views updated May 29 2018


POLTAVA , capital of Poltava district, Ukraine. Jews began to settle there at the close of the 18th century. In 1801 there were 18 Jewish merchants in Poltava and 292 Jews classed as towns-men (about one fifth of the total number of inhabitants). The community in Poltava and its environs numbered 2,073 in 1847. The number of Jews in the town doubled by the 1870s, and in 1897 reached 11,046 (20.5% of the total population), of whom a considerable number were from Lithuania and Belo-russia. The Poltava community was one of the best organized and most progressive in Russia. It had 10 synagogues. Jews owned four large flour mills, most of the distilleries, some lumber warehouses, and two printing presses. At the close of the 19th century the talmud torah was converted into a modern elementary school, which was attended by 300 children who studied both religious and general subjects; its teaching staff included Alexander Siskind *Rabinovitz and M. Haezrahi. There were also a girls' vocational school supported by the *Jewish Colonization Association, a yeshivah, and 20 ḥadarim. The community's hospital and clinic provided free services, and there were an old age home and a loan bank. The Jewish library contained 8,000 volumes. The influence of the Russian intelligentsia, led by the author V. Korolenko, prevented the outbreak of pogroms in Poltava during both periods of revolution in Russia in 1905 and 1917. There was a strong Zionist movement in Poltava, which was one of the foremost centers of the *Po'alei Zion movement in Russia; several founders of this party were born in Poltava and began their activities there: B. *Borochov, I. *Ben-Zvi, and V. *Zerubavel (the last two were natives of Poltava). The ideological organ of the party, Yevreyskaya Rabochaya Khronika (founded in 1906), was published in Poltava, and the founding conference of Po'alei Zion was held there. Rabbi of Poltava from 1893 to 1917 was E.A. Rabinowich, a leader of the extreme Orthodox and a strong opponent of the Zionists. He published the religious monthly Ha-Peles (1903–06) and the weekly Ha-Modi'a (1910–15) in Poltava. The historian Elias *Tcherikower was born in Poltava.

Under the Soviet regime the fate of the community was the same as that of the rest of Russian Jewry. Until 1927 Poltava remained a center for printing of Jewish religious books (particularly siddurim and calendars). In 1926 among the 9,000 Jewish breadwinners, 2,415 were white collar workers, 1,862 craftsmen, and 1,676 simple laborers. Some 80% of the artisan union were Jews. Many were occupied in the large sock factory that supplied the entire Soviet Union. There were 2 Yiddish schools and a Yiddish section in the railroad school. The Jewish population numbered 18,476 (20.1% of the total) in 1926. It dropped by 1939 to 12,860 (10% of the total population).

The Germans entered the city September 18, 1941. Many Jews were successfully evacuated or escaped. A Judenrat was established, and the Jews were called to register. On September 25, 5,000 were murdered, and on November 23, after a new registration was ordered, 3,000 Jews were executed. In the following days Jews who evaded registration or hid were caught and executed. In the late 1960s the Jewish population was estimated at 5,000. There was no synagogue, the remaining one having been closed down in 1959 by the militia, which broke in, confiscated all religious articles, dispersed the congregation, and prohibited the holding of further gatherings. Subsequently Jews have prayed in private. There is a Jewish cemetery in Poltava. There are also two mass graves of Jewish martyrs murdered by the Nazis; one in which 13,000 bodies are buried, and in the other 7,000. The monuments there do not specify that all the victims were Jews.

Region of "Poltavshchina"

Jews began to settle in the region during the early 17th century in the process of Jewish participation in the colonization of Ukraine. By 1610 there was a Jewish community in Berezan (to the north of Pereyaslav), and within a few decades about a dozen Jewish communities were established in the districts of *Pereyaslav and Mirgorod, of which the largest were in Pereyaslav and *Lubny. Jews engaged in commerce and the leasing of estates, flour mills, liquor distilleries, breweries, and inns. There was strong competition from Christian towns-men, and during the *Chmielnicki massacres of 1648 these communities were among the first to be destroyed. After the region came under Russian rule Jews were not permitted to live there until the first partition of Poland in 1772. Individual Jewish families, however, settled in various estates under the protection of their owners despite frequent expulsions by the authorities.

After the first partition of Poland in 1772, Jewish settlement on the eastern bank of the river Dnieper was renewed, and by 1792 there were over 700 Jews in the region, most of whom lived on estates or in villages. In 1794 this region, which then formed part of the province of Yekaterinoslav, was incorporated within the *Pale of Settlement. In 1803 there were 82 Jewish merchants and 2,030 Jews classed as townsmen living in the province of Poltava, which was formed in 1802. The community of *Kremenchug was the largest in the district, and developed in particular owing to its position on the Dnieper, the main waterway from Lithuania to the south. It accounted in 1897 for 30% of the Jews in the province. In 1847, 15,572 Jews were counted in the 18 communities of the province (which also included the Jews in the small settlements and their environs). Their numbers increased as a result of a large emigration from Lithuania and Belorussia, and were estimated at 84,000 in 1881. The census of 1897 recorded 111,417 Jews (4% of the total population) in Poltava province (the lowest percentage of Jews in all the provinces of the Pale). The Russian-Ukrainian majority had a strong assimilationist influence on the Jews in the province, who were a minority in all the towns; it was only in Kremenchug that their numbers approached half the population. On the other hand, *Chabad Ḥasidism, which penetrated from the north, was an important spiritual influence (the tomb of *Shneur Zalman of Lyady, the founder of Chabad Ḥasidism, is in *Gadyach in Poltava province).

