Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Portrait of a Russian Shtetl; Kupel, Ukraine--1941

                                                                        The Pale of Settlement-of Russia      
Nadene Goldfoot
Why do we need an Israel?  Because of what happened to the shtetl named Kupel in the Ukraine which was part of Russia.  Do you remember seeing "Fiddler on the Roof?"  Those Jews were living in a shtetl.  A shtetl was something like a small settlement.  Many shtetls were where Jews lived. "Shtetl - Little city, small town, village - in particular, the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, were where the remarkable culture of the Ashkenazim flourished before World War II."   Most all Jews were confined to the Pale of Settlement of Russia.  In order to get into Russia proper, one had to be very special and have a special pass.

Kupel, Ukraine  on the map was  49o 36' N   and 26o 331' E.  of Eastern Europe.
It was 300 km (186 miles) WSW of Kryyiv, the 8th largest city in Ukraine.  Kryyiv Rih or Dnipropetrovsk had 670,068 people.  In 1900 there were 2,727 Jews living in Kupel.  By 1910 there were 5.6 million Jews living in the entire Pale of Settlement.  The Ukraine was part of the Pale of Settlement.  So was Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Belarussia.  Catherine II decreed that all Jews had to be so confined on this 4% of Russian territory in 1791 which lasted until the end of WWI in 1917.   About 90% of Russian Jews lived here.   Even so, they gave birth and the population grew.  Just like in Fiddler on the Roof, "entire local populations could be abruptly "resettled," forced out of their homes, with no more legality then the arbitrary impulse of an often besotted governor."

Life in the Pale of Settlement was very similar to being treated like the Muslims treated Jews, the 2nd class citizen or dhimmis of the Middle East.  Jews had to pay double in taxes, couldn't lease land or own land, couldn't run a tavern or be able to receive higher education, even if they had the money to pay tuition.

In August of 1941, 50 Jews were taken as hostages and locked up in a tiny storage closet without any windows that was in a local market in Kupel.  The Jews were crowded in like sardines, stacked to the ceiling.  By morning all were found dead except those on top.  They were buried in shallow graves in the center of the shtetl, but the odor was so bad, they forced the living Jews to dig them up and bury them in the Jewish cemetery.

Itzhak Meer Glaser was the last rabbi of Kupel, and he was murdered in 1942.  So was his family, his neighbors and all others of the Jewish community by German invaders along with local Ukrainians.  Then they destroyed the Jewish homes.  This was done to keep others that were not home away so that the homes could be looted.  Rabbi Glaser was buried alive.

There were 2 million Jews who had immigrated to the USA from the Pale  from 1881 to 1914.  Jewish immigrants landed in New York, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and other places as well.  They were the lucky ones who missed being in the Holocaust.  Their friends and relatives were not so lucky and were part of the 6 million who were slaughtered.

Jews had been working on regaining their own homeland again from the middle 1800's and by November 2, 1917 were making inroads with the Balfour Doctrine.  Little did our leaders know that the more horrible event was yet to take place, the Holocaust.  Oh but to have already had their homeland, so many lives would have been saved.



  1. Thanks for this. Two of my grandparents were born in Kupel and left at the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th.

  2. Two of mine did, as well. And my great grandfather was a Rabbi, there.