April 28. We drive through Bukovina: Storozhynets, Davidivka, Vyzhnytsia and Vashkivtsi. We are in search of the traces of a Bukovinian celebrity – Joseph Schmidt. And of course, there is a lot along the way to see.
Maybe it’s time to say a few words about Petra, who accompanies me on this journey together with Achim. She is not only an extremely lovely person, she also told me for the first time about Chernivtsi (Czernowitz). The reason is her love for tenor Joseph Schmidt, who made an international career in the 20s and early 30s. Petra grew up with his music. During a trip to Lviv (Lwow, Lemberg) in 2005, she told me about it. Since then I wanted to go to Czernowitz. Now I have been there many times. I am grateful to Petra. She has changed my life.
Davidivka, the birthplace of Joseph Schmidt is now the occasion of our trip. But we also want to visit the former shtetl, which are located in the vicinity. Katharina accompanies us, a former volunteer who has worked at the Jewish cemetery of Chernivtsi during two summers. I can not imagine a more pleasant companion.
As in Lviv we have difficulties to find the right road out of town. Finally, we swing over the usual disastrous roads west. Storozhynets is our first target. Finding the Jewish cemetery proves to be easy. It lies at the eastern entrance of town, next to the main road.
The cemetery is partly in good condition, partly neglected. Right Hand of the main path are the new graves, on the left the old ones. The new graves are a surprise, there are quite a lot compared to what we have seen before. Until the early 90s, there must have been a large Jewish comunity in Storozhynets. Then there are hardly any funerals. Apparently, many Jews – after the borders of Ukraine were open – used their chance to emigrate.
Among the old tombs we find a remarkable testimony. The grave inscription of Dr. Drucker says that he was killed by Ukrainian nationalists in a cruel manner. So open we found this never spoken out and pronounced.
At the end of the cemetery we find a mass grave marked by a memorial. Here the Jews of Storozhynets were shot during the German occupation.
We continue to Davidivska, the birthplace of Joseph Schmidt. We leave the asphalt road and roll over gravel roads, passing through picturesque villages – beautiful old wooden houses and stork nests. Finally we reach Davidivska. We stop at the village shop and buy some water. Katharina asks if there is a monument for Joseph Schmidt. No, by Joseph Schmidt you’ve never heard here.
We continue to the small Siret river, where Joseph Schmidt’s birthplace should have been. We hold hands in cold water. It’s beautiful here.
We continue to Vyzhnytsia over bumpy roads and hope to be able to eat something there. We are bitterly disappointed. The place looks like a ghost town, most cafes are closed. An old man is aware of us. When he realizes that we are German, he wants to show us the Soviet War Memorial. We follow him and pass the Great Synagogue. That this should be a former synagogue, he hears for the first time. He was actually not from here, he apologizes, but from near Ivano-Frankivsk. No one is actually from here. In old Vyzhnytsia almost exclusively Jews have lived.
We continue to Vashkivtsi, former Waschkautz. The Jewish cemetery is located at the western end of town. We find it in surprisingly good condition. A memorial stone indicates that four brothers of the Wischnitzer family preserve the cemetery in memory of their parents.
We have seen on this trip already many Jewish cemeteries. In some ways they are similar, but there are also local differences in the style of stone carvings. In Vashkivtsi fascinates me the archaic style of the reliefs. One can distinguish two types: Grave stones with very flat graphical representations and sculpted reliefs in beautiful folkloric style.
We drive back to Chernivtsi. We arrive just in time to have dinner with our friends Mimi and Sasha. Today, there is much to tell.
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