Kehilalinks Pochep Russia

History of Jewish Pochep     

Jews were present in Pochep as early as the seventeenth century. But when Chmielniki's cossacks attacked the town in 1648 most Jews living there at the time were massacred.

From 1791 until 1917 the town was within the Russian Pale of Settlement, the area in which most Jews in the Russian Empire were allowed to live. After 1881 pogroms took place in the region. In 1882 about 100 houses and 120 stalls belonging to Jews in Pochep burned down. The Jewish population reached 3,172 out of a total of 9,174 by 1897. Jews in Pochep suffered from the pogroms of 1905, and were also subject to attack and looting during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1920.

A Chabad yeshiva was located in the town, and two young men who later became well-known writers in the Hebrew language attended this yeshiva: Uri Nissan Gnessin (son of the Head of Yeshiva Rabbi Joshua Nathan Gnessin) and Joseph Haim Brenner.

Gnessin traveled widely but frequently returned to Pochep, which he considered his home. In one of his stories he described his beloved river and its banks: "Slowly the water was beginning to regain its hue; here and there its dark surface was flecked with gold. ...In the broad plain to my left, far off in the distance, a tall chimney stood out against the sky, sending up wreaths of black smoke, and beyond the truck gardens that stretched out to my right, far beyond the grove of gleaming white young birches atop the mountains bordering the gardens, a shimmering parapet shone shimmering in the air."

Shimon Bichovsky, a friend of Brenner and Gnessin, was born in Pochep and grew up there. He managed the administration of the monthly magazine HaMeorer (The Waker), published by Brenner in London in 1906 and 1907. Bichovsky was in charge of its distribution through great Russia. In Moscow he married Elizabeta Zarkova (later known as the author and poet Elisheva) and they both moved to Tel-Aviv in 1925 with their daughter. Shimon Bichovsky died in 1932.

Yiddish writer Shmuel Davidovich Persov was born in Pochep in 1890. He was active in the Jewish Labor Bund during the Revolution of 1905. He emigrated to the United States in 1906 and began his literary career writing articles published in the New York radical periodical Fraye Arbeter Shtime.

Persov returned to Russia, enthusiastic about the new Russian state created after the Russian Revolution of 1917. He worked in a Moscow cooperative and wrote articles on economics for Russian journals as well as literary sketches and short stories in Yiddish. He helped to found the Yiddish section of the Moscow Association of Proletarian Writers. In stories he revealed the psychological difficulties encountered by small Jewish tradesmen in their attempt to adjust to the new Communist reality. As a member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, he was arrested in the late 1940s and was accused of writing anti-Soviet articles. He was sentenced to death on November 22, 1950 and was executed the next day.

The Soviet Jewish composer Matvey Blanter, who wrote a well known song called "Katyusha", was born in Pochep in 1903.

In 1926 the Jewish population was 3,616, or 27.1 percent of the population. Jews were mostly merchants and craftsmen; some were farmers.

In 1939 the Jewish population was 2,314, including refugees who had fled from Nazi-occupied Poland. As the Germans approached, many Jews were evacuated to the interior of Russia, to the Ural Mountains. But after the Germans occupied Pochep, on August 22, 1941, few Jews were able to escape.

Jews were required to register and wear a yellow star of David. In November 1941 the Jewish families were forced into two ghettos, each surrounded by barbed wire. Men and boys over 14 were kept in a school building and women and children were kept in a former poultry processing plant. The conditions in the ghettos were appalling and the mortality rates were high. During the winter those of working age from both ghettos were forced to do a variety of physical work.

Then on March 15-16 or March 16-17, 1942 (there is some dispute about the exact date) about 1,846 inmates from the ghettos were shot to death by the Germans and their local accomplices and thrown into an anti-tank ditch that had originally been constructed in hopes of deterring the German Army. Evidence of the massacre was researched by Yahad-in Unum and may be found here.

The Red Army liberated Pochep on September 21, 1943.

According to Yad Vashem, after the liberation of Pochep by the Red Army, in order to prevent vandalism, the Soviet authorities ordered the ditches where the Jews were murdered to be covered with earth. A small monument was erected at the site, but the upper part of it was stolen and the surrounding fence was destroyed by unknown vandals. In the 1960s a new monument was constructed.

The Hebrew inscription says: "A memorial to our Jewish brothers, 1,846 inhabitants of Pochep who were brutally murdered and buried alive by the accursed Hitler's fascists on 16-17 [sic] of Adar 5702." The Russian inscription says: "Here are buried 1,846 people brutally murdered by the fascist henchmen on March 16-17, 1942."

In August 2018 the monument was reconstructed with the addition of plaques listing the names of 1,164 people who were murdered there. Click here to see the enhanced monument.

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The Jewish Gen Family Finder lists 43 people (one deceased) researching families from Pochep as of July 1, 2022. Surnames for which they are looking include

Agranov, Agronovich, Agroshkin, Agroskin, Amrami, Balotin, Basin, Bassin, Berlin, Blanter, Brustein, Carmel, Chaikin, Chanutin, Chuticoff, Cuticoff, Delet, Diskin, Fradkin, Freidlin, Frishman, Froog, Funk, Galkin, Ginzburg, Gofenshefer, Goukhman, Heifetz, Ischofsky, Ishofsky, Ishowsky, Issikoff, Karasik, Katz, Kosofsky, Levitan, Levitin, Lichterov, Massin, Nechamkin, Nehamkin, Orlovsky, Osheroff, Parelsky, Persov, Pogorelsky, Pollak, Rabinovich, Raev, Rosin, Rozenberg, Saks, Schneerson, Sterlin, Traynin, Usefovich, Usievich, Yakubovich, Yonin, Zifkin, and Zippin.

Uri Nissan Gnessin
Joseph Haim Brenner
Joseph Haim Brenner
Ad for HaMeorer
Advertisement for HaMeorer (The Waker) Magazine

Shimon Bichovsky, Uri Nissan Gnessin, and Yitschak Alterman (father of poet Natan Alterman), 1905

Shmuel Persov
Shmuel Davidovich Persov
Shoah Monument in 2013
Closeup of Shoah Monument

Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, edited by Shmuel Spector and Geoffrey Wigoder, New York University Press, July 2001.

The Jewish Encyclopedia, Isidore Singer, Funk & Wagnalls, 1901-1906.

Besides and Other Stories, Uri Nissan Gnessin, various translators, The Toby Press, 2004.

Matras, Hagit, "Ha-Meorer, A Journal and its Editing. Edited and Published by Y. H. Brenner, London, 1906, 1907" Jerusalem, The Hebrew University, 1983. 200 pp. (Hebrew)
                      "Letters of Sh. Bikhovsky to Y.H. Brenner Concerning Ha-Meorer (1906-1907)”, Kiryat Sefer: The Bibliographical Quarterly of the National Library, Jerusalem 73/4 (Jerusalem, 1990-91) pp 1253-1304 (Hebrew)
                      "From the Print to the Readers: Sh.Bikhovsky – The Agent of Ha-Meorer” in “Ha-Meorer, A Print Adventure", Mineged Israel 2021, pp 69-84 (Hebrew)

Shmuel Persov, Jewish Virtual Library and Yivo Encyclopedia.

Yahad-in Unum, In Evidence, the Map of Holocaust by Bullets.

Yad Vashem, Untold Stories.

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Compiled by Beth Galleto
Last Updated July 2022
Copyright © 2017  Beth Galleto