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By Alex Kopelberg

Related to: Emilchino (Town)Stories

Dedicated to my deceased and living relatives, with special thanks to Etl Khazin (nee Urman).

From my early childhood I remember this word, the name of this small shtetl ("mestechko") in the west of the modern Zhitomir region. My first nine years were spent there, it was there I went to the first grade, and learned to write and read. It is the location where my family originates from and where my relatives, who died or were killed in the wartime, are buried. It is located some 40 minutes drive from Novograd-Volynsk to the north-west, 154 kilometers from Zhitomir- the regional center.

Today it looks more like a big Ukrainian village, having nothing in common with Jews, although only some 50 years ago there lived a substantial number of Jewish families and even today there exists the building of the former two-story synagogue (but nobody prays there anymore). A lot of Jews who left Emilchino emigrated to other countries, while others moved to other regions of the former Soviet Union or Ukraine. Maybe a couple of them still live in that place, a ghostly reminder of what was once a Jewish Emilchino.

My small story is not a comprehensive historical survey but an attempt to erect a small memorial to those who are not with us anymore. I would very much appreciate any piece of information, addendum or photo on Emilchino and its surroundings.

Emilchino bore different names in different languages: Mezhirichka (former name) , Milchin(Yiddish), Yemelcheno (German), Yemilchina( Hungarian), ( Russian), Emilchine (Ukrainian). Emilchino is situated on the banks of the Ubort river. Today the population of it makes up some 3-4 thousand inhabitants, whereas in 1920s-30s it was about 10,000.

Before WW II, the majority of inhabitants were Jews. Brockhaus and Ephron Encyclopedia refers to 1897 as the year that this location was first mentioned. Before the 1917 revolution, Emilchino was included into Novograd-Volhynsk (Zvyagel) [usually written by Yiddish speakers as Zhvil] district, which was 40 versts from there. At the end of the 19th century about 1000 residents (134 households) lived there. An iron foundry operated and the area was famous for its hop plantations.(1). There was also a cloth-manufacturing factory and a flax-processing plant.

All these lands belonged to the count, Vladimir Alexandrovich UVAROV. Many locations of the Emilchino district still bear the names of his children: Emilchino (in honor of his daughter Emiliya), Stepanivka (in honor of his son Stepan), Andriyivichy (son Andrey), Varvarivka (daughter Varvara), and Paranino (daughter Paranya). His estate (not existing today) was located in the street which was leading to the village of Seredy. His court tailor was Ezra URMAN, father to my aunt Etl URMAN KHAZIN. There existed many interesting stories about Uvarov family and its members, passed on by my father's aunt Etl URMAN KHAZIN, some of which I am going to tell.

My father's aunt Etl KHAZIN recalled that Paranya Uvarov was the maid of honor at the emperor's court in St.-Petersburg, where she fell in love with one of the emperor's family members. But she was poisoned by one of the rivals (according to the version I know). The funeral took place in Emilchino, and the local Jews, expressing their deep sorrow and showing their respect for the Uvarov family, initiated erection of a wooden arch, through which the funeral passed.

Another romantic story happened to Sergey Uvarov, the son of the count, who fell in love with a daughter of a tax-farmer, but here the long story was cut short soon enough, the girl was forbidden to appear in the Uvarovs' estate. Later on Sergey married the daughter of a Kiev manufacturer.

My great-grandfather Usher KOPELBERG, who was a tax-farmer, once won in the court against the count Uvarov. There was a time that he passed all the crops' harvest as usual to a certain Feldman, who afterwards denied he got anything (no written document was made). Then, Usher applied to the court against count Uvarov, and, by presenting witnesses, won the case. One of my relatives , Alexander Yaroshevskiy, was in the Zhitomir Archive some 5 years ago and asked if any court cases of the pre-revolutionary times remained. The reply was positive but no time was left for sitting and looking through the files as he was leaving for Israel (regretfully, plenty of archive stuff is still not computerized).

The Uvarovs spent the summertime in Emilchino, but in winter they left for St.Petersburg. The count donated money for constructing the church (which was demolished in the 30s by the Communist regime). He also sponsored construction of the park, still in existence today. (Some locals recall that in the 1920s-1930s there was a barrel, where gold from icons was washed off, collected and sent to the region). The count died before the 1917 revolution and is buried in Emilchino Christian cemetery.

