Lisa Cooper in Pavolitch

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Lisa Cooper (author of A Forgotten Land, Growing Up in the Jewish Pale) took all of these photographs when she visited Pavolitch with her father in May 2005.

She reports that only two buildings are still standing from when the Shniers lived there (Moishe Shnier was born in Pavolitch). One is the Synagogue, which is shown here.

Lisa has posted an excerpt of her book when it was tentatively entitled The Breadbasket: The Memoirs of Pearl Unikow here (Pearl Unikow is Lisa's grandmother, and Pearl's grandfather is Beryl Shnier, Moshe Shnier's uncle) and that web site has a page about Pavolitch here.

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Another view of the Synagogue.

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This is an exhibit in the Pavolitch museum, which is housed in the Synagogue. It shows the layout of the town in the early 20th century. According to the
Shtetlinks web site (as found by Lisa Cooper), Pavolitch is at N49°52' E29°27', which is 100 km south-west of Kiev. If you have Google earth then you can see it here.

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Here is an old map from the Shtetlinks web site of Pavolitch. Compare it to the Google Earth map from the link above.

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Here are some pictures of the Jewish cemetery, which is about half a mile or so out of town.

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Apparently there were some renovations done for the cemetery, Lisa reports these: "were done there a couple of years ago by a guy called Nathan Jacobson, who is from Winnipeg but now I think lives in Toronto. You may know of him – he's a wealthy businessman with links to Israel and Russia/Ukraine. As it was late spring when we were there, everything was very overgrown, but it's a nice spot and I like the idea of my forefathers having their final resting place there. We did look for graves with the name Shnier, but had no luck. Most of the inscriptions are very worn and my Dad's Hebrew wasn't up to figuring them out.

Maury Shnier (in Toronto, but born in Winnipeg in 1964) writes (January 27, 2006):

"[...] I know Nathan Jacobsen, who she credits with fixing up the Jewish cemetery there.

"He's about 10 years older than me and grew up around the corner. He's a pretty good friend of Jonathan Wolch's. Now that I think of it – he probably grew up in the same clan of River Heights Winnipeggers as Sara Wolch.

"Nathan is an apparently successful international-man-of-mystery kind of a guy [...].

"Anyway – another factoid uncovered.


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The other building which would have been there 100 years ago is this old mill by the lake. Lisa reports: "we think that my great-grandfather, Meyer Unikow worked at this mill. (Meyer married Ettie Leah, the daughter of Berl, who was Menachem Mendl's brother). Everything else was destroyed during the Nazi occupation (when all remaining Jews there were slaughtered).

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Here is the first paragraph of Lisa Cooper's book (at least from an early version of it):

"My forefathers have lived in several countries without ever leaving their village. Pavolitch is a rural community on the Rostovitsa river in western Ukraine. It used to be in southwest Russia, and before that it was in eastern Poland, or sometimes southern Lithuania. The area was in flux throughout the centuries with armies endlessly fighting, invading, occupying and retreating. The neighbouring countries squabbled over the region like small children fighting over a new toy and so, as the centuries progressed, Pavolitch passed from one hot-headed child to another. Its name changed too, depending on the provenance of the person you spoke to. Poles and Ukrainians called it Pawolocz or Pawolotsch and Russians knew it as Pavoloch. In Yiddish it was Pavolitch and that was what we called it.

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Akiva Shnier was Moishe Shnier's grandfather. Lisa Cooper's book continues:

"My family was never rich, but it was very distinguished. My great-grandfather, Akiva, was born in 1835 into the Agers family, which was one of the leading Jewish families in the area and commanded respect for miles around. Even though Akiva had had to change his family name to Shnier (I could never understand quite why), he retained the name of Agers for his business and so was revered by his customers. His brother Meyer, who became a wealthy merchant in the nearby town of Berdichev, kept the name of Agers. Despite his status at the forefront of the Jewish community, Akiva never learnt to read or write. His business was rye, and since the 1850s he had owned a mill in the heart of Pavolitch. All his prices and accounts were calculated using an abacus that hung on the wall of his warehouse, and beside it he would scratch into the crumbly red stone little chalk marks that were completely meaningless to anyone but himself.

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Lisa reports:

"My Dad and I both liked Pavolitch a lot. It's a very sleepy little place now, much smaller than it would have been 100 years ago, but is pretty, with the lake and river and the town sitting at the top of a steep incline above the lake. There are a few paved roads and some old cobbled ones, and the whole place is surrounded by fields where peasants (mostly women as far as we could see) still work with old-fashioned hand-held tools. There were lots of chickens, cows and horse-drawn carts around.

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I asked Lisa for more information about her book and the Shnier name change. On January 30, 2006 she replied:

"You are correct in that The Breadbasket is written from my grandmother's point of view.

"As regards the name-change from Agers to Shnier, yes, this is something my grandmother mentioned. However, we now believe the original name was actually Hager, which as you probably know, is the name of a famous Hassidic Rabbinical family from western Ukraine. We think Akiva might have been distantly related to the Hager rabbis (which is pretty prestigious!).

"Remember though, when the name was changed, it would have been the first part of the 19th century and surnames were in their early stages and hardly ever used. People would have been known simply as (for example) Reb Akiva or Berl ben Akiva. Also, people changed their names for all sorts of reasons. We know that Akiva knocked out all his teeth to avoid conscription; it is very likely he changed his name for the same reason. We know that my great-great-grandfather did this: Pearl's father's father's name was Shapiro, but the family carried out a 'false adoption' which changed his surname to Unikow so that he appeared to be an only son and would thus not be called up into the army.

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here to go back to the Shnier web site.