kehilalinks: POGREBISHCHE

Researching the Jewish shtetl of Pogrebishche, Ukraine

The History of Pogrebishche



In 1765, there were 664 Jews living in Pogrebishche.
In 1847, the population had grown to 1,726.
In 1897, 2,494 Jews lived in Pogrebishche.
In 1926, there were 2,881 Jews in Pogrebishche
In 1939, prior to the invasion of the Nazis, there were 1,445 Jews in Pogrebishche.

Early History

The official homepage of Pogrebishche (in Ukrainian) gives a brief general history of Pogrebishche. Pogrebishche means "cellar," and it states that Pogrebishche was founded in 1148, after the town that previously occupied the site was razed to the ground by the Mongols, leaving only cellars. Starting in the 16th century it was the manor of Polish nobles - first the Zbaraski and then the Rzewuski family, who invited Jews to settle there. The Zbaraskis built a "castle" in the city.

The Pogrebishche Castle, drawn by Napoleon Orda.

On the webpage of the Universal Scientists International Charity Fund there is a paper entitled "Sacral Meaning of Ukrainian Region Along the River Rus." It is a rough translation from Russian, but explains that Pogrebishche was some sort of sacred burial site. In particular, they note that Pogrebishcha dates back at least to the 12th century and that the name can mean either "big cellar" or "the place of burial." The paper suggests that the tribe of Dan migrated to this area from Israel, and points to the name of several rivers in the area: the Don, the Dnieper, the Desna, the Dvina, and the Danube, as proof

Jews first settled in Pogrebishche at the beginning of the 17th century, as attested by a rabbinic responsa written by Rabbi Benjamin Aaron Solonik, also known as the "Masat Binyamin," who lived from 1530-1620 and was at one point the head of the Council of the Four Lands. The responsa dates to 1603 and can be seen here. It tells of a man from Pogrebishche who was unwilling to divorce his wife but eventually gave her a get after being locked up by the local beit din (court).

Chmielnicki Massacres of 1648-1649

In 1648, the army of Bogdan Chmielnicki, headed by Maxim Kryvonosa, swept through the region and destroyed many Jewish communities, including Pogrebishche. Five years later, Prince Yarema Vishnevetski destroyed the rest of the town as well. It took half a century for the community to return and rebuild.

There are a few well-known summaries of the overall tragedy to the Jewish people during these years. One is Abyss of Despair (Yeven Metzulah) which contains some sections related to Pogrebishche. It states that the Jews of Pogrebishche surrendered to Tartars in order to avoid being captured by the Ukrainians, and were taken as captives. The Jews of Constantinople then ransomed them.

Another, Megilat Afa, also has some sections pertinent to Pogrebishche. It records that the whole shtetl was destroyed.

After the destruction, Shabbatai ben Meir HaKohen, the Sha"ch (1621-1662), wrote some slichot prayers to be said on a fast day, held the 20th of Sivan, to commemorate the destruction. One slicha, Elokim Ba'u Goyim B'Nachalatcha, mentions Pogrebishche.

To download the slicha in Hebrew click here.

In an article entitled "The Souls of Dead People in the Synagogue" by Yakov Yisrael Setel, the author quotes a widely-known story about Pogrebishche and the Chmielnicki Massacres: "Behind the synagogue there was a large dirt courtyard covered in soft grass, which no one ever enters. There are many legends about this courtyard, but I will tell the most common version. In the days when Chmielnicki, may his name be erased, began his awful actions in Little Russia, on that exact day there was a wedding in town. The Chupa was arranged with great beauty, with instruments and much joy. But the wrath of God fell on the community of Pogrebishche and the joy turned to sorrow. At the moment when the groom put the kiddushin ring on his bride's finger and began to say "you are betrothed to me" the evil savages entered the city, and when they saw the happy crowd at the synagogue, they fell upon the Jews and slaughtered them. The two first victims were the bridge and groom, the much-loved couple. One of the murderers beheaded them with a large axe, and afterward they fell upon the guests. All those who were killed next to the synagogue were afterward buried, not in the cemetery but rather next to the synagogue. Around their graves a wooden fence was erected for eternal memory, and until this day the Jews of Pogrebishche refrain from passing by the synagogue at night, since the dead pray there at night; until today, many of the people believe that the dead who are buried in the synagogue courtyard arise every night, pray together, read the Torah and celebrate the wedding. We, the students in Heder, have heard much about this old synagogue in the city of Pogrebishche."

