The history of Stavisht dates back to the early 1600s, and possibly even earlier, when it served as a garrison for protection against invasions by Crimean Tatars. In 1635 it was formally recognized and granted rights by Magdeburg law, a medieval ruling providing autonomy to cities and towns. Ukrainian Cossacks made it their center for the Bila Tserkva regiment during the 1650s.1 By the end of 1665 during numerous revolts against ruling Poland, the village and surrounding villages were destroyed and many citizens were slaughtered. As Polish rule continued there were repeated rebellions while the city tried to rebuild.1,2
In 1765, Stavisht was officially named in the Gradskij acts for the Kyiv province and had around 61 Jewish residents.3 Stavisht and the greater surroundings were awarded to Polish Crown Hetman and Count Franciszek Ksawery Branicki * (AKA Francis Xavier Branicki 1730-1819) in 1774.2,4 Count Branicki was an accomplished military commander or hetman who came from a long line of aristocrats. The area passed back to Russia in 1793, although the noble Branicki family continued to rule the area out of Bila Tserkva well into the late 1800s.
Count Branicki encouraged Jews, primarily merchants and craftsmen, to settle in the Bila Tserkva area by offering building materials and interest free loans for a 15-20 year period.3 By 1866, there were 1,752 Jews residing in Stavisht representing 48% of the total population of 3,678.3,5 The 1897 All Russia Census, the first and only full census prior to WWII, counted the total inhabitants of Stavisht at 8,186. Of these residents, 3,917 were Jewish, primarily Hasidic, 3,952 were Russian Orthodox peasants, and 317 were Catholic.3,6,14
During this time, poverty stricken peasants and Jews were required to pay for land use on top of taxes, work their farms, and work for the town's needs including erecting and repairing community buildings. By 1861, peasants had lost rights to gather firewood, fish in rivers and lakes, and gather berries, nuts, and mushrooms from the forest. A number of uprisings by inhabitants are documented, including an appeal to a regional court, as Stavishters fought for freedom from the Branicki family's injustices, cruelty, and exploitation.2,7
By the late 1800s severe famine had descended throughout Russia and pogroms were occuring frequently. Our ancestors began to dream about leaving their homeland. Yet, the village continued to grow and develop as agricultural production increased. Stavisht became one of the highest income producing towns for the Branicki land owners.7 The village held a Tuesday market day on which thousands of "gentiles would come in their wagons to wheel and deal."8 At the beginning of the 20th century, Stavisht boasted a spirit factory, a mill, a brick factory, a number of tradesmen and artisans, and a Talmud Torah and private boys' school which combined religious and general studies.2,14
The residents of Stavisht and surrounding communities did not exist in a vacuum, but rather worked together to bring sustenance, spirituality, entertainment, laughter, and connection into each other's homes. Many relatives of Stavisht families lived in nearby shtetlach and many marriages took place among the families within this region. Shtetlach located nearby can be found on the Stavishche JewishGen Communities page.
The Russian Revolution and the Civil War of 1919 brought brutal violence** against the Jews of Stavisht and throughout the Pale of Settlement. Many of our ancestors were killed or escaped for their lives to immigrate to safer environs. By 1926 only 970 Jews remained and at the start of World War II in 1939, under Soviet rule, the Jewish population had shrunk to only 319 inhabitants.1,14
The Soviet Era, beginning in 1922, was a time of collectivization, economic disruption, communism, man-made famine and, for many, a fight for survival. The Holdomor, or Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, hit Stavisht hard as you will read in the excerpt below from James E. Mace's chapter, Soviet Man-Made Famine in Ukraine in Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts.
During WWII the Germans occupied Stavisht between June 17, 1941 and January 4, 1944. Two weeks after descending on the town, "the Germans rounded up all of the town’s Jewish men (about 60 people), allegedly for work. They were forced to dig a pit, and were shot there. Soon afterwards, all of the Jewish women and children were brought to the same location – ostensibly for evacuation – and were also shot. Infants were thrown into the pit alive. Several hundred Jews were executed...."9 The Jewish community of Stavisht which can officially be traced back to 1765 was completely eliminated by the Nazis by September of 1941.1,9 You can read more about this atrocity and watch a witness interview researched and produced by Yahad-In Unam at their Holocaust by Bullets project website.
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