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Why Hasidic Jewish Tourists invade Uman in Ukraine on Jewish New Years?


Uman is a Ukrainian city located in Cherkasy Oblast in central Ukraine, to the east of Vinnytsia. Located in the historical region of the eastern Podolia, the city rests on the banks of the Umanka River. Uman serves as the administrative center with a population of 85,473 . Added to this population around the currently ongoing Jewish New Year holidays are tens of thousands of  Jewish Hasidic pilgrims.

According to the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, approximately  28,000 pilgrims have already crossed the border 3 days prior to New Years on September 8. This year, the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, is celebrated September 9-11. Most groups of Hasidic Jews, totaling over 10,000 people, arrived on September 6. They crossed into Ukraine mainly at the airports Boryspil, Zhuliany, Lviv, and Odesa, as well as at land crossings on the border with Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

Every year, Hasidic Jews travel to Uman to visit a Jewish cemetery, where Reb Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810), the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, is buried. His grave is one of the most revered shrines of Hasidim, being the place of annual mass pilgrimage.

How It Started

A Jewish community appeared in Uman in the early 18th century. The first mention of Jews in Uman relates to the events of Haydamaks’ uprising. In 1749 the Haidamacks massacred many Jews of Uman and burned part of the town.
In 1761, the owner of Uman, Earl Pototsky, rebuilt the city and established a market, at which time around 450 Jews were living in the city. During this time, Uman began to flourish both as a Jewish town and a trade center.

In 1768 Haidamacks annihilated the Jews of Uman, together with the Jews from other places who had sought refuge there.
On June 19, 1788, the peasant revolutionary, Maxim Zheleznyak, marched on Uman ater he had butchered the Jews of Tetiyev. When the Cossack garrison and its commander, Ivan Gonta, went over to Zheleznyak (despite the sums of money he received from the Uman community and the promises he had made in return), the city fell to Zheleznyak, in spite of a courageous defense in which the Jews played an active role. The Jews then gathered in the synagogues, where they were led by Leib Shargorodski and Moses Menaker in an attempt to defend themselves, but they were destroyed by cannon fire. The Jews who remained in the city were subsequently killed. The massacre lasted for three days and old men, women or children were not spared. Gonta threatened death to all Christians who dared to shelter the Jews. The number of Poles and Jews who were killed in the “massacre of Uman” is estimated to be 20,000. The anniversary of the commencement of the massacre, Tammuz 5, was thereafter known as the “Evil Decree of Uman,” and was observed as a fast and by a special prayer.

Uman became a part of Russia in 1793.
In the late XVIII century, there was a strong and numerous Jewish community in Uman and by 1806, there were 1,895 Jews recorded as living in the city.

UMAN, UKRAINE – SEPTEMBER 14: Hasidic pilgrims dance not far from the burial site of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov on September 14, 2015 in Uman, Ukraine. Every year, tens of thousands of Hasidim gather for Rosh Hashanah in the city to pray at the holy site. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Rabbi Nahman

In the early 19th century, Uman became a centre of Hasidism, particularly associated with the famous tzadik, Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav (April 4, 1772 – October 16, 1810) who spent two years in Uman. He settled in Uman and before his death there he said, “the souls of the martyrs (slaughtered by Gonta) await me.” His grave at the Jewish cemetery has become a pilgrimage site for Bratslav Hasidim from all over the world. After Rabbi Nachman’s death, the spiritual leader of the Bratzlav Hasidim was Rabbi Nathan Shternharts.

Uman had the reputation of being a city of klezmerim (“Jewish musicians”). The grandfather of the violinist Mischa Elman was a popular klezmer in the city, and the tunes of Uman were widely known.
It was also known as one of the first centers of the Haskalah movement in the Ukraine. The leader of the movement was Chaim Hurwitz. In 1822 “a school based on Mendelssohnian principles” was established in Uman and several years before the schools in Odessa and Kishinev. The founder was Hirsch Beer, the son of Chaim Hurwitz and a friend of the poet Jacob Eichenbaum; the school was closed after a few years.
In 1842 there were 4,933 Jews in Uman; in 1897 – 17,945 (59% of the total population), and in 1910, 28,267. In 1870 there was 14 big synagogues and prayers house

At the turn of the XIX-XX centuries Uman has become an important trading center. In 1890 the railway station was opened. This has greatly enlivened the development of local industry and commerce. In the beginning of the XX century, there were 4 big synagogues, 13 prayer houses, three private boys’ schools and a Talmud Torah in Uman.

In 1905, as a result of the pogrom 3 Jews were killed.

