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Kamenets-Podolski

Kamenets-Podolski
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Kamenets-Podolski
, a town in the Khmelnitski district of Ukraine and a district capital until the 1950s.

The area was under the Lithuanian control from the 14th century, and remained so after the unification of Poland and Lithuania in 1569, except for a short but formative period of the Ottoman rule between 1672 and 1699; the territory passed to Russia in 1795, and from then on until the Revolution of 1917 Kamenets-Podolski remained the capital of the province of Podolia.

The roots of Kamenets-Podolski Jewish community

For a long time the municipality of Kamenets-Podolski prevented any attempts of the local Jews to settle in this important trading and commerce center in the southeastern Poland-Lithuania. In 1447 any Jews were prohibited from staying here for more than three days. In 1598 King Sigismund III prohibited Jews from settling in the city and suburbs and from engaging in trade there; their visits were again restricted to three days only.

During the Chmielnicki uprising, many Jews sought refuge in the fortified city which withstood attacks by the Cossacks in 1648 and 1652. Subsequently King John II Casimir permitted local Jews to reside here, and they apparently continued to live in Kamenets-Podolski despite repeated prohibitions in 1654, 1665, and 1670.

From Sefer shimush, by Ya‘akov Emden (Amsterdam, 1757 or 1758). A drawing depicting the bishop of Kamenets-Podolski, Mikołaj Dembowski, drinking in celebration after the burning of the Talmud, carried out at his order.

From Sefer shimush, by Ya‘akov Emden (Amsterdam, 1757 or 1758). A drawing depicting the bishop of Kamenets-Podolski, Mikołaj Dembowski, drinking in celebration after the burning of the Talmud, carried out at his order.

Under the rule of Ottoman Turks, the ban on Jewish settlement was lifted and the communijty grew to a considerable size. After the city’s return to Poland in 1699, the Christian citizens resumed their opposition to the Jewish settlement.

In 1737 the city council submitted a request to the state and Church authorities to banish the Jews from the city, maintaining that they had no right to settle here, and were competing with the Christian inhabitants and impoverishing them. King Augustus III expelled the Jews from Kamenets-Podolski in 1750. Their houses passed to the town council and the synagogue was demolished. The expelled Jews settled in the suburbs and in nearby villages, which were under jurisdiction of Polish noblemen, and developed extensive trading activity there which led to additional complaints on the part of the citizens.
In 1725 the Council of Four Lands met in Kamenets-Podolski. In 1757 a public disputation was held by the Church in Kamenets-Podolski, enjoined by the local bishop, between the representatives of Podolian Jewry and Jacob Frank and his supporters. After the disputation the Talmud was publicly burned in the city on the bishop’s orders.

After Kamenets-Podolski passed to Russia, Czar Paul I confirmed in 1797 the right of Jews to reside there. At that time 24 Jews, the members of the merchant guilds and 1,367 Jewish inhabitants were registered in the tax-assessment books of the city. Two years later, in 1799, 29 merchants and 2,617 Jewish inhabitants were registered.

The photos of Jews in Kamenets-Podolskiy were made in 19th century by Michail Greim (the photos taken from http://kamienec.livejournal.com):

Pre-Revolutionary period

In 1832 the Christians in Kamenets-Podolski petitioned the government to expel the Jews from the city, in accordance with the medieval privileges, granted to them. The petition was rejected but in 1833 the government restricted the right of the Jews to build shops and new houses, or to acquire houses, to two suburbs of the city only in order to prevent them from residing in the city itself. The restriction was rescinded in 1859.

In 1857 in Kamenets-Podolski and the surrounding area 67 Jewish merchants of the 1st and 2nd of guilds were registered and 933 merchants of the 3rd Guild with only ten registered Christian merchants of the 3rd guild and none at all for the higher guilds. The community was 4,629 strong in 1847, 16,211 (40% of the total population) in 1897, employed in the local small-scale industry, trade and artisanal crafts. Among the rabbis who worked in the city were Pinkhas of Koretz, Itshok Moizels, Zalman Lerner, Dov-Berish Eliash, David Wasserman, a disciple of R. Levi Isaac from Berdichev, S.Y. Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Sforim), and Menakhem Poznanski; the poets Aharon Ashman and Avraham Rosen were working here too.

The entrepreneurs list from 1913

In 1904 the state-appointed Rabbi was Pinkas Mendelevich Oxman.

In 1905 a pogrom occurred here. In 1910 there were 22,279 Jews and 33 synagogues. Four private schools and modernized hadarim were operating, and later also two Hebrew schools and a library. All major Jewish parties were active there.

