by I. Goldbrot
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
Assistance with Russian characters by Yefim Kogan
|The Great Synagogue in Ekaterinoslav|
The name of the town Ekaterinoslav popularly called Katerinoslav was changed in 1926 to Dniepropetrovsk, after Petrovski, a former factoryworker, chairman of the executive committee of the Supreme Soviet, the Ukrainian Republic. Ekaterinoslav was founded in 1778, by Prince Potemkin, one of the aides of Queen Ekaterina II, and he named the town after her.
The town was founded in another location, and in 1783 it was transferred to the place it is today, on the West bank of the big river Dnieper. Its founders meant it to be the capital of the region, which had just been conquered from the Turks and was called NovoRussia, therefore they prepared a beautiful cityplan, with wide paved roads, piazzas etc. The entire region is rich in grains, the soil is fertile and yields large crops. In addition, iron mines were discovered near the town, in KrivoyRog, as well as anthracite mines in Donbas. As the railroad was built, connecting Ekaterinoslav with the Great Russian cities on one hand and with the iron and coal mines on the other hand, factories, of the largest in the country, were erected in town. The lumber and grains commerce flourished, the town developed quickly and the population grew. And since Ekaterinoslav was situated within the limits of the Pale of Settlement where there was no limitation to the settlement of Jews the number of Jews in town grew as well, and in the course of a few years the Jewish community in town became one of the biggest in Russia.
The Jewish population in Ekaterinoslav
|% The general
|In 1802||376 persons||According to the Gov. records|
|1857||3,565 persons||Leshtzinski: Jews in Ukraine|
|1897||40,971 persons||37%||Gov. census in 1897|
|1910||69,000 persons||Jewish Statistical Association|
|1926||62,100 persons||27%||Gov. census in 1926|
|1959||52,800 persons||8%||1959 census|
It is fair to assume, that Jews began to settle in Ekaterinoslav as soon as it was founded. Prince Potemkin did all in his power to advance its growth and development. There he established the government institutions and built his palace, and the Jews, who were closely associated with the government offices and naturally served as his providers, entrepreneurs, merchants etc. were among the first to settle in town. In addition, Jews who had useful occupations were invited to settle in town, and sometimes help was promised for that purpose.
NovoRussia attracted Jews due to the opportunity to make a good living. As early as 1776, a group of Jews from Balta asked for permission to relocate to NovoRussia and for aid to accomplish that. This was even before this region was declared, according to the 1791 law, open for Jewish settlement, which encouraged Jews to leave crowded places and seek to settle there.
The first Jews came to Ekaterinoslav from Western Ukraine, then from Lithuania and Belarus. One of the first was Moshe Stanislavski, who raised a large family in town. The majority of settlers chose to live in the section of the town that was close to the River Dnieper. This river served as a major channel of communication, for the transport of wares, in particular lumber from the North, as well as for people. The Ekaterinoslav Jews made a living by collecting taxes, small businesses, pubs, providing for the army and government institutions, and craftsmanship. Some of them managed to get rich. The Jews had a big share in the lumber commerce, as Ekaterinoslav was the last station of the lumber rafts from the North; they also erected and managed sawmills.
Most of the Jews kept Jewish tradition; their language was Yiddish, interspersed with some Russian words. The children received their education in the Cheders, the melamdim [teachers] coming mostly from Lithuania. A Community Committee [Kahal] managed the community, until it was dissolved in 1844. The Kahal managed the community institutions the cemetery, the Kashrut matters, and the sustenance of the rabbi and the dayanim [judges in the religious court]. One of its functions was also collecting the government taxes and recruiting young men to the army. After the Kahal stopped functioning, the community was represented by the Jewish Society Еврейское Общество actually the rabbi and several of the leaders managed all the needs of the community.
The major income of the community, as in other places, was from the meat tax. This was used to pay the salary of the rabbi and the judges, to support the synagogue, the mikveh [ritual bath] and the Talmud Torah, to help the poor etc. Since the meat tax was not enough to cover all the expenses, donations were also collected. The first cemetery was in the Novia Kardaki suburb; it functioned until the forties of the 19th century and some 1,000 persons were buried there. The oldest gravestone that was still legible (in the eighties) was from 1831.
In the first half of the 19th century including the 39 years of the reactionary rule of Nicolai I, the Jewish community in Ekaterinoslav developed slowly. Its growth was due partly to natural increase and partly to the immigration from
Lithuania and Belarus, and in a small measure to Jewish settlers in the colonies of Southern Russia (begun in 1846), who did not succeed to take roots in their villages and relocated to the cities, among them Ekaterinoslav.
The Ekaterinoslav Jews participated actively in the economic life of the town, in close relationship with its Christian residents. They obtained permission to enroll their children in the government schools, and in 1851 the first Jewish student enrolled in the local highschool. At first only the rich sent their children to the general schools, but in time their number grew, in 1865 their number was 39 and in the 18821883 school year it reached 153. One of the first graduates of the Ekaterinoslav high school, who was allowed to enroll at the university and became a medical doctor was Eliezer Eingorn, who later served as doctor in Berditchev. The Jews were usually very good students and received medals. Many parents, however, did not send their children to the high schools, out of fear that they might become distanced from Jewish learning. Those parents engaged Jewish private teachers, and after several years of study the sons joined the parents' businesses. The daughters received their education at the government schools or at home. The children of the less welltodo families learned in the private cheder, in the TalmudTorah (founded in 1857) and in the Jewish government school Казённое Еврейское Училище, opened in the early fifties.
The ascent of King Alexander II to the throne, the reforms in the life of the country, liberation of the farmers, abolishment of several of the limitations imposed on the Jews all this heralded a new era in Russia and brought new development to the region in general and Ekaterinoslav in particular. The Jews took an active part in the developing economical life. In addition to their former occupations, they were very active in the grain trade, part of which was directed to export. Following this development, the authorities started building flour mills, the largest of them being owned by Jews. In the early seventies, the town was connected to the state railroad network, a fact which gave an additional push to the economic development of Ekaterinoslav, and again the Jews took a considerable part in the expansion of the commercial connections of the town.
In the sixties and seventies, several of the important community institutions were established: The Great Synagogue on the Jewish Street Еврейская улица which later turned into the Choral Temple with a permanent cantor and chorus; the Jewish Hospital, at first with 20 beds, which expanded fast; a Home for the Aged (in 1880) built thanks to Yitzhak Stanislavski's donation; free accommodation for guests etc. In 1871 the Association MaskilElDal was founded, its function being to give support to the poor, in particular those who came from other places, so that they would not wander in the streets of the town. Several private Jewish schools were also founded at that time.
The area, where the Ecaterinoslav Jews lived, was a place of new settlements, mostly free of prejudice, a place that encouraged private initiative and provided a good chance to attain material success. The Jews that arrived there were energetic, adapted quickly to the new conditions and their economic situation improved constantly. They created a new type of a proud and selfconscious Jew, who kept his connection with Judaism and at the same time adapted to worldmanners and the Russian culture. The new community leaders introduced several changes and improvements in the community institutions, in the Cheder and Talmud Torah curriculum, in the aidtothepoor association etc. Among them we should mention: I. Berezovski, A. Targovitzki, Ch. Levanda, M. Meidanski, I. Stanislavski, P Stein and others, and in particular Eliyahu Orshanski, who, in spite of his short life, has become one of the outstanding leaders of the Russian Jewry. These leaders, in addition to working for their own community they responded, together with others, to the call of other localities and collected for them donations from the Ekaterinoslav Jews. For example, in 1860 money was collected for the victims of the Syria pogroms, in 1869 for the Jews who suffered from hunger in various places in Russia etc. Therefore, as the members of that generation would say, the Ekaterinoslav community was one of the advanced communities in Southern Russia, where the spirit of freedom prevails.
