Shumsk – A Jewish City with a Turbulent Past

Shumsk was a Jewish city in every sense of the word. Its inheritance was that of a rich culture through which tradition and strong beliefs dominated. During the 1897 ‘All Russian Census’ it was estimated that the Shumsk population stood at 2,258, of which 1,962 were Jews, making up a total of 87%. This was a staggering dominance in comparison to the residual 13% made up by a mixture of Poles, Russians and Ukrainians. However, this intense growth came to a sudden halt during the First and Second World War, which saw a near extinction of the Jewish population as they were unceremoniously murdered for their beliefs by the Nazi regime.

Few tried to resume the lives they had known before, but it could not be denied that a devastating scar had been left, a line of morality breached. Today, there resides just a handful of Jews in the city of Shumsk with the population primarily made up of ethnic Ukrainians exceeding over 5,161 people. Shumsk is commonly referred as being part of the historic region of Volhynia, although it is also recognized as part of the District of Ternopil in Ukraine.

Shmuel Batt knew only too well what it was like to grow up in the pre-war of Eastern Europe as well as the heartache and pain of realizing he was never going to see his family again. As a child in Shumsk, Shmuel grew up in a family that was poor, however, this only infused his desire to write as a youth and that he did. It was after the invasion by the Nazi’s Shmuel was sent into the Soviet Interior to join the Red Army to help fight the war against the Nazi’s. Alas, on returning home Shmuel found his whole family had been murdered by the German army and their many supporters. Nevertheless, he attained his law degree in Lviv before settling down with his family and wife Riva in her hometown.

From there they made their way to Wroclaw, Poland where his desire of law and writing would flourish. By 1970 the Jewish stand in Poland had deteriorated to such a degree forcing Shmuel and Riva to immigrate to the United States. Rochester, New York became home before they moved to Los Angeles. It was here that Shmuel Batt revived the Yiddish language through his major contribution to the West Hollywood Yiddish Club, Yiddish journals as well as his writing before passing away in 2000.

Looking further back into history, during the 16th century Shumsk was considered part of Poland for two decades before forming part of Russia. By 1921 Shumsk changed hands again returning to Poland through the Treaty of Riga. In 1939 the USSR took control of Shumsk before being coming under siege by the German Army during the latter part of World War II. Six years later Shumsk returned to the USSR until Ukraine became an independent state in 1991.

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