By Robert S. Sherins, M.D.
There are several versions of the origin of the town name, Konotop (aka Konotip).[i] The exact date of first inhabitation is not known, but the Siveriany Tribe settled there during the middle ages, possibly from the 6th century. They were involved in agriculture. A second version of the name origin dated from the time of the Kievan Rus (10 - 12th century). Pottery shards of the type made by the Kievan Rus have been discovered in excavations near Konotop, which indicated early Kievan Rus inhabitation. Another version of the name origin began during the 13th century when the Tatars called the place Konotople because of the swamps, where many Tatar invaders had died during the invasion of Russia.
According to the Polish historical version, Konotop was established under Polish rather than Russian rule. Historical documents about the origin of Konotop were discovered in the Wawel Archives in Warsaw. Those documents were given to the Konotop museum in 1965. They revealed that Władisław IV Vasa, son of King Sigismund III, gave Mikola Cetisotu the regional lands of Konotop, which included the towns of Konotop, Gorodische, and Ezuch, for his services rendered to the Crown.
Poland and Lithuania were united by the signing of the Union of Lublin treaty on July 1, 1569. That Act was known as the Rzeczpospolita (pronounced Zetch-pos-po-lee-ta). Rzecz meant subject or thing. Pospolita came from the Polish root-word pospolicie, which meant common or commonwealth. Poland and Lithuania formally became one country and elected one head of state with the title of King. There was one Parliament, the Sejm Walny, located in Warsaw, one currency, and one foreign policy. Poles, Ruthenians, and Lithuanians were permitted to settle anywhere in the Republic.
The Union of Lublin was the direct result of the marriage in 1386 of Jagiełło, Grand Duke of Lithuania, and Jadwiga, King (Queen) of Poland. Jadwiga was the daughter of Louis of Anjou, King of Hungary. When Kazimierz III, former King of Poland died, he had no heirs. Louis of Anjou was the closest male relative (nephew) of Kazimierz and, therefore, became the new King of Poland. Louis of Anjou had a daughter, Jadwiga, who succeeded him as Queen of Poland, but she was crowned as King of Poland because there was no official designation of Queen in Poland. Jadwiga reigned from 1384-1399, but married Jagiełło in 1386. As a result of that marriage, two kings reigned simultaneously in Lithuania-Poland.
In 1634, the date that Konotop was founded, Władisław IV Vasa became King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. Władisław Vasa (Ladisłau IV) was the son of Sigismund III Vasa, who had held three titles: Titular King of Sweden, Emperor and Titular King of Moscovy[ii], and King of Poland-Lithuania. The Polish-Lithuanian kingdom was aligned by marriage with the Swedish House of Vasa. The Vasa dynasty in Poland started with Zygmunt Stary (old), whose daughter, Katherine, married Jan III Vasa, King of Sweden.
In 1386, Archduke Vytautas (Witold) of Lithuania conquered Belarus, Russia, and Ukrainian territories as far south as the Black Sea.
From 1610-1612, Poland-Lithuania briefly occupied Moscow by helping to install a puppet Tsar, False Demitrius II, who was supported by Poland's king Zygmunt III Vasa (English name was Sigismund III) from 1587-1632). Western European powers were embroiled in the Thirty-Years War, which devastated Europe from 1618 to 1648. The first Romanov Czar, Michael, assumed that Władisław IV would be preoccupied with his marriage and new kingdom, and distracted by the continuation of the Thirty-Years War in Europe. The borders between Russia and Poland-Lithuania were advanced and then retracted multiple times during the period of the 13th to 17th centuries. Czar Michael decided to invade Poland-Lithuania in 1634 to take back the territories previously ruled by Russia. Władisław IV had just become king and before his military forces had been well organized. However, King Władisław IV repelled the invading Russian military forces.
According to the Russian historical version, the town was first named Novoselytsia (Novoselica) in 1634 and became known as Konotopka in 1645. A military regiment was brought from Nezhin to defend the town against the Russians in 1648. In 1649, Russian emissaries entered Konotop to negotiate with Cossack Hetman Bogdan Chmielnicky. Chmeilnicky led the Cossacks in an uprising in 1648 after Poland-Lithuania had declared that the Cossacks must work as serfs. Absentee Polish landlords owned many Ukrainian estates. The loss of the Ukrainian lands to the Poles angered the Cossacks, who rose up against the Poles, the Russians, and especially the Jews, who had served as Arendars (managers) of the Polish landlords, as well as the rent and tax collectors. Russia declared war on Poland-Lithuania in 1654 and captured Minsk and Vilna. The Treaty of Andruszowo divided Ukraine in 1667, whereby Poland retained territories west of the Dnieper River and Moscow held Eastern Ukraine.
Fortifications containing three gates were constructed in Konotop by 1654. The gates were directed to roads, which led to Kiev (distance of 208 km), Putivilsk (distance of 50 km), and Popivsk (possibly Popovitse/Popvichi, 82 km WSW from Lvov, or Popovtse/Popovtze, 94 km SSW from Rovno).
In 1659 Ukraine fought Moscow. At first, Konotop was defended by victorious Russian armed forces led by the Duke Trubetsky. When the Russians could not maneuver their cavalry and artillery through the swamps and rivers, Cossack forces led by Hetman Igor Bigovsky attacked the Russians from their rear positions. Colonel Hulianstsky defended Konotop. Cossack reinforcements arrived one week after the Russian attack and saved the town on July 8, 1659. They defeated a 150,000 man Russian Army. Cossacks killed 30,000 Russian troops and captured another 5,000 individuals. Both Tatar and Ottoman troops joined Cossack military forces in battle. German volunteers aided them. Polish inhabitants were forced to leave Konotop. On June 17, 1672, Konotop's Articles were signed into law and Ivan Samoilovich was elected Hetman.
Konotop is located within the borders of modern-day Ukraine. The map coordinates are 51° 14' North by 33° 12' East, which is located 208 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Kiev and 129 kilometers (78 miles) northwest of the city of Sumy. In 1802, it was part of Chernigov Gubernya, although the provincial name became Chernigov Oblast in 1932 during the Soviet administration. Upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Konotop became part of Sumy Oblast (Sumska/Sumskaya), Ukraine. Konotop is located on the Left Bank of the Ezuch River and is situated along the Desna River, which is a tributary of the Dnieper River. It is a densely forested area and is surrounded by large swamps.
By legend, the region of Chernigov was named after their first Prince, Chorniy, who reigned from 954 to 959. It has also been said that Chorniy's beautiful daughter, Chorna, fell in love with a Kievan Rus Prince. The region came under attack by military forces of the Khazars. To avoid forced marriage to a Khazarian prince, Chorna jumped to her death from the castle. The Kievan prince was so enraged by the loss of his beloved Chorna that he counterattacked defeating the Khazarian forces and then named the principal city Chernigov.
The Kievan Rus was established in 869 and lasted until 1240. A succession of princes ruled the region. Among the most significant rulers was Vladimir the Great, who reigned from 980. Christianity was adopted in 988, although the religious schism did not occur until 1054, when Russia became Orthodox. Vladimir's son, Mstysłav, succeeded him and the Kievan Rus expanded southward to the Don River and the Sea of Azov. Mstysłav died in 1036. The reign of Yarosłav the Wise followed (1054 to 1073). Moscow was founded in 1147 during the reign of Yuri Dolgoruki (1125 to 1157). The Empire of the Kievan Rus continued to expand. During the fourth Crusade (1204), Constantinople was captured by Russian forces, which were backed by Prince Vsevolod. The period of the Crusades lasted from1096 until 1216.[iii]
Chernigov was the capital of the principality created by Yaroslav The Wise (1024-1073). Monomah succeeded Yaroslav's reign in 1078 and emphasized education, schooling, and writing. The principality was prosperous and well fortified by a moat. Two towers were created with large gates that protected an inner castle. After the Mongol invasions, Chernigov was devastated, but rebuilt.
