Rzyszczów (Polish), Ржищев – Rzhishchev (Russian), Ржищів – Rzhyschiv (Ukrainian), אורזישטשב , אורזיטשוב (Yiddish)
Rzhyshchev is a town in Kiev district of central Ukraine. The town’s estimated population is 7,519 (as of 2015).
In XIX – beginning of XX century it was shtetl of Kiev Yezd of Kiev Gubernia.
Rzhyshchev is 78 km south-east of Kiev.
The Jewish population in Rzhyshchev may have existed at the time of Rzeczpospolita (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795) before the Khmelnitsky uprising but confirmed accounts exist from much later times. Thus, in 1740, 40 Jews lived here.
Later, when the Kyiv region became part of the Russian Empire in the 1790s, Rzhyshchev was included in the Pale of Settlement where Russian Jews were allowed to settle.
In 1896 there was a Ravinskaya (Rabbi) street in Rzhyshchiv, where one could see the house which belonged to the great rabbi Mendel Avrum Yosakov.
Also, four prayer schools named after the guilds which set them up, such as the rabbinical, the hatters’ school, the newly built school and the stone-built school. There was a new Jewish school (Zhuravskiy’s school) in Shyroka street. The Shoychet School was in Novobudovy St. 1 and the artisans’ school was in Kamyana St.
Jewish population of Rzhyshchev:
1740 – 40
1897 – 6,513 (37%)
2016 – 0
In 1898, a Jewish prayer school of Yosyf Brodskyy opens and in 1906, a school “Beys-Yosyf” starts functioning in the street that leads to the Dnieper river on Karl Tritshel’s land near the sugar plant. The building of this school still exists.
In 1869, a synagogue was erected. It was supposed to be wooden at first but when the construction began the Jewish community obtained the permission to build a stone synagogue. According to the documents from 1889, there was a brick synagogue in Rzhyshchiv.
In 1852, there was a synagogue and a Jewish cemetery in Rzhyshchiv. In 1873, there were four synagogues in the town. In the late XX century, Moyshe Rapoport was a rabbi in Rzhyshchiv. His son Betsalel (1851-?) became a rabbi in Rzhyshchiv after his father’s death in the early XX century. In the 1890s-1910s Simkha Mordukhovich Shokhor was the government-approved rabbi of Rzhyshchiv.
View of PreRevolution Rzhyshchev
Sholom Rabinovich (also known as Sholom Aleichem, a famous Jewish writer) started out as a young home tutor in Rzhyshchiv, which fact is commemorated by a plaque on the local library, installed in 2009.
Local faced a fierce competition, and Sholom Rabinovich as a young newcomer was not welcome. He had vicious rumours spread about him, making it impossible for him to continue with his work. When the academic year ended, Sholom went back to Pereyaslav and swore a solemn oath never to tutor in small towns again.
Later Sholom Aleichem’s sister Broche, Rayzman by marriage, lived in Rzhyshchiv, where she tragically died in 1912, crushed to death in an unstable cellar.
PreRevolution hospital building
According to “The list of settlements in the Kyiv province” from 1900, 6,513 Jews and 11,016 Orthodox Christians lived in Rzhyshchiv. The main occupation of the ordinary Jewish people was crafts and trade. After the largest employers in town Schweisgut’s sugar beet refinery and the machine building plant, Yudka Naftulov -Tsybulsky‘s iron foundry and mechanical plant came second in size. In 1902, it employed 66 workers. Jewish entrepreneurs owned a large amount of shops, hotels, inns, barbers’, printing companies and more than ten lumberyards, such as Bentsion Chornobylsky’s soap factory, Shmul Ulytskyy’s saw mill and many others. This commercial activity promoted the development of the local industry and improved the prospects for many people.
Rzhyshchev marketplace, 1910’s
The Jewish community established a so called “basket tax” (a special tax on the consumption of ritual food), which funded community programs, such as shelters for the poor and orphans, etc.
A Jewish primary school for boys and a private Jewish girls’ school opened in Rzhyshchiv. There was a Jewish loan and mutual aid society, with the Jewish population in Rzhyshchiv exceeding ten thousand people by 1910.
In 1910, there is evidence of a Jewish school in the town. Rzhyschiv’s Jewish community was not only large but also rich, as confirmed by the list of Kiev Oblast’s Jewish merchants and manufacturers compiled by Kiev City Duma in 1907. It features 150 surnames belonging to inhabitants of Rzhyschiv, 47 of which owned real estate to the value of 1,000 roubles and more, including the Lishchinsky family (brothers Herman Yoskovich and Mendel Yoskovich, Mendel Gershko’s son) that owned real estate amounting to 8,200 roubles; Podraysky Vigdor Nisonov (real estate valued at 5,000 roubles); the Polissky manufacturing family (Gersh Aron Avrum Polissky’s real estate was valued at 4,200 roubles); Skidelsky El Duvid Yankelev (4,000 roubles); and manufacturer Movsha Leybovich Gohbarg (2,700 roubles).
