The prevailing view is that Kiev was founded in the
ninth century, though there are some who believe
that Kiev was already a commercial center in the
fifth century (it is more likely that it was a small
settlement), lying along the trade route between Europe
and Central Asia. There was already a
Jewish community, Khazars and Byzantine
Jews among them, in Kiev during the ninth
Kiev was a vassal state of the Khazars, paying tribute until the Vikings
took the city in the ninth century. It was under Viking control that Kiev
became the capital of the Rus', which was the first East Slavic state.
The Mongol invasion in 1240 resulted in the destruction of Kiev, from which
it did not attain its previous power for centuries. Kiev only regained its
influence as a result of the nineteenth century industrial revolution.
Throughout the fourteenth century there was a series of wars that led to
Kiev changing hands multiple times. A Lithuanian army defeated a Slavic
force in the 1320's and gained control of Kiev. However, the Tatars laid
claim to the city and the Lithuanian prince who ruled Kiev ended up
paying tribute to the Golden Horde (the Mongols). The 1362 Battle of
Blue Waters returned Kiev to the Lithuanians.
It wasn't until 1482 that the city was again assaulted sacked and
burned by the Crimean Tatars. The year 1569 saw Kiev falling under
the authority of the Kingdom of Poland, half of the Polish-Lithuanian
Commmonwealth. Russian soldiers ruled Kiev beginning in 1654; the city
became part of Tsarist Russia in 1667 and had some degree of self-rule.
The military and Russian Orthodox Church dominated city life throughout
the 18th and 19th centuries.
Throughout the centuries, Jews were periodically expelled from and
readmitted to Kiev. In the fifteenth century the Grand Duchy expelled
Jews from the city but they were soon allowed back in. In the early
seventeenth century, Christian merchants, seeing an opportunity to
rid themselves of competition, convinced the authorities to expel
the Jews from Kiev; the expulsion lasted for almost two-hundred years.
When Tsarist Russia annexed the Ukraine, the Russians found themselves
saddled with a large population of Jews; the Tsar restricted them to the
Pale of Settlement. Kiev was inside the Pale and Jews were initially
allowed to live in the city. In 1795, the Jewish community consisted of
a mere one-hundred souls; less than a decade later the population grew
seven-fold. Following the usual pattern, in 1827 Christian merchants
succeeded in having the Jews expelled from Kiev. And, again, a quarter
century later, on the ascension of Alexander II, certain Jews were
allowed back into Kiev.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Kiev was graced with 32,000
Jews 13% of the Kievan population. Trade and crafts were how
they contributed to the economic life of the city. Jews, driven by
ambition, were among the wealthiest industrialists and merchants
of the city, played a central role in municipal and Jewish life,and
were significant philanthropists. A Jewish middle class lawyers,
doctors, and engineers developed as a result of Jews being
permitted to attend university. It appeared that Russia was leaving
the Middle Ages behind.
On 12 March 1911 a young Ukrainian boy, Andrei Yushchinsky, was on his
way to school, but he never arrived. His mutilated body was found eight
days later near the Zaitsev brick factory. Testimony developed that a Jew
had kidnapped Andrei. Menahem Mendel Beilis was a supervisor at the Zaitsev
brick factory and he was arrested for the crime in July 1911.
Beiles spent two years in jail waiting for the trial to begin. During
this time, the Russian Press stirred up anti-semitism, accusing Jews
of blood libel and ritual murder.
There were enlightened Russians, e.g.,
Maxim Gorky, who attacked the false accusations being made against Jews.
Nikolay Krasovsky, a Kiev police investigator, conducted the investigation
of the crime. Despite pressure from those who wanted to ensure Beilis was
found guilty, Kasovsky proved that the real killers were professional
criminals who knew Andrei.
However, the trial began on 25 September 1913 and lasted a month. There
were surprises throughout the trial, which was reminiscent of a "Perry
Mason" episode.The prosecution produced witnesses who claimed that this
was a ritual murder. Professor Sikorsky claimed that the thirteen wounds
on the body was consistent with the importance of the number thirteen in
"Jewish ritual." Except that the body had fourteen wounds! A Catholic
Priest, who claimed to be an expert on Judaic rituals, and who was
known to be anti-semitic, was ignorant of simple Talmudic concepts.
Professor Glagolev, a philosopher and an Orthodox Christian, at Kiev
Theological Seminary, testified that the Law of Moses forbade the spilling
of blood and forbade using blood in food. Beilis had an excellent alibi, that
he was at work (ironically, on the sabbath) when the crime occurred; his
alibi was confirmed by his Gentile co-workers. Despite the prosecutor making
anti-semitic remarks in his closing address, the jury, consisting, in part,
of the notorious Black Hundred and not including anyone from the
intelligentsia, found Beilis innocent.
(See Beilis Trial.)
The twentieth century was such a nightmare, it deserves its own paragraph.
World War I, the 1917 Russian Revolution, the 1919-1921 Civil War, pogroms,
and the Polish-Soviet War were the openning acts of this dark and barbaric
century. The Ukrainians attempted to become independent of the Russians,
with Kiev as their capital; it did not work out. The Ukraine became one of
the Soviet Socialist Republics, with Kiev as its capital. Stalin's dispute
with the kulaks over collectivation resulted in the Great Famine of the
early 1930's. The famine was followed by the Stalinist Purges of the late
1930's and the resulting destruction of the intellectual elite.
During the civil war, large numbers of Jews fled to Kiev in a futile
attempt to escape the chaos and violence of the war and the pogroms
that the war gave birth to. Futile, because Kiev experienced some of
the worst pogroms of the civil war. Once the Soviets consolidated their
power, the Soviets began to attack Judaism and Zionism; synagogues could
no longer be used for religious purposes, Judaism itself was actually
put on trial, as were Zionists. Yiddish and Jewish culture, however,
were encouraged, probably because Jews had supported the revolution.
Kiev became a center of Jewish culture where a Jewish theater was
located. Many Yiddish books, newspapers, and journals were printed in>
Kiev. Well-known Yiddish writers were Kievan: Dovid Bergelson, Der
Nister (Pinkes Kahanovitsh), Perets Markish, and Dovid Hofshteyn
(see Jewish Kiev).
This period of cultural enrichment was very short.
Many Jewish writers and intellectuals were murdered in the Stalinist
Purges. Jewish cultural life was severly constrained; it would soon be
Hitler double-crossed Stalin when he invaded Russia in June 1941. By mid-
September, the Nazis had overrun much of the Ukraine and captured Kiev.
More than one-half million Soviet troops were killed or captured during the
battle for Kiev; few prisoners survived the war. The damage to the city was
considerable. Soviet NKVD officers blew up buildings that were occupied by
German troops. The Nazis took revenge on Kievan Jews at Babi Yar Ravine,
where more than 33,000 Jewish men, women, and children were brutally
murdered in two days; it was the eve of Yom Kippur.