The main problems of the community were schooling for children and help for the poor, and these matters received special attention. The curriculum was improved in the cheder and in the private schools that were opened, as well as in the Talmud Torah, where the poorer children learned; children were helped with clothing and shoes, etc. Often, disputes arose between the innovators and the more conservatives. The number of poor people was significant, since constantly many people came to town from Lithuania and Belarus to look for parnasa [livelihood], but not all were lucky; many needed the help of the community institutions.
It is enough to mention, that in 1878, 429 families (2051 souls) received help, and an 1882 their number reached 500 families (2,625 souls). Many resources were devoted to that goal.
The relationship with the other residents and with the authorities was, in those days, quite correct, and some of the ruling leaders and highlevel employees demonstrated a proper and considerate attitude toward the Jews in town. The Ekaterinoslav Jews sent their representatives to the town council and the court of justice, as judges or jurors.
The first appointed [by the authorities] Rabbi was Mr. Gavriel Safranski, who, as related by the members of his generation, did not have a large education and was not very active in the community. After his death in 1877, Mr. Zev Nachum Shakhor (who had been his aide) was elected Rabbi and served in this position until 1898. He was more involved in the life of the community, which grew to about 10,000 souls. The Ashkenazic rabbi of the town was Rabbi Binyamin Zev Sakheim 18721913, and the Hassidic rabbi was Rabbi DovZev Kuzivnikov (died in 1928). There were eight registered synagogues, and the income from the meat tax reached in 1880 15,000 Rubles.
In 1881, at the beginning of the rule of King Alexander III, pogroms broke out against the Jews of Southern Russia. Ekaterinoslav was spared that year. In 1882 there was an attempt to organize a pogrom, but thanks to measures taken by the authorities it was prevented. The pogroms that took place in neighboring localities and the refugees that came from those places, caused, naturally, sorrow and fear among the Jews in town. Money was collected and sent to the victims of the pogroms. But the incitement and provocations against the Ekaterinoslav Jews did not cease. It found easy ground the many laborers who had come from all parts of Russia, to work at the new railroad and the bridge over the Dnieper.
The disturbances began on 20 July (by the Julian calendar) 1883. As a parade passed through the streets, a clash was staged between a Jewish shopkeeper and a Christian young boy and a rumor was spread that the boy was killed by the Jew. Immediately the workers who participated in the parade, joined by many of the town residents, began attacking the shops and stands of the Jews, and the Jewish apartments along the streets of the town, robbing and destroying anything that was in their way. The police were not strong enough to stop them and the army arrived only late afternoon and began acting. However, the pogrom continued the next day, and only by the end of the second day, after the army used guns and several hooligans (about 15 people) were killed and several were wounded the pogrom stopped. It should be mentioned, that the Christian public was remarkably indifferent, and very few came to the aid of the victims or gave them shelter. This shameful day was mentioned even in the general press. The Ekaterinoslav Jews were seized by fear and many left town temporarily; a great amount of property was robbed; mostly the poor suffered. None of the Jews was killed; there were some wounded; the synagogue on Kazatzia Street was destroyed.
As published in the Report of the Aid Committee, 657 families (2,870 souls) asked the Committee for help, mostly small businessmen and craftsmen. The damage was estimated at 600,000 Rubles. 300 apartments were destroyed and robbed.
Immediately an AidCommittee was organized, headed by I. Brodeski and the first local donations were collected. Soon donations arrived from other places as well, and a total of 17,000 Rubles was collected. The municipality gave 5,000 Rubles and supplied bread for the needy. All this help was not sufficient for the needs of all the victims; several families left town and immigrated to America, some made plans to make Aliya to Eretz Israel. Thanks to the efforts of the authorities, the situation calmed down, the economic life recovered and the Jewish community returned to normal.
The eighties and nineties of the 19th century, the years of the reactionary rule of King Alexander III, brought limitations and new restrictions to the Russian Jews, and the Ekaterinoslav Jews also suffered from the increasing AntiSemitism and the negative attitude of the authorities. In spite of that, they continued to participate in the economic development of the town, which turned into an important center of commerce and industry, thanks mainly to the new railroad (1884) that crossed the town and connected the KrivoyRog region, the center of iron mining, with the anthracite mines in Donbas. In addition to the grains and lumber commerce, the Jews participated in the development of industry, in particular the food industry. They owned the big flour mills, sawmills,
tobacco factories, printing shops, oil industry, candies, mineral water etc. They opened large stores, owned houses, were doctors, lawyers, accountants, shop managers etc. Many were tailors, cobblers, ironsmiths, locksmiths, painters, glaziers, bakers, workers in the sawmills and the tobacco factories, and wagon owners, who mainly transported the lumber from the rafts to the sawmills. This way the Jewish settlement in town grew, and it absorbed Jews expelled from Moscow and from Rostov on the river Don, as Jews were forbidden to live in those places. Many lived in apartments situated on the main streets, and the number of Jews in Ekaterinoslav increased, reaching over 20,000.
These facts the growth and development of the community, the increase of antiSemitic feelings, the national spirit that spread among the Jews, the young intelligentsia that more and more came to recognize its nation and its origins caused public activity in various areas. The existing institutions expanded, a new wing was added to the hospital, the Talmud Torah was enlarged, the activity of the Maskil Ladal Association was renewed in 1889. Women's groups were organized to help needy children in the Talmud Torah and other schools. The limitations on the number of Jewish students accepted in government schools, together with the growing desire of Jewish parents to give their children an extended education were among the reasons that several new Jewish schools opened in town; in some of them a trade was also learned. The Jewish public supported these schools, by helping needy children with tuition.
Various other aid and support societies were founded as well. In 1888, the Organization of Jewish Aides in commerce was founded; in 1893 the Association for helping Jewish teachers and students; 1n 1898 the Society to help the poor Еврейской Благотворительное Общество. They also collected money for the various needs of the community. Some of the donors were instrumental in building and maintaining the important institutions of the community. Here are some of the names: M. Doleinik, M. Karpas Tavrovski, M. Maidanski, I. Stanislavski, and the ladies: Tavrovski, Yampolski, Vitalin, Karpas, Nemirovski, Stein and others.
The government took interest in the affairs of the community and, to its request, the management of the Great Synagogue, Правление хоральной синагоги received the task to care for all community institutions: hospital, Talmud Torah, synagogues, help for the poor, cemetery etc. Representatives of the above institutions joined the Synagogue management and together they constituted the executive board of the community.
The Hovevei Zion movement slowly took hold in Ekaterinoslav. It was founded in 1884 and in time it expanded and increased its activity. The most active leaders were Ch. Levanda and S. Stanislavski, helped by the wellknown preacher TzabriHirsh, who settled in Ekaterinoslav. The Ekaterinoslav delegates to the Droseknik congress in 1887 were Binyamin Zvi Scheinfinkel, and to the Odessa congress in 1890 were Avraham Harkavi, Mechl Maidanski and Avraham Perl. A delegation visited Eretz Israel with the purpose of buying land. All the time they collected money for the settlement of Eretz Israel.