After 1918, during the civil war, the Jews in Kamenets-Podolski suffered and 200 Jews were killed here in pogroms organised by Petlyura’s gangs in July 1919. In February 1921, 16 Jews from Kamenets-Podolsk were shot by the Red Army soldiers. Rabbi Akselrod was killed too.
Before 1921 Israel Gutman, one of the Besht’s descendants, was the rabbi here.

After the Civil War

From 1917 to the mid-1920s several Zionist organizations, including “Tzeirei Zion,” “Poale Zion”, “HeHalutz,” “Tarbut” were active here. Several Hebrew Schools, evening classes, a Jewish library and a Jewish folk house were set up. In 1920 a union of Hebrew teachers was organized. In 1920 a Jewish comedy troupe led by A.M.Sigalesko was registered in the city and Ze’ev Zhabotinsky visited the city. At the beginning of 1920s a branch of ‘Culture League” publishing house was opened.

The Manor house belonging to Genendel Shmulevna Sadigurskaya. Photo from 1924

The Manor house belonging to Genendel Shmulevna Sadigurskaya. Photo from 1924

At the start of the Soviet period, most local Jews were traders, artisans, administrative or factory workers. After the establishment of the Soviet regime, many wealthy Jews fled across the border and economically the Jewish population suffered. Jewish cultural and communal life was entirely suppressed after a protracted struggle with Yevsektsiya.
In 1922 ORT opened vocational schools to offer professional training to the Jewish youth. By 1926 only 12,774 Jews remained (29.9% of the total population) in the city. In the 1920s 76 families left to re-settle in Crimea, and 80 to settle in Birobidzhan. Three Yiddish schools and two teachers’ colleges opened here, but only one school was still working in 1938.

In 1926 100 Jews organised an agricultural group “Work and Bread” and later an agricultural collective “Product”. By early 1930s, when private business was again restricted, most merchants moved to small-scale production and industry. Many local Jews left for larger cities, while the Jews from the shtetls came to live in Kamenets-Podolski. 15 synagogues and prayer houses were closed after 1936, though the synagogue officials managed to conceal some 30 Torah scrolls, which survived the Holocaust and were later used by clandestine religious communities. Minyans met in private houses. Mikvah was organized in a private bath.

Jewish artel "Help" in Kamenets-Podolski. Photo on April 24, 1931

Jewish artel “Help” in Kamenets-Podolski. Photo on April 24, 1931

In January 1939 the Jewish population of Kamenets-Podolski was 13,796 or 38% of the total.

Holocaust

Kamenets-Podolski was occupied by the German and Hungarian troops on July 11, 1941. Some Jews succeeded in leaving the city before the arrival of the Axis troops. Soon after the start of the occupation some 60 Jewish men were shot in the Old Town. The German military authorities appointed a local administration consisting of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists, who proceeded to spread antisemitic propaganda.

The Ukrainian administration was responsible for registering the Jewish population of the city, appointing members of a Jewish council, and forcing the Jews to wear a yellow Star of David. On August 5, 1941 the Jews of Kamenets-Podolsk were forced into a ghetto in a small section of the Old Town.

The Jewish population of Kamyanets-Podolski:
1661 – 261 jews
1847 – 4629 jews
1897 – 16 211 (40%)
1914 – 23 430 (47%)
1929 – 12 777 (29%)
1939 – 13 796 jews
1979 ~ 1800 (2%)
2001 – 233

At the end of July 1941 the Hungarian occupation authorities began to deport the Jews from Carpatho-Rus (later they all were referred to as Hungarian Jews but in reality they came from the modern Zakarpatska region of Ukraine). By the end of August more than 10,000 of these Jewish deportees had arrived in Kamenets-Podolsk, where they were placed in the castle and later in the ghetto together with the local Jews.

These deportees were shot on August 26, 1941. On August 27 and 28, 1941 about 10,000 Kamenets-Podolski Jews were murdered. The remaining 5,000 Jews of the city were herded into a new ghetto located in the area of a former chemical institute in the neighborhood of Polskie Folvarki. Later, the Jews classed as skilled workers who had been spared in the massacres in the Kamenets-Podolski area were forced into this ghetto as well. In the summer of 1942 about 800 Jewish children and old people were murdered. The killing of Kamenets-Podolski Jews continued throughout 1942.

In the second half of that year the remaining Jews were transferred to the former military camp of the Soviet borderguard training unit. In October, 30 or early November 1942 about 4,000 of the remaining ghetto inmates were shot. 500 Jews escaped from ghetto before liquidation but most of them were caught and killed.

