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Smotrich

Smotrich
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Smotrich is a historic town located in Dunaevtsy district of Khmelnitskiy region.  The town’s estimated population is 2,087 (as of 2001).

During the time of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795), Smotrich was a town in Podolsk voivodeship (it received the Magdeburg Charter in 1488).
Smotrich became a part of Russia Empire in 1795 , in XIX – beginning of XX century it was a shtetl of Kamenets Yezd of Podolia Gubernia.

Smotrich is approx. 32 km from Dunaevtsy and in 280 km from Kamenets-Podolskiy.

Beginning

By the beginning of 18th century there was a Jewish community in Smotrich. A large synagogue, noted for its beauty, was built there in the 18th century.

Smotrich in the middle of XIX century

Smotrich in the middle of XIX century

Jewish population of Smotrich:
1765 – 375 Jews
1847 – 1,274 Jews
1897 — 1,725 (40%)
1939 – 1,075 (18.5%)
2016 ~ 3

In 1712, a Jewish community with a rabbi existed there. In 1765, there were 375 Jews in Smotrich and nearby villages.

According to the 1847 census, “Smotrich Jewish community” consisted of 1,274 people.

In 1863, the local authorities made an attempt to close one of the synagogues which they considered unnecessary.

The census of 1897 registered 4,399 inhabitants, 1,725 of them Jewish.

The majority of Jewish population was engaged in trade, generally, agricultural exports along the Austrian border, only about 30 kilometers north of Smotrich, or were artisans.

Smotrich entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913

Smotrich entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913

There were nine synagogues for craftsmen and different Hassidic factions in Smotrich before the 1917 revolution. The main one was Bolshaya (Great) synagogue, a timber building at the time.

There were also heders (religious schools) for teaching children and yeshivas for older students, where all children were taught in the same room, with the heder run by Rabbi Moshe considered the best in town for the little ones. Older children attended Rabbi Vofsi’s heder.

Street of Smotrich in 1930. Photo by S. Taranushenko. Digital copy was taken from <a href="http://myshtetl.org/khmelnitskaja/smotrich.html">myshtetl.org</a>

Street of Smotrich in 1930. Photo by S. Taranushenko. Digital copy was taken from myshtetl.org

Civil War pogroms

During the Russian Civil war (1918-1924) the town was governed by interchanging forces of the Bolsheviks, the Polish, the White Guard and various Ukrainian and Russian militias.

The army of Ukrainian nationalist Symon Petlura remained in the collective memory of the Jewish people forever for the acts of terrible cruelty and atrocities perpetrated against the Jews.

During the Civil war there were short periods when the town was left without any recognised government, and local gangs formed with army deserters in possession of weapons filled the political vacuum and often carried out looting of Jewish households.

Street of Smotrich in 1930. Photo by S. Taranushenko. Digital copy was taken from <a href="http://myshtetl.org/khmelnitskaja/smotrich.html">myshtetl.org</a>

Street of Smotrich in 1930. Photo by S. Taranushenko. Digital copy was taken from myshtetl.org

On July 8, 1919 the Cossacks carried out a pogrom against the Jews of Smotrich.

By the time Smotrich was occupied by the Poles, several anti-Semitic incidents happened but there were no mass pogroms.

A Jewish self-defense unit was organized in the town and continued to exist even under the Soviet rule.

Between the Wars

In 1923, all town heders were closed and teaching in Hebrew was prohibited. However, some local Jews kept studying with the Torah tutors illegally until the middle of the 1920s.

In 1925, a cell of “Hashomer-HaZair” was established in Smotrich, which maintained a clandestine connection with its central branch in Kamenets-Podolskiy.

A magazine “Hashomer” was published monthly, with most members participating. Every newly published issue was read at the cell meeting in the woods in summer and at the members’ flats in winter. The membership of the organization reached 60 people; among them were Iosif Eistraich (the chair), Yakov Later, Chaim Kats, Bina Waisberg, ZusVoloh, Itschak Gruzman, all of whom were  later arrested.

Smotrich labor school around 1925

Smotrich labor school around 1925

By the end of 1927, five people were arrested in the town, almost all the leaders of “Hashomer-Hatsair” and 33 Jewish pupils were expelled from school “for being members of the Zionist organization”.

“Hashomer” was reestablished illegally in 1929, when it included 12 members.

Under the Soviets a Jewish kolkhoz “Royte Fon” (“red banner” in Yiddish) was established. Jewish artisans and craftsmen worked in cooperatives. In 1939 the 1,075 Jews of Smotrich comprised 18.5 perecent of the total population.

