Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


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Korets - guidebook

Ukr. Корець, Yid. קאָריץ

Korets - guidebook

A pleasant stroll

The first mention of a settlement under the name Korets comes from the chronicle of Kiev and dates from 1150. In 1380, the lands of Korets were given by the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jagiello to Prince Fedor Ostrogski. In 1386, the palace and the castle were built and the course of the Korczyk River was changed. At the beginning of the 15th century, the settlement was in the hands of the Princes Korecki and after the Union of Lublin (1569), it became a part of the Lutsk Raion in the Volhynia Voivodeship. Between the 16th century and the middle of the 17th century, Korets was one of the largest cities in Volhynia.

In the second half of the 17th century, Korets was repeatedly destroyed and gradually declined. Since the second half of the 18th century, a revival of Korets began; manufactures producing cloth and textiles as well as a manufacture of leather goods were established. In 1788, a manufacture of porcelain was launched; closed after exhausting the local clay deposits of kaolin in 1831. After the Second Partition of Poland (1793), Korets fell under the rule of the Russian Empire. After the restitution reform (1861), it became a major center of trade and industry. In 1887, there was a brewery, two leather factories, a clothing factory, five steam-water mills and great fairs were held 12 times a year. In 1898, Count Józef Potocki built a sugar factory.

In November 1846, a Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko visited the city and made a few drawings. Shevchenko mentioned Korets in his novel Progulka s udovol’stviiem i ne bez morali (Rus. A Stroll With Pleasure and Not Without a Moral, 1858).

The Jews of Korets

The presence of Jews in Korets was recorded in the 16th century, although the local tradition points to a much earlier settlement. The Jewish community of the city suffered at the time of the Khmelnytsky Uprising. In 1655, there were 10 Jewish homes left in Korets. At the end of the 17th century, a synagogue was built. The oldest matzevah in the Jewish cemetery dates back to the 17th century. In the 18th century, the Jewish population was mainly employed in crafts and trade. Jews owned 2 tanneries and 14 shops.

In the first half of the 18th century, Dov Ber of Mezeritch, the future leader of Hasidism, lived in Korets. Since then, most of the Jews in Korets were Hasidim. One of the promoters of Hasidism was Pinchas Shapira, who settled in Korets in 1760, and was soon known as Rebbe Pinchas of Korets.


Pinchas ben Abraham Aba Shapiro (Pinchas of Korets; 1728–1790): a prominent Hasidic tzadik, friend and disciple of Baal Shem Tov. He was born in Shklov, where he received a traditional religious education. In his youth, he worked as a melamed in Korets, where he found himself in the center of the emerging movement of Hasidism. He was strongly influenced by the ideas of Rabbi Israel (Baal Shem Tov). Rebbe Pinchas led the Hasidic community of Korets; in the last period of his life, he became the leader of Hasidim in Slavuta and Ostroh. At the age of 63, Rebbe Pinchas left Ostroh and went on a long journey to the Holy Land, hoping to spend the rest of his life there. However, he died suddenly at the beginning of his journey in Shepetivka, on the 10th day of the month of Elul, in 5551, according to the Jewish calendar.

The Hasidic printing house

In 1776, a Jewish printing house was founded in Korets and operated until 1819. According to the preserved sources, 93 book titles were published in Korets. In 1776, with the permission of Józef Klemens Czartoryski, an unnamed Jewish printer came to the city. Together with his co-workers, including Mordechai ben Yaakov and Shmuel Ben Isachar Ber Segal, he launched a Hebrew printing house using his own typographical equipment. Together, they probably published En ha-Hashmal by Yehuda ben Israel Ajbishitz. Around 1798, the printing house was taken over by the company of Shmuel and his father-in-law Zvi Hirsch ben Aryeh Leib Margaliot (known for his activities in Oleksynets and Shklov). Proofreaders were hired: Isachar ber ben Menachem ha-Levi (father of the printer: Shmuel) and Dov Ber ben Shlomo. By 1782, the partners published e.g. Zohar, Shem and Derech emuna. The printing house and the books published here were significantly conducive to the spread of Hasidism in Poland and the neighbouring countries. It was here that in 1780, the book Toldot Yaakov Josef was published, containing the grounds of the philosophy of Hasidism. Its author was Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonne – disciple and follower of Besht.

