Balta began as a fortress settlementin the early 16th century.200km from Odessa and 107km from Uman, thetown lay on the border between Poland to the north and Turkey to thesouth.Turks and Crimean Tatars built the early settlementon the right (south) bank of the Kodyma River and called it Balta, the Turkish word for "axe."
TheSimon Weisenthal Center websitehas an informative page on Balta, in which they used the EncyclopediaJudaica as their source.This page indicates that Jews lived in boththe Polish and Turkish sectors of the town from its earliest days.The webpage for the Jewish Genealogy Cemetery Project titled "Ukraine - Babin toBalta," however, states that the earliest known Jewish community in Baltadates from 1700.The four Jewish cemeteries in Balta were surveyedfor the Cemetery Project between 1994-1996.It's impossible todetermine which of the two date references is correct.
At the end of the 17th century, a Polish prince named YusefLubomirski founded a fortress on the river's opposite bank and called itYusefgorod (Juzefgrad).In 1797 these two settlements on either side of the river Kodymawould join together and become the unified city of Balta.Major historicalevents set the stage for the unification of the two towns:
.....Mass expulsions of Jews from countries in western Europe in the 15th
century caused them to move eastward.By 1500 Poland had become the safest
country in Europe for Jews.
.....The Russian Tsar known as "Ivan the Terrible" (1530-84) issued an orderthat
Jews in Russia must either accept Christianity or be drowned.Jews were then
officially banned from all of Russia, so movement eastward beyond Poland became impossible.
.....By 1575 the Jewish population in Poland had grown to 150,000 (up from20,000-
30,000 in 1500).By 1650 Jews in Poland numbered 500,000.
.....In 1768 Catherine the Great began waging war against Turkey (the RUSSO-
TURKISH WAR of 1768-74).That same year a massacre, perpetrated by the
Haidamacks (Haidamaks), took the lives of many of Balta's Jewish inhabitants,as
well as of refugees who had fled there from other districts.
.....1772 - The first partition of Poland occurred. Russia, Prussia, andAustria began
carving up the country, each taking some of the landnearest to its own territory.
.....1787-92 - the second RUSSO-TURKISH WAR.(During this period, in 1791,
Baltawas incorporated into the Russian Empire.)
.....1793 - The second partition of Poland by Russia and Prussia reduced the country
to half its 1772 size.
.....1795 - With the third partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, Polandceased to exist as a nation.
Success in Russia's two wars with Turkey, plus its gains in the threepartitions of Poland, led to a vast expansion of the Russian empire.From Turkey, Russia secured the Crimea and in doing so, fulfilled along-standing dream of establishing itself on the north shore ofthe Black Sea.This led to opening up the fertile lands of the Ukrainefor settlement.The Ukraine soon became the granary of Europe.
Russia's immense greed for more and more territory,however,carried with it a price.Along with land gained throughPoland's three partitions, Russia now found herself with one millionunwanted Jews.From the beginning Catherine II perceived this as a"Jewish problem"that needed to be solved.The first step was to segregate Jews in a distinct,concentrated area of western Russia and to keep them fromspreading to other parts of the empire.In 1792 a Paleof Settlement was established that consisted of Russian Poland, Lithuania,Belorussia, the Crimea, Bessarabia, and much of the Ukraine.In 1795 the firstlaws were passed giving Jews the right of residence, but only within thetwenty-five provinces of the Pale.With the new geographical boundaries, Baltawas now in the province of Podolia, near Podolia's southern border withKherson province.
It was against this background that the former Polish town of Yusefgorod andthe former Turkish town of Balta, now both within Russia's Pale of Settlement, becamea unified city on the banks of the Kodyma River in 1797.People frommany places came to live in Balta because they were welcomed and atfirst extended certain rights.This included Ukrainians, Russians,Belorussians, Poles, Moldavians, Jews, and Tatars.
Last updated:November 18, 1999.