Berman’s Branches
Barbara Hacker Berman
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Towns - Vitebsk/Polosk

The Old East Slavic name, Polotesk, is derived from the Polota river, that flows into the Dvina nearby. The Vikings rendered that name as Palteskja.
Polotsk is one of the most ancient cities of the Eastern Slavs. Primary Chronicle listed Polotsk in 862 (as Полотескъ, /poloteskŭ/), together with Murom and Beloozero. However Polotsk was not yet in existence in the 9th century, and provided recorded was an invention of the compiler,[6] but archaeological expedition of the Institute of History of National Academy of Sciences of Belarus suggests that Polotsk already existed in the first half of the 9th century.[7] The Norse sagas describe the city as the most heavily fortified in all of Rus.
Captured by the Russian army of Ivan the Terrible in 1563, it was returned to Grand Duchy of Lithuania just 15 years later.

That period of warfare started the gradual decline of the city. After the first partition of Poland, Polotsk degraded to have the status of a small provincial town of the Russian Empire. During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, it was the site of two battles: see First battle of Polotsk and Second battle of Polotsk for details.

The city's Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Polotsk (1044–1066) was a symbol of the independent-mindedness of Polotsk, rivaling churches of the same name in Novgorod and Kiev and referring to the original Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (and thus to claims of imperial prestige, authority and sovereignty). The building of the cathedral had been ruined by the troops of Peter I of Russia. Hence the present baroque building by Johann Christoph Glaubitz dates from the mid-18th century. Some genuine 12th-century architecture survives in the Convent of Saint Euphrosyne, which also features a neo-Byzantine cathedral, designed and built in 1893—1899 by Vladimir Korshikov.

Cultural achievements of the medieval period include the work of the nun Euphrosyne of Polotsk (1120–1173), who built monasteries, transcribed books, promoted literacy and sponsored art (including local artisan Lazarus Bohsha's famous "Cross of Euphrosyne," a national symbol and treasure lost during World War II), and the prolific, original Church Slavonic sermons and writings of Bishop Cyril of Turaw (1130–1182).

Belarusian first printer Francysk Skaryna was born in Polotsk around 1490. He is famous for the first printing of the Bible in an East Slavic language (in Old Belarusian) in 1517, several decades after the first-ever printed book by Johann Gutenberg and just several years after the first Czech Bible (1506).
In September 2003, as "Days of Belarusian Literacy" were celebrated for the 10th time in Polotsk, city authorities opened a monument to honor the unique Cyrillic Belarusian letter Ў, which is not used in any other Slavic language. The original idea for the monument came from the Belarusian calligraphy professor Paval Siemchanka, who has been studying Cyrillic scripts for many years.

The population is now approximately 80,000. Sources provide information that there were Jews there in 1490. In 1765 there were 1,003 Jews in Polotsk. In 1910 the Jewish population was 19,252 and there were 23 synagogues. They were active in the political life of the city. The city witnessed a Jewish pogrom in October 1905, with many killed. When the Soviet authority was established in 1918, the Jewish communities were gradually abolished. The Germans invaded on July 15, 1941, and mass execution was carried out.

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