Berdychiv is a historic city in the Zhytomyr Oblast.
Jews were first mentioned in Berdichev in 1593. Towards the mid-eighteenth century, the city became one of the main Jewish centers of Ukraine, earning the esteemed title “Jerusalem of Volhynia.”
From 1785, Berdichev was home to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, a prominent Hassidic leader, as well as Rabbi Yitzhak Ber Levinzon, a famous advocate of Jewish Enlightenment.
In 1797, prince Radziwill granted seven Jewish cloth merchants the monopoly of the cloth trade in Berdichev. In 1798, a Jewish typography was established in the city, one of the greatest in Russia.
The ideas of enlightenment (Haskalah) began to spread in Berdichev early in the 19th century, especially among the wealthier families. The Galician Haskalah pioneer and Hebrew author Tobias Feder Gutmann settled in Berdichev toward the end of his life. Influenced by Isaac Baer Levinsohn a group of Maskilim was formed there in the 1820′s, in which the physician Israel Rothenberg was to be particularly active. Among the opponents of the Maskilim was the banker Jacob Joseph Halpern, who had great influence in Hasidic circles and was close to the government. With the economic decline of Berdichev, the wealthier Maskilim left for the larger cities.
The first public school in Berdichev giving instruction in Russian was opened in 1850. Because of the poverty of the majority of the Jewish population a large number of children were even unable to attend Heder. According to the 1897 census, only 58% of Jewish males and 32% of Jewish females were able to read or write any language. Sometimes a cold statistical summary gives a better idea of national and social character of a city determined that a relatively bright and artistically satisfying.
In the first half of the 19th century the town’s commerce was concentrated in Jewish hands. Jews founded scores of trading companies and banking establishments there, with agencies in the Russian interior and even abroad. Jews also served as agents of the neighboring estates of the nobility, whose agricultural produce was sold at the Berdichev fairs. The expatriation of Polish nobles and decline of the Polish nobility after the uprising of 1863 dealt a blow to Jewish commerce in Berdichev. The economic position of most of the Berdichev Jews was further impaired by the restrictions imposed on Jewish settlement in the villages by the ”temporary regulations” (May Laws) of 1882 and other government restrictive measures.
At the end of the 19th century, about half of the Jewish wage earners were employed in manual trades, mostly in tailoring, shoemaking, carpentry, metalwork, etc. About 2,000 were hired workers, while the remainder gained their livelihood from trade. Berdichev became one of the foremost centers of the Bund.
A prominent Yiddish and Hebrew writer, Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Seforim), worked there in 1897.
From information on Berdichev, it follows that the population census of 1897, amounted to 53,728, but was “increasing rapidly”. At 1 January 1899, 50,460 of the 62,283 people there were Jewish, there were 7 synagogues and 62 Jewish houses of worship, compared with 10 Russian Orthodox churches and Roman Catholic. As the author of the passage, the number of primary schools jedarim-Jewish-in the city was so great that even “was not recorded.” There were 78 synagogues in 1907 and 67 in 1910.
In 1913 ethnographic expedition of Semen An-skiy visited Berdichev and record many different stories about jewish history, made some photos. Part of this material you can find in Russian language here.
During the Russian Civil War (1918-1920), dozens of Jews were killed or wounded in pogroms carried out by the Ukrainian nationalist forces of Hetman Skoropadsky and Petlyura. During the 1917 revolution and the civil war of 1917–19 the head of the community and mayor of the town was the Bundist leader D. Lipets. After the revolt of October 1917, Berdichev was inundated Yevsektsiya activists, the Jewish section of the Communist Party, who arrested and disarmed the Zionists a Jewish group of self-defense on the eve of the pogroms of Petliura in early 1919. But when they defeated the followers of Petliura, and later, in June 1920, expelled the Polish troops Berdichev, a new pogrom-Bolshevik this time befell the inhabitants of the city. As a result of civil war and the Red Terror, there were only about thirteen thousand Jews living in Berdichev, according to the census of 1926, ie, twenty thousand less than in 1899.
Rabbi Shmuel Vaintrob was a head of community till the beginning of 1920th. In 1924, a government law court was established there, the first in the Ukraine to conduct its affairs in Yiddish. According to the 1926 census, of the 30,812 Jews in Berdichev 28,584 declared Yiddish as their mothertongue.