Rzhyshchev entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913, part 1
Rzhyshchev entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913, part 2
In 1910, 11 synagogues were opened in Rzhyshchiv.
In 1914, the society of the assistance to the poor and sick Jews was founded.
Before the Socialist Revolution of 1917, Rzhyshchev occupied an important position among other trade towns of the Kiev province, especially in grain exports along the Dnieper to Lithuania.
The enviable economic situation may have encouraged tzaddikim from the Ostrog dynasty to take up residence in Rzhyschiv. The first admor of Rzhyshchev (Urzhyshchev in the Hasidic tradition) was Rabbi Moshe Mendl of Urzhyshchev, the son of Rabbi Pinkhas of Ostrog. He was brought up in the house of ‘the Shpoler Zeyde’; in 1802, he took the place of the town’s Hasidic leader and founded a dynasty that existed until the Holocaust.
Piece of Torah in Rzhyshchev museum, 2016
Little is known about his son, Rabbi Yosef of Urzhyshchev, who inherited his father’s place. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef’s sons lived during the dynasty’s heyday.
The first, Rabbi Avraam Mendl of Urzhyshchev (? – 1910) was one of very few admors who openly supported the Zionist movement. His impassioned letter in support of the Hibat Zion movement was published in the Shivat Zion collection, and it is said that he sang Hatikva with tears in his eyes at the wedding of one of his grandsons.
The second son, Rabbi Elyakim Gets of Urzhyshchev-Kozin (? – 1894), at first took his father’s place but then ceded this to his brother and moved to Kozyn. He wrote ‘Imrey Emet’, published in Berdichev; its title’s gematria is equal to the gematria of the author and his father’s names.
Site of PreRevolution market square in Rzhyshchev
Rabbi Avraam Mendl of Urzhyshchev had three sons. Rabbi Isaya Mendl of Urzhyshchev became the Urzhyshchev admor after his father’s death in 1910. He was an outstanding scientist, and was also renowned for his generosity. Rabbi Isaya was killed during one of the pogroms of the spring of 1919. His place was taken by Rabbi Avraam’s second son, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Mendl of Urzhyshchev, who was the Urzhyshchev admor from 1919. Nothing is known about the third brother, Rabbi David, but his son, Rabbi Moshe Mendl of Urzhyshchev-Kiev was the Urzhyshchev admor in Kiev. He died in the Holocaust.
Building of Jewish school in Rzhyshchev, 2016
The son of Rabbi Elyakim Gets of Urzhyshchev-Kozin, Rabbi Yaakov-Yosef of Kozin, took his father’s place in Kozyn and moved to Bohuslav from there. His fate under Soviet government is not known.
In 1864, a conflict between the Hasids of Rzhyshchev’s admor and the followers of the other tzaddikim arose. The other tzaddikim had come to Rzhyshchev to collect donations: “it is clear that”, David Asaf writes, “the invader was showered with stones and nearly killed.” There were many other disagreements, and the Rzhyshchev tzaddik was even accused of counterfeiting.
The following is the report on the aftermath of the civil war pogroms in the area, produced in 1920 and kept in the Kiev Archive:
Just like other Jewish towns, Rzhyshchev suffered many disastrous pogroms during last three years. The pogroms took place in different times and were the result of different events. To make it clearer, let us subdivide them into the following categories:
1. Three raids by the gangs of Zeleny in the spring and summer of 1919, 20 people murdered, several wounded and numerous instances of looting.
2. The Denikin period, considered by many a “respite” after the Zeleny pogroms. Only two poor souls perished. There was also looting and rape at that time.
Rzhyshchev Jewish self defence, 1920’s
3. Different petty gangs including a local one which operated in Rzhyshchev occasionally and was particularly ruthless in winter, resulting in 25 people killed and lots of looting and rapes.
4. The pogroms which took place during the time of the Polish invasion exceeded the previous ones both in cruelty and the number of victims. The Polish entered Rzhyshchev in the early April. A Petliura commander was the head of Rzhyshchev authority. A local gang and several people from nearby villages, who had seized their activity for a while, re-emerged. Local Jews spent two weeks in fear of death any minute. The day of May 14 was etched into the collective memory of the local Jews as it ended in the death of 14 Jews. In total 35 people died, not including the injured and the victims of looting, making the total reach 82. Furthermore, approximately 200 people died from other complications, caused by such intense anxiety.
Old Jewish shops in Rzhyshchev market
Jews left the town, considering that to stay in Rzhyshchev would be too dangerous. Most moved to Boguslav, as the nearest safe place.
