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(Russian Ukraine).


Written in 1959.

Held by the "Archive of the History of Jewish Colonization in Russia " Jerusalem.

[Translated by Chaim Freedman from the original Hebrew, 1998]

[Translator's note: The author does not mention the name of the colony where he lived. His brother Shmuel’s memoirs state that the colony was "Nazaritch" which actually was Nazarevitch, the secondary name for Gorkaya. The modern (1981) name for Nazerevich/Gorkaya is Olgovskaya. The location of Nazerevitch/Gorkaya/Olgovskaya is N 47° 44', E 36° 34'.]


I, Yaakov Yelishevitch arrived in Israel in 1923 (20th of Sivan 5683) with my family (my wife Khaya, daughter of Shmuel and Devorah Borok from the village Uspanova in the Ukraine, and my children Lucia (Leah), Vita (Victoria), Shlomo, Alexander, Sarah).

In the colony of my birth I left the grave of my father of blessed memory who was murdered in 1919 by the marauder Machno and his men. Today, 36 years after my immigration to Israel, I am setting out the memories of my childhood and youth which are connected with the Jewish colonies in Russia.

I was a witness to development of the colonies and to their destruction and I am happy that I was privileged to be a partner in the building of Israel and the revival of the State of Israel.

The Jewish colonies in Russia were destroyed, but I, in time, realized my dream and immigrated to Israel and again build here a home. My children and grandchildren took roots here and would that it should be so forever.

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Nicholas the First decided to settle Jews on the land as farmers. Virgin land was not lacking in spacious Russia and the State of Yekaterinoslav was chosen as one of the regions for this colonization. These memoirs are connected with Jewish settlement in this State - The place where I was born and grew up.

In 1844 with the declaration of settlement, my grandmother’s father, Yitskhak Gurbanov, who was the father of two sons and several daughters, decided to set out for this settlement with his family, in order to win the promised prize: exemption of the sons from military service for a period of the next 25 years.

He left his city Polotsk in Lithuania, Vitebsk State and set his sights on Yekaterinoslav State. The actual site of settlement was 300 kilometers from the capital city of that State. There were no railways. He purchased a cart, like a dilegance harnessed to two oxen, sat all of his family in the cart, and set off on the journey which took a half-year.

Other Jewish families, which had decided to take their fate in their hands and turn into Jewish farmers, traveled together in a convoy. On the way Yitskhak Gurbanov, my grandmother’s father, met a youth aged 12, an orphan, who had run away from the kidnappers. His name was Aharon Yelishevitch.1

Gurbanov took him with them in the hope that the boy would help him to cast the bricks for the construction of the house, which would be built on the settlement. This youth married one of Gurbanov’s daughters, and they were my grandfather and grandmother.

The place that had been designated for settlement was a region in which many parts were virgin soil and Russian villages were spread out here and there as well as estates of Pomshchiki (estate owners, in Russian).

At first in each colony six (6) double-family houses were built. Every four (4) colonies constituted a Prikaz (like a regional administration). There were two Prikazs in Alexandrovsk Uyezd and the rest in Mariupol Uyezd. Alexandrovsk and Mariupol were two cities in the region, about 100 kilometers from the colonies. Closer to the colonies was the village called Gulyaipolye.

The first settlers suffered greatly until they built the first houses and until they began to see the fruits of their land.

The land was actually by its nature very fertile, black earth, but it is probable that no plough ever passed over it since the Six Days of Creation. The climate was new to the settlers, some of the settlers became ill and left the place in order to look for income in the cities. Those who remained worked the land with gentile neighbors who received half of the produce in return for their labor. The general condition was absolutely low.

Yitskhak Gurbanov and his family remained to work the land.

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I personally remember the colonies 50 years after their foundation when I was already a youth. (I was born in 1883). In my time there were already 100 houses in the colony, more modern, but with a clay floor. On this floor they scattered yellow sand before every Shabbat. The house itself was built of bricks made from clay and straw and the roof was also covered with straw.

