Jewish Kyiv

16 Jan 2021
There has been a significant Jewish community in Kyiv for more than a thousand years. At the turn of the 20th Century, Kyiv was one of the most important centers of Jewish culture in Eastern Europe. Jewish synagogues, schools, businesses and markets were prominently represented in a city where Jewish businessmen, engineers, scientists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, writers, artists and tailors all lived and prospered. Israeli political leaders Golda Meier and Ephraim Katzir, as well as the Soviet poet Ilya Ehrenburg were born in Kyiv. The famous Jewish writers Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Babel and poet Osip Mandelstam lived for long periods in the city. The construction of many beautiful buildings, such as Bessarabs’kyi Market and the Kyiv Oblast Hospital, was financed by wealthy Jewish patrons.

Synagogue in Podyl Schekavyts’ka 19, M Kontraktova Poscha. This synagogue was built in 1895 despite severe anti-Semitic oppression prevalent at the time. Local architect Nicolay Gardenik designed the synagogue, which had to be officially declared a private residence in order to avoid problems with authorities. The decision to build was made by the famous Kyiv patron of the arts Gabriel Jacob Rosenberg and Rabbi Yevsey Zuckerman, and was built for the parishioners of 12 small Jewish meeting houses in Podil. In 1929 the building was nationalised and given to a small producers union. The structure survived World War II and reopened as a synagogue. It remained the city’s only working synagogue until 2000.

Central Synagogue A-5, Shota Rustavely 13, M Palats Sportu. The Central Synagogue was built in 1898 by eminent Kyiv philanthropist Lazar Brodsky. This striking architectural monument served as a Jewish religious centre for nearly thirty years until it was seized by the Soviet Union in 1926. For a short time it hosted a handicraft club, after which it was turned into a doll theatre. During the Nazi occupation, Germans used the synagogue as a stable for Wermacht horses. The building was returned to the Jewish community after the fall of the Soviet Union. Despite the serious damage that resulted from 70 years of neglect, the hall was immediately opened to parishioners. Today a number of Jewish educational, religious and cultural programs are held here. The Museum of Jewish Heritage is also housed within, and displays ancient books, candelabras, Menorahs and bas-reliefs.

Karaite Kenassa Yaroslaviv Val 7, M Zoloti Vorota. This century-old building
belongs to Kyiv Karaites, the Jewish religious communion who lives according to the Old Testament and not the Talmud. A prominent Kyiv architect, Horodetsky, designed the building for Solomon Kohan, a tobacco magnate and the head of the Karaite communion. It was opened in 1902. Elio Zola, an Italian architect, fashioned the interiors with imitation antique stone carving. He used the newest and most expensive material available at the time, cement. The building had the latest amenities: electricity, central heating and ventilation. During Soviet times the building was partially destroyed and it lost its dome. Now it serves as a House of Artists and hosts various cultural events.

Solomon Brodsky’s Jewish College Gor’koho 69, M Respublikans’kyi Stadion. This Jewish College was open in 1904. Eminent sugar factory owners Lazar and Lev Brodsky founded the college and named it after their brother, Solomon, who died in childhood. The architect was Adolph Minkus from Odesa. Three hundred Jewish boys could study here for two years, free of charge. They studied Russian and Hebrew, Russian and Jewish history, Jewish religion, arithmetic, geography and science. Now the building belongs to the Institute of the Ukrainian Welding Academy of Sciences.

Talmud-Torah Konstiantynivs’ka 37, M Kontraktova Poscha. Talmud-Torah was a community school for orphans and the poor. It was founded by Jewish entrepreneur David Margolin, who sponsored the project of civil engineer Fyodor Essen, and built the school for 300-400 students. The building is now part of the Kyiv public school system.

Babyi Yar M Dorogozhychy. The darkest page in the history of Kyiv’s Jewish community was written during World War II. Nazi Germany invaded Ukraine in June of 1941 and occupied Kyiv by September. On September 29, Nazi commanders ordered all Jews to meet on Dehtyarivs’ka street. At the time, a train station happened to be nearby and people naively assumed they were being deported. Almost to a man, the city’s Jews obeyed the order, and were systematically marched off to Babyi Yar, a deep ravine in the woods. As the procession neared the edge of the city, naivety turned to terror. Like livestock through slaughterhouse gates, the crowd was funnelled between rows of armed German soldiers. Stripped of their possessions and human dignity, men, women and children were lined up against the edge of the ravine and shot. Thirty-two thousand Jews were murdered in the massacre of September 29-30. Altogether 100,000 people were executed at Babyi Yar during the German occupation. The few survivors were later star witnesses at the Nuremberg Trials. After the war the ravine was filled with soil, and now Babyi Yar is a park with a number of stirring monuments devoted to those who perished.


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