Uman entrepreneurs in 1913 with numerous Jewish names:

In Uman section of Russian Empire Business Directory by 1913 mentioned next facts:
– official rabbi was Kontorshik Ber Ioselevich
– spiritual rabbi Borochin P., Mats
– Synagogues:”Hahnusas-Kalo”, Novobazarnaya Horal, Starobazarnaya, Talnovskaya
– Prayer houses: “Besgamedrash”, Latvatskogo, Tsirulnikova
– Private Jewish female three-year school, the head was Boguslavskaya Tsesya Avramovna
– Talmud-Torah, head is Gershengorn A.
– mentioned 6 Jewish charity organizations

Civil Was pogroms

During the Bolshevik Revolution, the Jews of Uman endured great suffering. In the spring and summer of 1919, a number of troops passed through the city and perpetrated pogroms; there were 400 victims in the first pogrom and more than 90 in the subsequent one. More than 400 victims of the pogrom 12-14 May 1919 were buried in the Jewish cemetery in three mass graves. This time the Christian inhabitants helped to hide the Jews. The Council for Public Peace, most of whose members were prominent Christians, with a minority of prominent Jews, saved the city from danger several times; in 1920, for example, it stopped the pogrom initiated by the troops of General A. Denikin.

In book “Sokolievka/Justingrad: A Century of Struggle and Suffering in a Ukrainian Shtetl”, New York 1983 mentioned next information about this time in Uman:

This mass murder of Jewish youth spread a horrific panic throughout the Jewish population of the entire region. Soon after, news arrived in Uman that Zeleny was on his way. This was the beginning of August, and a great fear befell the Uman Jewish community. The city had recently experienced the slaughter of Atamans Sokol, Stetsyure and Nikolsky. “The feelings of dejection and helplessness”, explained a survivor, “were so great that the Jews of Uman started a rumour that there were 50 American battalions in Kiev who were going to protect them from pogroms. The only hope was that the Americans would arrive before the gangs.”

After Civil War

In the 1920s and 30s, many Jews moved from Uman to Kiev and other major centers with the Jewish community reduced in size by some ten percent by 1926 down to 22,179 people (49,5%).

n 1936, after a long period of plotting against the Jews, and after the imposition of unduly heavy taxes levied upon them by the Communist government, the era of the synagogue came to an end. The late Reb Levy Yitzchok Bender, who was in charge of the synagogue at the time of its closing, pointed out that it was the last synagogue in the area to be shut down. It had become a repository for all the Torah scrolls of the regional synagogues.

In 1939, there were at least 13,000 Jews (29,8%) in Uman.


On August 1, 1941, when Uman was occupied, around 15,000 Jews resided in the city which included refugees from the surrounding villages and towns.

During the first shootings, six Jewish doctors were killed. On August 13, the Germans executed 80 people from the local Jewish intelligentsia.

On September 21, several thousand Jews were herded into the basement of the prison building, with around a thousand dying from suffocation.

On October 1 1941, a ghetto was set up in the area known as Rakivka. But October 10 1941 (Yom Kippur) the ghetto was practically eliminated. 304 Police battalion from Kirovograd killed 5,400 Jews from Uman and 600 captured ones. Only the Jews with the skills necessary for the war effort remained in the ghetto with their families. Samborskiy and Tabachnik were in charge of Judenrat. The ghetto inmates were brutally tortured.

In April 1942, German requested Head of ghetto Chaim Shvartz to provide 1000 Jewish kids for massacre but he refused. After this Germans selected more than 1000 children and killed them near village of Grodzevo.

During 1941-1942 over 10,000 Jews were killed in Uman. A labor camp for the Jews from Transnistria, Bessarabia and Bukovina was set up after the ghetto was liquidated.
A POW camp called “Uman Pit” operated during the summer-autumn 1941 in Uman where thousands of people died or were killed. German newsreel about “Uman Pit” camp in 1941:

80% of the total losses of civilian population in Uman were Jews.

Here are some the Righteous Gentiles of Uman and the area who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust: Victor Fedoseevich Kryzhanovskii, Galina Mikhailovna Zayats, Galina Andreyevna Zakharova.

After WWII

In 1959 there were 2,200 Jews (5% of the total population). In the late 1960s the Jewish population was estimated at about 1,000. The last synagogue was closed by the authorities in the 1957, and the Jewish cemetery fell into disrepair. A memorial to the memory of 17,000 Jewish martyrs of the Nazis bears an inscription in Yiddish.

Some Jews still visit the tomb of Nahman of Bratslav. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, pilgrimages to Rebbe Nahman’s grave became more popular, with thousands arriving from all around the world on Rosh ha-Shanah.

Rare video of Hasidim pilgrimage to Uman in last years of Soviet Union (1989). In that time Rabbi’s Nahman grave was near a window of Jewish home at destroyed Jewish cemetery:


The business part of the city was located on the central Nikolaev street (now Lenin Street). The Jewish Quarter was located to the south of the historic city center, along the road leading to the bridge over the river Umanka. A distinctive feature was its high density old settlement. The Jewish poor mostly lived there. Several families lived in the same house, occupying all floors, including the basement. These houses were more like huts, placed very close, crammed close to each other on a steep slope without fences to separate them. Narrow winding streets converge towards the market square.

