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1

Kamenetz-Podolsk

From the history of Kamenetz-Podolsk we know that the city was under the reign of the Gadamin of Lithuania in the 14th century. From the end of the 14th to the end of the 18th century, the city belonged to the Poles. At one time in the 17th century, the Turks took over the city and were later driven out. After 1793, Kamenetz-Podolsk belonged to Russia.

Historical data indicates that Jews were there in 1447. At times, Jews were driven out of the city but Jewish settlements remained in nearby towns. The economic and political status of the Jews influenced the economy of the city. At one time, Jews were allowed to own only old houses. They were prohibited from building new houses and could only live in the suburbs (Folvarki). Eventually, Jews could live in every part of the city, own and build houses, new or old.

The 1893 census showed that the population of Kamenetz-Podolsk consisted of 40,134 persons among them: 32% Ukrainians; 50% Jews and 16% Poles. Before World War I, the population grew to 60,000, half of them Jews.

The old city of Kamenetz-Podolsk was built on an island surrounded by the river Smotrich.

On the other side of the river Smotrich were the suburbs Polski Folvarek, Russki Folvarek, Podzamcha, Zinkovetz and Karvasari. By crossing the new bridge, built in 1870, one could reach the suburbs of Novy Plan, Russki Folvarek and Polski Folvarek. By crossing the Turkish bridge, built in the 17th century, one reached the Padzamcha. This last suburb derived its name from the fort (samok) built by the Turks. There were other roads, paths and smaller bridges by which the suburbs could be reached.

In the early years of the Polish reign, the suburb Karvasari served as the ghetto of Kamenetz-Podolsk. The

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Palestine Week Celebration in Kamenetz-Podolsk in 1918

Jews were allowed to leave the ghetto during the day to go to work in the city but had to return in the evening and be locked up until the following morning.

In the 19th century when Jews were free to live in the city and comprised 50% of the population, the Karvasari became the home of the very poor Jews. The census of 1847 showed only 752 Jews living in Karvasari; in 1897 it showed that there were 720 persons. When Kamenetz-Podolsk was proclaimed the capital of Podolia (Gubernsky Gorod), Karvasari lost the status of a town and became a suburb of the city.

The city had only stone houses of 2, 3 or 4 stories with stores and offices on the ground floor facing the streets. In the centre of the old city were a few taller buildings of which the police station was the highest. Above the police station was a tower that served as a look-out station for the fire department. The city clock that could be seen from quite a distance was also housed in this tower. On both sides of these municipal buildings were small parks with benches for people to rest. These parks also served as the meeting place for tradesmen looking for jobs. Besides these little parks, the city had large parks near the bridges – one known as the “New Boulevard” and the other as the “Old Boulevard”.

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Celebration of Balfour Declaration in Kamenetz-Podolsk in 1920

There was a third park that stretched from the new bridge to the Ruski-Folvarek and known as the “Path” (Dorojka). The suburbs were full of gardens and with the parks gave the city a picturesque and green appearance.

The population of Kamenetz-Podolsk consisted of Poles, Ukrainians, Jews and Russians. In the small towns the population was exclusively Jewish and in the villages, 100% Ukrainian. The different religions of the population in the city were Jewish, Greek-Orthodox, Catholics and Lutherans. The Lutherans were a small minority, mostly Germans. The Poles were the Catholics, the Ukrainians and Russians were Greek-Orthodox. In Kamenetz-Podolsk, the Jews comprised of 50% of the population. But, when the population was much smaller, the city at one time housed almost 10,000 Jews. This was during the time of the Chmelnitzki pogroms when Jews from many towns sought refuge in Kamenetz-Podolsk, a fortified city, into which the bandits dared not enter.

The exact number of Jews in the city was not known until the middle of the 19th century when a census was conducted for the first time. In 1847, the census showed only

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Scholom Altman with Zionist leaders in Kamenetz-Podolsk before leaving for Palestine in 1920

4,629 Jews and the 1893 census showed 13,866 Jews out of a population of 36,951. The same census showed 18,211 Greek Orthodox and 4,150 Catholics. Four years later, in 1897, the Jewish population had increased to 16,211. Figuring the natural increase, the city probably had 60,000 people before the start of World War I. During the war, the population grew to about 100,000 due to the thousands of Jewish refugees from the towns near the Galician border, driven out by the Czar's government (1915-1916). Then again, Jews from many towns settled in Kamenetz-Podolsk (1917-1920) when Ukrainians made pogroms on Jews. The population also increased during the war due to the fact that in Kamenetz, was the seat of the high command of General Brusilov. But after the Bolsheviks permanently occupied the city, the population declined (1920). It was due to the fact that Jews were escaping from the Bolshevik regime to America, Canada, Brazil and Palestine. Others left the city to settle in Kiev, Odessa and Moscow, where they had better economic and educational opportunities.

The city's decline was also due to the designation of Vinitza, instead of Kamenetz-Podolsk as the capital of Podolia. The census of 1923 showed a population of only 33,172 persons in Kamenetz-Podolsk with 50% Jews. Again,

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A decline is shown in the census of 1926 when the population was only 31,000 (about half Jews). It is figured that when the Nazi slaughtered the Jews in Kamenetz-Podolsk in August 1941, there were about 10,000 of them left. This figure included the Jews of the city; those of surrounding towns and about 6,000 Jews brought from Hungary, Belgium, Holland and Rumania.

 

2

Until 1914, Kamenetz-Podolsk was without a railroad. Connections with near and far places, with central Russia, with industrial and cultural centres of the country was by primitive transportation to the nearest railroad station. To get to a railroad, the people of the largest city in Podolia had to travel by horse and wagon in the summer and by horse and sled in the winter. No question that the absence of a railroad was costly for the city. Merchandize received from or consigned to Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, Warsaw and Petrograd was transported in this manner. This was very expensive and affected the economy of the city. In the city, there were two forwarders: the All-Russian transportation and Insurance Company under the management of S. Bath (who came to Kamenetz from Berdichev) and the South-Western transportation company with Abraham Berenson and Menachim Moishe Lichtman at the head.

