| Subscribe | Press Room | Store | Friends | Contact Us

Kiev

Kiev, Kiev County, Kiev District, Ukraine

To enlarge the map click here Lazar Brodsky Synagogue in Kiev Lazar Brodsky Synagogue in Kiev Center for Jewish Art, A318519 Tailors' Synagogue in Kiev Tailors' Synagogue in Kiev Center for Jewish Art, A323944

A Jewish presence in Kiev dates from the ninth century, when the city was the capital of Kievan Rus’ and an important stage on the trade route between Europe and Asia. There are few sources about the Jewish community of Kiev in the early medieval period. Apparently both Karaite and rabbinic Jews lived in Kiev at that time. In the 11th and 12th centuries there were references to a “Jewish gate’ in the city walls and to the Talmudic scholar and Kabbalist Moshe ben Yaakov of Kiev.
In the late 15th century Kiev became part of the Great Duchy of Lithuania and from the mid-16th century of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In the mid-17th century Kiev became part of the Russian state. Under the Russian tsars the Jews were expelled from the city several times although they later returned. This inconsistent policy toward the Jews continued when, during the partitions of Poland from 1772 to 1795, the Russian Empire incorporated many Polish Jews. In the early 19th century about 700 Jews lived in Kiev and the local Jewish community had several communal institutions. However, later, under pressure from Kiev’s Christian merchants, the government again expelled the Jews from the city and in 1835 Kiev was excluded from the Pale of Settlement, where Jews were allowed to live.
A permanent Jewish community was established in the city of Kiev only during the time of the liberal reforms of Tsar Alexander II, when certain categories of Jews, such as formers soldiers, wealthy merchants, industrialists, those who had higher education, and certificated craftsmen, were officially allowed to settle in Kiev. Then two Jewish neighborhoods, Podol and Lyebed, were formed. Many Jews came to the city to live there illegally. In 1897 32,000 Jews resided in Kiev, where they comprised 12.8 percent of the city’s total population.
At the turn of century some of the wealthiest Jewish merchants and industrialists, such as the pioneers of the sugar-refining industry the Brodsky brothers and the railway tycoons and bankers the Polyakov brothers, lived in Kiev. They played a prominent role there in municipal, as well as Jewish communal and philanthropic, life. Kiev’s institutions of higher education attracted Jews who subsequently settled in the city, forming the basis for a local Jewish middle class. There were numerous private and government-sponsored Jewish educational institutions in Kiev. This, together with the activity of numerous Jewish writers, such as Sholem Aleichem (Sholom Rabinovich), made Kiev an important Jewish cultural center. Kiev itself, under the name Yehupets, figured prominently in Sholem Aleichem’s works.
By the end of the 19th century Kiev was an important center of Jewish political activity, both Zionist and socialist.
Kiev was the birthplace of the fourth prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir (née Mabovitch), as well as of the Soviet Jewish writer and publicist Ilya Ehrenburg.
In 1881 and in 1905 there were large-scale pogroms in Kiev, during which a number of Jews were murdered, Jewish women were raped, and many Jewish houses and stores were looted or destroyed. In 1911, after the assassination of Russian Prime-Minister Pyotr Stolypin by an anarchist of Jewish origin, Dmitri (Mordko) Bogrov, at the Kiev Opera House, a pre-pogrom atmosphere was palpable in the city. Under the influence of these events, in the early 20th century a Jewish self-defense organization of about 1,500 members was established in Kiev, but that did not prevent pogroms. During this period Kiev became one of the main centers of virulent antisemitism, and of the anti-Jewish press in the Russian Empire. In September and October 1913 a blood libel trial of the Jewish superintendent of a brick factory, Mendel Beilis, took place but the accused was eventually acquitted.
In 1915 the authorities allowed Jewish refugees and deportees from the western regions of the Russian Empire, where fierce battles of World War I took place, to settle in Kiev. This led to the significant growth of the Jewish population of the city. Further growth of its Jewish population resulted from the abolishment, in 1917, of the Pale of Settlement.
Initially, many Jewish political activists in Kiev supported the idea of Ukrainian autonomy within Russia, but opposed the idea of a separate Ukrainian state. Later, when a law about cultural national autonomy was promulgated in January 1918 and an independent Ukrainian state was declared, a Ministry for Jewish Affairs was established in the short-lived government of the Ukrainian National Republic.
