08 October 2006

Crimea: A community with many roots

A current JTA story about the Jewish community in Kerch (Kertch), Crimea – now Ukraine – describes the city’s history and cemetery restoration plans.

The mixed history of the Crimean Peninsula offers the possibility that many of our families may have had a connection to this community, which included Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Mizrahim and indigenous Krymchak Jews.

Ashkenazim lived there in the 10th century, and the indigenous Krymchak Jews assimilated waves of Jewish immigrants: post-Expulsion Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Karaites and Persians, as well as very early Greek-speaking Jews. Also in the early mix were Jews from the Caucasus and from the Crimean Italian colonies settled by Genoa and Venice.

Krymchak surnames, say historians, indicate the community included Jews from all ethnicities. Try this for more information on the Krymchaks. Crimean Jews followed Ashkenazi traditions until the end of the 15th century when a Crimean tradition was created.

In 1650, 300 Chmielnicki pogrom survivors in Ukraine were captured by Crimean Tatar slave traders; the Istanbul Ashkenazi community paid the ransom to free them.

In a twist of history, in 1854, some 400 Ashkenazi Jewish families from Kerch migrated to Istanbul, when the Ottoman Empire began the Crimean war against Russia. They received Ottoman citizenship and formed a synagogue. The still-active cemetery founded for them is today called the Italian Jewish Cemetery, in the Sisli neighborhood. Check JewishGen’s Cemetery Project for information

In the 1920s, major Jewish colonization activities attracted Jews to Crimea from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere, and they eventually formed 30% of the Crimean community. According to my family’s oral tradition, as told by a member of our St. Petersburg branch, a cousin who had migrated from Novogorod Severskiy (Chernigov gubernia, Ukraine) was the leader of the Crimean settlers. We continue to look for Talalay on the colony lists as they become available.

By the late 1920s, there were 29 Jewish rural councils in Crimea – before it became part of Ukraine – and there were two Jewish national regions in Crimea: Freidorf and Larindorf.

Resources on the colonies include:
  • "Farming the Red Land: Jewish Agricultural Colonization and Local Soviet Power, 1924-1941," by Jonathan L. Dekel-Chen of Hebrew University (available on Amazon)
  • Chaim Freedman has documented lists of colonists, maps and photographs here and here
  • Yakov Pasik’s site also holds interesting material, some in Russian.

Crimean Jewish microfilmed records are at the Mormon Family History Center. An Avotaynu Journal article (Vol. XII/3/36) describes this source.

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