«Jewish Observer»
June 2002
5762 Tammuz

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In the period from the last decade of the XVI - till the beginning of the XVIII centuries waves of peasant-Cossack rebellions engulfed Ukraine. Rebels, as a Ukrainian historian M.Kostomarov noted, hated Jews "by far stronger and fiercer than their landowners (magnates and szlachta - A.N.). Each rebellion was abundant in similar ways to vent this hatred: synagogues and dwellings of Jews were devastated, their sacred places were profaned, they themselves, given an opportunity, were drowned and hanged.

The movement headed by Bogdan Khmelnitsky grew into a national-liberation struggle. The war entailed bloody victims on both sides. Kostomarov wrote at that very time a merciless extermination of Jews began "about all Southern Rus". Rebels frequently demanded from captured Jews to get converted into Orthodoxy and if the prisoners refused killed them relentlessly. An outstanding Ukrainian historian M.Grushevsky wrote that anti-Semitism in the XVII century was characteristic of both Polish szlashta and Ukrainian Cossack top circles. During B.Khmelnitsky's march about the Trans-Dnieper territory Tatars would take Jews prisoners. They raped women and girls, wives were raped in presence of their husbands, Jews were made to become religious converts, their sacred places were profaned.

Grushevsky wrote Jews marked the day of June 10, 1648, when rebels seized the town of Nemirov, as particularly sorrowful. Jewish sources inform that day about 6,000 synagogue parishioners were killed. Jews are known to have defended towns of Nemirov, Bar, Satanov. Rabbi Samson Ostropoler July 13, 1648 took part in defending Polonny from Cossacks. When the latter rushed into the town, Samson with 360 his followers entered the synagogue to meet their death there.

During a Cossack'sassault of Chernigov the towns around it surrendered leaving szlachta, Catholics and Jews to tortures. In the town of Mohyla alone 800 szlachta were slaughtered together with women and children, and 700 Jews with women and children were killed: some were cut, others were ordered to dig pits where Cossacks threw Jewish women and children alive and covered them with ground; after that Jews were ordered t kill one another shooting from muskets... Sabatai ben-Meir in his district counts two thousand Jews killed in Chernigov". A voivode of Putivl prince Semen Prozorovsky wrote in May 1651, "On the way to Zborov cossacks and Tatars burnt to ashes towns of Bar, Satanov, Konstantinov Old and New, Medzhibozh, Drinopol, Skala, Dinkovo and many others; the Poles and Jews were killed everywhere, some were taken prisoners".

Jews established Sivan 20 - when rebels seized the town of Nemirov - the day of memory of that tragedy's victims. "Reading of prayers to commemorate victims and mourning fast this day, - tells Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine Yaakov Dov Bleich, - were first established after the second crusade in 1171. Men observed this fast since 18 years, women - since 15. Yet earlier, after the first crusade (1096 - 1099) a prayer commemorating victims of crusaders had been written. It was read on the eve of Shavuot and on Ava 9. After tragedy of 1648 Jewish communities in Poland, Galicia and Ukraine read this prayer each Saturday. Besides, the prayers read on Sivan 20 were amended with a text to commemorate a Nemirov Rabbi Iyehiel, who had died in 1648.

We always remember this tragedy. In 1994 my article "Nice face of freedom in Ukraine" about democracy in the country and absence of state anti-Semitism was published in USA. Speaking about relations between Jews and Ukrainians I noted we would not forget tragedies of the time of B.Khmelnitsky and S.Petlura. A woman-Ukrainian called me later and offered to extract these words and to write instead that Ukrainians would never forget Kaganovich. I objected to her saying Jews do not consider Kaganovich their national hero, whereas Khmelnitsky until now remains a hero of Ukraine. I can condemn Kaganovich together with Ukrainians, but they will not condemn Khmelnitsky together with me.

In the same article I wrote about a commemorating prayer which was read in synagogues on Saturday. Then a New York Rabbi David Lincoln objected to me noting that prayer had been written not after the tragedy of Kmelnitchina, but after the first crusade. I had to explain to him though the prayer had really been written at the end of the XI century, people began reading it on Saturdays only after 1648. Hungarian Jewish communities started doing this on Saturdays after WWII, i.e. after Holocaust, and communities in Germany still read this prayer twice a year. In Israel this prayer may not be pronounced, and in USA emigrants from Ukrainian communities, in particular, Skvira, Chernobyl and others go on reading it. There also is a separate prayer in memory of one Rabbi who died during Nemirov's massacre. I think we should resume reading this prayer in all communities. Rabbi Yomtov Lipman Geller (1597 - 1654), the author of a prayer that was read Sivan 20 in Galitskaya synagogue last year, is famous and authoritative. This prayer may also be read in memory of victims during Khmelnitchina".

We hope we shall honour memory of victims of Khmelnitchina, Gaidamatchina and Kolijivshchina not only in prayers. The time will come when we'll be able to gather near plaques established in places of tragedies to honour their victims conveying to our descendants the lessons of those events.


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