The murder of those Jews who had survived the massacres of 1941-1942 but were caught by Germans and local auxiliaries, and that of the Jews brought to Kamenets-Podolski from the surrounding localities continued in 1943. The Jews from Orinin, Zhvanec, Lyanckoryn, Kitaygorod, Old Yshitsa, Chemerovci, Smotrich and many other places, which remain unknown to us, were killed.

A total of almost 30,000 Jews were victims of the Nazi genocide in Kamenets-Podolski (~12 000 of local Jews and 18 000 Jews from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania ).

The city was liberated by the Red Army on March 27, 1944.

The Kamenetskiy Commission, established after the liberation to investigate the crimes of the Nazi invaders, discovered seven mass graves with the Jews from the area, including a grave with the bodies of 500 children.

After WWII

The Jews who returned to Kamenets-Podolski after the war tried to re-establish a community in 1946–1947. However, the local authorities turned down their application to restore the only surviving synagogue building, banning them from gathering for prayers on private premises, and refusing a status of a community organization.

Houses of Frid, Helman and Berger merchants in the center of the Old Town

Houses of Frid, Helman and Berger merchants in the center of the Old Town

In 1947 the community bought two rooms in a private home for prayer assembly. In March 1953 a group of Jews, A.M.Perel, Shteynshrayber, Kleinerman, A.I.Berlyand, were arrested and accused of promoting Jewish nationalism.

In 1979 about 1,800 Jews lived in Kamenets-Podolski.

Most Kamenets-Podolski Jews left in the 1990s for Israel or the West.

Beit Midrash in Kamenets-Podolskiy on Dragomanova Str.,4. Photo from early 1990s by Miriam Wainer. Now building was rebuild and belong to protestant community

Beit Midrash in Kamenets-Podolski on Dragomanova Str., 4. Photo from early 1990s by Miriam Wainer. Now the building has been rebuilt and belongs to the protestant community

In 1992, the Shalom Jewish Cultural Club was organized with more than 1,000 members. The first community chairman was Yefim Abramovich Hayat (b. 1940), followed by Moses G. Lam (born 1933, Kamenetz-Podolsk) in 1997. Beteen 1995 and 1999, a monthly regional Jewish newspaper, Shalom Aleikhem, was published. The Jewish Agency opened its office in the town and in 1999 the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee organized a local branch of the Ḥesed Besht society, which provided social services for about 500 Jews and their families and became the central Jewish cultural and educational institution of Kamenets-Podolski. A former building of Beit Midrash was offered to the Jewish Community to convert to a synagogue but the project wasn’t completed. Now this building belongs to the protestant community.
In 2003 233 Jews lived here.

Community contacts: Gryshevskogo St., 32-93 Phone: +38(03849) 32500, +38(03849)34387

Places

The Big Artisans’ Synagogue

Synagogue located in the Dovga street. It is the last synagogue building which still exists in city. The synagogue was built in the mid-19th century, as it was marked on the 1872 city plan. The year it closed is unknown but we can assume it was the1920s or 1930s. The building was badly damaged during WWII but was rebuilt after the city was liberated. Nowadays the building of the Artisans’ Synagogue houses a restaurant.

Some reports suggest that the Big Artisans’ Synagogue may have been also called Tailors’ Synagogue, although this is hard to confirm.

Dovga Street used to be a religious center of Kamenets Jews for centuries as six synagogues were found here: the Big Artisans’ Synagogue, the Great Synagogue, the Synagogue of Gravediggers, Sandegutskaya Synagogue at Dovga Str., 39 in 1924 and Zinkovskaya Synagogue.

1 - Pottery Tower2 - Big Artisan Synagogue3 - Great Synagogue4 - Gravediggers Synagogue5 - shelter

1 – Pottery Tower
2 – Big Artisan Synagogue
3 – Great Synagogue
4 – Gravediggers Synagogue
5 – shelter

The Great Synagogue was the oldest synagogue of Kamenets-Podolski and was build in the middle of 17th century. It appeared on the city plan in 1808. In 1884 documents it was described as a two-storey stone building, fit for 300 people. In 1886 the third floor was built. It is possible that alongside with the construction of the Great Synagogue, a mikva was built in the ravine by the river. The year of closing and destruction of this Syangogue was not possible to ascertain.

The Shelter was also built on this street. Out of all Jewish buildings in this street we now can only see the buildings of the Big Artisans’ Synagogue and the crafts school.

The Old Jewish Cemetery

The cemetery was located in a picturesque spot behind the old castle.

The New Jewish Cemetery

There are two sections, the old one, which is abandoned, and the new one whic is quite well maintained.

