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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Abyss of Despair

Rabbi Nathan Hanover

Bloch Publishing Company
New York, 5710‑1950

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please
let me know!


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Chapter 16

 p95  XV

The second massacre of Ostrog

The townspeople of Ostrog dealt slyly with the Jews. At first they were kind to them. They wrote to the Jews of the surrounding places who had been inhabitants of Ostrog, inviting them to return, not to fear the Cossacks, because the King had made peace with them. The poor Jews rejoiced exceedingly, believing that this was the truth. Some three hundred persons returned to Ostrog. After tarrying three weeks, from the first of Adar to Tuesday, the eighteenth of Adar, '409,1 the townspeople informed the Cossacks in the vicinity, to hasten there because many Jews and nobles were in their midst, and they assured them of their aid against the nobles and the Jews.

And it came to pass at midnight of the 19th of the aforementioned month of Adar, that many thousands of Cossacks came into the city of Ostrog and slew all the nobles and the Jews in their beds. Only three Jews and one officer of the nobles with eighty of his troops escaped. The Cossacks pursued them, and the nobles continued to flee ahead of them until several thousand Ukrainians had followed them from the city. Then the nobles turned their faces toward their pursuers and killed many among them, leaving only a few who escaped into the city.

 p96  When the nobles and the Jews of Zaslaw, and of the other communities near Ostrog heard of this they fled for their lives. Some escaped to Great Dubno and Olyka, and others to Krzemieniec.

And it came to pass that King Casimir, may his glory increase, and the princes heard that the Ukrainians were still rebellious, that he appointed as general, Prince Firley and equipped him with an army of thirty thousand men to wage war against the Ukrainians. General Firley, together with his army, attacked the city of Ostrog and avenged himself upon the people of the city and wrought among them great judgments.

From there he proceeded to the city of Zaslaw where he waged a great battle against the Ukrainians, near the new place of the city of Zaslaw, adjacent to the fortress, and he wrought many vengeful deeds among the people of the city. Several hundred Jewish men of strength, of the poor folk, joined him and they also proceeded to avenge themselves on their enemies. General Firley also sent a detachment of several thousand Polish troops and several hundred Jews to the neighboring places where some of the rebelling Ukrainians were still to be found, and they waged war against them and inflicted heavy losses upon them, and captured all the cities. They succeeded in all their efforts. Also Lanckoronski, the Voyevoda of Kamieniec, a great warrior, together with several thousand seasoned troops, took command of the city of Ozogowce, nine miles from Zaslaw. And he too, inflicted a heavy blow upon the Ukrainians, from another side. Throughout  p97 their encounter at Zaslaw they were victorious. The battle lasted twelve weeks and they wrought great vengeance upon the Ukrainians. As the Ukrainians had done, they were repaid.

General Firley and his army travelled on from Zaslaw to join with Voyevoda Lanckoronski and his army, and he all his army journeyed to the city of Czehanski Kamien. There, Lanckoronski and his army joined him, and they prepared for a major battle.2

When Chmiel heard that the Poles had made war upon him, and that they had devastated many Ukrainian cities and inflicted great blows upon them, he bided his time for about three months. In the interim he assembled all his troops and invited the Tartar King and army to join him.

When General Firley heard that the Ukrainians and the Tartars were mobilizing for the third time, he sent letters to King Casimir, may his glory increase, to issue a decree throughout the Kingdom of Poland, that all nobles must enlist to aid their brethren in the war. The King complied and announced throughout the provinces of his Kingdom: "All officers whose names appear in the Royal Registry must either themselves go to war, or send their servants in their place. Failure to comply with the King's decree will result in the loss of rank." And the princes were slow with their vehicles, as was their habit, while the Tartars and Ukrainians, who were many, like the sand of the sea, marched with dispatch. As the Ukrainians approached the Polish army, the Poles moved six more miles to the cities of Burmucz and Zbaraz. There Duke  p98 Wiśniowiecki and his brother-in‑law, the General Choronzhy3 together with several thousand veteran soldiers from Lwow, joined them. And the Polish army prepared for battle in the city of Zbaraz. They fortified the city strongly and they made water obstacles all around the city.

