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19th Century Jewish Agricultural Colonies

by Mel Comisarow

Condensed with permission of the author from a post on a Public Forum

From: Mel Comisarow (melcom@chem.ubc.ca)
Subject: Jewish Ukrainian agricultural colonies
Newsgroups: soc.genealogy.jewish
Date: 2000/08/13

A little known subchapter of Eastern European Jewish history is the 19th 
century establishment of Jewish agricultural colonies in Southeastern 
Ukraine. In the eighteen forties, with an offer of a 50-year exemption 
from the military draft and perpetual familial leaseholds on land, 
several thousand Litvaks, Lithuanian Jews, were induced to settle on 
virgin agricultural land in Southeastern Ukraine.  German farmers were 
imported as teachers as these Lithuanian Jews had no agricultural 
skills.  Government aid was promised and perhaps even sometimes 
delivered to develop these agricultural colonies.  With great difficulty 
these migrant Litvaks established thriving agricultural communities and 
the population of these Jewish agricultural colonies reached tens of 
thousands by the turn of the twentieth century.  Marriage partners for 
these Jews were usually migrant Litvaks from surrounding villages.  It 
was fairly common for two different families to be related in many ways 
via marriages in different generations, some dating back to Lithuanian 
residence. Marriages between first and second cousins were common.  
These Jews were termed "vechni aradotari", renters forever, as their 
original leaseholds of 40 desyatin (1 desyatin = 1.09 hectares = 10,900 
square meters = 2.9 acres) could be neither bought nor sold, but only 
passed on to succeeding generations.  The divisions of land amongst the 
males in succeeding generations meant that only one or two individual 
families could survive on the land causing other offspring to migrate to 
the surrounding towns and cities.  Due to the limited economic 
opportunities, overall political oppression and periodic pogroms (i. e. 
the usual reasons), starting in the 1890s many of these agricultural 
Ukrainian Jews migrated to Cyprus, Palestine, Western Europe, Australia 
and the Americas. 
One set of 17 Jewish Ukrainian colonies, the "central" 
colonies of which being 2 to 30 km from others, was established in 1848, 
about 80 km/50 miles northwest of the city of Mariupol, a port on the 
Sea of Azov.
My father was born in Grafskoy, one of these colonies, and 
I would like to exchange information with others who have an interest in 
these colonies and colonists.   I traveled to six of these colonies in 
August 1999 and returned with interviews of the remaining Jewish 
inhabitants and photographs and videos of cemeteries and synagogues. 

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Updated Monday September 05 2022. Copyright 1999 [Jewish Agricultural Colonies of the Ukraine]. All rights reserved.



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