Belarus SIG Newsletter

Issue No. 2 - Contents - February 1999

Yekaterinoslav Guberniya

[The following article was recently posted to our forum by a noted genealogist in Israel and we believe it is of general interest to readers who may not have seen it there as well as to new subscribers - Ed.] by Chaim Freedman

In reply to several messages about Yekaterinoslav, I will briefly outline some of my research of the Jewish communities in the Guberniya (province) that was once called Yekaterinoslav and is now called Dnepropetrovsk. For the record, my late mother's great-great-grandparents on all sides were amongst the first colonists in the region, hence my involvement in research over more than three decades.

In the late 18th century large areas of territories in south-east Ukraine came under the control of the Russian Tsarist regime. This area was then known as Novorussia ( New Russia) and was divided roughly into three Guberniyas: Kherson, Yekaterinoslav and Tavritch (the latter included the Crimean peninsular and part of the adjacent mainland). The Russian government was anxious to develop this region by settlement from the rest of the Russian Empire. At the same time the government sought a way to relieve itself of the so-called "Jewish Question", particularly in what is now Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus. With the ascent of Tsar Alexander 1st legislation was passed to define and relieve in some part the situation of the Jews. One aspect of this legislation was to encourage Jews to leave the crowded and economically poor centres in the north and establish new settlements in Novorussia. Those Jews who qualified to be included in this enterprise were promised financial support to set up agricultural colonies, with the added incentive of exemption from military service (the period varied at various times throughout the 19th century).

A number of agricultural colonies were established initially in Kherson Guberniya from the first decade of the 19th century. The Yekaterinoslav colonies were established later. In 1846 the first group of Jewish colonists set off from the rallying point in Mogilev and headed for a region in Yekaterinoslav Guberniya. This group was subdivided according to town of origin. So several convoys underwent the arduous journey by river and by wagon. The 285 families were divided into six colonies. Subsequently other colonies were established bringing the total to seventeen by the late 1860's. At the peak in the 1880's the Yekaterinoslav colonies housed about 20,000 Jews. The colony region was roughly north of the Sea of Azov, and the colonies were situated in two uyezds, Alexandrovsk and Mariupol. Much can be written about life in the colonies during the period of the second half of the 19th century until their tragic destruction during the Civil War of 1917-1921. Thereafter most of the colonies were revamped by the Soviet regime and functioned as collectives incorporated as the Nei-Zlatopol Jewish Autonomous Region. The Nazi invasion brought an end to this unique episode in Jewish history.

The Jewish urban communities in Yekaterinoslav Guberniya were established on a very small scale alongside the colonies. As time passed and many families found themselves unsuited to rural life, the urban communities were boosted by many who dropped out of the colonies. The major communities, aside from Yekaterinoslav the capital, included Alexandrovsk (Zaparozhe), Pavlograd, Orekhov, Tokmak, Melitopol, Berdyansk, Mariupol and others. In effect the original colonists drew in their wake significant numbers of their hometown relatives or neighbours from Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus who constituted the majority in the developing urban communities in Yekaterinoslav.

I would point out that there are very few sources about this region's Jewish population. English books refer briefly to the region. Most of the other sources are in Russian, particularly a very detailed history of the region which includes many statistical analyses. There is one book in Hebrew devoted to the subject. If further information is of interest I will be happy to expand.

Chaim Freedman
Petah Tikvah

Chaim Freedman's Vilna Gaon research on the Avotaynu web site

Copyright © 1999 Belarus SIG and Chaim Freedman

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