Berdychiv (Бердичів, Polish: Berdyczów, Берди́чев, translit. Berdichev) is a historic city in the Zhytomyr Oblast (province) of northern Ukraine. Serving as the administrative center of the Berdychivskyi Raion (district), the city itself is of direct oblast subordinance, and is located south of the oblast capital, Zhytomyr, at around .
The current estimated population is around 88,000 (as of 2001).
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 Tyshkevich (Tyszkiewicz). According to the Union of Lublin (1569), Volhynia formed a province of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The town underwent rapid development after 1800, quickly becoming the most important banking center in the Russian Empire. However the banking industry was moved from Berdichev to Odessa (a major port city) after 1850, and the town became impoverished again in a short period of time.
In 1846, the town accounted 1893 buildings, 69 of which were brick-made, 11 streets, 80 walkways and 4 squares. Honoré de Balzac visited it in 1850 and noted that its unplanned development made it resemble the dance of polka as some buildings leaned left, while others right.
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 and Joseph the Harif and the Tzadik Levi Yosef Yitzhak of Berdichev (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, constituting the second largest Jewish community in 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. During the 1917 October Revolution and Russian Civil War, the mayor of the town was the Bundist leader D. Lipets. In early 1919, the Jews of Berdychiv became victims of a pogrom perpetrated by the Ukrainian army (See Symon Petliura).
The Soviet authorities closed or destroyed most of the town's synagogues. (See Yevsektsiya)
In the 1920s, Yiddish language was officially recognized and in 1924, the first in Ukraine official law court to conduct its affairs in Yiddish was established in the city, but 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. An "extermination" unit was established in Berdychiv in early July 1941 and a Jewish ghetto was set up. It was liquidated on October 5, 1941, after all the inhabitants were murdered.
A 1973 Ukrainian-language article about the history of Bedichev says:"Гестапівці стратили 38 536 чоловік. (Gestapo killed 38,536 persons.) In line with the official Soviet policy regarding the Jews and the Holocaust, the article does not mention the word "Jew" and does not acknowledge the genocide of the Jews.
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