These companies exacted very large commissions for handling merchandize received from out of town, charged high percentage for credit, extra for storage, for security, etc. The companies assisted business with loans, secured with the consigned merchandize. Those who were not dealing with manufacturers at sources of supply depended on the yearly fair at the town of Yarmolinetz, 60 miles from Kamenetz-Podolsk. To this fair, conducted from June to August, came owners of factories, their managers or agents from many parts of Russia. Business deals were conducted for agricultural products of Podolia and for the industrial output of factories in Russia, Poland and even from abroad.

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Kamenetz-Podolsk did not have industries for lack of a railroad and raw materials such as coal and iron. The geographical position, being near the border, was not favourable either for the development of heavy industry.

What was produced in Kamenetz-Podolsk was mainly for local consumption. The few factories in the city were: a beer brewery belonging to the Kleiderman family; a few tobacco and cigarette factories; two plants for making artificial mineral water (seltzer water); two cotton factories; a few flour mills and some other smaller enterprises. The only one which could be classified as a heavy industrial plant was the Kramm's iron foundry run by a German.

The city was the administrative centre of the region (Gubernia) where the following were found: the office of the Governor, the district and city courts; treasury and internal revenue departments; administrative offices of the secret and city police; educational institutions; 6 high schools; a few grammar schools and a junior high school; a religious (Greek-orthodox) seminary (a university after 1917); hospitals; theatres, etc. The city armouries housed four battalions of infantry and a Cossack cavalry regiment.

 

3

As in most cities in the Ukraine where Jews were allowed to dwell, they were engaged in business and trades. The first census of 1847 gives the following statistics: 70 Jewish wholesalers; 389 retailers (2278 persons including the families). Of the retailers, 270 were selling clothing, shoes, hats, etc. 119 more were selling food products. A total of 1750 Jews (6,300 including their families) were engaged in business. Jews were also in the majority among craftsmen and tradesmen. The census showed 713 tailors (1562 with their families); in food production 115 persons; 108 locksmiths. There were no figures given for carpenters, engravers, house painters, shoemakers and others. It was presumed that at least 500 Jews were in such trades.

The 1847 census gives the number of government employees as 679 (131 women and 548 men); 119 professionals

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and 304 Government pensioners. None of the above were Jews as no Jew was allowed to be a government employee. The majority of Jews were in business or in trades; the majority of gentiles were the customers.

The Christian customers consisted of government employees, the police, firemen, military, teachers, priests, landowners and peasants from nearby villages. Of course there were also Jewish customers and business also benefited from Jews from nearby and from far away towns when they came to Kamenetz-Podolsk to deal with banks, with government offices or for other reasons. There were 3 banks in the city:

  1. The government bank
  2. The Union bank and
  3. The All-Russian business and trades bank

Among the bank advisors were a few Jews but Jews were never elected as directors. Jews were appointed as temporary advisors because of their knowledge of the economic conditions in the city. Their advice was needed when it came to granting loans by the bank.

Substantial businessmen and owners of big estates had no difficulty in obtaining loans from banks but small retailers, tradesmen and lower government officials could not get anywhere with bank officials. They had to depend on usurers paying excessive rates and bonuses for loans.

To some extent, this situation was alleviated by cooperative banks. One such bank was established by landlords, owners of estates, high government officials and rich businessmen. Officially, this establishment was open to all without discrimination. But there were no Jews in the management and Jews, as a rule, were neither stockholders nor managers. Loans to Jews were never granted. For this reason, the second cooperative bank was established. The membership consisted of Jews and the borrowers were Jews. There was also a Credit Union with central offices in Moscow and Petrograd. The local branch was managed by a Jew. But the conditions for a loan and

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Zionist from Kamenetz-Podolsk at the conference in Mohilev-Podolsk in 1920

The collateral required was not easily met by many. There still remained a great number who patronized the usurers. In 1912, another Credit Union was founded locally by Jews and Gentiles. There was no discrimination in membership and it proved to be of great hep to the small businessmen.

 

4

In Kamenetz-Podolsk as in other Ukrainian cities with a 50% Jewish population, the Jews spoke Yiddish. Only by the second half of the 19th century was the use of other languages especially Russian become common among the Jews. The census of 1847 showed only 99 Jews among 16,112 who spoke another language besides Yiddish. By 1897, a full 24% of the Jews interviewed spoke Russian in addition to Yiddish. Many Jews in Kamenetz-Podolsk read Hebrew and Yiddish literature. Some of the well-known writers who lived in Kamenetz-Podolsk in the 1860's and 1870's were: Sholom Jacob Abramowitz (Mendele Mocher Sforim) and A.D. Gitlover. Some distinguished Jews were born in our city: Baron Ginzburg was born in 1857 as

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plain David Ginzburg; among others were Professor Fishel Schneierson and Menachim Poznansky. Among those who became known writers in Israel but lived in Kamenetz-Podolsk in their youth were: Schloimo Schpan (graduated high school and attended university in Kamenetz-Podolsk, born in Yarmolinetz); Aaron Ashman (born in Balin, studied and worked in Kamenetz-Podolsk) and Abraham Rosenzweig (Rosen) was a Hebrew teacher in Kamenetz-Podolsk.

