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Ovruch is a city in Zhytomyr region. In the XVI – XVIII centuries, it was a part of the Commonwealth of Poland. In the year 1793 the town was incorporated into the Russian Empire. Since 1795 it has been a district (uyezd) center of the Volyn gubernia.

More information about history of the Ovruch can be found in the Facebook group .

The first mentioning of Jews living in Ovruch dates back to 1629. At that time Jews there owned three houses and paid taxes to the owner of Ovruch. The main occupations of the Jews in Ovruch back then were crafts (currying of sheepskin, shoemaking, tailoring) and trade. By 1765, Jews living in Ovruch owned 80 houses. By the XVIII century, there was a significant Jewish community there that was a branch of Chernobyl community.

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In the late XVIII century, the majority of the Jews living in Ovruch were Hasidic. Avraam Dov-Ber Auerbach ( ? – 1840, Israel), a follower of Tverskoy Hassidic dynasty, had been a rabbi there since 1785. He emigrated to Israel where he was a rabbi in Tzfat. Avraam Dov-Ber also known for his book “Bat Ain”.

In the 1850s, Ovruch became one of the centers of Chabad Hasidism. Rabbi Yosef-Itskhok Shneyerson (1819-1875), a son of Tsemakh Tsedek, used to live and work in Ovruch. His son Nokhum-Doyv-Ber (? – 1894) continued his father’s work. Daughter of Rabbi Yosef-Itskhok Shneyerson was a wife of 5th Chabad Rebe. 

In 1857, four synagogues were functioning in Ovruch; by 1889 there were six synagogues including a stone one, and several cheders.

Ovruch entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913. Part 1

Ovruch entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913. Part 2

Ovruch entrepreneurs list from Russian Empire Business Directories by 1913. Part 2

A devastating fire occurred in Ovruch in the fall of 1863. Since most of the buildings were made of wood, the fire destroyed the entire town.

Ovruch market square, beginning of XX century

Ovruch market square, beginning of XX century

Jewish population of Ovruch:
1765 – 607 Jews
1857 – 2220 Jews
1897 – 3445 (47%)
1910 – 3150 Jews
1939 – 3862 (33%)
1959 – 2200 (16%)
1989 – 677 Jews
1995 – 450 Jews
2017 ~ 40 Jews

Some interesting information about the history of the Jews of Ovruch in the XIX century can be found in the diary of Natan Gertsenshteyn. You can access it by following the link.

The Gertsenshteyn family played a great role in the Jewish life of Ovruch. Five generations of the family were members of the city council and heads of Orphans courts.
In the early XX century, Talmud Torah was opened in Ovruch. Its director was B.N. Panich. Zionist organizations were also functioning in Ovruch around this time, including “Poaley Zion”.

Sh. Kipnis was a rabbi in Ovruch starting with 1907 and Shlomo Risin from 1911.

Shmuel Kipnis (1883, Norinsk – 1979, Jerusalem)

In 1910, there were seven synagogues, a Jewish private technical college, an almshouse, and two Jewish cemeteries in Ovruch. In 1914, the Jews owned two pharmacy warehouses, a library, 11 hotels, all three of the forest warehouses, a mill, both printing houses, both taverns, both photo studios, about 150 stalls and shops, including all 24 manufacturers, all 53 groceries, and two bookshops. All three of the dentists and one of four doctors in Ovruch were also Jewish.

Visit of Russian Emperor Nikolay II to Ovruch, 1911:

Photos of the Ovruch Jews from different family albums:

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Civil War pogroms

In December 1917, soldiers of the Russian Army staged a pogrom in Ovruch. A self-defense detachment was formed after the pogrom – a local Union of Jewish fighters. They asked the authorities to give them weapons but this request was denied. Eventually, they were able to obtain the weapons.
Between December 1918 and January 1919, another pogrom was carried out in Ovruch that lasted 17 days. It was conducted by the parts of the Directory (ataman Kozyr – Zirka). As a result, 80 Jews were killed, 1,200 Jewish houses were looted and burned. The Jewish population was completely devastated.

Description of this pogrom in Ovruch:

During this period of Civil War, the commander of the Jewish self-defense detachment was named Yusim. Later, after the Soviet Union was established, there was a local gang that terrorized the shtetl around Ovruch. Its leader was a man named Karas. There was a battle between this gang and the Jewish self-defense detachment. Karas was killed and Yusim brought his head to Ovruch.

Ovruch synagogue. Photo was provided by Sergiy Pasuk. Building was destroyed

Ovruch synagogue. Photo courtesy of Sergiy Pasuk. Building was destroyed

Between the Wars

In the 1920s, a school that taught in Yiddish was opened in Ovruch.