The next owner of the printing house (intil 1786) was Jan Antoni Krüger, a Christian, the owner of a Hebrew printing house in Novyi Dvir. He published rabbinical and kabbalistic books (approx. 40 titles in total). After the Jewish typographers left for Shklov, (only the son of Zvi Hirsch, Chaim Margaliot, remained), where they established their own printinghouse, Krüger employed some of the staff of the printing house in Oleksynets. Krüger's leadership were the best 4 years in the history of the printing house. Another advantage spurring the development of the printing house was the privilege granted in 1784, exempting prints from the stamp duty.

Between 1786 and 1794, the company was again directed by Isachar Shmuel Ben Segal, until Avraham ben Yitzchak Ajzyk, previously working in a print shop in Poryck, came to Korets. Avraham, together with Eliyahu ben Yaakov ha-Levi, organized a new printing house, operating for the next 25 years.


In 1865, Korets had 10 synagogues and a Jewish state vocational school of the first category. In 1881, all synagogues burned in a great fire: the Main Synagogue, the synagogues of tailors and shoemakers, Berezner-shul, Chernobyler-shul and others. Gradually, they were rebuilt (6 of 13 synagogues were Hasidic).

In the 19th century, the Jewish population increased. In 1847, 3,832 Jews lived in the city, while in 1897, there were already 4,608 (76% of the total population). At the beginning of the 20th century, Korets had a Talmud-Torah (100 students), a private Jewish school and a large library, аs well as "Chevra Kadisha" (a funeral society) and private Jewish vocational schools (separate for men and women).

In 1910, there were already 15 synagogues in the city. In 1901–1931, the post of rabbi was held by Rabbi Mordechai Lidski (1863–1931), born in Dzyatlava, Belarus. He studied in famous yeshivas in Valozhyn and Radun'; he introduced the habit of a daily study of one page of the Talmud in synagogues.

Rabbi Nechemia Herhzehorn (1833–1923) served as a rabbi in Korets for 59 years (1864–1923). He was a social activist, fundraising among the wealthy inhabitants of Korets and organizing help for the needy. The main goal of his activities was to support Jewish children in acquiring education. In articles published in the Jewish press he emphasized the responsibility to teach the Torah to the Jewish youth because, he argued, if the young people were not taught of the Jewish religion, they would assimilate. He wrote letters to government officials of the Empire, asking to introduce classes of the Jewish religion and the Russian language at schools. He received permission, but the Hasidim of Korets did not let him realize this plan. Then, with the help of the local Jewish elite, he created a modern school on the basis of the local Talmud-Torah. The curriculum included the Hebrew language and grammar, the Tanach, the Jewish history and the official language. On the ground floor, there was a canteen for students, a prayer room and a library and in the yard there was a large garden, where students worked. At his initiative, a Jewish hospital was built in 1883. After the great fire in 1881, Rabbi Hershehorn made many efforts to rebuild the main Beth Midrash.

Nechemia Hershehorn is associated with the creation of a Tarbut library, which later became an important spiritual center of the Jewish residents of the city. The Rabii supported the establishment of the National Credit Bank, which became an important institution for the local Zionist movement. Throughout his life, Rabbi Hershehorn was an avid Zionist ever since his studies in the Rabbi Seminary in Zhytomyr. He participated in the Zionist Congress in Minsk and was friends with many prominent leaders of this socio-political movement. Along with his followers, he founded the Zionist circle, which gave lessons of Hebrew as an important tool in promoting and disseminating the Zionist idea in Korets. Moreover, he carried out an important mission of delivering regular Saturday lectures on Zionism and literature.

The time of changes

Since the beginning of the 20th century, branches of Zionist organizations "Ceirei Zion" and "Poale Zion" operated in the city, аnd since 1905, also the "Bund" organization. In 1914, a society helping the poor Jewish artisans was active. The Jews owned 4 pharmacists warehouses, wholesaler entreprises, pharmacies, one library, all 3 bookstores, the leather factory, all 3 timber warehouses, 3 mead factories, both steam mills, 2 clothing factories, 2 beer warehouses, one printing house, 4 photograph shops and 84 shops (including all 22 manufactories and 21 grocery stores). Among the Jews there were 6 doctors (including 3 dentists).

The number of the Jewish inhabitants Korets decreased during the World War I. In 1921, 3,888 Jews lived here (83% of the total population). In the interwar period that number increased; in December 1937, already 4,695 Jews lived in the city.