In the course of the years, the influence of the Russian culture increased. The reasons were, mainly, the economic relations with the neighboring localities, which were conducted exclusively in Russian, as well as the increasing number of school pupils, who brought home the Russian language. The number of readers of Russian books increased as well, and the Yiddish language, while still used, albeit far less than before, absorbed more and more Russian and Ukrainian words. Many of the educated and welltodo Jews distanced themselves from Judaism and demonstrated clear signs of assimilation. Their interests were, on one hand, personal interests and success in life above all, and on the other hand the questions of the Russian people and general politics, totally unrelated to Judaism and its problems. During that period, there were many cases of conversion to Christianity.
However, a group with a strong national inclination, among the young intelligentsia as well as the general public was slowly taking shape. They cared for the national content of the public life and fought for civil rights in the government and municipal institutions. The share of the Zionists in these endeavors was constantly increasing, especially after 1881, when M. Ussishkin came to Ekaterinoslav and directed the entire Zionist work in town. Much attention was given to schooling and education and the first improved cheder [cheder metukan] was opened in 1899, under the direction of Ch. A. Zuta. In 1895 a Hebrew library was opened with the support of Ussishkin, in addition to the existing library, which was managed by the merchants. Money was collected for Zionist purposes
and lectures on various national subjects were organized often. Together with Ussishkin, who was a delegate to the First Zionist Congress, worked Messrs. I. Berezovski, A. Harkavi, Levinski, Ch. Levanda, S. Stanislavski, B. Spivak and others, and later they were joined by the engineer M. Bruk.
Due to the limitations imposed on the registration of Jewish children to the general highschools, the community founded Jewish private Zionist highschools the highschool for boys directed by Yona Wechsler and the highschool for girls directed by Yaffa Yudkowitz. An important feat was the erection of a tombstone on the grave of the leader A. Orshanski, made by the known sculptor Ginzburg.
The first years of the rule of Nicolai II were a continuation of the rule of the former king. The attitude of the authorities toward the Jews did not change much, neither did the relationship with the other residents of the town; so that the life of the Ekaterinoslav Jews went on, more or less, as before. The economic progress increased in the entire region and the Jews enjoyed it as well. Within the community, the influence of the national circles increased. They realized that the appointed rabbi, who represented the community visavis the authorities, must be a man of national consciousness and Rabbi N. Z. Shakhor was not suitable. Therefore they intended to appoint another rabbi, and a conflict erupted at election time; finally in 1898 Dr. Shemaryahu Levin, a known Zionist and a talented speaker, was elected.
The general Russian census that took place in 1897, gives us a clear picture of the demographic and economic situation of the Ekaterinoslav Jews. There were 40,971 Jews in town, 20,864 men and 20,107 women 37% of the general population. In the course of 20 years the community has grown rapidly and has become, considering the number of souls, one of the largest in Russia. Of this number, 12,114 men and 3,046 women were independent providers (with 24,819 dependents): 4,531 were merchants, including 432 women, 2,969 worked in the clothing industry, helped by 4,415 dependents, 1,714 were in private service and helpers in shops, including 1091 women, 657 were occupied in woodwork and 771 in metal works. We find here a creative group, occupied not only in commerce but also in craftsmanship and light industry. A considerable number of people were involved in the dress industry, wood and metal. There were also the liberal professions: doctors, lawyers, accountants, pharmacists, employees in banks and commercial associations. Some of the Jewish companies employed nonJewish workers, with a considerable turnover and production. Jews owned many of the shops, as well as houses in the central parts of the town. They also founded commercial companies with the aim to bypass the government rules that restricted their activity in the mining industry.
The development of the Jewish crafts and commerce caused a problem of credit, and this was solved by founding a credit fund for craftsmen and small business men; its founder and manager until the day he died was the engineer Moshe Bruk. In time, this institution grew and helped its members by providing the necessary credit and saving them from exaggerated interest.
At the end of the 19th century, 12 registered synagogues were active in Ekaterinoslav, 3 Talmud Torah schools with 500 pupils, and several Chadarim with 885 pupils. In addition to that there was a Yeshiva and 16 private schools for boys and for girls.
During the first years of the 20th century, under the rule of Nicolai II the attitude of the local authorities toward the Jews did not change much; it depended mainly on the personality of the district governor. If he was an honest man, not under the influence of the antiSemites, it was possible to advance the community matters and develop its institutions. But if he was an antiSemite, it was difficult to care for the many needs of the community. Luckily for the Ekaterinoslav Jews, several liberal governors were in office during that time, and it was possible to develop the existing institutions and establish additional ones. However, the antiSemitic incitement among the Christian public did not stop, and was expressed in 1904 by the attack of hooligans on the Ekaterinoslav Jews, which was suppressed by the police.
|The house in Ekaterinoslav where Ussishkin lived|
The general revival before the Japan war was felt also among the Ekaterinoslav Jews, who participated in the political movements. In 1903, one of the first Hovevei Zion organizations was founded. It was strong and specially oriented, helped by the activity of Yitzhak Shimshelewitz (in the future BenZvi, the second president of the State of Israel), who resided in town at the time and was one of the founders of its selfdefense. After the split in the party, the second in importance was the Jewish Workers' Socialist Party. The Jews participated in the activity of the socialist parties in town, whose members were mainly laborers, among them organizers, speakers, and printers of announcements and proclamations. Outstanding among them was David Braginski, born in Kremnotcheg who, in 19011903 was very active as the representative of the SocialDemocrats, and organized strikes and other activities against the rulers, until he was arrested.
In the Jewish street, in opposition to the process of assimilation, the power of the Zionist movement increased, under the leadership of M. Ussishkin. The movement recruited new members and sympathizers, collected donations, printed propaganda booklets and managed in 1900 to organize a regional assembly of the representatives of the Zionist associations in Ekaterinoslav and surroundings. The right hand of M. Ussishkin was M. Bruk (his brotherinlaw); after Ussishkin relocated to Odessa, he directed the Zionist activity.
The public activity, guided by the national circles together with the appointed Rabbi Dr. S. Levin (who was elected for another term), expanded. In 1901 they organized in Ekaterinoslav the first congress of the Jewish teachers in Russia; a new building was built for the Jewish hospital, of 100 beds; a vocational section was added to the Talmud Torah school; a placement bureau was opened by the Society for the Aid of the Poor; an orphanage was opened and the soup kitchen for the poor was enlarged. In general, much attention was given to helping the poor and
improving the educational institutions of the community. Natural increase added yearly more than one thousand souls, in addition to many who came from other locations; many of those were forced by the living conditions to ask the community for help. The income of the community was mainly from the meat tax 137,000 Rubles yearly, starting from 1901, instead of 87,000 Rubles before that. Many donations were received from the Jews in town.
Although the Ekaterinoslav Jews were only 40% of the general population in town, their mark on the economic life was considerable, due to their energetic economic activity (centered around the main street of the town, the Prospect), the influence of the Jews from the neighboring localities and the connection with various institutions and commercial companies. As a result, the town seemed full of Jews. The contact with the nonJewish population was mainly in the area of economics, and part of the Jewish intelligentsia, merchants and industrialists would meet with their Christian colleagues at the various common Societies, institutions, charity events and other public gatherings. The Jewish influence in the local press merits mentioning as well; many of the reporters, editors and writers were Jewish and readers even more. The press discussed the Jewish problem in general and showed interest in the affairs of the Community and its institutions.