The authorities could not ignore this and decided to exploit this language to the communist re-education of the Jews “left” of the former Land Settlement. However, there was strong resistance in Yevsektsiya policy Volhinia, and even the Jewish newspaper the Moscow Emes (Truth) was forced to admit that workers in Zhitomir province refused to attend classes on Shabbat, as a result of which the whole process of instruction in schools for Jewish workers was close to collapse. Trying to gain the sympathy of the Jewish population at the beginning the Soviet regime showed, in every sense, the principle of equal rights for different peoples and languages they spoke. . In 1924, the first Ukrainian law-court with proceedings in Yiddish was established in the city, and later the police also worked in Yiddish. In 1928, a Historical-Cultural Reserve (museum) was opened in the former monastery of the Discalced (Barefooted) Carmelites, where a great part of the exposition dealt with Yiddish culture. Until the mid-1930s, worked in the city several Jewish schools, and continued to appear the newspaper Der Arbeiter (The Worker), which published 10 issues per month. In 1924, Berdichev became the scene of the first court of Ukraine that the paperwork was done in ídish. However, on the eve of World War II and in particular, once the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Jewish cultural and educational activities in the city were reduced to almost nothing. The only center for national and religious life among Jews in Berdichev in the years of pre-war was illegal yeshiva of Chabad Chassidim, under the leadership of the young rabbi E. Pinsky (1914-1942). Under the Soviet government, most of the synagogues were closed. In 1930th in Berdichev existed illegal Habad yeshiva.
By the end of the 1920s-1930s, the Jewish population of the city had significantly decreased, due to a mass migration that had begun in the early twentieth century: the 1939 census revealed that only 23,266 Jews remained in Berdichev, comprising 37.5 percent of the total population.
On July 7, 1941, the Germans occupied Berdichev. About one third of the city’s Jewish population, including refugees from Poland who had arrived there during first month of World War II, managed to evacuate or escape. The first days of the occupation witnessed wanton murders of Jews by German soldiers. By August 22, 1941, a ghetto had been established in Berdichev, in the Yatki area. From August 1941 to June 1942, the Jewish population of Berdichev was annihilated in a number of murder operations. In a separate operation on April 27, 1942, some seventy Jewish women from mixed families were shot together with their children. During every murder operation, the Germans separated Jewish “specialists” needed for labor. Thus, after the mass murder operation of September 14, 1941, about 400 men remained alive. After the next killing in early November, only 150 of the best craftsmen of Berdichev were spared. They resided at a camp in Lysaya Gora. When in May 1942 they were joined by the craftsmen and youth from Yanushpol, their numbers increased to between 400 and 700 men. Most of them were shot in the summer of 1942. The remaining sixty specialists were incarcerated in the city prison and killed along with the other inmates in November 1943 or early January 1944. Berdichev was liberated by the Red Army on January 5, 1944. Only 15 jews survived in Berdichev during holocaust.
After the Berdichev leberation jews began to retutn from evacuation and sinagogues was opened by Yakov Gorb in August 1944 (Lenina str, 40 and Marks str., 3).
One report states that there were about 6,000 Jews in Berdichev after the war (March 1946). Although Matzah baking was prohibited in the early 1960′s, it was resumed after a few years. In 1970, there were an estimated 15,000 Jews in Berdichev with a synagogue, a cantor, and a ritual poultry slaughterer. The cemetery was reported to be neglected but the Jews had erected a fence around the grave of Levi Isaac of Berdichev.
Synagogue still functioning in Berdichev. The rabbi was Chabad Hasidic representative S. Plotkin (until 2003), from the beginning of 2004 – Rabbi M. Toller. In the city there are yeshiva, kollel, which is headed by Rabbi A. Nemoi.
Old Jewish Cemetery with Ohel of rabbi Levi Yitzchok
Cemetery situated along Lenina street , directly behind the railway (see map in the beginning). It was establised in the middle of 18th century but it wasnt the first. Cemetery not in use from 1973 and most territory is abandoned.
