15, 1941 was the 70th day of the occupation of Berdichev.
On that day began the massacre of the Jews of Europe.
It started in Berdichev.”
- Naum Epelfeld –
John Garrard and Carol
Garrard, the co-authors of “The Bones of Berdichev”, begin their
book with the quote of Naum Epelfeld, a 13 year old survivor of the
The mass-execution at Babi
Yar was September 28-29, 1941. Two weeks prior to that date, the
massacre of the Jews had already begun in Berdichev.
According to the inscription on the monument at the old military
air-field, 18,640 innocent Jewish residents perished there.
Berdichev was known as the
biggest Jewish town in Ukraine. In
1912, at its peak, there were 65,000 Jews living in Berdichev –
80% of the population. However, within 13 years, the Jewish population
decreased due to immigration to North America; only 13,000 Jews lived in
Berdichev in 1926. At the
start of the German invasion, 30,000 Jews were living in Berdichev.
As for the Pervin Tree, many of the family members recorded Berdichev as
their birthplace. Among
them are Samuil
the popular authors, Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
was one who was born in Berdichev.
We, however, would like to call your attention to Vasily Grossman (1905 – 1964), a well known Jewish reporter
of the “Red Star” (a Russian Army Newspaper) who has yet to be
recognized among the western world as a writer during the Soviet Russian
regime. Vasily Grossman was known for his fiction Life and Fate
and other short stories. Among
them is the short story, At Town Berdichev, which received a
highly complemented review by Maxim Goriky.
With Ilia Elenbrug he also edited, Black Book, a set of
archived records of the Nazi occupation. Above all, his contribution to
the Nuremburg Trial with Treblinka’s Hell was well publicized.
Grossman’s mother, was one of the victims in the September 15, 1941
massacre. He did not pay attention to his Jewish heritage until he found
out what happened to his mother at Berdichev.
He was a well-known war reporter who accompanied the Red Army and
wrote accounts of the battles for the Red Star. Defense at
Stalingrad, a detailed description of Treblinka and the advance in
Berlin, made him a popular writer.
He was a patriotic correspondent for the Soviet citizenry, first,
though his criticism of fascism. His critiques so displeased Khrushchev
that his works were subsequently buried deep within the Communist
Party’s archives until late 1980s - at the dawn of the fall of the
Soviet regime in 1991.
recently published, Bones of Berdichev, written by Carol and John
Garrard, introduce us to Grossman, his life and his fate. Anyone who visits Berdichev may learn what happen to this
town by reading their book. It started in Berdichev!
and Heidi of the Pervin Tree visited Berdichev on two different
occasions. Once as they traveled from Kiev to Vinnitsa
and a second time as they returned to Kiev.
The first time they visited the town they spent their time mostly
at the Jewish cemetery.
their second visit, they encountered a huge pilgrimage event of the
Russian Orthodox at the entrance of the old Jewish ghetto.
As they passed through the crowd of pilgrims, it felt as though
the party of Norimi and Heidi were outsiders and perhaps even intruders
of an event to which they had not been invited.
We believe that on the day of September 15, the same area will be
filled with the Jewish pilgrims. Where
else in the world can a town be shared by both Catholic and Jewish
pilgrims? It is obvious;
Berdichev will continue to remain the “Jerusalem of Volhynia”