Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Petrovichi - Isaac Asimov's Birthplace

From Wikipedia (The information at Wikipedia is from volume 1 of Asimov's autobiography - In Memory Yet Green, 1920-1954):
Petrovichi (Russian: Петро́вичи) is a village in Shumyachsky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located about 400 kilometers (250 miles) southwest of Moscow and 16 km east of the border between Belarus and Russia.

It is the birthplace of Isaac Asimov. Asimov left at the age of three, with his parents and sister, migrating to the United States.

HistoryBefore the October Revolution, Petrovichi was a shtetl of Klimovichy uyezd (district) of Mogilev guberniya of Imperial Russia. It was a historically Belarusian land, part of the Northwestern Krai of the Russian Empire. Its population was half Jewish, half Belarusian. The town had both a church and a synagogue, each one with a school attached to it. By Asimov's memoirs, the place had never known of pogroms. There were amicable business connections, and even friendships, between the two communities. Asimov even reports non-Jews paying a friendly visit to the local synagogue on at least one occasion.

Tsar Nicholas I (who ruled from 1825 to 1855) at one point ordered the expulsion of all Jewish people who resided in Great Russia, or Russia proper, outside of the Pale of Settlement. However, a rich and powerful Russian landlord, who owned much land on both sides of the border, saved the Jewish community of Petrovichi from "ethnic cleansing" by illegally moving the border marker from the west to the east of the shtetl. Thus he saved half of the people of the town from much suffering, and he also saved himself from losing their talents and skills. Petrovichi was an important hub of the wheat trade, and Jewish traders in wheat were respected for their honesty and efficiency. Petrovichi became part of Belarus for several decades. After WWI, the Russian Revolution, and the ensuing civil wars were over, the town became part of Russia again, but now there were no more bans on Jewish people living anywhere in that country.

In 1941, Petrovichi was occupied by the German armies. Those Jewish inhabitants who did not flee in time were massacred.

During the Soviet times the settlement briefly belonged to Gomel guberniya of the Russian SFSR, then it was transferred to Smolensk Oblast of the RSFSR, and the population dwindled significantly.

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