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Jewish shtetl in Polonne

A photo catalog of the burials of this cemetery is available at the link

This small regional center in the Khmelnytskyi region (Ukraine) was once a significant trade and craft center in the western part of the Russian Empire. This town owes its status to a large Jewish community. Throughout its history, Polonne has seen both development and prosperity, as well as tragic pages, many of which are associated with Jews.

The first documentary mention of Polonne Jews dates back to 1601. Already by the mid-1600s, in Polonne Jews had one of the largest communities in Volhynia. At the end of the 17th century, they were able to obtain permission to build houses and commercial buildings in the city center, which became the impetus for the rapid development of commerce. At the beginning of the 18th century, there were 15 synagogues in Polonne, and the place was considered a typical shtetl.

It is known that Polonne was one of the centers of Hasidism in Western Ukraine. There is evidence that in the second half of the 18th century, the rabbi of the town was first Arie Yehuda-Leib, after him, Yakov Yosef ha-Kogen, students of the founder of the Hasidic movement in Judaism, Rabbi Baal Shem Tov. Also, the first Jewish printers settled in the town. The active period of printing falls on the years 1780-1820, and the most famous of the printers was Shmuel ben Issachar Ber.

According to the census, in 1847 there were 2647 Jewish residents in Polonne, in 1897 - already 7910, which accounted for 48% of the total population. The first Jewish school was opened in 1887, and the Talmud Torah in 1897.

Before the First World War, commerce flourished in Polonne, founded mainly by Jews. Therefore, in 1913 they owned 95% of the city's enterprises. With the beginning of the revolution, pogroms, murders and persecution of the Jewish population of Polonne became widespread. In early 1917, another pogrom by the tsarist troops ended in the killing of 98 people. In the spring of 1919, during a pogrom organized by the Red Army, at least 8 Jews were killed, although the exact number is still unknown. And in the autumn of the same year, Budyonny cavalrymen plundered the houses and killed at least 40 residents of Jewish nationality.

According to the USSR census data, before the start of World War II, 4,171 Jews lived in Polonne. Polonne was under German occupation from July 1941 to January 1944. In August-September alone, they killed 2132 Jews, and the rest were placed in a ghetto organized in a granite quarry on the outskirts of the town.

After the war, some of the Jewish inhabitants of Polonne returned to their surviving homes, and, according to testimonies, they secretly collected a minyan. However, the Jewish history of Polonne practically ceased after the war: many Jews died or gradually left the country. And today the history of the Jewish Polonne has to be studied only from the tombstones of the old Jewish cemetery...