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The Generations of Stepan

The History of Stepan and Its Jewish Population

by I. Ganuz and J. Peri

Stepan is situated on a plain along the Horyn River. The name came from the King of Poland, Stefan Boturi, who fortified himself in the town and fought against the Russians and Taters. His ruins are still located on the river. The remains of a castle called “Volh” are now a city park. The remnants of a fortification gate of some fortress is found under the shul along with a tunnel that connected two fortresses. There is no town ledger or “pinkas” remaining.

In 1500's, a charter allowing Jews to live in the Volhynia area was renewed. The Jewish population grew. They worked in trading , tailoring, and running saloons.

History of the World, by Shimon Dubnor, Vol. 2, page 260, writes: “In 1386, communities existed in the area so one could infer that Jews lived in the Stepan area then. The Turks ruled Crimea. Crimean Jews traded with Jews of Volhynia and some Jews from Crimea moved into Stepan in the 1500's (maybe from Turkey originally?-comment by Shimshak).”

Geographical Dictionary for Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Kingdoms, Warsaw, 1890, pages 326-327, writes: “In 1890, there were 3,384 people in Stepan, 47% Jewish, 512 households, 3 churches, 1 Gothic style shul, 2 stieblich, 1 brewery, 2 flour mills, 6 markets and 1 candle factory.”

According to tax records, in 1577 there were 28 farms in Stepan. In 1648 Stefan Czarniecki defeated the Cossacks in town. In 1775, 521 people lived in town. According to census data, there were 1,717 Jews in Stepan in 1847. In the 1897, there were 5,137 people, of whom 1,854 were Jews.

Reb David ben Reb Shmuel died in 5571 (1811). He was a talmed of the Besht and of his successor, the Maggid of Mezerich. In the cemetery are graves of the tzaddikim. There was a structure with a tin roof in the cemetery where they were buried. In that structure, people would go and place kvittilim before Rosh Hashana. Reb David Shmuel HaLevy was from Stepan. From the dynasty of the Maggid of Trisk came Rabbi Baruch Twersky who was killed in the Shoah.

From 1795 to 1918, Poland was chopped up and Stepan became part of Russia. Then Stepan became part of the Ukraine in 1918. In 1921 it became part of Poland until 1939. From the 13th20th centuries, Jews lived in Stepan. Jews suffered under many attacks. However, there were signs that local Ukrainians tried to defend the Jews. But that was not what happened when the Nazis and Ukrainians destroyed the Jews during the Holocaust.

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