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Our Town of Urechye

Copyright © 1999-2003 Michael Steinore


  • Introduction
  • How to spell Urechye
  • The meaning of 'Urechye'
  • Maps of Urechye
  • WWII Aerial Photos of Urechye
  • Urechye as described in the Slutsk & Vicinity Yizkor Book
  • Urechye & Vicinity (Gorkovskaya Volost)
  • List of Urechye Voters in the 2nd and 3rd State Duma 1906-1907
  • The lone Urechye subscriber to Hebrew books
  • List of Small Business Owners in Urechye 1911
  • Urechye School graduation class of 1937
  • Urechye in the Holocaust
  • List of 520 Holocaust Victims in Urechye
  • The Rabbi Abraham Aharon Pessin
  • Congregation B'nai Abraham Anshe Urechye
  • Partial list of burials in Congregation Bnai Abraham section of Mt. Zion cemetery
  • Images from Urechye Today
  • Information provided by Urechye researchers


    Welcome. I am glad you have come to visit the web page on Urechye. I have only been able to discover a relatively small amount of information on Urechye, but it was a pretty small town. The population probably ranged from 600 to 1200 over most of the 19th and early 20th century. There is still an existing landsmanshaft, Chevra Bnai Abraham Anshe Urechye, which was formed from landsleit of Slutsk, Urechye, and Lyuban. I think you will find the few stories here interesting. My hope is that the information here will stimulate the memories of those who can recall Urechye, and the interest of those who cannot to look for what they might have. Any type of information would be gratefully received. Sources used to compile this web site:

  • Russian language sources: Vsia Rossiia (business directory), Minskie Gubernskie Vedomosti (provincial newspaper), Extraordinary State Commission Records, Spisok Naselennykh Mest (gazetteer), Great Russian Encyclopedia, Oxford Russian-English Dictionary, maps
  • Hebrew and Yiddish language sources: Yizkor Book, Sefer Ha-Prenumerantn, Landsmanshaft Cemetery Plots
  • German language resources: Einsatzgruppen reports, Luftwaffe WWII aerial photos
  • Information provided by fellow researchers, photos and information from research trips to Urechye
  • Information provided by members of existing Chevra Kadisha

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    How to spell Urechye

    Since Urechye was always a town in Russia from the 1790's, one should simply transliterate the Russian spelling of Urechye into English and leave it at that. But many of our ancestors didn't speak Russian if they lived in Urechye during the time of the Czar. They spoke Hebrew or Yiddish, so Urechye had a spelling in those languages as well, and each of those spellings can be transliterated into English. I've also seen variant spellings such as Uroche, Uretsa, Urecca, Uretche and so on. Most current information resources list Urechye spelled Urech'ye or Urechye. Finally, transliteration doesn't always match the true phonetics. Phonetically from Russian, Urechye would be spelled something like Ooryetch'yeh. Therefore, you can find many different spellings of Urechye, but the ones that are most relevant are in the table below.


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    The meaning of 'Urechye'

    Many names of Russian towns have some meaning. According to Alexander Sharon, Urechye means, literally, next (near) to the river or rivers. 'Rechye' is an ancient form of ryeka-rieka (river). In the current Oxford Russian-English Dictionary, 'Rechka' means small river. Like virtually all small towns, a river was in fact near Urechye, and actually coursed right through it. Based on an 1865 Library of Congress map, the name of the river was the Berezdova. The river is visible in a World War II aerial photograph of Urechye.

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    Maps of Urechye

    A century ago Urechye was located in the volost (township) of Gorki, uezd (county) of Bobruisk, gubernia (state) of Minsk, in the Russian Empire. During Soviet times, Urechye was located in the raion (region) of Slutsk, oblast (county/state) of Minsk. Today, Urechye goes by the same name in the country of Belarus, about 67 miles SSE of the capital Minsk. This current map shows Urechye in relation to nearby towns such as Slutsk and Lyuban. The latitude and longitude of Urechye is 52'57"N 27'54"E. Another map from 1915 shows Urechye (with the spelling Ourietchie) in the lower left quadrant, just southeast of Sloutsk. A map from 1865 shows a more detailed view of Urechye and two neighboring towns, Tal and Lyuban. The town outlines in this map are reasonably accurate. One can see that the area was quite rural. A portion of a map from 1959 shows Urechye in the raion of Lyuban. (It is the northernmost town in the pink region, which is Lyuban raion). The orange region is part of Slutsk raion, the lime green region is Starye Dorogi raion, and the yellowish region is Soligorsk raion. These four raions were all in Minsk Oblast, the southeastern border of which is shown with a thick violet line running along the right and bottom of the map.