The war with Japan did not affect the Ekaterinoslav Jews specifically, except for the young men recruited to the army and sent to the front. The general revival in the country in 1905, after the defeat in this war, included the Ekaterinoslav community. The Jews sent a telegram to the chairman of the Ministers' Council, asking to grant the Russian Jews the same rights as the rest of the population. The Jews in the Municipal Council resigned, as did the Jewish members in other municipalities. The agitation among the public increased everybody expected changes to occur; the Jewish young people, together with the others, demonstrated this quite openly. They began discussions on the subject of selfdefense, collected money and acquired arms.
Soon, however, disappointment came. On 20 July 1905, following wild incitement, rioters attacked and the Jews defended themselves. There were some wounded, but the authorities intervened immediately and the riots were stopped. This, however, did not happen after the declaration known as the Manifesto on 17 October (by the Julian calendar) 1905. This time the riots were organized; they started on 21 October 1905. Following the patriotic parade through the central streets of the town, the rioters attacked Jewish homes and shops, robbed and destroyed, and murdered Jews. The defense forces, including members of various parties, as The Jewish socialist labor party, Poalei Zion The Bund and many private individuals, were moreorless ready. They organized groups armed with light arms (revolvers), who immediately began chasing the rioters from the streets. Later, however, as the army intervened and began to shoot at the members of the defense groups, they had to stop their activity, giving the rioters a free hand to continue destroying and killing, on 22 and 23 October. Only when the army received a clear order to stop the riots, the pogrom was stopped. Over 100 Jews were killed (the exact number is not known), over 200 were wounded. Over 300 shops were robbed, a large number of houses and apartments were destroyed, some of them burned down entirely. The censor did not allow publication of the pogrom in the press, except for a short notice therefore many details are missing.
The damage was great. The poor suffered in particular, since they remained without any means of sustenance. Few of the Christians helped the Jews; however we should mention a group of young factory workers who defended the Jews living in their neighborhood and blocked the rioters. A committee was formed, to aid the victims and donations were received from Russia and abroad, as well as from Ekaterinoslav people. A total of 297,500 Rubles was collected, including 52,000 from Ekaterinoslav. Out of fear, many of the Ekaterinoslav Jews left town, some immigrated to America, some made Aliya to Eretz Israel. The rioters were tried and found guilty, but were pardoned by Nicolai II…
In spite of the difficult blow, recovery took little time. The Jews invested a great deal of energy in the project of recovering their economic life. This did not happen, however, in the area of the relationship with the representatives of the authorities. AntiSemitism was felt in the attitude toward Jews, in the various municipal and other public institutions.
|List of representatives to the election of the Founding Assembly, Ekaterinoslav District
The Ekaterinoslav election committee
Of the Jewish National Election Committee:
1. Moshe ben Shmuel Bruk, engineer, Ekaterinoslav, Alexandrovski H. No.25.
2. Alexander ben Moshe Goldstein, member of the Zionist Central Committee in Russia,
Petrograd, Kamenastravski P. N0. 9 H. No. 47.
3. David ben Yitzhak Smorgoner, Prisiazhni Pavereni, Ekaterinoslav Kazatcha No. 12.
4. Eliezer ben Meir Kaplan, Engineer Technologist, Petrograd, Zanarodni Prospect 1/3.
Chairman of C.K. of Tze'irei Zion
The Black Century groups The TwoHeaded Eagle Двуглавый Орёл, who were supported by the regime, attacked Jews in the streets and in various public places, beating, wounding and robbing. Complaints to the authorities did not help; the mayor himself was a known Jewhater and supported the gangs. The conflict with the authorities and the fight for equal rights in Ekaterinoslav continued until the breakout of WWII. The authorities interfered in the activity of many community institutions, limited the registration of Jewish students in highschools etc. Since Jews filled important functions in the economic life of the town, no wonder that often representatives of the economic circles demanded from the authorities to stop the persecutions.
One of the important questions facing at the time the Jewish population in Russia, naturally including Ekaterinoslav, was the participation in the elections to the Russian Parliament the Duma Государственная Дума. In spite of the leftist propaganda asking not to participate in the elections and in spite of the demand of the authorities not to join the activity of the left, it was decided to participate in the elections, in order to ensure the election of liberal delegates, and perhaps succeed in sending a Jewish delegate to the Duma. Indeed, a Jewish delegate from the Ekaterinoslav District was elected to the first Duma, Mr. M. Sheftel from Petersburg. A Jewish delegate from the Ekaterinoslav District was elected to the second Duma as well, but there was no connection between his election and his being Jewish.
In the course of those years, the local Zionist Movement developed, headed by Mr. M. Bruk, after M. Ussishkin left Ekaterinoslav in 1906. Bruk was helped, in addition to the former Zionist activists by S. Braslavski, A. Berezovski, Dr. I. Dolzanski, I. Motzkin, who were later joined by T. Vidrin, Z. Wlodarski and others. The appointed rabbi, elected to this post in 1904, was active as well, after Dr. S. Levin relocated to Vilna. He helped the community, especially from the national aspect, and developed the Jewish institutions. Much of his attention was given to the young people to teach them Judaism, and he founded a special association for the distribution of the Hebrew culture among the Jewish youth and the association Agudat Sefat Ever was established as well. In Ekaterinoslav they organized the Tzeirei Zion movement, one of the first and strongest in Russia, and its representative, Daniel Wechsler, participated in the first Tzeirei Zion congress in Lodz in 1912. The Zionists organized lectures and banquets, distributed Zionist literature and collected money for JNF, for other Zionist causes and for the party.
After the years of elation, part of the Jewish public, as other circles in the country, became indifferent to the Jewish cause and distanced themselves from Jewish values. The important matter was the individual and his needs; as a result the number of conversions among the youth increased again, especially in view of the new, more severe limitations and restrictions concerning the acceptance of Jews to the universities. The Jewish leaders fervently opposed this tendency, and published in the press an open letter to the youth, signed by 80 highschool graduates, expressing
their great indignation and opposition to those who leave their nation in order to enter the university.
In these conditions of persecution and conflict with the authorities, the community continued to develop its institutions. New ones were added, thanks to the contributions of the Jews in town, who donated money and property. Women's organizations cared for the societies of aid for the poor, the children, the sick and the orphans. The JCA delegation helped those who wanted to emigrate. Outstanding in this work were: Dr. Bolokhovski, Dr. Goldberg, Silberberg, L. Rotenberg, D. Smorgoner, A. Shapira and others. The community affairs were taken care of by a council of representatives of the important synagogues in town, which met from time to time and was recognized by the authorities. In 1908 Rav Pinchas Gellman was elected as the rabbi of the community and was soon accepted and beloved by the members of the community. He expanded the Little Yeshiva that functioned in town; the Yeshiva moved to a new building and went through a series of changes, and Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Shneurson was elected by the Hasidim. There were several other rabbis in the suburbs and also dayanim [judges in the religious court].
During this period of persecutions by the authorities and fights for the basic civil rights of the Jewish people, the First World War broke out. The Russian population, including the Jews, took side with the government; the Ekaterinoslav Jewish community organized a special collection for the needs of the war, and presented the money to the Czar when he visited in town. In addition, many private donations were collected for institutions and organizations connected with the war. Life in Ekaterinoslav generally continued its regular course. Jewish soldiers were recruited and sent to the front; some of them fell in battle, some were wounded, some received medals. Many Jewish refugees arrived in town whether because they left their own places when the fighting got close, whether for fear of the Russian army. Others were evacuated from their places by the army for security reasons. Several important personalities were among the refugees, as Rabbi Ch. E. Grodzinski from Vilna, and several educational institutions were transferred to Ekaterinoslav, as the Jewish HighSchool directed by P. Cohen from Vilna and others. The economic situation of most residents improved due to the orders from the army and many of the providers and entrepreneurs made a great deal of money.
