HORODENKA - AN HISTORICAL DESCRIPTION
by Norman Berman (1997)
(Based on material from Encyclopedia Judaica ; Encyclopedia of the Holocaust; Wiesenthal's, Every Day A Rememberance Day and Sefer Horodenka)
Note: There will be references to Sefer Horodenka throughout this document. The translation of Sefer Horodenka means "Book of Horodenka". It is a volume dedicated to the town of Horodenka and to its Holocaust victims. Sefer Horodenka was published by the Horodenka Societies of New York in 1962/1963. The book was printed primarily in Hebrew and Yiddish with a minimum of English text. Members of the Horodenker Societies received a copy. There are copies available in the Holocaust Museum in Washington and I believe in the New York Public Library as well as in the offices of YIVO (the Jewish Research Institute).
GORODENKA (POL. HORODENKA), a city in Invano-Frankivsk (Stanislawow) Oblast (region) currently in the Ukraine. The town sits on the Dneister River some 50 kilometers (some 31 miles) from Chernovtsy. The map coordinates are 48 40 / 25 30 . Horodenka is near the Dneister River and in the shadows of the Carpathian Mountains. The major cities that are relatively near to Horodenka are Kiev some 255 miles northeast of Horodenka and Lviv, also known as Lemberg, 112 miles to the northwest. This area was also known as Galicia when under Austro-Hungarian rule.
Jews first settled there under Polish rule during the middle of the 17th century. In 1743 the Polish landowner granted them by a privilege the right to live in the town and to engage in commerce (excluding trade in the Christian religious appurtenances) and crafts. The community received land for building a synagogue and for a cemetery. Jews of Horodenka were dealers in grain, timber, and salt, wine makers, distillers of brandy beer brewers, tavern keepers and leasers and managers of estates. According to the census of 1765, there were 863 Jewish families in Horodenka and 133 Jews in 14 villages in the vicinity affiliated with the Horodenka community. In the middle of the 18th century there were a group of Shabbateans and Frankists in the town. During the 1760's most of the Jews in Horodenka joined the Hasidic movement, among them Nahman of Horodenka, one of the closest disciples of Israel ben Eliezer (The Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement ).
Horodenka came under Austrian rule in 1772. In 1794, 30 Jews in Horodenka (12 families) joined to found an agricultural settlement. Despite their economic difficulties, the rate of taxation levied upon the Jewish population was five times higher than that for the Christian population. According to data of 1890, 4340 of the 11,162 inhabitants of the town and 7 of the 18 members of the municipal council were Jews. By the end of the 19th century a local Benei Zion society had been founded, which by 1897 consisted of about 150 members. A Jewish boys' school financed by Baron Hirsch functioned from 1898 to 1914. The first Hebrew school was opened in 1907. At the beginning of the 20th century, the community had a Great Synagogue and a number of "battei midrash" and Hasidic prayer houses. Pre-World War I Horodenka was considered to be in Austria- Hungary. In World War I the Jews in Horodenka suffered severely under the Russian occupation. In 1916 Jewish houses were set on fire and nine local Jews were hanged on a charge of espionage.
Horodenka was within Poland between the two world wars. The Jewish population numbered 3,048 (out of 9,907) in 1921. The first emigration to Israel occurred in 1920. Subsequently, about 2,000 emigrated to the United States, Canada, and South America and hundreds of others to Eretz Yisroel.
(Holocaust Period) Within a few days of the outbreak of war between Germany and Poland in September of 1939 Horodenka was occupied by the Red Army and at this time it was annexed by the Soviet Union, becoming part of the Ukrainian SSR. A substantial number of Polish Jews from the German occupied areas of eastern Poland sought refuge in Horodenka. On June 22, 1941 the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and a few dozen of the town's Jews escaped into the interior of the Soviet Union. On July 2, 1941 units of the Hungarian army (who were allies of the Germans) entered Horodenka The local Ukrainian populace immediately attacked the Jewish inhabitants, murdering and robbing them. The Ukrainian militia seized the Jews right off the streets for forced labor . Subsequently, Jews from Carpatho-Ruthenia (which had been annexed by Hungary) arrived in Horodenka, having been driven from their homes. A local Jewish committee was set up to deal with the situation. Aid was extended to the local Jews and refugees.
When the city came under German administration in September 1941 conditions deteriorated. Anti-Jewish measures were enacted, including restriction on free movement both inside and outside of the town; compulsory wearing of the blue star armband and the institution of slave labor. In addition, Jewish owned apartments with all of their contents were confiscated. In November of 1941, a Jundenrat (Jewish Council) was established. Although forced to follow German orders, the council did what it could to improve the ever deteriorating conditions. They established soup kitchens and they tried to intervene with the German authorities in an attempt to postpone anti-Jewish measures. The Jews were concentrated in a ghetto. On December 4 and 5, 1941, they were assembled in the Jewish school allegedly to receive immunization against typhus but they were sent to their death. Some skilled craftsmen were released, but about twenty-five hundred underwent a "Selektion" and those classified as "nonproductive" were taken to a forest (8 miles from Horodenka) between the towns of Michalcze and Simakowce. Mass graves dug and the Jews were murdered.
At the beginning of 1942 many Jews from the Horodenka vicinity were moved into the town ghetto. The result of the overcrowding in the ghetto exceeded its capacity and many of the inhabitants died of starvation and disease. On April 4, 1942, a second "Aktion" was carried out in which 1,500 were sent to the Belzec extermination camp. Sixty Jews were murdered right in the cemetery in Horodenka In May and June 1942, hundreds of Jews were taken from Horodenka to Kolomyya, where they shared the fate of the Jews there. In July of 1942 the liquidation of the ghetto began with the murder of the remnants of the Jewish community. Some of the inmates fled to Tlusta where they found temporary refuge. The ghetto was liquidated on September 6, 7, and 8, 1942. During this three day Aktion, 2000 Jews are murdered by the Schutzpolzei (special police) with the help of the Ukrainian police. Some of the surviving Jews were sent to the Janowska camp in Lvov and the rest to Belzec. A small number of Horodenka Jews escaped to the forest and joined the Soviet partisans only to be killed by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. On March 24, 1944 Soviet forces returned to Horodenka, but by then only a few Jews were left. They subsequently left for Poland in transit to Palestine and to the West.
Sefer Horodenka contains a list of Holocaust victims from Horodenka and the surrounding area, as recalled by the survivors and others who left before the war.
It appears that there are Horodenka emigres (who left Horodenka in the 1920s) and Holocaust survivors residing in Israel. In the cemetery in Holon (outside of Tel Aviv) there is a monument to the Horodenka victims. There also seems to be an organized society (similar to that of New York) of Horodenka landtzman in Israel called the Horodenker Association of Israel.