New Location

AHEC staff is currently working from our new location on Highland Avenue, with teacher and community programs being hosted on-site. We are currently taking limited group tours and will be open by appointment to the general public soon. For more information, contact us at or 205.795.4176.

1970 - 1970

Leonid Shilkrot


Leonid was born in the small Jewish village of Gershunovka on July 23, 1930, to a religiously observant family. His brother, Yakov, was born five years later. His father, Gregory (Hebrew: Gersh), and the village where they lived were named after his grandfather, Rabbi Gersh haCohen. His parents were farmers.

On June 22, 1941, the Nazis invaded Ukraine and made rapid advances throughout the land. Leonid was eleven years old when the Germans marched through his village, ending his childhood and his education. While hiding in the fields from the Nazis, neighbors plundered their home. The Nazis later expelled the Shilkrots and the rest of the Jews of Gershunovka to the Rybnitsa Ghetto.

Inside the ghetto, the family lived in a one-room apartment with several other families. The Nazis took Leonid’s father to the ghetto’s prison, where he disappeared. Leonid was forced to work loading and unloading railroad cars; his mother cleaned streets. Finding food became a daily focus. He went to the ghetto’s food kitchen for meager rations. Sometimes he found produce while unloading railroad cars, other times he simply begged. One day, while secretly gathering fruit in a grove outside of town, Leonid witnessed a group of Jews (discovered by the Nazis in nearby villages) ordered to march to an unknown destiny. While hiding, he heard gunshots, and later emerged to find the entire group murdered. As conditions for Jews deteriorated, he witnessed Romanian soldiers gathering a group of women and children to transfer them to the ghetto and recalls one solider stabbing a mother and child with his bayonet. “Everyday we were alive was a holiday,” he says.

In March 1944, the Soviets liberated the ghetto. The Romanian soldiers retreated, burning down the prison containing 400 prisoners as they left. After liberation, Leonid, his mother, and his brother stayed in Rybnitsa. Leonid and his brother attended school while their mother worked as a technical assistant in the pharmacy to support them. Leonid became a student mechanic, and in 1950, enlisted in the Russian Army for the required four years.

Leonid married Sofia Rotenberg in 1954, finished college, and worked as a manager in a factory for over thirty years. In 1990, he moved to Birmingham with his wife and three sons and their families. Leonid’s biggest challenge was learning English. Coming from a religious family, Leonid says, “Religion was in my heart in Russia, I could not practice it openly. After I came to U.S.A., I can finally practice religion without fear.”

Darkness Into Life

Claritas est etiam processus dynamicus, qui sequitur mutationem consuetudium lectorum. Mirum est notare quam littera gothica, quam nunc putamus parum claram, anteposuerit litterarum formas humanitatis per seacula quarta decima et quinta decima. Eodem modo typi, qui nunc nobis videntur parum clari, fiant sollemnes in futurum.

Online Exhibit

More Information

Country of Birth
City of Birth
Spouse(s) Name(s)

Sofia R. Rotenberg
Born May 8, 1934 in Moldova
Married May 20, 1954 in Kishinev

Children's Names

Rafail Shilkrot (Diana)
Born 1955 in Kishinev

Gregory Shilkrot (Ludmilla)
Born 1960 in Kishinev

Year / City / Ship to US
May 8, 1990 / Birmingham
Date Moved to Alabama
May 8, 1990
Alabama City of Residence