The Chmielnicki uprising of the mid-seventeenth century, during which Jews throughout the Ukraine were sort out as targets of rage by Chmielnicki and his minions, spawned the late-seventeenth century establishment of the Jewish community of Novograd-Volinskiy.
The shtetl of Zhvil, as Novograd-Volinskiy came to be called by its Jewish community, was fairly small during its first century of existence; taxpayer records from the mid-eighteenth century indicate that there were five-hundred-seventy-seven Jewish taxpayers. One-hundred-thirty years later, the community of Jews had grown to 9,378 people – more than half of the town's total population.
Zhvil was an important Hasidic center. Mosheh (d. 1831), one of several sons of Yehi'el Mikhl of Zlotshev (a disciple of the Besht and the Magid), established himself in Zhvil. Mosheh became a Tsadik (a title indicating a righteous person who never sins in thought, speech, or action) in the early nineteenth century. Moshe's dynasty is the only one, among those of his brothers, that has survived; it exists in Jerusalem.
Mordekhai Ze'ev Feierberg, a late-nineteenth century (b. 1874) native of Zhvil, became enthralled by the Haskalah and was a leader of a group of maskilim. (The followers of the Haskalah – the Jewish Enlightenment – studied secular subjects and tried to assimilate into European society; such people were referred to as maskilim.)
Feierberg was a writer of short stories. Though writing in Hebrew, he was influenced by Russian literature, adapting Dostoevsky's use of the "inner monologue" to the characters in his short stories. Feierberg's most important story, Le-an (whither?), concerns itself with a theme that runs through many of his stories: the crisis of contemporary Jewish values, i.e., Jews conflicted between loyalty to tradition and the blandishments of modern secular life. For more detatils, see Mordekhai Ze'ev Feierberg.
The century began inauspiciously: the Great War (the war to end all wars); the Russian Revolution; and the Russian Civil War took its toll on the people of Eastern Europe and the Ukraine. Jews, most especially, suffered during the civil war. In 1919 this conflict acted as a back-drop to wide-spread pogroms arising throughout the Ukraine. The Jews of Zhvil sustained approximately one-thousand dead – murdered by depraved mobs unhinged by the chaos, deprivation, and anarchy of the war. Many other Jews were dispersed, and Zhvil was burned to the ground. This was merely prologue.
During the inter-war period, the Jews of Zhvil were engaged in the trades, the leather goods trade preeminent among them (the skill of working with leather migrated to the mill towns of Massachusetts, along with the migrating Jews who left Zhvil).
On the eve of World War II, Zhvil sheltered 6,839 Jews. German troops entered Zhvil on 8 July 1941. The Nazis and their minions did not waste time herding the town's Jews into a ghetto; one brief month later, one-thousand Zhvil Jews were murdered with Germanic efficiency. Another short month and four-thousand more Jews were processed through the maw of the German execution machine.
Only those few Jews who had useful skills were spared, for the time being, and sent to a labor camp. November 1942 saw the successful escape from the labor camp of the remaining Jews, who made their way into the surrounding forest and joined partisan groups hiding in the woods.
(sources: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life; Wikipedia; & Ukraine SIG Old Town Page)
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