POLTAVA


POLTAVA, capital of Poltava district, Ukraine. Jews began to settle there at the close of the 18th century. In 1801 there were 18 Jewish merchants in Poltava and 292 Jews classed as towns-men (about one fifth of the total number of inhabitants). The community in Poltava and its environs numbered 2,073 in 1847. The number of Jews in the town doubled by the 1870s, and in 1897 reached 11,046 (20.5% of the total population), of whom a considerable number were from Lithuania and Belo-russia. The Poltava community was one of the best organized and most progressive in Russia. It had 10 synagogues. Jews owned four large flour mills, most of the distilleries, some lumber warehouses, and two printing presses. At the close of the 19th century the talmud torah was converted into a modern elementary school, which was attended by 300 children who studied both religious and general subjects; its teaching staff included Alexander Siskind *Rabinovitz and M. Haezrahi. There were also a girls' vocational school supported by the *Jewish Colonization Association, a yeshivah, and 20 ḥadarim. The community's hospital and clinic provided free services, and there were an old age home and a loan bank. The Jewish library contained 8,000 volumes. The influence of the Russian intelligentsia, led by the author V. Korolenko, prevented the outbreak of pogroms in Poltava during both periods of revolution in Russia in 1905 and 1917. There was a strong Zionist movement in Poltava, which was one of the foremost centers of the *Po'alei Zion movement in Russia; several founders of this party were born in Poltava and began their activities there: B. *Borochov, I. *Ben-Zvi, and V. *Zerubavel (the last two were natives of Poltava). The ideological organ of the party, Yevreyskaya Rabochaya Khronika (founded in 1906), was published in Poltava, and the founding conference of Po'alei Zion was held there. Rabbi of Poltava from 1893 to 1917 was E.A. Rabinowich, a leader of the extreme Orthodox and a strong opponent of the Zionists. He published the religious monthly Ha-Peles (1903–06) and the weekly Ha-Modi'a (1910–15) in Poltava. The historian Elias *Tcherikower was born in Poltava.

Under the Soviet regime the fate of the community was the same as that of the rest of Russian Jewry. Until 1927 Poltava remained a center for printing of Jewish religious books (particularly siddurim and calendars). In 1926 among the 9,000 Jewish breadwinners, 2,415 were white collar workers, 1,862 craftsmen, and 1,676 simple laborers. Some 80% of the artisan union were Jews. Many were occupied in the large sock factory that supplied the entire Soviet Union. There were 2 Yiddish schools and a Yiddish section in the railroad school. The Jewish population numbered 18,476 (20.1% of the total) in 1926. It dropped by 1939 to 12,860 (10% of the total population).

The Germans entered the city September 18, 1941. Many Jews were successfully evacuated or escaped. A Judenrat was established, and the Jews were called to register. On September 25, 5,000 were murdered, and on November 23, after a new registration was ordered, 3,000 Jews were executed. In the following days Jews who evaded registration or hid were caught and executed. In the late 1960s the Jewish population was estimated at 5,000. There was no synagogue, the remaining one having been closed down in 1959 by the militia, which broke in, confiscated all religious articles, dispersed the congregation, and prohibited the holding of further gatherings. Subsequently Jews have prayed in private. There is a Jewish cemetery in Poltava. There are also two mass graves of Jewish martyrs murdered by the Nazis; one in which 13,000 bodies are buried, and in the other 7,000. The monuments there do not specify that all the victims were Jews.

Region of "Poltavshchina"

Jews began to settle in the region during the early 17th century in the process of Jewish participation in the colonization of Ukraine. By 1610 there was a Jewish community in Berezan (to the north of Pereyaslav), and within a few decades about a dozen Jewish communities were established in the districts of *Pereyaslav and Mirgorod, of which the largest were in Pereyaslav and *Lubny. Jews engaged in commerce and the leasing of estates, flour mills, liquor distilleries, breweries, and inns. There was strong competition from Christian towns-men, and during the *Chmielnicki massacres of 1648 these communities were among the first to be destroyed. After the region came under Russian rule Jews were not permitted to live there until the first partition of Poland in 1772. Individual Jewish families, however, settled in various estates under the protection of their owners despite frequent expulsions by the authorities.

After the first partition of Poland in 1772, Jewish settlement on the eastern bank of the river Dnieper was renewed, and by 1792 there were over 700 Jews in the region, most of whom lived on estates or in villages. In 1794 this region, which then formed part of the province of Yekaterinoslav, was incorporated within the *Pale of Settlement. In 1803 there were 82 Jewish merchants and 2,030 Jews classed as townsmen living in the province of Poltava, which was formed in 1802. The community of *Kremenchug was the largest in the district, and developed in particular owing to its position on the Dnieper, the main waterway from Lithuania to the south. It accounted in 1897 for 30% of the Jews in the province. In 1847, 15,572 Jews were counted in the 18 communities of the province (which also included the Jews in the small settlements and their environs). Their numbers increased as a result of a large emigration from Lithuania and Belorussia, and were estimated at 84,000 in 1881. The census of 1897 recorded 111,417 Jews (4% of the total population) in Poltava province (the lowest percentage of Jews in all the provinces of the Pale). The Russian-Ukrainian majority had a strong assimilationist influence on the Jews in the province, who were a minority in all the towns; it was only in Kremenchug that their numbers approached half the population. On the other hand, *Chabad Ḥasidism, which penetrated from the north, was an important spiritual influence (the tomb of *Shneur Zalman of Lyady, the founder of Chabad Ḥasidism, is in *Gadyach in Poltava province).

About one half of the Jews of the province of Poltava earned their livelihood from commerce (in contrast to 38.5% in the whole of Russia), and about 30 percent were engaged in crafts and industry. Commerce was principally conducted in grain and other agricultural produce. Although some Jews owned saw mills, brick-kilns, flour mills, alcohol distilleries, and other enterprises, the overwhelming majority of the workers in them were non-Jews. During the spring of 1881 pogroms occurred in the north of the province of Poltava. In 1905 a wave of pogroms swept across 52 settlements of the province. The most severely affected were Gadyach, Kremenchug, *Romny, and *Zolotonosha.

During World War I thousands of refugees and Jews expelled from the battle zone arrived in the province of Poltava and found refuge in the Jewish communities. During the Civil War, the communities of the western section of the province suffered especially from pogroms by bands of Ukrainians and the "volunteer army" of A.I. *Denikin. In 1926 there were approximately 93,000 Jews in the five districts (Kremenchug, Lubny, Poltava, *Priluki, Romny) of the former territory of the province of Poltava.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

S. Ettinger, in: Zion, 21 (1956), 107–42; Zionist Organization, Die Judenpogrome in Russland (1909); Reshumot, 3 (Berlin, 1923), 157–71; Y. Zerubavel, Alei Ḥayyim (1960), 14–124 passim, 233–5; B. Ḥaikin, in: J. Erez (ed.), Sefer Ẓ.-S. (1963), 120–1.

[Yehuda Slutsky]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.