Hasidim in town to visit the grave of Rabbi Naḥman, Uman, Ukraine, 1995. Photograph © Gueorgui Pinkhassov. (Magnum Photos)

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Established in the mid-seventeenth century in what is now Ukraine, Uman (Pol., Humań) played a prominent role in the economic and political life of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. When the Haidamaks, who were rebelling against the Polish authorities, attacked the town in 1749, many Jews were killed and their property was plundered. In the 1750s, Count Franciszek Salęzy Potocki rebuilt Uman as a commercial center and allowed some 450 Jews to reside there. Their newfound security was short-lived, however: in 1768, a reinvigorated Haidamak insurrection under the leadership of a Zaporozhian Cossack, Maksim Zhelezniak, devastated numerous Ukrainian towns and estates.

Commander Ivan Gonta (or Honta) set out to protect the town but joined forces with the rebels and marched on Uman on 18 June 1768. At first, Polish nobility and Jews fought together, but when the governor negotiated a separate peace for the aristocracy, Jews were left to defend themselves. According to chroniclers, they were trampled by horses, impaled on bayonets, and thrown from rooftops. The leaders Leib Sharogrodski and Mosheh Menaker as well as some 3,000 other Jews fled to the synagogue, where they planned to defend themselves but were killed by cannon fire. Many thousands of Poles and Jews were killed in the massacres, an event commemorated by a special fast and prayer on 5 Tammuz.

Following the partitions of Poland, Uman was incorporated into the province of Kiev. Tax registers show that in 1801, there were 1,895 Jews in the town, including six merchants. The Jewish population increased rapidly: in 1842 to 4,933; in 1897 to 17,945 (59% of the total population); and in 1910 to 28,267.

Uman is best known for its association with Rabbi Naḥman of Bratslav, who moved there a few months before his death in 1810. He said that he chose Uman so that he could pray for the souls of the martyrs of the Gonta pogrom. He also hoped to deliver the living from their erroneous ways—namely the maskilim, with whom he had had significant contact prior to his move (indeed, Uman was one of the first centers of the Haskalah movement in Ukraine). In 1822, Khayim (Khaykl) Ber Hurwitz and his son Hirsh Ber established one of the first secular Jewish schools in Russia.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the Jews of Uman fell victim to pogroms perpetrated by the Cossack atamans loosely associated with Symon Petliura and other combatants of the Civil War. The Council for Public Peace, composed of prominent Christians and some Jews, defended the city and successfully prevented a pogrom by Anton Denikin’s White Army in 1920.

Antireligious campaigns in 1937 forced the Hasidic movement underground and led to the closure of the Bratslaver synagogue; the building was converted into a metalworking factory. By the 1939 census, there were 22,179 Jews in Uman. During World War II, the Nazis exterminated some 17,000 Jews and buried them in mass graves.

Since the 1960s, Uman has once again become the site of annual pilgrimages of Bratslaver Hasidim, who come to pray at the tomb of Rabbi Naḥman. Today, Uman has two new prayer houses, the main Bratslaver synagogue, a new mikveh complex, and the Hakhnoses Orkhim Center for visitors. In 2004, more than 10,000 pilgrims traveled to Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.

Suggested Reading

Itskhak Arad, ed., Unichtozhenie evreev SSSR v gody nemetskoi okkupatsii, 1941–1944 (Jerusalem, 1991); Simon Bernfeld, Sefer ha-dema‘ot, vol. 3, pp. 290–302 (Berlin, 1926); Erwin Bingel, “The Extermination of Two Ukrainian Jewish Communities,” Yad Vashem Studies 3 (1959): 303–320; Hayyim Jonah Gurland, Le-Korot ha-gezerot ‘al Yisra’el (Przemysl, Kraków, and Odessa, 1886/87–1892/93); Khaim Liberman, “Rabbi Nakhman Bratslaver and the Maskilim of Uman,” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 6 (1951): 287–301.