The principality of Kiev came under the control of the Poles in the last quarter of the fifteenth
century. The Poles redesignated the Kievan principality as a Polish province. Along with this change in
territorial control came
the forced conversion of the region's peasants to serfs, subjecting them to the absolute authority of the Polish nobility.
The Polish king, Sigismund III, who ruled from 1587 to 1632, was a devout Roman Catholic enthralled with the Jesuits.
Under the influence of the latter, Sigismund III adopted a negative attitude toward the Jews that propogated throughout
Poland and Ukraine. This distaste for Jews was amplified by the region's guilds, whose members feared Jewish economic competition.
Persecution of the Jews was mitigated, however, due to the protection provided by the nobility, who used the Jews as their agents.
Some, but by no means all, Jews collected taxes, acted as financial managers, were leaseholders for the Polish nobility, and
collected christening and funeral fees from the peasants. As leaseholders, the Jews generated income from the mills, inns,
rivers, and lakes that they leased.
By the seventeenth century, the Jesuits' influence in Ukraine had increased. The Jesuits were determined to convert the peasants
and Cossacks, both groups being of the Greek Orthodox persuasion, to Roman Catholicism. There was much resistance to these efforts.
The Jews, because of their perceived oppression of the peasants and because of their considerable commercial influence were greatly
resented. The resentment of the Jesuits and the Jews manifested itself in Cossack bands plundering
the estates of Polish nobles, pillaging of Catholic Churches, and robbing of Jews.
The early Cossack uprisings, during the late
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, were directed primarily at Roman Catholics.
A later revolt, in 1637, resulted in the murder of two-hundred Jews who were mainly tax collectors and leaseholders; many synagogues
were destroyed, as well.
Bogdan Chmielnicki, the leader of the Cossacks led them, in 1648, in a revolt against the Poles and the Jews, who he
believed were oppressing his people. The resentment, whether or not justified, was so intense and widespread among the peasants and
Cossacks, that the revolt spread rapidly throughout the Ukraine. Many towns were invaded and plundered. Jews were tortured and killed;
others were captured by the Tatars and later ransomed by the Jews of Constantinople.
The town of Tulchin had a contingent of six-hundred Polish soldiers, as well as about two-thousand armed Jews. They were esconced in a
nearby fortress. The Cossacks and their peasant allies attacked the town and the fort, but could not get past the walls of the latter.
Instead, they made an offer that the Polish nobles could not turn down: turn over the Jews and the Cossacks will leave the Poles alone.
The Jews, unexplicably, turned their weapons over to the Poles, who then threw open the fort's gates, giving the Cossacks entry.
The Jews of Tulchin were given the standard choices: death or baptism. On 24 June 1648, one-thousand Jews chose torture and death.
The Poles were deceived; without the support of the Jews, they were easily murdered by the Cossacks.
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