    It should be noted that most Russian town names are not unique, no matter how small they were. Urechye is no exception to this rule. There were a couple of other towns in Minsk Gubernia named Urechye which this web site is NOT about, namely:

  • Urechye, a derevnya in Ostroshitz-Gorodetskaya volost, Minsk uezd, near the city of Minsk.
  • Urechye, a derevnya in Uzdenskaya volost, Igumen uezd, near the town of Koidanov.

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    WWII Aerial Photos of Urechye

    During World War II, the Luftwaffe took many aerial reconnaissance photographs over Russia. Two such photographs were taken over the town of Urechye on June 29, 1944. This composite aerial photograph was taken at about 5 pm and while one could calculate true North by the direction of the sun's shadow, up is approximately North. The scale of the photograph is 1:11200, meaning 1 inch is approximately 300 yards. This allows each individual building to be made out, as well as streets, farmland and forest area, but little detail beyond that. The main street moves horizontally through the two main sections of the town at the top of the photos with a slight s-curve in the middle. The river which sustained the town in Czarist times snakes horizontally along the top. The train station is probably in the upper right corner. The outlines of Urechye in 1944 conform to an 1865 map of the town, so little changed over a century. The mestechko of Urechye was probably located on the right, or eastern section of the town.

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    Urechye as described in the Slutsk & Vicinity Yizkor Book

    Yizkor books are memorial books created by former residents and Holocaust survivors of towns in Eastern Europe and Russia. They were produced to remember the events of the Holocaust as well as to remember life in those towns prior to the Holocaust. Though Urechye was a very small town, there are two pages of information on Urechye in the Slutsk & Vicinity Yizkor Book. If you would like to see this book, it is available at a dozen libraries, including YIVO, the New York Public Library and Yeshiva University.

    Here are extended excerpts from the article "Urechye" by N. Chinitz on page 185 of the Slutsk & Vicinity Yizkor book:

    "Twenty-five kilometers from Slutsk, on both sides of the highway and the dirt road that led from Slutsk to Bobruisk, was the town of Urechye. Its houses were framed of wood, and some had straw roofs. There were more than 200 families living there and most of the people - shopkeepers, laborers, and Jewish peddlers who populated the nearby villages - traded in everything that came their way. Most of the commerce was in flour, leather, cotton, oil, salted fish and the like. The local carriage owners who supplied all the necessities for the town and its surroundings, including letters, newspapers, books and religious artifacts kept the link open between Slutsk and Bobruisk.

    The rabbi was an old, modest, honorable man by the name of Reb Avraham Aharon Pessin. There was a big school and several minyans, as well as some old-fashioned rooms where the Torah was taught the old-fashioned way. There were also Jewish intellectuals and Zionists like Avraham Baruch Epstein; also the teacher Lebovich who lived in Bobruisk and who brought the light of joy with him wherever he appeared in his hometown.

    With the extension of the railroad from Verkhutino to Urechye, and during World War I from Urechye to Slutsk, the town blossomed and came alive. A post office and a large school were built in place of the one that burned down. Near the train station in the lovely tree shadows, two rows of beautiful and gorgeous houses were built, virtually a new street that continued the town for about one kilometer. A gas station and oil tanks, which supplied gas to the district, were proudly seen from afar. Samuel Reznick, a Zionist Jew, managed this station. Along with the train whistle and the noise of its wheels, a bustling new life had started. New faces were seen in town from time to time. Commerce erupted with vigor and Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian newspapers were all for sale. A new business for various books was opened.

