Since Sudilkov was located within the historical boundaries of the Ukraine, which at one time formed part of the Pale of Settlement, some basic background on that country may be useful for increasing our knowledge of the region.
On the Internet website entitled “About Ukraine” there is a simple introduction to the post-Soviet nation: “Ukraine, republic, Eastern Europe, bounded on the north by Belarus and Russia; on the east by Russia; on the south by the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov; on the southwest by Romania and Moldova; and on the west by Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. Formerly the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Ukraine is a founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which in December, 1991 succeeded the USSR. With a total area of about 603,700 sq km (about 233,090 sq mi), Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe after Russia. Ukraine includes the Crimean Autonomous Republic, which was elevated from an oblast to a constituent republic in 1991. Kiev is the capital and largest city.”
On the same website there is an informative brief history of the country: “The early history of Ukraine is... an important chapter in the history of Russia. Kyyiv (Kiev) was the center of the Rus principality in the 11th and 12th centuries, and it is still known as the Mother of Russian Cities. In the 13th century the area was invaded by Tatar-Mongols, who inflicted extensive damage. The western Ukrainian principality of Galicia, founded in the 12th century, suffered less from the Mongol invasion than the rest of the area, and was annexed by Poland in the 14th century. At about the same time Kyyiv and the Ukrainian principality of Volhynia [in which Sudilkov lay] were conquered by Lithuania and later came, with the latter country, into the possession of Poland. Poland, however, could not subjugate the Ukrainian Cossacks, who allied themselves with Russia.” On the contrary, it was confronted with a seemingly unending series of Cossack rebellions. By the middle of the seventeenth century a violent uprising, organized for the most part by a single man, led to the temporary expulsion of the Poles from Volhynia and the rest of western Ukraine. A book by Orest Subtelny entitled Ukraine - A History (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1988), excerpts of which are posted on the Internet site “Bohdan Kmelnytsky”, tells of the dramatic events of these years: “Bohdan Kmelnytsky (born 1595), considered by scholars to be Ukraine’s greatest political and military leader, was the son of a minor Ukrainian nobleman named Mykhailo, who was himself the servitor of a Polish magnate.” (The current province in which Sudilkov is located—or would have been, had it not been destroyed—is, in fact, named Khmelnitsky, as I have already stated above. Hence, the province was named after the man whose exploits altered the course of Ukrainian history.) Subtelny writes, “For his services Mykhailo obtained an estate in Subotiv; he sent Bohdan to a Jesuit school in Jaroslav where he received a good education by the standards of the time, mastering Polish and Latin. In 1620, tragedy struck. In the great victory over the Poles at Cecora the elder Khmelnytsky was killed and Bohdan taken captive. After two years in captivity, Khmelnytsky returned to Subotiv, entered the ranks of the registered Cossacks, married, and concentrated on expanding his estate.”
To summarize, the Cossacks were descended from rustic adventurers who united themselves into bands in the sixteenth century and resettled in the steppes beyond the Dnieper River. There they eventually built a vast network of fortresses in order to defend the Ukrainian frontier against Tatar incursions. The Cossacks, as they came to be called, had their own governing council which they called the Cossack Rada, presided over by a Hetman (supreme chief). The land the Cossacks settled, known as “the Sich”, was considered by them to be an autonomous territory. In fact the Polish king ignored their activities and left them alone because of their role in protecting the southern border of his realm. Meanwhile, in the course of their continuous wars against the Tatars and Turks, the Cossacks gradually gained strength and military experience. They organized invasions into the Crimea and Asia Minor, even pushing as far as Istanbul. At the time Kmelnytsky became a Cossack officer the king of Poland was struggling desperately against internal rebellions. The Cossacks were behind many of these anti-Polish uprisings. One of their greatest leaders, Severyn Nalevayko, was captured by the Poles, tortured and executed, further provoking the ire of the rebels. Subtelny continues:
Cautious and well established, [Kmelnytsky] avoided involvement in the uprisings of 1625 and 1638. His good standing with the government led to a brief tenure as chancellor of the Zaporozhian Host and to his participation in a Cossack delegation to the Polish king, Wladyslaw IV, in 1646. By the time Khmelnytsky, now a captain in the Chyhyryn Cossack regiment, had reached the age of 50, it appeared that the bulk of a moderately successful career was already behind him.