Old Berdichev Jewish Cemetery
There is a monument to jewish victims of WWII. It was erected in 1953 near airfield on the biggest mass grave of Berdichev jews killed by nazi. Monument was manufactured for money collected by jewish people for initiative of soviet army colonel Spivak. But monument had stood only 1 day and was dismantle by airfield staff. Colonel Spivak was fired from soviet army and excluded from communist party. Monument was found on jewish cemetery in the beginning of 1990th and placed there. Momument was open at 6 May 1990 with adding of new inscription in Yiddish. Persons who take part in this are D.Y.Chris, Lev Tartakovsky, Mikola Gelber, Gennadіy Rapoport and others.
Ohel of rabbi Levi Yitzchok sirtuated there.
Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740–1809), also known as the Berdichever, was a Hasidic leader. He was the rabbi of Ryczywół, Żelechów, Pinsk and Berdychiv, for which he is best known. He was one of the main disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch, and his disciple Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg, whom he succeeded as rabbi of Ryczywół. Reb Levi Yitzchok was known as the “defense attorney” for the Jewish people, because it was believed that he could intercede on their behalf before God. Known for his compassion for every Jew, he was therefore one of the most beloved leaders of Eastern European Jewry. He authored the Hasidic classic Kedushas Levi, which is a commentary on many Jewish religious books and laws, and is arranged according to the weekly Torah portion.
Ohel was build in 1991 for the cost of Israeli millionaire Nachman Elbauma and reconstructed in 2006. Inside ohel there are grave grave of Levi Yitzchok and his disciples.
Built in 1850. It is 2 storey building from bricks. It was on of the first Choral Synagogue in Russian Empire. In 1924 there were 230 members in synagogue’s community but it was closed in 1929. Club of atheists placed there before WWII. After the war only walls stay but jews recieved one room for religious service. In 1946 building was presented to jewish community and during next 20 years was placed in order. But in 1964 building was take away again and became part of glove factory and still to be it now.
Address : Sverdlova str., 2
Built in 1890 at the expense of merchant Magazinnikov. There are still initials and date of building on the frontage. In 1924 there were 200 members in synagogue’s community. But it was closed in 1930th. After the WWII there were a cinema, archive. A library placed in the building of Zagrebelna Synagogue now.
Address : Voikova str., 22
Berdichev Central synagogue
According to remembers in the end of 1980th all peoples who came for big holiday to synagogue cant be inside so many peoples stay on the street. It was before big aliya to Israel.
Address : Vorovskogo str., 3A
Address : Chornovola str., 3
Phone: (04143) 2-02-35
Head of Berdichev Habad: Moishe Taller
Central park with grave of rabbi Liber
Destroyed Jewish Cemetery
Rabbi Elnezer Liber “Great” was a religious head of Berdichev Jewish community in the middle of 18th century. He died during epidemic in 1771. His grave stone was destroyed too but not big hill of soil was left. On this place new gravestone from reinforced concrete erected.
An old legend exist about polish man who build a sinagogue for Rabbi Liber as a sign of repentance and gratitude for saving his life. It was famous old synagogue “Alte Shil”. Group of elderly, pious Jews were burned alive by the Germans in this Synagogue during ocupation. Synagogue was destroyed.
Ghetto during a war
By August 22, 1941, a ghetto had been established in Berdichev, in the Yatki area (between river and market) - it was an old jewish part of city. Mass executions begin in 2 weeks.
Monument to victims was opened during the meeting held November 17, 1999. The idea and the developer of the memorial sign was Savely Y. Vekselshteyn – head of the Jewish community of Berdichev.
September 16, 2001 in the 60th anniversary of the mass shootings of Jews one another memorable sign to Righteous among nations with dedicatory inscription. This monument is the first on the territory of Ukraine and CIS countries.
Holocaust mass graves
- 10 mass graves of victims 15-16 September 1941
Berdichev mass killing sites September 1941
Graves size are varing. The biggest of them are located near the village Lyubomyrky and haz size of 50 × 30 m, near brick factory – is 15 × 15 m, near the village Mirnoe – 40 × 8 pm, near airfield military unit 10 × 8 m.
In 1983, on the right side of the road that leads from Berdichev to Raygorodok 10 m away from the road a memorial sign of pink granite was erected. It is a three meter vertical stele, which stands on a concrete slab.
