Velikiy Berëznyy, Ukraine
Великий Березний, Украïна
Velikiy Berëznyy was part of the Kingdom of Hungary (11th century – 1920 and 1938-1944) with the name of Nagyberezna in the Ung megye (county), next part of Czechoslovakia (1920-1938) with the name Velký Berezný in Podkarpatská Rus (Sub-Carpathia), then part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (1945-1991) with the name of Velikiy Bereznyy in the Uzhhorod (district) and, since 1991, known as Velikiy Berëznyy in the Velykyy Bereznyi rayon (district) and the Zakarpats’ka oblast (county) of Ukraine.
Other spellings/names for Velikiy Berëznyy are Velká Berezna, Wełykyj Bereznyj, Vel’ki-Berezni, Vel’ke Berezne, Veliky Berezny and Velikoje Bereznoje.
Velikiy Berëznyy is located 21 miles NNE of Uzhhorod (Ungvár), near the borders with Poland and Slovakia.
~ History ~
The first written reference of Velikiy Berëznyy dates from 1409.
In 1427, the town was part of the DRUGETH family estate, and then in 1691, became part of the BERCSÉNYI family estate. The local residents took part in the War of Independence led by Ferenc RÁKÓCZI.
In 1746, two Jewish families were recorded, totaling eight Jews.
The first Jewish community was founded in 1797 by Shimon Ben Meir, Mattityahu Tzvi Ben Moshe, Tzvi Ben Yehiel Yitzak, Meir Ben Avraham, Schreiber Ber and Mordechai Ben Elimelech. Most of these men were immigrant merchants.
By 1830, the Jewish population grew to 159.
In 1877, the population of Velikiy Berëznyy was 1,683 made up of Rusyns, Germans, gypsies and Jews and comprised the following religions: Roman Catholic (365), Greek Catholic (823), Eastern Orthodox Catholic (1), Agnostic (1), Reformed (1) and Jewish (492 or 29% of the total population).
By 1921, under the Czechoslovakian Republic, the Jewish population of Velikiy Berëznyy rose to 979 and by 1941, the Jewish population again rose to 1,237.
Velikiy Berëznyy became a regional center for many of the smaller surrounding villages and the population was estimated at 3,000 inhabitants. By this time, the majority of the inhabitants were Jews and the rest were mainly Rusyns and gypsies.
There were Peace and Mehozit (Religious) courts for the area with Hungarian or Czech judges. There was also a jail. (no Jews were in it!)
Velikiy Berëznyy had a Gymnasia (high school) which the students attended, including students from the surrounding villages. One student, Ezreal “Joe” DEUTSCH, traveled 21 km from Ladimirov to attend school. The gypsies didn’t send their children to school, although there was a law requiring they receive an education.
In the 1920s, the Jews of Velikiy Berëznyy owned 42 business establishments, including a distillery, a bank and a few small factories. Thirty-one Jews were artisans and several were professionals, including four doctors and three lawyers.
By the early 1930s, Jews were involved in the many fascets of Velikiy Berëznyy economic life, for example: there were ten wholesalers, 40 merchants, ten farmers, 25 laborers, 15 private clerks, 20 self-employed persons, 120 professionals (including five lawyers), a photographer named SIMKOVITCH, 30 Jewish soldiers and 40 others. Also, there were 20 unemployed and 25 on welfare.
The nearest hospital was in Uzhhorod, 40 km away. However, in Velikiy Berëznyy, now there were 5 Jewish doctors: STERNBERG, HENDLER, BRAUN and two others as well as a Jewish midwife (whose son was hanged in 1939 by the Hungarians for being a Communist). There was also a Hungarian Christian doctor.
Velikiy Berëznyy had at least 2 banks (there may have been more) which held money for people, made loans, etc.
Itzak DEUTSCH (bank manager) and Moshe Chaim HENDLER (possibly related to Dr. HENDLER) were both co-owners of the Po-Usha Bank. Itsak DEUTSCH had a leather shop as well and Moshe Chaim HENDLER also had a fabric shop where he spent most of his time. The other bank was the Uvierny Ustov Bank and it was owned and managed by David STEIGER, father of Dov Zion STEIGER.
The only cars in Velikiy Berëznyy were those of the doctors, who used them for house calls. However, there was also an ambulance to take the sick and injured to Uzhhorod for emergencies. But the doctors, or at least Dr. HENDLER, didn’t drive—they had a driver. Dr. HENDLER rented out his car on occasion and once, Itzak and Batia DEUTSCH (with their three youngest children, Ester, Sari, and Moshe), rented his car and driver to go to Uzhhorod for a day trip to visit Itzak’s brother, Yeheskiel DEUTSCH and his wife Berta and family. The car seats were along the sides, so people sat facing each other.
At this time, Velikiy Berëznyy had five streets, but many people lived without a street setting. The DEUTSCHS lived at 70, Stefanik street, with a large and beautiful garden of both flowers and vegetables. Most Jewish families had such gardens, but the Rusyns grew mainly potatoes. Behind the DEUTSCH house, was another building with 2 apartments that was being rented by Jewish families named ROTH and MITTELMAN.
In 1939, the Hungarians occupied Velikiy Berëznyy cutting off the Jews from their livelihoods. A few dozen Jews were drafted into the Hungarian slave labor battalions, with some perishing on the Eastern front.
In late July, 1941, a number of Jewish families without Hungarian citizenship, were deported to Kamenets-Podolski in Ukraine, where they were murdered.
The remaining Jews of Velikiy Berëznyy were deported to Auschwitz in May, 1944.
Today, Velikiy Berëznyy has a population of 6,665 (2001) inhabitants. The district has camp sites and campgrounds in the mountains, with ski lifts nearby. There is also a national conservation park—established in 1866—with unique and rare plants. Also, the district has several architectural masterpieces, among other things, wooden churches. One of the biggest attractions is the Knyahinanszki meteorite, which crashed here in 1866. Only one Jewish lady lives in Velikiy Berëznyy today (2011).