 

5

The Turks reigned in Kamenetz-Podolsk during the 17th century and this gave the Jews a chance to be in contact with cities of the Ottoman Empire like Kushta, Smyrna and others. Some Jews from Podolia sent their sons to those cities to study under famous rabbis. Because the Messianic movement of Shabsa Zvi was very strong in Turkey, the boys from Podolia were influenced by this movement and brought home the teachings of the false Messiah. Later, the false messiah, Jacob Frank, gained many followers in Podolia. Lanzkorinin, Satanov and other towns near Kamenetz-Podolsk became the centres of the “frankists”. They were opposed by the orthodox rabbis who suspected Jacob Frank of being in sympathy with Christianity. The Jewish masses, who suffered from the Gaidamacks during the revolt of the Ukrainians against their Polish oppressors, were eager to follow the teachings of Jacob Frank. The Jews hoped that Messiah was coming to save them from further sufferings. The Polish clergy utilized the inner fight between the Talmudic rabbis and the “frankists”. Using the schism as an excuse, the Polish clergy tried to discredit the Talmud and the rabbis. Bishop Dombrowski of Kamenetz-Podolsk ordered a public debate between the rabbis and the “frankists”. The Bishop ruled in favour of the “frankists” and ordered to bring books of the Talmud to Kamenetz-Podolsk where over 1000 Talmuds (Schoss) were burned publicly in front of the cathedral. Nevertheless, the “frankists” lost their popularity and Jacob Frank

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was discredited among Jews, as Shabsa Zvi was discredited before him. Soon another religious movement was started by a man who was born in Okup near Lanzkorinin in the district of Kamenetz-Podolsk. The new movement was Chassidism originated by Israel Bal Schem Tov. The new movement became popular very fast and it seemed as if every Jew was now a Chassid. The Chassidim were divided into followers of different rebes (leaders). “Dynasties” of rebes were established in many towns and cities of the Ukraine, Galicia and Bukovina. Each rebe was a descendant of the Bal-Schem-Tov or of his original disciples. The “dynasties” of Chassidic rebes continued from father to son or to son-in-law. The Chassidic movement was very strong for a century and spread to many parts of the diaspora but in the 20th century, it began to die out.

 

6

Jews in many places became indifferent to Chassidism with its strict orthodoxy and mysticism; some were very antagonistic and conducted campaigns against the Chassidim and their rebes. These anti-Chassidim were called Misnagedim. By the middle of the 19th century, the number of Misnagedim grew enormously and brought a new era among the Jews of Russia including those of Podolia. This was the beginning of the “enlightenment” among the Jews of Podolia.

* * *

The political situation of the Jews in Podolia since the annexation of the region by Russia in 1793, deteriorated. The freedom Jews enjoyed under the Poles was gone. Under the Czars, the Jews were not allowed to settle in villages; to own or farm land and a percentage “numerous clauses” was established for Jews seeking entry into Russian high schools and universities. Most of Russian cities were outside the “pale”, the small territory where Jews were allowed to dwell; many other economic, cultural and political restrictions were imposed on Jews. Nevertheless, new

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Chalutzim from Kamenetz-Podolsk on the way to Palestine in 1920

ideas - a new way of life began to infiltrate among Jews of Podolia as elsewhere in Russia. The dissatisfaction with the old traditional education, with the cheder and yeshiva grew among Jews. In Kamenetz-Podolsk, as in many other cities in the Ukraine, Jewish families began sending their children to Russian schools. Jews began to learn Russian and even foreign languages and to read world literature. New ideas penetrated into formerly secluded Jewish life. Jewish and non-Jewish parties gained a foothold among Jews in Kamenetz-Podolsk as such inroads were made elsewhere. The younger generation had a new approach to Judaism, divorced from Chassidism or Misnagedim. But assimilation like that of Germany or Poland never made headway in Kamenetz-Podolsk. The Jews here did not consider themselves as Russians of Moses' religious persuasion, but only as Jews.

 

7

With the start of the 20th century, Jewish nationalism and Zionism became very strong among the Jewish population of Kamenetz-Podolsk. There were small societies known as “Lovers of Zion” (Chovevei Zion), later these groups were organized as branches of the Zionist Organization. They came into being after the 1st Zionist Congress in 1897. In Kamenetz-Podolsk, the Zionists grew strong under the able leadership of David Schleifer. He was not

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Chalutzim from Kamenetz-Podolsk in Kriat Anovim

satisfied with having a large organization in the city but saw to it that Zionist organizations were started in every city and town in Podolia. Under Schleifer, the Zionists became a formidable political party and the work of the Zionists embraced general Jewish welfare and educational activities. Among Schleifer's co-workers were Israel Goldman and Israel Drachler who were delegates to regional Zionist Conferences and to World Zionist Congresses. Until the Czarist government drove the Zionists underground, Kamenetz-Podolsk became the Zionist Centre for the entire region. To a conference in Kamenetz-Podolsk under Schleifer's leadership came such outstanding Zionists as: Dr. S. Bondarsky, Dr. Bernstein-Cohen, Menachim Schenkin, Mark Nudelman and others. Schleifer was delegated to the conference in Minsk and Israel Drachler to the conference in Helsingford (1906). To the 8th World Zionist Congress in The Hague (1907) the Zionists in Kamenetz-Podolsk sent Drachler. At the next Congress in 1909, two delegates (Drachler and Goldman) represented the Zionists of the city. To what extent the local Jewish population was influenced by the Zionists can be judged by the way the memorial for the founder of Zionism, Dr. Theodor Herzl, was conducted in Kamenetz-Podolsk when a telegram reached our city that announced his death. The sad news became immediately known in every part of the city and in nearby

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towns. Notices were posted that a memorial service would take place in the evening in the Grand Synagogue. Hours before the start of the services, the surrounding streets were filled with men and women; there were no more seats in the synagogue. Not only Zionists but people of other parties and non-party men and women came to pay respect to the memory of the great Jewish leader. Even the “intelligentsia”, those who always looked at Zionists as dreamers, were there. All Jewish stores and shops were closed as a tribute to Dr. Herzl's memory. Representatives of the local government were seated alongside the local Zionist leaders during the impressive and dignified services.