And it came to pass on the New Moon of the Month of Ab '409, that Czar Khan, the King of the Tartars, together with a multitude of people, like the sand of the sea, and the oppressor Chmiel, and his Ukrainian people, also, a large multitude, like the sand of the sea, encircled the Polish army from a distance and besieged it. They were unable to come close to the camp because of the persistent cannon fire from the wall of the fort, which killed among them in the tens of thousands. Thus the siege on the Polish army lasted seven weeks and many nobles died of starvation. Also General Firley died in this engagement.

Duke Wiśniowiecki however strengthened the hearts of the people by deceiving them with false messages, supposedly written by the King, that he and a large army of Poles were coming to his aid. But this never happened. For no one ever left the camp, nor did anyone enter it. He did this only to encourage the people. Were it not for this they would have surrendered to the enemy, because of the severe hunger in the Polish camp. They ate the horses and the dogs because of the hunger. Occasionally Duke Wiśniowiecki and his brother-in‑law, the Choronzhy with their armies, would leave their fort through a tunnel which they had dug, and attack the Ukrainian and the Tartar  p99 army suddenly, killing tens of thousands. The Duke marched at the head of his men to encourage them so that their hearts would not become faint.

When King Casimir, may his glory increase, heard that the Polish army was in distress and besieged by the Ukrainians and the Tartars, he made ready his chariot, and the King himself in his glory, together with twenty thousand seasoned troops, went to war. All the nobles of Poland mobilized to follow him. But he did not wait for them and marched with his twenty thousand to aid his people in distress.

When the king came near the besieging Ukrainians and Tartars, several hundred thousand of them encircled him and his army. And the whole Polish army trembled and their hearts within them, not one of them dared to unsheath his sword. "And the King looked this way and that way and when he saw that there was no man brave to fight"4 he was very wroth at his people and anger burned in him.5 And the Tartars almost captured the King alive. When the King saw that there was evil determined against him,6 he decided to turn with his army toward the city of Zborow. And the King said to his people: "Let us escape thither; it is small and nearby and we shall be saved."7 The King and his army found refuge there, and he waged a battle against the Ukrainians and the Tartars from the city of Zborow for about two days. In the interim the King sent forth his aide, the Nobleman Ossolinski, to the Tartar King to compromise with him and to make peace, then the oppressor Chmiel would be compelled to give his consent. The  p100 fight against the King ceased immediately and Czar Khan, the King of the Tartars, together with several hundred of his men, proceeded to the city of Zborow to speak with the King personally and to discuss with him the terms of the truce. They agreed that the King, may his glory increase, pay him two hundred thousand gold pieces, a debt due him by a previous agreement, which stipulated that a definite sum annually be paid to him as a tribute, but by which the King failed to abide. Another condition agreed upon was that the two generals in the Czar's custody be returned to the King for a ransom of one hundred thousand gold pieces. The King let him have several high ranking Polish nobles as surety, until the money will be paid.

When the oppressor, Chmiel heard that the Tartars made a truce with the King he became fearful for his life and he also went to the city of Zborow and he fell at the King's feet, and with tears beseeched him saying: "All that he had perpetrated was caused by the nobles themselves." He discussed many matters which have never been revealed to any man. But the King was too proud to converse with him, and he spoke through an interpreter. He finally compromised with him that he and his army return home, and that the King would then send five high ranking officers as commissioners to discuss the terms of the truce between the Ukrainians and the Polish people. For Chmiel had requested that thirty thousand Cossacks be exempt from taxes, as in the past, and that he should have the right to select these thirty thousand from any of the provinces  p101 that will please him, be they from those which are under the King's rule or from those which are under the rule of the nobles, and that the city of Czehiryn and its environs shall belong to him and to his seed after him, forever; also, that one of the Cossack leaders shall be one of the seven Voyevodas selected to serve in the King's Assembly; and that the King should order the Jews not to take up residence in those places where any of these thirty thousand Cossacks will reside; and many other conditions which were beyond consideration. But the King persuaded him this time to return to his home and that the five commissioners would negotiate with him.