Jewish house in Smotrich, 1930. Photo by S. Taranushenko. Digital copy was taken from <a href="http://myshtetl.org/khmelnitskaja/smotrich.html">myshtetl.org</a>

Jewish house in Smotrich, 1930. Photo by S. Taranushenko. Digital copy was taken from myshtetl.org

In 1939, 1,075 Jews lived in Smotrich (18% of the population), with 1,227 in villages and former towns of Smotrich area.

Holocaust

The town was occupied by German troops on July 9th 1941.

The Jews were ordered to wear yellow badges on their chests and backs and to perform forced labor. Apparently during the first days of the German occupation, about 40 Jews were murdered in the center of Smotrich. According to one testimony, in July or August 1941 about 20 Jews were shot to death at the Smotrich River. According to the same testimony, on September 1, 1941, 90 Jews, mainly women, children, and elderly people, were shot to death outside the town.  Four more Jews were shot at the Jewish cemetery the following day.

The approximately 700 remaining Jewish residents of Smotrich and its surroundings were taken to the Kamenets-Podolsk ghetto in July-August 1942 and were shot on August 11th.

During the war eight Jews were hiding in a ravine nearby. The locals supplied them with food and never betrayed them to the Germans.

To Smotrich for P.I. Katsman: This letter was stored in Vienna museum since 1942 together with another 1185 letters captured by Germans in Soviet Union during invasion in 1941. Letters were transferred in Ukraine in 2006.

To Smotrich for P.I. Katsman: This letter was stored in Vienna museum since 1942 together with another 1185 letters captured by Germans in Soviet Union during invasion in 1941. Letters were transferred in Ukraine in 2006.

Smotrich was liberated by the Soviet troops on March 27th 1944. During the Holocaust 670 Smotrich Jews perished. One list of Holocaust vistims exists in In Yad-Vashem and contain 141 names of family heads and number of person in family.

According to the information provided by the locals, in 2016 several unmarked Jewish Holocaust mass graves located at the Jewish cemetery.

This letter (in Russian) was send to soviet soldier Nilolay Faingold from Smotrich in 1944. Author descibed mass extermination of Smotrich Jewish community by local Ukrainian police and fate of Nikolay’s family:

After WWII

When the local Jews were expelled from their houses, many were taken over by the Ukrainian neighbors and a market square has now replaced the Jewish quarter.

After the war several Jewish families came back from evacuation but the community never fully revived.
Jew Vodovoz was a Head of local council after the war. He has daughter Dina. Also locals remind Lisa Ukhvel and Jew with surname Bedniy.

Old PreRevolution building in the center of Smotrich, 2016

K

Last Jew of Smotrich was WWII veteran Grigoriy Zakharovich Zilberman, who emigrated to Israel to his daughter in 1990’s.

Now in village lives few fully assimilated descendant of local Jews from mixed marriages. Some of them are even Halakha Jews…

These photos of Smotrich streets were shooted by Ukrainian photographer Stefan Taranushenko in 1930 and published in 2011. Digital copies were taken from myshtetl.org

Smotrich synagogues

The exact date of the building remains unknown but in the 1920s a signature “Olexandr Zeyev, the son of rabbi Israel Kats, 1776” was discovered on frescos inside.

In the 1920s, the Bolshaya synagogue was studied by the ethnographic expedition from St.Petersburg.

Old wooden synagogue in Smotrych. Photo from <a href="http://myshtetl.org/khmelnitskaja/smotrich.html">myshtetl.org</a>

Old wooden synagogue in Smotrych. Photo from myshtetl.org

The building is a typical wooden synagogue from Podolia region. The bulk of the building is almost square in plan, covered with a high combination roof. Two rectangular twin – windows were situated on the eastern, northern and southern side of the building. A wooden galleries were attached to the western and to northern sides of the building.

The bulk of the synagogue has a square plan. The construction of the vault consisted of the octagonal dome placing over a square room with pendentives and on a complicated vault construction.

These photos of Smotrich synagogue were shooted by Stefan Taranushenko in 1930 and published in 2011. Digital copies were taken from myshtetl.org

The local authorities attempted to destroy the synagogue in the early 1930s but the town inhabitants refused to do it. A local Jewish communist Velvl volunteered but he fell off the roof and died. Unfortunately, this synagogue was eventually demolished by the order of the authorities after the World War II.

Jewish cemetery

In 2016, cemetery was cleaned by members of local rehabilitation center.

Holocaust mass grave

Mass grave locates in the northern outskirts of the town. Modern monument was erected on the place of old Soviet in 2013 for the cost of Christian organisation from Norway.

According to the testimony, on September 1, 1941, 90 Jews, mainly women, children, and elderly people, were shot to death on this place.

Prayer near Smotrich Holocaust mass grave

Prayer near Smotrich Holocaust mass grave

Engraving on the monument

Engraving on the monument

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