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History of Colonization


Go to Jewish Agricultural Colonization in Russia


Go to Colonies in Ekaterinoslav


Jewish Agricultural Colonies In the Western governments


Selected paragraphs from: Our Father's Harvest by Keith Freedman


Following a statute, which was put into law in 1804, Jews were

permitted to engage in agriculture. To encourage them to leave

their urban existence, monetary loans and tax relief for lengthy-

periods were offered. In 1807 the first settlements were founded

in Novorussiya (New Russia), that vast area of the south-eastern

Ukraine which had only recently come under Russian dominion. The

first region to be opened up was in the Government of Kherson

where 300 families were settled. (1) By l8l0 their numbers had

grown to 600 families spread over eight colonies. To maintain these

settlers 145,000 rubles had been spent by the government. Then a

change of heart on the part of the ministry responsible halted further

development. Contemporary reports stated: "The Jewish colonists are

dying of hunger and cold in the midst of the steppes. 5000 out of

10,000 died in a few years."(2)(p.10)


Following the unrest in the cities caused by the institution of military service in 1827, it was suggested that agricultural development recommence as an alternative means of getting more Jews out of their urban life. It was not until 1833 that a further contingent of would-be settlers set out from the northern cities. This time they were directed towards Siberia in order to populate another newly developing area. 1317 families were settled there by 1837 when further emigration was stopped.


A new site for colonization was found in the Government of Yekaterinoslav. Under Tsar Nicholas I, the Minister of Domains Count Kesseler urged the Jews from Lithuania and Courland to settle in Yekaterinoslav. Between 1840 and 1855 seventeen colonies were established in the region.



(1) The history of Jewish agricultural colonization in Russia has

been sparsely recorded. Thus the experiences of the Komisaruk family

provide an invaluable record of a little known aspect of Jewish


(2)The only English sources are 'The Jewish Encyclopedia'- Funk

and Wagnal; and 'The Russian Jews- Emancipation or Extermination' ,

a translation of a work written in 1893 by L. Errara.

Jewish Agricultural Colonization in Russia

(Adapted from Chaim Freedmanís books "Our Fathersí Harvest" and its supplement, privately published in Israel in 1982 and 1990.)


The primary source is "Yevruei Zyemlyedeltsi 1807-1887" (Jewish

 Agriculturists) by Viktor N. Nikitin (Petersburg 1887). This mammoth work of over 700 pages explains the sequence of events leading up to the establishment of the colonies, gives details of the organization and financing of the initial settlement, and includes periodic reports on the development and achievements of the colonies. The reports were prepared by inspectors who were appointed to investigate conditions in the colonies and recommend action to be taken by the government. Since considerable funds were allocated by the government, exact statistics were constantly required. Ö

During the first four decades of the nineteenth century Jewish Agricultural settlement in that part of the southeastern Ukraine know as Novorussiya (New Russia) was confined to several districts in Kherson Guberniya (Government). In the 1830ís an abortive attempt was made to divert settlers, intending to settle in the south, to Siberia. In the early 1840ís it was proposed to develop a new region in the Governments of Yekaterinoslav, east of Kherson. 1846 was the year set by the government official Count Kisselev, who was I charge of the settlement program, as the target date dfor the establishment of the fits colonies than were in fact first settled. Eight were planned, then reduced to seven, of which six were set up during the preliminary stage.

Kisselev set May 15, 1846 as the target date for all candidates to be gathered in Mogilev. Prior to this, advertisements were published throughout the provinces where likely candidates were expected. Therefore, the description by Lipshutz (above) of the colonists leaving Courland in 1844í45 either indicates that the assembly of the candidates started prior to 1846, or Lipshutz erred in the date. 324 candidate families were selected from those who applied. However, by 1846, the budget available necessitated Kisselev cutting back the numbers who were actually sent to Yekaterinoslav to 185. A comparison of the two lists, the one of 324 families who are specified according to Government of origin, the other of 285 families specified by actual town within these Governments, enables us to identify the origins of the groups.

The settlers in Grafskoy comprised a separate unit and the conditions of their migration are described in "Jewish Agricultural Settlements, Yekaterinoslav Government" B.D. Brutzkus, St. Petersburg, 1913.) There they are singled out as a group which suffered hardship die to the lack of financial assistance required to purchase sufficient wagons for the journey. These same circumstances are referred to by Nikitin where he relates how a group of eleven families were discovered en-route to Yekaterinoslav and were in dire circumstances due to the lack of sufficient wagons.