And it came to pass after these things that the Tartars and the Ukrainians returned home. On the way, the Tartars wrought great vengeance on the Ukrainians, in the towns and in the villages, which had rebelled against the King. Some people report that the King had given them permission to destroy those places which harbored rebels. They set fire to the city of Ostrog and its environs, to Zaslaw and its environs, to Krzemieniec and its environs, to Bazilia and its environs, and to the city of Satanow and its environs up toKamieniec-Podolski.​a All cities over a distance of twenty square miles were devastated and burned, and of its Ukrainian inhabitants, some were slain by sword, and tens of thousands were taken captive by the Tartars. Only those who hid in the woods and in the swamps remained alive. And the Lord avenged on them the vengeance of the people of Israel. They themselves accepted it as a just punishment. And the land had  p102 respite from war the whole year of '410, and the year '411, according to the minor reckoning, until the feast of Passover.8

After the feast of Tabernacles, '410,9 according to the minor reckoning, the Polish nobles returned to their homes and to their estates. Also the remnant of Israel, "orphans of orphans" returned. They were destitute and poor, and they found no respite even there because prices were high and food was scarce. For, of the Ukrainian people, thousands and tens of thousands perished from starvation. And the famine for bread was not so great as the lack of money. For the Cossacks and the Tartars had robbed them of all their money and treasures. Of the wealthy Ukrainians, some fled across the Dnieper, because they feared the retribution of the nobles, while others buried their money and pretended poverty. The wretched Jews, however, though indigent and destitute, appeared in the eyes of the multitude and of the nobles as rich people. And everyone cried: "Give, give." The King and the nobles demanded taxes and the Jews were penniless, and they were compelled to give a portion of what was left to them in silver and gold and clothing. They would give it away for half the value. Then came additional levies, such as the maintenance of the army and the like. They were compelled to give exorbitant tithes, so that nothing remained in their hands, and their poverty grew worse from day to day.

Nevertheless, they offered praise and thanks to the Holy One, Blessed be He, for the peace which they enjoyed. In those places where the Cossacks dwelt,  p103 business was good, for all of them were wealthy as a result of the loot of the Jews and the nobles. But no Jew or noble was permitted to reside there until the compromise had taken effect. They were permitted to establish residence only up to and including the city of Pawolocz and no further. The Cossacks were in control over a stretch of one hundred miles square of the land of [Little] Russia as a security, pending the aforementioned settlement with the nobles.

In those days, the King, may his glory increase, issued an ordinance throughout the provinces of his kingdom, that whoever had been forced to change his faith, may return to his former faith. All the forced converts returned to Judaism, and the Jews continued to reside in all the cities where they had been converted. The Jews now publicly professed their religion in those places where Jews dwelt, and in the places where the Cossacks resided, and where no Jews lived at this time, the forced converts fled, in accordance with the decree of the King. Also the women whom the Cossacks married by force, fled to the cities which were populated by Jews. Thus hundreds of forced converts became Jews again. In the places where severe carnage took place, hundreds of boys and girls and infants, had been converted. The Jews took them back by force from the hands of the Gentiles. After thorough investigation, they provided them with identifying tags giving the names of the families to which they belonged. These were hung on the neck of each child. Many women had become Agunoth,10 and many widows who had become subject to levirate marriage11 became Agunoth because  p104 the levir had departed from the land. The authorities of the Council of Four Lands,12 may the Rock and Redeemer preserve them, instituted many appropriate ordinances for their benefit and they instituted a public fast for the whole Kingdom of Poland, to be observed on the twentieth day of Sivan, for generations to come. For on that day the terrible slaughter of Nemirow had occurred, and it had been the first community to submit to the massacre, for the glorification of His Name, may the merit of its martyrs stand us in good stead, and may the Lord avenge their blood.

After those things the King elevated Duke Wiśniowiecki above the other nobles and appointed him Supreme General over the whole Polish army. But he would not accept the appointment unless the honor would be for life. Should the two generals, now held captive by the Tartars, return, they would not replace him in this capacity. Only then would he lead the Polish army beyond the River Dnieper and subjugate the Cossacks, with the help of God, so everyone would be enabled to return to his possession.

