Balta, Podolia, Ukraine: BRIEF HISTORY

Podolia, Ukraine

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Balta coat-of-arms
Balta coat-of-arms


Balta has flown many flags since it was built on the Turkish side of the Turkish/Polish border in the 1500s. In the mid-18th century, Prince Lubomirski granted Magdeburg Rights to that part of the town located on the Polish side of the border. The Polish half of the town would later be incorporated, together with Turkish Balta, into the new Russian town of Balta. At that time the town's emblem carried the Prince's initials.

In the nineteenth century the coat-of-arms was the registered emblem of Russian Balta. There are sketches from a nineteenth century publication that suggest the coat-of-arms flew over the great Balta fair at which Jews were the largest single group.

Balta has existed since the sixteenth century, when it was built along the Kodyma River as a military fortress to defend Turkey (Ottoman Empire) from its Polish neighbor to the north of the river. A Polish community and the Turkish fortress existed on either side of the Kodyma River in accordance with various peace treaties. There is archaeological evidence that there was a settlement in the area at least five-thousand years ago.

The Polish town, owned by the Lubomirski noble family, had been named Yusefgrod for Prince Yusof Lubomirski. Jews have lived in the two separate towns during both the Turkish and Polish periods. This situation continued until Poland was partitioned by Russia, making Russia the neighbor to the north.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774 Catherine the Great of Russia's troops poured into Balta. The Haidamaks, one of Catherine's Cossack divisions, had been leading attacks on Jewish communities throughout the area and took the opportunity to assault both the unarmed Jewish population of Balta and the many Jewish refugees from across the region who had sought protection in the city. The massacres of Balta's Jews and those of Uman are among the many Haidamak mass murders still commemorated.

Balta remained a Turkish community until 1791, when the Russians again took control of it under the terms of the Treaty of Jassy. In 1797 Balta became part of Russia's newly formed Podolia Gubernia, this time combining the communities on either side of the Kodyma River; Jews continued to live in both parts of the town.

In 1865 the first railroad in Dnieper, Ukraine, was built; it connected Balta with the port city of Odessa. In 1880, 80 percent of Balta's population was Jewish. Throughout the nineteenth century it was a wheat-growing and marketing area–grain shipments were exported to foreign countries on Odessa-docked ships.

Every year saw a substantial fair at Balta at which Jewish merchants played a significant role. It was said that the Balta fair was key to the agricultural development of the new Besserabian communities in the early to mid-nineteenth century.

On April 10, 1882, a pogrom occurred in Balta. Every Jewish home was invaded: forty Jews were murdered, one-hundred seventy were wounded, and many women were raped and terrorized. Over 1,200 Jewish homes and shops were completely destroyed. The barbaric attack on the Jews led to a steady emigration of Jews from the Russian Empire.

Because of Balta's relative size compared to other Podolian communities and because of its geographical proximity to Odessa, Balta continued to attract new settlement from the Podolian Jewish hinterland; as a consequence, the total Jewish population remained steady at fifteen thousand souls. Modern Zionists, such as Leo Pinsker, cited the Balta pogrom as proof that Jews and Russians could not coexist in the same land.

There was fairly heavy fighting in Balta during World War II. On 8 August 1941, the Nazis and their minions murdered one-hundred forty Jews. Another fifteen-hundred were confined to a ghetto; many of these were later executed. Liberation came on 29 March 1944.

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  • Last Modified: 05-09-2012

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