Where is Makhnovka?

Today. Makhnovka (49°43´N 28°40´E) is located in western Ukraine. It is 13 miles SSE of Berditchev, 27 miles NNE of Vinnitsa, 96 miles SW of Kiev. Administratively, it is in the Kozyatyn raion, in the Vinnitsa oblast. It is situated along the west bank of the Gnilopyat River (which also passes by Berditchev). On many modern maps (including Google Maps) you may now find it by its Ukrainian name Makhnivka. A 1976 1:100,000 topo map shows the town at about 250m (800' above sea level), on a barely sloping river bank, with no prominent hills or elevation variation in the general area. The town is near a wide spot in the river, where several small streams feed into it from both sides.

19th Century. Makhnovka was within the "Pale of Settlement" of the Russian Empire. On this map from the 1882 Blackie & Sons Atlas, it is shown as being in the Kiev guberniya, but it was very close to the Podolia and Volhynia guberniyas, and the exact borders moved around. It was most closely linked to Berditchev, which was a major Jewish center. In addition, researchers have reported family connections to other nearby shtetls including Vinnitsa, Pikov, Lityn, and Vachnovka. It was about 75 miles east of the eastern edge of Galicia.

Other Names. The Russian name is typically transliterated as Makhnovka. The Yiddish name varies slightly, but may be transliterated as Machnovka, Machnowka, or even Machnivka (which seems closest to the pronunciation reported by several grandchildren of emigrants from this shtetl). More significantly, the name of the town was entirely changed in 1935 to Komsomol's'ke (or Komsomolskoye), which was a very common town name during the Soviet era (meaning something like "young communist league town"). In 2001, the village council elected to return to their historic name of Makhnovka.

Which Makhnovka? In searching atlases (or using online geographic search tools such as the JewishGen Communities Database), one will discover that there are several towns with this same name, and even more with closely matching names. There is a Machnowka near Krosno, Poland (former Galicia), and two Makhnovkas in the Poltava district of Ukraine, as well as a couple more inside Russia proper (slightly beyond the Pale). The standard resource Where Once We Walked did not help to dispel this confusion, saying only "A number of towns share this name. It was not possible to determine which was being referenced." However, further research suggests that the Makhnovka near Berditchev is the "right" one for Jewish genealogical interest. A variety of Makhnovka references in books and papers all turn out to point to the same Makhnovka, as did the personal accounts of all Makhnovka descendants discovered using JewishGen FamilyFinder. Thus far, there does not seem to have been any Jewish community in the other Makhnovkas, and the confusion can be removed in favor of the Makhnovka near Berditchev described in this ShtetLink web page. (Care should also be taken to keep this town distinct from the similarly-named Vachnovka, which did have a Jewish population, and is just a bit east of Vinnitsa along the Bug river.)


Polish Commonwealth (1569-1793). From the formation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (which was known commonly as "Poland") in 1569, until the Partition of Poland and annexation by the Russian Empire circa 1793, the region of western Ukraine was part of the Crown lands of Poland. Jews fared reasonably under the Commonwealth, which had an official policy of religious tolerance, though their affiliation with the Polish and Lithuanian landowners made them secondary targets of the periodic Cossack and peasant uprisings. The first mention of Jews in Makhnovka comes in 1648 in an account from the Cossack-Polish War (1648-57), when Chmielnicki's Cossacks attacked the local fortress and murdered a number of Poles and Jews. Over 100 years later, in 1765, six Jews are recorded in Makhnovka (presumably from the tax census of that year). [References: EJLBDH]

Tsarist Russian Empire (1793-1914). Upon the Partition of Poland (circa 1793), territories including western Ukraine were annexed into the Russian Empire. Tsarist Russia, which was officially orthodox Christian and intolerant of Jews, suddenly acquired a significant Jewish population in their annexed territories. As a result, the "Pale of Settlement" was created, generally restricting Jews to living in the territories, but not in "Russia proper". Jews during this period had a generally harder time, at best being isolated, and at worst being visited with pogroms. In the census of 1897, the village of Makhnovka had 2,435 Jews out of a total population of 5,343 (about 45%). [References: EJLBDH] On an 1845 Russian map, "Machnowka" was the chief city of the Machnowka uyezd in Kiev guberniya, while "Berdyczow" was just a small town in Zhitomir uyezd of Volhynia guberniya. When the railroads were developed (some time after 1860), the railroad went through Berditchev and Kazatin (7 miles east of Machnovka), but bypassed Makhnovka. This caused Makhnovka to decline, while both Berditchev and Kazatin grew. Sometime around the turn of the century, Berditchev was separated from Volhynia guberniya and joined to Kiev guberniya, replacing Makhnovka as the chief city of the uyezd (which was renamed from the Machnowka uyezd to the Berdichev uyezd). Anecdotally, JewishGen researchers generally report that their ancestors emigrated from Makhnovka between the late 1880s up to 1913 (just before revolution and WWI), for reasons of hard times and lack of opportunity.  

Soviet Union (1921-1941). In Makhnovka in the mid-1920s, a Jewish rural council (soviet) was set up. Jews were employed in a sugar refinery, brickyard, asphalt plant, and kolkhoz. A Jewish elementary school was opened in 1925, operating up to the 1930s. A few dozen children attended a "heder" set up in the late 1920s. [References: EJLBDH]

German invasion (1941-1945). In 1939, the Jewish population of Makhnovka was 843. The Germans captured the town on 14 July 1941 and on 9 Sept. executed 835 jews in the Zhezhlevsk forest 3 miles (5 km) from Komsomolske. A ghetto (or camp) was then set up for the few hundred Jews still in the area. They were murdered in a number of "Aktions" in 1942. On 13 Dec. 1942, the last seven Jewish artisans were murdered. [References: EJLBDH]

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