The colony itself was built in the style of a German colony. A wide road with 50 houses on each side. On both sides of the road were planted Acacia trees. At the end of our colony were families of German farmers who the government placed there so that they would teach the Jews farming. For every 10 yards  of Jewish farmers they appointed one German as a farming instructor. The Germans remained in the colony in their own households also after the Jews no longer needed their assistance. All the settlers were actively farmers. Each had a yard in which there were cows, calves, horses and foals. There was a large herd of cattle, which grazed in the field.

Several Jewish farmers were better established than others and were called "the wealthy". There were also a number of craftsmen amongst the Jewish settlers, such as tailors and cobblers. The families grew and the farms expanded. There was a livelihood for everyone.

In this period the shortage of land was already felt. This shortage was caused by the following sequence of events:

Since for the land they paid the government tax according to the size of the area of land, and originally the families could not cultivate the entire area, they asked the government to reduce the area of land by 10 desyatins per family. The government agreed to the request and took back 10 desyatins 2  per family and converted them into allotments called Uchestki . These allotments were leased by the government for cultivation by gentiles in the neighborhood. When two generations passed the families branched out and a shortage of land was felt. The custom was made that a Jew, who could not work the 30 desyatins of land which belonged to his family by himself, would lease the balance only to Jews and not to a gentile. Similarly action was taken with the government to receive back the 10 desyatins which once been handed over by the original settlers.

A Jewish public activist by the name of Limkov, handled the matter with the minister who dealt with the subject and succeeded with the request. The land which had once been taken away as excess land, was returned and re-divided again amongst the large families who had little land.

The problem of water was not always solved. In the colony Zlotopol [sic] 3a  they tried several times to drill and found a little water which was not suitable for drinking. They had to cart water in barrels over a distance of 10 versts 3b.

Life was conducted in an orderly fashion. During the winter when farm work declined, the Jewish farmers engaged in business with the gentiles in the neighborhood, buying and selling cows and horses.

The families grew considerably, developed more modern agriculture, which enabled them to work more land, which led to a further shortage of land which was more severe than previously. Some of the young ones sought tried their luck in the cities. Those who remained in the village prospered. There were families who cultivated up to 100 desyatins, their allotment and an allotment leased from the government. In the summer large farms hired gentile laborers who came from Poltava State to seek work here. They also wandered from their farms, which was not sufficient for them.

I grew up in my father’s house and I was an experienced farmer. Since our house was at the end of the village, it neighbored on the German farmers, and I learned many associated skills from them which were modern then, such as building, carpentry, metal work,

In 1910, I visited a large exhibition which took place in Yekaterinoslav. I saw a machine for producing concrete roofing tiles, a new product in those days. I bought that machine and set up a concrete roofing tile industry in our colony. The industry succeeded considerably and the gentiles from all the neighborhood began to buy the tiles and exchanged the straw roofs of the houses with them.

(When I arrived in Israel I opened in Petah Tikvah the first roof tile industry - 1923. Many roofs in Petah Tikvah and the area are covered with these tiles that I produced nearly 40 years ago. In the years 1925-1928, when I tried to get a hold in Afula which was then being built, I opened a roof tile industry and most of the roofs in Afula and the surrounding settlements, Merkhaviah, Balforiah, Tel Adashim, Ein Kharod, and as far as Kinneret, are covered tiles that I produced).

My father, Yehoshua ben Aharon, had seven sons and one daughter. I am the firstborn, Yaakov, David, Yitskhak, Nakhum, Mikhael, Noakh and Rakhel.

(Yitskhak and his wife Henia, a sister of my wife Khaya, immigrated to Israel in 1923; his firstborn is Yehoshua).

When the sons grew up a little, they worked on the farm. Father with three other partners from our colony, engaged in trading over a period of twenty years. They used to buy thin cows at markets in the neighboring villages, set them out to pasture during the summer, and fatten them and butchers from the region bought them for meat.