The descriptions by Nikitin indicate that the settlers traveled south in groups wherein their homogeneity of origin was preserved. Furthermore, this was the basis of their allocation to colonies. For example,. Since Truduliubovka (Engles) was initially set up with the 30 families, it can be reasonably assumed that this was the group of 30 families from Salant. A study of the Jewish community of Lutzin (Yehudut Latvia" Tel Aviv 1953) reveals a number of families who were prominent in that town and who also lived on the colonies. These include Zhmood Levin, Amiton, Ezeritz and Lev. In particular, the first colony Novozlatopol (Pervernumer) comprised the bulk of the Lutzin families. It can therefore be established that the Zhmoods and Levins probably lived in Novozlatopol until they joined large numbers of families who abandoned the colonies in the early 1870ís and settled in nearby villages and newly developing towns such as Tokmak, Berdyansk, Mariupol and Andreyevka.

Since the Rassein group consisted of eleven families and Nikitin records the tribulations of a separate group of eleven families enroute to the colonies, and Brutzkus identifies this group as that which established Grafskoy, it can be concluded that the original settlers in Grafskoy were those of the Rassein group.

Grafskoy is not listed amongst the first six colonies: Novozlatopol, Veselaya, Krasnoselka, Mezhiretz, Trudoliubovka and Nechaevka. It first appears in a list of crop yields for 1849 where it is referred to as `Colony No.7' Each colony was known by number and it can be seen from other charts that Grafskoy was No.7.

According to `Yevryeyskaya Encyclopaedia' Grafskoy was founded in 1848. This explains the first crop yield in 1849.The original number of settlers in Grafskoy by that time had risen to twenty-eight families. These included the original eleven families from Rassein who had been waiting to be settled since 1846. The rest of the families were most likely chosen from a group of twenty-four families originating in Kovno Government who had been diverted from the Kherson colonies where they had failed to be absorbed. They were assigned to Grafskoy in conformance with the principle of homogeneity of origin and their arrival no doubt provided the impetus to establish an additional colony. The balance of this new group, namely seven families, may have been settled on Nechaevka (Peness) since it is known that a number of the families of that colony originated in the town of Shavli which was in Kovno Government. This town is not listed amongst the origins of the original 285 families, so settlers from there must have arrived separately. This raises the possibility that the Gordon family of Nechaevka which married into the Pogorelsky family of Sladkovodnaya (Kobilnye) may have originated in Shavli.

It is of interest to speculate as to where the Komisaruks lived between 1846 and 1848. A chart in Nikitin for 1849 shows the number of settlers destined for particular colonies who had not yet been settled in their designated homes. It is stated that they lived in nearby villages. It may be assumed that this had been so for the eleven Rassein families, including the Komisaruks. Nikitin describes the process of agricultural training undergone by the settlers whereby they were initially settled in neighboring German colonies whose farmers taught the Jews agricultural methods and supervised their work. Bearing in mind the close proximity and subsequent relationship between the Jews of Grafskoy and the Germans of Marenfeld (the source of drinking water for Grafskoy and the place of refuge during the pogroms of 1881 and 1918/19), it would seem likely that the eleven Rassein families lived in Marenfeld from the time of their arrival in 1846 until they acquired the requisite farming skills and established their own colony in Grafskoy in 1848.

`Ir Rassein' states that Rabbi Shlomo-Zalmen Komisaruk died in 1848. The 1858 Revision List for Grafskoy corrects the date to 1853.So it can be seen that he hardly had a chance to establish his family in Grafskoy before his untimely death. However there is some evidence for Rabbi Shlomo-Zalmen's role in the establishment of the colonies as held by family tradition. Nikitin lists the number of rabbis living in 1847 in both the Kherson and Yekaterinoslav colonies. In the latter there was only one rabbi who had to serve 2500 settlers and this one rabbi may have been him. This provides the background for an understanding of family tradition that he was highly respected and influential in the region. Bearing the only rabbi he would have had a heavy responsibility caring for the spiritual needs of 2500 people spread over seven colonies.

The cause of Rabbi Shlomo-Zalmen's death can be gauged from reports of numerous epidemics, principally cholera and scurvy which were particularly rampant throughout Russia at the time of the establishment of the colonies.