    A new spirit entered the town and a modern kheder was opened, which was based on pure Hebrew. The teacher, Glinick, a veteran teacher from Eretz Israel, charmed and captured the hearts of the parents who kept sending their sons to the kheder with its two grades. Alta (Sara) Assaf (sister of Professor Assaf) was the Hebrew teacher. The town's rich man, Dobrovorsky, also opened a private Hebrew school for his sons and for the sons of the elite. For this, he hired a young teacher by the name of Gurvitz. With his help, and with the directorship of Michael Reznick, a Hebrew-phile of many talents and an ardent Zionist, a Zionist Union was established. From time to time, lectures on different topics were given and sermons were delivered from the synagogue's bimah about Eretz Israel.

    With the change of regime [Russian revolution], Zionism was doomed and Hebrew activity stopped. With the retreat of the Poles, the downtown was set on fire and almost all of it was consumed. Once Hitler's soldiers showed up, the poisonous storm engulfed the Jews of Urechye and only a few unique individuals - literally rescued from the ashes - were brought to a safe haven."

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    Urechye & Vicinity (Gorkovskaya Volost)

    Urechye being in a rural area, most maps of Urechye will not show many towns nearby. But there were many small ones close by, and many single family farms too. Urechye was located in the township of Gorki, or Gorkovskaya Volost. On the theory that listing the names of these nearby settlements and place names might jog a few memories, the entire listing of settlements of Gorkovskaya Volost is presented. Next to each place name is the type of settlement, the population at the beginning of the 20th century, and the number of homes in each settlement. The average density per home was about 7 people. As far as types of towns, a mestechko was a medium-sized town, while selo and derevnya were equivalent to villages. Zastyenok apparently comes from the Polish zascianek, which as I understand it, could mean one of two things: either a settlement of minor nobility (retainers, petty officers), or a town of freeholder farmers. Before 1918 Jews lived primarily in gorods, mestechkos, and selos and derevnyas. By way of contrast, a khutor or single family farm was generally populated only by Russian peasants. The settlements in neighboring Zabolotskaya Volost to the South of Urechye are listed as well, but in this case, only those settlements of type mestechko, selo and derevnya.

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    List of Urechye Voters in the 2nd and 3rd State Duma 1906-1907

    The Duma is the lower house of the Russian Parliament. There were four Dumas during the Czarist period, the first one in 1905. There were a small number of Jewish Duma voters from Urechye entitled to vote in the 2nd and 3rd Duma elections. This list represents only about 15% of adult males over the age of 24. You may recognize some of the people and/or surnames. While it may not have any significance, about one third of the surnames are Germanic in origin.

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    The lone Urechye subscriber to Hebrew books

    Sefer Ha-Prenumerantn is a book by Berl Kagan which lists subscribers to Hebrew books. These were people who funded the publication of various scholarly and religious texts. From Urechye, there was only one subscriber to one book listed in Sefer Ha-Prenumerantn. He helped sponsor a local history book of Novogrudok published in 1914:
    Ha-Rav ha-Gaon R' [Naftali] Hertz Rosansky from Uretsa
    Comments from Patrick Gordis who graciously provided this information: The [] are in the original, I have written out the honorific in Hebrew before the title. I think Kagan was inferring that Uretsa = Urechye, he is probably correct. While many Rabbis had titles, this one is not used lightly, so there must be more to be found at least about this individual.

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    List of Small Business Owners in Urechye 1911

    Vsia Rossiia (All Russia) was a large business directory produced periodically about a century ago. This table shows the small business owners from Urechye from the 1911 version of Vsia Rossiia.

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    Urechye School graduation class of 1937

    This picture of the 1st graduating class of the Urechye School 1936-37 was provided by Marcia Arem, who obtained it from town officials in Urechye on a trip in 2004. The Urechye School was named after M. Gorki. The list of students is as follows:

    Top Row (L to R): Ya.L. Akulich, Ya.S. Rusakovich, F.P. Rudzik, K.F. Korshuk, A.S. Nekvashevich, G.V. Magilevetz, B.Z. Zaitzau

    Second Row (L to R): V.A. Radkevich, N.M. Levin, I.M. Friedman, T.J. Grozovskaya, G.M. Hilko, E.S. Fishman, D.M. Gerchik, F.V. Pomerantz

    Third Row (L to R): V.P. Solovey, G.B. Vendrova, D.E. Kravtzov, M.M. Pozin, K.F. Savantsov, A.K. Zmachinsky, S.L. Wolfson, I.K. Bykova, E.Z. Zayatz, H.A. Ermalitskaya