For the purposes of pasture they leased pastureland from the government, about a thousand desyatins. Part of this land they cultivated and part served as pasture.

In this period, at the beginning of twenties (in the twentieth century) I remember 17 colonies. Here is a list of the colonies as I remember them:

Footnotes A:

1.Yelishevitch, Aharon - his real surname was Katz, but he had been fostered by a Christian family, Yelishevitch, who were charged with his care by the military kidnappers until he was of an age to serve in the army. Aharon had a locket, one of the few possessions remaining from his former family, in which his true surname, Katz, was inscribed. As indicated by such a name, his real family were Kohanim.

2. 1 Desyatin = 1.09 hectares - 10,900 square meters = 2.9 acres.

3a. Zlotopol should be Novozlatopol.

3b.Bill Comisarow confirms that historically Novozlatopol had difficulty securing a suitable water supply. In his time, 1912 - 1922, each yard in Novozlatopol had a shallow well that produced poor water, used only for laundry and watering cattle. However,, the town had one communal deep- well that produced good water used for cooking and drinking. This deep well was dug sometime shortly before 1912.


Zaparozhe region
(Ed. note: Each Colony had an official number which is not included in this list. Blue text *not included in original Hebrew text)
* Russian Name Location Yiddish Nickname *Jewish Colony #


Novo Zlatopol

 N 47° 40', E 36° 34'

Ershter numer4a



Krasno Selka                                   

  N 47° 37', E 36° 34'

Dritter numer4b  




N 47° 37', E 36° 25'

Ferter numer   



Veseliya 6

N 47° 41', E 36° 36'





N 47° 44', E 36° 40'





N 47° 45', E 36° 40'




Gorovkaya 7

N 47° 44', E 36° 35'




Novodarovka 8

N 47° 47', E 36° 38'

Kavolevsk 9          

Mariupol region
 9  Bakhers 10 N 47° 32', E 37° 25' Latish            15
10  Rovnopol N 47° 32', E 37° 15' Lates
11  Khlebodaravka N 47° 28', E 37° 24' Suntsove
12  Nadyezhna 11a N 47° 35', E 36° 50' Vilner                  13
13  Nechaovka11b N 47° 29', E 36° 44'  Peness                 6
14  Zeloenapole  N 47° 33', E 36° 51' Myadler                12
15  ?, N 47° 33', E 36° 46'  Kavole 12                  14
16  Tadolovovka 13 (destoyed by then) N 47° 28', E 36° 44' Enguls                    5
17  ? 14 N 47° 31', E 36° 50' ?                             7

Chart Footnotes:

4a. Bill Comisarow's recollection is that the Yiddish name was Dritnumer.

4b. Bill Comisarow's recollection is that the Yiddish name was Fertnumer.

5. "Ershter numer" was usually referred to in Russian as "Pervy numer" rather in Yiddish as "Ershter numer".

6. "Veseliya" should be "Veselaya" Veselay/Hoopolov was abandoned in 1968 when it had about thirty families.

7. "Gorovkaya" should be "Gorkaya". The modern name (1981) is Olgofskaya.

8. "Novodarovka" was the name under the Soviets. The original name was "Bogodarovka"

9. "Kavolevsk" should be "Kovalevsk".

10. The order is reversed; "Bakhers" was the nickname and "Zatishe" was the official name.

11a. "Nadyezhna" should be "Nadyezhnaya".

11b. The WWII-era name was Gorki. Gorki was abandoned in 1968.

12. "Kavole" should be "Kobilnye" official name "Sladkovodnaya"

13. "Tadolovovka" should be "Trudoliubovka". Trudoliubovka/Engels was destroyed in a December 24, 1918 pogrom and never rebuilt.

14. The missing colony was "Grafskoy" which was actually the seventh colony in the official sequence and had no nickname. The modern name is Proletarskaya.