In the 11th century Chernigov was ruled by the Kievan Rus, which was succeeded by the rule of Moscow in 1604. Poland occupied Moscow from 1610 to 1612. Chernigov principality was liberated from Russian control in 1648-1654 and became part of Ukraine. The territory contained 266 lakes and branches of the Dnieper, Desna, and Seim Rivers, which included many swamps, forested areas and rich wildlife of bisons and turs. Turs were oxen-like, but were hunted to extinction during the 16th century. There were many species of bear, wolf, deer, goats, and beaver. Agriculture was plentiful and supported crops of wheat, barley, oats, flax, and sugar beets. Bee keeping flourished.
Ukraine exerted much influence over Konotop during times of Cossack rule. Cossacks lived in separate Sotnya, towns ruled by Hetman. A Band of 100 Cossacks constituted a Sotnya. As the economy improved in the 19th century, Konotop became a center for handicrafts and goods traded throughout the Russian Empire. Many plants and factories were built. Exported agricultural products included tobacco, wheat, sugar beets, melons, pumpkins, and fruits. Major trade developed between Konotop, Moscow, Kiev, and St. Petersburg, when Konotop became a major railroad center. During the latter 17th to 20th centuries, Konotop traded and exported livestock (mostly pigs and sheep), leather (especially shoes) produced in Chernigov and Kozelets, textiles, sugar, wood products, and baked goods.
Among the most horrific events in Russian history was the devastation wrought by the Mongol invasions that began in 1223. Although Genghis Khan died in Mongolia in 1227, Batu Khan, son of Jochi and grandson of Genghis Khan, led the Golden Hordes of Mongols to defeat Russia (1237-1242). On his way to Kiev, Batu Khan destroyed all the regional towns near Konotop. Mongol domination over Russia ended in 1481, but the final Crimean Khan lasted until 1783.
Konotop was founded rather late in the course of Russian history after many centuries of regional conflicts between the princes of the Kievan Rus and was followed by the conquest of Russia by the Mongol Golden Horde, who crossed the Volga River in 1237 and picked off the Russian princes one by one. Kiev fell in 1240. Those tragedies were followed by the defeat of Chernigov in 1482 by invading Crimean Tatar forces and the Tatar capture of Moscow in 1571. After Tsar Boris Godunov died in Moscow 1610, he was succeeded by his only son, Tsar Fyodor II. His reign was brief when he was murdered by Godunov enemies. The legal heir of Fedor I was killed while in exile (Uglich, 1591). An imposter claiming to be that son was supported by the boyars, Cossacks, and the Polish monarchy. The puppet Tsar was known as the "false Demetrius. However, his reign lasted only 11 months, when military forces were organized by Michael Romanov, who succeed as the first Romanov Tsar. Moscow was occupied by the Polish military only from 1610 to 1612.
Konotop history began during the commencement of the Romanov Dynasty[iv], which lasted from 1613 to 1917. The Imperial reign of Peter the Great followed from 1689 to 1725 when Russia controlled territories as far south as the Sea of Azov (1696) and then expanded eastward to Siberia. Kamchatka was captured in 1697. St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 and became the new Russian capital in 1713. Russia fought the Ottomans in 1710-1711 and Sweden in 1704-1709. Russia then acquired the territories of Livonia, Estonia, Karelia, and Ingria, from the Swedes in the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. Peter became Emperor of Russia in 1713 and went to war with Persia (1722-1723), China (1727), and again with Turkey in 1738-1739. Immigrants from Hesse, the Rhineland, Palatinate, Saxony, Wuerttemberg, and Switzerland, settled in separate villages along the Volga and Don Rivers from1763-1768 and the Dnieper River in 1780. Another Russo-Turkish war was fought in 1768 and again in 1787-1792 at the same time as the Russo-Swedish war in 1787-1790. Poland, weakened by the wars with the Mongols, Tatars, and later on the Ottomans, was partitioned three times and occupied by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, in 1792, 1794, and 1795. Finally, Crimea was annexed by Russia in 1783.
The events surrounding the three Partitions of Poland had a profound effect upon the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. By annexing eastern Lithuania-Poland, Russia had acquired about two million Jewish inhabitants. Since the 14th century, Jews had been evicted and then forbidden to live in Russia.
Weakened by the wars with the latest wars with the Ottomans, the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania became vulnerable to its neighbors. In the region newly occupied by Russia, Empress Catherine the Great was persuaded by both the clergy and Christian businessmen to eliminate the Jews from its acquired territories. In several Imperial Ukases (decrees), Catherine created an area in which Jews would be restricted to live and work. The area extended from Lithuania to Romania and was called the Pale of Settlement. Eighty percent of all Jews in the world lived within the Pale. Jews were evicted from large cities and driven southward to small villages. Often, they were forced to leave without their possessions. Jewish businesses were confiscated, and many families were ruined financially. Poverty became widespread. Many Jews were forced to migrate further southward to smaller towns and villages, while some moved to Odessa, Turkey, and Western Europe. Some Jews accepted land in the less inhabited regions of Ukraine, where the Russian monarchy hoped settlers would block the incursions of the Tatars and Ottomans. Villages of separated Ukrainian Christians, Germans, and Jews, as well as other Western European farmers were established. Their religious and cultural separateness continued throughout the following centuries.
By the time of the Partitions and Occupation of Poland (1772-1795), Konotop was still a small town with few inhabitants. However, in 1789 the town enjoyed a new coat of arms.
The 19th century brought forth several Russian and European conflicts that affected Konotop. Russia had fought again with the Ottomans in 1806 and Sweden in 1808-1809, after which Russia acquired Finland and Romanian Bessarabia (1812). Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, but was destroyed in 1815, when over 90% of Napoleon's forces were killed. Deserted, or died of cold exposure and disease. Peace was restored after the Congress of Vienna. By 1828, another outbreak of war with Turkey recurred and the Treaty of Adrianople was signed to restore peace.
In 1830, a major Polish revolution occurred causing many German inhabitants to flee eastward to Volhynia (Western Ukraine). By the 1840's some colonists became prosperous. This was a great achievement after the terrible years during the 1830's in which there had been drought, ruined agriculture, and widespread famine and disease. The Crimean War between Russia and Turkey lasted from 1854-1856, the same time that a severe cholera epidemic raged in Russia. Serfs were finally emancipated in 1861 by Tsar Alexander II, following which many of the Russian estate-lands were redistributed. The last major Polish uprising occurred in 1863 and was put down by the Russians. German inhabitants flooded into Volhynia. Further revolt arose in Poland. Yet another war with Turkey started in 1878 that was settled by the Congress of Berlin. Czar Alexander II, who had treated Jews more liberally, was assassinated in 1881. Numerous pogroms swept across Southern Russia when Alexander III succeeded as Czar. He was ruthlessly anti-Semitic. Restrictive May Laws were decreed in 1881 that penalized Jews severely, prohibiting public school attendance, land ownership and entry into professions. Famine developed during the 1880's, which was associated with severe freezing weather and agricultural failure.
The development of railroads had a significant impact upon both the Russian population generally and the town of Konotop specifically. In 1851 the railway from St. Petersburg to Moscow was opened. In 1859 the railroad connected Kiev and Voronezh. From 1891 to 1903, the Trans-Siberian Railway was completed. In addition, there were many other rail lines coursing through the Empire. Konotop, which had earlier enjoyed excellent commercial success by transporting and trading goods over poor dirt roads, became a major rail center with connections to Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa, as well as to Brody (Austria/Galicia), Vienna, and other European cities.