In 1987, five other mass grave sites were memorially marked. Inscription on all 9 gravestones is a same: “In the memory of peaceful Soviet citizens who were tortured and executed by Nazi invaders in September 1941.” In 1991 on all memorial plaques were installed boards of granite, which engraved the same inscription and six-pointed star.
At June 25, 1995 memorial sign was installed on the grave near airfield at the Radyanske village. On a granite slab inscribed with the Star of David and the inscription in two languages: Ukrainian and Yiddish.
In 2009 some graves were vandalized. Unknown persons search gold on the bones. Video you can find here.
- The Historical-Cultural Reserve
July 1941, some 850 Jews and POWs were shot in the course of two days in the area of the Historical-Cultural Reserve. In addition, in late July or the first days of August, approximately 300 Jews were shot by Sonderkommando 4a, later relieved by Einsatzkommando 5. On August 25 or 28, 1941, 546 Jews were shot in the area of the Historical-Cultural Reserve by a special unit of the Higher SS and Police Leader southern front headquarters, headed by Friedrich Jeckeln.
After Berdichev liberation commission conducted excavations and discovered mass grave in the State Historical and Cultural Reserve. In the grave was located 960 human corpses, mostly men dressed in civilian clothes and some in military uniforms. All corpses had traces of gunshot wounds in the back of the head.In 1944 six-foot obelisk of gray granite was erected with memorial inscription. The inscription: “Here are buried 960 persons Soviet citizens – victims of German Nazi terror 1941-1943″
On August 27, 1941 (according to another source, September 4), a special unit of the Higher SS and Police Leader southern front headquarters headed by Friedrich Jeckeln assembled 1,303 (according to another source, 2,000) young, strong Jews, mainly men, on the pretext of sending them to agricultural labor. They were held in the stores of the town’s market (until the required number of men was assembled). On September 4 (according to another source, September 5), the men were brought to the area between the villages of Khazhin and Bystrik, some three to four kilometers south of Berdichev on the road to Vinnitsa, and shot. Further this place used for mass killing.
April 1, 1944 Special Soviet Commission found in this area 24 graves and identify 10,656 human corpses, dressed in civilian clothes. In one of the tombs on top of other bodies were found the remains of young women with bandaged mouths probably raped before death. In 1944 the remains of the dead were reburied in two large graves. Monument was erected in 1983.
At the end of October 1941, up to 2,000 Jews – who had managed to hide during the murder operation of September 15 in the rural vicinity around Berdichev – and specialists were concentrated by the Germans in the premises of the Historical-Cultural Reserve (former monastery of the Discalced [Barefooted] Carmelites). On November 3 (according to another source, October 29-30), all of them, except for the 150 best craftsmen, were brought by truck to the area of the Sokulino sovkhoz, to a ditch not far from the forest. With the assistance of local Ukrainian policemen, the Germans ordered them to undress, and then shot them.
- Lisays Gora
In 1912 there was erected a two-story brick house, which has 42 rooms. Building belonged to a military unit before the war.
In early November 1941 last 150 Jews from the ghetto in the city were deported there. They were the best specialists, artisans, which were forced every day for 12 hours work on different jobs. In February 1942 all Jewish craftsmen who are still alive in the city had to move to the ghetto on Lisaya Gora. However, during May and June 1942 around the town in the towns and villages continued raids and killings of Jews who are still alive. Around 700 young men fromYanushpol (Ivanopil), Andrushivka, Koziatyn and Ruzhín were forcibly driven in the ghetto on Lisaya Gora. 230 Jewish craftsmen was shooting in dash former 14th Cavalry Regiment at On 16 July 1942. Executions were carried out daily and pits were dugged by victims. Several dozen (some 60 people, best specialists) were still exist there, but later they were transferred to the prison, where they were killed and burned.
At the beginning of 1942 seventy Jewish orphans from the Dimitrov children’s home were baptized and shot the following day there.
In April 1942 were also killed Jewish woman who had been married to the Russians, and all children born of mixed marriages. Last 100 Jews from the ghetto were shot in November 1943, when the Red Army liberated Zhytomyr first time.