But the attitude toward the Jewish population changed rapidly, due to the persecutions in the places occupied by the Russian army and the many accusations and libel spread by the antiSemitic circles. In June 1915, the evacuees from the Kovno and Kurland districts began arriving to Ekaterinoslav and the community did everything to help. The young people, in particular, devoted strength and energy to organize the refugees. The local aid committee, headed by Mr. Silberberg and Mr. Rotenberg, collected large sums of money. Money was received also from the central committee for the aid of the Petrograd refugees. The refugees received apartments and medical care and managed to find work, the children were accepted in the local schools or new schools were opened for them, etc. It was also necessary to care for the socalled guarantors (community leaders in Galicia, who were arrested and sent to Russia, where they were demanded to guarantee for the good behavior of the members of their community, who were kept in Ekaterinoslav under the supervision of the authorities). The exact number of Jewish refugees in Ekaterinoslav is not known, because it changed constantly, but in 1915, 5,700 souls were registered at the committee for receiving help. It is probable that their number was really higher, since many had arrived on their own and did not ask for help.
In general, due to the economic situation and the lack of laborers, the refugees found work quite soon after their arrival. The craftsmen among them opened shops and the professionals worked, with much success, in their professions. The Yiddish language, with the Lithuanian accent and without many Russian words, was heard again in the streets of Ekaterinoslav. The number of people in the synagogues grew, Yiddish songs were heard and the Ekaterinoslav young people met and were impressed by this Jewish public.
With the refugees came various leaders and activists who had an extended Hebrew education, as the teachers of Cohen's highschool and Hebrew and Yiddish writers, who soon began to take part in the local community work. The party leaders, the Bund, Poalei Zion and others increased the power of their parties; this was strongly felt during the 1917 revolution. Among the refugees who came to Ekaterinoslav it is worth mentioning Dr. Yosef Hazanowitz, the founder of the National Library, who continued his activity of collecting books and helping the sick and died in The Home for the Aged, and the wellknown Yiddish writer Ch. Tzemerinski (R'Mordche'le), who died there in 1917.
|Announcement of the Block of Jewish National Parties before the elections to the Municipal Council in Ekaterinoslav in 1917 (Russian and Yiddish)
Блок Еврейских нациоральных партий
Сионистская организация Еврейский Национальнодемократический Союз
Achdut Am Israel
The Zionist organization of the Jewish National Democratic Party
The Jewish National Block
In the course of the war, due to the increased orders from the army and the general economic development of the region, the Ekaterinoslav Jews reached important economic positions in town and a considerable part of commerce and industry was in their hands. A report from 1915 shows that the Jews owned 84 factories, among them sawmills, flour mills, iron industry, bricks manufactory etc. The number of workers was 3,700 laborers and clerks; the Jews among them 645 workers and 250 clerks. The Jews owned many large stores as well.
The community work continued energetically. Various cultural activities took place, as Hovevei Sfat Ever, lectures, concerts of Jewish music etc. The political parties worked clandestinely in spite of the prohibitions and acquired new members. The Zionists expanded their cultural activity lectures, book distribution and money collection. In collaboration with the Society for Jewish education schools for the refugee children were opened and evening lessons for adults and youth were organized. With the Society for the preservation of health ОПЕ they gave medical help, organized daycare centers for children and other necessary medical support. Children enrolled in Cohen's highschool, as well as in Rabbi Gellman's Yeshiva.
The Ekaterinoslav Jews received the February 1917 revolution with joy and sympathy, as did all the Russian Jews, hoping and believing that it will mark the end of persecutions and begin a time of freedom, and it will be possible to develop Jewish life in town and in the country. All parties began appearing freely in public, with assemblies, congresses, lectures, books and recruiting new members: The General Zionists and Tzeirei Zion, the Bund, Poalei Zion, the Jewish Socialist Worker's Party (Seim), the Popular Party Volkspartei and after some time the religiousnational party Achdut [Unity]. The nonJewish parties the SocialDemocrats and the SocialRevolutionaries and some of the Kadets made efforts to recruit Jewish members and sympathizers. Of all these parties, the most active immediately gaining the support of the Jewish population were the Zionists and with them the Tze'irei Zion headed by Israel Idelson (the future I. BenYehuda, an Israeli minister) and with him I. Ritov, B. Idelson and others. They opened clubs, organized Hevrew lessons and published a magazine in Russian:
Известия Екатиринославского Районного Сионистского Комитета Еврейский Путь
(The way of the Jews The District Zionist Committee in Ekaterinoslav).
They also published several propaganda booklets in Hebrew, Russian and Yiddish.
The studying youth was organized in Hatekhiya, the students
in Hekhaver. In April, the District Committee was assembled, its members being the representatives of the local committees of the Ekaterinoslav and Tabrina districts. The Bund was very active as well, in particular among the Jewish workers and the refugees; one of its leaders was Fischman. The Bund published a journal in Russian Наше Слово [We have spoken] and in Yiddish Der Internatzional. Poalei Zion was also active, headed by Zalman Ostrovski. The Jewish Socialists Worker's Party published in Yiddish Der Kempfer [the fighter]. The publicity was conducted mostly in Russian; the leftist parties used Yiddish as well, especially among the refugees, who participated in the party activity.
Many Jews participated in the establishment and management of the new institutions and some of them were elected to the municipal executive committee. Jewish employees occupied important and responsible positions in the various government institutions; this increased the selfconsciousness of the Ekaterinoslav Jews, who began to feel free and of equal civil rights; the spring and summer of that year, 1917, seemed most beautiful in the life of the Ekaterinoslav Community!
The community was still managed by its former leaders. The financial situation of its many institutions was difficult; the income from the meattax decreased, because its sale decreased due to the war and high prices. Due to inflation the number of donation decreased as well, although the need to ask help from the community remained the same. In general, the importance and status of the community diminished, and in public appearances the power of the parties' spokesmen became much greater.
|Photocopy of an elector's card to the community council in Ekaterinoslav, 1918.
The card was issued to Yakov Goldbart, Gogolevska St. 2, apt. 9
In that year, the community established a new institution, the Private Polytechnic, which opened its schoolyear at the end of January 1917. The idea to open such an institution came from Jewish leaders in Petrograd, who wanted to help young Jewish highschool graduates, who could not enroll in the learning institutions due to the limitations and restrictions. The graduates of this Polytechnic would be granted the title Engineer, after they passed the government exams. Ekaterinoslav was chosen for this project because it was an important industrial and Jewish center, and it was the location of a government Polytechnic which gave it the possibility to get help from its professors and use its laboratories.
The elections to the various new institutions municipal council. Parliament, community were an important matter on the agenda of the Jewish public; this caused dispute and conflict between the parties, especially between the Zionists and the leftist parties, which accused the Zionists of being the representatives of the bourgeoisie and in opposition to the laborers and the democratic Russia.
The desire of the Zionists and the Tze'irei Zion movement was to create a national list for the elections of the town and country institutions and elect Jewish delegates. This idea was not accepted by the leftist parties, which in most cases joined the general leftist parties. Of the 97 members elected to the municipal council, 19 were Jews, 9 of them from the Zionists and Tze'irei Zion and the rest from other parties. A list of Jewish candidates representing the District, headed by M. Bruk was presented to the Parliament elections; none of the persons on the list was elected. At the elections to the Community Committee, held on 17 February 1918, the Zionist list had success; Moshe Bruk was elected as the president of the community and P. Cohen, principal of the highschool and representative of the Volkspartei was elected as the head of the executive committee.