When Czar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, Jews were specifically accused, which resulted in increased anti-Semitic violence against the innocent. By 1907, the largest Jewish immigration in history to America, Canada, and Western Europe transpired. The Romanov Dynasty ended with the assassination of Czar Nicholas II and his family by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Russia became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic incorporating the region of Konotop, Ukraine. Under Stalin (1924) farms and businesses of the former empire were collectivized and ownership transferred to the Soviet. Large-scale liquidations of Russian, Ukrainian, and minority populations resulted.
In 1941, the German army invaded Russia. Moscow and Leningrad (formerly St. Petersburg) were placed under siege. Soviets resisted and persisted until 1943, when the siege of Leningrad ended. The German army was forced into retreat in the winter and was soundly defeated. In addition to the military casualties many Russian civilians were forced into labor camps, or were executed, including immigrants who had previously settled in Russia, repatriated military troops who had been held by the western allies during the war, and civilians who returned to the USSR from the west. The residents of Konotop suffered greatly during those years.
During the 19th century there was some religious diversity in the region. There were 1,000 Orthodox churches, 80 synagogues, one Roman Catholic Church and one Mosque. Scholastic achievement was important. Book printing was established and libraries were built, demonstrating the emphasis on education. Theater and musical activities were available. During the 20th century, newspapers thrived.
In 1794, the population of Chernigov Gubernya was mostly Ukrainian (85%), with minorities of Russians (6%), Belarussians (5%), and Jews (less than 2%). At the turn of the 19th century only about one hundred Jews lived in Konotop[v]. An accounting of the Materials for Geography and Statistics of Russia, compiled by officers of the general headquarters of Chernigov Gubernya in 1847, listed only 521 Jews. By 1861, 1,206 Jews were reported consisting of 566 males and 640 females. After a wave of pogroms in southern Russia, the number of Jews increased in Konotop due to the influx of immigrants. By 1897 there were 4,425 Jews in the town, which comprised 23.5% of the total population of 18,830[vi]. At the time of the Soviet census in 1939, there were 5,763 Jews (17.2%) out of the total population of 33,506. Mass murders by the Nazis in World War II and the reduction of the population by those who were lucky enough to flee, eliminated Konotop's Jewish population. The Soviets recorded only 250 Jews (50 families) there in 1970.
From the town's beginning in the 17th century, Konotop was created to support a strategic fort. The town was surrounded by a large ditch, which extended to the river. Oak gates were placed in the walls. The fort was reinforced to accommodate rich townspeople and farmers, who could retreat from outside into the courtyard in case of attack. The 17th century construction of a rampart was added on the high ground, which divided the inhabitants. Rich people lived in the inner area and central courtyard near the owner. The poor lived in the larger part of town, but not where the town center was located. Cossacks lived in the separate sites called Sotnya.
In 1660, Konotop had 474 properties, whose owners paid taxes. Wheat farmers held 210 properties, 107 properties sustained handicrafts and trade, and the rich owned six flourmills. Mills required access to water for processing the grain. There were 801 men; women were not counted. The principal economies were grain, flour milling, and wines. Trade fairs flourished and were visited by merchants and traders from Orel (120 km E of Bryansk), Kursk (88 km SW of St. Petersburg), and Gomel (277 km ESE of Minsk).
By 1711, Konotop recorded 701 properties and 3,000 inhabitants. The Cossack Sotnya consisted of 297 properties that included four troop units called Kurens. Kurens were units of the Zaporozhian Cossack troops that were often headed by Ottomans. In 1751, Articles enacted by Hetman Rozumovsky converted Konotop into a private town. The town was owned and ruled by Kochubey (bey is the Ottoman suffix that means mister).
Konotop became a district center of Novgorod-Siversky region, which was governed by the Duma and a Court that was appointed in 1782. Because of the trade routes to Kiev, Moscow, and Odessa, Konotop's economic success played a great role in the development of Ukraine.
Foreign influence was evident in Konotop since the 16th century. Dutch landowners purchased estates. They also influenced the art and architecture of the region. Dutch architects built large palaces for the Cossack leaders, such as Rozumovsky. There were also Scottish and Italian architects.
In the 17th century the opportunity to participate in trade fairs brought Jewish traders to Konotop. In addition, other Jews served the Polish nobility, who were often absentee landlords, and provided management of the properties and collected the rents and taxes. Later on in the 19th century, Jewish immigrants evicted from the larger cities arrived in Konotop. A few were prosperous and owned properties and businesses.
We want to believe that this brochure will not be the last page in the history of the Jewish community of Konotop, which used to be the very largest and friendliest Jewish community of Konotop many years ago, Chairman of the board of the Jewish community town of Konotop, Editor of newspaper, Lebn, Grigori Aisenshtat. I am glad that I have participated in the revival of Jewish people in independent Ukraine, stated by Executive director of the Jewish Community Konotop Center Ester, Grigori Petrushenko.
This brochure was published because of the material support of the [city of] Kharkov division of the American United distribution committee, Joint.
I have heard the question on which I want to answer, Why do we need this history about the Jews of Konotop? The topic of the discussion was about the rationale of returning to our roots it meant revival of Jewish traditions, customs, and holidays.
For me, this question didn't arise until I recognized that I was a Jew. This happened not at once. To know your nationality and identify yourself with it are different things. Thanks to genetic memory, I strived and strive to repeat what my predecessors used to do in spite of all persecutions and tortures.
The voice of blood told me the necessity not just to remember but also to revitalize the things that our ancestors were not afraid to do until their death the traditions of the ancient (and not only) Jews.
In general, it seems that people don't want to look at their past, who are ashamed about belonging to one nationality due to some exclusively subjective causes, such as upbringing, personal views, and so on. That is why in historical records there is no objective basis for this retrospectively for Jews to be ashamed. Frightened - yes it was, but ashamed never.
The Jews have given to the world the Book [Bible], which brings in itself the basis of human morality and ethical values for all and forever.
There were Jews, who assumed the culture and religious practices of the people among whom they used to live. It was several thousand years ago in times of Antioch the 4th - it happened under the reign of the Russian tsars. But there always comes a minute when the call of blood, not the one which flows in our veins, but that which flows out of our veins (as was said by Uri Tuvim). But there were times when the call of blood of the nation united into one nation despite any differences of culture and religion to which they belonged. You must not be the Jew, who is frightened by the soldiers. The flame of the Holocaust burns in the biggest part of our past. Our past history was troubling those non-humans. And, that is why we must exist not only to be a part of the global population, but also as a people, who are united together by spilled blood.
That was exactly what world-famous Steven Spielberg felt. He grew up in the immigrant's country where all the Chinese, Italian, Spanish, and Jews were simply called Americans. When Spielberg decided to learn the details about the history of the Second World War, he suddenly remembered his roots and now the foundation, which was organized by him, does everything to make it all possible that the memories of the Holocaust survivors will be known for the future generations and that there will be no room for theories of racial supremacy. And that is why we must remain Jews, who remember who they were and from where they came.
Yes, citizen of the world has everything, cities and villages, countries, and continents, but he doesn't have a place where people always come when they feel bad. He doesn't have the spiritual motherland, his national family, which can calm him down and be side-by-side forever.
I understand that we are all people of different nationalities and different colors of our skin. We all are just a small part of the Universe. We live in different countries; we love the land on which we were born and work for its prosperity. We are interested in the spiritual and cultural life of nations in which we live, without taking into consideration their nationality. And that is for me why we must look backward in order to move forward.
By Amelia Aisenshtat
She is a member of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine
We can discover the historical roots of Konotop from the time of the Kievan Rus. There is a lot of historical research, which proves that it is true. Some historians think that it was the center of the Lipeckr [Lipetskova] principality and it was called, Lipovetsk. It was fully destroyed by Mongol troops for disobedience.[vii]
The town was rebuilt again under the name Konotop in the 17th century. The first written reference that mentioned the fort of Konotop was dated in 1638.
Konotop is a local center, which is situated on the left bank of Ezuch River, 129 kilometers from the city of Sumy. Today Konotop is one of the biggest railway centers with a population more than 100,000 people.
