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Olevsk

Olevsk

Olevsk is a city in Zhytomyr region. It is the administrative center of Olevsk district. In 2001, population was 10,896.

In the XVI – XVIII centuries it was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Olevsk has been incorporated into the Russian Empire since 1793. In the XIX – early XX century it was a shtetl of Ovruch uyezd, Volyn gubernia.

Olevsk has been known since 1488. In 1641, it received the Magdeburg right.

Beginning

Jews in Olevsk were mentioned for the first time in 1704, as leaseholders of the town. In the second half of the eighteenth century there were between 21 and 32 Jewish houses in Olevsk; by the mid-nineteenth century (1867) the number of Jewish houses reached 106.

In that year the authorities counted in Olevsk one synagogue, officially permitted in 1854, and one prayer house, which existed without permission and was, therefore, ordered to close. Indeed, the order was probably carried out, since the Polish geographical dictionary mentioned only one synagogue in 1870.

The town began to prosper after construction in 1903 of the Kiev-Kovel railway, which passed through Olevsk. The timber traders, whose majority were Jews, greatly benefited from the railway.

Olevsk entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913

Olevsk entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913. Part 1

Olevsk entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913. Part 2

Olevsk entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913. Part 2

In the XIX – early XX centuries the main spheres of economic activity of the Jews of Olevsk were petty trade, various crafts, artisan production. The Jews played an important role in wholesale and transit trades. In 1912, a Jewish savings – and – loan society worked in Olevsk. In 1914, the Jews owned the only drugstore, both pharmacy warehouses, baking houses, the only warehouse of gasoline, both forest warehouses, the only steam mill, the only printing house, tavern, more than 120 stalls and shops including 55 out of 56 groceries, all nine manufactories, all eight bakeries. The only dentist, three out of four midwives, and a doctor were Jewish.

According to the memoirs of the merchant and Zionist Abba Haim Shapira, there were six synagogues in Olevsk at the beginning of the twentieth century, namely the Great Beit Midrash, the synagogues of the Stolin, Chernobyl, Berezna, and Hornostaipol Hasidim as well as the Tiferet Israel Synagogue – “of the Zionists and the youth in general.”

Portrait of Portmans and Kupelnicks, taken in Olevs'k, about 1923. Left to right, back Row: Belived to be Sara (Sonia, Sole) Portman, Malka (Manya) Portman, Jenny Kupelnick. Front Row: Maurice (Morris) Kupelnick, “Mordcha” (Mordechai, Marvin) Portman, Harry Kupelnick, Ida (nee unknown) Portman. They lived at #29 Oktyabrskaya Street, Olevsk, Volyn. By 1930 all the Kupelnicks were reunited in America and lived in Massachusetts. The Portmans remained. Photo provided by Kamins Jay in 2017.

Portrait of Portmans and Kupelnicks families, taken in Olevs’k, about 1923. Photo provided by Kamins Jay in 2017.

According to the memoirs of Yaakov Bar-Midot, the Great Beit Midrash and the Berezna Hasidim Synagogue stood on one side of the street leading south of the Market Square (today Khmelnytskoho St.), while the kloyz of the Chernobyl and Makarov Hasidim stood on the opposite side of that street. These synagogues formed a kind of a “shulhoyf”, next to them was the hekdesh – a hostel for poor travelers and a place where corpses were cleansed for their funeral.

According to the testimony of Maria Reidman, one of those synagogues was a two-story brick building. The synagogue of the Stolin Hasidim was situated on a parallel street, leading to the bathhouse. The Stolin Hasidim were the social elite in Olevsk: the town’s rabbi, Aharon Kunda, and the majority of shoyhets were counted among them. When the Rebbe from Stolin visited Olevsk, he always stayed in the house of a Stolin Hasid, Gershon Margolis, at the Market Square.

Gottlieb family

For the past 130 years, despite violence, upheaval, wars, and changes in societies, ideologies, and rulers, the Gottlieb family Ohel has stood untouched on a small hill in an old Jewish cemetery in Olevsk.

Ohel is the last resting place of the renowned Tsadikks Rabbis from Ludmir (present day Volodymyr-Volynsky). It was originally built in 1889 for Rabbi Ishua Gottlieb, the grandson of Rabbi Moshe from Ludmir, and great-grandson of Rabbi Shlomo from Karlin. In 1929, Rabbi Ishua Gottlieb’s son, Rabbi Levi Itzhak Gottlieb, was buried there next to his father.

