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[Page 256]

(Chervonoarmiys'k, Ukraine)

50°28' 28°16'

Yaakov Ben–Dov

Translated by Dr. Mark Kowitt

On the highway [or high road or royal road] that led from Zhitomir [Zhytomyr] to Zvhil (= Novograd–Volynsk = Novohrad–Volyn'kyi) stood the small shtetl of Pulin, around 40 km (“verst”) from Zhitomir[1] and around 80 km[2] from Zvhil. Beside the road stood shtetls, estates, and many villages, among them the village Padova[3], which was settled by Jewish farmers even in the days of the Tsar and the German settlements.

The cities of Zhitomir and Berdichev served as centers for the Jews of Pulin; from there they would invite [or order] a teacher and there they would send sons to study, in the manner of small shtetls in Volhynia. According to the official census of 1897 there were 2736 residents in the shtetl, among them 1168 Jews. In 1925 the number of Jews was estimated to be 1300.

The land surrounding Pulin was rich (“fat”) and fertile, mainly fields and gardens. Ukrainian and German farmers and owners of the estates would sell the produce from their fields and the fruit from their gardens to Jews, and they [in turn] brought them to marketplaces. That was the source of the income of many of the Jews of the shtetl.

The houses of the shtetl, around 200 in number, were low, built of wood, their roofs wood or straw. In the square at the center of the shtetl stood two rows of shops, also wooden, attached to one another. The shops were quite old, as they had survived all the conflagrations in the shtetl. According to tradition, the old “Maggid [preacher]” of Makarov had blessed the shtetl so that fire would not rule over those shops, and the people of the shtetl believed that by the force of that blessing the shops survived all those fires.

In the shtetl stood four synagogues. One – the old synagogue where the rabbi, the ritual slaughterers (shochtim), long–established home owners, and some of the masses prayed; the second, the Makarov “kloiz” [house of study, Beit Midrash] – a handsome building where the scholars of the shtetl prayed, headed by Rabbi Avraham Zingerman. He was an enlightened Hassid, a regular reader of “Hatsefirah”[4] and “Hamelitz”[5], as well as a [recognized] judge of issues of Halakhah [Jewish religious law]. There the Talmud study group learned, and yeshiva students continued their studies until they were of marriage age. The third synagogue was the house of prayer of the tailors, where Rabbi Alter Shimon was prominent, he who established the Psalms (Tehillim) Society and regularly used to host a “Melaveh Malkah” [that is, accompanying the Sabbath Queen] meal for the masses. Poor wayfarers were feted at his table. The fourth synagogue was for butchers, led by the illustrious teacher Rabbi Moshe of Viladnik, an eminent scholar. The Jews of Pulin, who were G–d fearing and whole–hearted [in their religious observance], would arrive early to prayer for the recitation of Psalms, and pursued traditional life as it had been for generations according to the calendar, observed Sabbaths, holidays and festivals. Many customs were so rooted in the life of the shtetl that, over time, they became law.

On a background of this traditional life and in an atmosphere steeped in Judaism, the generation of youth growing up around the turn of the 20th century were nursed on the milk of the shtetl and drank from its wellsprings yet also knew how to absorb the spirit of the time and the awakening of the social and national life in Russia. Ideas of freedom and equality penetrated even Pulin, and pogroms against the Jews awakened in them desire for a “homeland” and rejection of “exile [= the Diaspora]”. The older youth decided to grant a divorce to the shtetl and to the Diaspora entirely and wandered off, some to America and some to Eretz Yisrael[6].

In the First World War, which broke out in 1914, many Jews in Pulin were adversely affected, and their material situation declined. They lost both the money owed to them by the Germans, who were uprooted from their estates, as well as their customers. In addition, conditions resulting from the war caused a certain number of Jewish inhabitants to leave the area and be scattered in cities.

Mobilization of [military–aged] men and proximity to the battlefield worked to their detriment. On top of that the [Russian] Revolution arrived, and heavy clouds covered the skies of Jews in the Ukraine. Internal battles between armies and [armed] camps fighting among themselves hit the Jews hard, and even the Jews of Pulin tasted these incursions.

These conditions persisted for about 20 years, until the conquest by Nazi Germany. The Jews sighed heavily, were forced into manual labor, tormented in various ways, and were enslaved in body and property. During the Holocaust, that was visited on the Jews of Volhynia, all the Jews of Pulin were taken outside the shtetl and murdered by the Nazis, and on the communities of Pulin dawned their bitter end.

Translator's footnotes

  1. According to Google Maps, 47 km by current roads Return
  2. sic; according to Google Maps, 53 km by current roads Return
  3. Padua? – cannot find a reference or locate it on a map Return
  4. The Siren, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ha–Tsfira Return
  5. The Advocate, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ha–Melitz Return
  6. Still part of the Ottoman Empire then Return


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