(Pol., Kamieniec Podolski; Rus., Kamenets Podol’skii), city on the Smotrich River (a tributary of the Dniester) and district center of the Khmel’nyts’kyi region of Ukraine. In the 1430s the town passed from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to Poland; from 1569 to 1792 it was the center of the Podolia province of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, though in 1672–1699 it was the center of the Kamenets province of the Ottoman Empire. From 1793 it was the center of the Podolian region of the Russian Empire, and from 1920 of the Soviet Union.
The first evidence of a Jewish presence in Kamieniec Podolski is implicit in laws, promulgated in 1447 and repeatedly thereafter, forbidding Jews to reside there for more than three days at a time, and to purchase agricultural products in neighboring villages. The town was divided among three communities: Polish, Ukrainian, and Armenian; in 1589, the Polish council granted Jews permission to settle, but this right was abrogated in 1598.
From Sefer shimush, by Ya‘akov Emden (Amsterdam, 1757 or 1758). Illustration depicting the bishop of Kamieniec Podolski, Mikołaj Dembowski, drinking in celebration after the burning of the Talmud was carried out at his order. (YIVO)
In July 1648, authorities in Kamieniec Podolski permitted Jews to seek shelter from the Khmel’nyts’kyi uprising. Jews played an active role in the defense of the town against the Cossacks in 1648 and 1652, and also contributed a large sum of money to army support. In 1661, Jews were allowed to live in the town, but royal decrees of 1663, 1665, and 1670 later revoked this privilege.
After the Ottoman occupation in 1672, Turkish authorities granted to Jews the right to reside in the town; by 1681 there were about 150 Jews living in 35 residences. With Kamieniec Podolski’s return to Poland–Lithuania in 1699, local burghers renewed their struggle against Jews, finally having them expelled in 1750. In 1757, Bishop Mikołaj Dembowski forced local Jewish leaders to participate in a disputation with the followers of Jakub Frank, which resulted in the confiscation of Talmud volumes and their public burning in the city.
According to the 1765 census, 88 Jews were living in the town’s suburbs. In 1784, this number rose to 277 and in 1790 to 431. After Podolia became part of the Russian Empire, a tsarist decree of 1797 permitted Jews to live in the city. In 1800, 29 of Kamenets-Podol’skii’s 75 merchants were Jews, and 62 of the town’s 573 residences were owned by Jews. The Jews’ services to urban and military development were recognized by the government, which granted them official permission to purchase real estate, despite the burghers’ demands for their expulsion.
Restrictions on the Jews of Kamenets Podol’skii were finally abolished in 1859. This led to a rapid increase in the size of the Jewish population from 4,629 Jews in 1847 to 16,211 (40% of the total population) in 1897. In 1857, all 67 city and district merchants in the first and second guilds and 933 of 943 merchants in the third guild were Jewish; 541 of 780 artisans were Jews, including all the town’s jewelers, watchmakers, and bookbinders.
In 1851, with the support of local maskilim, two Jewish crown schools of the first and second stage were established, where, among others, Avraham Gottlober and Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher-Sforim) served as teachers. In the 1860s a private women’s school and Talmud Torah were opened. The local non-Jewish men’s gymnasium had 25 Jewish pupils in 1871 (6% of the total student body), while the women’s had 60 Jewish pupils in 1899 (15%). Jewish youth also studied in other public schools within the limits of a numerus clausus. The Kamenets Podol’skii Jewish community maintained a hospital with an almshouse and a soup kitchen. In 1910, the town had more than 30 synagogues and prayer houses, belonging to various artisan fraternities and Hasidic communities. In 1909, some Hasidic dynasties organized the Tif’eret Yisra’el yeshiva, which existed until 1917.
In the mid-1880s, a Ḥoveve Tsiyon circle was formed, and by the end of the nineteenth century Kamenets-Podol’skii had become the center of the Zionist movement in the region, hosting a first regional conference in 1902. In 1905, the activities of such political parties as the Bund and Po‘ale Tsiyon began to grow. The Tse‘ire Tsiyon (Zionist Youth) organization was also established.
