Medzibozh, small town in Khmelnitsky district (former Kamenets-Podolski district), Ukraine; until 1793 in Poland and then under Russia, until 1917 in the province of Podolia.
The Jewish community of Medzibozh is one of the oldest in the Ukraine – Jews are mentioned there in Polish documents of 1509 when Medzhibozh Jew Liberman was appointed to supervise tax collection. About existence Jewish community here in the first half of XVI century point gravestones on Old Jewish Cemetery.
In 1571 a census was recorded, listing the population as being made up of 95 Ruthenians, 35 Jews, and 30 Poles.
In the beginning of XVII century Medzhibozh Jewish Community was biggest and influential in South-East Poland. At that time had of community became Rabbi Israel Sirkes (1561, Lublin – 1640, Krakow), more known as a Bach (according to abbreviation of his main book’s name “Bait Hadash” – “New House”, which were a comments to codex “Arba Turim”). He was on this position 2 terms and leave Medzhibozh in 1612. Main Synagogue (it was build before) was named in his honor and was called “Bach Synagogue” till the demolation in 1950′s.
In 1648 the cossack uprising led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky captured the town 3 times and held the region for the period of 1 year. At the time, there were approximately 12,000 residents living in Medzhybizh and its environs. Of this number there were 2500 Jews living in Medzhibozh in the year 1648 out of a total Jewish population of Podolia of 4000 souls (spread between 18 communities). The massacre of Jews by the cossacks under the command of Danylo Nechay and Maxym Kryvonis (a cossack of Scottish ethnicity – originally Cameron) occurred July 20, 1648 in Medzhybizh, almost all 2500 Jews were either killed or taken into captivity at the time of the massacre. The Jewish population in Medzhybizh was virtually eradicated, and there were no burials recorded for several years after 1648, consistent with depopulation.
Jan Casimir and Khmelnitsky negotiated a treaty in 1649, however the hostilities continued in 1651 and 1653. In 1657 the Hungarian Prince Rákóczi took the city, ceding it to the Turks in 1672. It remained under their administration until 1682. By 1661, only a handful of Jews remained in Medzhybizh. In the 1678 census their numbers increased to 275 souls.
Weakened by the cossack uprising, Podolia was invaded and occupied by Turkey in 1672. Medzhybizh became part of the Turkish Ejalet of Kamieniecki as “Mejibuji” and was a sanjak centre. In 1682, Medzhybizh was recaptured by the Poles under Jan Sobieski. However, Poles didn’t regain full control until 1699 because the town was frequently ravaged by ongoing struggles between the Poles and Turks.
After Medzhybizh was recaptured from the Turks, it went through what many consider its golden age during the 17th and 18th century. Under the Sieniawski family and later the Czartoryski family, the town prospered. Medzhybizh successfully defended itself from several Haidamak attacks. By the mid 1700s, Medzhybizh was the seat of power in Podilia Province. It had a population of nearly 5,000 of which there were 2,500 Jews.
In 1765 there were 2,039 Jews registered in the community of Medzibozh and the nearby villages.
The founder of Hasidism, Israel ben Eliezer Ba’al Shem Tov, made the town his seat from about 1740 until his death in 1760 and was buried there. The zaddikim Baruch ben Jehiel, Israel’s grandson, and R. Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apta also lived and were buried there.
In 1792 Medzhybizh fell into Russian hands during the second partition of Poland. The Czartoryski family continued to own the town until Prince Adam Czartoryski was forced into exile in 1831. During Russian rule, the seat of power for Podilia moved from Medzhybizh to Kamianets-Podilskyi. The economy of Medzhybizh deteriorated because the railroad line bypassed the town to the south. The nearby town of Letychiv however flourished.
From 1815 to 1827 a printing press published hasidic and kabbalistic works in Medzibezh.
Main Jewish activities at XVIII – early XX century were trade and crafts (tailor, shoemaking, blacksmithing, lathes, metalworking, weaving, glass, jewelry, bookbinding, baking, etc.). Among the Jews of Medzhibozh were doctors, chemist, hairdressers, musicians, and carters. Community functions performed rabbi, treasurer, gabay, melamed, shochet and bathhouse attendant. In 1813 rabbi became Avrom-Yehoshua Heschel from Opatov (1755-1825), in the middle of XIX century rabbi in Medzhibozh became his grandson Avrom Yehoshua Heschel (1832-1887), in 1881 rabbi became Yisroel-Shalom-Yosef Heschel (1853-1911).
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Rabbi Avraham Jehoshua Heschel was the rabbi of Medzhibozh.
From 1,719 in 1847 the number of Jews grew to 6,040 (73.9% of the total population) in 1897, then fell to 4,614 (58.2%) in 1926.
In 1881-82, in 1896 and 1905 pogroms take place in Medzhibozh but they were stopped by military units.
