Konotop, Ukraine History of the Region, Town, and Jewish Community

In 1941, the German army invaded Russia. Moscow and Leningrad (formerly St. Petersburg) were placed under siege. Soviets resisted and persisted until 1943, when the siege of Leningrad ended. The German army was forced into retreat in the winter and was soundly defeated. In addition to the military casualties many Russian civilians were forced into labor camps, or were executed, including immigrants who had previously settled in Russia, repatriated military troops who had been held by the western allies during the war, and civilians who returned to the USSR from the west. The residents of Konotop suffered greatly during those years.

Chernigov was the capital of the principality created by Yaroslav The Wise (1024—1073). Monomah succeeded Yaroslav’s reign in 1078 and emphasized education, schooling, and writing. The principality was prosperous and well fortified by a moat. Two towers were created with large gates that protected an inner castle. After the Mongol invasions, Chernigov was devastated, but rebuilt.

In the 11th century Chernigov was ruled by the Kievan Rus, which was succeeded by the rule of Moscow in 1604. Poland occupied Moscow from 1610 to 1612. Chernigov principality was liberated from Russian control in 1648—1654 and became part of Ukraine. The territory contained 266 lakes and branches of the Dnieper, Desna, and Seim Rivers, which included many swamps, forested areas and rich wildlife of bisons and turs. Turs were oxenlike, but were hunted to extinction during the 16th century. There were many species of bear, wolf, deer, goats, and beaver. Agriculture was plentiful and supported crops of wheat, barley, oats, flax, and sugar beets. Bee keeping flourished.

Ukraine exerted much influence over Konotop during times of Cossack rule. Cossacks lived in separate Sotnya, towns ruled by Hetman. A Band of 100 Cossacks constituted a Sotnya. As the economy improved in the 19th century, Konotop became a center for handicrafts and goods traded throughout the Russian Empire. Many plants and factories were built. Exported agricultural products included tobacco, wheat, sugar beets, melons, pumpkins, and fruits.

Major trade developed between Konotop, Moscow, Kiev, and St. Petersburg, when Konotop became a major railroad center. During the latter 17th to 20th centuries, Konotop traded and exported livestock (mostly pigs and sheep), leather (especially shoes) produced in Chernigov and Kozelets, textiles, sugar, wood products, and baked goods.

During the 19th century there was some religious diversity in the region. There were 1,000 Orthodox churches, 80 synagogues, one Roman Catholic Church and one Mosque. Scholastic achievement was important. Book printing was established and libraries were built, demonstrating the emphasis on education. Theater and musical activities were available. During the 20th century, newspapers thrived.

In 1794, the population of Chernigov Gubernya was mostly Ukrainian (85%), with minorities of Russians (6%), Belarussians (5%), and Jews (less than 2%). At the turn of the 19th century only about one hundred Jews lived in Konotop.v An accounting of the Materials for Geography and Statistics of Russia, compiled by officers of the general headquarters of Chernigov Gubernya in 1847, listed only 521 Jews. By 1861, 1,206 Jews were reported consisting of 566 males and 640 females. After a wave of pogroms in southern Russia, the number of Jews increased in Konotop due to the influx of immigrants. By 1897 there were 4,425 Jews in the town, which comprised 23.5% of the total population of 18,830.vi At the time of the Soviet census in 1939, there were 5,763 Jews (17.2%) out of the total population of 33,506.

Mass murders by the Nazis in World War II and the reduction of the population by those who were lucky enough to flee, eliminated Konotop’s Jewish population. The Soviets recorded only 250 Jews (50 families) there in 1970.

From the town’s beginning in the 17th century, Konotop was created to support a strategic fort. The town was surrounded by a large ditch, which extended to the river. Oak gates were placed in the walls. The fort was reinforced to accommodate rich townspeople and farmers, who could retreat from outside into the courtyard in case of attack. The 17th century construction of a rampart was added on the high ground, which divided the inhabitants. Rich people lived in the inner area and central courtyard near the owner. The poor lived in the larger part of town, but not where the town center was located. Cossacks lived in the separate sites called Sotnya.

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