The first mention about Jews in Konotop appeared at the beginning of the 19th century when few people lived there. But the Jewish symbolic was found in 1782 in the Coat of Arms of Konotop. On the Coat of Arms there is depicted the details: in a red field a golden cross, on the bottom the silver half-moon with the inner side facing upwards, and on the top a six-cornered star of David. By 1847, the Jews who lived there increased to 521 people. According to the information provided in Materials for Geography and Statistics of Russia, compiled by officers of the general headquarters of Chernigov Gubernya, it was written that 1206 Jews lived in Konotop in 1861 566 males and 640 females. The population of Jews significantly increased in the second part of the 19th century as a result of the migration of Jews from the northwestern regions to the southeastern territories for permanent residence and achieved 4425 Jews (25.3% from the overall population in Konotop in 1897).[viii]
Konotop was a typical town of the Pale of Settlement. Its social structure was defined by the lack of rights for the Jewish people. There were no peasants, predominantly merchants and craftsmen. Most of them used to live in poverty. The increase of the Jewish population occurred as a result of the building of the railway lines from Kiev to Moscow and from Kiev to Voronezh. Konotop was one of the main stations in this railway line. The economical relations with Eastern Prussia were conducted from that place from the west. Also, there were relations with the central regions of Russia in the north and with the southern regions of Russia.
There were a lot of fairs and markets. Gogol wrote about such fairs in Konotop in his novel The Lost Deed. Jews played a main role in the trade life of Konotop. There were several Jewish firms. Among them the biggest firm was organized by the merchant of the second guild (whose name was German), who exported bran and other agricultural products (residue of sunflower oil and seeds) to Germany. The biggest textile shops belonged to Novik and Cherkinsky shoe stores- Ainbinder and Feldman. Numerous food shops belonged to Rubin, Klichin, Nosovicky, Meskhin, and by other Jews. The majority were small shops and the owners of which barely made ends meet. Chemists[ix] were organized by Logun, Bernstein, and Sheinikin. Factories, mills, oil producing, and grain production belonged to Alotin, Kozlovsky, Narinsky, and others. They processed grain, oil, seeds, and other raw materials, according to the orders of natural payments for their services. A lot of small trade agents were occupied in buying in villages the agricultural and food products for merchant-exporters and processing factories.
The famous historian, Y. Poletika, wrote about the life of the Jewish community in his memoirs, The Seeing and the Emotional Experiences.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the population of the city was fifteen thousand people. Ukrainian merchants formed the largest part of its population, a few members were among the Russian officials, and forty workers worked in the railway workshops.
There was a big Jewish community in Konotop; nearly two or three thousand people lived there. That community lived separately from others. The greater part of the community was formed by the owners of the small shops, doctors, craftsmen, workers, merchant's employees (salesmen, shop assistants and shopmen), and poor people, who often didn't know how to feed their families. The community had a religious school, Heder, where Jewish boys were taught God's law, and the synagogue, where all of the people gathered to pray. Jews, who were more prosperous, sent their children, who graduated from Heder to study abroad.[x]
In spite of any animosity of Ukrainians towards Jews, Konotop's Jewish community used to live in relative peace. There were no pogroms (massacres), neither at the end of 19th,nor at the beginning of the 20th centuries. There were some cases of hooliganism[xi] exercised by market boys and schoolboys, who were not Jewish.[xii] It was very popular to come into Heder or synagogue and scream wildly in order to interrupt the lessons or prayers. The fights between Jews and Ukrainian children were often. But Jewish youths could defend themselves.
A significant group of the Jewish population consisted of intelligentsia, such as the doctors, lawyers, and pharmacists. Most of the doctors were Jews, Marshov, Shapiro, Zimeev, and Apperbaum. Those were prosperous parents, who had the capability to give their children an education abroad. The Russian universities were closed to them. Jewish children didn't have the right to study in the universities. The same situation was applied to the lawyers, Paritskiy, Khrahovskiy, and Lazarev. Only Lazarev finished Odessa University and after that he was included in the rank of the honor citizen. In Konotop artists lived, worked, and contributed significant input to the cultural history of Ukraine: Alexander Imilievech Gofman (1861-1939) and Mark Grigorievich Vainshtein (1894-1952). But the majority of Jews were burgers [burghers][xiii]. Merchants were the exceptions. They and honor citizens (people, who graduated from Russian universities or institutes) were free from some of the nationalistic lawful limitations for the first time from the prohibition to live outside of the Pale of Settlement.
The above-mentioned category of prosperous people was only a minority of the town's Jewish population. The majority were the poorer people: craftsmen, workers in small shops, helpers of qualified workers, and lesser merchants. There were people of air, who didn't have stable earnings and they worked from time to time or resold the goods of others. There also were the professional beggars.
The Jewish elementary education (literacy and knowledge of the Tanakh) was within everybody's reach. There were four Heders in the town, where the teacher (melamed) sometimes with assistants conducted the lessons from morning until evening prayer. The owner of the Heders, (Baransky, Slobodkin, Kalmanov, and Hazanov) were hard workers and desperately poor. They taught discipline, memory, and attention. One such teacher was Nahman Baransky. There were three Heders for thirteen boys, where melameds, Zalman Evselev Fainickly, Leiba Evselev Komisarov, and Kusiel Evdeev Zavadsky, taught school with certificates from the Jewish school's committee of Nezhin. And one school where twenty-five girls were educated and were taught by petit bourgeous, Donna Goldberg[xiv]. She had the certificate of the private elementary teacher from the Teacher's Council of Konotop's two-class town's college for teaching of the Jewish children. The Talmud-Torah school for fifty boys was taught by melameds: Movsha [Moishe] Leibow Koz1ovsky, having a certificate from the Nezhin Jewish College Commission; and Izrail Aron Goldenfarb certificate of elementary private teacher from the School Board of Konotop, two-class town's college.
The next stage of education including professional education was not accessible to the majority of Jews.
The so-called industrial proletariat was insignificant. Until the revolution[xv], there were workers in the factories that were owned by Jews, who hired them. In the other factories and government services, they were not allowed to work. Businessmen and workers were in opposition to each other only in small workshops. The so-called class fight, which tried to ignite in this environment, was the Party Bund. The class fight could not be achieved because of two reasons. First of all, the Jewish worker was interested in the stability of the factory, which because of economical weakness could suffer from any conflict, especially a strike. And secondly, in such a hostile environment, they only could hope for mutual aid and national solidarity, excluding any conflicts.
Such solidarity was shown even in paradoxical situations. For example, when the merchant or other entrepreneur became bankrupt, his colleagues, even competitors, gathered some money, which could help the businessman to overcome his difficulties without the need of returning any of the money. But if everything became normalized, that loan of mercy/charity, called dmilaskhesed, was always repaid. It happened with the owner, who grew sugar beets. Due to bad weather conditions a part of the yield was destroyed and he couldn't pay his debts, which he had previously borrowed from the bank. Nine Jewish businessmen provided the money.
Charity for professional beggars was given in the form of excluding even a shadow of humiliation. Those were people with physical and psychological handicaps. There were twenty professional poor people that didn't ask for alms. Alms were given in such a way - the poor people visited every house of prosperous Jews once each week. Each housekeeper established his own special day and she put some coins on a dish, 3 or 5 kopecks. The visitor took his coin without saying a word. The plate with money was at the entrance to the kitchen. Poor men could buy a French roll with the money. In one week he spent about a ruble. Others may have spent less, 60-80 kopecks. Once a strange act of charity happened. Among the poor people was a beautiful, but a blind girl, and a crippled man. Those heartfelt people decided to express their pity. They collected the money to buy a small dwelling and utensils, and celebrated their wedding. They delivered and brought up two sons.