Table: The Jewish Population of Kam’ianets’-Podil’s’kyi
In 1905 and 1914, authorities in Kamenets Podol’skii succeeded in quashing pogroms at their inception. During the Civil War (1919–1920), however, approximately 100 Jews were killed in pogroms. From June to November 1919, Kam’ianets’-Podil’s’kyi served as the capital of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. A Jewish delegation, after expressing support for the ruling directorate, called on the president, Symon Petliura, to take firm measures against pogroms.
By the end of 1920, the Soviet government had taken over Kamenets Podol’skii. From 1923—with support from Evobshchestkom (the Jewish Public Committee to Aid Victims of the War and Pogroms), ORT, and OPE—three Jewish schools were established. From 1921 to 1928, the local chapter of the Kultur-lige published books in Yiddish. Despite persecution from the government, Zionist groups remained active until 1926. In the mid-1930s, all Jewish schools were closed, as was the House of Jewish Culture, with its drama studio. The 15 synagogues and prayer houses were closed after 1936, though synagogue officials managed to conceal some 30 Torah scrolls, which survived the Holocaust and were later used by clandestine religious communities.
Emigration and moves to industrial centers, for example, to Birobidzhan and Crimea, led to a decline in the Jewish population: in 1913, there were 23,430 Jews in the town (47% of the total population), and in 1929, there were 12,774 (30%). In 1939, the town’s Jewish population was 13,796 (38%).
The German occupation of Kamenets Podol’skii lasted from July 1941 until March 1944. Jews were arrested and shot from the outset. On 20 July 1941, a ghetto was set up in the “Old” town. Subsequently, two additional ghettos were established in the “New” town and the “Polish folvarks,” where artisans were held separately. During July–August 1941, the Nazis shot about 30,000 Jews: on 27–29 August alone they killed 23,600 Jews, including some 18,000 from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and elsewhere. Aktions were carried out from November 1941 until June 1942. From the summer of 1942, the Nazis used the empty ghetto of Kamenets Podol’skii to house Jews from neighboring towns and villages. The ghetto, which then held 4,800 Jews, was liquidated in October 1942, and only a few people managed to escape. In November 1942, the Nazis murdered about 500 Jewish children in the Jewish cemetery, most of whom they buried alive. In the winter of 1942–1943, the last 4,500 Jews in the town were murdered. According to official Soviet data, the Nazis murdered a total of more than 40,000 Jews there.
Jews who returned to Kamenets Podol’skii after the war tried to organize a community in 1946–1947. However, authorities turned down their application to restore the only surviving synagogue building, forbidding them to gather for prayers in private premises, and refusing to legalize a community organization. The Jews did manage to erect monuments at the mass murder sites. In 1959 there were 2,400 Jews in the town (6% of the total population), a number that dwindled to 1,800 by 1979.
In 1992, the Shalom Jewish Cultural Club was organized with more than 1,000 members. A Sunday school began operating in 1994 with about 30 pupils. From 1995 to 1999, a monthly regional Jewish newspaper, Shalom Aleikhem, appeared. The Jewish Agency opened an office in the town and in 1999 the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee organized a local branch of the Ḥesed Besht society, which performed social services for about 500 Jews and their families and became the central Jewish cultural and educational institution of Kam’ianets’-Podil’s’kyi.
Dariusz Kołodziejczyk, Podole pod panowaniem tureckim: Ejalet Kamieniecki, 1672–1699 (Warsaw, 1994); Mykola Borisovich Petrov, Istorychna topohrafiia Kam’iantsia-Podil’s’koho kintsia XVII–XVIII st.: Istoriohrafiia, dzherla (Kamenets-Podolsk, Ukr., 2002), in Ukrainian, German, Polish, and Latin; Avraham Rosen (Abraham Rosenzweig), Yeshayahu Bernshtain, and Ḥ(aim) Sarig, eds., Kaminits-Podolsk and Its Environs: A Memorial Book of the Jewish Communities . . . Annihilated by the Nazis in 1941, trans. Bonnie Schooler Sohn (Bergenfield, N.J., 1999).
Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson