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The first line of Isaac Bashevis Singer's Satan in Goray goes:

In the year 1648, the wicked Ukrainian hetman, Bogdan Chmelnicki, and his followers besieged the city of Zamosć but could not take it, because it was strongly fortified; the rebelling haidamak peasants moved on to spread havoc in Tomaszów, Bilgoraj, Kraśnik, Turbin, Frampol—and in Goray, too, the town that lay in the midst of the hills at the end of the world.
Satan in Goray, chapter 1: "The Year 1648 in Goray" (no emphasis added)

I'm not sure what the italicized word "haidamak" is supposed to mean here. What language is it in? Is it Yiddish (the language the book was originally written in)? Is it Polish? What does it mean? And why was it left untranslated here?

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Haidamaks are haidamaks: Ukrainian peasants and cossacks who formed paramilitary bands and engaged in guerilla warfare against the Polish Catholics and Jews in the Polish-occupied Right-Bank Ukraine during the 18th century. Haidamaks is the English word for them too; there is no specific translated version.

Further reading:

The only puzzle then is in the setting of 1648. From what I've read, it seems that the haidamak uprisings were largely an eighteenth-century thing. It seems that in Singer's novel, he's using the term "haidamak" in the broader sense mentioned in the Wikipedia article:

Because of the massacres of Jews, Jesuits, Uniates, and Polish nobility, the Polish language term Hajdamactwo became a pejorative label for Ukrainians as a whole.

The Wikipedia article on the Khmelnytsky Uprising, the setting of Satan in Goray, makes no mention of haidamaks. However, this too involved Ukrainian Cossacks rising up against Polish occupiers and committing atrocities against Catholics and Jews. It makes sense that the word "haidamak" would be used (if somewhat anachronistically) to describe the people and actions in the seventeenth century, which foreshadowed those coming later and in similar vein in the eighteenth century.

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  • I've read about robber gangs and raiders being referred to as haidamaks in the 17th century. Their membership wasn't limited to Ukrainians, but as they operated around that region, occasionally raiding Poland and other Eastern European nations, there might have been many Ukrainians among their ranks. Unlike common highwaymen, they organized quite large warbands, occasionally big enough to besiege monasteries or the estates of nobles. – vsz Apr 6 at 7:54
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In Romanian the word haidamac means thug, or less pejoratively, burly man. It comes from Turkish.

Romanian dictionary

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  • How old is the usage of that word in Romanian? Does it come from the Ukrainian rebels, or the other way round? – Rand al'Thor Apr 6 at 8:03
  • @Randal'Thor, no, the opposite — the Ukrainian word comes from Turkish "thug". At least, the 7-volume "Etymological Dictionary of the Ukrainian Language" says so. (Some sources say it's an exonym, i.e. that Ukrainian rebels didn't call themselves in this way initially. Although the source isn't very reliable, this sounds reasonable: the opponents of the rebels invented the name, but then much later the name was poetized in Ukr. and used by next rebels.) – Sasha May 2 at 12:29

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