Kurenets and nearby Vileika are situated at a road junction and a railway that leads deep into Russia. Because of this significant location on a noteworthy geographic artery, the area has suffered from many foreign army invasions. According to local testimony, the Jewish community in Kurenets started in the late 17th century. The founders were Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition and escaped to western Europe. After the Spanish Inquisition, which required Jews to convert to Catholicism or die, survivors fled to neighboring countries such as France and Holland and discovered that they were physically safer but still could not live authentically as Jews. Many Jewish people subsequently moved to the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom, as the rulers invited them to immigrate there. The rulers sought an educated middle class to be between the noblemen, who owned most of the land but lived far away in major cities, and the local serfs who worked the land for them. It was appealing for Jewish people that they could be the majority of the population of newly established small towns in the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom. They were able to live an autonomous life there, leading their own communities and openly practicing Judaism. In addition to Kurenets, there were many other small towns (shtetls
) with large Jewish populations in the area between Minsk and Vilnius (Vilna
). Vileika, which is located 7 kilometers from Kurenets, was founded by Catherine the Great's regime in the 1790s, about a century after the founding of Kurenets. The rumor according to Jewish locals was that Catherine the Great personally chose the name Vileika.