19th Century and Early 20th Century

In the 19th century, the lands of Pogrebishche passed to the Rzewuski family, who welcomed the Jews into the town to help stimulate commerce. Count Adam Rzewuski (1801-1888) built a railway station outside Pogrebishche toward the end of his life, as part of the Southwestern Railway, connecting Pogrebishche with Uman, Zhashkiv, Kozyatyn, Kiev, Tetiev and other cities. The railway station was restored in 2006, but an original building is still standing. (One member of the Rzewuski family, Stanislaw Rzewuski (1737-1786), who died in Pogrebishche, was actually the Mayor of Chelm!)

There were four synagogues in Pogrebishche.

A Jew, Srul Nuhovich Ginsberg, was on the Middle Class Council.

In the early 20th century, the town had 2 water mills, 10 factories, and 70 shops and stores, including 28 grocery stores and butcheries. There were 2 pharmacies, 4 lumber yards, a watchmaker, 6 flour mills, 3 doctors, a cattle trader, and 4 grain merchants.

Count Nikolai Pavlovich Ignatiev had begun constructing a sugar factory. Ignatiev was partially responsible for expanding anti-Semitism when he issued the May Laws in May 1882. These forbade Jews from moving to new villages, from buying land, and from doing business of Sundays and Christian holidays.

A wave of pogroms took place in the region from 1881-1884, following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. A bloodier wave of pogroms followed from 1903-1906. These pogroms led to massive immigration to America, which in turn led the U.S. to pressure Russia to take action against the pogroms.

Pogrom of 1919

In the early 20th century, the Pogrebishche Jewish community maintained a self-defense group that was well-armed and well-organized. However, in 1919 the militia was forcibly disarmed, and for three days in August 1919, the Jewish community was attacked by armed peasants. Approximately 400 Jews were murdered. Several reports were prepared in the aftermath, with some first-hand accounts:

YIVO report on the 1919 pogroms in Ukraine.

B.O. Lipshitz's testimony to the Committee of Jewish Delegations on the pogroms of 1919

Excerpts from Elias Heifetz's Slaughter of the Jews In The Ukraine In 1919 that relate to Pogrebishche.

Between World Wars

In the 1920s, a collective farm named after Shevchenko was organized. In 1927, a creamery was opened.

In February 1928, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that the largest synagogue in Pogrebishche was converted into a workmen's club. This decision was met with protest by the Jewish section of the Communist Party. See the article here.

Jewish businesses were confiscated and instead Jews were organized into cooperatives and worked in manufacturing, and agriculture. A Jewish soviet and and Jewish school existed, operating in Yiddish. During this period there was a great deal of urbanization, and many Jews left Pogrebishche for bigger cities. The population declined to about half of its peak at the start of the century. (Source: Encyclopedia of the Ghettos During the Holocaust).

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust (ed. Shmuel Spector, NYU Press, 2001, p.1010, "Pogrebishche") records that after the Soviets gained power, a Jewish elementary school was established in the 1920s along with a Jewish council. The book goes on to explain that there were two Jewish cooperatives for artisans , in which work was not done on the Sabbath.

The Holocaust

The German army occupied Pogrebishche on July 21, 1941. 40 Jews were murdered in late July. Starting October 18, 1941 the Jewish community was massacred and buried in several mass graves around town. (See cemetery page for more information on these mass graves.) There were over 1,360 Jews in Pogrebishche at the time according to the official Pogrebishche website, and according to Yad Vashem records over 1,750 Jews were murdered in a forest near the village of Borshchagovka, a nearby shtetl. In Soviet sources, a grave is identified that contains about 2,000 bodies.