In 1900 was founded Jewish Hospital with free clinic, working on of “Ezra Hoylem”. In 1902-12 rabbiwas Shaul Issachar Bick, in 1912-25 – his cousin, the last rabbi of Medzhibozh – Chaim Michl Bik. Official rabbi in 1914 was Joseph Leibovich Schwartzman. There were 9 synagogues. Jews owned all three hotels, two bookstores, all three pharmacies, all 4 lumberyard, 21 manufactories, all 19 grocery, all 9 haberdashery shops, two bakeries, a mill, singular brewery.
In the end of XIX – early XX century Medzhibozh was the residence of Avrom Yehoshua Heschel son’s – Meshulam-Zusi (? -1929). Later a dynasty was headed Yitzchak Meir Heschel (1904-1985, Haifa, Israel).
In the beginning of XX century official leadership of the community was transferred to official rabbi Shvartcman, but a real spiritual leader remained a rabbi of local synagogue from Bick family. In early 1900’s there were actively conducting Zionist activities. During the WWI a Jewish boy from Medzhibozh David Wolfowitz Bots was awarded by St. George Medal and the George Cross 4th and 3rd degree.
In 1912 Jews of Medzhibozh tried to rename it to Borodino, but it failed.
The local inhabitant Blonskiy tried to organize peasant to make pogrom but it failed due to Jewish self-defense organization (headed by Yakov Myshlin, he became an officer of red Army and was killed during Stalin repression). There were no big pogroms during Civil War.
In 1921 members of the “Ge-Halutz” went to Israel. Kantor Iosel Karolnik and “Hanuya-Di-Melamed” teach Hebrew on semi-legal position. Until the middle of 1920’s in Medzhibozh were 10 synagogues, 6 heders (In the middle of 1920’s was closed last heder of melamed Beresh Midaner-Grinshtein).
In 1925 last rabbi from Bik family Haim emigrate to USA.
In 1923 Medzhibozh became a district center.
In 1922 on fundament of Jewish hospital was built Jewish school there was opened Jewish School (closed in 1938), with band, choir and drama studio. At the end of 1920’s most synagogues were closed. In 1926 in Medzhibozh was organized Jewish Settlement Councils, head of council was Motl Greenstein (? -1942, Stalingrad).
In 1930, in the vicinity of Medzhibozh was organized Jewish collective farm “Equality”. Heads of the farm were (in order) Vergynis, Derevickiy, Tsigelshteyn, Grinshteyn, Rydenberg. There continued to operate semi-legal “Bikur Hoyle” and Chevra Kadisha society.
In 1939 the number of Jewish population dropped to 2,347 (52% of the total population). Before the war rabbi was Avrum (we don’t know his last name), he was a baker and killed together with Jews of Medzhibozh in 1942.
With the Germany invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, only a number of Medzhibozh’s Jews managed to evacuate. Others believed that the souls of the great rabbis would save the town from misfortune as had occurred, so they supposed, during the pogroms of 1905 and 1919. Other recalled the moderate German regime of 1918.
Following the retreat of the Red Army on July 6, local Ukrainian nationalists carried out a pogrom against the Jews. The Germans occupied Medzhibozh on July 8, 1941.
Head of local police became Blonskiy, sun of a man who try to organize pogrom during Civil War. Most cruel policeman Dobrovolskiy, brother Lisovskiy, Kisilnik, Gonchar, Pavlovskiy (he said that killed by his hand more than 500 jews).
From the first days of occupation, they humiliated the Jews, and demolished the famous Besht Beit Midrash, Ashkenaz Kloiz and other Jewish historical sights. All the Jews of the town were then herded into a ghetto, located on some poor streets of the town near Bannaya str. Head of ghetto was appointed Haim Milis. Ghetto was surrounded by big wall with barbed wire. Many Jews died in ghetto due to cold and hunger, part of them were burried on the territory of ghetto.
On April 14, 1942, 220 Jewish men were sent with horses to the front line. None returned.
Germans murdered more than 2,000 Jews on September 21 (according to another source, September 22), 1942. Most of those who succeeded to escape this mass murder operation were caught and killed over the next two weeks.
About 100 young Jews of Medzhibozh who had been selected before the massacre, together with some additional Jews who had been caught in the first days after the mass murder operation, were sent to the Letichev labor camp. Only some of them survived. A few Jews from Medzhibozh survived in the neighboring villages with the aid of local peasants.
The Red Army liberated Medzhibozh on March 24, 1944.
After the war, about two dozen Jewish families returned to Medzhibozh. Head of local police Vasiliy Cherniy helped them to settled in their houses because they were occupied by local Ukrainians.
Remains of Old Synagogue was destroyed in 1950′s. Jews protested against this but without results
In 1967, at the site of the Jews execution a monument was erected . In 1969 district center moved to Letichev and most Jewish families left Medzhibozh.
In 1981 Medzhibozh lived only three Jewish families.
Since the late 1980′s Medzhibozh became a place of mass pilgrimage of Hasidim from U.S., Israel and other countries.