One day in the summer of 1942 all able-bodied Jews from the ghetto of Kamenets-Podolski were taken out to work. After they left, about 800 children and old people who remained in the ghetto were taken by trucks and on foot to the New Jewish cemetery in the north-east of Kamenets-Podolski. There they all were shot by the members of the Kamenets-Podolski branch of the security police and SD head quarters, the 1st Police Cavalry Detachment, and the local auxiliary police.
According to eyewitnesses, approximately 300 more Jews of all ages and both sexes were shot there at the end of 1942.

The mass grave at Munitions depot

On August 26, 1941, between 12,000 and 14,000 Jews deported to Kamenets-Podolsk from Hungarian-controlled Carpatho-Rus were murdered around the area of the munitions depot in the eastern area of Kamenets-Podolski. Jews of all ages and both sexes were told to assemble at the city’s train station in order ‘to return home or be resettled in Palestine’. Instead they were taken to the site of mass execution. There they were forced to run a gauntlet of policemen and to surrender their valuables. Some of them were ordered to undress and then lay face down in a pit and were shot in the back of the head. The executioners were members of the 320 Order Police Battalion, as well as members of a unit formed especially for this massacre by Friedrich Jeckeln, the High SS and Police Leader of the South, from his personal bodyguards, a guard platoon from his headquarters, and members of his staff.

Photo from photohunt.org.ua

The next day, August 27, 1941, early in the morning, the Jews of Kamenets-Podolski were driven out of their houses by the Germans and the local auxiliary policemen. They were told they were going to be resettled. The Jews were then taken on foot to the former munitions depot area, a huge territory in the northeast of Kamenets-Podolski. Several craters from munitions explosions were visible there. The Jews were ordered to undress, to hand over their money and valuables and, then, taken in groups to the craters, and shot by automatic weapons fire. The perpetrators of this massacre were the members of the German 320 Order Police Battalion and of a special unit formed by Friedrich Jeckeln, the High SS and Police Leader “South,” from his bodyguards, a guard platoon from his headquarters, and members of his staff. The massacre continued on the following day.

According to some eyewitnesses, during the murder operation of August 26-28, 1941 Jewish deportees from Hungary were murdered at the Polish cemetery too. The exact number of Jews murdered and buried here is impossible to establish.

On 30 August, 1941 Friedrich Jeckeln reported to Himmler that 23,600 Jews were killed in Kamenets-Podolski.
After the surviving Jews of Kamenets-Podolsk were transferred to the ghetto in the former Soviet military camp of a Soviet borderguard training unit, every Saturday between July and December 1942 small groups of the ghetto inmates were shot at the munitions depot area nearby.
In early November 1942 the inmates of the ghetto totaling about 4,000 men, women and children were brought by trucks, in groups of 40 or 60, to two pits. There the victims were forced to undress, enter the pits, and lie face down. They were then shot in the back of the head with sub-machine guns.
At the end of 1942 and throughout 1943 the munitions depot area served as a site for the murder of those Jews who either had managed to avoid the previous massacres of Kamenets-Podolski Jews or had been brought to the city from nearby areas.

Photo from photohunt.org.ua

After the war, the Jews from Kamenets-Podolski made several attempts to commemorate their relatives who were murdered in the Holocaust. In August 1946 an attempt was made to hold a meeting to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the mass murder of the Jews of their city. The local authorities, however, banned the meeting outright. In July 1948 the members of the Jewish community of Kamenets-Podolsk petitioned Nikolai Shvernik, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR, and Nikita Khrushchev, the Chairman of the Council of Minsters of the Ukrainian SSR, to allow them to publicly commemorate the Jewish victims, but to no avail.
Nevertheless, some local Jews later succeeded in erecting several memorials at the Jewish mass murder sites. Two memorials were set up at the site of the former munitions depot where, in late August 1941, thousands of Jews from Kamenets-Podolski were murdered. The Russian and Yiddish inscription on the larger memorial reads: “Eternal memory to the fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters tortured to death in a barbaric way on 5th of Elul 3040 [sic], 1941 by German-Fascist monsters”. The Jews who still live in Kamenets-Podolski gather annually at this memotial to commemorate Holocaust victims. Some of them gather according to the Hebrew date, on 5th of Elul (in late August or early September), others come here on August 5, taking 5th of Elul for 5th of August.
Another memorial installed in Kamenets-Podolski commemorates all Jewish children who perished during Holocaust. The memorial is a small obelisk with a chain fence. A memorial stone for the Holocaust victims of Kamenets-Podolsk was also erected at the Holocaust Memorial Park in New York.

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