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Coat of arms
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Location of Berdychiv
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Berdychiv (Ukraine)
Coordinates: 49°54′0″N28°34′0″E / 49.90000°N 28.56667°E / 49.90000; 28.56667 Coordinates: 49°54′0″N28°34′0″E / 49.90000°N 28.56667°E / 49.90000; 28.56667
Oblast Zhytomyr Oblast
Raion Berdychiv Raion
   Head of City
S. V. Orliuk

Berdychiv (Ukrainian : Бердичів, Polish: Berdyczów, Yiddish : באַרדיטשעװ, romanized: Barditshev, Russian : Берди́чев, romanized: Berdichev) is a historic city in the Zhytomyr Oblast (province) of northern Ukraine. Serving as the administrative center of the Berdychiv Raion (district), the city itself is of direct oblast subordinance, and does not belong to the district. It is 44 km (27 mi) south of the oblast capital, Zhytomyr. Its population is approximately 74,839 (2020 est.) [1] .



Historical affiliations

Grand Duchy of Lithuania 1430–1569
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth 1569–1793
Russian Empire 1793–1917
Republic of Poland 1920
Soviet Ukraine 1920–1922
Soviet Union 1922–1991
  Germany 1941–1944 (occupation)
Ukraine 1991–present

In 1430, Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas (великий князь литовський Вітовт) granted the rights over the area to Kalinik, the procurator (намісник) of Putyvl and Zvenigorod, and it is believed that his servant named Berdich founded a khutor (remote settlement) there. However the etymology of the name Berdychiv is not known.

In 1483, Crimean Tatars destroyed the settlement. During the 1546 partition between Lithuania and Poland, the region was listed as a property of Lithuanian magnate (Tyszkiewicz). According to the Union of Lublin (1569), Volhynia formed a province of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The fortified Carmelite monastery (built from 1627 to 1642 with funding from Janusz Tyszkiewicz Łohojski), captured and plundered by Bohdan Khmelnytsky in 1647, was dissolved in 1864. [2]

In 1764, Kazimierz Pulaski defended the city with his 700 men surrounded by royal army during Bar Confederation.

The town underwent rapid development after king Stanisław August Poniatowski, under pressure from the powerful Radziwiłł family, granted it the unusual right to organize ten fairs a year. This made Berdychiv one of the most important trading and banking centers in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and later, the Russian Empire. At the time, the saying "Pisz na Berdyczów!" ('Send letters to Berdychiv!') had an idiomatic meaning; because merchants from all over Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and the rest of eastern and central Europe were sure to visit the town within two or three months of each other, it became a central poste restante (post office box) of the region. Later, because of the phrase being used in a popular poem by Juliusz Słowacki, "Pisz na Berdyczów!" acquired a second meaning as a brush-off; "send me a letter to nowhere" or "leave me alone".[ citation needed ]

The town was the administrative centre of the Berdichevsky Uyezd, a part of the Kiev Governorate (1796–1925).

The banking industry was moved from Berdychiv to Odessa (a major port city) after 1850, and the town became impoverished again in a short period of time.

In 1846, the town had 1893 buildings, 69 of which were brick-made, 11 streets, 80 alleys, and four squares. Honoré de Balzac visited it in 1850 and noted that its unplanned development made it resemble the dance of a polka as some buildings leaned left while others leaned right. In 1857, Polish-British writer Joseph Conrad, regarded as one of the greatest novelists to write in the English language, was born in Berdychiv.

Jewish history

Ohel (tomb-prayer house) Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev Berditchever tzion.JPG
Ohel (tomb-prayer house) Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev
Jewish cemetery Panteon na mogili tsadika Levi Itskhaka Berdichivs'kogo, Berdichiv.jpg
Jewish cemetery

According to the census of 1789, Jews constituted 75% of Berdychiv's population (1,951 out of 2,640, of whom 246 were liquor dealers, 452 houseowners, 134 merchants, 188 artisans, 150 clerks and 56 idlers). In 1797, Prince Radziwill granted seven Jewish families the monopoly privilege of the cloth trade in the town. Jews were a major driving force of the town's commerce in the first half of the 19th century, founding a number of trading companies (some traded internationally) and banking establishments, and serving as agents of the neighboring estates of Polish nobility (szlachta).

By the end of the 18th century, Berdychiv became an important center of Hasidism. As the town grew, a number of noted scholars served as rabbis there, including Lieber the Great, Joseph the Harif and the Tzadik Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (the author of Kedushat Levi), who lived and taught there until his death in 1809. See also Berditchev (Hasidic dynasty).

Berdychiv was also one of the centers of the conflict between Hasidim and Mitnagdim. As the ideas of Haskalah influenced parts of the Jewish communities, a large group of Maskilim formed in Berdychiv in the 1820s.