Rabbi Levi Itzhak Gottlieb (1863 – 1929)


More information can be found by this link.

Revolution

Olevsk was struck by a severe fire in 1917.
In December 1918, Jewish population of Olevsk suffered the pogroms which had been organized by the Petlura detachment. The Jews were demanded to pay 30 thousand roubles of “contribution” and many were arrested.

In 1919, the next pogrom was carried out in Olevsk.

Jewish population of Olevsk:
1765 – 157 Jews
1847 – 845 Jews
1897 – 1187 (56,5%)
1926 – 2916 Jews
1939 – 2858 (42%)
1959 ~ 1300 (16%)
1970 ~ 900 (10%)
1989 – 331 Jews
1995 ~ 200 Jews

Between the Wars

In 1920’s, Yakov Levitskiy was a rabbi in Olevsk.
In 1925, the departments of various Zionist organizations including , Hashomer, and its illegal “Hekhaluts” organization, which existed to establish Jewish agrarian communes, and “Algemein – Zionists” existed in Olevsk. Natives of Olevsk founded Jewish agricultural collective farms in Kherson region. Those were “Eingait” (seven families, 56 people) and “Roiter poer” (seven families, 49 people).

Thus, by 1925 Soviet documents mention the Beit Midrash, the “Tifore” (Tiferet Israel) synagogue and the synagogues of the Berezna and Stolin Hasidim. Documents of 1927 registered the Belt Midrash with 53 worshippers, the Tiferet Israel Synagogue with 48 worshippers, and the synagogues of the Berezna, Chernobyl, and Stolin Hasidim, with 48, 42 and 60 worshippers respectively. Most prob ably all of them were closed by the Soviet authorities in the 1930s.

In 1926, a Jewish national council was organized in Olevsk.

Local historian B.A. Spivak reports that the biggest part of the population of Olevsk was Jewish in the early XX century. After the revolution there used to be two boards on the walls of the village council: one was in Ukrainian, the other – in Yiddish. Four synagogues worked in the shtetl. They were gradually closed. A Jewish school was placed in the biggest and best synagogue. The teaching was in Yiddish.

In 1922, the first labor four-years school for Jewish children was opened in Olevsk. Teaching in the other three-years school was in Yiddish.

Jewish school in Olevsk, 1934. Photo provided by MIsha Shapiro in 2017

Jewish school in Olevsk, 1934. Photo provided by Misha Shapiro in 2017

According to information of the district historical museum there were 19 teachers and 775 students in three schools of Olevsk in 1927. In school number one there were 10 teachers and 442 students; in school number two – four teachers and 164 students; in school number three – five teachers and 169 students. The third school was Jewish.

Building of the former Jewish school in Olevsk, 2017

Building of the former Jewish school in Olevsk, 2017

In 1937 – 1938, a lot of locals were repressed. There were many Jews among them including three brothers Krass – Beniumen, Motl, and Yankel.

In 1939, 2,858 Jews (42.15% of the whole population) lived in Olevsk. 866 Jews lived in the villages of Olevsk district.

Shtofer family in Olevsk, 1930's

Shtofer family in Olevsk, 1930’s

Holocaust

Before German occupation, a group of the members of Ukrainian nationalist from “Polessia Sech” attacked Olevsk and organised pogrom. Jewish population was burdened with extremely large tax of 100,000 roubles per 100 families. Violence and robberies of Jewish families overwhelmed the town. Two Jewish workers of a porcelain factory were killed in their houses without any reasons.

On the fifth of August 1941 Olevsk was occupied by the German troops. The majority of the Jews managed to evacuate to the East. All capable men were called up to the Red Army or became volunteers. Approximately 20% of pre-war Jewish population were left in occupation.

In August–October 1941, German military commandant’s office ruled the village. German military administration formed district council and auxiliary Ukrainian police which consisted of local inhabitants. The latter took an active part in all Jewish “actions”. In late October 1941, the power went to German civil administration. Olevsk became an administrative center of Olevsk gebiet of Zhitomir general region of Reichscomissariat Ukraine.

In October 1941, an open ghetto was formed in Olevsk. Jews were prohibited to leave this district, buy the products from the Ukrainians, and the Ukrainians were prohibited to have any relations with the Jews. The Jews were obliged to wear yellow bands with six-pointed Star of David on the left sleeve. Jewish men were sent to work in various hard labor. They were bullied and assaulted by Ukrainian policemen.
The ghetto in Olevsk was demolished on the 19th of November 1941 when 535 Jews were shot. 60 Cossacks and two officers from the Ukrainian rebel army “Polessya Sech” took part in the shooting.

