Matvy Shestopal on Ukrainian-Jewish relations during Feudalism (ie the arenda system)

For starters before engaging this delicate subject:

1) The short lived Western Ukrainian People’s Republic (1918-19) was one of the best codifications of respect between Jews and non-Jews in the pre-war history of Eastern Europe. There were also Jewish doctors in the Ukrainian partisan army which fought both the Nazis and Soviets for the creation of a free Ukraine.

2) I have no categoric grudge against Jews. My own grandfather escaped Ukraine (barely) after his Jewish neighbor tipped him off that the Bolsheviks were coming to take him away.

3) I don’t care if something is politically incorrect. I care whether it’s true.


As I understand history, Jews were often the tax collectors and property managers for Polish nobility. The Khmelnytsi rebellion, which until the Holocaust was the most traumatic event in Jewish history, was not senseless anti-semitic violence, but a brutal revolt against a brutal system.

I want to learn more about this history, particularly because it’s so controversial.


Matvy Shestopal was a respected and charismatic faculty member at the Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv, probably in the faculty of journalism. During ideological wars in the 1960’s, he was purged from the University, along with numerous others, and prevented from taking other employment. He died some time in the 1970’s. His manuscript, Jews in Ukraine, was hidden by loyal students or coworkers, and published in Kyiv in 1999 — the redemption of his work constituting one of a growing number of realizations in waking life of the Jewish nightmare of near-dead Ukraine rising to point an accusing finger. A middle section from the three pages shown in Ukrainian below is provided in English translation.

(1) The arenda contract was of fixed and brief duration

The Jewish arendar paid a fixed sum for the arenda contract, and held the contract for a fixed duration — five years in the main example, and three years in a secondary example mentioned lower down. Thus, the arendar was under no obligation to establish a long-term relationship with his subjects, but rather was motivated to pillage them mercilessly so as to recoup his contract price and come away with the largest possible profit within the allotted time. As the arendar foresaw himself upon the expiration of his contract fleeing the devastation that he had wrought, he had no inducement to concern himself with any long-term consequences, such as the pauperization of the people or the ruin of their health or the destruction of their economy or the danger to himself of their fury.

(2) The arenda contract was purchased for a high fee?

The two arenda contracts below — the first presented in full, the second mentioned in passing — were purchased by Jewish arendars for five thousand and twelve thousand Polish gold pieces, respectively. The arendar, then, had to first extract that much from his subjects before he could begin to make a profit. Were these sums large?

In view of the difficulty of estimating the value of a Polish gold piece in 1594, it will for the time being have to be left as a hypothesis that five or twelve thousand Polish gold pieces constituted a great amount, and thus required the Jewish arendar to begin the exercise of his contract by extracting a great amount from the Ukrainians that had been delivered into his hands.

(3) The arenda contract was held by an alien

The arendar was a Jew, and the people delivered into his hands for exploitation were Ukrainians. The Jew shared no roots with the people whom he controlled, lived apart from them, spoke a different language, practiced a different religion, distinguished himself by different dress. All such differences promoted the dehumanizing of the Ukrainians in the eyes of the Jewish arendar, and removed inhibitions to ruthless exploitation.

(4) The arenda contract placed no limit on exploitation

The arenda contract allowed the arendar to extract profit from every imaginable activity using every imaginable means, and to set his profit at any imaginable height. The contract below makes an attempt to itemize all the activities from which profit can be extracted, but tiring of the labor of list construction, and recognizing that a complete listing is still far away, wraps up by granting the arendar the right to take his bite out of “all profitable activities whether itemized here or not.” From other sources, we are able to see that there was no activity that a Ukrainian was able to engage in without paying a tax to his Jewish arendar, whether that activity be the catching of a fish in a stream or the baptizing of his child. The arenda contract makes not the least allusion to any limit that the arendar’s greed might be bounded by, as for example no limit on the total wealth that could be taken in relation to the contract price (thus, the 5-thousand-gold-piece contract below was indifferent to whether the arendar subsequently extracted 10 thousand gold pieces from the people, or 50 thousand), no limit on the proportion of any product that he could confiscate, and no limit on the duration of labor that he could command.