In 2011 died Polina Dereviskaya, wife of Vladimir Samoloivich Dilman. She was a last native Jew in Medzhibozh. In 2012 Vladimir Dilman (96 years old) was a last Jew of Medzhibozh. He lives alone, his children are living in Russia.
Full description of Medzhiboz’s Jewish history was done in book “100 Jewish towns in Ukraine” of Peterburg Jewish University. If you need some details please contact us.
Great documental film which was made by Peterburg Jewish University in Medzhibozh in 1988 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41HvKdbdQNA
Baal Shem Tov grave
Old Medzhibozh Jewish Cemetery
The Baal Shem Tov is buried among a host of his students and descendents, including Reb Wolf Kitzes, Reb Baruch of Mehzbehz, The Degel Machanei Ephraim, and The Ohev Yisrael – Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt.
The oldest burial in this cemetery dates from 1556. Last burial there belong to 1840-1850′s.
Wooden canopy on Baal Shem Tov’s existing till the WWII. After the war cemetery was fully abandoned, local people stolen grave stones and looters dig graves in attempts to find gold. Grave stone on Besht’s grave was stolen or destroyed. In 1960′s old jews who remember place of grave put cement board on it.
In 1977 in Medzhibozh arrived rabbi from Monreal – Izhak Gehtman together with rabbi Shalom Kleiman from Moscow , Eli and Gilel Lapickiy from Kiev. Gehtman brought plan of old Jewish cemetery which he received from son of last Medzhibozh rabbi Moshe Bick. On this plan right to Besht’s grave were buried his students rabbi Vulf Kices, rabbi Monish-Dayan and rabbi Dov Berish Kohen-Rappoport. Passage lead to the Besht’s grave, left to passage was a grave of his grandson rabbi Moishe Haim Efraim from Sydilkov and right to passage was buried another Besht’s grandson – rabbi Baryh from Medzhibozh (part of graveston
e with his name still remain on cemetry). Right to rabbi Baryh’s grave was located grave of Apter-rebe.
Local authorities gave permission for setting gravestone on Besht’s grave. At this time on this place were build 2 open concrete ohels.
In the end of 1980’s local museum moves part of gravestone from Jewish cemetery to museum yard. They were moved back to cemetery by ethnographic expedition from Leningrad University. At that time due to efforts of Mihail Grinberg from Moscow cemetery was surrounded by fence.
In the beginning of 1990’s on Besht’s grave was built bricken ohel.
Over the past few years, the “Agudas Ohalei Tzadikim” organization (based in Israel) has restored many graves of Tzadikim (Ohelim) in Ukraine, including Baal Shem Tov’s (2006). A new guesthouse and synagogue is also being built next to the Ohel of Baal Shem Tov.
New Jewish Cemetery
New Medzhibozh Jewish Cemetery
Cemetery surrounded by new wall.
Besht Beit Midrash
Besht Beit Midrash
This sinagogue was built together with Big Synagogue in XVI century. It was belonging to Heshel family of Medzhibozh tzadikim and was connected by gallery with their house. Another name of this synagogue is “Medzhibozher-rebens Beit Midrash”
Synagogue was nationalized in 1917 and till the 1960’s there were a bank. In 1960’s fire brigade was placed there. Synagogue was returned to Jewish in 1990’s and now it is one from 3 acting synagogues in Medzhibozh.
Holocaust mass grave
Before dawn on the morning of September 22, 1942, Yom Kippur, Germans came to the ghetto of Medzhibozh and, with the help of Ukrainian policemen, rounded remained Jews. They marched them along the Rusanovtsy road in the direction of the Southern Bug, and shot them in the ravine. At this day were killed more than 2000 women, children and aged people.
At this place also were killed many jews from Staraya Sinyava and Novokonstantinov.
Holocaust Mass Grave in Medzhibozh
The group managed to add the words “prisoners of the Medzhibozh ghetto.” The plaque’s final Russian inscription reads: “In these ravines, on September 22, 1942, German-Fascist barbarians brutally shot more than 3,000 elderly people, women and children – prisoners of the Medzhibozh ghetto. Eternal memory to our dear fellow residents. September 22, 1967.” The monument was erected for the 25th annual memorial ceremony. Many Jews from across the USSR came to the gravesite annually to participate in the memorial ceremonies. At the end of the 1980s, during the period of Perestroika, some 100 Jews, many with their children and grandchildren, gathered for the annual memorial ceremonies in Medzhibozh. After the ceremonies, they visited the tomb of the Besht in the old Jewish cemetery.
Other buildings and places
Basement of Old Synagogue still exist near a new Besht Synagogue.
On the main street you still can see two-storeyed Jewish houses. They are in the bad condition but still show that this village has great history.
At Shevchenko str., 5 you can see two-storeyed building where lived last rabbi of Medzhibozh Haim Bick.
Medzhibozh music school located in building which was built by Jewish community in 1922 for Jewish School.