As a rule, members of the community were moderately religious. The synagogue was being visited only during big holidays and fasts. Saturday liturgies were visited by only a few people. Of course, there were some atheists.
The cases when people converted to Christianity or other religions practically didn't have a place in the town. Even that act automatically freed them from lawful limitations. People didn't mention the fact that if they became Christians they automatically became free from any limitations that had restricted the Jews. Mixed marriages were prohibited, because it touched upon religious changes. The situation changed only after the Soviet revolution, but in the first years after the Revolution, they were still very seldom. For example, when a Jewish girl married with a Ukrainian boy, the whole [Jewish] community stopped any relationships with that family. It happened in 1921 and both young persons were members of the Komsomol organization. Another case happened in the same year. A Jewish girl married a Russian and she made him change his religion. He had to become a Jew and be circumcised. There were a lot of rich Jews at their marriage.
They followed the custom of circumcision. Seldom-cases of refusal were a sensation. Such a unique case took place in Konotop in 1923. One of the leaders of the town's party instead of circumcision arranged for arranged a so-called Red Christians.[xvi] Without any intention for the circumcision, the man's penis became inflamed and there was a necessity for surgical circumcision, which was performed by a surgeon. Almost all the population, including Christians, gloated, seeing in this event God's finger in it.
In 1922, during a bad harvest and hunger in part of Russia, the Jews from Konotop's community expressed solidarity towards the people of the same faith but different nationality. The group of Subotniks, i.e. Russian people, from Veronish Gubernya, came to Konotop. It meant Russian people following the Jewish religion. There were Russian peasants, but they had Jewish names. The youngest of them was Haim. Aron was the name of the ravine[xvii]. That ravine was given the right to hold some religious prayers in the synagogue and those people lived in the best Jewish houses and got one echelon of grain.
The Jewish community had legal status before the Communist revolution. That community had the elements of self-government. They had their own resources developed by means of self-taxing. They enacted decrees of civil status, such as birth, death, marriage, and divorce. The heads of such communities were ravine [rabbis] and the civil governor, who was called a public ravine. The public ravine was elected by the community and was approved by the local power [Kahal authority]. The ravine was hired by the community from the number of persons receiving higher religious education (in Yeshivot).
Jews from the time of the 14th century didn't have centralized religious leadership, such as a patriarch or a senedrian. The government ravine usually was the most noble person in town. The spiritual ravine in the first quarter of the 20th century was Semanovich. A quiet man, kind and fair. In cases of conflict, people came to him as a public judge, even in cases when the conflict developed between Jews and Christians.
Another very distinguished personality was Kazyoni[xviii] Rabbi Aron Marshov, famous public figure and physician. He was an orphan and he was raised by the Jewish community. He achieved the highest Jewish education. He went through all stages of religious education, including Heder, Talmud-Torah, and Yeshivot, as per the established schedule and was preparing himself to become a spiritual ravine. But when his education was coming to the end, a rich Jew came to the Yeshivot in Konotop and asked the governors of the Yeshivot for the name of a groom for his daughter and he should be one of its best pupils. The future son-in-law was promised freedom in choosing his endeavors up to continuation the Talmud study. Marshov was recommended to be the groom. The marriage took place, but Marshov made a decision that was unexpected by the father-in-law. He started to study the course of sciences in the Gymnasium[xix] with the goal to pass the examinations and receive his diploma as an external student (student, who was allowed to take the courses, but without the need to regularly attend the lectures).
Thanks to his natural abilities and outstanding memory allowed him to achieve this goal within three years. Later, he went to Germany for study at the University of Bonn and returned to Russia with a diploma of physician. He combined his professional work with public service and as head of the Jewish community in Konotop and leader of the Zionist organization. He became the most popular man in the town. During the civil war of 1918-1920, he conducted negotiations on the behalf of the town with multiple changing [political] powers taxing the community. During rigorous political discussions of that time, he invented the famous expression, Bolshevism - this is the socialism of wild men. Bolsheviks didn't forgive him that expression and he was compelled to leave the town in 1924. Later, he moved to Palestine. The power in town changed many times during the war: Denikin's[xx], Petlura's[xxi], Soviet power, German occupation troops, and Ukrainians, who were headed by Hetman Skoropadskiy[xxii]. There was a wave of robberies and small pogroms at that time. Fortunately, there were no massive killings.
The most successful time for Jews was during the German (Kaiser) occupation. There were a lot of Jews, such as officers and Division Ravines [rabbis], in the German army.
Later, the Soviet power created conditions of safety for Jews, but from the economical point of view that was a hard time for Jews. Private enterprises were nationalized and trade was stopped. The attempts of illegal trade were cruelly punished and sometimes even the people were shot for such kinds of activity. One of the functions of the Cheka (Soviet police) of that time was the struggle with speculation, the meaning of which was stretched too far.
During the new economical program (NEP), they reestablished the economic activities of Jews (shops, rent of plants and factories, and tradesman), but on a lesser level than before. The main difficulties were the high repressive taxes. In 1923-1928, the illegal activities of Zionist's organizations were revived and the mass emigration to Palestine occurred during that time, which was organized by Gehalutca. In 1924, the Zionists-Socialist's Party (CZSP) and the Union of Youth (CC-Yugend Ferband) distributed leaflets calling for migration to Palestine.
At that time under the influence of the Jewish section of the Communist Party began the movement for the migration to Birobidjan[xxiii]. And the first arresting of Zionists began. But the real economic catastrophe for Jews began in 1928-1930, when [Stalin] started to thwart the activities of the NEP. Private trade, industrial, and artisan's enterprises became bankrupt under the pressure of the high level of taxation. Their owners, who couldn't pay, ran away from the town. In 1929, tradesman, harness maker, and saddle maker, Gorinskiy, hung himself from the window of his shop. As a rule, Jews moved to Russia to their children and relatives living there. Numerically, the community shrank significantly. The composition changed as well, predominantly government clerks, factory workers, and poor people. The relationship with the synagogue weakened. The Jewish community received the final blow during the Second World War. Some part of the population moved to the other parts of the USSR. The other part was killed. After the victory only a small segment of the Jews came back to their native town. The community fell to pieces. One of the three synagogues was occupied by town archives [a collection of records and documents]. Two others were given to the tailoring factories. A small group of Jews tried officially to organize the prayer house, but the local power forbade it. Then they gathered a sum of money and bought the house in the name of one of the active members and they began to gather together on Saturdays. However the fictitious owner decided himself to take advantage of his status and embezzled the house. The case was given to the local court. The Court decided that the house was without an owner and it was decided to confiscate the house. The surname of the man was consciously not recorded. That was the tragic end of the most powerful, numerous, and well organized Jewish community [of Konotop]. Filing a suit didn't have the expected outcome.
Furthermore, sometimes the events were developing by inertia. During this past long period of time, there were now changes in the life of the Jewish community. There were still religious old men, who gathered together in apartments for Sabbath prayer, the last of which took place in the home of Ziama Feldman's house in 1982. The last sheikhed[xxiv] was Shapirkin Gilia, who had the special religious education. He died in 1976. The last britmilla[xxv] was made by Shapirkin in 1952. Hupa[xxvi] also was in that year. The last funeral with old Jewish traditions was in 1965.
Only in the environment of democratic Ukraine after independence, Jews got the possibility of reviving their former traditions and language.[xxvii]
In August 1990, the first Jewish family was able to move to Israel. In December 1991, an American genealogist, Miriam Weiner, visited our town. The result of that meeting was obtaining a census of the Jewish population. On 23rd of October 1993, there was a meeting, where the society Lebn was created. In 1994, during the holiday when people celebrated Pesakh[xxviii], the members of the Community got matzos. In June 1994, Israeli singer, Jenia Fireman, with her consort established the beginning of communication of Konotop people with citizens of Israel. On the 28th of December 1994, the first issue of the newspaper, Lebn, was published. On the 16th of March 1995, the religious Community of Konotop was registered. The monument to Konotop's victims of the Holocaust was opened on the 14th of July 1997. The Konotop Jewish Community welfare center, Hesed Ester, was opened on the 10th of September 1999. And, this center has become the real Jewish house.
