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April 8: A Jew-Free Crimea

April 8, 2014
7-6_baltermantsThe Crimean Peninsula was declared judenfrei (cleansed of Jews) on this date in 1942 (some sources say April 16th), only five months after the Nazis took over the Russian territory and began murdering Jews, who numbered close to 60,000. The killing was mostly done by Einsatzgruppe D, headed by Dr. Otto Ohlendorf, with the collaboration of Ukrainians and Tatars. Jews had lived in Crimea since Hellenistic times, but many left for Ottoman lands after Russia annexed the Crimea in 1784, leaving fewer than 500 Jewish families, including Karaites (whom the Nazis would not mark for death). Jewish immigrants from Russia rebuilt the population to close to 40,000 by 1926, and in the 1930s a Soviet resettlement project brought additional thousands of Jews to Crimea (and displaced numerous German, Ukrainian, and Tatar families). With the establishment of Birobidzhan as a “Jewish Autonomous Region” in Siberia, however, the Soviet Crimea project was downgraded. Under Nazi rule, the Crimean Tatars were declared “an allied people” of the Germans, but the Nazis planned to settle the peninsula with Germans and create a vast German resort-land on the Black Sea. When the USSR retook Crimea in 1944, 180,000 Tatars were collectively deported to Kazakhstan, including 40,000 children, and there was talk within Soviet Jewish leadership of reestablishing a Jewish Crimean colony — but this would be denounced by Stalin as a Western plot and used as an excuse for the destruction of Soviet Jewish cultural and political leaders between 1948 and 1952. “In 1970, the Jewish population of Crimea was concentrated in Simferopol, with an estimated Jewish population of 15,000; Sevastopol, where there was one small synagogue in the Jewish cemetery; Yevpatoria, with an estimated Jewish population of 8-10,000; and in smaller communities. . . ” -Encyclopedia Judaica