The relationship with the general population was tolerable, and antiSemitic occurrences were few. Ekaterinoslav was a city of laborers, classconscious, far from reactional influence. During the autumn months, due to the instability of the regime, the situation deteriorated, and the Ukrainian movement, which contained many antiSemitic elements, began to take shape in town. Since the tradition of selfdefense was strong among the Jews of Ekaterinoslav, various defense groups were organized by the Association of the Jewish Soldier, the United Jewish Socialist Party, and also small groups of the
Bund and Poalei Zion. These defense groups, some of them having their commanding offices in special buildings given by the authorities, were however disarmed in March 1918, because they were not accepted by the Soviet Regime, and because the anarchist groups (which included many Jews) demanded it.
A considerable and important change occurred in the social structure of the Jewish community in Ekaterinoslav. The former leaders the welltodo, the liberal professionals etc. were replaced by the party leaders, whose representatives were elected to the management of the various institutions. There was a sharp conflict between the Zionists and the leftist parties; the Zionists were accused of being the representatives of the bourgeoisie, supporters of the imperialism etc. In general, the great majority of the Jewish public sympathized with the Zionists and supported them.
After the Bolshevik revolution at the end of 1917, the transfer to the rule of the Workers Councils and the army passed quietly in Ekaterinoslav. Following a short period of wellbeing in 1917, life became difficult in particular for the poor people. The range of commercial relations and common craftsmanship work was reduced, economic life in general slowed down and the livelihood of many families was cut off. It was difficult to get provisions, especially food. At the same time the town suffered from a typhoid epidemic and the regular aid organs were short in money and unable to help. Considering the situation, the community was not disassembled by the authorities; on the contrary, it was allowed to collect money from the rich families in town in order to reinforce its institutions, and the community indeed did so.
In the spring of 1918, the Soviet regime was ended by the German army, which invaded the Ukraine, and the Ukrainian regime began. First was the rule of the respublika the Rada then of the Hetman Skoropadaski. The town itself was occupied by the Austrian army easier than with the German army. During that short period, summer and fall 1918, the economic situation improved, commercial, industrial and craftsmanship activity was renewed, there was enough food and a calm atmosphere reigned, since the army would not allow robbing and hooligan attacks. The community institutions renewed their work and so did the political parties, except for the leftist parties; the Zionists collected money, distributed literature and published one issue of Volkswort. The Ekaterinoslav Jews participated in the elections to the Ukrainian Jews conference which took place in Kiev.
Still, in spite of the fact that daily life was normal and it was possible to travel from place to place, people did not feel entirely secure. The army performed from time to time inspections and checkups, and even arrests; worry and anxiety expecting the coming days was great, in particular after the allies' victory on the Western Front and the revolution in Germany, as it was assumed that the Austrian army would leave town.
And the question arose again: what is going to happen? Will there be pogroms? The Ukrainian influence increased, and the communist party also gained power, with the support of the workers. The selfdefense consciousness in Ekaterinoslav being strong, defense groups were established when the foreign army began to leave: one by the United Jewish Socialist Party (after the 1905 tradition) and the other by the community committee. Both groups were strong, unified and armed, and headed by experienced leaders. In time, other groups formed and helped, by Poalei Zion, the Bund, Tzeirei Zion , Mensheviks and students. A security committee coordinated the activity of all these groups and the municipality provided the budget. Patrols were seen in town, securing the various institutions; it gave the residents a feeling of security.
After the Germans left, Petliura came to power, but he ruled only for a short time. The Ukrainians' behavior toward the Jews was fair, maybe because their local commanders were not antiSemitic. Fear increased when the anarchist Machno was several days in town, burned the market place, robbed stores and homes and left a few victims. These were days of distress and lack of food, commerce was slow, prices and inflation rose.
At the beginning of 1919, the Soviet army entered Ekaterinoslav, and a new period began for the Jewish community there. The activity of all parties and organizations was suspended. The institutions were managed by the local rulers the executive committees of the workers and soldiers. Residents especially Jews were asked to contribute considerable sums to the municipal council. Many Jews who could not pay were arrested, although not the leaders, since they found hiding places. It was difficult to obtain food and the black market flourished, but the authorities managed to catch some of them and punish them. Fear was in the air, in particular after the news about the activity of the white Army in the Caucasus and the attacks on the Jews in the Western Ukraine towns and villages. Panic struck the Ekaterinoslav Jews when they heard the Gregoriev's gangs were approaching the town, but the Soviet army chased him away.
In the spring of 1919, the Whites, under General Denikin's leadership, advanced through Southern Russia and occupied many towns. Many of Ekaterinoslav's Jews expected that this army would free them from the Soviet rule, which became more and more of a burden Denikin's soldiers had not yet begun their own pogroms. In the beginning of June 1919 the Soviets left Ekaterinoslav following the pressure of Denikin's army, which occupied the town.
As soon as Denikin's army reached town, while the soldiers were still marching festively on the main street, the Cossacks began robbing the shops. Soon they went to the Jewish homes, especially by night, taking all they could. They killed seldom, but rapes were common. In general, it was quiet during the day, it was possible to walk through the streets, the shops that have not been robbed were open but the nights were horrible. The only weapons against the rioters were the loud shouts calling for help. Sometimes the shouts would drive the robbers away from the house, but help would come very seldom the demands for help from the commander of the town remained without answer. This situation lasted several weeks, and only after the robbing spread through the parts of the town where many Christians lived and several officers were bribed, the Cossacks were taken out of the town.
The few months of Denikin's rule were difficult times for the Ekaterinoslav Jews. The robbing and killing in town and in the neighborhood (the Cossacks would take Jews out of the trains and kill them), the fear of the day of tomorrow all this weakened the public and economic life of the Ekaterinoslav Jews. The attraction of communism was strong, on the hope that under its rule they would be left alone and their lives would be safe. This feeling was especially strong among the leftist parties and some of the Tze'irei Zion. The Zionists tried to become active again and the temporary center in Rostov tried to renew the activity in the region formerly occupied by Denikin, but the result was insignificant. Several families left town, some to Odessa, some to Rostov, on the way to the Caucasus and some to Crimea, hoping to get a chance to leave the country and go abroad.
During the rule of Denikin's white Army the town was occupied for several weeks by Machno. Although there was not a real pogrom, robbing and senseless murders were common. The residents of the town stayed in their homes, it was difficult to obtain food and fear was great. Soon after the town was liberated from Machno's gangs, Denikin's army left and in order to defend the Jewish settlement in town against various gangs in the neighborhood the Jewish defense groups organized again and acquired defense weapons. The communist workers armed themselves and assumed the duty of defending the town, until the Soviet army came, and so Ekaterinoslav finally came under the rule of the Ukrainian Soviet government.
The situation of the town was still challenging it did not yet recover from the robbing and rioting of Machno's people. The limitations and prohibitions of the new regime, in particular in the economic area, added to the difficulties,
and naturally the Jews were the ones who suffered most. The peasants from the villages did not bring the food products to town, because the authorities confiscated them for the use of the army. The large stores, the factories and many of the workshops were nationalized and public help was discontinued. Many people, especially from among the welltodo, remained without a livelihood.