In his essay The Elders of Zion and the Masters of Discourse, Israel Shamir writes on 22-Nov-2002 (with the capitalization his) that “the Jewish community of 17the century Ukraine has been a collective tax-farmer and leaseholder, extracting from the natives SIX times more taxes and dues per person than a gentile landlord did, wrote a prominent Jewish Ukrainian historian Saul Borovoy in a recently published in Jerusalem book.”

(5) There existed no higher power to protect the people

There existed no higher law which could have protected the Ukrainians. There was no constitution, no bill of rights, no labor laws, no tax laws, no health code, no codification of permissible punishments, no law against usury, no ombudsmen, no Amnesty International. As a result, justice was whatever the arendar said it was. No appeal from his judgments to any higher authority was allowed. The Jewish arendar took whatever he wanted, and inflicted whatever punishment he chose. His rule was absolute.

(6) The arendar was free to inflict capital punishment

The arenda contract below uses the expression “karaty horlom,” which is “karaty — to punish” followed by the word “horlo — throat” in the instrumental case, such that the two words together would be translated literally as “to punish using the throat” or “to punish by means of the throat.”

In the Andrusyshen Ukrainian-English dictionary, under “horlo” we find “karaty na horlo — to impose capital punishment”; “zaplatyty horlom — to suffer capital punishment”; and “horlova sprava — criminal matter (threatening capital punishment).” In the same dictionary under “karaty” we find an expression we have already seen above, but this time with a parenthesized elaboration of its meaning: “karaty na horlo — to inflict capital punishment (by decapitation).”

At the same time, the preferred expression of “capital punishment” in Ukrainian does not make reference to the throat — thus, under “kara,” Andrushyshen gives the throatless “pid karoiu smerty — under pain of death,” and Podvesko in his English-Ukrainian dictionary gives the similarly throatless “capital punishment — smertna kara.”

The conclusion that the above information points to is that in contemporary Ukrainian, use of the word “throat” in expressions relating to punishment denotes capital punishment, but with no indication, or at least very little, of which of various methods of inflicting death is intended. However, this does not answer the question of what “to punish by means of the throat” meant four hundred years ago, at the time of the arenda contract below. One possibility is that use of the word “throat” which is figurative today originated from a use that was literal, such that four hundred years ago, “to punish by means of the throat” meant “to kill by slitting the throat.” The further question of who in Ukraine would have been available to slit the throat of a Ukrainian on behalf of a Jewish arendar might lead us into a discussion of Jewish ritual slaughter.

It may be significant as well that the arenda contract fails to stipulate which transgressions can be considered as capital, thus leaving it up to the Jewish arendar to determine for what offences he would slit Ukrainian throats, and how often. It may have some bearing on the question that following the Communist revolution, which would be more accurately called the Jewish conquest of the Slavs, anti-Semitism was designated as a capital offense.

(7) The arendar was not restrained by any ideology

The Jewish arendar was not restrained — not toward his Ukrainian subjects, anyway — by any ideology proclaiming the brotherhood of man or the eschewing of hatred or the virtue of clemency or the sanctity of life or the preference of spiritual integrity over worldly riches. Rather, his religion taught him that he was a superior being, and that non-Jews had been placed on this earth to serve him as beasts of burden and to augment his wealth.


Arendas did not disappear after the Khmelnytsky uprising. See Duchy_of_Lithuania.htm (“During the 18th century, up to 80 percent of Jewish heads of households in rural areas [of what are now Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and parts of Poland] were arendars, that is, holders of an arenda”). Pogonowski, p. 72, describes the return of the Jews to the Ukraine after 1648-54. Similarly, see Simon M. Dubnow, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, vol. 1, p. 158 (1916).