In 1847, 23,160 Jews resided in Berdychiv and by 1861 the number doubled to 46,683. Berdychiv became the city with the largest share of Jewish population in Ukraine and the Russian Empire. The May Laws of 1882 and other government persecutions affected Jewish population and in 1897, out of the town's population of 53,728, 41,617 (about 80%) were Jewish. [2] 58% of Jewish males and 32% of Jewish females were literate.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Berdychiv counted some 80 synagogues and batei midrash , [3] and was famous for its cantors. [4]

Until World War I, the natural growth was balanced by the emigration. After the bourgeois-democratic February revolution, during the Russian Civil War and Ukrainian War of Independence, in 1918–19, Berdychiv's mayor and chairman of its Jewish community was the Bundist leader David Petrovsky (Lipetz). As mayor he managed to prevent a planned multi-day pogrom in Berdychiv by haidamaks from the Kuren Smerti (Clan of Death)[ clarification needed ], thus saving thousands of lives. [5]

In the 1920s, the Yiddish language was officially recognized and, beginning in 1924, the city had a Ukrainian court of law that conducted its affairs in Yiddish. [6]

The Soviet authorities closed most of the town's synagogues by the 1930s. [3] All remaining Jewish cultural and educational institutions were suspended in the second half of the 1930s, before the beginning of World War II. [7]

Nazi massacre

Most civilians from areas near the border did not have a chance to evacuate when the Nazis began their invasion on 22 June 1941. Berdychiv was occupied by the German Army from 7 July 1941 to 5 January 1944. An "extermination" German SS unit was established in Berdychiv in early July 1941 and a Jewish ghetto was set up. It was stated in one of the Einsatzgruppen reports that on "Sept. 1, and 2, 1941, leaflets and inflammatory pamphlets were distributed by Jews in Berdychiv. As the perpetrators could not be found, 1,303 Jews, among them 875 Jewesses over 12 years, were executed by a unit of the Higher SS and Police Leaders". [8] The ghetto was liquidated on 5 October 1941, when all the inhabitants were murdered. Eyewitnesses stated that Ukrainian auxiliary police aided the 25-member shooting squad in corralling Jews into the ghetto, policing it, and killing those who attempted to escape. [9] One witness to a mass killing of Jews in Berdychiv said, "They had to wear their festivity-dresses. Then their clothes and valuables were taken. The pits were dug and filled in by war prisoners who were executed shortly after." [10]

The Nazis likely killed 20,000 to 30,000 Jews in Berdychiv, but a 1973 Ukrainian-language article about the history of Berdychiv says, "The Gestapo killed 38,536 people." (Ukrainian : "Гестапівці стратили 38 536 чоловік.") [11]

Berdychiv was the hometown of Soviet novelist Vasily Grossman, who worked as a war correspondent. Grossman's mother was murdered in the massacre. He wrote a detailed description of the events for publication in The Black Book , edited by Grossman and Ilya Ehrenburg, which dealt with the German treatment of Soviet Jews in the Holocaust. Originally meant for publication in the Soviet Union, it was banned there; one volume was eventually published in Bucharest in 1947. The original manuscript is in the archive of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. [12]

A detailed account of the massacre as told by the narrator's mother appears in a fictionalized context in Grossman's novel Life and Fate , which is widely available in an English translation by Robert Chandler.


YearTotal populationJewish population
17892,6401,951 (75%)
1847 ?23,160
1861 ?46,683
186752,56341,617 (80%)
192655,41730,812 (55.6%)
1941 ?0
1946 ?6,000
197277,00015,000 (est)
198992,000 ?

Notable residents

Alphabetically by surname. Pseudonyms treated as one word.

Some sources erroneously claim that the pianist Vladimir Horowitz was born in Berdychiv. Horowitz's birth certificate unequivocally gives Kiev as his birthplace. [13]

Berdychiv on stage

See: Abraham Ellstein

See also

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  1. "Чисельність наявного населення України (Actual population of Ukraine)" (PDF) (in Ukrainian). State Statistics Service of Ukraine . Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  2. 1 2 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Berdichev". Encyclopædia Britannica . 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 767.
  3. 1 2 Lukin, Benyamin (15 July 2010). "Berdychiv." The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe . "During the 1920s and 1930s, almost all of the synagogues and prayer houses (about 80) were closed." Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  4. "Berdychiv: History". Virtual Shtetl. POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Retrieved 11 April 2020. "In 1907, there were 78 synagogues and a beit midrash in Berdyczów; cantors from the town were famous all around Ukraine."
  5. Archive of Jewish History, Volume 8, p.p. 156-177 (Rosspen, Moscow, 2016)
  6. "Berdychiv: History". Virtual Shtetl. POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  7. Lukin, Benyamin (15 July 2010). "Berdychiv." The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe . Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  9. Carol Garrard and John Garrard (17 October 1996). "Ukrainians & the Holocaust". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  10. "Yahad-In Unum Interactive Map". Execution Sites of Jewish Victims Investigated by Yahad-In Unum. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  11. A Soviet article about the history of Berdychiv Archived 25 April 2005 at the Wayback Machine (1973, in Ukrainian language: Історія міст і сіл УРСР (житомирська область) Бердичів Є. Громенко, О. О. Павлов)
  12. Grossman, Vasily (1944). "HOLOCAUST IN BERDICHEV". The Berdychiv Revival. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 October 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further reading