In 1925, there were several Zionist organizations in the shtetl including the leftist “Ge-Khaluts” and the leftist “Ha-Shomer”. By the mid-1930s, 205 Jewish workers lived in Ovruch. 46 people worked in the industrial company which united cobblers, tailors, hat-makers, tinsmiths; 18 people were in the industrial company that produced bricks, wheel ointment, and tar.

A Jewish collective farm was organized near Ovruch. Seven families of collective farmers lived in the town of Ovruch because they weren’t given a place to live elsewhere.
Before the second world war, only two non-Jewish families lived in Getman Vigovskiy Street (before the revolution it was called Staroyevreyskaya Street (Jewish Street); during the USSR period the name was Lenin Street).

Jewish school in Ovruch, 1930's

Jewish school in Ovruch, 1930s

In 1939, 3,862 Jews lived in Ovruch. This was 33% of the population. An additional 433 Jews lived in the district outside of Ovruch.

Old Jewish houses in Ovruch:


It was occupied by the Germans on August 22, 1941. The persecution and the plan to annihilate the Jews began on the first day the Nazis entered the town. The Jews became the victims of a pogrom which was organized by nationalists-anti-Semitics. The newspaper “Our struggle” that was published during the occupation wrote that “Bolsheviks killed 33 citizens. Jews were the main target of their destruction. Jews were being massacred when the Germans came and the local population refused to bury their bodies”.

On September 1, 1941, the 1st SS brigade continued their actions to the West from Korosten and Ovruch. They shot 66 Jews. In early September 1941, that brigade continued their horrible actions to the North from Ovruch and Slovechno. By September 9th, 1941, 722 Jews had been shot. In Ovruch ten policemen shot 18 Jews.

During the occupation, 516 Jews were shot in Ovruch. According to the information, 407 people were shot in the Ovruch district.
According to the other data, more than 1,500 Jews became Holocaust victims in Ovruch.

There are 3 Holocaust mass grave sites in Ovruch:
– big grave in the center of the city

Holocaust mass grave

Holocaust mass grave

– near the railway line

Holocaust mass grave

– small grave in the city

In 1943, a German officer’s casino in Ovruch was blown up with the help of a 12-year-old partisan Motele Shlayen from Gitelman’s detachment.

There was a synagogue which was destroyed by Germans in 1943.

There was a synagogue which was destroyed by Germans in 1943.

Ovruch was freed on November 17, 1943, by a partisan detachment led by Alexander Saburov.

After WWII

After the town was liberated (November 1943) some Jews began to return to Ovruch. By the late 1960s, approximately 2,000 Jews lived in Ovruch.

Photos from Retblat family archive:

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At the time Soviet Union did not allow religious services but several illegal minyans were functioning in the town. The last shoykhet (or kosher butcher) in the town was Shimon Elyevich Gershman.

Former Jewish poor Jewish neighborhood. Now it is Sholom Aleihema Str.

Former poor Jewish neighborhood. Now it is Sholom Aleihem Str.

From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, the majority of Jews from Ovruch moved to Israel, to the USA, to Germany, and to other countries.

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

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

After the collapse of the USSR, Elia Noyakhovich Fridman became the first head of the Jewish community. His brother Yosef and Isaak Keyftsevich Feldman have also been heads of the community.

Opening of Holocaust memorial, 1998

Members of Ovruch Jewish community during the opening of Holocaust memorial, 2000's

Members of Ovruch Jewish community near Holocaust mass grave on May 9, 2000s

In 2000, blacksmith Ayzik Berkovich Intelegator gave his house over to the Jewish community. It is now a synagogue. Prior to this Jews had been praying in private houses.

By the mid-2000s, the Jewish community remaining in Ovruch was quite small, counting about 40 people, mostly older Jews. With the help of the Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, a kosher canteen was established in the town.

Inside the Ovruch synagogue:

Inside the Ovruch synagogue

Famous Jews from Ovruch

Moyshe Aronovich Aronskiy (born Zak) (1896, Ovruch – 1944, Hungary), a Soviet writer. In June 1941, he went to the front as a volunteer. He died in the fight near Budapest in 1944.

Yakov-Shmuel Trakhtman (1831, Ovruch – 1925, Akkerman, Romania), a writer and a Zionist.

Matvey Borisovich Shenkman (1899, Ovruch – 1942, near Nizhniy Tagil), an organizer of aviation production, a leader of main aviation enterprises in the USSR. A serial production of attack planes IL-2 was done under the guidance of Shenkman. He died in an airplane crash.

Matvey Shenkman

Matvey Shenkman

Old Jewish cemetery

Cemetery was destroyed in 1930s.


New Jewish cemetery

Cemetery fully described on

Rabbi Motl Shulman, who died in 1953, was buried at the local Jewish cemetery. The sign on his grave was rededicated in 2014.



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