The new offices that were opened by the authorities employed many people Jews filled important and responsible jobs in the municipal and regional offices; however, many were left without a job. One of the ways to obtain minimal food products was by barter: clothes and other objects in exchange for food. In spite of the danger of such procedure the authorities forbade it and punished heavily this type of commerce was common, and Jews have taken a considerable part in it.
A great change occurred in the economic structure of the Jewish population. Most of the rich people lost their wealth. Many left the town, whether from fear of arrest or in order to find employment in other places. Liberal professionals doctors, engineers, lawyers lost their importance and honor and were replaced by members of the communist party or of the unions.
Jewish public life stopped almost entirely. The community institutions schools, hospitals etc. were managed by the municipality; only synagogues and cemeteries remained under the former management, and the few community workers who were still in town were in charge of them.
In 1921, many residents began to leave Ekaterinoslav. The first were the refugees, who were allowed to return to their former homes: Lithuania, Poland or Belarus villages; many of the formerly wealthy people and public activists left as well. On the other hand, residents of the neighboring villages came to live in town, out of fear of the gangs and loss of livelihood sources. A small number of families emigrated and went to America or to Eretz Israel. In 1920 the number of Jews in Ekaterinoslav was 72,230, out of the general population of 167,200.
Of the Jewish parties, the Bund was still active somewhat, before it merged with the communist party, as well as Po'alei Zion Left, who in 1920 still published their journal Der Gedank [The Thought]. The communist influence in the Jewish Street was very strong, especially among the young people. They joined the party, partly out of idealism and partly out of anger at the acts of the Ukrainians and the Denikin army against the Jews.
In spite of the watching eye of the Evsektzia [the Jewish section], the Zionists especially Tze'irei Zion and the youth movements continued their work, albeit on a much smaller scale: lectures and Hebrew lessons were given and booklets and newsletters were obtained from Kharkov and Kiev, the two centers with which there was still constant contact. Ekaterinoslav delegates participated in secret meetings, where news about Eretz Israel was discussed. An important topic of these meetings was the influence of communism on the youth and several actions were taken against it trips, various sports etc. Local guides, as well as guides who came from other places volunteered for this work, which continued almost to the end of the Twenties.
Although in 1920 some arrests were made, the massarrests from Tze'irei Zion, Hano'ar Hatzioni, Hashomer Hatza'ir, Maccabi came in 1924 and the following years. The verdicts were mostly exile to Siberia or other faraway places, or arrest in special political prisons. Some were lucky and their verdict was changed to a permit to make Aliya. The suffering of the arrestees was great some died in prison, some came out ill and weak.
As in other places, the Evsektzia opened Yiddish schools for the Jewish pupils. Newspapers in Yiddish were published (The Communist World, The Communist), as well as some books, especially schoolbooks. In 1922, the year of hunger, a onetime newsletter was published, Zu Hilf [to help]. In general, the Russian language ruled in the Jewish street and home, and only part of the old generation used Yiddish.
It is worth mentioning, that by learning Yiddish in school, the use of the language was preserved among part of the young generation.
Due to common work, common interests and party activity, the Jewish and nonJewish youth became close and the number of mixed marriages increased. Traditional customs and laws were observed only among the old people. Yet there was Kosher slaughtering, Matzot were baked for Passover, and Mishna and Talmud lessons were given in the synagogues the authorities did not forbid that.
The New Policy, announced in 1921, which permitted commerce and workshops, enabled many to reestablish their economic situation and earn a living, in some cases even get rich again. Many Jews opened their shops again, craftsmen enlarged their workshops and some former industrialists rented from the government factories and produced food and household objects. But before the entire public could recover, the great hunger of 19211922 came, in the entire Southern Russia and the Volga region.
It was a very difficult time. In the villages there was no food, and the government was not able to provide the people's necessities. Bread became very expensive, and the lower classes were not able to buy it. With the hunger came epidemics typhoid fever and cholera which left many dead. According to the report of The London Committee of the Ukrainian Jews in 1921 2,025 Jews died and in 1922 3,677, which meant 30 pro mil. This committee, through its representative Dr. B. Hanis was in close contact with the local committee, which, aided by several subcommittees, gave help to the needy. A soup kitchen was opened, food packages were provided and a loan fund was created. These actions saved many people. Some people received food packages from relatives abroad all this helped overcome the hunger.
The JOINT organization helped as well. After obtaining the necessary permit, it allocated large sums for repairing the hospital and renewing its equipment, and a new clinic was opened. Several children's homes were opened as well under the management of the local JOINT, but they were soon transferred to the management of the authorities. Hunger and epidemics caused many people those who could to leave town; many died, and the 1923 census showed in Ekaterinoslav 50,240 Jews, out of a population of 167,000.
Due to the changes in the economic structure of the Ekaterinoslav Jewish society under Soviet rule and growing unemployment, the Evsektzia and cooperation leaders decided to establish Jewish cooperatives in various areas of work Collectivs of tailors, hatters and others. Although the beginnings were modest, these cooperatives developed well; they obtained their budgets from Ort, JCA and the government. The tailors' cooperative, for example, grew from 10 to 70 members and in 1924 it had a considerable number of employees. Jewish workers were hired by the various large factories and became permanent workers there.
In the twenties, there were no severe persecutions against the Jews; but valuable objects in the synagogues (and in the churches) were confiscated officially in order to help those suffering from hunger. The Big Synagogue was taken from the Jewish community and used as a Workmen's Club; again, this was the fate of several churches as well (many of the Ekaterinoslav Jews signed a petition to cancel this decree). AntiSemitism was deeply rooted among the Ukrainians; there was also envy of the Jewish employee, who was usually lucky and received packages from his relatives abroad. The regime fought all that.
Lodging conditions were not bad; ownership of small houses 2 or 3 apartments to rent was permitted. The number of liberal professionals among Jews grew: doctors, engineers, attorneys, teachers; most of them were under the influence of communism and distanced themselves from Judaism. On the other hand, much attention was given to the development of the Yiddish culture: The Yiddish Theater visited often, there were concerts of Jewish music and lectures of various Jewish writers. News from abroad was rare, mostly from contact with family relatives and friends.
In the twenties and thirties, some tourists visited Ekaterinoslav, mostly from the USA, and brought news from there, often untrue.
The government census of 1926 gives us a clear picture of the many changes in the social and economic structure of the Ekaterinoslav Jews. Of a general population of 233,000 souls, 62,100 (27%), were Jews, as follows: laborers in factories and small industry 6,397; clerks 8,477; liberal professions 425; commerce 2,194; craftsmanship 3,469; without a profession 2,146; unemployed 4,819. There was mass transfer from occupation to occupation, therefore the number of unemployed and those without a profession was large.
During the late twenties, with the termination of the New Policy, the Jews were again the main victims. The high taxes and the fines and arrests due to failing to pay them hit a large part of the Jewish population and the number of unemployed rose again. A new concept appeared people without rights. On the other hand, with the introduction of the fiveyear program new jobs became available and many obtained work in the newly built factories. Following propaganda, many Jews relocated to Birobidjan; one of the groups settled in the Waldheim kolkhoz.
Traditional Judaism weakened. Synagogues were confiscated, or closed by the authorities, some following the demand of the professional unions or another Jewish group. Finally very few remained in the community, led by Rabbi L. I. Shneurson, and they took care of the cemetery, kosher slaughtering, matzot for Passover, circumcising the children etc. Rabbi Shneurson worked hard to preserve some of the Jewish tradition finally in 1940 he was exiled to Alma Alta in Kazakhstan and died there in 1944.
