(Yid., Zhovkve; Pol., Żółkiew; Rus., Nesterov between 1951 and 1992), town with a Jewish presence from the late sixteenth century; under Ukrainian sovereignty since 1991. Zhovkva was a private town in the Polish Commonwealth until 1772, when it became a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. From 1918 through 1939 it belonged to independent Poland and then was taken over by the USSR. From 1941 through 1944 it was occupied by Germany.
The first reference to a Jewish presence in Żółkiew is from 1593. While the town did not receive municipal rights until 1603, Jews were granted communal privileges in 1600 by the owner, Stanisław Żółkiewski. Żółkiew’s Jewish community became independent in 1620; earlier it had been subject to the jurisdiction of Lwów. A Jewish communal hekdesh (poor house) was founded at about the start of the seventeenth century. The oldest tombstone in the Jewish cemetery is dated 1610. The town’s stone synagogue, still standing, was built at the end of the seventeenth century.
Title page of Keli yakar (Żółkiew: Aharon and Gershon Segal, 1763). An example of a title page that boasts the use of “Amsterdam” fonts, although it was printed in Żółkiew. (Gross Family Collection)
In 1628, Jews owned 21 houses in Żółkiew. By 1680, this number had increased to 88, out of a total of 210. In 1690, King Jan Sobieski (r. 1674–1696) granted local Jews the right to establish a Hebrew printing press. The earliest reference to a Jewish tailors guild dates from 1693. By 1743, 168 of the 256 houses in Żółkiew belonged to Jews.
Between 1680 and 1730, Żółkiew was an important center of Sabbatian activity, prompting rabbinical bans of excommunication against members of the sect in 1688, 1716, and 1722. At the turn of the eighteenth century, Żółkiew had achieved a prominent place in the Jewish communal affairs of its region and served as administrative center for the three smaller Jewish communities of Kukizów, Kulików, and Magįerów. Among Żółkiew’s Jewish residents were Jakub Becal (d. 1696), an agent of the king and lessee of royal estates, and Emanu’el ben Yonah, a physician who held the position of marshal of the Council of Four Lands in 1699. By the end of the eighteenth century, Żółkiew had become an important center of the Haskalah movement. During that period, Jews were active within the local fur industry.
In 1833 the town’s synagogue was partially damaged in a fire, but was soon repaired (renovations were also conducted in 1908, 1935, and 1955–1956). A hospital for the poor was founded in 1862. In 1870, the Jewish population numbered more than 3,000; by 1910, Jews represented more than 40 percent of the population; and by 1941 half of the population of 10,000 was Jewish. Before World War II, secular Jewish cultural and communal institutions in Żółkiew included a Tarbut school, a Kultura society, and a football team.
On 28 June 1941, German troops entered Żółkiew and set the synagogue on fire; the cemetery was destroyed and its tombstones were used to build roads. Deportations began in March 1942 to concentration camps in Lwów and Bełżec. The town’s ghetto, created by the Germans in December 1942, was partially liquidated on 25 September 1943 and finally on 20 November 1943. The Red Army entered on 23 July 1944. Only 74 Jews survived the war, and most soon emigrated. Today, a few traces of Jewish presence remain in Zhovkva, including the synagogue, which is in disrepair; fragments of tombstones from the Jewish cemetery; and a statue commemorating the murdered Jews of the town.
Stefan Gąsiorowski, Chrześcijanie i Żydzi w Żółkwi w XVII i XVIII wieku (Kraków, 2001); Natan Michael Gelber and Israel Ben-Shem, eds., Sefer Solkiv: Kiryah nisgavah (Jerusalem, 1969); Jakub Schall, Dawna Żółkiew i jej Żydzi (Żółkiew, 1939); Gerszon Taffet, Zagłada Żydów żółkiewskich (Łódź, 1946).
Translated from Polish by Chaim Chernikov