© and updated by Debra Katz 1/27/2022 Comments and corrections welcome: dnadeb@gmail.com

(A Survey of the Life and Times of Pavaloch, Skivra District, Kiev Gubernia, now Ukraine) followed by a first person account of life in this shtetl there in the early 1900s as transcribed from a 1995 interview with Anna Piatagorsky Rivkin.)


 Pavalitch has been known by many names over the centuries, depending on which country was in power at the time and who was doing the naming: Pavalitch, Pawolotsch, Povolitch and Pavalich are some of them. The source of the name is Pavalochi River, which runs through the town and is a tributary of the nearby and better known Rastavitsa River. The Russian version of the town name is Pavaloch and that’s how the town is known today.

So where the heck is Pavalitch? Well, to be specific, it’s coordinates are: 49° 52’ N / 29° 27’E…and it is located about 30 miles east of Berdicev, 15 miles north of Skvira and 60 miles southwest of Kiev. It now is officially in the Zhitomir Oblast of the Ukraine, but in the time of our ancestors it was in the Skvira district of Kiev Gubernia.

The soil there is good and farming has always been a major activity in that area. However, since Jews were forbidden to farm the land for much of history, our ancestors tended to work in the support trades. For example, in the early 20th century, one Jewish Pavlocher (Piatagorsky) owned an iron goods/hardware store that made and repaired farm implements. Although a good soil for farming, the Pavalitch ground turned into a thick grunge during bitter winter rains and snow. (Later, when a former Pavlocher was faced with bad weather in Chicago, she would say her storm-wrecked backyard reminded her of the "Pavalitch mud".)

Early History

Beginning in the early 14th century, the area surrounding Pavalitch was owned and governed by Polish noble dynasties, which included the Daskovitch, Tiskeritchem and Patatsky families. About 200 years later, a Tatar castle with a surrounding moat was built next to the town. It was another 100 years (early 1600s) before the first Jews were known to live there. They often got the jobs of being tax collectors and middlemen for the Polish nobles. Of course, the Jews also had to pay hefty taxes to the nobles.

 In 1648, bands of Ukrainian serfs led by Bogdan Chmelnitsky began a rebellion against their Polish landlords. Called Cossacks, these bands attacked Jews as well as Poles in towns throughout eastern Poland and the Ukraine. (They felt the Jews were "agents" of their hated Polish oppressors.)

 By 1683 only three Jews were left in Pavalitch. However, eventually Jews did return to this townlet. By 1736 there were at least 100 or more Jews, although in that year another 35 of them were killed in a Haidemak pogram. (*Haidemaks were roving bands of armed peasants, similar to Cossacks, who attacked travelers and Jews in small towns throughout Polish Ukraine.) Two years later, the surviving families filed a court suit for damages including 125,000 zlotys (Polish dollars) stolen by the Haidemaks, but were unsuccessful.

 Despite adversity, the Jewish population continued to increase. A 1765 census listed 1,041 poll-tax paying Jews in the greater Pavalitch area. In 1795 Czarina Catherine the Great established a "Pale of Settlement" in which all the Jews of Russia were required to live. The Pale region, which included Pavalitch, consisted of the new western borderlands of Russia, which Catherine had just acquired from the former Polish empire. Even within the Pale, travel by Jews was severely restricted.

The 1847 census listed 2,113 Jews residing in Pavaloch. A few years later (1851), there were only 1,695 Jews--- out of a total population of 4,562---but I don’t know the reason for the drop. (As an aside, Judah Leib ben Isaac Singerman, one of the great scholars to come out of the Ukraine, was born in Pavalitch in 1863.) The Jewish population of Pavalitch reached its peak in 1897 where the census recorded 3,391 Jews out of a total of 8,053 people.

Late 19th and Early 20th Century History

 This is the time period when most of our paper-trail ancestors were known to be living in Pavalitch. Therefore, the rest of the description and history that follows comes from the stories of relatives and from records recently obtained from Ukrainian archives, as well as historical books and articles.

1880 to 1917: Though a "shtetl" by today’s standards, Pavalitch was a relatively good -sized town for its day. The town was the volost (district) center, and was part of Skvira uyezd (county) in Kiev gubernia (state). At this time, although part of Russia, the town was almost on top of the Polish border.

