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Vinnitsa, Vinnitsa County, Vinnitsa District, Ukraine

To enlarge the map click here Vinnitsa Synagogue Vinnitsa Synagogue Yad Vashem Photo Collection 4517/15 Graduates of a Yiddish school in Vinnitsa, 1937 Graduates of a Yiddish school in Vinnitsa, 1937 Yad Vashem Photo Collection 4147/32 House in which Jews of Vinnitsa were gathered before being killed, 2010 House in which Jews of Vinnitsa were gathered before being killed, 2010 Courtesy of Anna Abakunova

A Jewish presence in Vinnitsa is first mentioned in the early 16th century. In 1648 the Jewish community of Vinnitsa was almost completely wiped out by the Cossacks of Bogdan Chmielnitski and their Tatar allies. In the first half of the 18th century the Jews of Vinnitsa suffered greatly from attacks by the Haidamaks.
The Jewish population of Vinnitsa started to grow rapidly after the city became part of the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century. In 1897 11,689 Jews lived in Vinnitsa, comprising 38.3 percent of the total population. In the early 20th century the Jewish community in the city had a hospital, an old-age home for poor Jews, and a Talmud Torah school.
Vinnitsa was a birthplace of the famous Russian-Jewish avant-garde painter and sculptor Nathan Altman.
In the early 20th century Vinnitsa had branches of both Zionist parties and the anti-Zionist socialist Bund which became very active during the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the civil war. Later, under the Soviets, the authorities cracked down on those Jewish political and social activities that were not under official supervision.
Vinnitsa Jews suffered in a pogrom in October 1905 that claimed a number of Jewish lives and, especially, during the calamities of the civil war in Russia. In 1919-1922 the various warring parties repeatedly attacked Jews, injuring them and looting their homes and businesses. During this period many Jews from surrounding towns came to Vinnitsa in search of protection from the pogroms in the countryside.
Under Soviet rule the occupational structure of Vinnitsa Jews started to change. Many Jews left their former employment in commerce and crafts in order to became government clerks or factory workers.
At the same time there was considerable Soviet Yiddish cultural activity in Vinnitsa. Several Yiddish schools and a Yiddish pedagogical institute operated in the city until they were reorganized into general ones by the end of 1930s. The Vinnitsa State Jewish Worker-and-Peasant Theater performed in Yiddish and there was a Yiddish chorus in the city. The city's Yiddish-language newspapers "Proletarisher Emes" (The Proletarian Truth) and "Di Royte Nodl" (The Red Needle, of the local clothing factory) were published in 1930s. From 1925 to 1936 a chamber in the local court held deliberations in Yiddish and there was also a local police station in Vinnitsa with Yiddish as the working language.
In 1939 33,150 Jews lived in Vinnitsa, where they comprised 35.6 percent of the total population. After the start of the German invasion into Poland on September 1, 1939 many Jewish refugees from Poland fled to the city.
Apparently more than a half of Vinnitsa's Jews managed to leave the city before it was occupied by German forces on July 19, 1941. Immediately after the start of the occupation a Jewish council was appointed by the Germans. All Jews were ordered to wear armbands with the Star of David and their valuables were confiscated. Soon afterwards the Jews in Vinnitsa were placed under guard in several locations in the city and were forced to perform various kinds of hard labor. The mass murder of the Jews of Vinnitsa started at the end of July 1941. By mid-September 1941 about 1,000 Vinnitsa Jews, mostly men and women without their husbands, were murdered as "hostages," allegedly in retaliation for acts of sabotage. The majority of Vinnitsa's about 15,000 Jews were murdered in two large-scale murder operations, in mid-September 1941 and in mid-April 1942. About 1,000 skilled workers were spared during these massacres. Half of them were incarcerated in a Vinnitsa labor camp and the other half were deported to a Zhitomir labor camp. They were used for various works, including the construction of Hitler's "Werewolf" forward headquarters near Vinnitsa. Most of these forced laborers were murdered in the summer of 1942 after the construction of the "Werewolf" was completed.
Vinnitsa was liberated by the Red Army on March 20, 1944.