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Agricultural Colonies (Russia)

"Colonies in Ekaterinoslav"

from: The Jewish Encyclopedia  Funk and Wagnals 1951

Encyclopedia article part I       continued      top of page

"As regards the colonies in Ekaterinoslav, a report made in 1847 by Baron Stempl, superintendent of the colonies shows that the settlers on arriving in Ekaterinoslav generally found no  provision made for them. They were not permitted the dilapidated shanties which serve for houses, and were not even allowed to seek shelter in the neighboring villages until spring, as Stemple had suggested. Those who did so were cruelly driven back by Cossacks. Epidemics of scurvy and smallpox occurred soon after ("Archives of Kherson-Bessarabia Board of Administration," report of Feb. 15, 1849, No. 116; see also Harold Frederic, "The New Exodus," pp/ 78. 79, New York, 1892). After 1849, Jewish immigrants from northeastern Russia were directed chiefly to the government of Ekaterinosalv, where up to 1856, fifteen colonies, sheltering 766 families, were founded. The Ekaterinoslav colonies were under the management of a director appoint4ed by the Kherson-Bessarabian bureau of government domains, and were divided into four districts, with an overseer at the head of each. The colonists elected their own aldermen, all the other authorities being Christians. Hebrew schools (hedarim) were prohibited in the colonies.

"The following table shows the condition of the Jewish colonies in the government of Ekaterinoslav in 1890:

"Of the hired help, 106 persons were Christians and 25 were Jews (K. Sluchevski, "Yevreiskiya Kononii," in Russki Vyestnik," iv.206, 1890).

Contrast between 1851 and 1865

"In 1856 only four more colonies were founded; namely, two in the government of Kherson and two in that of Ekaterinoslav. Under a law enacted in 1866 Jewish colonization ceased entirely. The measure was adopted mainly for financial reasons, the basket fund no longer sufficing for both colonization and education. Besides this, New Russia was no longer in need of artificial colonization. The reports of V.V. Islavin, an official who visited the colonies in 1851 and again in 1865, enable a comparison of those years to be made. Instead of the 15 colonies in 1847 there were 37 in 1865---20 in Kherson and 17 in Ekaterinoslav; the 2.210 families in 1851, consisting of 14,780 persons had increased in 1865 to 2,873 families consisting of 32, 943 persons; and instead of 85,563 deciatines of cultivated land in 1851, there were in 1865, 129,521 deciatines.

"The following figures contrasting the conditions of ten colonies in 1851  and in 1865 will be of interest:

"In 1869 the Ministry of Domains instituted an inquiry respecting the Jewish settlers of the New Russian colonies in order to ascertain how many of them really occupied themselves with agriculture and how many were indigent and worthless. As a result, in the course of ten years 10,359 men, women and children were expelled from the class of agriculturalists. In 1874 all reserve lands, which had been counted as part of the colonies, were taken away from them."


"These results were the more remarkable because it was exactly in this year 1881 that the colonies received the greatest check to their development by the riots, which actually reached the colonies Kherson and Bessarabia and disturbed the sense of security in all the rest. Several of the best Jewish farmers in Bessarabia emigrated in that year to the United States and Palestine.

"The May Laws of 1882 (put into application in 1891) influenced the development of the Agricultural Colonies of Russia only indirectly. They put a stop to all immigration of the Jewish inhabitants of the towns into the villages, and indeed sent no less that 50,000 form the villages into the towns. By this means the development of agricultural tastes among the Russian Jews was effectively arrested.

Recent Progress

"But the Agricultural Colonies were particularly exempted from the operation of these enactments. In 1880 a fund to promote handicraft and agriculture among the Russian Jews was initiated, with a capital of 200,000 rubles, by S. Poliakov, Baron H. Gunzburg, A. Sack, Leon Rosenthal, M. Friedland, and others. Seven years later (1887) the amount of this fund (1.110,271 rubles) was turned over to the general fund of the government treasury. In 1891 an agricultural school, affiliated with the Jewish Orphan Asylum was opened at Odessa. In 1899 the government granted Baron H. Gunzburg permission to found a Jewish Agricultural colony on his estate in the district of Bendery, government of Bessarabia. The colony is called Rossianka, and covers 500 deciatines of land, of which 400 are under cultivation, each farmer being entitled to 20. The remaining 100 deciatines are reserved for a common pasture and for futures enlargements of farms. All the settlers, except soldiers that have served their time, must be graduates of some agricultural school; an all storekeepers mist be Christians. ("Abiasaf," 1899, p.361).

"In 1900 according to the latest reports, there were more that 100,000 Jewish agriculturalists in Russia cultivating their own farms, 60,000 of whom are settled in 170 colonies. In South Russia, Jews in great numbers seek work on Christian estates and find employment there. In Siberia, especially in the district of Krasnoyarsk, there are numerous Jewish agriculturalists who have established themselves on single farms; and, except as to their religion, they differ little form the general mass of the peasants."

from: The Jewish Encyclopedia  Funk and Wagnals 1951

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