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From the Editor…

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Since the end of World War II, Memorial Books dedicated to cities annihilated by the Nazi were published in Israel and in other countries. In 1953, this editor was approached by the Israeli representative of the “Encyclopaedia of the Diaspora” to edit a volume “Podolia” as a memorial to all the cities and towns of that region. For many reasons, the project was abandoned.

In 1965, In Israel, a committee of people originally from Kamenetz-Podolsk and surrounding towns published a memorial book in Hebrew dedicated to their home towns. When the book was received by Kamenetzer in New York, it became obvious that too few could read the book in Hebrew. The idea of issuing a memorial book “Kamenetz-Podolsk” in English was revived. The main reason was to give the children and grandchildren of the compatriots from Kamenetz-Podolsk a chance to learn how their ancestors lived before coming to America, a chance to read about the history of Jews in Kamenetz-Podolsk, before, during and after the Russian Revolution of 1917, about the life there under the Soviets and, finally, about the destruction of Kamenetz-Podolsk by the Nazi.

Originally, it was planned to issue a book of about 500 pages, well-illustrated in colour and in a deluxe edition. Unfortunately, the response to our appeal for funds was such that the editor himself had to do all of the writing and all of the work connected with the publishing of the book. The lack of funds made it necessary to revise the book to its present size.

I wish to single out a few people for special thanks in making this book possible. In the first place, thanks go to each subscriber

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and to the following larger contributors for memorial pages: M. Kaplun, Mrs. Sylvia Blatman, S. Drachler, M. Schleifman, A. Glassman and I. Wolfson.

Special thanks to my wife, Sylvia who was the first to encourage me in undertaking this work and was generous in letting me spend our few free evenings in preparing the book for publication.

Leon S. Blatman, Editor


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“Kamenetz-Podolsk”

By I. A. Bar-Levy (Weissman)

 

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I.A. Bar-Levy

 

An edited and free translation from the Hebrew by Leon S. Blatman

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It is the duty of our generation to build monuments to the memory of Jewish communities destroyed by the Nazi. The city of our birth, Kamenetz-Podolsk, is memorialized by this book.

A memorial book: “Kamenetz-Podolsk” in Hebrew was published in Tel-Aviv, Israel in April 1965 by the following committee:

I.A. Bar-Levy (Weissman)
Uri Michaeli (Pressman)
W.D. Rechter
Ben-Zion Shilmover
Chaim Schrig (Schreiberman)
Jacob Sharir (Shreier)

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1.

Podolia

The region Podolia (Gubernia) of which Kamenetz-Podolsk is its main city, occupies 3610 square viersts. (A vierst is about a kilometre). To the north and east of Podolia were regions which bordered with Great Russia; to the west was former Austria (Galicia) and to the south, Bessarabia (now Rumania). The river Dniester separates Podolia from Bessarabia for a distance of 415 viersts. From the side of Podolia, a number of rivers flow into the Dniester, among them the Smotrich, Ushiza, Liadora and Morapa. The river Boog separates Podolia from the Kiev region; its tributaries are the Googik, Ikra, Rub and Snibuda. All are on the Podolia side.

The earth in Podolia is rich and black. In some parts in the south, the earth contains lime, phosphates, building stones and other minerals. The climate is warm; the average temperature around Kamenetz-Podolsk is 86 degrees. Podolia had a population of 3,544,000 with only 247,000 city dwellers. The density of the population – 96 per sq.vierst – was the highest in European Russia. The majority of the population, Ukrainians – 81%; the Jews comprised 12%; the rest were Russians, Poles, Moldovans and others.

Podolia had 17 cities; 120 towns and thousands of villages and hamlets. Podolia is mainly agricultural, producing all kinds of grain, vegetables and fruits. Among the industries, sugar refineries with 293 such establishments occupied first place. There were many flour mills, grain distilleries, wineries, textile mills and other factories. The countryside produced not only enough for the population but also for export. The main products of export were grain, fruits, flour, sugar and alcohol.

In 1905, export amounted to 3,037,000 roubles. Transportation into Podolia consisted of 1213 viersts of railroad

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Zionist student's organization “Kadima” in Kamenetz-Podolsk

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Musical Cub “Kadima” in Kamenetz-Podolsk in 1917

tracks; other transportation was by boats mainly on the Dniester and on paved and unpaved roads.

2,168 schools including 119 High Schools with 16,000 students comprised the school system of the region. The region, Gubernia, was divided into 13 districts.

The settlement of Podolia goes back to a very early era. According to the Greek historian, Herodotus, different tribes were known to live in Podolia before the 5th century B.C. When the Roman Emperor, Adrianus conquered Germania and Rumania, Podolia also fell under his rule. After this, for about 500 years, Podolia was ruled by different barbaric tribes. In the beginning of the 6th century, A.D. Slavic tribes drove out the natives of Podolia and settled there.

From the 14th century until the second division of Poland in 1793, Podolia was under the jurisdiction of Lithuania, Poland, Turkey and Russia.

