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The city of Cherkasy, located in central Ukraine, is the capital of the Cherkasy Province and the administrative center of the district of the same name. Thought to have been founded in the thirteenth century, Cherkasy is first mentioned in the Ukrainian Gustynskiy Chronicle. Cherkasy early became a Cossack center, and its residents took part in the seventeenth century Khmelnychchyna Uprising against Ukraine's Polish rulers.

In the mid-fourteenth century Cherkasy, along with the rest of the Ukraine, came under the rule of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The city played an important role by becoming one of several fortified cities that formed the Duchy's southern defensive line against agressors such as the Crimean Tatars and the Turks.

The 1569 Union of Lublin led to Cherkasy becoming a Polish city. It was disenchantment with Polish rule and a desire to be an independent state that led to the Khmelnytsky revolt. In 1791 Cherkasy was given some degree of self-rule under the Magdeburg Rights. But independence was not to be; Ukraine, and Cherkasy, remained under Polish rule until The Second Partition of Poland in 1793, when Poland was dismembered and its territory distributed among Russia, Prussia, and Austria-Hungary. Cherkasy then became a subject of the Russians and was incorporated within the Pale of Settlement.

The Pale was established by Catherine the Great in 1791 to insulate the Russian populace from the corrosive influence of the Jews, who lived in the newly acquired territory. The Second Partition, in particular, resulted in a significant increase in the number of Jews who came under Tsarist authority. Jews were, in general, not permitted to live outside the Pale. Even within the Pale Jews were excluded from specified cities, such as Kiev, and were required to live in small towns (i.e., shtetls). Life in the Pale of Settlement was difficult, with poverty widespread. Social welfare programs developed to care for less fortunate Jews by providing clothes, food, medical care, and education for needy Jews. To learn more about life in the Pale, see Wikipedia and Jewish encyclopedia.

Jews settled in Cherkasy in the sixteenth century and by 1765 the Jewish community consisted of one-hundred seventy-one people. The Haidamak uprising against Polish nobility destroyed the community, which eventually re-established itself. By the end of the nineteenth century the Jewish community had nearly attained eleven-thousand Jews, primarily Hasidim. Two of the community's rabbis were Nahum Zalman Schneersohn and R. Twersky.

The Jewish citizens of Cherkasy played an active role in the life of the town. Many Jews were involved in the food industry. And Jews were represented on Cherkasy's municipal council. A Zionist society was created in the early twentieth century.

The October revolution of 1917 resulted in the Bolsheviks gaining control of Cherkasy. But this did not last long. Control of the city changed hands several times as the civil war raged between the "Reds", the "Whites", and the Ukrainians. In the end– 1920 – the Soviets were the "last men standing".

In mid-May 1919, White Army soldiers, under the command of Anton Deniken, massacred 700 Jews; three months later, in August 1919, Petlyura and his minions destroyed Jewish homes and property.

In 1924 a number of Jewish families, under the auspices of the Soviets, established a collective farm. Twelve months later, a Jewish law court and a police force were set up. A high school and a vocational school were founded; both were taught in Yiddish.

However, life under the Soviets deteriorated. The Ukraine, including Cherkasy, became victims of famine (1932-33) because of Stalin's attempt to force the kulaks onto Collective Farms. Then there was Stalin's Great Purge (1936-8) of the political, military, and intellectual elite. The loss of the military leadership, in particular, would come to cause much difficulty in due course.

And then there were the malignant Germans. June 1941 saw the invasion of the Ukraine by the Nazis and the subsequent annihilation of the Jews. On the twenty-second of June, Cherkasy was bombed by the Germans airforce. It took two months for the Nazis to conquer the city; they entered Cherkasy on 22 August 1941. The Germans created a ghetto the following November; before the end of the month 900 Jews were murdered. Most of the rest of the Jewish community was liquidated in 1942. Twenty-five children were saved by a Ukrainian woman.

A "must read" is the history Cherkassy Research, written by Esther Rechtshafner of Kibbutz Ein Zurim.

  • Last Modified: 11-26-2012

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