But a typical case of magnate acquisitiveness and arrogance completely altered Khmelnytsky’s life and with it the course of the country’s history. In 1646 during his absence from Subotiv, Daniel Czaplinski, a Polish nobleman backed by local magnates, laid claim to Khmelnytsky’s estate, raided it, killed his youngest son, and abducted the woman the recently widowed Cossack captain intended to marry. When numerous appeals to the court brought him no satisfaction, the infuriated Khmelnytsky resolved to lead a revolt against the Poles... For more than a year before arriving at the Sich [where he fled from the Poles], he had plotted an uprising and established a network of supporters. Realizing that the Cossack’s great weakness in fighting the Poles was lack of cavalry, Khmelnytsky found an audacious solution to the problem: he approached the Crimean Tatars, the Cossacks’ traditional enemies with a proposal for an alliance against the Poles. His timing was perfect. At precisely the same time that his envoys arrived in the Crimea, the khan’s relations with the Poles had become extremely strained and he sent Tuhai-Bey, a noted commander, with 4,000 Tatars to the Cossacks’ aid. In the spring of 1648, forewarned of Khmelytsky’s actions, the Poles moved their army to the south to nip the rebellion in the bud.
In mid April, 1648, at Zhovti Vody, not far from Sich, a confident Polish advance guard of 6,000 men confronted the combined Cossack/Tatar force of about 9,000. On 6 May, after prolonged fighting, which resulted in the desertion to the rebels of several thousand registered Cossacks who had been sent to aid the Poles, the Polish advance guard was annihilated. Astounded by the news and convinced by a Cossack prisoner (planted expressly for this purpose) that the rebels greatly outnumbered them, Marcin Kalinowski and Mikolaj Potocki, the two commanders of the 20,000-man main army, abandoned their strong positions near Korsun and retreated through difficult terrain, led by a guide who was a secret agent of the Hetman. Not far from Korsun, on 26 May, the Poles were ambushed by the Cossacks (whose forces had grown to 15,000 not including Tatar cavalry) and, once again, were completely crushed. Both Polish commanders, 80 important noblemen, 127 officers, 8,520 soldiers, and forty-one cannons fell into Khmelnytsky’s hands. To add to the Poles’ misfortunes, only six days before the battle of Korsun, King Wladyslaw IV died. Just as hordes of rebels were gathering in the south, the Commonwealth had suddenly lost its king, its commanders, and its army.
While Khmelnytsky’s victories stunned the poles, they electrified the Ukrainians. First on the Right Bank and then on the Left Bank, Cossacks, peasants, and burghers rushed to form regiments and either joined the Hetman or, led by numerous local leaders, staged mini-rebellions of their own. Many peasants and Cossacks used the opportunity to vent pent-up hatred against their oppressors. The so-called “Eye Witness Chronicle” paints a frightful picture of these events: “Wherever they found szlachta [representatives of Polish authority], royal officials or Jews they killed them all, sparing neither women nor children. They pillaged the estates of Jews and nobles, burned (Catholic) churches and killed their priests, leaving nothing whole. It was a rare individual in those days who had not soaked his hands in blood and participated in the pillage.” Within a few months, almost all Polish nobles, officials, and priests had been wiped out or driven from Ukraine. Jewish losses were especially heavy because they were the most numerous and accessible representatives of the szlaachta regime. Between 1648 and 1656, tens of thousands of Jews—given the lack of reliable data, it is impossible to establish more accurate figures—were killed by the rebels, and to this day Kmelnytsky’s uprising is considered by the Jews to be one of the most traumatic events in their history.
Whenever they had the opportunity, the Polish magnates and nobles responded to the massacres in kind. The most notorious practitioner of szlachta terror tactics was Jeremi Wisniowiecki, the wealthiest magnate in the land. When the rebellion caught him on his estates on the Left Bank, Wisniowiecki mustered his well-trained private army of 6,000, gathered together as many of the terrified nobles, priests, and Jews as he could, and set off on an epic, roundabout retreat to the west. Everywhere his forces moved, they tortured and killed Cossacks, peasants, women, children, leaving behind then a grisly trail of corpses. Although Wisniowiecki’s feats won him adulation in Poland, they so infuriated the Ukrainian masses that they would brook no talk of compromise and vowed to fight him to the death.
