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A city in the western Ukraine, about 115 miles(185km) southwest of Kiev.  It is situated in Zhitomir oblast.  A railway junction, Berdechev is noted for its sugar beets.  Besides processed foods, the city manufatures leather, clothing, chemicals, and machinery.

Berdechev was founded in the 14th century.  In 1546 it fell to Lithuania in the treaty of demarcation between the Poles and Lethuanians, and came under the rule of both countries when Poland and Lithuania united in 1569.  In 1793 it passed into Russian hands.  Often called “The Jerusalem  of Volhynia”, Berdechev became the center of the Jewish Hasidic movement, and in the 19th century it was the chief  commercial town in the western Ukraine. 

In 1863, it had a population of over 53, 000, which reached 75,000 by WWI .  In 1939, the population was about 66,000.  During the WWII, the city was overrun and occupied by the Germans from 1941 to 1944.  Thereafter it underwent extensive reconstruction.  Its ancient Carmelite monastery was converted by the government into a state museum.  Population @1979 census) 80,000.



















Town Sign at Town's Northern Entry


Newly Renovated Mausoleum of Rabbe Levi Yizak

Grave Stone Inscription Reads Kaz, Beila, Rivinovka, 1895-1968

Inscription at Old Section can Unreadable



“September 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 German occupation.

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 Yakovlevitch (1861-1943) and Zev Wolf Pervin (1855-1921)

 Among 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. 

Yekaterina, 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. 

The 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! 

Norimi 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.   

On 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”

 Norimi and Heidi