When the authority of the Ukrainian People's Republic was established in the city, the supporters of Symon Petliura introduced their own payment system. There were banknotes with the value of 50 rubles, but no one had thought of smaller denominations. The economy of the city was paralyzed. To save the situation, the Jewish community began to print their own banknotes of small denomination. They were printed on paper of inferior category, as it was a time of war. Each bill contained three signatures of the chairmen of the community, a stamp and a sequence number. The "Jewish money" could be exchanged for the "official" currency, thus, the problem was solved.

The establishment of new borders after World War I, led to the end of the prosperity of the city. Korets was flooded by refugees who fled from pogroms and the new authorities. In 1917, the first democratic elections were held. The next elections were already organized by the Polish government. In 1924, Many Jews were elected to the City Council, а one of them became the Deputy Mayor.

Yeshiva and Tarbut

At the end of the World War I, when the Soviets were still in Korec, a Tarbut school with Hebrew as language of instruction started its activity. In 1920, the yeshiva of Zvyahel (now: Novohrad-Volynskyi) directed by an eminent Rabbi Joel Sorin (Shurin) was transferred to Korets. Interestingly, the traditional yeshiva and the modern Tarbut functioned under one roof, without disturbing each other but also without cooperation.

Rabbi Joel Sorin (Shurin), commonly known as the Illui of Potlava (Heb. The Genius of Poltava) (1871–1927), was one of the outstanding preachers learned in the Scripture. He was born in Lokhvytsia in the Poltava Raion, in a poor Jewish family. Since childhood, he demonstrated exceptional abilities and was soon nicknamed "Illui [a prodigy] of Poltava". Having heard of the talented young man, the local Rabbi Moshe Ber Luria helped him join the famous yeshiva in Valozhyn. After marriage, Joel Sorin moved in with his father-in-law, Rabbi Elche Shyf to the town of Cherniche in the Minsk Region. The purpose of his life was preaching the Torah and establishing yeshivas in places where education was not widespread. In 1897, he founded a yeshiva in Berezhnytsia, called "Or Torah" (Heb. The light of the Torah), which was attended by approx. 70 students аnda few years later, he moved it to Zvyahel (Novohrad-Volynskyi). In the autumn of 1920, when the Polish army had to hand Novohrad-Volynskyi to the Soviet authorities, most of the students of the yeshiva left the city. They settled in the neighboring town of Korets, where "Or Torah" continued its existence under the leadership of Rabbi Joel. In the school year 1929/1930, the yeshiva had 160 students. Joel Sorin died in Warsaw at the age of 61. He was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw on Gesia Street.

World War II and the Holocaust

The Soviet army marched into Korets on 17 September 1939. The Jewish institutions were liquidated and political parties dissolved. The Jews tried to adapt to new realities, learning new professions and setting up cooperatives for craftsmen.

The Germans entered Korets in the first days of July 1941. They immediately began to murder Jews, destroy shops and private homes. For 5 weeks, a massive "hunt" for Jewish men was carried out; they were gathered in a pigsty close to the city pharmacy, under the guise of future employment. Having gathered around 300 men (among them also boys aged 10–12), they moved them in trucks out of the city, in the direction of Novohrad-Volynskyi. Outside the city, the Germans forced them to dig trenches where they were buried alive. Similar actions were repeated. As a result, nearly 1 thousand Jews were killed and buried outside Korets, near the Stone Mountain by the Shytnya farm.

According to the order issued on 17 September 1941, by the district commissioner Dr Beyer, the entire Jewish population was obliged to wear clothes with yellow patches sewn on the back between the shoulder blades and on the left side on the chest. Every day, they were forced to clear the snow from the road to the village of Samostrely (16 km) and were sent to the forest to perform various works. Due to hunger, lack of clothing and medicines, many Jews were sick and died.

At the beginning of 1942, a ghetto was established in Korets where all the Jews from the city and the surrounding countryside were gathered. The Germans conducted regular actions, during which they first murdered people unable to work, i.e. children, the elderly and the sick.

The Nazis liquidated the ghetto on 21 May 1942. They gathered all the Jews and selected approx. 250 people they deemed useful. After the search and the seizure of all valuables, the rest, in groups, were sent for execution. On 23 September 1942, the Germans surrounded the ghetto and carried out the final liquidation.