 Located on a highway major enough to be cobblestoned, the town also had a large main street. Pavalitch supported a Jewish synagogue plus two additional prayer houses, in addition to the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches there. There were 10 mills in the area and 36 shops in "downtown." Every Sunday a major market was set up on a huge empty lot. The marketplace drew people, many dressed in fancy peasant costume, from all the surrounding farms and villages. Eight "amusement fairs" were held annually in Pavalitch. The townspeople of Pavalitch had a reputation throughout the region for being warm, fun-loving and kind to travelers.

 Children of all faiths were required to attend the Russian-run school (scola). Jewish children (mostly boys) would get Hebrew instruction from private tutors. With its proximity to the Polish border, Pavalitch was also the frequent site of military activity as Russia and Poland continually battled for control of the area. (The joke at the peasant market was, "What country are we living in this week?")

 In 1914 the Russians secured their reign over the entire eastern Galician* region with a decisive victory over the Austrian/Polish empire. (*Galicia was the name given to the eastern Polish area that bordered present day Ukraine). Then in 1915 Russia abolished the "Pale of Settlement" restrictions. However, this "freedom" was very short lived because Germany, allied with Austria, invaded the area in 1916 and restored it to Polish rule. In 1917 Czar Nicholas resigned under pressure from revolutionaries, and a provisional government took over that re-abolished the "pale" as well as other discriminatory laws against Jews. However, almost immediately thereafter, the Bolshevik revolutionaries seized power and the Russian Civil War was underway. Pavalitch found itself, like so many other Ukrainian towns, under siege from all factions. And pogroms against Jews were carried out by all the warring sides.

 In 1918, the Ukrainian nationalist leader, Simon Petlyura, started a military campaign for independence that added to the Jewish bloodshed. Anna Rivkin remembers as a child when Petylura and his men came galloping towards the town amidst great gunfire. The townsfolk panicked thinking they were about to come under Polish attack, but they soon discovered the general had been defeated recently and was just passing through in retreat.

 In 1919 a major pogrom in Pavalitch involved a mob of local Ukrainian peasants who looted and vandalized Jewish homes. Before the Civil War ended in 1921, over 520 Ukrainian Jewish communities were attacked--- and a total of 60,000 Jews had been killed, with hundreds of thousands more wounded.

In addition to the pogroms, in 1919 all Soviet Jewish religious communities were "officially" dissolved by the government and most synagogues were shut down. Pavalitch went into understandable decline and most residents decided to leave. Nevertheless, a post-WWI census (1926) shows there were 1,837 Jews still in Pavalitch, over three quarters of the total population of 2,088.

 In WWII, all the Jews who had remained in Pavalitch were exterminated by the Nazis. Indeed, by 1941 Pavalitch had become a killing field where over 1,300 Polish Jews were brought to be shot by the S.S. As of 1967, the population of Pavalitch was under 2,000 and no Jews were believed to live there.

Surname Summary:

 Among the surnames of Jewish people known to have lived in Pavalitch. Abramowitz, Ayer, Cohen, Chester, Choyadof, Divinsky (the original surname of the Piatigorsky lineage from when the family was in 18th century Pyatigory, Ukraine), Feldman, Gorstein, Greenberg, Katz, Kaplan, Landenson, Levine, Muzusiuk, Moses, Milstein (Miller), Medvediew, Piatigorsky (Gorsky), Polsky, Polansky, Rappaport, Rosen, Rusoff, Rubalsky, Rubin, Shanas, Shenfeld, Simon, Stepoy, Turnoff, Weinstein and Wolodocky.


·         References include: Personal testimony from Anna Rivkin(Los Angeles), Max Miller(Los Angeles), Dudley Simborg(Culver City CA), Bert Shanas(New York), Sarah Faerman(Toronto), Maxine Gurvey(Winnipeg), and Florence Hirschfeld(Florida).