 

8

The great debate in Zionist circles about substituting Uganda for Palestine found expression also in Kamenetz-Podolsk. There was a minority, the future “territorialists”, who were for Uganda but the majority remained Zionists for Zion only and against any other territory.

The debate about Uganda was in full swing when the first Russian Revolution took place in October, 1905. Under pressure, Czar Nicolas II agreed to grant a constitution. A parliament, “the Duma” would be elected by the people in a democratic way and freedoms would be granted to everyone without any discrimination. Jews were among those who felt that at last they would become first class citizens. Unfortunately, the happy days of the Revolution did not last long. The Czarist government reneged on the granted freedoms. To divert the attention of the people, the government blamed the Jews for all the miseries and resorted to pogroms, utilizing the “black hundred” of the “Union of Russian people”. Under the direction of the secret police, riots were started in many cities, maiming and killing Jews and plundering Jewish property.

In Kamenetz-Podolsk where Katzapi (Russians from central regions) were seldom seen, quite a number of them

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“Haschomir Hazoir” in Kamenetz-Podolsk in 1923

suddenly appeared. During the market day, the Katzapi started a riot inciting the peasants who came to sell their products to loot the stores and kill Jews. Most of the peasants hurriedly left the city for their homes in the nearby villages, the rest were chased by the local police as was ordered by Governor Ehlers, a liberal. The “Hagana” was prepared to step in and stop a pogrom but it became unnecessary when the Katzapi disappeared as suddenly as they had come to the city. Damage was slight in stores and in a few homes near the market place on the Novy Plan.

In the early days of the Revolution, the Socialist Parties appeared from the underground and started a propaganda campaign to get members. Their propaganda was aimed at the poorer working class and at the youth of all classes. Open-air meetings were arranged in the little parks in the centre of the city at the end of the working day. In Kamenetz-Podolsk there were very few native socialists but propagandists from other parts of Russia came and were trying to get converts. Kadets and Octiabrists, Anarchists and Social-Democrats, Socialist-Revolutionists and Jewish Bundist competed for votes to the “Duma”. Poale-Zionists and Zionists appealed to the Jewish population. To the Zionists came new people bringing new ideas. They

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preached social justice in the diaspora as well as in Palestine when it would be a Jewish State. A young fellow came from Odessa to Kamenetz-Podolsk ostensibly to lecture about Jewish literature and culture. He was dark with penetrating black eyes, dressed in a tunic as worn by the Revolutionists. Although quite young, the stranger was very impressive. He was Chaim Greenberg, in later years a world-renown Zionist leader. Although he did not name the party, it was obvious that he was talking about the Zeire-Zion programme. In the late 1920's, Chaim Greenberg came to America where he united the American Zeire-Zion with the Poale Zion and became the spokesman for the United Labour Zionist front.

 

9

The Helsingford Zionist convention in 1906 stressed the need for cultural activities by Zionists. When Israel Drachler returned from that convention, the Kamenetz-Podolsk Zionist organization worked out a programme in conformity with the Helsingford resolution. Efforts were made to improve and strengthen the Blavstein School for girls. A Jewish non-party club was organized to serve the cultural needs of the Jewish population. Among other things, the Jewish club started a library and before long, it contained 2000 volumes in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian. Another project of the Zionists was the improvements in the government subsidized Talmud-Tora, the school on the Polski-Folvarek. Under the pressure of the Zionists, the curriculum was changed to include the study of the Russian language, arithmetic and other subjects. A workshop was started and the students had to wear a uniform. Poor students were provided with uniforms free of charge and lunches were also given free to all students. The Jewish free kitchen (Hachnusis Horchim) was another target of the Zionists and here improvements also took place. The party work consisted of cultural undertakings, propaganda and collections for Zionist Funds. Kamenetz-Podolsk was under the jurisdiction

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of the Odessa Zionist Committee with M.M. Usishkin at the head. In 1907, the Odessa Committee sent the well-known writer and Zionist, A.M. Borochov, to Kamenetz-Podolsk. Under his direction the Kamenetz-Podolsk Executive Committee was reinforced with representatives from the following centres: from Balta, Menachem Altman; from Zvanitz, Scholom Altman; from Vinitz, Zvi Isarson; from Dinivetz, Joseph Blank and from Kamenetz-Podolsk, David Schleifer, Israel Goldman and Israel Drachler. With the assistance of the central committees in Odessa and with help from Vilno, the Zionists in Kamenetz-Podolsk achieved a high degree of efficiency.

By 1908, the Zionist work in Kamenetz-Podolsk was considered of the highest in the country. Jewish cultural work was not neglected either. In 1908, the poets Schimon Frug and Leib Jaffee came from Odessa to deliver lectures about Jewish literature; from Vilno came the noted Zionist Dr. Daniel Pasmanik, then Gorelick, the editor of “Dos Yiddische Folk”. The last one was popular not only with the Zionists but also with anti-Zionists. Because Gorelick wrote in Yiddish, Bundists, Poale-Zionists and others came to his lectures. By 1909, the attitude of the police towards Zionists had changed. On a tip from the higher-ups, the police decided to stop the work of the Zionists. During Passover (1909), the police raided the office of the Zionist organization and confiscated all documents and correspondence. The secretary Goldman was requested to translate everything into Russian. Then, a law suit was instituted against all members of the Zionist executive committee.