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There was local government in the colonies. In each colony there was a Starosta, the village elder, appointed by the government for three years. Assisting him were the Sutski,15 headmen over a hundred, and Deyeratski, headmen over ten. These government clerks, amongst the townspeople, used to wear on their chest metal badges hung by a chain. When the Sutski walked around on duty he wore around his neck and on his chest the symbol of his authority.

As I have already mentioned, every four colonies constituted a Prikaz. In the Prikaz - the regional council - were handled official matters and also small court cases were held there.16a A higher authority was the Zemski Nachalnik. The overseer of all the colonies was a government clerk in the city of Mariupol, who was called Popechitel. This person was a German and once a year he came to inspect the colony. This was an opportunity to clean the streets, repaint the houses and the saying was "der poritz darf kumen"(the nobleman is coming). They used to receive this poritz with great honour.

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Jewish organizations in America, such as the `Joint’16b, gave the farmers loans for 6 months or 12 months. This assistance ceased in 1914 (with the outbreak of the First World War), and was renewed again (as testified by people who remained in the colonies after I left) in 1923. In that year the `Joint’ sent agricultural equipment to the colonies. The machines were public property after the conversion of the colonies into cooperatives and also the gentiles had the use of the machines.



In the centre of the colony was built the large synagogue. This was a structure of bricks and it had a dome. Its roof was covered with metal painted nicely. Inside the synagogue was well furnished. The Holy Ark was carved by hand.

In the courtyard of the synagogue was a Beit Midrash for prayer during the weekdays and it served also as a place to learn Torah and as a Kheder. In the winter it was heated by a straw burning oven.

The education of the children of the settlers started with a children’s Melamed who taught them in his home where the whip served in place of a system of education, and his calf in the yard of the class "heard Torah" with the pupils.

When the children grew up a little there was a Melamed who taught them Gemarah. Neviim Uketuvim17 were not allowed to be learnt18

There were some youths who worked during the summer on the farm and, when there was little work, learned with the elderly rabbi a "Daf Gemarah"19 with Tosafot.20 I was one of those students and I passed through all three stages of learning. There was, naturally, a resident shokhet.

In the colony there were various associations and societies and they supported culture and education. Societies of Talmud Torah21, Gemilat Khasadim22, Lomdei Parshanut23, Tehilim24, Agadah25, Ein Yaakov26, Khayei Adam27, Bikur Kholim28, and lastly, naturally a Khevrah Kaddishah29.

In 1900 a government statute required the building of a big school in the colony and that Russian be taught in it. Despite the disapproval of some of the colonists, an impressive building was erected. A teacher was appointed to the school to teach Russian and a teacher to teach Torah and Yiddish.

After several years I married that teacher of Russian, Khaya of the Borok family {daughter of Devorah and Shmuel} who I also learnt Russian from at the age of 18, as until then I did not know Russian, and she is the mother of my sons and daughters.



There were no proper roads. The produce was carried in carts for sale in the city of Mariupol which was located about one hundred km from the colony, on the shore of the Black Sea30. In the summer the road was in good condition. But in Autumn there was deep mud and it was hard to travel. In winter one traveled in a winter cart (with snow sleds). We also had a good carriage for trips.

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UNTIL 1918

With the outbreak of war in 1914 the youngsters were called to the army. There were those who succeeded to be released from army service. But they refrained from staying in the colony because of the jealousy of their neighbors whose sons continued to serve. There remained in the colony only women, the elderly and children. This was the situation, which the colonies were found to be in at the end of the war and the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution.

The period was a period of anarchy. Camps of marauders acted throughout Russia as if it belonged to them. Every soldier inflicted "justice" with his bayonet and the colonies were a target for "Batko Machno" (father Machno) the notorious marauder.

In 1919 the Machnovtsi arrived and in one night killed 33 men in our colony32 after they gathered them in the synagogue.

Amongst those slain were my father, Yehoshua of blessed memory, and his brother Gotlieb. In another colony in our neighborhood "Khledidarovaka" they killed 105 people33. In another colony they killed half of the colony 34.