    Bottom Row (L to R): C.V. Gurevich, S.N. Finkel, [Picture of school] H.Ya. Naumovich, Sh.A. Katsnelson

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    Urechye in the Holocaust

    The Slutsk and Vicinity Yizkor book suggests that Urechye and all its Jewish citizens were destroyed in the Holocaust. There is a significant amount of material available about Urechye in the records of the Extraordinary State Commission to Investigate and Establish War Crimes of the German-Fascist Invaders, given the small size of the town. There are Akty (findings) describing the 3 mass grave sites in Urechye where the victims were buried. The 3 mass grave sites were labeled "Aerodrome" (presumably near/at the airport), "Grebel'ka", and "Urochishchye". One of the Akts describes the "Urochishchye" mass grave site in the former area of the Soviet 4th artillery regiment and includes a schematic map of the grave site.

    Urechye also briefly appears in the Einsatzgruppen Reports. The Einsatzgruppen were special squads responsible for killing Jews, which served as adjunct elements of the German Army. Though they numbered only a few thousand men, according to The Holocaust Chronicle, they and their local collaborators were responsible for killing 1.3 million Jews, or a little less than one fourth of the Jews who died in the Holocaust. The following sentence appears in the Byelorussia section of Operational Situation Report No. 182 from Einsatzgruppe A: "About ten Jewish inhabitants of the local ghetto in Uroche, in Slutsk county, escaped and joined the partisans in the area." Since there was no other town nearby with similar spelling to Urechye, this sentence adds to the evidence that there was a Nazi-established ghetto in Urechye during the German occupation.

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    List of 520 Holocaust Victims in Urechye

    Among the items from the Extraordinary State Commission is a victim list of 520 townspeople who were executed by the Nazis. All but 16 of the people on the victim list were Jewish.

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    The Rabbi Abraham Aharon Pessin

    Congregation B'nai Abraham Anshe Urechye was named after the Rabbi Abraham Aharon Pessin of Urechye. According to his grandchildren, he took the name Pessin after an aunt Pesha in order to avoid conscription, and was the progenitor of the Pessin surname from this town. The Slutsk and Vicinity Yizkor book has an article on page 421 about Rabbi Pessin. Translated excerpts follow:

    "The Urechye rabbi, reb Abraham Aharon Pessin, born in the same town to poor parents, died in 1912, an elder of 75 years. Besides being a great scholar, he was also a great mathematician: Two Jewish youngsters were supposed to go in for an examination in a Minsk high school and answer a very difficult mathematical problem. If they did not solve the problem they would not receive their certificates and their many years of toil would be lost. The rabbi asked to see the problem and in a half hour's time he solved it. Several months later he received 10 rubles with a copy of a letter indicating that that externik [essentially a self-study auditing student] from Minsk received a 50-ruble reward from the St. Petersburg Education Ministry. It turned out that the teacher who gave them the problem was an anti-semite and desired that the two Jewish externiks should fail the final examination, because he himself had not been able to solve it either and thought it to be impossible.

    Around Urechye were dense forests. Two businessmen, a Jew and a Christian, purchased a forest in partnership. Not being able to come to an agreement between themselves, they presented their dispute in court. It was a very complicated matter. The judge couldn't settle it, he told them, that he knew the starosta of the town, he was a wise person, and his father was the rabbi of the town. Rabbis can also judge, so they should try to go to him. The judge gave them written leave to see the rabbi. The rabbi fashioned a gilded compromise, from which both partners went away pleased. Later he received a letter of thanks from a higher court.

    His daughter is now located in the State of Israel. His prophesy was fulfilled. Several grandchildren of his other children were also here. Others were in America and in Russia, even in Urechye.

    Immigrants from Urechye established a shul in New York with the name "Beit Haknesset Anshei Bnai Abraham".

