A town on the Ikva River (Pripiat’ basin), Dubno is the district center of Ukraine’s Rivne oblast. From the 1320s, it belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and from 1569 to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. From 1795 it was in the Russian Empire and from 1796 served as a district center of Volhynia province. Thereafter, from 1921 to 1939 the town was within the borders of independent Poland.
The first information available about Jewish merchants from Dubno dates to 1532. Among the leaders of the community were the well-known rabbis Yesha‘yahu ha-Levi Horowitz (known as the Shlah; 1565–1630), his first cousin Shemu’el ha-Levi Horowitz (served as rabbi from 1625–1635), and Me’ir Ashkenazi (1590–1645).
On the eve of the Khmel’nyts’kyi uprising, about 350 Jews lived in Dubno in 58 homes, which were concentrated to the south of the market square. In 1648 and 1649, Cossacks attacked the town twice. Although a number of Jews managed to escape, there were many victims, among them Yehudah ha-Ḥasid, head of the local rabbinical court. Although in 1650 only 47 Jewish homes remained, by 1662 the Jewish population had reached 625, and by the end of the eighteenth century Dubno was home to the largest Jewish community in Volhynia.
The town was known as Dubna Rabati (Dubno the Great), testifying to its prestige in the Jewish world. Ya‘akov Kranz (ca. 1740–1804), a local preacher, gained great fame and became known as the Dubno Magid.
In 1716, the Dubno Jewish community was persecuted, accused of concealing two women who had converted to Judaism. Nevertheless, the Jewish population expanded with the town’s growing importance as a center of trade. In 1787, there were 2,325 Jews in Dubno. The Great Synagogue was completed in 1794, and from that year until 1819, three Jewish presses operated in the town.
From the 1820s Dubno was an important center of the Haskalah; among its leading figures were Ze’ev Volf Adelson and Avraham Ber Gottlober in the 1830s. The main opponents of the maskilim were the Misnagdim (opponents of the Hasidim), among whom Rabbi Ḥayim Mordekhai Margaliot (1815–1829) enjoyed special authority. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, several Hasidic prayer halls were established, the largest being that of Barukh ha-Levi Yuzefov. In 1897 there were 7,108 Jews living in Dubno (about half the town’s population).
At the beginning of the twentieth century, two modernized heders (ḥeder metukan), a Talmud Torah, a state Jewish school, and two private Jewish schools (one for men and one for women) were functioning. Indeed, practically all the local industrial and commercial enterprises belonged to Jews. The town suffered extensive damage during World War I, and anti-Jewish pogroms took place between 1917 and 1919.
In the 1920s thanks to significant help from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Jewish economic life was revived. As before, most of the Jews were occupied in handicrafts, in the sale of agricultural products, and in small local enterprises. Jews amounted to about 60 percent of the city population (5,315 in 1921 and 7,364 in 1931), but they generally did not have a majority vote in municipal government. A Tarbut school, a gymnasium, an orphanage, a kindergarten, and a hospital all served the community. All Zionist parties and youth movements were represented by energetic local organizations. However, with the annexation of western Volhynia to the USSR in September 1939, all Jewish public and political institutions were closed. On the eve of the Nazi invasion, about 12,000 Jews lived in Dubno, including more than 4,000 refugees from Poland.
The German occupation of the town lasted from 25 June 1941 until 9 February 1944. More than 1,000 Jews were shot in July and August 1941. In April 1942, about 8,000 Jews were driven into the ghetto and murdered in a series of aktions between May and October 1942.
About 400 Jews returned to Dubno after the war. Most emigrated to Poland, and from there to Israel and elsewhere. In the 1990s, the few remaining Jewish families organized a community, placed memorial plaques at sites of mass executions, and obtained the status of architectural monument for the synagogue’s building. By 2000, only about 10 Jews remained in Dubno.
Ya‘akov Adini, ed., Dubno: Sefer zikaron (Tel Aviv, 1966), in Hebrew and Yiddish; Avraham Cohen, Dubno: Kehilah she-hayetah ve-enenah (Tel Aviv, 1984); Ḥayyim Zeeb Margolioth, Dubna rabati: Toldot ha-‘ir Dubna . . . gedole ha-‘ir (Warsaw, 1910); Moshe (Murray) Rosman, “Dubno in the Wake of Khmel’nyts’kyi,” Jewish History 17.2 (2003): 239–255; Shmuel Spector, ed., “Dubno’ / Dubno,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Polin, vol. 5, Vohlin ve-Polesieh, pp. 55–61 (Jerusalem, 1990).
Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson