By: Herman Rosenthal
Since the fifteenth century, semi-military bands of Cossacks have been scattered over the steppes of southern and southeastern Russia, and have materially influenced the history of the Jews in that region. The Cossacks originally appeared as traveling merchants, pursuing their vocation generally in the steppes of South Russia, beyond the limits of their own country. For the sake of mutual protection they organized themselves into armed bands, led by hetmans, or atamans. Becoming permanent settlers, they retained their military and social organizations. Later there appear groups of Cossack agriculturists, Cossack settlements, and Cossack villages.Complaint of Cossack Depredations.
Of the different branches of Cossacks, only those of the Ukraine (Little Russia) are considered here. When King Casimir Jagellon transformed the principality of Kiev into a Polish waywodeship (1476), the Russian nobles of the Ukraine received equal rights with the Polish nobility (Kostomarov, "Bogdan Chmielnicki," i. 114). The free cities, towns, and villages being distributed among the nobility, the ancient system of self-government was abolished, and the first step taken toward the forced adoption of Polish customs and methods by the Russian nobility. The peasants of the Greek faith thus became the serfs of the landlords. Soon after the Ukraine Cossacks became conspicuous. Their organizations bore some resemblance to those of the order of knighthood, for they announced themselves as the champions of Christendom. When Poland and Lithuania were merged by King Sigismund Augustus into one commonwealth (1569), the provinces of Volhynia, Podolia, and the Ukraine were separated from Lithuania and came under the immediate rule of Poland. About that time the Ukrainian lord Wishnewetzki (Polish, "Wisniowiecki") built on an island in the River Dnieper the fortress of Khortitza, and placed Cossacks there for protection against the invasions of the Crimean Tatars ("Akty Yuzhnoi i Zapadnoi Rossii," ii. 148). This fortress with its garrison was known as the "Zaporogian Syech" (the fortified camp beyond the rapids). These Cossacks were joined by Little Russian peasants of the Greek faith who had broken away from their Polish Catholic landlords, by fugitives from justice, and by adventurers. It may be mentioned here that Jews also served in the ranks of the Cossacks. In 1681 Aḥmad Kalga, chief councilor of the Khan of the Crimea, complained to the Polish ambassador, Piasaczinski, that the Cossacks of the Lower Dnieper had made attacks on the Crimea. Piasaczinski replied stating that the Cossacks were not subjects of the Polish king, and that he therefore could not be held responsible for the acts of uncontrollable rovers of the desert; for while there were some Poles, there were also Muscovites, Wallachians, Turks, Tatars, Jews, etc., among them (Kostomarov, l.c. p. 55).
In the responsa of Joel Särkes mention is made of "Berakah the Hero," who fought in the ranks ofthe Cossacks and fell in battle against the Muscovites (1601; Harkavy, "Yevrei-Kazaki," in "Russki Yevrei," 1880, p. 348). In 1637 a certain Ilyash (Elijah) Karaimovich (the name indicates a Karaite origin) was one of the officers of the registered Cossacks, and became their "starosta" (elder) after the execution of Pavlyuk (Kostomarov, l.c. p. 135). In ballads of Little Russia reference is made to a colonel named Matvi Borochovich (1647), who, as his family name (meaning "son of Baruch") indicates, was probably also of Jewish origin. The feeling against the Jews spread very rapidly from Poland into the Ukraine in the reign of Sigismund III. (1587-1632), who was an obedient pupil of the Jesuits. The gilds, which always feared the competition of the Jews, were prominent in connection with the accusations. The higher nobility, however, depended largely on the Jews to act as their leaseholders, agents, and financial managers, and this served in a measure as a bar to persecution.
Stephen Bathori (1575-86) intended to disband the Cossacks, who were a menace to the union of the Ukraine with Poland. Not long before his death he said: "Some day an independent state will spring up from this scum" (Kostomarov, l.c. p. 21).Attacks by Cossacks.
As the power of the Jesuits increased, and with it their determination to force the peasants and Cossacks into the Catholic Church, there were manifest signs of trouble between the Cossacks and the Polish nobility. From time to time armed Cossack bands swept over the Ukraine, plundering the estates of the nobility, pillaging the Catholic churches, and robbing the Jews. When the Polish nobles Wishnevetzki, Potocki, and Koniecpolski settled in the Ukraine and began to build palaces and castles, the Jews were their trusted agents and managers, leasing their estates, mills, inns, rivers, lakes, and all other sources of revenue.
The Jews increased rapidly in the Little Russian territories at the beginning of the seventeenth century. They farmed not only the taxes, but even the revenues of the Greek Orthodox Church. At every christening or funeral the peasants had to pay a fee to the Jew. The lords were the absolute rulers of their estates, and the peasants their dependent subjects. When a lord or any other member of the nobility leased his villages or estates to a Jew, his authority also was delegated to the latter, who even had the power to administer justice among the peasants ("Yewen Mezulah," p. 2a). The extravagant life of the Polish landlords, who spent most of their fortunes abroad, frequently placed them in pecuniary difficulties, and their Jewish tax-farmers were often forced into exactions against the advice and warnings of the wise leaders of the Council of Four Lands, and the Jews of the Ukraine often suffered grievously for the sins of individuals of their race. The uprising of the peasants in the Ukraine has been ascribed by most historians to their oppression by Jewish leaseholders, as well as to the privileges granted to the latter by the kings and nobles of Poland. Recent historical research, however, indicates that the Jews living in the cities, particularly in those of the Ukraine, were not afforded the protection enjoyed by other citizens, and moreover were excluded from the privileges granted to the Christian merchants and burghers (Antonovich, "Monografii po Istorii Zapadnoi i Yugo-Zapadnoi Rossii," i. 188). Notwithstanding this, the Jews managed to gain control of the commerce of the country, as is evidenced by the complaints of the Christian merchants of Lemberg, Kamenetz, Kiev, and many other cities, shortly before the Cossack uprising ("Archiv Yugo-Zapadnoi Rossii," v., part i., xxxiv. 134, xl. 156, cxxi. 323; "Starozytna Polska," 11, 1023, 1369; "Sbornik Mukhanova," p. 192; Antonovich, l.c. p. 189). It was the combined opposition to the Jews of the urban and the peasant populations that made it possible for Chmielnicki to arm the entire country against them within so short a time.Early Uprisings.
During their first uprising under Nalivaika and Kossinski (1591-93), and that under Taras (1630), the Cossacks did not exhibit any special animosity toward the Jews, but complained only of the Roman Catholics. But in the subsequent revolt, under Pavlyuk (1637), 200 Jews, mostly leaseholders and farmers of taxes, were killed in Pereyaslav, Lokhvitza, and Lubny, and many synagogues were destroyed; and when the Polish government restricted some of the rights of the Cossacks their animosity toward the Jews was still further increased.
In 1646 a general European alliance, including Ladislaus IV., was formed for the purpose of driving the Turks out of Europe. The Polish chancelor Ossolinski visited the Ukraine and opened negotiations with the Cossacks. The king was accused before the Diet of 1646 of attempting to curtail the rights of the "Shlyakhta"; the proposed war with Turkey was not sanctioned by the Diet, and the Polish cause was thus injured.The Great Uprising.