According to Subtelny, by the end of 1648, the Ukrainian forces numbered between 80,000 and 100,000, of which only about 40,000 were regular Cossack troops. On September 2, in a huge clash at Pylavtsi, the Cossacks and their Tatar allies routed the Polish royal army, removing the last obstacle between Khmelnytsky and western Ukraine. Subtelny writes, “In the Ukrainian lands of Volhynia and Galacia, the peasants welcomed him and joined the uprising. Even in southern Poland, downtrodden peasants were heard to utter, ‘If G-d were only so kind to give us a Khmelnytsky also we would teach those nobles what they get for oppressing peasants’... Early in January, 1649, at the head of a triumphant army, Khmelnytsky returned to Kiev, where he received a tumultuous welcome and was hailed by the assembled Orthodox hierarchy as ‘the second Moses’ who had ‘liberated his people from Polish slavery.’”
We can only guess what effect the Cossack Uprising and accompanying massacres had on Sudilkov. Perhaps all or at least a part of the Jews there were murdered or forced into exile. It is easy to imagine that the rebels rampaged through town a number of times and burned everything in sight, including the synagogue. It is not to be excluded that the synagogue in the drawing (below) replaced an earlier one which was destroyed precisely in this period. In any case, it is probable that the peasants and Cossacks who attacked the Jews did not distinguish between Polish Jews associated with the Polish kingdom and Ukrainian Jews who had nothing to do with it. Trapped between the retreating Polish forces on the one hand and the advancing cavalry of Bohdan Kmelnytsky and his Tatar allies on the other, the Jews of Sudilkov would have had no place to hide.
Let us turn back to the text of the “About Ukraine” website: “The lands east of the Dnepr River were ceded to Russia in 1667 (some parts of Ukraine had been annexed by Muscovy much earlier), and the remainder of Ukraine, except for Galicia (part of the Austrian Empire, 1772-1919), was incorporated into the Russian Empire after the second partition of Poland in 1793.
“The Ukrainians under Austrian rule in Galicia and Bukovina and in the region of Hungary known as the Carpatho-Ukraine preserved their identity as a separate group and engendered a forceful nationalist movement; in 1917, the Ukrainians in Russia established an independent republic following the Bolshevik Revolution. Austrian Ukraine proclaimed itself a republic in 1918 and was federated with its Russian counterpart; the Allies took little cognizance of Ukrainian claims for Galicia, however, and following World War I (1914-18) awarded that area to Poland. In 1919 the Russian Ukrainian republic, under the leader Simon Petlyura, declared war on Poland. In the same year Ukrainian Communists established a second government and declared the existence of the Ukrainian SSR. In 1920 the advance of the Russian Bolshevik armies caused the Petlyura government and Poland to become allies; they were too weak, however, to prevent the Soviet government from assuming control of the country. In 1922 Communist Ukrainian delegates joined in the formation of the USSR.
“In the period between 1922 and 1939 drastic efforts were made by the USSR to suppress Ukrainian nationalism. Ukraine suffered terribly from the forced collectivization of agriculture and the expropriation of foodstuffs from the countryside; the result was the famine of 1932-33, when more than seven million people died. The ultimate goal of Ukrainian nationalism was the independence of a Greater Ukraine, embracing Russian Ukraine, Polish Galicia, and Czechoslovakian Ruthenia.
“Following the Soviet seizure of eastern Poland in September 1939, Polish Galicia, comprising nearly 62,160 sq km (24,000 sq mi), was incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR. When the Germans invaded Ukraine in 1941 during World War II (1939-45), Ukrainian nationalists hoped that an autonomous or independent Ukrainian republic would be set up under German protection. Much to their disappointment, the Germans not only divided Russian Ukraine and West Ukraine (Galicia) but came as hostile conquerors. Ukraine was retaken by the USSR in 1944. In the same year parts of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina were added to it, and the Ruthenian region of Czechoslovakia was added in 1945. The Ukrainian SSR became a charter member of the United Nations in 1945. The Crimean region in Russia was added to Ukraine in 1954. Communism in the USSR collapsed in 1991. At the end of 1991, the USSR ceased to exist, and Ukraine became an independent republic.”