When Chmiel heard of this thing, he feared for his life, lest the King grant his request, for the hearts of all the people were with Duke Wiśniowiecki. He immediately sent a message to the Tartar King to release the two Polish generals from the dungeon; that he would pay the balance of the ransom money due him. Chmiel did this not because of his love for them, but because of his hatred for Duke Wiśniowiecki, to prevent him from becoming the supreme general. The  p105 King of the Tartars thus released the two generals, Potocki and Kalinowsky. The Polish King and his nobles were surprised at the release of the two generals by the King of the Tartars, and they knew not the cause thereof. The King restored them to their former offices.

In those days the oppressor, Chmiel, together with all his army, attacked the provinces of Wallachia and destroyed them because they sheltered many nobles and Jews and because the Wallachians acquired from the Tartars by force hundreds of captives and gave them their freedom. Upon their return from the provinces of Wallachia they brought with them a vast amount of booty and sold much of it to the Jews. But no Jew suffered injury this time because there was peace with the Jews.

In those days the Russians in the province of Moscowy also rebelled against the King of Poland. They were joined by a host of riffraff from the Cossacks. The oppressor Chmiel wrote letters to the King not to fear the Moscovite rebellion; that he and his Cossacks would march upon them, engage them in battle and make them subject to the King. But the King in his wisdom understood that Chmiel was merely seeking a pretext and he was compelled to make peace with the Moscovites.

In those days the King of Poland sent a commission of high ranking nobles to make a settlement with the Cossacks but it was unsuccess­ful. For the Cossacks made many demands which could not be met by the  p106 King and the nobles, and the matter was delayed until the festival of Passover '411, according to the minor reckoning.

And it came to pass prior to the aforementioned Passover that the Tartars and the Ukrainians assembled a fourth time, and on that Passover, the children of Israel drank the "four cups of poison." They slew hundreds of Jews, and hundreds went into captivity to the Tartars. The latter day troubles make one oblivious of those of the past. "And Jacob fled" for the fourth time, and all the children of Israel escaped to the Metropolis of Lwow. And the King himself, may his glory increase, went to fight against them, and with him were three hundred thousand able soldiers of the Polish army, and eighty thousand men composed of Germans, French, and Spanish soldiers, also one thousand Jewish fighters. Three hundred thousand Poles were stationed near Lublin so that the Polish people would not be in one mass, because of the famine. Since the day the Kingdom of Poland was founded unto the present, there were not so many Polish troops gathered together as in those days. The Tartars and the Ukrainians also comprised a vast throng, like the sand of the sea, that cannot be counted for multitude.

The King prepared for a great battle, and he pitched his tent in the Monastery in the city of Sokal, and the rest of the King's army readied itself for battle between the city of Sokal and the city of Berestechko, and with them were the two generals and Duke Wiśniowiecki. The Tartars and the Ukrainians came upon them suddenly with their accustomed shouts and  p107 savage cries and said: "Let us attack the Polish people and we will defeat them as we did in our previous attempts." And they knew not that God was with us and with the King, may his glory increase. At first they succeeded and inflicted a blow on the Polish army. But afterwards the hand of the Polish army prevailed and, reinforced by the Germans, they girded themselves with strength, and they struck a severe blow on the Tartars and Ukrainians, and they smote them and pursued them unto destruction. The Tartar King escaped to his land in great embarrassment and with very few of his forces. He took the oppressor Chmiel with him into captivity, because the latter did not inform him of the strength of the King's army, and caused him the embarrassment of being compelled to escape with only a small number of his troops, and to lose most of his forces. All the high ranking officers, among them the nephew of the Tartar King, became the prisoners of the King. The remaining Cossack forces were besieged by the Polish forces for many days. They arose and escaped in the evening, leaving their tents, and horses and carts filled with everything good, the whole camp intact, and they fled for their lives. The King, may his glory increase, together with his nobles and followers, returned to their homes, with great rejoicing and with happy hearts on the seventeenth of Ab, '411, according to the minor reckoning. And the Tartar King sent letters to the King, may his glory increase, to release his nephew in exchange of his foe, the oppressor, who at this time had been his prisoner; he would also return four thousand high  p108 ranking Polish nobles, now in his captivity. But the King refused. He replied with pride to the Tartar King that he may retain the oppressor Chmiel for the present and that he intended to take him later by force. This the King said to impress upon the Tartar King that he and his people intend to make war upon the Tartars. Then the King sent his two generals and Duke Wiśniowiecki, and, with them, one hundred and fifty thousand able bodied warriors, to conquer all the Ukrainian cities in the land of [Little] Russia, and to make war on the Tartars afterwards. This they did. They proceeded and captured the cities in the Land of [Little] Russia one by one.