The contents of the agreement between King Ladislaus and Bogdan Chmielnicki, the leader of the Cossacks, have never been positively ascertained, nor has it been shown how far, if at all, the latter was encouraged by Alexis, the Russian czar. It is only known that on Oct. 1, 1653, the Russian government decided to include the Cossacks among its subjects, whereupon war was declared against Poland by the Muscovites. Most of the historians, Russian, Polish, and Jewish, think that the personal animosity of Chmielnicki against Koniecpolski and Chaplinski (see Chmielnicki, Bogdan) caused the Cossack uprising; yet even such a shrewd, ambitious, and daring leader as Chmielnicki could not so soon have become such a popular hero throughout the Ukraine had not the ground been prepared. When Koniecpolski learned of the alliance formed by Chmielnicki and the Tatars to make common war on Poland and to drive the Poles out of the Ukraine, he cast Chmielnicki into prison. A Jew, Jacob Sabilenki, helped Chmielnicki to escape; and when he was subsequently imprisoned for the second time, he again succeeded in effecting his escape. He then went with his fellow conspirators to the Syech, whence he issued his appeal to the Cossacks to rise and take revenge on both the Poles and the Jews. In his address to the Cossack elders Chmielnicki said: "You must be aware of the fact that the Polishnation is gaining power daily and that it oppresses our coreligionists. But it is not the noblemen alone who lord it over us: even the most abject nation [the Jews] hold us in subjection" ("Yewen Meẓulah"). This was enough to excite the people of Little Russia. The flame of revolution spread with great rapidity throughout the Ukraine, and Chmielnicki, encouraged by Ladislaus himself, concluded a treaty with the Khan of the Crimea. Chmielnicki still derived encouragement from the king himself, who, being often opposed in the Diet by the nobility, desired to make use of the Cossacks. Some historians hint that he even secretly promised to help them assert their rights against the nobles.
One of the paragraphs of this treaty stipulated that all prisoners of war should belong to the Tatars, as also the right to sell them as slaves in Turkish markets; and that the property of the Polish nobility and Jews should be allotted to the Cossacks. When the Tatar general Tugai-bey joined Chmielnicki with an army of 4,000 men, the whole of Little Russia, Podolia, and the Ukraine rose en masse, and, leaving their estates and homes, assembled in the Syech. The Jews soon learned of the plans of the allied armies, and warned the Polish field-marshals Potocki and Kalinovski to be on their guard (Kostomarov, i. 264); but they disregarded the warning. On May 18, 1648, the Poles were defeated near the Yellow Waters ("Zholtyya Vody"). Potocki was killed and Kalinovski made prisoner.Attacks on the Jews.
After this, bands of the Zaporogians, the Little Russian peasants, and the roving Cossacks of the Ukraine joined the insurrection, and invaded the towns of Pereyaslav, Piryatin, Lubny, and Lokhvitza, plundering, robbing, and cruelly torturing the Jewish inhabitants. The Jews of Pogrebishche, Zotov, and Bozovka, about 3,000 in number, were more fortunate; for they gave themselves up to the Tatars, who, though they took them into captivity, treated them humanely. They were taken to the Crimea, and subsequently ransomed by the Jews of Constantinople. On the day of the above-mentioned battle, King Ladislaus died, which was a great misfortune-for Poland as well as for the Jews. During the interregnum (May to Oct., 1648) the dissensions throughout Poland increased, and the conflicts between the different parties in the confederation weakened the resistance of the Poles.
While Chmielnicki negotiated with the Polish magnates, and especially with the Archbishop of Gnesen, troops from the Ukraine, both regular and irregular, were organized under brutal leaders, who reveled in the death-struggles of their Polish and Jewish foes. These bands, called "Haidamaks," were ordered by the Greek Orthodox popes to murder both Roman Catholics and Jews in the name of religion, and soon changed the whole country into a desert; only those Jews who fell into the hands of the Tatars, or those who changed their religion, escaped death. The most cruel leaders of the Cossacks were Krivonos, Morozenko, and Chmielnicki's son, Timofei.
After the defeat of the Poles near Korsun, the Cossack troops and the peasant bands under their leader Ganzha advanced against the fortified town of Nemirov, which had 6,000 Jewish inhabitants, and where the fugitives from the neighborhood were assembled. This was a very wealthy community, and contained many prominent and learned men. The Jews, who were in possession of the fortress, had closed the gates; but Greek Christians of the town, disguised in Polish uniforms, urged the Jews to open them again for their friends. They did so, only to be mercilessly slaughtered by the Cossacks and the Russians, those escaping immediate death undergoing frightful tortures (June 10, 1648). Among the victims was Jehiel Michael ben Eliezer, the cabalist, and the head of the yeshibah of Nemirov. While most of the Jews remained true to their faith, some escaped by embracing Christianity, although most of these returned to Judaism when the riots were over (Graetz, "Hist." Hebrew ed., viii. 135).Treachery at Tulchin.
At the town of Tulchin about 600 Polish soldiers and 2,000 Jews had taken refuge in the fortress (called Nestrow); some of the latter being brave soldiers, sworn to defend the town and fortress to the last man. The Cossack peasants, knowing little of tactics, resorted to a trick. They assured the nobles that their hatred was directed solely against the accursed Jews, and that if these should be delivered up to them they would withdraw. The nobles, forgetful of their oath, proposed that the Jews should give up their arms to them. The Jews, who exceeded the Poles in number, at first thought of revenging themselves on the latter for their treachery; but Rabbi Aaron of Tulchin warned them that the Catholics would take bloody vengeance, and that all Poland would be excited against the Jews, who would doubtless be exterminated. The Jews then delivered up their arms, whereupon the Poles admitted the Cossacks into the town. After the Cossacks had taken everything from the Jews, they offered them the choice between death and baptism. Three rabbis, Eliezer, Solomon, and Ḥayyim, urged their brethren not to change their religion; and about 1,000 Jews who remained steadfast were tortured and executed before the eyes of the Polish nobles (June 24, 1648). Ten rabbis were spared by the Cossacks in order to extort large ransoms from their communities. The Poles were immediately punished for their treachery. Deprived of the assistance of the Jews, they were slain by the Cossacks. This sad event had a good effect, as the Poles after that sided steadfastly with the Jews, and were not opposed to them throughout the course of the long war ("Yewen Meẓulah," p. 23).
From Podolia the bands of rebels penetrated into Volhynia. Here the carnage continued during the whole summer and autumn of 1648. About 10,000 Jews were slain by the Cossacks or taken captive by the Tatars at Polonnoye. The cabalist Samson of Ostropol, who had been revered by the populace, with 300 pious inhabitants, was put to death in the synagogue. Similar massacres took place in Zaslavl, Ostrog, Starokonstantinov, Bar, Narol, Kremenetz, and other towns of the Ukraine. The Polish troops, especially those under Jeremiah Wishnevetzki, subdued the Cossacks here and there, but they were unable to put down the rebellion. In Sept., 1648,the forces of Chmielnicki had advanced to the very walls of Lemberg, which was subjected to a protracted siege. Having reduced the inhabitants by starvation, the Cossacks withdrew upon receiving from the city an enormous ransom, a considerable share of which was paid by the Jews (Caro, "Gesch. der Juden in Lemberg," pp. 51-64). From Lemberg, Chmielnicki with his hordes turned to Zamoscz and Lublin, even approaching Warsaw, where the election of the king was in progress. The choice fell upon the primate of Gnesen, Cardinal John Casimir (1648-68), brother of King Ladislaus IV.
The new king at once entered into peace negotiations with Chmielnicki, but owing to the excessive demands of the Cossacks no conclusion was reached. The war broke out afresh, and lasted to the end of the summer of 1649. In the course of it many more Jewish communities were desolated. After a series of battles unfavorable to the Poles a treaty of peace was concluded at Zborowo, between John Casimir and Chmielnicki. In this treaty there was a clause forbidding the Jews to live in the Ukraine: that is, in the waywodeship of Chernigov, Poltava, Kiev, and part of Podolia (Aug., 1649).Interval of Peace.
After eighteen months of torture and hardship the Jews could once more breathe freely. To all who had entered the Greek Orthodox Church under threat of death, the king gave permission to return to their former faith. Jewish women who had been forcibly baptized fled in numbers from the Cossack husbands who had been forced upon them, and returned to their families. The Council of Four Lands, at its session in the winter of 1650, worked out a long series of measures intended to restore order in the family and social life of the Jews. The 20th of Nisan, the day of the Nemirov massacre, was the day previously set apart as a fast-day in memory of the martyrs of the Crusades, and was now made a day of mourning for the victims of the Cossack rebellion as well. The prominent rabbis of the time composed many elegies and prayers, which were recited in the synagogues on every anniversary of the fatal day.
But the Jews were not to rest for a long time. The treaty of Zborowo was satisfactory neither to the Polish government nor to the Cossacks, and in 1651 war again broke out. This time the Poles gained the advantage over Chmielnicki's forces, and the campaign ended with a treaty advantageous to the Poles. Under the treaty of Byelaya Tzerkov (Sept., 1651), many of the Cossacks' claims were rejected, and the right of the Jews to settle in the Ukraine was restored.Alliance with Russia.
It was at this time that the agitation among the Cossacks and the Greek Orthodox Ukrainians was renewed. Bogdan Chmielnicki opened negotiations with Czar Alexis with the view of transferring Cossack-Ukraine, under the name of "Malorossia" (Little Russia), to the Muscovite realm. These negotiations were successful in 1654. In the same year the Russian troops penetrated into White Russia and Lithuania and began a war with Poland. During this war, which lasted two years (1654-56), the Jews of White Russia and Lithuania underwent much suffering. The seizure of many cities by the united Cossack-Muscovite army was accompanied by the extermination or exile of the Jews. When the city of Mohilev on the Dnieper surrendered to the Muscovite forces, Alexis, as requested by the local Russian inhabitants, ordered all the Jews to be banished from the city, and their houses to be distributed among the magistrates and other Russian officials. The Jews, however, trusting that the military disturbances would soon cease, did not immediately leave, Mohilev; and for this they paid a heavy penalty. At the end of the summer of 1655 the commander of the Russian garrison at Mohilev, Colonel Poklonski, learned that the Polish army, under Radziwill, was marching on the city. Fearing that the Jews might unite with the advancing enemy, Poklonski ordered them to leave the city, promising them an escort as Polish subjects to Radziwill's camp. No sooner were the Jews, with their wives, children, and belongings, outside the walls, than the Russian soldiers, acting upon Poklonski's orders, fell upon them, killed nearly all of them, and appropriated their possessions.Massacres in Poland.
At Vitebsk the Jews took an active part in the defense of the city against the besieging Muscovites. For this the enemy took ample revenge, the Jews being either forcibly baptized or sent into exile to Pskov, Novgorod, and Kazan. The Jews in the community of Wilna also suffered in the sack of that city by the Muscovite-Cossack forces in Aug., 1655. Most of the Wilna Jews, however, found safety in flight; those remaining being either slain or banished by order of the czar. It was soon the turn of the native Polish provinces to become the scene of war and invasion. The irruption of Poland's third enemy, the Swedes (1655-58), under Charles Gustavus, brought carnage into the very heart of the country. The greater portion of Little and Great Poland passed into the possession of the Swedes, and King John Casimir had to flee. At the hands of the Swedish invaders Jews suffered equally with Christians; but they often found themselves between the hammer and the anvil. The Polish leader, Czarniecki, while escaping from the Swedes, devastated all the country through which he passed, but manifested exceptional harshness in his treatment of the Jews. The Polish auxiliary bands were equally severe in their treatment of the Jews and other non-Catholics.
The horrors of the war were brought to a climax by the outbreak of the plague in Poland. The Jews in the provinces of Cracow, Posen, Kalish, Piotrkov, and Lublin perished in large numbers, both by the sword of the enemy and by disease. Only after 1658 did the disturbance caused by the war begin to subside. According to the chronicles, the number of Jews who perished during this time (1648-58) exceeded half a million. Over three hundred Jewish communities (740, according to the unreliable Samuel Phoebus in "Ṭiṭ ha-Yawen") were massacred and sacked. Approximately only one-tenth of the Jewish population remained in Polish Ukraine, Volhynia, and Podolia. The remainder had either perished or had emigrated into Lithuania, Poland proper, and the states of western Europe. Jewish fugitives from Poland, and captives ransomed from Tatar bondage, could at that time be met with in all the countries of Europe and Asia.
