All the way back

On April 18, my friends and I came back home from our trip to Bukovina. What happened between the last blog post on April 15, and our return, I still have to report. At the end of this journey I also have to thank some people – my friends Petra and Achim and my virtual fellow travelers who have commented, offered advice and shared memories. We’ll meet again – on the next trip!

Our days in Chernivtsi (Czernowitz) were characterized by the exhaustion of the journey that was behind us. We felt a need to catch up on sleep, to get some rest, and to begin to process our experiences. In the morning we found ourselves in the city, in the afternoon we rested and slept. At the same time it was an opportunity to meet friends: Mykola Kushnir, the director of the Jewish Museum, Tetyana who helped me to understand the Ukrainian revolution last year, and Silke, who came as volunteers years ago to work in the Jewish cemetery, and is now coordinating a project in Czernowitz for the University of Lübeck. All of these dear friends I appriciate since I know them.

On our last day in Czernowitz, we visited the old Jewish cemetery. I had been there before, but my friends Achim and Petra had not. The remains of the cemetery are hidden in a factory site. The cemetery was largely destroyed when the Soviets gave the territory to a textile factory to expand. What is preserved are single gravestones and a wall that consists partly of gravestones. We were quickly discovered by a worker who urged us to go, as we stood there and photographed. Then, however, happened one of those miracles that I have experienced in Ukraine often. A gentleman in a suit came to meet us as we already went and talked to us in Ukrainian. He was clearly not angry about our presence. The only word I understood was ‘Matzevah’ – Hebrew for gravestone. When I nodded, he called a worker who spoke fluent English and translated. The gentleman in the suit was obviously pleased that we had come to see the remains of the Jewish cemetery. He removed a part of the fence, so we could see the gravestones better and he showed us everything to see there.

The old cemetery of Czernowitz is an example that the traces of history never completely disappear. Something always remains and is reminiscent of what happened. And there are the hidden guardians of history – as the gentleman in the suit.

Our trip home began on Friday early in morning at 7 – a three-hour bus ride from Ukrainian Chernivtsi to Romanian Suceava. After this we continued with a seven-hour train ride from Suceava to Cluj-Napoca. In the evening we had the privilege to meet Ossi Horowitz, who was born in Czernowitz in 1945. He is an expert on Cluj and on the history and present of the local Jewish community. The conversation with him has encouraged me to consider the city as a travel destination for a second time.

The next morning we flew back to Germany. A gray day and a return through space and time.

At the end of this trip I have to thank some people. I thank my friends Petra and Achim who trusted my selection of destinations again and who were the most wonderful and patient fellow travelers I can imagine. I also thank all those who have traveled virtually with us and have shared our experiences. This virtual fellow travelers have commented, offered advice and shared memories. Their number was so big that I could not always respond as I would have liked. Sometimes I have not even found the time to respond at all. Thank you for everything you have done and excuse that I could not please everyone! We’ll meet again – on the next trip!

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2 thoughts on “All the way back

  1. Excellent report, Christian. I’m with you on every word. But can you say anything more about the mystery Gentleman in a suit? What was his interest in the old Jewish cemetery, and did he also work for the textile factory? He’s clearly a friend, and how lucky you were that he interceded on your behalf. So glad you connected with Ossi, too.

    • Bruce, the gentleman works for another factory that is neighboring the old cemetery – they produce security devices there and the staff has order to have an eye on visitors. He was not only kind but also knowlegable with the history of the place and the meaning of symbols on the tombstones. About everything else I can only speculate.

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