17th century fortified Carmelite convent in Berdychiv.
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Berdychiv (Ukrainian: , Polish: Berdyczów, Yiddish: ?, romanized: Bardichev, Russian: , 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 .
In 1430, Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas (? ? ) granted the rights over the area to Kalinik, the procurator () 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 town underwent rapid development after king Stanis?aw August Poniatowski, under pressure from the powerful Radziwi 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 S?owacki, "Pisz na Berdyczów!" acquired a second meaning as a brush-off; "send me a letter to nowhere" or "leave me alone".
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.
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).
In its heyday, Berdychiv accounted some 80 synagogues and batei midrash, and was famous for its cantors.
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. 58% of Jewish males and 32% of Jewish females were literate.
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 a mayor he managed to prevent a planned multi-day pogrom of haidamaks (the "kuren of death") in Berdychiv that saved thousands of lives.
In the 1920s, the Yiddish language was officially recognized and in 1924, the first in Ukrainian court of law to conduct its affairs in Yiddish was established in the city.
The Soviet authorities closed most of the town's synagogues. In the 1930s the use of Yiddish was curtailed, and all Jewish cultural activities were suspended before World War II.
Most civilians from areas near the border did not have a chance to evacuate when the Nazis began their invasion on June 22, 1941. Berdychiv was occupied by the German Army from July 7, 1941 to January 5, 1944. An "extermination" German SS unit was established in Berdychiv in early July 1941 and a Jewish ghetto was set up. It was liquidated on October 5, 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. 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."
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: "? 38 536 ?.")
Berdychiv was the hometown of Russian novelist Vasily Grossman, who worked as a Soviet 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.
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.
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