According to Yad Vashem, on November 18, 1941, Einsatzkommando 5, with the assistance of local police, took about 1,360 Jews from Pogrebishche from their homes by force, brought them to a nearby forest, and shot them to death. In addition, according to the CHGK, on November 23, 400 Jews were shot to death at the same place.

After the initally killings, surviving Jews were sent to live in a ghetto, along with some Jews from neighboring town. In total there were about 200 people in the ghetto. In June 1942, the ghetto was liquidated. (Source: Encyclopedia of the Ghettos During the Holocaust.)

In Soviet Jewry on the Eve of the Holocaust by Mordechai Altshuler (Jerusalem, 1998, p226) which records Jewish population leading up to the Holocaust, we find that from a peak of 2,881 Jews (29.9% of the population) in 1926, a substantial number of Jews had left prior to the outbreak of World War II, such that in 1939 there were 1,445 Jews in Pogrebishche, 15.2% of the population. Just about half of the Jews moved out in the intervening 13 years, some immigrating and others moving to larger cities.

In Making Sense of War: The Second World War and the Fate of the Bolshevik Revolution by Amir Weiner (p.263-4) gives some first-hand accounts of massacres of Jews carried out by the Ukrainian partisans during World War II. It mentions that on May 7, 1943 near Pogrebishche, 8 Jews (3 men, 2 women and 3 children) were caught hiding in a hole in the ground and were all shot. This was part of the so-called "second wave" of killing of the Ukraine's Jews.

The site Yahad in Unam has a great deal of information about the Holocaust in Pogrebishche, including interviews with locals who witnessed the various massacres. It is an invaluable resource.

After the war, Jews returned to Pogrebishche and some helped set up a modest Holocaust memorial monument at the largest mass grave. Over the years the mass grave was vandalized and looted. It was repaired once, but not sufficiently. In 2009, Gary Nachshen, a descendant of Pogrebishche immigrants to Montreal, visited Pogrebishche and found the site in disrepair. He returned to Canada and raised money to repair the grave. The event was covered by a Ukrainian station, and the video can be seen here, and his article in the Canadian Jewish News can be seen here.

Righteous Among the Gentiles

On the Yad Vashem website, there are non-Jewish people from Pogrebishche recognized as Righteous Among the Gentiles:

Vasili and Maria Ratushnyi - a husband and wife from Pogrebishch. They hid the family of Benzion Tokar, a cobbler. In late 1941, Benzion and his wife Vita were murdered, and their children, 18 year old Bella, 16 year old Ida and 14 year old Mikhail were left alone in the ghetto. In November 1942, they escaped the ghetto and hid in the Ratushnyi's attic, and later in a cellar dug in their garden.

The Chernous, Khomenko and Volovik Families had children who were friends with Chana Revich. The Revichs heard rumors about the liquidation of the Pogrebishche ghetto and Chana, her mother Toyba, and her brother Yosef ran to the home of Fyodor and Yekaterina Chernous, where they were welcomed and hid in the attic. Chana later hid in the house of Ivan and Praskovya Khomenko, whose daughter was her friend. Later she hid with Anton and Olga Volovik, parents of another of her school friends. After the war, she settled in Kiev. After Toyba died, Chana moved to Israel and Yosef to the United States.

Petro Sytnyuk and his wife Maria and five daughters> lived just outside of Pogrebishche. In 1941, Haym-David Plotitza was one of the Jews killed by the Nazis. His wife, Pesya, and daughter Klara were moved to the ghetto, and the Sytnyuks tried to help them. They bribed a guard to let them out and eventually gave them shelter for a period, first in the house and then in a bunker in the barn. After liberation, Sytynuk escorted them to Pogrebishche to join a group of Jewish survivors, with whom they moved to Kiev. Klara (Levit) eventually moved to the United States.


It is unknown how many Jews returned to Pogrebishche following the Holocaust. However, there are burials in the Jewish cemetery from after the war, so presumably there were some who returned. Presently there are no known Jewish residents in the city.