In alliance with intellectuality

“Smorgon is a town in the Vilnya Province of the Oshmyany Sheading that has 8,908 citizens, 49 tanneries and two distilleries. The Prince Radziwill of Grand Duchy of Lithuania (later, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) established here a school for teaching bears that had been functioning for a good while.” I have found this information in the legendary Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary
Today’s Smorgon is a typical town that is growing and developing from day to day. It is one of the railway stations on the route Vilnus-Molodechno. There are plants and construction companies in the town. Besides, Smorgon has sights for tourists. We will take a walk along Smorgon streets in order to find out whether this town has some places of interest that make it unique among other Belarusian towns.

If examined carefully any street reveals parts of the town image. Even broad avenues with large industrial enterprises will someday become history.
As is widely known, history is created by people. That is why our first step is to get acquainted with the famous natives of Smorgon and the region. It took Alexei Mikhailovich Petkevich, the historian from Grodno, several decades to enter their names into the personified regional encyclopedia. I asked him to tell me about local celebrities.

According to Alexei Mikhailovich, Smorgon citizens managed to obtain fame not only in Belarus, but also in Poland and other European countries, in Latin America and on other continents. Some scientists, writers, sportsmen, artists and composers born in Smorgon have become famous in different parts of the world. For instance, the follower of Belarus’ composer Petr Alkhimovich Bogatyrev is residing and working in Mexico. Bogatyrev is famous for soundtracks to many movies filmed by Belarusfilm (the main film studio of Belarus situated in Minsk).

The artist Kazimir Bakhmatovich was born in the village of Dobrovlyany, near Smorgon, in 1808. He was from a family of peasants, but studied arts in the university of Vilnya by Jan Rustem. The composer Mechislav Karlovich was born in Vishnev, in the Smorgon District. Moyshe Kulbak, a Yiddish language writer, poet and playwright was also born in Smorgon. In 1937, during the Stalinist purges, Moyshe Kulbak was deported to an internment camp, where he died in 1940. Senior Belorussians probably remember Nikolai Lazarev, who was the leading dancer in Belarus’ Ballet theatre. He was also born in Smorgon. As well as Vladimir Neklyaev, a poet, who devoted many of his works to the native town.

“If we gather the names of all famous Smorgon natives, their life histories will make a fascinating story about this town,” Alexei Mikhailovich says.
He believes the main feature of Smorgon citizens is breadth of the urban mind. Together with good education and intellectuality this feature made Smorgon the center of the district. In late 16th century the owner of the Smorgon District built here a paper factory to produce watermarked paper with the emblem of the Zenovich family.

Another remarkable signs of Smorgon are thirst for knowledge and active enlightenment activities. In 16th century the printer Jakob Markus established a Calvinist school by the Church of Smorgon. Children studied theology, Ancient Greek, Polish, Latin and Belorussian languages, mathematics, oratory, history, antique poetry and some other subjects. Kristof Zenovich was known as a great bibliophile. He even wrote a treatise about political and every-day squabbles between the voivode of Vilnya, Kristof Radziwill, and the governor of Vilnya’s castle, Hieronim Hadkewich. In 1909 the King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania Sigismund III visited Smorgon at the invitation of Zenovich.

There were some other unordinary events and projects in Smorgon. For instance the above-mentioned school established by the Radziwill family to train bears. Radziwills were founders of this type of activity in Belarus. They called the school Academy for Bears. The school was functioning from the 17th century through the 18th century. The bears from the school had a possibility of “getting acquainted” with Charles XII, or Karl XII, King of Sweden and Stanislaw Leszczynski, who was King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Duke of Lorraine. Bears were trained in several stages.

First, they were taught to dance and only then to perform: bow and ramp.
The beginning of the 20th century made the Smorgon District pass through many severe events.

“The times of World War I were very difficult for Smorgon. I believe the gas attack mounted by the Hitler troops on the Smorgon front was a forerunner of many other world disasters. We are going to relate about this tragedy in the coming museum exhibit,” the deputy head of the city council of Smorgon, Svetlana Shmyga says.

Several years ago a military-historical centre was established in the town. The idea to create such center belonged to the colonel Vladimir Liguta. He visited Moscow and St. Petersburg many times to study the wartime archive documents in order to revive the broad picture of events that took place in Smorgon during World War I.

Besides, the state architectural committee has recently held a competition to choose an architect for a park memorial complex devoted to the heroes and victims of the war. It means the town will soon have new monuments and a park.

by Ales Karlukevich. Cards from
collection of Vladimir Lichodedov
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