The Konotop town charity fund (Jewish Community Center, Ester) was founded on the 10th of September 1999 with support from claims conference and American Jewish Distribution Committee Joint. Beside them as co-founders were Konotop Jewish community Lebn and Konotop Judaic religious community. The Jewish community Ester represents a beam of light for all elderly Jews and is the center of Konotop's Jews and Jewish community life. This center provides all the needy with produce parcels, dinners at home, and in the canteen. This center helps with medical care, rehabilitation equipment and medicine, and everyday services. Many groups work there. Also, there are a lot of cultural and educational programs. But the main aim of this center is to remind the most vulnerable members of the community that they are not alone.
The Center is functioning in two big directions, social and community work. To the social programs belong the patronage programs of care under which there are forty invalids and single people. Pensioners in need of medicines are provided for free.
They give help in repair of shoes, clothes, watches, small repairs of household equipment, and provide barber services. Functioning SOS (Save Our Souls) is financed by personal resources of U.S.A. citizen, Leon Sragovich. Urgent help in outstanding cases is given, such as emergency operations, natural disaster, and etc. The special community distributes this help. And this help is given within forty-eight hours after the adoption of the decision.
The activities of the Day center and the Warm house are functions of the social program. Accordingly, the programs in the Day center are four times each week. They bring elderly people with difficulties in independent movement. They provide the conditions for communication and work (occupational) therapy. In the Warm house, they take care of elderly people living nearby and under different circumstances not having the possibility to attend the Community Center. Those people gather two or three times each week for two to three hours. There is a program called, Mazel Tov. This program is for mothers, who have children not older than three years and for pregnant women. The program of this club includes interaction and consultations with the doctors and the psychologist, and guarantee of children's clothes, pampers, vitamins, providing of children's bathes and beds etc. Great attention is paid to the revival of Jewish traditions in the family.
To community programs belong the following: class for Jewish traditions, class to study Yiddish and English, and the musical ensemble Shtetl, piano class, choreographic class, and class for handymen, club for veterans of the Great Father's War (World War II), prisoners from concentrations camps and ghettos, youth's and children's clubs.
Every Friday in the center, members light Saturday night candles and all people, who want to can meet on Shabbat together.
The workers of this center see their task as to revive the Jewish traditions and not to live without attention to any single person. Every member of this center feels that he is needed by the community and can by active participation become useful to his comrades of the same age, children, and grandchildren. He is not a poor person. He doesn't need to be given a handout. He receives what he deserves and the society expects from him help in establishing the community with rebuilt Jewish traditions, in developing a spiritual life for Jewish people in sovereign and independent Ukraine.
While reviving Jewish traditions, we don't forget about the life of our native town. We have relationships with other social organizations and agencies of local self-government.
The Newspaper Lebn
The Jewish community's newspaper in Konotop is named Lebn. It means life and began to be published in December 1994. It is the first and only one public resource in the region of the national minorities, which is distributed free of charge in the cities and towns of the Sumska region[xxix]. This newspaper is read in the entire territory of the Ukraine, Israel, USA, Germany, Australia, and in the CIS[xxx] countries. The newspaper is published in Russian and Ukrainian. The slogan of this newspaper is, all people are brothers.
The published periodical of this newspaper has always tried to follow this slogan because it is promoting peace and mutual understanding in society. The information about Jewish life and the work of Hesed Ester are published in it.
We can also read about events in the region and in Ukraine. Also readers are informed from letters from former compatriots about how Jews live in Israel and other countries. Some common newspaper editions were published together with the old city newspaper, Konotopskly Kray. This fact shows the cooperation between the Jewish community and local self-government agencies. In the newspaper there are columns, Our Holy Places, Conversation with Wise Men, Famous Jews, Creativity of Our Readers, To Be Remembered, and others.
They describe the returning to the roots of our nation, about people, who were influential in the history of our town, and about people, who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars. Readers liked the newspaper. This was shown by the great number of letters to the editor received. Thanks to its thematic diversity and attraction of a wide circle of readers, the newspaper, Lebn, has a consolidating character and organically fits informational space of Sumshene.[xxxi]
TV Program, Ale Eneinem[xxxii]
Together with Lebn, the public life of Jews in Konotop is described in the TV program Ale Enemem. This is a monthly program of the local television station. The main aim of this program is to describe the activity of the Jewish community Hesed Ester, its clubs, about the leaders of the Jewish movement, and about the national religious holidays. The author of this program, Yulia [Julia] Glanz, together with cameraman, Dmitriy Glanz, familiarized the audience how Hanukah and Pesach were celebrated, about the visit of our friends from Skokie (near Chicago, Illinois), USA, to Konotop, and about the celebration of the Victory Day[xxxiii]. They were introduced to the board of the Center and they also informed the audience about the music group, Shtetl.
The life of Jews in Konotop is widely described by this program. Ale Eneinem helps to revive the Jewish traditions.
Together with the community Lebn, the music group was organized. The aim of this group was to make Jewish music popular and to revive Jewish musical traditions. But as the group didn't have money for a building and was under the pressure for other reasons, it was closed.
In November 1999, with the help of the community and with the help of the representatives joined in Kharkov, this group got its second birth. This group was named with the nostalgic title, Shtetl. In this ensemble came musicians, who accumulated enough performance mastery on an amateur scene. The members of the group are: drums, Dmitriy Glanz; the violin, Tatiana Raeva; the keyboard instrument, Igor Tabachov; clarinet and alto saxophone, Baleriy Sakun; bass guitar and bayan[xxxiv], Dmitriy Zilbershtein (he is the leader of this group); and singers, Gregoriy Petrushenko and Svetlana Tabakova. The group diligently works on national Jewish repertoire. The group plays music from people around the world.
This group successfully performs on the stage of our native town, of the regional center in Sumy and other towns and cities of this region. At the first regional Jewish art festival, which took place in the city of Kharkov, this group became the laureate and the soloists became diplomants.[xxxv]
We hope that our group, Shtetl, will take over the glorious tradition of Klezmers of the past. Even as Shalom Aleihem in his novel, Shtempenu, mentioned the talented musicians from Konotop. Shtempenu: in times Shtempenu defeated all other orchestras, Konotop musicians, who also were popular.
In Konotop as in any small or big town there is a place where every man involuntarily thinks about the sense of life, about the relationships among the people, about the human's memory, and the significance of which we leave after us on the earth.
The reader can guess that I mean cemetery. And every time when I come to this sacred place on Virovskiy Street, I remember people who found eternal peace here. I knew that the majority of the Jews from Konotop were buried here. He[xxxvi] knew almost a thousand, who were buried on the Jewish map. About many of them, I heard different life stories, interesting maise. With many of them I was very close. Each of them in his time was his own unique and unrepeatable life.
On Yom Kippur, according to the tradition, at my parent's grave we came to put a stone on the tombstone monument of the person with whom we had been friends for more than forty years. From the photo, I saw my dear friend, Efim Bunich looking at me. He was a great life lover, humorist, and a man with encyclopedic knowledge, talented engineer physicist. He was telling me, tell everybody living now about us. Let them remember about us. We loved our town; we used to live in it. And I felt obligated to remember and tell the story.
