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Kharkiv is a city in Ukraine. It was built as a fortress against the invasions of Crimean Tartars in the 16th century, and it was the headquarters of a Cossack brigade in the 18th. Kharkiv was outside the Pale of Settlement. Jewish merchants often attended the large fairs held there from the second half of the 18th century, however, individual Jews even settled there without hindrance. In 1821 the authorities forbade Jews to enter the town, but, on the complaint of the local authorities that the order was harmful to the business of the fairs, Jewish merchants were again admitted in 1835. From 1859 Jews who were allowed to live outside the Pale of Settlement began to settle in Kharkiv. In 1868 they were permitted to build a synagogue and nominate a community council. There were then 35 families of merchants and craftsmen. In that period there were 26 Jewish pupils studying at the local secondary school and university and 68 Jewish soldiers. By 1878 Jews numbered 2,625 (total population 83,507). When the fairs were held, some 3,000 Jews would visit the town. In the mid-1800s there was a Karaite community of 525 persons with a synagogue and cemetery. They dealt mostly in tobacco.

Toward the end of the 19th century, many Jewish youths from the provinces of the Pale began to attend the University of Kharkiv, and in 1886, the 414 Jewish students formed 28.3% of the student body. A Bilu society was founded among the Jewish students there. The community numbered 11,013 (6.3% of the total population) in 1897. At that time there were three large Jewish banks, and many wholesale businesses with many trade connections abroad. Others lived from petty trade and crafts. The community opened a hospital and a soup kitchen for the needy. In 1880 the Goldfaden theatrical group performed there for a month. During World War I and the Civil War (1918–20) many Jews, expelled from their places of residence or escaping from the fighting zone or pogroms, took refuge in Kharkiv. The pedagogic seminary of Grodno and its teachers and pupils were transferred to Kharkiv in this period. Kharkiv became an important Jewish center. A Hebrew secondary school and popular Jewish university were established, and books and newspapers in Yiddish and Hebrew were published there. The conferences of He-Ḥalutz (1920, 1922), the Socialist-Zionist Party (1920), and Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir (1923) were held in the town. A group of Hebrew writers was also active there. The consolidation of the Soviet regime marked the end of organized Jewish life, but the choice of Kharkiv as the capital of Ukraine from 1919 to 1934 and its general development resulted in a rapid increase in the Jewish population, which numbered 65,007 (17.2% of the total) in 1923, 81,138 in 1926, 115,811 in 1935, and 130,250 (total population 832,913) in 1939. The town was the center of the Yevsektsiya's activities in Ukraine. Several Yiddish Communist newspapers, including the daily Der Shtern (1925–41), and the journals Di Roite Welt ("The Red World") and Sovetishe Literatur were published there. In 1925 the All-Ukrainian Jewish State Theater was opened, performing there until it was moved with the capital to Kyiv in 1934. The Jewish State Theatre, Kharkiv took its place. In the 1920s there existed Jewish sections in the court of law, the militia sectors, and the municipality. At the end of the 1920s, there were four Yiddish schools with about 1,900 pupils, a teachers' college, a vocational school for machine production (over 400 pupils), and a Jewish section at the journalism school.

The Germans occupied Kharkiv on October 24, 1941. Most of the city's Jews succeeded in evacuating or fleeing the town. The commander of the 6th Army (quartered there and led by General von Paulus) ordered hostages taken, most of them Jews, and they were shot for every breach of martial law. In mid-November buildings in which German headquarters and organizations were housed were blown up, and 1,000 hostages, mostly Jews, were taken and executed. On December 14, 1941, the Jews were ordered to move in two days to barracks that housed workers of a machine and tractor factory in the city's district 10. The barracks were without windows and doors and had no heating. No food was allowed and water was only during limited hours. Many died of diseases and starvation. At the end of December 100 were killed. Between January 2nd and 8th, the ghetto was liquidated, and the Jews were murdered nearby in the Drobitski Yar (about 8 km. from town) – according to the Soviet Commission to Investigate Nazi Crimes, about 15,000 persons. Together with the hostages and Jews from hospitals and old-age homes, the number of victims was 21,685 Jews, according to German sources. Kharkiv was liberated on August 23, 1943. Jewish settlement was renewed in Kharkiv, and the Jewish population numbered 81,500 (9% of the total) in 1959, dropping to 62,800 in 1970. The last synagogue was closed down by the authorities in 1948–49. All subsequent attempts to obtain permission to organize a synagogue were unsuccessful, and the former synagogue was converted into a sports gymnasium. In 1957, 1958, and 1959 private prayer groups were dispersed on the High Holidays (New York Times, May 21, 1959). Several Torah scrolls were confiscated. In 1960 the minyanim were again dispersed and Jews were arrested for baking maẓẓah. In 1967 Jews attending private services on the High Holidays were beaten by the militia. The old cemetery was converted into a park. In 1970 Jews had their own section in the general cemetery, and kosher poultry was available. In the 1990s many Jews immigrated to Israel and the West.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.