World War II: Zhytomyr, Shepetovka, Korets, Sudilkov: birthplace of the Kantoff and Brottman Families

During World War II Zhytomyr, a primary center for the Kantoff and Brottman Families, became Heinrich Himmler’s Ukrainian headquarters, and the Zhytomyr General District became a laboratory for Himmler’s resettlement activists. As a result, the Jewish community of the Zhytomyr region (which included Shepetovka, Korets, and Sudilkov) was largely destroyed. In the four months following  Himmler’s  July, 25, 1942 orders, all of Ukraine’s shtetls and ghettos lay in ruins; tens of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children having been brutally murdered by stationary and mobile SS-police units and indigenous auxiliaries. The elimination of the Jews and German colonization of the East transformed the landscape, and devastated the population to an extent that was not experienced in other parts of Nazi-occupied Europe besides Poland.

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The grave of Rabbi Pinkhas of Korets is located in Shepetovka. Rabbi Pinkhas was a successor of the founder of Chassidism, Israel Ba'al Shem Tov. Above are his memorial stones which were recently moved into a new structure erected over the actual grave.

Memorial over the actual grave of Rabbi Pinkhas of Korets

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Over 2000 Jews from Korets were led down this road to mass graves where they were shot in May of 1942.

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Mass grave in the shtetl of Sudilkov: the Jews here were buried alive.

Sudilkov was known throughout the Jewish world as a center of the Hassidic movement, for the manufacturing of tallisim and the printing of Jewish books.  In addition, Sudilkov was the home of the famous rebbe and author of ‘Degel Machaneh Ephraim’, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim, grandson of  Israel Ba’al Shem Tov. Now, that world was gone forever as were any of the members of the Brottman and Kantoff Families who had stayed behind.


  1. wonderful site. I visited Shepetivka in the Summer of 2007. My grandfather left there in 1917. It is a place full of rich emotions. I would love to discuss them with someone as I am at work on a book about the region

  2. good afternoon,
    I came on your site during a deep research together with Ulrich Sahm, a German journalist, living since 35 years in Jerusalem. We are behind SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Bernhard Frank, a former very close person to Heinrich Himmler and with this officer rank in the
    Kommando Stab RF-SS and an ordonnace officer in combat and liquidation units since the agression to Russia. Do you have any knowledge about names of units, operating in this region and when.
    Ulrich hade already published an article in Hagalil Germany, but it is not precise enough. It is important, as Frank is still living, 97 years old. Thank you for your help
    Cordially Alexander Krawehl

  3. My husband’s family on his father’s side was from Sudilkov with ten generations of Rabbi’s there and the tradition continude with his Grandfather, father and cousin. His grandfather was fortunate enough to make it to the States before the war broke out in 1920, but his parents and siblings stayed in Sudilkov. After the war, they never heard from any of them again. Unfortunately, my husband lost both of his parent at a young age so we have very little information to help us with our research. When his grandfather came through Ellis Island, he gave his last name as Schwab, but we believe it was Zhivava. Any insight or direction you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

    • My father’s side of the family also came from Sudilkov. My grandmother’s maiden name was Sonya Grossman. Her father was Nathan and mother was Faygala. My grandfather’s name was Jacob Becker. He was orphaned at a young age.

      My grandmother came to the US about 1910, as did her brothers Joseph, Samuel, and sister Lisa. Eight siblings did not immigrate. Some of my grandfather’s cousins immigrated to Israel.

      Just as you mentioned, there was no more communication from relatives in Sudilkov after about 1925. I too am interested in any information about other families who lived in Sudilkov and their stories.

      • My maternal grandfather, Sergey Datzuk (exact last name unknown), was from Sudilkov. He was conscripted into the army of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century, and was able to escape and emigrate to America around 1914. In the USA, he married a women named Barbara Sadow (or Sadowy) from Poland. The only picture I have of my grandfather is in his Russian military uniform as a very young man or teenager. He and my maternal grandmother both died when my mother was a young child, and my mother was placed in a Christian orphanage in Philadelphia called the “Ivy House”, sometime in the 1930’s.

        Unfortunately, we have never been able to locate either of my grandparent’s immigration records. Added to the fact that there are almost no surviving documents of what was once Sudilkov, we may never know my mother’s true ancestry. (I have read that a few non-Jewish documents from Sudilkov did survive, and are archived in Ukraine.) After years of genealogical research, there is some strong historical and contextual evidence of possible Jewish ancestry, but I am not sure. My mother is now 83 years old, and I am trying to find out all I can for her (and my family) while she is still with us.

        Blessings and good luck to everyone trying to learn more about their Sudilkov ancestry!

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