józef Fordon undertook this construction between 1897 – 1902.

In 1904 in Dabrowa there were 1800 inhabitants and the Jews were 78,2% of all inhabitants. It was the highest rate of Jews in whole Grodno government and one of the highest, if not the highest, in Russian empire. The  Polish ( 19,2%), the Russian ( 0,7%),and Tatars ( 1,7% ) living there were in minority. The markets and the streets were not cobbled. There were not pavements or street lights. There were 250 houses but only 3 were layed with stone. The houses were wooden with made of straw ( 120 ) or wooden ( 120 ) roofs. Only a few of them were roof tiled ( 10 ). The houses were built in quite little space hence great population density and crowd. The town area, similar to Korycin area, was the smallest in Grodno district ( Gubernia grodzieńska ). There were no waterworks, a sewage system, a doctor, a library,a fire station, a photographer or a hostel in the town. There were 5 shops, 11 taverns, a small factory employed 3 workers, 2 primary schools, 3 Jewish houses of prayer, the pharmacy and a military surgeon. An interesting historical source concerning Dąbrowa and its inhabitants – Jews is the so-called memory book: “Dubrowa. Memorial to a Shtetl”. There were mentioned, for instance the buildings connected  with worship in this book. It was mentioned Beis Midrasz ( Beis ha Midrasz or Beit ha Midrasz ) which means Jewish “Study House”, it was also intended for prayer. It existed already in 19th century. In the book it was also mentioned “Szul”. It means synagogue in Jidisz. But it emphasizes its character as a place of studying, school. Supposedly it became in 1874 thanks to rabbi Menachem Mendel. It was a big made of brick building. It was used only on Saturdays and more significant holidays. The building was not heated , therefore “ people had to be close to each other”. The emigrants from 1920s mentioned that “older generations were more engaged in obeying the Jewish laws”. The location of the Synagogue ( Szul ), the Study House ( Beis Midrasz ), the baths ( mykwa ) and two Jewish graveyards ( old and new ) is shown in Abraham Gusewicz’s ( Gushewich ) mind map showing the situation from the interwar period.

Daily life of Jews in Dąbrowa oscillated between a house, usually detached house, the synagogue and the market. The houses were usually two-room. In the bigger one there was a shop. It was also used  as the dining room during a day and as the bedroom at night. Behind this room separated by a stove there was a smaller one which was used as the kitchen  and the bedroom. Most families also owned a cowshed, a stable and a henhouse. They often rented grounds from Polish people. They mainly grew potatoes. In the visitor’s book of Jews from Dąbrowa it is mentioned several times that the main source of livelihood was trade. The smuggling is mentioned once. “The Russian government was corrupt so life was based on fraud “– it is mentioned in the book. There is no information about the craft, which according to the statistics, was the main source of livelihood of over half of the Jews living in a town.

In 1921 in Dabrowa there were 566 houses and 3014 inhabitants. Among them there were 1218 Jews, 1717 Catholics, 46 Orthodox and 33 Muslims. 1751 people had Polish nationality, 1206 - Jewish, 33 - Tatars, 22 – Belorussian and 2 – Russian.

Before the World War II in Dąbrowa there were 2 engine mills and 6 windmills, tile factories, a place where wool was carded called “gręplarnia” – carding mill, a dye shop, an oil factory, a dairy cooperative, People’s Jewish Bank. There were also the post office, the police station, the pharmacy, 2 doctors, the council, municipality, school. Many different associations and  organizations worked in a town : Agricultural Group, Catholic Youth Association, Reservist Union, Women’s Civil Work Union, Shooting Union, Sea and Colonial League, Air and Gas Defense League, Association Supporting Public Schools Building.

During World War II the town was almost completely destroyed and the Jews were murdered ( holocaust ). In 1950 there was deprived Dąbrowa of city charter. In 1956 Dąbrowa became the district headquarters and it had impact on its development and regaining city charter. After an administrative reform in 1975 Dąbrowa district was abolished. 1960s and 1970s of the 20th century it was a quick development of the town. Many manufacturing plants developed where townspeople and the inhabitants from surrounding places were employed.

                dr  Grzegorz Ryżewski  ( National Heritage Institute )

              tłumaczyła na język angielski Elżbieta Kondracka

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