Felshtin (pronounced fel-SHTEEN), sometimes spelled “Felshteen,” “Fel’shtin,” “Felstin”, “Felstein”, “Felschtein”, etc., was a small, rural Ukrainian town that contained a Jewish community, or shtetl. Felshtin was located 78 miles north-northeast of Chernovtsy and 186 miles west-southwest of Kiev. It is sometimes confused with a completely different town, “Felzstyn” (Skelevka), 340 miles west of Kiev, famous for its wooden synagogue.
During a brutal pogrom on February 18, 1919, an estimated 600 Jewish Felshtiners were massacred—about a third of the total Jewish population. On Yom Kippur, 1941, Nazis exterminated most of Felshtin’s surviving Jewish population. Today the town is known as “Hvardiyske.” A few Felshtiners absent from the town during the holocaust returned after the war. Born in 1947, Polina Lerner is believed to be the last Jewish person born in Felshtin. Her family left Felshtin in 1970,and today she lives in Philadelphia.
What is the Felshtin Society?
Felshtiners who came to the United States established the New York-based First Felshteener Progressive Benevolent Association, which was organized in 1905 and incorporated in December 1909. The association provided relief to survivors of the 1919 pogrom, helping them settle in the U.S., Israel, and Latin America. The Association also created and published a Felshtin yizkor (memorial) book in 1937, sponsored social events, a memorial in Dimona, Israel, and maintained the Felshtin section of a Staten Island cemetery. By the late 1970s, many Felshtin-born Americans had passed away, and the Association grew increasingly inactive.
A renewed interest in Jewish history and genealogy emerged in the 1990s. Led by Sid Shaievitz, Michael and the late Phyllis Nevins, Barbara Fischkin, and others, in 1998 the Felshtin group was reborn as the Felshtin Society, dedicated to translating and publishing an English version of the Felshtin yizkor book, restoring the Felshtiner section of the Baron Hirsch cemetery in Staten Island, and providing forums for social and educational interchange.
The Felshtin Society’s first event was highly successful. Drawing more than 100 people, a “reunion” for Felshtiners and Felshtin descendants was held in New York City on February 7, 1999. The event featured a keynote talk by David Roskies, Professor of Jewish Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
A second reunion was held in Manhattan on May 3, 2009. The Felshtin Society continues to coordinate several projects, including creating a memorial to pogrom victims in Hvardiyske (formerly Felshtin), collecting photographs and family histories from descendants of Felshtiners, planning a trip to Hvardiyske, and translating the Felshtin yizkor book.
Why is the Felshtin yizkor book important?
According to Zachary Baker, head librarian of Yivo, in style and content, Felshtin’s 670-page memorial book, written almost entirely in Yiddish and published in 1937, was the prototype of a literary genre that proliferated after the Holocaust.
The Felshtin book presents the most detailed account of a Ukrainian pogrom and of Ukrainian shtetl life of its era. The book is a valuable resource to for those interested in Jewish history and literature and for descendants of Felshtiners seeking information about their roots.