·          Black Book of Communities Destroyed Curing the Holocaust (AVOTAYNU)


·         Encyclopedia Judaica (1972) Volume 13, p.193


·          Jewish Timeline Encyclopedia (Kantor, 1992)


·          Russian American Genealogical Archival Service (RAGAS) Report


·         Russian Jewish Encyclopedia (1912)


·         Slownik Geograficzny (Polish Gazateer, 1886)


·         Timetables of Jewish History (Gribetz, 1993)


·          A Forgotten Land: Growing Up in the Jewish Pale (Lisa Cooper, 2013)---memoir of Pavoloch and surrounding area.


·         Jewishgen.org PAVOLOCH https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/pavoloch/pavoloch.htm (Personal perspective of Piatagorsky Family starts on next page.)


( based on an interview with Anna (Chana) Piatagorsky Rivkin--1995)


 Pavalitch was not just a "little village", it was a real town. A cobblestone highway passed through it and the population was over 3,000. There was a small river nearby which the local children had fun diving into. Once a week, people from the surrounding farms and villages came into town and turned a huge empty dirt lot into a marketplace. The costumes of local peasants were especially memorable for Anna.

Anna's grandfather Issacher (Suchar) was very old by the time Anna was born (1911). Although he died before she left for America (1921), Anna remembers him fairly well. He was always coming and going from town (she'd thought it had something to do with avoiding the police or army). Anna knew he had several wives and many children much older than her father, Yudel. Anna remembers that when Suchar died he was laid out on the dining room table at her house and people came in to pay respects for days. There was much crying and lamenting.

 Yudel owned a hardware and paint store on the main street of Pavalitch, alongside of several other businesses. The family lived in back of the store in rooms with wide walls that could be heated by setting small fires within them! Farmers from the surrounding area sometimes came by at 3 or 4 am and knock on Yudel's bedroom window because they needed a new plow or some other item repaired.

 In late 1909, Yudel's sister Chaje came with her husband Ruben Katz and their baby (Tzivia) to say good-bye as they were about to leave for America. Anna remembers her mother saying that it was a very upsetting tearful time for all of them. (Deb notes we have the passenger record of Ruben, Chaje & her 8 children arriving in December of that year in Galveston, Texas….to then hop the train to Los Angeles!)

 Anna herself attended "scola", the Russian-run school in town. A Hebrew tutor came in to teach her brothers and Anna would eavesdrop and learn the lessons. The tutor realized she had natural ability and went to Yudel to say that he would teach Anna for free. So unlike most girls at the time, she became fluent in Hebrew.

Anna's mother's family (Weiners) were from Berdicev and Anna visited there often. (She says they pronounced the town "Ber-DEE-chev") It was the "big city" with cobblestone streets, horse-drawn streetcars and running water in the homes! She remembers going into nearby poppy fields there and eating the seeds..."now, if that's what they make dope from, well we didn't know!"


Military activity was common in the Ukraine around Pavalitch. Anna describes it that "governments were always taking each other over." She remembers one time in particular, about 1916, when a Polish general (name sounding like "Peclure", said Anna, we know it was Petlurya) was trying to take over parts of Russia. He was a short man, she recalls. One day, Anna and some other children were playing down at the river when they hear machine-gun fire. They scurried out of the river, but found themselves on the wrong side, opposite from the town and on the main road where soldiers were descending upon them. Anna had a non-Jewish girlfriend whose home was on that side of the river and they ran there to hide.

Yudel had no idea where his daughter was and was worried sick. As luck would have it, the general and his troops were in retreat and passed right through town without stopping to cause any trouble. When it was quiet again, Anna ran back across the river and burst into her own house to the surprise and relief of her parents. In 1919 the incident occurred that convinced Yudel he must get his family out of Russia. What started this pogrom in Pavalitch, they never knew. But suddenly mobs of peasants were roaming the streets, breaking into homes to vandalize and loot. (Anna noted that the marauding peasants were mostly younger men, not the older farmers who'd been longtime friends and customers of the family.) As the mob approached their house, Yudel and his oldest daughter (Edith/Ita*) climbed into their attic to use a secret passage to get to the nextdoor home of Yudel's half-brother Chaim. Yudel knew that adult males and young women usually suffered the worst of the mob's attack.) In the process, Yudel hurt his leg badly, although he did manage to escape the mob. (*this Edith would eventually get to Los Angeles, where she married her first cousin, Meyer Katz.)