The following is a list of the towns in which out-breaks occurred during the uprising of the Cossacks (1648-58):
- Alexandria (Volhynia)
- Alexandrovka (Podolia)
- Bagrinovtzy (Podolia)
- Berestechko (Volhynia)
- Berezino (Minsk)
- Berezovka (Poltava)
- Berezovka (Volhynia)
- Bielcza (Galicia)
- Bielgoria (Poland)
- Borisovka (Poltava)
- Borispol (Poltava)
- Bratzlav (Podolia)
- Bratzlavshchina (Podolia)
- Brezna (Poland)
- Breznitza (Poland)
- Buchach (Podolia)
- Busk (Galicia)
- Byelaya Tzerkov
- Byely (see Kostomarov, iii. 154)
- Chudnov (Volhynia)
- Dubovaya Volost (see Kosto-marov, ii. 402)
- Fastov or Khvastov (Kiev)
- Galich (Galicia)
- Gora (White Russia)
- Goria (Poland)
- Grubeschov (Lublin)
- Gushcha (Volhynia)
- Gusyatin (Podolia)
- Hrubieszow or Rubieszow (Lublin)
- Kobrin (Minsk)
- Kobrin (Volhynia)
- Kolki (Volhynia)
- Komorno (Galicia)
- Krasnik (Lublin)
- Krasnobrod (Poland)
- Letichev (Podolia)
- Lokhvitza (Poltava)
- Loyev (Kostomarov ii. 186)
- Lubny (Poltava)
- Lyubartovo or Lyubar (Volhynia)
- Lyubom (Volhynia)
- Makhnovka (Kiev)
- Medzhibozh (Podolia)
- Mezhirich (Great)
- Mezhirich (Little)
- Miropol (Volhynia)—See Polonnoye
- Mohilev (Podolia)
- Mozyr (Minsk)
- Murakhva (Podolia)
- Narol (Volhynia)
- Novopole (Poland)
- Ostrog (Volhynia)
- Podgayetz (Galicia)
- Pogrebishche (Kiev)
- Polonnoye (Volhynia)
- Pomorany (Galicia)
- Priluki (Kiev)
- Propoisk (Mohilev)
- Przemysl (Galicia)
- Sharograd or Shargorod (Podolia)
- Sokol (Volhynia)
- Starokonstantinov (Volhynia)
- Stary Bykhov
- Taikury (Volhynia)
- Tornograd (Poland)
- Trilisy (Kiev)
- Tuchin (Volhynia)
- Uchanie (Lublin)
- Ulanov (Volhynia)
- Verkhovka (Podolia)
- Vladimir (Volhynia)
- Wislocz (Galicia)
- Yanuschov (Podolia)
- Yaslovitza (Podolia)
- Zamoscz (Zamostye)
- Zaslavl (Volhynia)
- Zbaraz (Galicia)
- Zborowo (Galicia)
- Zhier (Zgierz)
- Zlochev (Polish, Zloczow [Galicia])
- Zmiyev (Kiev)
- Hannover, Yawan Meẓulah, Venice. 1653, German translation by S. Kayseriing, 1863:
- Kohen, Megillat Efah, in Shebeṭ Yehudah, Hebr. and Ger., Hanover, 1856;
- Abraham ben Samuel Ashkenazi, Ẓa'ar Bat Rabbim, in Gurland's Le Korot ha-Gezerot be-Yisrael, ii.;
- Meïr ben Samuel of Szezebrszyn, Ẓuḳ ha-'Ittim;
- Samuel ben Phoebus, Ṭiṭ ha-Yawen;
- Gurland, Abne Milluim;
- Grondski de Gandi, Hist. Belli Cosaco-Polonici, ed. Kaffl, Budapest. 1789;
- Lyetopis Samovitza o Voinach Bogdana Chmielnickavo, etc., in Chtenie Moskovskavo Obshchestva Istorii, Moscow, 1846;
- Kulish, Istoriya Vozsoyedinenya Rusi, St. Petersburg, 1874;
- Skalkovski, Istoriya Novoi Syechi, Odessa, 1841;
- Graetz, Hist. Hebr. ed., viii. 125. passim, Warsaw, 1900.