About one half of the Jews of the province of Poltava earned their livelihood from commerce (in contrast to 38.5% in the whole of Russia), and about 30 percent were engaged in crafts and industry. Commerce was principally conducted in grain and other agricultural produce. Although some Jews owned saw mills, brick-kilns, flour mills, alcohol distilleries, and other enterprises, the overwhelming majority of the workers in them were non-Jews. During the spring of 1881 pogroms occurred in the north of the province of Poltava. In 1905 a wave of pogroms swept across 52 settlements of the province. The most severely affected were Gadyach, Kremenchug, *Romny, and *Zolotonosha.

During World War i thousands of refugees and Jews expelled from the battle zone arrived in the province of Poltava and found refuge in the Jewish communities. During the Civil War, the communities of the western section of the province suffered especially from pogroms by bands of Ukrainians and the "volunteer army" of A.I. *Denikin. In 1926 there were approximately 93,000 Jews in the five districts (Kremenchug, Lubny, Poltava, *Priluki, Romny) of the former territory of the province of Poltava.


S. Ettinger, in: Zion, 21 (1956), 107–42; Zionist Organization, Die Judenpogrome in Russland (1909); Reshumot, 3 (Berlin, 1923), 157–71; Y. Zerubavel, Alei Ḥayyim (1960), 14–124 passim, 233–5; B. Ḥaikin, in: J. Erez (ed.), Sefer Ẓ.-S. (1963), 120–1.

[Yehuda Slutsky]

Poltava, Battle of

views updated May 18 2018


The Battle of Poltava was the defining battle of the Great Northern War (17001721), fought on June 27, 1709, between the Swedish and Russian armies along the River Vorskla to the north of the Ukrainian city of Poltava.

After the rejection of a Russian peace offer in 1707, the Swedish King Karl (Charles) XII spent much of the summer of 1708 in Lithuania waiting for supplies for an assault on Russia. However, in September he decided to move down to the Ukraine where he expected to gain the support of the Cossack Hetman Ivan Mazepa. In the meantime, Tsar Peter I managed to defeat the Swedish forces Charles had been waiting for (the battle of Lesnaia, September 28, 1708) and seized the supplies. The Swedish forces suffered a great deal during the cold winter of 1709 and were regularly attacked by Russian units. Even though the Swedish forces had been besieging Poltava since April 1709, they were severely weakened by the time Peter was ready to attack.

Three days before the battle Charles XII was immobilized by a leg wound caused by a stray bullet and was thus unable to personally lead the Swedish forces into battle. It had, moreover, become apparent that no help would be arriving in time from either the Polish-Lithuanian forces of Stanislaw Leszczyn´ski or other Swedish units. In spite of this, a Swedish victory presented the prospect of easing supply problems, of helping Leszczyn´ski, andpossiblyof inducing Ottomans and Tatars to commit to the Swedish side. Moreover, a Swedish withdrawal would have presented serious risks.

The Swedish force of 22,00028,000 responded to a Russian challenge with a major assault, although Peterat the helm of a much larger force of some 45,000 menappears to have viewed Poltava as primarily a defensive encounter. However, confusing orders left part of the Swedish force attacking Russian T-shaped redoubts rather than the main camp. These Swedish units, led by Carl Gustav Roos, lost contact with the main force as well as two-fifths of their men. They eventually retreated and were forced to surrender. The other two-thirds of the Swedish force successfully regrouped for an attack on the camp awaiting Roos. The Swedes, however, lost their momentum during the two-hour wait, whereas the Russians were revitalized by news of the surrender. A Russian force of 22,000 men and sixty-eight field guns now attacked the remaining four thousand Swedes led by Adam Ludvig Lewenhaupt. Disorganization and inferior numbers ultimately led to a chaotic Swedish retreat. The Swedes lost 6,901 dead or wounded and 2,760 captured. The Russian losses were 1,345 dead and 3,290 wounded.

Three days after the battle, Charles went into exile in the Ottoman Empire and the Swedish force of 14,00017,000 surrendered at Perevolochna. Even though the Treaty of Nystad was only concluded twelve years later, the defeat suffered at Poltava marks the end of Sweden as a great power.

See also: great northern war


Frost, Robert I. (2000). The Northern Wars: War, State and Society in Northeastern Europe, 15581721. Harlow, UK, and New York: Longman.

Hughes, Lindsey. (1998). Russia in the Age of Peter the Great. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Jarmo T. Kotilaine


views updated May 18 2018

Poltava a city in east central Ukraine which was besieged unsuccessfully in 1709 by Charles XII's Swedish forces; they were defeated by the Russians under Peter the Great.