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Veledniki

Veledniki

Novi Velidnyky (English), Wieledniki (Polish), Новые Веледники – Novye Veledniki (Russian)

Veledniki is a village in the Ovruch district, Zhitomir region. The village’s estimated population is 783 (as of 2001).

The settlement dates back to 1545. In the XVI-XVIII centuries it was in the Ovruch povet (district), Volyn voivodship of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1793, it was incorporated into the Russian Empire. In the XIX-early XX centuries, it was a shtetl Veledniki of Ovruch uyezd, Volyn governorship.

Beginning

First Jews settled in Novyye Veledniki in the XVII century.

In the early XIX century, Veledniki was the center of Khasidism in the Volyn region. In the XIX-early XX centuries, small-scale crafts and trade were the main occupations of the Jewish population.

Jewish population of Veledniki:
1897 – 659 (50%)
1924 – 427 Jews (24%)
2000’s – 0

In the late XIX century, there were two synagogues in Veledniki.

Veledniki was part of the Pototskys’ estate in the XVIII century. In 1757, local Jewish tailors and furriers were granted the right to set up workshops here.

In the early XIX century, Israel Dov was the local rabbi. This was before the Russian authorities forced all Jews to get surnames so the rabbi was known by his double first name. Rabbi Israel Dov was born in 5549 (1789) in the village of Kotelnia, half-way between Berdichev and Zhitomir, in a melamed’s family. Following his marriage, Israel Dov became a rabbi at Veledniki, which is now known as Old Veledniki, as opposed to New Veledniki village nearby. Israel Dov became known as the “Baal Shem” from Veledniki in 5589 (1829). On the 21st of Tevet 5610, rabbi Israel Dov died. He was buried in Veledniki. People say that before his death the rabbi promised to help anyone who would come and hold the door handle to his “ohel” (the crypt). More about life of Israel Dov you can find here.

Grave of Rabbi Israel Dov in Veledniki

Grave of Rabbi Israel Dov in Veledniki

The tsadik’s house was across the road from the cemetery. Such was the dedication of the local Jewish women, that they started a tradition of bringing new linen for the tsadik’s bed. When the tsadik’s house was destroyed by the communists, the pile of linen on the bed was over a meter high.

Veledniki entrepreneurs list  from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913

Veledniki entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913

In 1897, the Jewish population reached 659 people or almost 50% of the total population.
Before the revolution, there were nearly 125 Jewish families living in the shtetl.

Civil War pogroms

In July 1919, the shtetl was attacked by one of the marauding gangs. The gang’s leader (ataman) was curious and entered the Rabbi’s “ohel”. In a few minutes, he emerged pale and drenched in sweat.
-Saddle your horses, fellows!,- he said, – We are leaving! The Rabbi said: “Lekh kibinemat! (“F… off here!” – a mixture of Polish and Russian)
Not much is known about pogroms in the civil war period beyond this local legend.
In 1920, the Polish troops brought typhoid to the shtetl, with a large number of local Jews dying from the disease.

Before the Holocaust

After the 1917 revolution, Mordekhai Vaisblat became a rabbi in Veledniki. In 1922, he was sentenced to five years for withholding the rimonim (precious finials that are placed on top of Torah scrolls) from being requisitioned. However, he managed to escape arrest and in 1924 he became the rabbi of Zhitomir.
In 1924, there were 427 Jews in Veledniki or 24% of the total population of the village.

Old house in the center of former shtetl Veledniki

Old house in the center of former shtetl Veledniki

In the 1920s, a Jewish school opened in the shtetl, only to close 10 years later during the early stages of Stalinist purges and anti-clerical campaigns.

There were two synagogues in Veledniki at the time the World War 2 started, Beysmidrash for men and Shil for women. Isroel-Berl Feldman (1898-1991) was the khazan in the men’s synagogue. Both synagogues were destroyed during the war.
Before the war, local Jews got on well with the Ukrainians. The locals remembered their Ukrainian neighbors helping with bringing in hay on Shabat with the Jews returning the favor on Sunday.

Site of Rabbi Israel Dov's house

Site of Rabbi Israel Dov’s house

Holocaust

When the war began, ten Jewish families managed to evacuate to the east of the Soviet Union, among them the Kaplans, the Promeranets, the Vainbrandts, the Feldmans, and the Groismans.

Most men were called up to serve in the Red Army. The last train leaving Veledniki before the Germans occupied the town was going to Chernigov.

Veledniki was occupied by the Germans in mid-August 1941.

According to some eye-witness accounts, local collaborators abused the Jews and forced them into labor until the day they were murdered. The Jews of Novyye Veledniki were murdered on October 18, 1941. Soviet documents report that the number of victims was 38, while the inscription on the memorial says that 93 Jews were shot in the village, with children, women, and old people among them. The mass murder was carried out in the field not far from the village.

Holocaust mass grave in Veledniki

Holocaust mass grave in Veledniki

Gershl Feldman was betrayed to the Germans by his Ukrainian neighbor and murdered with other locals. 220 Jews from Veledniki and other regions were forced to work at the local sawmill. In 1943, only 40 Jews survived. 39 people were rescued by a local Jewish partisan unit led by Moshe Gildenman several days before the sawmill was destroyed. Glazier Shmul from Baranovka killed the sawmill manager Fridrikh Krifal, avenging the murder of his 16 year-old son. He dragged the German under the band saw and died alongside his enemy.

The village was liberated by the Red Army in November 1943.

In occupied Veledniki, the Rabbi’s “ohel” was the only place that the German soldiers and the Ukrainian collaborators were too terrified to enter. They tried to turn the “ohel” into army fuel storage. On the very first night, heavy barrels of gasoline rolled off the storage rack and killed the caretaker. The morning after, a German officer laughed off the fears of the local Ukrainians which he called “silly religious superstitions”. He entered the “ohel” and immediately came out again, pale and breathless.
At some point, the Germans tried to set up an electrical generator inside the “ohel” but it failed to work even though it worked perfectly well if run outside. After that, the Germans left the “ohel” alone.

Following the initiative of a Yakov Plitman, a small wooden memorial was placed at the site of the killing in a field near the village. Later this was replaced by a brick one. Nowadays, there is a concrete memorial at the murder site. The Russian and Hebrew inscriptions on the memorial say: “Mass Grave Here lie 93 Jews from Veledniki murdered by the Nazis on October 18, 1941.”

After WWII

After the war, several Jewish families returned to the village, among them the Plitmans, the Kaplans, and one of the Pomeranets whose wife, his daughter Rosa and his son perished of malaria in the evacuation.
After the war, many Jews from Veledniki relocated to Ovruch because their houses were looted or taken by local Ukrainians. The Feldman family was among them. Berl Feldman started the process of restoration of the Rabbi’s ohel after his return from the army in 1946. He hired a builder, and they were both working on the ohel at night.

Berl Feldman with his family in Ovruch, 1950's. Photo provided by Raya Turovskaya in 2017

Berl Feldman with his family in Ovruch, 1950’s. Photo provided by Raya Turovskaya in 2017

In 1950’s, it was decided to place a transformer substation in the “ohel”. The pit for the transformer installation had to be dug, but after a whole day of digging, the workers would find the pit filled with soil in the morning! They dug again but the same happened again and again. Terrified laborers refused to work on the site. Eventually, the Soviet authorities had to give up on the site, just like the Germans did earlier.
Later, kerosene storage was set up in the “ohel”.

Grave of Rabbi Israel Dov, 1960's. Photo was taken from book "Stars in the night" by Batiya Barg

Grave of Rabbi Israel Dov, 1960’s. Photo was taken from book “Stars in the night” by Batiya Barg

Bliuma Moiseyevna Shmerman cared for the rabbi Israel DovBer’s ohel.
In the 1950s, the authorities wanted to destroy the remaining graves at the Jewish cemetery. The head of the local collective farm, a Ukrainian, was tasked with this job, but he refused.
In 1960, Yakov Isakovich Plitman became the head of the local collective farm and occupied this position for over 30 years. He was greatly respected by the locals.

Old buildings in Veledniki

Old buildings in Veledniki

Few videos of Raya Turovskaya from Veledniki:

 

Jewish cemetery

Inside the Ohel:

 

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