At this time the nobles became envious of Duke Wiśniowiecki, who had been rising in popularity, and they handed him a deadly poison to drink and Duke Wiśniowiecki died. May his memory be a blessing. He left behind him a sixteen-year‑old son who was also an able warrior, and he took his father's place. And it came to pass that the King of the Tartars heard that the hero, the Duke, died and that two generals were preparing to make war on him, he made peace with the oppressor Chmiel. Chmiel paid him a ransom of eighteen million gold pieces, and also supported him. The Tartars and the Ukrainians assembled in a vast multitude, like the sand of the sea, a fifth time, to make war against Poland. The great war thus renewed itself in Poland after the Holy Days, '412, according to the minor reckoning and the war has been continuing to the present day.13 Sometimes the enemy prevails, and sometimes, the King prevails. The children of Israel  p109 however, are becoming poorer and poorer. Moreover, a severe epidemic has broken out in the whole Kingdom of Poland. In the city of Cracow, and in other communities, in the Kingdom of Poland, in the summer of '412, according to the minor reckoning, more than twenty thousand persons perished. May the Lord have mercy upon them. Unto the present day throughout the Kingdom of Poland, there reigns the sword, famine and a great pestilence. And these latter troubles make us forget the former. Every day the tragedy is greater than on the day preceding it. "In the evening they would say: would it were morning, and in the morning they would say: would it were evening."14 And the verses: "Also every sickness, and every plague, which is not written in the book of the law, etc. . . . And the Lord shall scatter thee among all the peoples, from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth,"15 have come to pass. What can we say, what can we speak, or how can we justify ourselves? Shall we say we have not sinned? Behold, our iniquities testify against us. For we have sinned, and the Lord found out the iniquity of his servants. Would the Holy One, blessed be He, depend on judgment without justice? But we may say that "He whom God loveth he chastiseth."16 We may also apply to them the verse: "And begin at my sanctuary."17 Read not Mimikdoshi (from my sanctuary), but read Mimkudoshai (from my sanctified).18 For since the day the Holy Temple was destroyed the righteous are seized by death for the iniquities of the generation.

The Editor's Notes:

 (p126)  1 February 13–March 2, 1649.

2 June 1649.

 (p127)  3 The Banner-bearer Koniecpolski.

4 Ex. 2:12.

5 Esther 1:12.

6 Esther 7:7.

7 Gen. 19:20.

8 1650‑1651.

9 Oct. 1649.

10 Literally, bound. A woman whose husband has either abandoned her, or has not been heard from for a long time. The status of such a woman remains unchanged since there is no proof of his death. Jewish law does admit the presumption of death from a prolonged absence, nor can a wife obtain a divorce from an absent husband.

11 The marriage with the widow of a childless brother. Levir is the Latin for a husband's brother. To prevent the complete extinction of the family line, the perishing of a man's name and his property going to others, the surviving brother of a childless man was required to marry the widow and thus raise up an heir to the deceased man's name. See Deut. 25:5.

12 The Council of Four Lands included Great Poland with its Capital, Posen, Little Poland, (Cracow), Polish or Red Russia (Podolia and Galicia, with Lemberg as the Capital), and Volhynia (Ostrog or Kremenetz as the Capital).

13 1653.

14 Deut. 28:67.

15 Deut. 28:61, 62, 64.

16 Prov. 3:12.

17 Ez. 9:6.

18 Lamen. Rabbati II.

Thayer's Note:

a As currently transliterated, Ostroh, Iziaslav, Kremenets, Bazailya, Sataniv, and Kam'yanets'-Podil's'kyi: all are towns in central Ukraine.

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