The case came up in 1911 in the district court in Kamenetz-Podolsk. D. Schleifer, the brilliant lawyer who was the head of the Zionist committee, defended the accused. The members of the Zionist executive committee were found not guilty but the court also ruled that the Zionist organization was not legal in Russia. From now on, all Zionist activities had to be stopped. Without an organization, the cultural work started by the Zionists wad continued for a while by inertia and then died out. The library left from the defunct Jewish Club became the struggle point

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The Blatman family building their own house in Tel-Aviv in 1922

between the Yiddishists and the Hebrewists. A noted victory for the Hebrewists was won when the famous Zionist, publicist and orator, Vladimir Jabotinsky came to Kamenetz-Podolsk. His lectures about Hebrew literature and culture attracted so many, that a large crow remained outside the theatre because all seats had been sold in advance. Jabotinsky received an ovation after he finished his lecture. He invited a defender of Yiddish to come up on the stage and debate the subject. Nobody took up his challenge. The second lecture was even more successful. The explanation given in private by the Yiddishists that to debate in public would expose the identity of the leftists was not taken seriously. Everybody knew that the secret police had a dossier on anyone even remotely connected with a subversive political party. The Zionist idea was kept alive by different means. The police was paid off to overlook Zionist celebrations disguised as weddings, engagements or birthday parties. Every year, a Palestinian Week was celebrated which culminated in a Purim Ball. It looked as though nothing was being done by Zionists and there was hardly any hope for a new generation of party members.

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10

Because our city was so near to the Austro-Hungarian border, it was one of the first to feel the impact of World War I in August 1914. On the 5th of August an Austrian military detachment crossed the border and a Hungarian cavalry unit with artillery reached the city in the afternoon. With the excuse that the city did not surrender at once, the enemy bombarded the city of Kamenetz-Podolsk for 3 hours. The Russian military and civilian administration evacuated the city beforehand and the mayor finally succeeded in surrendering the city. The enemy's military command imposed a contribution of 100,000 roubles in gold, silver and jewellery. A self-appointed committee of prominent Jews were going from door-to-door trying to collect the necessary sum. It looked as though the needed contribution would not be collected on time. There was fear that the city would be bombarded again, and many inhabitants left the city for nearby towns. Although the collected contribution fell short of the goal, the enemy commandant did not order reprisals. Instead, he told the mayor to return everything to the donors. This was a gift from Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria whose birthday was on that day.

Two days later, the Austrians withdrew into Galicia and Russian military detachments pursued them. The first detachment of Kozaks on entering the city mercilessly beat every Jew who happened to be in the street. The fighting front was in Galicia, at times far from our city and at times very near. The danger of occupation was so great that in 1915, all High schools were evacuated to other cities and were not returned until a year later. The Jews from cities and from towns close to the fighting front were exiled deeper into Russia. It was common knowledge that circles close to the Czar were corrupt and sympathized with the enemy, a fact which in a way was responsible for the overthrow of the Romanovs. Nevertheless, Nicolas Nikolayevich, the uncle of the Czar and Supreme Commander of the Army, ordered all Jews to be driven out of their homes near the front. He blamed the Jews for the defeats of the Russian armies

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on all fronts. Hundreds of thousands of Jews became uprooted, homeless, refugees, driven deep into Russia and Siberia, Jewish organizations in Petrograd such as “Copo”, “Oze” and “Ort” started a campaign to help the refugees. It happened that some of the leaders of these relief organizations had leftist affiliations. As a result, the representatives sent to help the refugees often were members of illegal Jewish socialist parties. The administrator to help the refugees in Podolia, who came to Kamenetz-Podolsk, was a lawyer from Vilno, Elihuhi Gumener. An able administrator, a member of the Jewish Bund, Gumener surrounded himself with anti-Zionists, with Yiddishists who played politics in the distribution of relief. Among the co-workers of Gumener in Kamenetz-Podolsk was the Poalei-Zionist (former Zionist) Israel Drachler, the Bundist, S. Bograd and Feivel Morgenstern and the Socialist-Zionist, Moishe Sister (now Dr. Sister, a lecturer and Bible researcher in Israel). Although the Socialists hardly had a following among the Jews, Gumener was a formidable enemy to the Zionists. They pursued an anti-Zionist policy in distributing the funds from the central organization. They particularly discriminated in Jewish school education.

Nevertheless, the Zionists grew stronger among the refugees and among the local Jewish population. The main reason was that the youth had Zionist sympathies. It started with the refugees from Zwanitz who settled in Kamenetz-Podolsk and with a number of newcomers from small towns. They started a campaign of Hebrew education among the youth in Kamenetz-Podolsk. Groups of youths were secretly studying Hebrew in the evenings. New secret Zionist student societies were being organized. They studied the Hebrew language, Jewish history and literature; there was even a secret group of “chalutzim” who were preparing to leave for Palestine after the war. After the 1917 Revolution, all these secret Zionist groups appeared on the Jewish political arena and received support from 90% of the population. Two leaders emerged from among the refugees on the Zionist horizon: Sholom Altman and Joshuha Saltzman. Another newcomer was Zalman Fradkin who turned

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The family Leff brought to America from a camp in Germany by the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. L. Blatman

 

the local Zeire-Zion into the strongest political party in Kamenetz-Podolsk. Among others who were politically active in Jewish affairs after the Revolution were: Aaron Ashman, A. Rozenzweig, Mendel Goldstein, Meyer Zack, Israel Bashirovker, Jacob Schreier, M. Sigal, I. Weissman, Leon S. Blatman and Ettia Lerner.

A group of religious Jews, members of synagogues under the leadership of Leib Kleiderman, were organized as “Achdut Israel”. They generally supported the Zionists against the Jewish socialist parties in Kamenetz-Podolsk.

