Zhvanets is a town in Kamenets district of Khmelnitskiy region. The town’s estimated population is 1,529 (as of 2001). It is situated on the iver Dniester 20 kilometers away from the district center. It has been a town of Kamenets district since the mid 1920s.
Before Revolution it was a shtetl of Kamenets ueazd, Podolia gubernia.
The first mention of Zhvanets that appeared in historical record was in 1431. In 1646 the town received Magdeburg right.
It is known that there was a conflict between the Jews and bishop Chizhevskiy in 1663.
Zhvanets castle in the middle of XIX century
Jewish population of Zhvanets:
1765 – 1134 Jews
1784 – 617 Jews
1847 – 1619 Jews
1897 – 3353 (67% of total)
1902 – 3494 Jews
1923 – 1196 Jews
1926 – 1383 (40,2%)
1939 – 626 Jews
1989 – 5 Jews
1993 – 0
In 1768, the Jewish community of Zhvanets was robbed by the Haydamaky (a popular uprising of ethnic Ukrainians against the Polish magnate). In 1770, the Greeks and the Armenians left the shtetl after a devastating epidemic of the plague. Zhvanets was exempted from all the duties and payments for 12 years. Jews started to settle in Zhvanets around this time.
According to Polish Lustration of 1784, there were 617 Jews in Zhvanets. In 1765, the Jewish population of 1,134 people (1,567 in kahal district) decreased because of external events (Haydamaky and others).
In 1822, all the craftsmen in the shtetl were Jewish. 127 of them worked in the workshops and 565 didn’t.
In 1848, the Jews were ordered to move to other shtetls because the fortress had been built in Zhvanets. The synagogue was closed by the authorities waiting for Jews to leave the village. However, it didn’t happen and the Jewish community of Zhvanets had been asking the authorities to renew the synagogue for several decades.
Zhvanets entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913
In 1859, the community purchased the house for the synagogue. In 1880 the rabbi of Zhvanets was Alter-Chaim Elis (1856 – ?). In 1885, the Jewish entrepreneurs built a sawmill. In 1887, there were four synagogues, and in 1890 there were six of them.
In 1901, a Jewish primary college was opened, in 1902 a two-year village college, in 1905 a college for girls. In the early 20th century, six Jewish schools and two colleges were functioning. Private libraries and Zionist clubs were opened as well.
Graduating class of the Hebrew-language Moriah school in Zhavents, 1910
In the early 20th century, there were five synagogues and praying houses, and a Talmud-Torah in Zhvanets. A society caring about poor Jewish children was functioning. The shtetl which is situated three kilometers away from the river Zbruch and the border had an exclusively convenient location. They received wood from Galitsiya and Bukovina in Zhvanets. It was taken farther down the river Dniester into the South-Western part of Russia. The main occupations of the shtetl were forestry and bread trade.
Synagogue in Zhavents, 1920’s. Photo by Zholtovskiy taken from myshtetl.org
Before World War I there were about 600 Jewish families, 350 houses, and seven praying houses. A Talmud-Torah, both female and male, used to be here. 400 children studied there. Zhvanets library that had more than 5000 books had great popularity.
In 1905, a Jewish self defense detachment was formed in Zhvanets.
Jewish house in Zhvanets with Jewish family on the front of it, 1920’s
With the start of the war, the bread and forest trade came to an abbrupt halt. This caused the economic situation and quality of life for the Jews of Zhavents to deteriorate. On the 12th of June 1915, about 2500 Jews were evicted from the shtetl by the order of the military command. They majority were re-settled in Kamenets, Kitaygorod and Staraya Ushitsa. 600 people were sent to Kremenchug. On June 14th 1916, the Jews of Zhvanets got the permission to come back to the village.
Zhvanets on Polish postcard, beginning of XX century
In 1921, there was a Jewish school with the canteen for it’s students.
In 1925, Zionists organization counted nine people. In 1926, the soviet authorities declined rabbi Z.Alterovich’s request concerning the registration of the synagogue.
In the end of 1920’s, photographer Zholtovskiy visited Zhvanets and made few photos of Jewish buildings whoch were published in 2000’s:
House of Altman
House “with lions”
Inn in Bronshtein Street
In the mid of the 1920s, a Jewish village council with Yankel Lerner at the head was formed. In 1926, 150 artisans were registered in Zhvanets. Among them there were hatters, tailors, roofers, tinsmiths, blacksmiths, and others. Most of them were Jewish. The societies of artisans (85 people), traders (87 people), and butchers also existed in the shtetl. The cooperative of disabled people and agricultural credit society “Red Plough” were functioning. Joint helped poor families.
Jewish houses in Zhvanets, 1920’s:
OZET department (Society for Settling Toiling Jews on the Land) consisted of 110 people. It organized the groups for settling in agricultural colonies in the areas of Krivoy Rog, Kherson, Chongar, and Jewish Autonomous Region. A Jewish high school was established with three teachers and 121 students. There also was a literacy school, an amateur theatre, and a Jewish library in the village.
In the late 1920s, a Jewish collective farm was formed with Y. Shneiderman at the head. The poorest people united into the collective farm “Frontier Peasant”.
On the seventh of July 1941, Zhvanets was occupied by Hungarian troops. Only several families managed to evacuate to the east. Some men were recruited to the Red Army and some joined it voluntarily.
The Germans organized three ghettos in Zhvanets. Some residents of the ghetto were shot in Zhvanets together with the prisoners of war. Others were moved to the ghetto in Kamenets-Podolskiy and were later killed.
Zhvanets was liberated on the 25th of March 1944.
After its liberation in 1944 a few Jewish families came back from the evacuation to Zhvanets. The Jews who were discharged from the army returned there as well. In the 1970-1980s, the most of Zhvanets Jews left for Israel and other countries.
Three monuments devoted to the victims of fascism are established in Zhavanets but I haven’t found any photos.
At present only the remains of a synagogue and one traditional Jewish prayer house are left in Zhvanets.
The local people bring the wrecks of the gravestones to Jewish cemetery which were stolen and used in the household by their ancestors:
Famous Jews from Zhvanets
Iyekhezkel Rabinovich (1892, Zhvanets – ?), an essayist, an interpreter. He got traditional Jewish religious education, graduated from the gymnasium. In 1911-1914, he studied Philosophy and Law in Istanbul, then he moved to the USA. There he became an active participant of the Zionist movement.
Zhvanets Jewish cemeteries
Three Jewish cemeteries used to be in Zhvanets but only two of them are preserved partly in the village.
Site of destroyed oldest Jewish cemetery:
About 100 gravestones of the period between 1894 and 1924 are located on the New Jewish cemetery. It locates on the western outskirst of the village on the front of Khotin castle:
New Jewish cemetery. Photo from book
The earliest of the gravestones is dated back to 1729, the latest one is 1790. There are 30 gravestones on the whole. Many of them are decorated.