150 Jewish families escaped to Boguslav from Rzhyshchev. Jewish self-defense units were set up in Rzhyshchev before the Soviet rule was established and survived for several years. In 1922, 30 people were members.
Between the Wars
On Saturday July 20, 1922, at 12 am, three motor boats left Rzhyshchev heading for Kiev. Having travelled for several kilometers, one of the boats stopped in the middle of the river for some reason. Then another boat with gang members approached them, robbed and killed all Jewish passengers, 21 people in total, eight women among them. The gangsters killed one of the non-Jewish passengers who tried to defend a Jewish woman. There was one Christian pilgrim among the passengers, who rebuked the criminals for their vile actions. They hit him on the head with a shovel, causing a severe injury. The dead bodies were thrown into the river.
Five names of the victims of this attack were uncovered in 2001 when the criminal case of the gang leader who had organized this attack was found. They are Krakovich, Liova Narodetskiy, Yasha Benyaminovich Belskiy, Izia Leybovich Lukashevskiy and David Leybovich Lukashevskiy.
Photo of Rzhyshchev Jewish theater in 1929 in Rzhyshchev museum
In the 1920-30s, the synagogue in Rzhyshchev was closed, most Jews moved to big cities.
On August 21, 1941 Rzhyshchev was occupied by German troops. Some Jews had evacuated or had been conscripted into the army. In autumn 1941, the Jews who remained in Rzhyshchev were murdered.
Grave of local Jews and other civilians in Rzhyshchev, 2016
The exact number of victims is unknown but we can assume that it is about 100 people.
Mass grave in Rzhyshchev during investigation of Nazi crimes, 1944
After the War
After 1945 some Jews returned to Rzhyshchev. However, no more precise information could be found.
In 1989, some Jews were still living in Rzhyshchev.
In 2016, there were no people identifying as Jewish in Rzhyshchev…
Famous Jews from Rzhyshchev
Lamed Shapiro (Levi Iyehoshua; 1878, Rzhyshchev – 1948, Los Angeles), a Jewish author, writing in Yiddish. He received a traditional Jewish education and taught himself Russian, among other things. He wrote poetry in Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew.
Among those who were born in Rzhyshchev, there was rabbi Meyer-Volf Rapoport; in the 1920s – 30s, he was a rabbi in Kyiv, later disappeared in the Stalinist purges. A writer and an anti-fascist resistance fighter in France Mychaylo Shmushkevych (1913-2002) was also from Rzhyshchev. Chasyl Chaimovych Tabachnilkov (born 1913) produced a touching description of his native town Rzhyshchiv in the 1920s in his book “A Schtetl by the Dnieper” (1966).
Aron Israilevich Dashevskiy (1904, Rzhyshchev – 1999), a Soviet ophthalmologist.
Israil-Ber Rizberg (1858, Rzhyshchev – after 1920), a poet, an essayist and a teacher. In 1892, he opened a heder in Pereyaslav where the students studied Hebrew. In 1914-1917, he worked as a teacher at the Pereyaslav commercial college, in 1917-1920 –at a Jewish school. He published his poetry and essays in various Jewish periodicals, he was also published in the “Yiddish Volksblat”. In 1891, he published a collection of poems “America, Argentina or Palestine” in Odessa. Some Rizberg’s poems were put into music and became folk songs. Rizberg is the author of a large number of Hebrew textbooks, a collection of reading texts in Jewish History (1890), and many others.
Avrom Radutskiy (1868, Rzhyshchev – 1928, New York), a poet and an essayist. Moved to Britain in 1890 where his poems were first published in one of London’s Jewish newspapers. In 1896 moved to the US where he published his poems and essays in the US and British Jewish periodicals (“Vorverts”, “Veker” and others).
The cemetery is situated on a cliff above the Dnieper River, on the northern outskirts of the town. Take Menzhinsky Street (the so-called Linden Alley) up to the cliff and then the path to the left along the cliff edge for 50m.
VIew from Rzhyshchev Jewish cemetery
There is no remaining trace of the cemetery other than two partially-hidden gravestones. The cemetery site is used for agricultural purposes including vegetable gardens.
Two surviving tombstones lie at the very edge of the cliff, one tablet-shaped, one ‘boot’-shaped. Apparently a third fell from the cliff. The remaining tombstones are damaged. The Hebrew inscription on one of the stones is still legible and reads as follows (the other is lying face down and cannot be read):
מרים בת ר’
אשת ר’ מענדל
שנפט’ ב’ אייר
– 10 מאי 1916 –
(Trans. Here lies a modest woman, Miryam, daughter of Reb Eliezer David, wife of Reb Mendl Lishchinsky, who died on 2 Iyyar 5676 – May 10, 1916 – may her soul be bound in the bond of life).
Ruins of Jewish cemetery in Rzhyshchev, 1960’s