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Jews in Penza, Russia

Penza is the center of the region of the same name in Russia. The city was founded in 1663. Penza was beyond the Pale of Settlement. Jews have appeared as soldiers, visiting merchants or visiting artisans since the 18th century. In the funds of the local archive, a document from 1791 was preserved on the inclusion of Alexei Cherkasov, a Jew who converted to Orthodoxy, among the merchants of the third guild. This is one of the first documentary evidence of the stay of Jews in Penza. It is known that in the early 1800s, at the invitation of local merchants, Jewish distillers from the Kiev, Vilna, Vitebsk and Mogilev provinces arrived in the city.

According to the report of the Penza police chief of October 14, 1864, nine Jews lived in the city: a divorced dressmaker, a retired non-commissioned officer who was engaged in distilling, a retired soldier who worked as a barber, a brewer, a merchant with his wife, two masters of ink and vinegar, a merchant of the second guild, engaged in the grain trading.

It is not known how complete the list is. However, already in 1868, a Jewish cemetery appeared in the city, which testifies to the permanent residence of Jews. In 1885, Yehiel Perelman became the state rabbi of Penza. In 1898, the first synagogue was built in Penza.

According to the 1897 census, 409 Jews lived in the city, mostly merchants and artisans. In 1905, merchant Hanan Pines opened the first Jewish school in Penza.

The Jewish population of Penza increased during the First and Second World Wars due to the evacuees. At the beginning of the First World War, 13 thousand Jews were resettled in the province. The Penza Jews organized a committee to resettle the evacuees. At the same time, five prayer houses and four Jewish schools appeared in the city. By the early 1930s, the Soviet government had liquidated all Jewish institutions.

At the beginning of World War II, more than 22 thousand Jews were evacuated to the Penza region. Six thousand of them ended up in Penza.

In 1945, the authorities gave permission to register a religious community. There was a synagogue in the city. In 2005, 3 thousand Jews lived in Penza.