The City Centre had a Choral Synagogue on the Upper Jewish street (now “Megaommeter” factory). This block was called Lower Jewish or Rakovka (now Sholom Aleichem street). The Jewish population of Rakovka were engaged mostly in small trade, as carpenters, metalworkers, tailors and shoe-makers.

The Jewish population was actively involved in trading at the fairs, where they ran a lot of small shops and stalls. Another Jewish quarter in Uman still exists today and was formed around the city center, in an area between the streets Uritskogo and Lenin. It is a shopping street, formerly populated by mostly Jewish inhabitants of Uman. The synagogue was destroyed during World War II and a house was built in its place.

Rabbi Nahman grave

The cemetery has been in existence since the founding of the Jewish community in the early 18th century. According to some Hasidic sources, the victims of the Uman massacre in 1768 were buried here. It is likely that the old cemetery used to be located on the same site. In 1811, Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav was buried next to the victims of the Uman massacre. In the 20th century, the cemetery was destroyed. No tombstones from the old cemetery survived.

The history of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav tomb, according to Bratslaver sources.
The tradition of visiting the grave of Rabbi Nachman was established among his students almost immediately after his death (when dying, Rabbi Nachman commanded his disciples to visit his grave, especially on Rosh Hashana). In the 1920s-30s, the adherents of Rabbi Nachman from the local community took care of the grave.

During Nazi occupation 17,000 of Uman Jews were killed and the Old Jewish cemetery was completely destroyed. The Ohel on Rabbi Nahman grave was practically destroyed by bombing in 1944. After the war a few Hasids visited Uman and found only a tombstone.

In 1947 the local authorities decided to build on the territory of destroyed Old Jewish Cemetery. Rabbi Zanvil Lyubarskiy from Lvov knew the exact location of the grave and bought this piece of land through a local called Mikhail. Rabbi constructed a house near the grave so that the tomb was under the wall and the window. But Mikhail was afraid he would be discovered and he sold the site to a gentile family. The new owners did not the Jews and wouldn’t let them visit this holy grave. After some time the house was sold again to another gentile family and the new owner allowed the Hasidim access to pray until 1996 when the house was bought by Breslover Hasidim for USD 130,000.
Not a single gravestone in its original form has survived. The cemetery contains a reconstructed tomb of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav, built into the wall of the house, according to Bratslaver tradition. This stone lies just over the grave of Rabbi Nachman, the original monument was destroyed during the war.

Former Synagogues

On the territory of modern “Megaohmmeter” factory two synagogues were located, a great choral one and a Hasidim one. The great choral synagogue now houses the electroplating unit. Both buildings date back to the XIX century. A court case to return the synagogue buildings to the community has been going for over five years. The Hasidim synagogue was closed in 1957, it was the last synagogue in the city.

Sukhyi Yar mass grave

In the woods, in the centre of Sukhyi Yar, there is a stone obelisk approximately three meters high, surrounded by pillars and an iron chain. The obelisk bears three plates with commemorative inscriptions.
“Here Lie The Ashes Of 25,000 Jews From Uman, Killed In Autumn 1941. Let Their Souls Be Bound With Our Lives Forever. ETERNAL MEMORY.”

Tovsta Dubina mass grave

In February 1942 376 Uman Jews were killed in “Tovsta Dubina” area in the south of the city. A memorial was erected there on May 9, 2007. This information was published there.

Old Jewish Cemeteries

Over 90% of gravestones in the old part were destroyed during WWII.

There are few renowned graves:
Rabbi Avraham Chazan (? – 1917) was a leading Breslov Hasid at the start of the XX century. He was the son of Rabbi Nachman of Tulchin one of the main students of and public successor of Rebbe Nathan of Bratslav. After moving to Yerushalayim in 1894, Rabbi Avraham would travel annually to Uman. In 1914 he was forced to remain in Russia due to the outbreak of World War I. He lived there until his passing in 1917 and burial in Uman New Jewish cemetery.

During the pogrom of May 12-14 alone, up to 400 Jews were killed. The exact number of victims cannot be determined. The victims of pogrom are buried there too.
The memorial bears the following inscription: “This site is a mass grave of about 3000 Jews from the neighborhood, May God avenge their blood, Killed during the pogrom in the year 5680 (1920). Ohaley Tzadikiim, Jerusalem”.

New Jewish Cemeteries

The New cemetery is still in use and in good condition. The cemetery boasts a new fence and a new gate. It separated from Old cemetery by a fence.



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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.