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Bragin: Jewish history

In Bragin, a small town in the Gomel region (Belarus), few local residents live today. Most of the Bragin residents were resettled or left after the Chernobyl disaster, so now the town is inhabited mainly by those who were also evicted from the surrounding villages. For this reason, and also due to the extermination of most of Bragin's Jews during World War II, the memory of its Jewish history has hardly been preserved. The only reminder of it is the remnant of the old Jewish cemetery on the southwestern outskirts of Bragin, where several old matzevahs have been preserved. But since there are no Jews left in the city, almost no one has visited the burial sites in recent decades.

But this was not always the case... This small town knew times when there was an active Jewish life here. Jews began to settle in Bragin during the time when the city was under the rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. But official mentions of the Jewish community began to appear after its entry into the Russian Empire. And if in 1784 there were only 152 Jews in Bragin, then in 1897 there were already 2254, which accounted for more than half of all residents. At the beginning of the 20th century, Bragin Jews owned all the city's drinking establishments, pharmacies, and trading shops; they bought grain and other raw materials. Some of them were engaged in small handicrafts; local shoe artels, organized by Jews, were especially famous. Among the Jews of Bragin there were doctors and teachers.

During the troubled times of revolution and civil war, city Jews suffered from frequent changes of power and robberies. During Soviet times, between 1920 and 1940, some Jews left the city, and Jewish life there gradually faded away. Before World War II, in 1939, about 900 Jews lived in Bragin (less than 20%).

With the outbreak of the war, Jewish men were mobilized into the Red Army, but most women, children and the elderly did not have time to evacuate. The city was occupied at the end of August 1941 and in the very first days the Germans conducted a census of the Jewish population. Following their Nazi program to exterminate Jews, the occupiers organized a ghetto, where Jews from nearby villages were also herded.

In September 1941, the Germans shot 331 Jews, and at the end of November - more than 600 ghetto prisoners. They were buried, some alive, in two large ditches that were located in the area of ​​what is now Naberezhnaya Street. The city remained under occupation for more than two years and was liberated in November 1943.

According to some sources, during the period of mass emigration from the USSR, only a few of the remaining Bragin Jews went abroad, but almost all left the city after the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.