 

11

Jewish schools other than cheders and yeshivas made very little progress in Kamenetz-Podolsk until after the 1917 Revolution. In 1900, the Schecter School for boys was started but existed for only a couple of years. In 1902, the Blavstein School for girls was founded. After struggling for 10 years, this school also closed. The Talmud-Tora on the Polshi Folvarek was not considered much by the Jewish population being more of a charitable than educational institution. During World War I, two Hebrew schools

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“Toshia” and “Moledet” were organized with the help of the educational organization, “Tarbut”. Among those active in these educational projects were: A. Ashman, A. Rozenzweig, L. Bashirovker, C. Schreberman, Leizer Malamud (Lamed), Wolf Blickstein and others. Two kindergartens were under the supervision of Ettia Lerner and Bath-Sheva Hess.

But the most important educational institutions started illegally in 1915 and doing excellent work after the Revolution were the “Beth-Am” and the “Kadima”. Besides their educational value, these institutions also played a political role being pro-Zionist and pro-Hecholutz. The Yiddishists, the Jewish socialists, also organized a kindergarten and a school in Yiddish but these schools were dwarfed by the pro-Hebrew movement emanating from the “Beth-Am”. The “Beth-Am” was started by a group which eventually went to Palestine as Chalutzim. They founded the Kvutza “Kriat Anovim” under the leadership of Schika Saltzman. After the 1917 Revolution, the “Beth-Am” attracted hundreds of young boys and girls. There were groups of youngsters from the age of 12 to 18 who studied Hebrew, Jewish history and related subjects. A group of advanced students called “the University” were taking courses of higher Hebraic learning and literature under the tutorship of Leizer Malamud (Lamed).

In 1916, a group of High School students founded a secret Zionist society called “Kadima”. A year later, the “Kadima” enrolled as members almost every student in the city and became an important part in the Zionist network in Kamenetz-Podolsk. Among the founders of the “Kadima” were the brothers Jacob and Israel Brandman. Because they had a musical education (at the Petrograd Conservatory of Music) and were talented, it was natural for them to start a musical branch of “Kadima”. During the first 3 years of the Revolution the orchestra and choir of “Kadima” became the pride of the Zionists. Regardless of what regime prevailed in the city, “Kadima” gave musical concerts to which Jews and non-Jews came. On 27th June, 1920, “Kadima” gave a concert in honour of the visiting delegates from the American Joint

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kam037.jpg
Government Boys High School in Kamenetz-Podolsk in 1914

 

Distribution Committee. Professor I. Friedlander, Editor Maurice Kass and Dr. Leff were quite impressed; they were surprised to find a musical group with such high standards like “Kadima” in the Ukraine after years of pogroms.

After the Bolsheviks occupied the city in November 1920, the majority of “Kadima” members escaped to Palestine. There they gave concerts for “Gdud Havoda” in Tel-Aviv and in Petach Tikva. Interesting to note that one of the founders of “Kadima”, Uri Michaeli (Pressman), after working for years for the Histadrut, occupied an important position in civil aviation in Israel.

Those of “Kadima” who remained in Kamenetz-Podolsk were persecuted by the Bolsheviks as counter revolutionary.

During the first three years of the Revolution, Kamenetz-Podolsk was under the rule of Ukrainians of the Rada; under the Germans in the time of Getman Skoropadsky; under the Petliura Ukrainians and Poles and under the Bolsheviks. Due to the changes in the regimes, the population suffered. For months at a time, commerce was at a standstill, at other times the farmers did not bring any agricultural products to the city and the population was

[Page 38]

at the brink of starvation. But the Jews suffered more than others. During the changing of regimes, not only Jewish property was in jeopardy but Jewish lives were in grave danger. At times the outrages of soldiers took the form of pogroms when Jews were killed and maimed.

Pogroms in Kamenetz-Podolsk and nearby towns and cities took place during the change-over from Petliura to the Bolsheviks and vice-versa, during occupation by bands of independent Atamans; pogroms were also perpetrated by General Denikin's soldiers, never by the Red Army. The biggest pogrom in Kamenetz-Podolsk occurred in June, 1919 when Petliura's army returned from exile in Galicia. 72 innocent Jews were murdered, many more wounded and millions of Jewish property destroyed or stolen. Pogroms during Petliura's regime were due to the weakness of the government and indifference or design of military commanders who looked for a scapegoat for their inability to defeat the Red Army. The Ukrainians and the Denikintzi killed Jews with the outcry: “Kill Jews and save the Ukraine (or save Russia) from Jewish Bolsheviks”. It is possible that the Red Army did not make pogroms because of a stronger discipline and due to the fact that many Jews served in that army not only as privates but also as officers up to the highest ranks.

 

12

When a regime stayed for a while and the fighting front moved further from the city, it looked as though this regime was destined to remain permanently; life in the city then became more or less normal. The scars from the fighting and from pogroms did not heal completely but were not too visible. In Kamenetz-Podolsk at such periods, Jewish community life proceeded at an accelerated pace. Under the new laws of National Personal Autonomy, the Jewish population elected a democratic council (Kehila). This representative body took over a number of functions formerly the province of the local or central government. The Kehila had supervision over cultural,

[Page 39]

kam039.jpg
Avner Korman killed in battle with Petliura's pogrom band under Orinin, May 1919

 

educational, spiritual and philanthropic institutions of the Jewish population. The Kehila was also the representative of the Jews in dealing with local or central governments. If the form of N.P.A. would have remained, it would have given the Jews of the Ukraine autonomy unequalled in the history of Jews in any country at any time. Jewish political parties fully realized the importance of the Kehila and were active on the political arena, trying to get more and more supporters for their programmes. The minority parties tried to off-set the power of the Zionists in the Kehilas; some parties played up to the government of the moment. Jewish socialist parties, being minorities without representation in the Kehila, did exactly this in Kamenetz-Podolsk. During the Bolshevik regime

[Page 40]

they helped to abolish the democratically elected Kehila and during the Petliura regime, they conspired with the Minister of Jewish affairs, Pinchos Krasny to hinder the work of the Kehila.