Another website, entitled “BRAMA: Gateway Ukraine”, presents the following statistics: “With a population of 51,704,000 in 1989, Ukraine is the second most populous country of the former USSR. Only Russia has more people. Ukrainians, also known as Little Russians, constitute 72 percent of the population. Ukrainian, a Slavic language closely related to Russian, is the official language, although Russian is widely spoken. Russians constitute 22 per cent of the population. Other minorities include Belarusians, Moldovans, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Poles, and Crimean Tatars. Most of the Tatars were forcibly transported to Central Asia in 1944 for anti-Soviet activities during World War II (1939-45). Orthodoxy is the predominant religion in the country, although western Ukrainians are Catholic, as are the Hungarian and Polish minorities. Protestantism, Islam, and Judaism are also practiced.” According to official estimates its population was 51,944,000 in 1991, 68% per cent of which lived in urban areas. In 1989, 72.7% of the population was Ukrainian, 22.1% Russian, 0.9% Jewish, while a number of other ethnicities comprised the remaining 4.3% of the population. The surface area of the oblast of Khmelnitsky, in which Sudilkov lay, is 20,600 square kilometers. Its population in 1989 was 1,520,600 while that of the town of Khmelnitsky was 241,000. Other important towns in the vicinity of Sudilkov are Zhitomir, with a population of 296,000, and Rovno, with 233,000 people.
According to an abridged version of the book Jewish Communities of the World, published in 1998 by the World Jewish Congress and Lerner Publications Company and posted on-line, Ukraine currently has the fifth largest Jewish community on earth (486,000, according to BRAMA) after the United States, Israel, France, and Russia. Kiev by itself boasts the world’s fourteenth most populous Jewish community, with 110,000 Jews. Other Ukrainian cities with a major Jewish population are Dnepropetrovsk (60,000), Kharkov (45,000) and Odessa (45,000). “Jews also live in many of the smaller towns. Western Ukraine, however, has only a small remnant of its former Jewish population, with Lvov and Chernovtsy each having only about 6,000 Jews. The majority of Jews in present-day Ukraine are native Russian/Ukrainian speakers, and only some of the elderly speak Yiddish as their mother tongue (in 1926, 76.1% claimed Yiddish as their mother tongue). The average age is close to 45. The idea of a distinct Ukrainian Jewry has recently been revived. In former times, Jews living in various parts of the territory of present-day Ukraine identified themselves as Russian, Polish, Galician, Romanian, Bessarabian, Hungarian, or even Austrian Jews, and more recently, as Soviet Jews.
“In the 19th century, Ukraine, as a part of the Pale of Settlement, was densely populated by Jews. Despite restrictions, Jews played a prominent role in the development of commerce and industry in the region, and especially in the growth of its major cities, such as Kiev, Odessa, and Kharkov. Many of the most important Jewish thinkers of the modern age were born there. Throughout this time, religious and Zionist activity was forced underground. The Soviet authorities established four Jewish autonomous districts in the southern part of the republic and in Crimea. These settlements lasted until World War II, when they were overrun by the Germans and their inhabitants murdered…
“The collapse of Communism and the re-creation of an independent Ukraine set the stage for the revitalization of Jewish life. The Ukrainian government has been sensitive to the needs of Ukrainian Jewry. Still, the precarious economic situation has been a decisive factor in the aliya of Ukrainian Jews. The leading umbrella organizations are the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine and the Jewish Council of Ukraine. The community is made up of many different Jewish religious and cultural groups, including various Zionist organizations. The Jewish population is in decline, largely due to emigration and to the aging process. The community, together with international Jewish welfare groups, is striving to alleviate the poverty of the many destitute Jews in the country, a large portion of whom are elderly. Among the community’s priorities is securing the return of nationalized Jewish property. Ukraine has about 75 Jewish schools in some 45 cities, among them some 10 day schools (in Chernovtsy, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Kiev, Lvov, Odessa, Vinnitsa, and Zapozoshye) and 65 Sunday schools. Several newspapers and journals are published, including the Kiev-based Hadashot. There is also a weekly TV program called ‘Yahad’ on state television.
“Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, religious life has undergone a revival, and Jewish communities in many cities and towns have been reconstituted. Synagogues and mikvaot are now functioning in all cities and towns with a significant Jewish population. Religious leadership is provided by a number of foreign rabbis. Ukraine and Israel have enjoyed full diplomatic relations since 1991. Since 1989, 200,000 Ukrainian Jews have emigrated to Israel.”