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2

In 1793, Podolia, as well as other districts, was annexed by Russia and remained under the czars until 1917 when it was declared a part of an independent Ukrainian state.

There is a division of opinion on when the Jews first settled in Podolia. Some historians believe that Jews came to this part from Poland or other Western European countries after the Exodus of Jews from Spain. Others are of the opinion that Jews came to Podolia from the Crimea or from the land of the Chosars on the Volga. Jews may have come from Palestine by way of Sophia to Kiev and when driven out from Kiev by Vladimir Monomach in 1120, settled in Podolia. There is evidence that in 1220 Podolia had Jewish settlements. In those early days, Jews were engaged in business, leasing land for agricultural purposes and had a great number of craftsmen and tradesmen. During the 30-year war (1618-1648), many German Jews came to Podolia. Among them were Rabbis and families renowned for their knowledge of the Scriptures. During the reign of Lithuanian and Polish princes over Podolia, the Jewish population there grew and was prosperous. In general, Jews in Podolia at that time were treated better than their brothers in other lands. With improved economic conditions, the Jews devoted their spare time to the study of the Bible and Talmud and produced a number of Rabbis and scholars.

The Rabbis of Nemerov, Tulchin, Bar and Megbish were famous throughout all of Podolia.

But this was the calm before the storm. The situation was changing for the worse. The Ukrainian Cozaks started a revolt against their Polish landlords but the victims were the Jews. The bands of Ataman Begdan Chmelnitzky were murdering Jewish men, women and children, most of them innocent of any crime against the Ukrainians. There was a small number of Jews who did the dirty work of oppression imposed by the Polish Pani (landlords). The Polish landlords treated the poor Ukrainian peasants miserably and even prevented them from freely practicing

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Zionist Youth Organization “Hatchn” in Kamenetz-Podolsk in 1920

their religion. The Polish Pani hired Jews to enforce their rules. As a result of the revolt, entire Jewish communities were annihilated by the Ukrainians. Many Jews were forced to convert to Christianity. Others succeeded in escaping across the borders into foreign lands. Thus the Jewish population of Podolia was reduced to a fraction of their former numbers.

During the 17th century, Jews in many lands were looking for a Messiah who was about to come and rescue the “chosen people” from their miseries. The Messianic movement spread through Podolia bringing hope into the hearts of the believers. Later, it became clear that the Messianic movement as represented by Shabsa Zvi and Jacob Frank was false and against the Jewish religion. Life of Jews in Podolia, as elsewhere in the diaspora, was completely disrupted. Only by the middle of the 18th century did a change come over the Jews of Podolia when a

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new religious movement, Chassidism, was started by Israel Bal-Shem-Tove.

A new era, the so-called “enlightenment” was brought about by Western European Jews. In the 19th century, it penetrated and took roots in Podolia. It brought an end to the cultural separation of Jews from the surrounding world. Jews began to learn modern sciences and languages, read world literature and participate in the cultural life of the nations among whom they lived. Jewish authors in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian wrote about secular subjects, spreading the “enlightenment” among the Jewish masses. Formerly, Jews studied only the Bible, the Talmud and commentaries. Now, they also read modern literature. Among the writers of the “Enlightenment” era in Podolia were: Isaac Satanov; Menachim Mendel Lapin, author and translator, Ben-Ami (Mordecai Rabinowitz) who wrote in Russian, and many others. At first, just a few individuals here and there learned a foreign language such as Russian or German, and enjoyed the knowledge of the modern times. The talented among them were translating books in Hebrew and Yiddish. Before long, Jewish authors brought out original secular books in Yiddish and Hebrew. Others wrote in Russian because the numbers of Jews learning the Russian language grew larger and larger. This change affected the educational institutions among the Jews. Besides the old “cheder” and “yeshiva”, where only religious subjects were taught, new Modern Hebrew schools came into being. There, Hebrew was taught by new methods and the curriculum included other subjects that would give the students a rounded, general and Jewish education to prepare them for a life in the new surroundings.

With the “Enlightenment” came new ideas about the return to Zion. Religious Jews for centuries prayed for the return to Zion and wished each other to be in Jerusalem by the next year. During the 19th century, groups known as “Lovers of Zion” were organized in many lands of the

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Chalutzim from Kamenetz-Podolsk on the way to Palestine in 1922

diaspora. These groups were doing something for actual return to Zion. Later, they were transformed into branches of the Zionist Organization.

Modern Hebrew literature was full of encouragement for the Jewish youth to return to Palestine to try to rebuild the ancient land. By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the pro-Zionist literature included the writings of many authors, poets and philosophers. Among them were many from Podolia such as: I. Berdichevsky; Prof. Echaskiel Kaufman; Eliesor Steinman; Prof. Zvi Sharfstein; S.Z. Blank; Abraham Rosen; Mordechai Michaeli; M. Poznansky; David Fogel; Isaak Schnor; S. Span; B. Kruha and A. Ashman.

 

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