 

13

After the revolution, as during the Czar, one Jewish organization had to remain secret and underground. This was the Hagana – the Jewish self-defence. In Kamenetz-Podolsk as in many cities in Russia, the Hagana was started after the pogrom in Kishinev in 1903. In 1905, when pogroms were organized in many places, the Hagana in Kamenetz-Podolsk was ready to defend the Jews from bands of hooligans. Luckily the Hagana did not have to go into action – the abortive riot in Kamenetz-Podolsk did not develop into a pogrom. During the pogrom years 1918-1920, the Hagana was revived and reorganized. A great help in this was the Auxiliary Police. The city government inaugurated a voluntary Auxiliary Police force to patrol the city streets at night. The Auxiliary Police functioned under the Ukrainian and under the Bolshevik regimes. Many young Jewish men, acting as Auxiliaries, were also secret members of the Hagana. This gave the Hagana a chance to train the members in handling firearms and even to secure additional arms and ammunition. These were kept in hiding and thus the Hagana was prepared to stop a pogrom by a small band.

 

14

Late in May 1919 when the city was under the Bolsheviks, the Hagana was called into action. Rumours leaked from the Revkom circulated that a band of Ukrainians crossed from Galicia into Orinin where a pogrom was imminent. It was late in the evening when the members of the Auxiliary Police were called to assemble at the central plaza in front of the Revkom. A red Army officer asked

[Page 41]

if those present were willing to go to Orinin to stop a pogrom. Those present, about 80-90 men, all Jews, volunteered and were joined by about 50 Red Army men with 2 pieces of artillery and a few machine guns. Only about 8 miles from the city, “the marchers on Orinin” ran into a barrage of small arm fire. There was no other way left but to fight. It seems it was a Petliura military detachment which was sent to occupy the city, stripped of Red Army defenders. The pitched battle did not last long but the Gaidamacks, not knowing the strength of the enemy and having heavy losses, retreated toward Galicia. It turned out that 60 Gaidamacks had been killed and an unknown number wounded. Only one Red Army soldier and one member of the Hagana, Abraham Korman, were killed and a few Auxiliary Policemen were lightly wounded.

The Red Army did not send reinforcements and the Bolsheviks evacuated the city. It became clear that the Bolsheviks, in desperation and trying to hold back the enemy, tricked the Jews to go with them and fight the Gaidamacks. Realizing that the Ukrainians were advancing with a large military force, the Hagana decided that resistance would mean slaughter of all Jews in the city. The hope that under Petliura we would not witness a repetition of the deeds of Gaidamacks like under Bogdan Chmelnitzky (1648) was baseless. It was enough to remember the slaughter of Jews in Proskurov under Ataman Semosenko (Petliura's general) in February 1919 not to expect a miracle now.

The Gaidamacks entered Kamenetz-Podolsk without meeting any resistance and immediately started a pogrom which lasted 3 days. Seventy-two Jews were killed, many injured and millions of dollars of Jewish property was destroyed. A number of Jews tried to escape to nearby towns but many were overtaken on the roads and killed. Among those who managed to escape was Alexander Chomsky, son of the richest druggist in the city. Alexander Chomsky was an assimilated Jew, did not belong to any political party and served as an Auxiliary Policeman. As such, he took part “in the march on Orinin”. When things quietened down and the Petliura government settled

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kam042.jpg
Mechel and Rose Kaplun killed together with their two teenaged daughters by the Nazi

 

in Kamenetz-Podolsk, Chomsky came home. Before long, he was arrested and put on trial before a military tribunal as a Bolshevik. He was accused of being with the Red Army and fighting against the Gaidamacks. Mr. Alter, a prominent lawyer defended Chomsky. He pointed out that, like many other Auxiliary Policemen, Chomsky fell for the Bolsheviks' provocation that Chomsky believed that they, the Policemen, were going to stop a pogrom in Orinin perpetrated by a small band of irregulars. Alter brought to court some of the leading Jews, Ukrainians and Poles as character witnesses for Chomsky. In his summation, Alter called for a court-martial of the commander who allowed a Petliura regiment to kill innocent Jewish men and women as revenge for the defeat of his regiment by a

[Page 43]

handful of Jewish Policemen. Nevertheless, the court found Chomsky guilty and sentenced him to be shot. An appeal to Petliura, who happened to be in Kamenetz-Podolsk, freed Chomsky. An investigation of the “march on Orinin” and of the pogrom in our city was ordered but nothing ever reached the public on these subjects.

 

15

Delegations from nearby towns and from far cities arrived in Kamenetz-Podolsk seeking relief for the pogrom sufferers. Our city was the largest Jewish community of the Ukraine liberated from the Bolsheviks and the Minister of Jewish Affairs of the Petliura government was now in our city. The Kamenetz-Podolsk Kehila organized a relief committee and tried, as much as was possible, to help those who suffered from the pogroms. In the meanwhile, the news of what had happened to the Jews in the Ukraine spread throughout the world. Jews in many countries were organizing relief for the sufferers. One of the first to reach with such help was a delegation of the American Joint Distribution Committee.

In February 1920, Judge H. Fisher and Max Pine from America came to Kamenetz-Podolsk. Two months later, a relief commission of the “Joint” (Professor I. Friedlander, Maurice Kass and Dr. Leff) came to Kamenetz-Podolsk and transferred a sum of money to the local relief committee. After a few sessions with the local relief workers who explained the situation in nearby cities and towns, the delegation decided to travel to as many places as possible to study the needs of the sufferers on the spot. Travelling from town-to-town, the delegates saw the unbelievable misery in which the Jews lived after the pogroms. They visited the cities of Mogilev-Podolsk, Staro-Konstantine and Proskurov. This last one still had not recovered from the slaughter of Jews a year before.

