Jewish cemetery in Berdychiv, Zhytomyr region, Ukraine
Jews have lived in Berdychiv since the 18th century and by the end of the 19th century, they accounted for up to 80% of the population. There are two Jewish cemeteries in the city. The first arose at the end of the 16th-17th centuries and operated until the end of the 18th century. It was located on the eastern outskirts of the city and, judging by the description, covered an area of up to three hectares, bordered by Hasidic and Orthodox synagogues. There were wooden and stone gravestones here.
Over time, the city grew, and the cemetery turned out to be in the very center on Shevchenko Street. In the late 1920s, the Berdychiv City Council considered the issue of declaring the old part of the cemetery a monument of Jewish material culture of local importance and even instructed the staff of the local museum to carry out excavations. However, in 1930 it made a different decision. The most valuable gravestones were moved to the museum, and the cemetery was liquidated. A park of culture and recreation appeared in its place.
In the old cemetery, the main attraction was the grave of the Hasidic preacher Lieber Eliezer, who died in 1771. In the late 1980s, the local community rebuilt it.
The second cemetery is located on Zhitomirskaya Street. One operated from the end of the 18th century until the fall of 1973. The cemetery survived the Second World War, but was damaged in the post-war period. Some of the gravestones were moved to the central part of the cemetery by decision of the authorities, and the rest were used to build highways.
In the cemetery, there is a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust and the grave of Rabbi Levi-Yitzchak ben Meir Berdichevsky. The community restored his tomb in 1991 and reconstructed it in 2007.
According to rough estimates, there were more than 10 thousand graves in the cemetery. About 550 gravestones remained from them. They are of historical value as they show the different stages in the evolution of Jewish funeral culture. There are five types of gravestones at the Berdichevsky cemetery:
- In the form of a felt boot, which appeared at a time when it was customary not to bury the deceased horizontally in the grave, but to plant them facing Jerusalem.
- In the form of a tree with chopped off branches. Traditionally, they were placed on the graves of those whose lineage was interrupted.
- In the form of a sarcophagus, decorated with inscriptions and branches of grapes, which symbolized a large number of descendants of the deceased.
- Matzevahs with ornaments and inscriptions about the social status of the deceased.
- Stelas of the Soviet period, on which only the image of the Star of David or inscriptions in Hebrew spoke of the nationality of the deceased.