Friday, July 8, 2011

6 Tammuz: The Uman Massacre

Uman, the burial place of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Today is the memorial day for the Uman Massacre of June 17th, 1768 (6 Tammuz 5528).

The Hasidic movement, with all its joy and liveliness, was born on the background of a dark chapter in Eastern European Jewish history. In 1768, the Haidameks, a movement of ruthless, anti-Semitic Ukranian rebels, revolted against Polish authorities in the Ukraine. In their rampage, the Jews were perceived as an urban class protected by the Polish forces, and were therefore their first victims. The Haidameks carried out a series of pogroms throughout the Ukraine, and in 1768 set their sights on Uman, a well-fortified city guarded by Polish troops.

On their way, Ivan Gonta and Maxim Zalzinak led the Haidameks in raids of several Jewish towns across Podolia, causing many Jewish refugees to flee to Uman, which they believed to be a refuge from the Ukranian rebels, as it was guarded by their enemy, the Poles. Yet on June 14th, the Haidameks reached Uman and after one unsuccessful attempt, laid seige on the city on the 17th on June. After three days, during which many Ukranians serving in the Polish forces joined the ranks of the Haidameks, the city fell to the bloodthirsty rebels. The Jews of Uman, led by Leib Shargorodski and Moses Menaker, attempted to fight back, one group barricading themselves in one of the city's synagogues. Yet after the ensuing battle, nearly all of Uman's 33,000 Jews hy"d were murdered by the Haidameks.

After the Uman Massacre, Catherine the Great of Russia feared the rebellion would spread to her territory, and dispatched a commander to infiltrate the Haidameks' ranks. Ivan Gonta was seied and handed over the Poles, who sentenced him to a nailing on the gallows, which was gruesomely exhibited across Podolia. Nonetheless, Gonta is memorialized as a folk hero in Ukranian songs and legends.

Almost four years after the Uman Massacre, Rebbe Nachman was born in Medzhibizh in the Ukraine, on Rosh Chodesh Nissan of 5532. Once, on his way from Eastern Ukraine to Breslov, Rebbe Nachman passed by the mas grave of Uman's Jews. He called for his wagon driver to stop, paused and took in a deep breath.

"Here is the scent of Heaven. This is a good place to lay in rest."

Rebbe Nachman chose to be buried in Uman because of the Jews who gave their lives for their emunah, their pure and complete faith in Hashem. Until this day, tens of thousands of Jews from all backgrounds and all countries continue to make pilgrimage to this holy site on Rosh Hashana and throughout the year and draw emunah from the 30,000 holy yidden and from the Great Tzaddik. May the souls of all the martyrs be bound in eternal life with Hashem, and may all yidden draw ever greater levels of Emunah from all those who died for kiddush Hashem and from the Great Tzaddik, the everlasting stream of wisdom, Rebbe Nachman of Uman.

נ נח נחמ נחמן מאומן

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