No other public activity existed. Due to the restrictions and many arrests, all Zionist activity ended. Of the former leaders, some simply stopped their activity, some left own, some died, some were arrested and exiled. Assimilation was strong and mixed marriages prevailed.
During the thirties, the economic situation of the Ekaterinoslav Jews improved. Almost all worked; some earned a very good living. The town grew and developed fast, and many people, including Jews, came to live there and found work in the factories and offices and, according to an estimate, in 1939 the number of Jews rose to 100,000.
In order to increase the amount of foreign currency and obtain the gold kept by the population, the Soviet government established the special Torgsin stores, where it was possible to obtain, in exchange for foreign currency or gold, many products not to be found in the regular stores. The authorities exploited this situation, and as soon as someone paid with foreign currency or gold, as advertised, they would hunt him and under threat of arrest would blackmail him and extort all the gold he had. Many Jews, who really did not have gold, were arrested and exiled.
At the beginning of the war against the Germans, Ekaterinoslav was far from the front. No detailed news could be obtained, in particular not about the attitude of the Germans toward the Jews in the occupied areas. As the front came nearer, the authorities began to prepare evacuation, and at the same time news arrived about the murders in the occupied areas. The government institutions began to leave town the large factories, the party institutions and many workers with their families. The evacuation took place in panic and disorder and it was accelerated by the attack of the German air force in June 1941. The evacuation was to the East the factories mostly to central Asia and Ural and the families to the Caucasus. Many Jews, who were connected with the factories and institutions, as well as the families of the soldiers left town with them. But some, remembering the German occupation in 1918, decided to stay and not leave their homes. However, as evacuation time approached, the panic grew and so did the number of those wanting to leave. Since it was very difficult to get on a train, many left on carts and horses, but the Germans caught them. Some managed to return to town, others fell into the hands of the Ukrainians and were murdered.
After Ekaterinoslav was bombed several times, it was occupied by the Germans on 25 August 1941. As soon as this happened, the antiSemitic attitude, especially of the Ukrainians, became open. Jews were
attacked, especially in the parts of town far from the center. People informed on their Jewish neighbors, whether in order to get even or in order to rob the property. The Germans joined in the attacks and rapes. Soon the German authorities ordered the Jews to wear on the sleeve the yellow star of David. On 8 October a new order was issued, that the Jews must transfer to the German command 30 million Mark, a fine for having robbed the property of the Ekaterinoslav residents. In order to collect such a large sum, it was necessary to open a special office. The office was opened on Kharkovskaya Street 3, and was headed by Att. Garnburg. The money was paid through a bank order. The first payment was on 10 October; but only part of the residents managed to transfer the money.
On Hol Hamo'ed Sukkot the Jews were ordered to gather on 13 October in the Univermag department store, on the Prospect in the name of Karl Marx, in order to be transferred to a safe place, for their own protection. They were ordered to take with them valuables and food. Many believed and went. As they arrived, however, the things they brought were taken from them and they were led by the brutal Ukrainians, who beat them and wounded them, to the SouthWest of town, to a ravine behind the School of Transport and shot by machinegun. This Aktzia continued the next day as well, and in order to muffle the sound of shots and the bitter cries, an orchestra played all the time. Very few were able to save themselves from the pit, where they fell when being shot. Some escaped to the villages, only to be caught by the Germans. We don't have exact numbers of the Jews that were murdered in those two days, the local residents give an estimate of 18,00 20,000 victims. To those murdered in this Aktzia, we must add those who were caught by the Germans in the Caucasus, where they were evacuated, and those who died of hunger and epidemics in Central Asia and Ural. We will probably never know the number of members of the Ekaterinoslav community who fell d in the course of the Second World War!
It is probable that even after the Aktzia a few people survived in town several doctors, women and children. Some were saved by hiding in the villages, although not many residents were ready to help them hide (it is true that this was very dangerous to those who provided hiding places). Some did it for money, some out of human feelings and so several of the Ekaterinoslav Jews, mostly women and children, were saved.
On 25 October 1943 Ekaterinoslav was liberated from the Germans. The town was partly ruined, but people were beginning to return. The Jews were not welcomed back, except for high government employees, doctors and engineers. In many cases the returnees were met with open hatred by the population. They spoke about the Jews who were not slaughtered yet Недорезанные Евреи and there were cases where they were attacked, especially when they began to demand back their robbed homes and property. It was also not easy to obtain the former positions, and the authorities were not ready to hire Jews in prominent positions. AntiSemitism was strong, since the German propaganda added to the antiJewish feelings that had existed before.
The first year after liberation was a difficult year. Rumors were spread, that the general population plans attacks against the returning Jews, but the authorities intervened and order was maintained. In spite of the difficulties and the open hatred, the Jews returned and their number increased; many villagers moved to the city, where it was easier to find work. Ekaterinoslav developed fast during those years.
Slowly, Jewish life continued and adapted to the new conditions. In the only synagogue that the authorities gave to the community, on Иорданская street, prayers were held regularly, and on holidays, in particular Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur, it was full of people. In 1946, Rav I. S. Levin was elected rabbi of Ekaterinoslav and he served until 1953, when he relocated to Moscow.
The horrors of the war and the losses of the Russian Jewry caused an increase in national feelings among the Jewish youth. At the concerts of Jewish music the halls were full and the interest in national values increased. Several community leaders helped the rabbi in fulfilling the religious needs, as taking care of the cemetery, kosher slaughtering, baking matzot for Passover, etc. A permit was received from the authorities to build a fence around the place where the Jews were murdered and erect a modest memorial stone, saying (in Russian): Here fell in 1941, murdered by the Germans, Russian citizens, without mentioning that they were Jews… Every year on Tish'a BeAv [the 9th day in the month of Av, the memorial day of the destruction of the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem], Ekaterinoslav Jews gathered to memorial prayers. In 1958, the cemetery was taken by the authorities in order to enlarge the airport, and the Jews were allowed to transfer the remains of their relatives to the new cemetery, not far away. The remains of rabbi Pinchas Gellman were transferred by the community.
In 1952, the year of the doctors' libeltrials, life was very difficult. The nonJewish residents, in particular the Ukrainians spread various rumors, the hatred was great and the Jewish community lived in constant fear and distress. Most difficult was the situation of the Jewish doctors in the hospitals. People did not seek their help, spread rumors that the Jewish doctor intended to kill them etc. etc.
Today Ekaterinoslav is one of the largest cities in the Soviet Union. The 1959 census showed 661,000 residents, 52,800 of them Jewish. By the 1970 census, the number of residents rose to 863,000. The economic situation of the Ekaterinoslav Jews is good, they are clerks, doctors, engineers, attorneys, teachers and university professors. There are also craftsmen and a small number of laborers working in the factories in town. Assimilation increased greatly. The Russian language is used in the street and at home; very few, of the old generation, still use Yiddish.
But there is no public Jewish life in Ekaterinoslav. The few who still keep our tradition are taking care of the synagogue and provide the religious needs. There is a limited interest in the Yiddish language; some of the Yiddish writers are from Ekaterinoslav. The Ekaterinoslav Jews know not much about Israel and the happenings here and about life abroad in general. The news comes from various sources.
During the recent years, as time are changing, national feelings increased in town, in particular among the young people and the intelligentsia, who show interest in the fate of our people and the State of Israel. Another factor in this process is the traditional Ukrainian AntiSemitism, as well as the unofficial ban on Jews as managers or university graduates. We believe that this community, in the past so alive and active, will revive and contribute to the life of our nation.
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