May 3. From Ivano-Frankivsk our travel route continues north. Halych, Kalush and Bolekhiv are on our way. No place will leave us untouched.
We stay in Ivano-Frankivsk (Stanisławów Stanislav) overnight. I’m up earlier then my fellow travelers. Directly across from our hotel is the Tempel Synagogue. I have a look inside. The Jewish community has created a small prayer room in the entrance area. Small enough not to cause heating costs in winter. Other parts of the building are rented to shops. The rabbi arrives – a trace of Jewish life in the city.
After breakfast we start the search for the Jewish cemetery. In the hotel they could give us an approximate location. At a garage we ask again for directions. The young man rips off his eyes and mouth and gets out not a single word. I have more luck with an older pedestrian. Who also does not say anything, just opens the car door, sits inside and points ahead. After a few turns we have achieved our destination. Our passenger gets out and leaves us without a word. Nevertheless we are grateful.
The Jewish cemetery of Ivano-Frankivsk is a shocking location. The terrain is huge, but it is largely empty. Here everything has been systematically destroyed during the German occupation. We see several memorials for people who are buried here in mass graves or were deported from the local ghetto to be murdered at other places. At several spots we see large piles of grave stones, which obviously came to light during construction works in the city and were brought here. Parts of the cemetery are overgrown with dense vegetation. We see destroyed graves – close together. Terms such as destruction or eradication come in our mind. Glum we leave the cemetery.
Our next destination is Halych. A small town that gave its name to the Galicia region. Here there should be a Karaite cemetery – a real rarity. The Karaites came from Asia Minor, spread across Eastern Europe to Lithuania and only follow the laws of the Torah, not the rules of the Talmud.
After some searching we find the cemetery. It is situated on the high bank of the Dniester river, and offers a great view. The cemetery is very small. There are few old grave stones. However, two fresh graves indicate that there is still a Karaite community. We sit in the shade, look over the flowing river, feel the passing of time. The place is magical.
We continue to Kalush – perhaps the most Soviet place of our trip. There must have been mining. A historic center, we can not find. A Jewish cemetery should be there. After some inquiries we find the cemetery behind high apartment blocks from the Brezhnev era. The old grave stones form a strange contrast to the high buildings. A short rain shower goes down. After that mosquitoes fly in clouds. What a strange place.
Our next destination is Bolekhiv (Bolechow). Bolekhiv came to international fame by Daniel Mendelsohn’s book “The Lost”. Mendelsohn describes his search for his family members who were murdered during the Holocaust. The ruins of the old synagogue we find easily, they are close to the market square. However, the search for the Jewish cemetery proves once again to be difficult. The young people I ask, have never heard of a Jewish cemetery. A middle-aged man does not want to talk to me, makes a dismissive gesture. The elder people understood immediately and show us the way. We round a ruinous factory site, finally standing in front of a massive concrete wall. This is something we have not seen on our trip before. The cemetery is like a fortress. We circle the area, finally find the entrance, but realize that a fence is between us and neighboring properties. We try in the opposite direction. Finally, we are in a private property, mad dogs barking at us. An old woman helps us out and shows us the way. The gate of the cemetery is open, but we are under the observation of a friendly neighbor.
The concrete wall of the cemetery is surrounding a small hill. In the afternoon the weather was unkind, now the sun is shining. Golden evening light spreads over the grave stones. Our observer apparently keeps sheep and goats in the cemetery. While the goats are curious and nibble on our legs, the sheeps keep in a distance. Thick winter coat hangs down to them. They move as a collective mower over the ground. Not a bad idea – the grass is short.
We drive on. Petra’s guidebooke recommends a hotel “Carpathian Gold” in Stryi. This turns out to be a good recommendation. We enjoy the unusual luxury of the hotel, sit for a long time on the terrace, talking about what we have seen today. There is much to talk about.
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As you know my grandfather’s people were from Ivano-Frankivsk (Stanisławów Stanislav) – thank you for this
Thank you so much for allowing us to share your journey. You have been visiting many of my family’s ancestral shtetls and although I was there in 2006, it is wonderful revisiting them (and seeing them through your eyes)!
Keep up your wonderful work,
Thank you Simon! I feel touched and honoured by your comment.
Your blog has inspired me to step up my own research. I’ve just started reading Daniel Mendelsohn’s “The Lost” and his family all came from the Bolekhiv area.
Your blog is fascinating, especially for someone living in Ivano-Frankivsk. I don’t know if you found out while you were in the city, but there was another Jewish cemetery here, besides the one close to the lake. It was located on the site of the current Kosmos Cinema on the main road into the city from the east, just over the railway bridge. The roof collapsed on the day of the opening of the cinema in the 1960s, with locals commenting that it was the Jews’ vengeance.
Thank you! Yes, I know there was a second cemetery, the “old cemetery”. Destroyed and built over. Reading your blog as a first hand source on ongoing protests was pretty fascinating too!
I am fascinated because I’ve always wanted to know more about my grandparent’s world. I’m the last one to carry on their name and I’ve always felt the responsibility to keep their world alive, but there was never anyone to ask as they are all dead.