Meanwhile, the Red Army broke through the Ukrainian front and Red Army patrols were in the vicinity. Unable to proceed to Kiev or to Odessa, the delegation returned

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To Kamenetz-Podolsk. From here it was decided to go back to Warsaw and receive further orders from New York. The delegation split into two groups: one car with Professor Friedlander and Dr. Cantor left early on July 5, 1920; the rest of the delegation stopped for an appointment with the War Minister. There they were informed that Friedlander and Dr. Cantor had been killed by a Red Army patrol near the town of Yarmolinetz. The Americans left by a different route for Poland. Four months later, the Red Army occupied Kamenetz-Podolsk. The Bolsheviks confiscated the relief funds and distributed the relief supplies among the peasants of nearby villages.

 

16

During the first years of the 1917 revolution, when the Ukraine was soaked in Jewish blood and when over 100,000 Jews were killed in pogroms and when the Petliura Gaigamacks were as barbaric as those of Bogdan Chmelnitzki, there were also happy interludes for the Jews.

In Kamenetz-Podolsk among such happy days was May 12, 1920 when the Jews of the city celebrated the Balfour Declaration.

For the occasion the city was decorated with white and blue banners, with flowers and oriental rugs hung from windows and balconies. A big parade was organized in which thousands of school children, men and women passed the reviewing stand.

The leading Zionists and Kehila executives, representatives of the local and central governments addressed the citizens of the city. The Petliura cabinet was represented by the Minister of Education, Professor Ogienko and by the Minister of Jewish Affairs, Pinchos Krasny. There were diplomats accredited to the Ukrainian government and other important personalities. Orchestras played the “Hatikva” and groups of children sang Palestinian songs.

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kam045.jpg
Motia Kaplun, an officer in the Red Army, killed in battle under Stalingrad

 

There was hope that the Jews would sooner or later get their land – Palestine. Another happy day was the departure for Palestine of the first group of Halutzim.

The Hecholutz in Kamenetz-Podolsk was started a few years before the actual departure for Palestine. In 1917, thanks to the efforts of Leon Blatman, a number of Chalutzim were allowed to work on the farm on his alma mater, the technical high school, under the supervision of the school agronomist. Later, the Chalutzim rented a farm where they did all the agricultural work; a group of the chalutzim went to Cherson to work on the farms of Jewish colonists; some of the Chalutzim went to Odessa where they received theoretical instructions from agronomist A. Zussman. On arrival in Palestine, the Chalutzim from Kamenetz-Podolsk founded the kvutz “Kriat Anovim”.

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The success of that Kvutza is due to some degree to the preparations the Chalutzim received in Kamenetz-Podolsk.

 

17

In November 1920, the Red Army drove the remnants of the Ukrainian Army and the Petliura government into exile in Galicia, Poland. Kamenetz-Podolsk was now permanently under the Bolsheviks. During World War II the city was temporarily occupied by the Nazi. Even before the Bolsheviks took over Kamenetz-Podolsk in 1920, the majority of Jews had fled from the city knowing very well that the Bolsheviks would bring ruin for the Jews economically, spiritually, culturally and politically.

During the first years of occupation of Kamenetz-Podolsk by the Bolsheviks, Jews from the city were escaping to Rumania across the Dniestr River 15 miles away or to Galicia an equal distance from the city. From there, the refugees from Kamenetz-Podolsk went to Palestine, to the United States or Canada. Some Jews would disappear from the city, leaving everything to be confiscated by the Bolsheviks or stolen by the peasants. Other Jewish families travelled to big cities like Moscow and settled there. Opportunities in large cities were better than in Kamenetz-Podolsk. The Bolsheviks designated Vinnitza as the capital of Podolia and transferred all important institutions from Kamenetz-Podolsk. Before the start of World War II, the Jewish population of the city dropped to about 10,000 – a fraction of the number of Jews in 1920.

 

18

Just before the Hitler army invaded the Ukraine, many Jews from Kamenetz-Podolsk succeeded in leaving the city and going deep into Russia or Siberia. When the Nazi occupied the city, they herded the remaining city Jews and also Jews from surrounding towns into the Karvasar where

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They established the ghetto. From Rumania, from Hungary, from Belgium and Holland, the Nazi brought trainloads of Jews who were put into the ghetto together with the native Jews. During August 27th, 28th and 29th, 1941, all Jews from the ghetto in Kamenetz-Podolsk were assembled on the Podzamcha and executed. The bodies were buried in deep trenches and the earth smooth over; no signs were left that thousands of Jews had been buried there.

After the end of World War II, the Kamenetz-Podolier Relief Committee in New York was in touch with hundreds of people from Kamenetz-Podolsk who were scattered in many places in Russia and Siberia. The biggest work of the New York Relief committee was to find relatives in the United States or Israel for the survivors in Russia and in the Ukraine. For a number of years, visitors to Russia were not allowed to travel into Kamenetz-Podolsk.

Most of the survivors from Kamenetz-Podolsk settled in the city of Chernovitz, formerly Bukovina, now annexed to the Russian Ukraine. In 1963, a former Kamenetzer now living in Colombia, South America, visited the city where she was born; another visitor to Kamenetz-Podolsk was a former Kamenetzer now living in New York. Both brought the sad news that Kamenetz-Podolsk was completely ruined and not rebuilt by the Russians. The old city was not fit for people to live in and those who returned to the city are now on the Novy Plan and in other suburbs. The Jewish inhabitants consist only of old pensioners and most are not originally from the city of Kamenetz-Podolsk.

 

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