In 1919 and 1920 the Jewish population of Kiev was greatly affected by the turmoil of the revolutionary years and civil war in Russia. Many Jews from towns and villages plagued by violence throughout the area came to Kiev to seek protection from pogroms, thus further increasing the Jewish population of the city. However, when Kiev became a battle- ground fought over by the Ukrainian army of Symon Petliura, the White troops of Anton Denikin, and Red Army troops, the city's Jews suffered greatly from the violence. Many of them lost their lives. For example, about 300 Jews were killed in one pogrom in early October 1919.
During the Russian revolutionary period the city became an important center of Zionist and Jewish socialist activity that involved many important figures who later became central figures in the life of Soviet Jews. Among them was Moyshe Litvakov, future editor of the main Soviet Yiddish newspaper "Der Emes," that was published in Moscow. In 1918-1921 Kiev was the location of the influential modern Yiddish culture organization the Kultur Lige, that included many prominent Yiddish writers, such as Dovid Bergelson, Der Nister (Pinkhas Kaganovich), Peretz Markish, Dovid Hofshteyn, and artists such as Issachar-Ber Rybak, Boris Aronson, and others. Later the Kultur Lige ceased being an independent organization and operated under the dominant influence of the Jewish Section of the Communist Party.
During the early Soviet period many Jews from towns and villages of Ukraine came to the city in search of vocational and educational opportunities. Many of them found employment there as managers, doctors, engineers, clerks and office workers, or government and Party officials.
In 1934 Kiev became the capital of Soviet Ukraine and, as an administrative center, the city's importance increased significantly.
In the 1920s and 1930s Kiev continued to be an important center of Yiddish activity in its Soviet version. A state Jewish library and a Ukrainian state Jewish theater operated in the city. Many Yiddish books, journals, and newspapers were printed with government support. From 1929 to 1936 Kiev had an Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture affiliated with the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. The city also had a division of a court that conducted its deliberations in Yiddish.
However, in the second half of the 1930s several Jewish institutions were closed and a number of their activists were arrested during the Great Terror. At the same time other institutions, including theaters and Yiddish newspapers, continued their Soviet Yiddish activity until the German invasion of the USSR in 1941.
In 1939 Kiev's 224,236 Jews comprised 26.5 percent of the city’s total population. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union many Jewish refugees from western areas of Ukraine arrived in Kiev. At the same time a large number of Kiev's Jews (apparently about two-thirds) succeeded in escaping to the Soviet interior before the city was occupied by German troops on September 19, 1941. Abuse, both physical and moral, of the Jews started from the very beginning of the occupation. After mines planted by Soviet saboteurs destroyed buildings in the center of Kiev, all the Jews of the city were summarily charged with responsibility for that act. On September 29-30, 1941 about 33,000 Kiev Jews were massacred at the Babi Yar ravine on the outskirts of the city. In the following months Jews who had managed to avoid the September 1941 massacre but were discovered were taken to Babi Yar and shot or gassed to death, with their bodies being thrown into the ravine. It has been estimated that a total of 70,000 people, mostly Jews, but also including non-Jews defined by the Nazis as “undesirables,” were murdered in Babi Yar during the Nazi occupation. In November 1941 about 300 Jewish patients of the St. Kirill Mental Hospital were murdered in a grove near Babi Yar. Jewish Soviet prisoners of war were murdered in German POW camps in Darnitsa, on the right bank of the Dnepr, and at the Monastery of the Cave.
In the summer of 1943 the Germans forced Jewish and non-Jewish prisoners of war incarcerated in the Syrets camp (located in the vicinity of Babi Yar) to exhume and to burn the bodies of the Babi Yar murder victims. On September 29, 1943 the inmates of the Babi Yar labor group staged a revolt and about a dozen of them succeeded in escaping; the others were killed by Germans.
Kiev was liberated by the Red Army on November 6, 1943. In early September 1945 Kiev witnessed antisemitic riots during which a number of Jews were injured.