I must remember David Gregorovich Udler. He was a teacher from God, a real teacher, who never felt angry even when the life was harsh for him. He always found words for everybody who was in trouble and who really needed them and needed his support. How many Konotopians taught for decades working in school number 4, this real Tsaddik. And, Olga Matveevna Braginskaya, gave her whole life to the Jewish school. She was the first, who began to find information about the Heroes of the USSR, Ephim Zitovskiy and Nadezhda Volkova. Just to mention, parents of both heroes were buried on Konotop soil. And, about Volkova's mother, Sofia Lvovna[xxxvii] Silina, a whole novel could be written about her life. She deeply believed in the communist idea. She also was impressed by her meeting with Lenin and she had been all her life a member of the Communist party starting before the October revolution. We must mention popular historians, Jakov Zelinskiy and Semen Belinskiy. They fought during the Second World War. They worked for our country and had a great influence in the town.
It is impossible speaking about teachers not to mention Methodist historian, Yakov Zilberstein and Semeona Belenkogo. The fought bravely on the front, where they damaged their health. They honestly worked and enjoyed their deserved respect by many many Konotopians. I am asking for an apology from the reader for a lot of names, which are a small part of the people who deserve to be written about.
I will continue my list, reminisces by professions, physicians and medical workers. Now let's speak about doctors. I want to know, who didn't know the doctors: Sagalevich, Valavik, Pevsner, Narinskiy, and Spivak. I must mention the military doctor, Maria Gregorievna Aizenshtadt. When she was a prisoner of war in the concentration camp, she helped wounded people and she remained faithful to the Hipoccratic Oath. Before the Second World War doctor assistant, Isay Krasovitzki, began his work in our city. He was a doctor assistant with a kind heart and the knowledge of a professor.
I walked slowly along the graves looking at the photographs and remember, remember, remember yarmulke, yarmulke, and the beard of Iosif Volovika, and the grave of Berinski, directed my remembrances to those old Jews, who even in difficult times remained loyal to ancient Jewish traditions, respected the Torah, prayed, used only Kosher food, and communicated in the mother's tongue.[xxxviii]. In spite of the building of three synagogues that were confiscated - one hundred year old Rabbi Tilman, Moshe Luboshitz, Zama Elinson, Lev Feller, Zama Feldman, and obviously all of the minion coming together at Shlensky's, where the shammes was Hersh Tzitovskiy, or at Zama Feldman and Ermonenka's place and felt themselves to be Jews. At the same time, they had a lot of friends of different nationalities with whom they lived heart to heart and respected each other. Those wise elders taught us how to be a man and how to be a Jew.
I want to remember some leaders of industry, brothers Anatoliy and Alexandr Zvenyiatzky, Mikhail Perelubskiy, Anatoly Glanz, Zinoviy Yudovich; workers of the biggest factory, KEMF[xxxix], Semona Seraykova, Mordkhay Poliakov, Isaak Erenburg, and Felix Milshtein; and some good women: Alfimov and Furman.
And what about Jewish women! What beautiful women were Sara Shalita and Liza Strelnik. They died so young. What respect is deserved by the small frail old woman, Mondrus, who lost three sons during WWII, Elya, Zinovi, Naom, and Gregori, who became an invalid.
Simple Jewish women and men, young and old, of different professions, barbers, plumbers, engineers, salesmen, believers in atheism... The first member of the Komsomol was Mikhail Galperin and the first vendor of the cinema from Chernigov Gubernya, who died when he was 91. The baker, Solomon Zhesmer, and the cameraman, Lev Rudnik, book specialist Isral Pritikin, and photographer, Leib Glozshtaen, and lawyers, Pismenny and Shargorodsky.
Some people can still remember what it meant, Judovich shop, such as At Maniak, and At Gutman. But those were not their private shops in Konotop. Those people put their love and heart into their work.
Do you remember the restaurant Uncle Misha, the owner of which was Mikhail Hotin or Moishe Raeva, when I was a boy, who told me about the speaking mastery of Trotsky, which he heard many times in the far past. And what about the tailors: Solomon Raev, Tzaley Vinigradov, and Moisei Raibenbakh. They were famous people of Konotop. I would like to name all of them by name, but it is impossible. Let's remember Mendl Sterenzon. He was a very skillful mechanic. What a kind person was Avraam Atkin. We must remember two brothers, twins, named Bogachki living through German capture in 1914, Levitan and Felzenshtain, running away from fascists in Austria, and Robert Leer. With difficult lives, Jan Hubner and fiddler virtuoso, Lev Levantovskiy, and other musicians, Iosif Apterman. Lea Zolotarova didn't learn how to speak Russian. She tried to escape the pogroms of Denikin[xl] and ended up in Konotop. Those kinds of people used to live in our town.
I was walking along the graves and when I saw unknown ones. I suddenly remembered that in Israel there are no graves of unknown soldiers
A married couple, who came from Germany, was standing near one grave. When I saw them I remembered that thousands of people came from Australia, America, Canada, and Israel to that place. I was thinking about how in the past, a big Sumska' Jewish community of Konotop became smaller and smaller. A lot of people moved all over the world, but graves were still here...
I walked along the whole Jewish cemetery. The monuments with notes in Jewish ended. And the monuments with stars and crosses began...
All those monuments reminded us of who lived in our native Konotop, worked here, fell in love, joyful, created and dreamed, disappointed, and hoped for a better life, and believed...
Let God be with them! We must remember them because while we remember, we are living...
From Lebn to Ester
The 23rd of October 1993 is a special day in the history of the Jewish community in Konotop. That day in the house number 47 on Volochaevska Street, apartment 3, the family of Sofia Abramovna Raibenbakh the people gathered for whom the destiny of Konotop's Jews was not indifferent. Those people still remembered that time when everyone could hear Jewish language, the Jewish holidays were celebrated, religious people could pray, matzos were prepared on Pasakh, and Jews knew very well what was a mitzvah, tzadeka, and tallis. On that day seventy people gathered for the purpose of uniting the community in order to help each other in difficult times, to study their ancient history, and languages, Hebrew and Yiddish, to revive our great culture and spirituality.
The initiators of this unification deserve to be mentioned here. First of all they were old persons: Mikhail Fedorovich Kerelikh, Semen Mikhailovich Peisakhovich, Alexander Ilich Pundik, David Naunovich Plaper. Elected to the first governing board of the community named, Lebn, were Arkadiy Sorin (religious affairs), Viacheslav Karpachevskiy (youth affairs), and Mark Karlin (general affairs), vice-chairman of this council were Gregoriy Petrushenko. Gregory Aizenshtat was elected as chairman of the board.
It is necessary to mention one more name, Leonid Volovik. He used to be the chairman of the board of the Jewish Community of Orla, a former inhabitant of Konotop, who shared his experience, which was very useful for us in our work.
It is a pity that life gave its own order and many of them are no longer with us in Konotop. The Kelerekh family moved to the USA, the Pesakhovich family went to Australia, Plapers moved to Russia, and the Sorins, Karlins and Karpachevski families moved to Israel, where five hundred Jews from Konotop are still living. But even from abroad all those people continue to be interested in the life of Jews here in Konotop. They write letters, call us, and visit and help us. They help us as much possible as they can.
Each year new active people were involved, who helped to revive the Jewish life in the town. Among them, the first chairman of the Jewish religious community, Robert Semenovich Agranovskiy. He was one of the initiators to immortalize the memory of the Konotopian victims of the Holocaust, first Hebrew teacher in Konotop's ulpan[xli]. After his immigration to Israel, Arkadiy Veniaminovich Koniavskiy became the president of the Jewish community. He took the responsibility to put the cemetery in order, which he successfully accomplished. Nowadays he combines the community's principle responsibilities with the work for coordination of the social programs in the community center Ester.
Emilia Aizenshtat brings to people the knowledge of Jewish traditions and history. Esfir Rozenfeld was a teacher of the Yiddish class where members of the class try to revive their knowledge of our forgotten language. A lot of energy was given to the community, Lebn, and continue working successfully at the center, Ester, such as spouses Bella and Ruvim Bomshtein. Former chairman of the trustee council, Alexandr Levita, exercised a great deal of care for the people. Unfortunately, he died.
