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Jewish Ukraine: 5 facts about the Jews of Dnepr

The cowboy of Montparnasse, a sculptor with willpower, the largest menorah and more

Along with Kiev, Lviv and Odessa, since the first years of its existence Dnepropetrovsk (in the past Yekaterinoslav) has been a Jewish city – by the size of its community, and by the number of famous people of Jewish origin which it has gave the world. In the Soviet period, the Jewish life of the city came to a standstill, but after the collapse of the USSR, over a couple of decades Dnepropetrovsk has recovered its former Jewish power and has once more consolidated its “central” status. Read the new chapter of the “Jewish Ukraine” project to find out how Dnepr used to live, how it lives now, and also about the celebrities that were born here.

 

1. Official status and synagogues

The Yekaterinoslav Jewish community was one of the first to receive official status in the Russian Empire. 15 years after the city was founded, in 1791, by the decree of Catherine the Great “On granting the Jews citizenship in the Yekaterinoslav vicegerency and the Tavrichesky Oblast”, Jews were given the chance to settle in this region.

Over less than one century, the Jewish population of the city grew from a small group of 376 people in 1805 to a community of 41,240 people in 1897, which was 36.3% of the total population. Of course, not all the Jews of the future Dnepropetrovsk were well-off, but a considerable percentage of the community were prosperous – there were many rich merchants, small traders, craftsmen, industry and port workers.

In 1800 the first synagogue in the city was built, a wooden one – it later burnt down, and in its place in 1833 the large choral synagogue “Golden Rose” was built. Until the October revolution 38 (according to some estimates 44) synagogues and prayer houses functioned, which were organized by profession – for example, there were synagogues for saddlers, tailors and even water carriers.

2. The cowboy of Montparnasse

Samuel (Chaim) Granovsky (1882(9) – 1942) was born into a Jewish peasant family, in Yekaterinoslav, but he did not stay in his hometown for long – in 1901 he went to the Odessa art academy to study, then did his military service and did not return to the academy. Granovsky decided to continue his education in Munich – he went there in 1908.

One year later, in 1909, Granovsky moved to Paris, but the first time he didn’t stay there for long – only until the beginning of WWI. During the war he moved to Odessa, but in 1920 once more moved to the capital of France, and it was there that the active phase of his career began. Granovsky settled in the famous “Beehive” dormitory and became involved in Dadaism, making frescoes, paintings, painting furniture and screens, and also developing stage-set projects.

As he didn’t have much in the way of funds, Granovsky had to get a job as a janitor at the legendary Rotonde café. He had a striking appearance, unusual character and incredible charisma, thanks to which he made an ideal model – other artists often invited him to pose for them. Granovsky liked to walk the streets of Paris in a bright checkered shirt and a Texas hat, which gained him the nickname of the Montparnasse cowboy.

When the Second World War began, Granovsky remained in Paris. On 17 June 1942 he was captured by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camp of Drancy. His next and final destination was Auschwitz.

3. The Manson medal

Naum Manzon (1913 – 1993) was born in Yekaterinoslav, but when he was still a child, his family moved to Moscow, and from there in 1923 they emigrated to Germany. After living there for three years, the Manzons moved to France. The entire life and scientific career of the famous future physicist would be connected with this country.
In 1934, Naum Manzon – now known as Numa Manson – graduated from the science faculty of Paris University, then the Higher School of Welding, where he worked as a research engineer for a year. Manson was not only devoted to science, but also to the nation that had accepted him – from 1936 to 1941, now a French citizen, he served in the French army and was even taken prisoner, but was released in 1941.

Fortunately, during the Nazi occupation of France Manson was safe – he worked under the leadership of Professor Ribot at the Institute of Welding (1941 – 1945),, and after the war he was employed at the French Institute of Petroleum in Bellevue (1946 – 1954), and headed a scientific group at the institute for the study of reactive engines.

Manson not only pursued a scientific career, but also taught, and held leading positions at the higher national school of mechanics and aeronautics and at the university of Poitiers. Additionally, he was the co-editor of the journal “Acta Astronautica” and a member of the International Academy of Astronautics.

Numa Manson, who was awarded the order of the Legion of Honor, the order of Academic Palms, and was twice a laureate of the French Academy of Sciences, in 1975 founded an important award himself, the “Numa Manson” medal. It is awarded to scientists “for an outstanding contribution to the study of the dynamics of explosion and reactive systems” twice a year.

4. Vadim Sidur and willpower

The renowned sculptor and graphic artist Vadim Sidur (1924 – 1986) was born in Yekaterinoslav into a family of teachers. When the Second World War broke out, he graduated from the machine gun academy, and adding a year to his age, went to the frontline, where he soon commanded a machine-gun platoon. In one battle in 1944 Sidur received a serious injury to his face and barely survived, and by the time he recovered the war was over.

In 1945 Vadim Sidur went to study at the Moscow artistic industrial academy (Stroganovskoe), and after graduation worked in sculpture and book illustration. But in 1961 he had a massive heart attack, after which he could not work in sculpture for some time (it was physically difficult for him to lift the heavy stone and metal), and concentrated on graphic work. Then he suffered a serious personal crisis – Sidur, who had encountered death on the frontline, had once more been within a hair’s breath of passing into the next world, and this drastically changed his life.

Sidur reviewed his artistic style, and the Soviet regime, in its turn, reviewed its attitude towards him. He did not receive any commissions, was not mentioned in print, and he began to earn a living by illustrations, and also by making gravestones. While Sidur’s works were not accepted in his homeland, abroad they gained increasing popularity. Monuments from his models were put up in Germany, some dedicated to victims of the Holocaust – “Monument to the victims of violence” (Kassel, 1974), “Monument to the modern state” (Konstanz, 1974), “Treblinka” (West Berlin, 1979). Additionally, sculptural portraits of Einstein were displayed in Munich, which were made from a plaster model by Sidur dating from 1967.

Sidur made over 500 sculptures in his life time, over 1,000 engravings and drawings, and also wrote prose and poetry. The daily difficulties, and the cold and uncomfortable rooms in which he worked and lived, served as a source of inspiration for Sidur – he began to work with coarse, unprocessed material (cold concrete and cement). He found a strange, warped beauty in rusty sewage pipes, and from metal rubbish he created his works which he himself called “coffin art”.

5. The largest menorah in the world

In autumn of 2012 the largest Jewish cultural and business center in the world was opened in Dnepr – “Menorah”. The center’s official site states that the idea for its creation came entirely from Gennady Akselrod, who also acted as the manager of its construction. Realization of the project took place with the support of the president of the Dnepr Jewish community Gennady Bogolyubov and his partner, the president of the United Jewish community of Ukraine Igor Kolomoisky, who provided financing for the project.

The Menorah center, which occupies 50,000 sq.m., is located in the center of Dnepropetrovsk and consists of seven towers which architecturally symbolize the traditional Jewish candelabrum. The highest section of Menorah is a central 22-storey tower of a height of 77 meters. Incidentally, the central synagogue of the city, “Golden Rose”, also became an architectural part of the complex.

Besides the business areas, kosher restaurant and library, Menorah also contains the museum “Memory of the Jewish people and the Holocaust in Ukraine”, one of the largest museums in the world dedicated to the history of Shoah in Ukraine.
Additionally, when the center was built, it was given to the chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk Shmuel Kaminetsky as a gift to the local Jewish community.

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