Moshe Gildenman (1898–1957): leader of the guerrilla, journalist, writer. He worked as a civil engineer, owned a concrete factory, was the chairman of the Union of Jewish Artists and the initiator of a choir, an orchestra and a theatre in a Jewish school.

In May 1942, on the eve of the feast of Shavuot, the occupiers and the local police killed 2.2 thousand Jews, including his wife and 13-year-old daughter. When the Jews gathered in the synagogue to say the Kaddish for the victims, Moshe Gildenman entered the bima and delivered a speech, urging the Jews to fight.

In September 1942, at the time of the liquidation of the ghetto, Mohze Gildenman, his son Simshe and 15 young people managed to escape in the night, cross the Sluch River and hide in the forest. Moshe stood at the head of a Jewish partisan branch (known as "the group of uncle Misha"), who managed to reach the Zhytomyr forests. He led over 150 combat operations and freed 300 prisoners from the German camps. In 1943, they joined the Red Army. Moshe Gildenman welcomed the end of the war in Berlin, along with his son.

In 1946, Gildenman moved to Poland then spent several years in Paris, and moved to Israel in 1952. He wrote short stories and accounts of the guerrilla life, and published them in Jewish periodicals. In Israel, he worked for the Institute of Yad Vashem; he was a social activist and wrote memoirs published in The Book of Memory of Zvyahel (Novohrad-Volynskyi) in 1962.


Out of all Jewish residents of Korets, approx. 500 people have survived the war. They were mostly those who had managed to escape the city or were evacuated deep into the Soviet Union. In 1948, in accordance with the regulation of the City Council of Korets, a cinema was established in the building of the former synagogue. In 1959, the militia scattered a minyan who gathered for prayer during the feast of Pesah in a private house. In 1970, the Jewish population in Korets consisted of several families.

In the 1960s, in execution sites of the Jews during World War II, commemorative plaques were set.

Today, Korets, located on the route Kyiv-Rivne has approx. 7 thousand inhabitants. Many Christian churches as well as ohels of famous rabbis at the Jewish cemetery attract crowds of pilgrims. Part of the permanent exhibition in the Regional Museum founded in 2000 is dedicated to the history of the Jewish community.

The cemetery

Matzevahs from the 17th century can be found at the old Jewish cemetery in Korets. 3 tzadiks are burried here: Rabbi Asher Tzvi (student of Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, the author of Ma'ayan ha-Hokhmah, Heb. The Fountain of Wisdom), Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac ha-Kohen (student of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, author of Brit Kehunat Olam, Heb. The Eternal Covenant of Priesthood) and Rabbi Mordechai (chairman of the religious court).

Worth seeing

  • Jewish cemetery (16th century), Korotka


  • Convent of the Holy Trinity (17th century), Kyjivska 56


  • Orthodox Church of St. George the Conqueror (19th century), Kyjivska 13а


  • Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas (1834), B. Khmelnytskoho 4


  • Monastery of the Resurrection (Voskresyensky), Staromonastyrska 50


  • Roman Catholic Church of St. Anthony of Padua (1706), Kostelnyj 6


  • Orthodox Church of the Resurrection, J. Konovalcia 4


  • Ruins of the castle of the Korecki Dukes, B. Khmelnytskoho 16a


  • Small Czartoryski Palace, "Hostynnyj Dim", Kyjivska 75


  • District Historical Museum, Kyjivska 45


  • Catholic cemetery, J. Konovalcia


  • City park, Kyjivska 45


  • Orthodox Church of St. Cosma and Damian (1897), near Korets


  • Orthodox Church of St. Paraskevi, near Korets


  • Orthodox Church of St. Elias, near Korets


  • Site of mass execution of Jews in the village of Shytnia (near Korets, at the entrance to the city from the Novohrad-Volynskyi)

In the vicinity

Velyki Mezhyrichi (21 km): Jewish cemetery (17th century); Church of St. Anthony (1702); Piarist college (18th century); estate of the Stecki family (end of the 18th century); wooden Orthodox Church of St. Peter and Paul (1848)

Hannopil(37 km): Jewish cemetery (18th century) with the ohel of Dov Ber of Mezhyrichi; the Jabłonowski Palace (18th century)

Novohrad-Volynskyi (39 km): synagogue (a memorial plaque to Mordechai Zev Feierber); remains of the fortress (16th century); Museum Of Lesya Ukrainka; Museum of the Kosachov Family


Author: Bohdana Brukhliy