Sokolets is a small village in Dunayivtsi district, Khmelnitskiy region. In 2001, 676 people lived in the village.
In the era of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Sokolets had been a shtetl of Podolia voivodship (district) by 1793. In the early XX century, it was a shtetl of Podolia district, Ushitsa uezd.
An abandoned part of the village is located in the bottom of the picturesque Ushitsa gorge.
Jews started to settle in Sokolets in the XVIII century. After the murder of local Jews during the Haidamak uprising (1768), the Jewish population of Sokolets dropped significantly.
Jewish population of Sokolets:
1765 – 356 Jews
1847 – 457 Jews
1897 – 747 (27% of total)
1926 – 616 Jews
1931 – 425 Jews
In 1765, there were 356 Jews in Sokolets and nearby villages.
In XVIII century Polish landowners Zakrevskiy, Pototskiy, Gumenetskiy owned the village in the valley. They were strengthening and developing Sokolets in every way. They built a stonewall around the village with the towers severing as guard. They also built a large Catholic church.
According to the 1847 audit, “Sokolets Jewish community” consisted of 457 people.
Sokolet’s Jewish population increased to 747 in 1897, when it comprised 27 percent of the total population.
Remains of the buildings in Sokolets:
I haven’t found any information about the pogroms in the shtetl during the civil wars.
Under the Soviets a Jewish rural council was active in the town, whose Jewish population numbered 616 in 1926 and 425 in 1931.
The Germans occupied the town in early July 1941. On August 31, 1941 the 320th Police Battalion shot to death 380, according to German sources, Jews from Sokolets and the majority of the Jews from nearby town Velikiy Zhvanets near the Sokolets forest.
After the shooting the Jewish houses were robbed and dismantled by the local inhabitants.
Later in the summer 1942, the last Jews from the ghetto of Velikiy Zhvanchik were shot in this place.
In 1944, Soviet commission had explored this place and found three mass graves with 1,224 bodies.
Mass grave of Jews from Sokolets and Velikiy Zhvanchik
A village resident Oleksandra Gordiyenko was hiding a Jewish Golda (born in 1928) in her place. Somebody gave them away and Golda was killed.
Sokolets was liberated by the Red Army at the end of March 1944.
After the War
I could only find the following information about post-war Jews of Sokolets from the local grannies near the church in April 2016: Several Jews came back to the village after the war. The Shutsmans, Lapinskiys, Tsilia, and Aaron (their surnames are unknown) moved to Dunayivtsi in the 1970’s.
Former shtetl’s center
After the war locals didn’t build anything on the place of the shtetl. All houses had underpasses which led to the Catholic church. Nowadays, sometimes cows fall into them. The ground has sunk and the passes are well seen.
In 1973, while Dniester hydroelectric power station was being built the village was about to be sunk. The inhabitants were immediately resettled to the high right bank of Ushitsa canyon. However, the engineers made a mistake. The height of water occurred to be lower than it was supposed to be and the village didn’t sink. Though, the locals refused to come back to the village. According to the legend the village is haunted by the ghost of the people who once lived there..
Two elderly locals who had decided to come back to their homes mysterious died. A woman was burned alive, and a man was killed by his nephew. The locals saw a ominous sign in all these events.
Fog under the remains of shtetl Sokolets
By the XX century that is to the moment when the local population was ordered to leave the village because of the building of Dniester HPS, medieval planning had been preserved here. The fairs took place in the market square up to the last week. There was a town hall, a Catholic church, and even the remains of the fortress not far from that place. Sokolets was surrounded by the stone wall (1m. thick). The height of the parts that had remained is two-three meters. Everything that was inside these walls is a shtetl. Everything outside was the village.
Our expedition in Sokolets, 2016
The old part of the village is abandoned now and overgrown with the trees and bushes. An old church is functioning here. A few houses are located near it. The former market square can still be seen through the brushwood. There are a lot of walls of ruined shtetl houses there. One path which had been paved before the revolution leads to the valley. One can go along it only in dry weather.
In 2016, there were no more Jews in the village…
Two Jewish cemeteries has preserved in Sokolets. The old one is situated near the former center of the shtetl. There are several matzevahs in it but it is impossible to read the inscriptions on them.
The new one is situated in a thick wood behind the Polish cemetery. In 2016, we didn’t manage to find it. However, the expedition of the late 2000’s saw many gravestones of the early XX century here.