The director of the center, Ester, tries to involve young people who, as he hopes, will continue the noble cause of revival of Jewish life in Konotop. One of them is Yuriy Golubkov, the head of religious programs, who is studying ancient Jewish religion and wants to bring it to others; and Margareta Stoyanova successfully manages patronage services.
Especially, we want to stress the new programs in the center, Ester. The programs are: Warm house under the guidance of Mark Levita and Day center headed by Acia Levit. Acia Levit, even before the opening of the community center, granted her house for the needs of Konotop's Jews. Her house is very old, one hundred years, and it is situated on Shevchenko Street, where, the parcels had been distributed. In this house the guests, who visited the town, were accommodated and the board of the Lebn community met and conducted Shabbat services.
After six years from the time of the creation of the community Lebn, the Jews of Konotop have established the house-community center, Ester, where it is always warm and quiet for those who come to visit. Jewish life never stops over here.
There were...us, and there are...us.
At the beginning of XIX [19th] century there were living several Jews in Konotop. In 1847, 521 people lived in Konotop. In Konotop's Uyezd[xlii], in 1861, had been living 1206 Jews, 566 men and 640 women. According to the census in 1897 among the 18,770 population in Konotop, there were 4425 Jews (25.3%). After the end of the Second World War, more than 2500; 1989, about 900; 1992, 750; 1995, 550; and 1999, about 300.
In Konotop I Saw Love
[Translation from Hebrew by Khia Ori, Israel,]
Konotop met me by sunny streets and nothing beckoned about what would happen after several minutes.
A special little walking excursion to the notable places of the town was organized for me. I saw a green park, streets that were asphalted and not asphalted as well, modern and decrepit houses. Even signs on the walls, posters, and street banners, were talking with me.
On one of the streets, where on both sides were standing one-story houses, stooped from age, wrinkles on the walls, strange things began to happen. Something hit me on the head. At the beginning, I thought something was falling from the mulberry trees growing on both sides of the road. But the hits became more frequent and it happened that it was hail accompanying the drizzle. We couldn't run anywhere and that's why we stood under the tree, which sheltered us from the hail, but not from rain. That rain added the sweet taste of mulberry to the taste of rainwater.
Soon the rain was over and the sky became clear. Everywhere was flooded with the streams of the sunshine. We were standing wet as if we took a bath in the river and the moisture on our faces was sweet.
I was taken to the building, which in a month was going to be a new community center. You ought to have a good imagination for seeing ulpan classes full of life where there was now only noise and dust of the construction.
When I came for the second time, some weeks later, the house was almost ready. One of the classrooms was ready to greet pupils. Other rooms were light and clean. And you didn't need any imagination to see that place full of people, young and old, who came there to study and have a rest, to get a consultation, and to be entertained, people arguing and listening. You know my heart is with them. I saw them all, although they hadn't come yet, because the building, which was being repaired for them, would be officially opened in only two weeks when I would be so far from that place.
And my heart was turned towards the people, who came to open the new classroom of ulpan. I was treated in their houses and they accompanied me to the places of the former pain and sorrow of the Jews of their town.
I saw two monuments to people killed by Nazis. Both of them were located on the territory of the military unit. A Ukrainian officer followed us. I saw stones that were crying. On the one of them I read the name in Hebrew of a Jewish woman, who died a long time ago. But that gravestone became the monument to all those who were killed. I couldn't find another one. I saw another stone full of silence. It was also a monument on an old grave maybe from some cemetery, which was destroyed by people and time. It was without a note. I saw the monument to all who were killed during the war on the territory of the aviation base.
A great dinner was prepared for us. Outside that house looked like a man with flabby shoulders and blind eyes, but inside it was full of light and love.
I had been in Konotop two times, but at the same time I felt that I had always been there. I felt myself as if I were at home, although I didn't know the language and was not acquainted with the people in an unfamiliar city. The air around me was full of love. I experienced everything in my life: sorrow, merriment, and fear of the unknown disturbed me also. In that cemetery my ancestors were in peace. In those ditches of death were killed my relatives. And that loss was mine, too.
My parents, who belonged to the Zionist youth of the beginning of the century, left their houses and their families. They created the State of Israel for me. This was my own personal happiness. I didn't choose it. It chose me. It fell upon me from the hands of the sky. I thought I could have been born in Konotop, because I saw myself looking at the faces, which were around me. Because I saw love there.
On 26 June 2000, the decision of the special commission of the Righteous of the World of the Institute of Yad Vashem.
The decision of Yad Vashem, our countryman, Melania Alexyevna Tetera, as a sign of deepest gratitude for the health and for the help to Jewish people during the years of the Second World War, given the honorable title, Righteous of the World posthumously. In the period of the occupation of Konotop by German fascistic forces, she saved the life of two boys born of Jewish women. The mother of those Jewish children was shot by the fascists.
Photographs and titles:
Page 3: Konotop. End of the XIX century
The Jewish Cheta-Leguda Leib and the main street of Konotop.
Berta Menahim- Rablans, Pevsner's clock, repairing workshop.
Page 5: Building of the former synagogue on Yarmarochna Street. There is a department of the standardization and metrology nowadays.
Photo, which was made in Konotop in 1920. Second from the right side is Sima Denkovska, who is living in Chicago now. She is 90 years old.
Page 6: Pupils of the Jewish school No.5 in Konotop - one of the last graduations. There was a school No. 4 in that building after 1938.
Page 7: School No. 4. There the Jewish school No. 5 had been built by 1938
Page 9: Konotop's family of Slabodkin
Page 10: This building is called Palestine. After the War it became a shelter for 400 Jews. There are only three of them living.
Page 12: Heads and participants of the program, Day center
Page 14: The director of the Community Center, Gregoriy Petrushenko, the coordinator of the social programs, the head of the board of Jewish religious community, Arkadiy Koniavskiy, and the head of the community programs, Ruvim Bomshtein, (from right to left) with Hanuksha, the present from the friends of Konotop's community, Temple Beth Israel synagogue in Chicago.
Page 15: Our holidays:
The candles light in our center weekly and talk a blessing above the wine and challah. We meet Shabbat.
In the photo: the teacher of the Jewish traditions, Emilia Aizenshtat, and the head of the religious programs, Yuriy Golubkov.
We celebrate the Jewish holidays Purim, Ahashverosh, and Ester
Often the representatives of Lubovich's Rebe attend our community. For two years Konotop's Jewish community has supported the friendship's ties with Temple Beth Israel synagogue, (Skokie, Illinois, USA). Ravine Michael Vainberg presents to Konotop's Mayor, G. Vasilenko, the message from the Mayor of Skokie.
Page 21-22: Partisans and Under-grounders:
Soldiers, who were killed during the liberation of Konotop and buried in the brotherly grave (423 people) in the Virovske cemetery.
Soldiers, who were killed in the concentration camp and buried in the brotherly grave in the Uspensko-Troicka St.
The Jews of Konotop, who were killed by fascists during the occupation.
The Jews who were killed by fascists and buried in the Virovskoe cemetery.
Jews who outlived the occupation.
Heroes of the Soviet Union.
Every year on the Victory Day the delegation of Municipal Council pays a tribute of respect to the victims of catastrophe.
Kaddish to the killed read by the main [rabbi of Kiev's synagogue] ravine of Kyiv's (Kiev's) synagogue, Brodskly Moshe - Reuven Asman.
Page 21: Uspensko-Troicka Street. One of the sacred places in Konotop, grave and the monument to 257 Jews, who were brought from the other places and killed during the period of occupation. The monument was erected by the relatives just after the ending of the war. There is only one exact surname, Levitan, daughter of ravine [rabbi].
Page 23: Cemetery on the Virovska Street. Jewish map. The representative of Joint from Jerusalem, Doctor Aron Vais, (the third from the right) during the visit to the Jewish cemetery.
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