This situation caused the Jews to flee from the village to the city, a place which seemed to provide more security for their lives. The property of rich Jewish farmers was confiscated by "The Revolution" and the poor had nothing to work.



This period I remember partially, until 1922, and partially from the testimony of people who visited the colonies after I left Russia.

As stated the colonies suffered by the changing of forces "Whites" and the "Reds" and simply bandits. But not all the colonies were helpless. In the colony Zlatopol35 a "Self Defense"36 was organized. This defense received 200 rifles from Machno himself so that they could defend themselves from other bands hostile to Machno. Since the marauders did not attack other than in bands of 50-100 men, the self-defence could drive them off after an exchange of shots.

The Russian Revolution was consolidated. Gradually security improved, and especially the young Jewish settlers held on to the colonies.

The anti-Semitism, which flourished until 1922, slightly waned in 1924. The Jew became a worker of the land like the Russian peasant. He was no longer the merchant hated by the peasant for exploitation. In addition the machinery which arrived from the Joint for the Jews was public property and the gentile neighbors benefited from them and preserved good neighborliness with the Jews.



The last evidence, which I have, is what Stein 37 wrote about the colony Zlatopol in the book "The Jewish Colony in the Revolution" which was published in 1924 in Russia. Then most of the colonies still existed, and Jewish awareness still remained. They spoke mainly Yiddish interspersed with Russian, they kept Mitsvot38, Brit Milah39, Khupa and Kiddushin40. But Jewish learning and synagogue almost disappeared.

-Written by Yaakov Yelishevitch in 1959.

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I copied this manuscript from that which is written and preserved by the archive. I the undersigned, was born in 1912 and remember well the colony of grandfather Yehoshua, although I was born in the village of grandfather Shmuel, the father of my mother Khaya, Uspanovka, and the years when my memory is preserved we lived in the adjacent cities for the reasons father refers to.

I recall the village, the gardens, the produce, the horses, the cows, the carriages, the long road of the village (the colony), cloudily the large family meetings.

I recall well the hard day on which grandfather Yehoshua was murdered in the synagogue of the village in 1919.



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15. "Sutski" may mean "Shultz" the title of the German officials when they supervised the colonies.

16a. The judicial function of the Prikaz correlates with an incident concerning Benyomin Komisaruk in Grafskoy when the Nachalnik was called to pass judgement over a dispute.

16b.The Joint distribultion Committee was often called the Joint.

17. "Neviim Uketuvim" - prophets and writings, the sections of the Bible aside from the first five book of the Torah.

18. This statement needs clarifying - in Grafskoy such studies did take place.

19. "Daf Gemarah" - page of Gemarah which was is standard measure of progress.

20. "Tosafot" - commentaries on the Gemarah

21. "Talmud Torah" - primary school.

22. "Gemilat Khasadim" - a welfare society.

23. "Lomdei Parshanut" - studied commentaries of the Gemarah.

24. "Tehilim" - Psalms.

25. "Agadah" - legends or allegories.

26. "Ein Yaakov - the name of a popular compendium of religious learning.

27. "Khayei Adam" - a commentary on religious law.

28. "Bikur Kholim" - sick visiting.

29. "Khevrah Kaddishah" - burial society.

30. Mariupol was actually located on the Sea of Azov.

32. The bands of Machno’s men were called "Machnovtsi".

33. The pogrom in Gorkaya is the only incident that Machno’s apologeticists admit to.

34. This is the only record of a pogrom in Khlebodarovka.

35. Probably Trudoliubovka/Engels.

36. Should be Novozlatopol.

37. Verified in Bill Comisarow’s memoirs.

38. Stein - probably a relative of the Winnikovsky/Komisaruk family.

40. "Mitsvot" - religious regulations.

41. "Brit Milah" - circumcision.

42. "Khupah and Kiddushin" - religious marriage ceremony.

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