Jewish families living there spoke not only Yiddish, they mastered also Ukrainian, sometimes Russian, and even Czech, German, Polish or Serb. Around Emilchino there were villages of the locals originating from these countries. In 1939 many Germans were transferred to the Urals or Kazakhstan.

During the period Civil War, the shtetl was rampaged by all kinds of gangs, and among the numerous pogroms, one happened in Emilchino as well. It was performed by Petlyura military units retreating from Olevsk to Novograd-Volhynsk(April 1919).(2) Fighting between Polish and Red armies took place there too, in 1920.

The Jews living in Emilchino had had a "heder", and a two-story synagogue (which was later turned into the cinema). When it became a cinema, the projectionist's family name was KAGANOSKIY. In the 1920s-1930s many handicraftsmen left for the Crimea, where the Soviet power was organizing Jewish collective farms (which were closed in the end of the 30s).

After the Civil War, the authorities opened the 7-year school for Jews (teaching was in Yiddish), the director of which was Mikhail Bentsionovich BRAYMAN. It was located near the district Communist party committee, and pupils there were taught different subjects: the Torah, mathematics, the Yiddish, the Ukrainian, the Russian, the German languages, geography, physics, history, chess, violin playing, physical training, especially "pyramids" ( in the 30s the so-called "pyramids" were very popular). Every 1st of May and 7th November there were demonstrations in which pupils and teachers had to took part. But in 1937 the school was closed, and the director's wife was arrested (the famous "Big Terror" of 1937-1939 began). The Jewish school was turned into a Russian-language 7-year school. As Emilchino was almost on the border with Poland, and there was a permanent military unit, (located on a fenced territory), and as the majority of the military men were Russians, that was the reason for choosing Russian as the primary language for the former Jewish 7-year school.

Emilchino school class 1922

Emilchino Jewish Class in Russian School, 1922

My relative, Etl KHAZIN recalls that in 1970, 1975, and 1980, former graduates of the Jewish school met each other and the former director in Kiev. The last of the meetings was in 1980 when director BRAYMAN was alive, he passed away soon after that reunion.

During WWII the local Jews (those who did not flee) were executed by the Nazis. According to information on the Internet, the mass grave is located in Vorovskiy Street. After the liberation of Emilchino, some Jews returned, but even then they had to be very cautious. Gangs of former local policemen, who had cooperated with the Germans, had been roaming for more than 6 years in the neighboring woods.

In the 1950s-60s there still lived a comparatively large number of Jewish families (at least, 30-40%). There were many teachers, doctors, handicraftsmen. While visiting my relatives I often heard Ukrainian Yiddish spoken by them ( it was a very interesting mixture of Yiddish and Ukrainian words, sometimes the latter were prevailing in speech over the former).

There was a cinema, a summer dance-hall, a Palace of Culture, a Pioneer Palace. People visited each other frequently as the first TV sets appeared only in the mid 1960s. It was really an event to watch the TV programs; my family went to the apartment of my first teacher Sima Samuilovna VALDMAN and together with other neighbors spent an evening watching, talking and eating. As many families had their own houses with gardens, large amounts of fruits and vegetables were brought onto tables, put just in the yards. Among the most popular fruit were strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, black currant. In autumn potatoes were the main course.

Only a couple of central streets were covered with asphalt, all the rest were cobbled. The most significant meeting place was the bus station, where buses arrived from Zhitomir, Novograd-Volhynsk, Korosten, and Berdichev (once a day), and surrounding villages. The nearest railway stations were in Yablunets (12 kilometers from the shtetl) and on the "33rd kilometer", which was (to my mind) on the road to Olevsk.

The last time I was in Emilchino was in 1987, four years later I left for Israel.

1.Brokhauz and Ephron Encyclopadea ( 20-th century).

2. Book on Jewish pogroms in the Ukraine in 1919 (book was published in 1921 in Berlin in Russian) Author – Gusev_Orenburgskiy.

Photos of Alex's family from Emilchino are here.

Alex Kopelberg, copyright 2005
  • Last Modified: 06-08-2012
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