We are delighted to announce that we have completed construction on new protective fencing at three Jewish cemeteries in the Vinnytsia region of Ukraine – Plyskiv Jewish cemetery, and the old and new Jewish cemeteries at Ilintsi.
The earliest references to Plyskiv date to the mid-16th century. It was first settled by German Jews, with permission from the Polish King. This population steadily expanded and, by the 1892 census, the village was home to 1,320 Jews, with three synagogues, a number of shops and mills, and a market place in which Jewish tradesmen sold their wares. This 300 year stretch of Jewish ownership was brought to an end in the 1920s under Soviet rule. In 1926, all Jewish schools in the village were closed, the study of the Torah was prohibited, and the Hebrew language was forbidden. Three years later, all remaining private businesses run by Jews were taken over by the state, with their former owners being forced to work in cooperatives. By this point, a sizeable portion of the population had already fled to larger cities. When the Nazis occupied Plyskiv on July 22nd, 1941, an administrator named Ivanko was charged with overseeing the town. Soon after, the Jewish community were stripped of all private property, the most valuable of which was sent to Germany. Finally, on October 22nd, 1941, the remainder of the Jewish community was systematically murdered. Although a handful of Jews were able to escape or were sheltered by neighbours, upon the liberation of the town, its 300-year-old Jewish community was gone, and those who had escaped chose never to return.
Ilintsi has been home to a Jewish presence since the mid-17th century. This community thrived – by 1756, it numbered 386, and by 1847, this number had grown to 3,407 – half of the town’s population. The Jewish community engaged in crafts and trades, and by 1852, all of the town’s artisans were Jewish. Prior to the First World War, a synagogue and a private Jewish school were in operation, along with 66 Jewish-owned shops, selling textiles, groceries, and leather. The community faced persecution, including two pogroms from Denikin’s Volunteer Army in 1919. After the war, the population dwindled, numbering only 2,217. However, this still represented 64% of the population. The town was occupied by Nazi forces on July 23rd, 1941, and within a month, the town’s Jews had been confined to a ghetto. This was followed by a pattern of mass murder, with Ukrainian police executing 43 Jews in November 1941, then Nazis killing 1,000 in April of 1942, and a further 700 between May 27th and 28th. The remainder of the Jewish population were moved to a forced labour camp on the outskirts of town soon after, where executions were a regular affair. During this time, 18 Jews managed to escape, under the leadership of David Mudrik, thereafter organising a partisan force of 124 Jewish fighters, who continued to resist Nazi occupation, despite less than half of them being armed. In 1944, the town was liberated. However, the community never recovered – in 1970, there was no synagogue and around 20 Jewish families remained in the town, most of whom emigrated in the 1990s.
ESJF first visited these three cemeteries in 2019, as part of our European Commission-funded ground and drone surveys. At the time, all three cemeteries were found to be significantly overgrown with vegetation, putting the remaining graves at risk of being lost forever. However, with the installation of this new fencing, generously funded by the Auswärtiges Amt Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, the legacy of these once thriving communities will live on.