From “Paper Life.”

Fastov, in Central Ukraine, is located on the Unava River about 64 km southwest of Kiev… Serving as a major railway station on the route from Central Europe to Russia, the city has always had a convenient position from economical and strategic perspective. Fastov…came under the jurisdiction of Ukraine in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The city is currently an administrative center of Kiev region (oblast). There are approximately 30 Jewish residents in Fastov, which at one time was a predominately Jewish city.

Fastov was founded in 1390. In the 15th century the city was completely destroyed by Tatars and its area remained abandoned until the 16th century when it came under jurisdiction of Poland. During the 17th–18th centuries the city was often mentioned in relation to Cossack wars with Polish authorities. In 1793, after the Second Partition of Poland, Fastov became a part of Russian Empire as a city of Kiev Region (guberniya), Vasilkov District.

The first Jewish settlement in Fastov most likely goes back to the 17th century since it was mentioned among other Jewish communities that were destroyed by Bohdan Khmelnitsky and his bands in 1648–1658…The city of Fastov has been associated with three known Jewish sages: Abraham haMalach, Israel ben Perez of Polotsk, and Abraham Meshullam Zalman Ashkenazi.

…The civil war and its aftermath caused many Jewish residents to emigrate from Russia to North America. With the establishment of the Soviet regime in early 1920’s, which suppressed any religious activities in Russia, all the city synagogues were closed down and later used for different purposes. The Jewish cemetery was vandalized by Bolsheviks in the late 1920’s. In the 1930’s Fastov’s Jewish schools (where Yiddish was a language of instruction) were closed down to prevent Jewish children from learning their native language. By 1939 the Jewish population of Fastov was reduced to 2,149 people due to migration, Communist repressions and the famine of 1932–1933. From 1941 to 1943 Fastov was occupied by the Nazis, during which about 1,000 of Jews from Fastov and the surrounding area were massacred, many left in mass graves.  After the war, there was still a small Jewish community in the city, which gradually decreased due to Jewish immigration in 1970–1990’s…

Pogroms of 1919

In 1919, The Jewish community of Fastov suffered severely from several pogroms. The most brutal pogroms were caused by the Denikin Volunteer Army, which slaughtered over 1,000 Jews in the city (Anton Denikin was a Lieutenant General in the Imperial Russian Army and afterwards a leading general of the White movement in the Russian Civil War – Wikipedia).

The first Denikin’s pogrom occurred on August 25, 1919 (as per old style calendar). Denikin’s troop, including Cossacks, attacked, robbed, killed and sexually assaulted the Jewish population.   The riots ceased when Denikin’s troops, retreating from Bolsheviks, left the city.

After defeating the Bolsheviks and regaining control over Fastov, the Volunteer Army returned to the city on September 8, 1919. A terrible pogrom began on September 9, 1919 (according to old style calendar) and lasted for six days. Most families were burnt alive in their homes or executed in the synagogues. Infants and young children were killed with bayonets or sabers, many women and girls, as young as 8-10 years old, were gang raped in front of their families. Jews who tried to escape from the city to suburbs were often caught and shot in nearby ravines. The pogrom was finally stopped by military authorities who arrived in Fastov to restore the order.

The entire Jewish quarter was in ruins, the market place looted and burned down. The streets were strewn with the corpses of men, women and children. Over 1,000 Jews were massacred with up to 4,000 eventually dying as a result of the pogrom. Many were wounded and mutilated.

Emma Goldman visited Fastov during her trip to Russia (1919 to 1921) and wrote:

That Town [Fastov], once prosperous, was now impoverished and reduced to less than one third of its former population. Almost all activity was at a stand-still. We found the market place, in the centre of the town, a most insignificant affair, consisting of a few stalls having small supplies of white flour, sugar, and butter. There were more women about than men and I was especially struck by the strange expression in their eyes. They did not look you full in the face; they stared past you with a dumb, hunted animal expression…

Approximately one third of the Fastov Jewish population perished in Holocaust. Thus, in 1939 there were around 2,149 Jews in the city whereas about 700–800 of them were murdered during the war. Fortunately, many Jewish residents managed to evacuate from Fastov during the first weeks of war. It is important to note that there were several righteous gentiles in Fastov who saved a few Jewish lives.

For an eye-witness account of the pogroms of 1919, see this article from the archives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Thirty Days of a Jewish Pogrom in Krivoye Ozera.

The Ronen Family Connection to Fastov

There are numerous references in the Ronen family letters to visiting relatives in Fastov for holidays.  There was an uncle there who was a tailor, perhaps with some sort of business or factory, and who was accused of blood libel (see “The Ronen Family”).  The uncle was Efraim (Froim) Pashkoff; we don’t know if he was a relative of Meir Ronen or his wife, Chanah.  The 1919 pogroms in Fastov directly affected the lives of the Ronen family.

Franka to Fannie

… At that time our relatives from Fastov came to us, escaping from armed gangs.  The bandits killed our uncle and they were so scared.  There was nothing to do but to have them stay with us, though we had a very small apartment and their family consisted of eight people.  So they stayed with us and all of them got sick with typhus, and this disease is very contagious.

… Soon Sarah got sick, then father and after father, me.  Nechamka took care of us, as Sarah and I had enteric fever, which is not as contagious as spotted fever.

Father had spotted fever and we took him to the hospital…It is impossible to describe our sufferings.  No money at all.  Some kind people helped us out.  The times were so bad that even for money you could not get anything.  Our mother and Avram could not look after us; only Nechamka was a good nurse.

Poor girl, she’d suffered a lot giving us all her time, health and nerves.  When we were almost recovered, she got the typhus.  You understand, she was very exhausted and famished, and could not endure it.  She had brain complications and after three weeks she died.  It happened on December 8, 1919.[1]

The ink on the original letter is blurred in a number of spots; it looks like tears fell on the pages, possibly the tears of Fannie Ronen Battalen.



[1] Franka to Fannie, Kiev, August 30, 1922