Industrial city in eastern Ukraine. The Jewish community of Dnipropetrovs’k, a city with a population of more than 1,000,000, was in decline at the end of the twentieth century, but remained one of the largest in Ukraine. According to the 2001 population census, the “core” Jewish population was 22,000. The “extended” Jewish population (those meeting the requirements of Israel’s Law of Return) was estimated between 35,000 and 50,000.
Jews first settled in Dnipropetrovs’k, then Ekaterinoslav, shortly after its founding in 1773. The first Jewish community was formally established in 1793 and built its first wooden synagogue around 1800. The 1804 Law on Jews officially included Ekaterinoslav Province (which then included the guberniias of New Russia, Azov, and Tauride) as a part of the Pale of Jewish Settlement.
By the second half of the nineteenth century, the Jewish population of Ekaterinoslav, a quickly developing trade and industrial center, numbered more than 40,000, and in 1889 Jews comprised the third largest ethnic group in the city. They were involved in trade, industry, the free professions, and services, especially tailoring, shoemaking, jewelry, and furniture production. By the end of the nineteenth century, a third of the province’s Jews lived in villages, including 17 Jewish agricultural colonies, many of which were destroyed during World War I and the Civil War. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the community had dozens of synagogues (notably the Golden Roza synagogue constructed in 1852), as well as numerous educational, welfare, and other communal organizations. In 1913, Ekaterinoslav had 90 Jewish schools, among them a Jewish Government College, a Talmud Torah, and a women’s secondary school.
Pogroms took place in the area in 1881–1882 and again, on a larger scale, in 1905. Not relying upon government forces, local Jews created their own self-defense groups. In the early twentieth century, the city became an important center of Jewish political activity and organization, mainly involving the Bund and Zionist parties. Ekaterinoslav Jews actively participated in elections to local government organs and to the Duma, where they supported the idea of Jewish national cultural autonomy.
In early Soviet times the city’s Jewish population grew rapidly, attracted by cultural and economic opportunities; in 1939 it stood at 100,000. The Dnipropetrovs’k region was also a center of Jewish agricultural settlement. In the late 1920s it boasted two Jewish districts and 33 additional settlements created with the assistance of OZET, the Society for Settlement of Jewish Toilers on the Land.
The Jewish rural population was seriously harmed by the famine of the early 1930s (holodomor) and the repressions accompanying collectivization: better-off Jewish settlers were defined as kulaks, which subjected them to deportation and confiscation of property. Many Jews, too, were repressed in the late 1920s and the 1930s in the course of various campaigns (including Rabbi Levi Yitsḥak Shneerson and Regional Committee First Secretary Mendel Khataevich). By October 1933 only 7 of 48 synagogues remained in the region.
This community, like most others in Ukraine, was almost annihilated during the Holocaust. The first mass extermination of 12,000 people took place in October 1941. Approximately 20,000 more of the city’s Jews were killed during the German occupation, and mass killings also took place in nearby cities. All in all, the Nazis exterminated about 50,000 Jews in the Dnipropetrovs’k region.
Jews who survived the war were targeted by the postwar antisemitic campaigns, which encouraged official and social antisemitism. In 1953 a number of Jewish doctors were arrested, victims of the Doctors’ Plot. Nonetheless, Dnipropetrovs’k again became a major Jewish center, with a Jewish population of almost 70,000 by 1970. Until the 1980s, the city’s only synagogue was the sole legal Jewish institution in Dnipropetrovs’k, where prayer services, some social events, and charitable activities took place even in the most difficult times. Many Dnipropetrovs’k Jews, especially in the late 1960s, were involved in informal Jewish cultural initiatives, as well as in nationalist groups. In the late 1970s, Zionist activity, affected by growing Jewish emigration from the city, became the principal focus of Jewish life. However, by the early 1980s, most unofficial Jewish groups and initiatives had been suppressed. Only at the end of the decade, under Gorbachev’s reforms, did the Jewish movement become active again.
At the forefront of this new activity were the School of Jewish Tradition, organized in 1987, and a Hebrew teachers’ group. In December 1989, a group of local Jewish intellectuals founded the Tarbut ve-Raḥamim Society of Jewish Culture (later the Dnipropetrovs’k Regional Jewish Center). Because of internal ideological controversies and power struggles, by late 1992 it had largely stopped functioning. Another organization, the Dnipropetrovs’k Jewish Council, affiliated with the Ukrainian Jewish Council, was established in February 1993.
The religious community of Dnipropetrovs’k was revived in 1991 when Israel-born Lubavitch Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezky arrived from the United States and became the recognized leader of Dnipropetrovs’k Jewry. In 1998, with the founding and registration of the Dnipropetrovs’k municipal Jewish community, Rabbi Kaminezky became executive president. The community was governed by a board of trustees and sponsored numerous communal institutions and projects. The community had an extended network of educational institutions, including two yeshivas and a kolel, a Jewish high school (one of the largest in Europe), a women’s teacher training college, and Jewish Agency–sponsored informal educational establishments. Other areas of communal activity included welfare (through the JDC-sponsored Dnipropetrovs’k Sha‘are Ḥesed Charity Foundation); culture (through the Jewish Communal Center); professional and volunteer communal activities throughout Dnipropetrovs’k Province; youth and sports activities; and Jewish media, such as community newspapers and magazines, television and radio programs, and Internet resources; Jewish research and memorial activities were centered in the Tkuma Holocaust Studies Center. In the nationwide Jewish political sphere, Dnipropetrovs’k became the headquarters of the (Ḥabad) Federation of Jewish Religious Communities, officially registered in March 1999.
Aleksandr Bystriakov, Evrei Ekaterinoslava-Dnepropetrovska: (XVIII–nachalo XX vv. (Dnipropetrovs’k, Ukr., 2001).
RG 358, Joseph A. Rosen, Papers, 1921-1938 (finding aid).