Olevsk Holocaust mass grave

Olevsk Holocaust mass grave

In 1942-1943, a partisan squad under the command of M.Gildenman was operating in Olevsk.

Vasiliy Belyi (1909 – 1979) , a photographer, lived in Olevsk. During the war he tried to save Liza Fishman with her two children and Reitblat sisters. Only two of Liza’s children, Semen (born in 1928) and Arkadiy (born in 1932), managed to survive.
On May 6th 1996, Yad Vashem honored Vasiliy Belyi with an honorary title of Righteous Person among the nations.

Vasiliy Belyi (on the left)

Vasiliy Belyi (on the left)

In 1970’s, a memorial was erected on the Holocaust mass grave.

About the Holocaust in Olevsk: Ukrainian Holocaust Perpetrators Are Being Honored in Place of Their Victims By Jared McBride

Memorial to Olevsk Holocaust victims in Ashdod, Israel

Memorial to Olevsk Holocaust victims in Ashdod, Israel

After the WWII

Two hundred eighteen Jewish families returned to Olevsk after World War II. They asked permission to establish a synagogue in a building of a former synagogue but were refused. Therefore the Jews bought a half of a dwelling house at 15 Stalina Street and adjusted it for prayer. According to information collected by the authorities, ca. 120 people gathered in the synagogue on Saturdays and ca. 350 at holidays. Nonetheless, the official registration of the congregation became problematic since the authorities did not like the fact that the prayer house was situated in the vicinity of numerous Soviet institutions. The authorities thus offered to the congregation in 1947 the building of the former Stolin Hasidim Synagogue on Chkalova Street, which had been used as a shoemakers’ and hatters’ workshop. The congregation accepted the building, renovated it, and prayed there for two years. However, its attempt to gain official registration did not succeed and the synagogue was closed in subsequent years.

Former Jewish neighborhood in Olevsk:

Zapolich (the name is unknown) has been a watchman of the ohel of Gutloib rabbi for a long time.

Komsomolskaya street (now Kalinov) was 100% Jewish. Jewish families used to live in this district. Those were Shklover, Vizlakh, Shusterman, Namestnik, Baram, Zaydveys, Breger, Kogan, Vaynerman, Fishman, Shtofer, Bekker, Shvarts, Fridliand, Grinshtadt, Potashnik, Vaynbradt, Mordakh, Chulskiy, Sherman, Braker, Fregger, Shapiro, Vaysblat, Kholodenko, Shukhman, Goldman, Zaks, Gendelman, Vaynman, Geifman.

 

The elders had gathered in tailor Shklover’s house by the 1970’s. Unofficial minyan had been gathered in the town before most of the Jews left for Israel.

Since the 1990’s a Jewish community has been functioning in Olevsk.
Kamenir was elected as a chairman. Later he moved to Germany. Mikhail Shapiro became the next chairman.

Famous Jews from Olevsk

Yosif Arikha (Dolgiy) (1907, Olevsk – 1972, Tel-Aviv), a writer.

Yakov Iosifovich Shapiro (born in 1933), a sculptor.

Olevsk Synagogues

Synagogues were described in the book Synagogues in Ukraine: Volhynia.

The Synagogue of the Stolin Hasidim
The synagogue, located at 14/6 Chkalova Street, on the southern side of the street, was probably built around 1900. After World War II it was used as a shoemakers’ and hatters’ workshop until 1947, and then again served as a synagogue for two years. Subsequently it was reconstructed into the Young Technicians’ House, and lastly into a surveyor’s office.

The Synagogue of the Stolin Hasidim. Photo by The Center for Jewish Art

The Synagogue of the Stolin Hasidim. Photo by The Center for Jewish Art

The Synagogue of the Berezna Hasidim
The synagogue is situated at 4 Khmcl’nyts’koho Street, on the western side of the street (Fig. 1, no. 2). It was probably built around 1900 and reconstructed into a printing house and a book store after World War II.

The Synagogue of the Stolin Hasidim

The Synagogue of the Stolin Hasidim

Old Jewish cemetery

Next to Ohel of Gutloib family left few old gravestones

New Jewish cemetery

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