 Meanwhile, Yudel was counting on the fact that the marauders would take pity on his second wife Tamar (Thelma) and his three youngest children. They stayed in the kitchen to face the intruders. Anna remembers that all the kids were crying and the men threatened to kill Tamar. The men then knocked out all the lights and were screaming "yeni! yeni!" , which meant "money." Tamar said she had none. Then one of the men said, "Look she just has a bunch of crying little kids, let's go!" And they all left.

(Thelma) and his three youngest children. They stayed in the kitchen to face the intruders. Anna remembers that all the kids were crying and the men threatened to kill Tamar. The men then knocked out all the lights and were screaming "yeni! yeni!" , which meant "money." Tamar said she had none. Then one of the men said, "Look she just has a bunch of crying little kids, let's go!" And they all left.

 As soon as Yudel's leg healed, he announced to his family they were going to leave Russia for America. However, the Russian revolution and World War I delayed them a bit.


In early spring of 1921, Yudel Piatagorsky and his family (Edith and Chaim (Hyman) from his first wife Ruth, and Chana, Moishe and Pesse from his second wife Tamar)---along with several other families from Pavalitch---set out for the long trek to the border. (They stopped in Berdicev first to bid a tearful goodbye to Tamar's family.) They could only travel at night and were on foot, so the going was slow.

They finally reached the Nyesta River, the border with Romania. They had to bribe officials on both sides to be allowed to cross. The river was frozen but as they got close to the Romanian side Anna remembers it got slushy and difficult to walk on. The family then began hiking across the Carpathian mountains, a journey that Anna found very harrowing and felt she could barely make. They came to a town where they could stay the night in a big indoor hall. When they awoke the next morning they found they had been robbed of most of their possessions, including some treasured silver goblets and a candelabra. With no choice but to push on, they trudged to Yassa, Romania where they found a hotel to stay in.

 Probably for lack of funds to pay the passage, Yudel and his family stayed in that hotel for 3 months. They were very near a big modern city---"Kashinov" as Anne recalls (Kishinev/Chisinau today)---in Bessarabia. Hyman developed a shoulder cyst and although Tamar made poultices for it, she felt he needed to see a doctor. So Tamar, Anna and Hyman all took a train into Kashinov for a few days. Tamar then left early to be back with Yudel for some sort of Jewish holiday, but Anna and Hyman stayed so that Hyman could finish his treatment. They had fun together...Anna remembers eating walnuts, cantaloupe and papaya for the first time and they would sneak aboard the streetcar that ran on rails.

Eventually the family all moved from the hotel and traveled to Leipzig, Germany where they stayed a few days (Anna remembered the feather bed!) and then went on through Czechoslovakia to Antwerp, Belgium. It was going to take 9 months to get a VISA, so Yudel decided to make up a story that Anna, Hyman and Moishe were orphans, because that would let them leave sooner. He contacted his sister Zlata's family (they'd emigrated to Chicago much earlier) to tell them to expect his children.


Thus in December of 1921, Anna(now 10) and Hyman (now 13) and Moishe (now 7) set sail, steerage class, aboard the SS FINLAND for New York. It was an unpleasant voyage as Anna recalls. Tamar had asked a Jewish man to help keep an eye on them...but all he did was drink the wine Tamar had put in their wicker luggage as a gift to the family in Chicago. They had to sleep in a small room with double bunk-beds that smelled.

 When they got to Ellis Island they all had colds and were detained in the hospital there for several months. Finally their aunt Zlata was able to get them and take them to Chicago. Anna stayed with Zlata's son Nathan for two years. (Then she went to Los Angeles to rejoin her parents and sister Pesse who'd finally made the trip over in October 1922) Hyman stayed on in Chicago, living with Zlata's son Meyer. Moishe (Morrie) was a bit of a mischievous trouble-maker...he lived with Zlata.

 Additional Note:

Anna remembers clearly that famous cellist Gregor Piatagorsky was indeed a "cousin" of Yudel's...he had gone to study in Europe and so the family never saw him after that. http://piatigorskyfoundation.org/gregor-piatigorsky/

Eventually I hope to add photos to this document, but for now, you can see what people looked like and views of the town in our family binders and on the “Katz and Klein Family” public tree at Ancestry.com