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    Congregation B'nai Abraham Anshe Urechye

    Congregation B'nai Abraham was incorporated on May 15, 1899. The American Jewish Historical Society has its incorporation papers in the Collection of New York City Incorporation Papers, 1848-1920, I-154. According to the incorporation papers, the society was founded as "Congregation B'nai Abraham Anshai Uretzie, which signifies 'Sons of Abraham, People of Uretzie'." The papers go on to say that "the particular objects for which said Corporation is formed are as follows, viz: To assemble together for religious purposes, to voluntarily help its members in case of distress, aid and comfort the mourner, and to draft a constitution and by-laws governing said Society, not conflicting with the Constitution of the United States and the State of New York."

    The seven initial Directors of the Society, their positions, and addresses were as follows:

  • Jacob Breslow, President, 91 Henry Street
  • Hyman Resnik, Vice-President, 48 Market Street
  • M. Grodsinsky, Secretary, 1 Pike Street
  • Meyer Katz, Treasurer, 13 Orchard Street
  • Jacob Oppenheim, 1st Trustee, 223 E. Broadway
  • Herman Feitelberg, 2nd Trustee, 183 Henry Street
  • Louis Dossik, 3rd Trustee, 53 Canal Street
    All addresses are in New York City.
    In 1905 Congregation B'nai Abraham was located at 159 Ludlow Street near Delancey on the Lower East Side. In 1914, it was taking in at least $5,000 in annual membership dues, a large amount in 1914 dollars. In 1917 it had a membership of 30, the president was Jonah Daleshinsky, and the Secretary was Abraham Lazinsky. It still exists today.

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    Partial list of burials in Congregation Bnai Abraham section of Mt. Zion cemetery

    There is a Congregation Bnai Abraham section of Mt. Zion cemetery in Queens, NYC. A picture of the pillar at the entrance to this section in Mt. Zion is shown below. The very top of the pillar says "Chevra Bnai Avram Anshe Urechye" in Yiddish. This is followed by the names of some of the committee members of this organization.

    Chevra Bnai Abraham pillar Mt. Zion

    I compiled a partial list of burials on a visit in 1999. It is informative to compare this name list to some of the other name lists from Urechye.

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    Images from Urechye Today

    Today in Urechye, there is one Jew. The nearest Jewish community is in the nearest major city, Slutsk. Urechye's population today is about 5,000. It has alcohol and resin plants. A selection of images from researcher Marcia Arem's 2003 trip to Urechye shows WWII Jewish memorials and the Jewish cemetery. (There are about 3 megabytes worth of photographs, so depending on your connection speed, this page could take a while to download).

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    Information provided by Urechye researchers

    Researcher Nina Bunin provided this information about the first generation of her family to have a connection to Urechye:

    Jacob Bunin. Born on 15 Aug 1883 in Slutsk, Belarus ?
    Jacob died in Los Angeles, CA, on 23 Sep 1966; he was 83.
    Buried in Detroit , MI Kaufman Funeral Home, Adat Shalom Cemetery.

    Jacob married Liba (Libby) SMOLGOFSKY, daughter of Lester (Lazar Zussman) SMOLGOFSKY & Esther DORISON.
    Born on 20 Apr 1885 in Urech'ye (?) Belarus (formerly Russia).
    Liba (Libby) died in Detroit , MI Kaufman Funeral Home, on 28 May 1965; she was 80.

    They had the following children:

  • Fannie (1907-1997)
  • Bessie (1914-)
  • Max (1919-)

    Yitzchak Pessin of Israel provided this information on Pessin family burials in the Bnai Abraham Anshe Urechye section of Mt. Hebron cemetery:

  • (my grandfather) Yonah Ephraim Pessin died 12 Teves 5710 - in English Rev. Ephraim A, son of Rabbi Avraham Aharon
  • (my grandmother) Dena Pessin died 28 Adar 5718 - in English Lena Pessin
  • (my father) Eliyah Sinai Pessin died 12 Nisan 5759 - in English Alex Pessin, son of Yonah Ephraim
  • (my mother) Bryna Pessin died 8 Sivan 5758 - in English Bertha Pessin
  • (my aunt) Nechama Friedman died 17 Elul 5741 - in English Anne Friedman, daughter of Yonah Ephraim
  • (my aunt) Chaya Miriam Pessin died 20 Sivan 5752 - in English Miriam Pessin
  • (my uncle) Chaim Pesach Pessin died 10 Adar 5742 - in English Paul Pessin, son of Yonah Ephraim

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