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Odessa

Odessa, Odessa County, Odessa District, Ukraine

To enlarge the map click here Jewish men assembled for registration, Odessa, 1941 Jewish men assembled for registration, Odessa, 1941 Yad Vashem Photo Collection 4331/35 Odessa prison where Jews were held before their murder in 1941 Odessa prison where Jews were held before their murder in 1941 Yad Vashem Photo Collection, 3166/2 Tombstone on the grave of Sholem Yakov Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher Sforim) in the Odessa Jewish Cemetery Tombstone on the grave of Sholem Yakov Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher Sforim) in the Odessa Jewish Cemetery Yad Vashem, Photo Collection, 21295

Jews began to settle in Odessa when the city was founded at the end of the 18th century. The first synagogue in the city was established not long afterwards. The Jewish population grew rapidly during the 19th century due to the influx of Jews from various parts of the Russian Empire, as well as from Austrian Galicia. In 1897 138,935 Jews lived in Odessa, comprising 34.4 percent of the total population.
In the 19th century Odessa became a hub of Jewish cultural and political activity and one of the centers of modern Jewish life. In 1826 the first Jewish secular school in the Russian Empire opened there. A galaxy of prominent Jewish writers both in Yiddish and Hebrew, such as Shalom Yakov Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher Sforim), Asher Hirsh Grinberg (Ahad Haam), Chaim Nakhman Bialik, Shaul Tchernichovsky, Alter Druyanov, Joshua Ravnitsky, as well as the historians Shimon Dubnov and Joseph Klausner, lived and worked in Odessa. Starting in the 1860s, the first Jewish newspapers in Russia "Rassvet" and "Sion" in Russian, "HaMelits" in Hebrew, and "Kol Mevaser" in Yiddish, were published in Odessa.
By the end of the 19th century Odessa was the largest center of Zionist activity in the Russian Empire. Already in the mid-1880s Yehuda Leib Pinsker and Moshe Leib Lilienblum launched the Hovevei Zion movement. Odessa was the birthplace of journalist, writer, and later leader of the revisionist wing of the Zionist movement, Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky. Odessa also had large branch of the autonomist socialist Bund.
The Odessa Jewish community was prosperous. In the 19th and early 20th centuries over 70 percent of the city's trade was in Jewish hands and almost half of the industrial enterprises were owned by Jews. The community had seven synagogues, a hospital, two orphanages, and a library.
There were pogroms in Odessa in 1821, 1859, 1871, 1881, and 1905. During 3 days in 1905 about 400 Jews were killed and thousands wounded.
In 1917 a Jewish paramilitary force was created in Odessa; it protected the city's Jews during the calamities following the Russian revolution.
Under Soviet rule in the 1920s most Odessa Jews still engaged in trade and crafts. At the same time many Jews were employed as industrial workers or state officials.
In the 1920s and 1930s all the large city synagogues were either closed or turned into clubs. Zionist activities were strictly prohibited.
Nevertheless, until the late 1930s, Odessa remained a center of Yiddish culture - with a Yiddish faculty at the local university, a Yiddish pedagogical college, a network of Yiddish schools and kindergardens, a Yiddish theater, and a Jewish museum named after Mendele Moykher Sforim. In the 1920s there were also court divisions and police stations where proceedings were held in Yiddish. Jewish Russian-language writers, including Isaac Babel and Ilya Ilf, were born and grew up in Odessa and emphasized Jewish aspects of the city to their Russian readers.
In 1939 200,961 Jews lived in Odessa, comprising 33.26 percent of the total population. In the summer of 1940, after the annexation of Bessarabia to the USSR, and in June-August 1941 after the outbreak of the Soviet-German war, many Jewish refugees arrived in Odessa from Bessarabia and southern Ukraine.
Odessa was occupied by Romanian and German troops on October 16, 1941. About half of the Jewish population managed to leave in time. However, between 80,000 and 90,000 Jews remained.
On October 17, 1941 a census of the general male population of Odessa was ordered while Jews had to register separately. Several thousand Jews were taken hostage and imprisoned. Those accused of Communist activty were shot on the spot. The Jews of Odessa were also compelled to wear yellow Stars of David on their clothes. In the first months of the war thousands of Jewish refugees, including Jews from Bessarabia, settled in Odessa.
During the first days of the occupation 8,000 (according to Soviet sources) civilians, mostly members of the Jewish intelligentsia, were murdered. Romanian soldiers looted Jewish homes, beat men and raped women, and killed a number of the Jews. Jews were also arrested on the street and were compelled to pay a ransom or were put into prison along with thousands of other Odessa Jews. There they were robbed of their valuables and beaten and women were raped.
Following the blowing up, on October 22, 1941, by Soviet saboteurs of the building where the local commandant had his office, when many high-ranking Romanian and German officers were killed, tens of thousands of Jews were first detained in jail, then murdered at various sites within or near Odessa. Simultaneously, between 20,000 and 25,000 Odessa Jews were deported to the Bogdanovka camp, where they were murdered at the end of 1941.
In late December 1941 the military dictator of Romania, Ion Antonescu, ordered the expulsion of all Jews from Odessa, which was declared the center of Transnistria, a Romanian occupation zone. In preparation for the deportation, in early January 1942, the Jews of Odessa were concentrated in a temporary ghetto in the Slobodka neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. In the first half of 1942 more than 30,000 Odessan Jews were transported to villages in the Odessa and Nikolayev districts, where they were either murdered or died from the terrible conditions.
Odessa was liberated by the Red Army on April 10, 1944.