A last Galician excursion

Since today I’m back home, but I have still to report on our last excursion, which led us into the Ukrainian borderlands with Poland, to Velyki Mosty, Belz and Uhniv.

In the night from Thursday to Friday – shortly after our return from Chernivtsi (Czernowitz) to Lviv – I suddenly got sick. Some rotten food I ate for late dinner in the middle of the night, presented me a bad night. In the morning I was already willing to cancel the long planned trip with Sylvia, our friend and driver Vasyl and my friend Renata. But Renata suggested to postpone the trip for a few hours to give me time to recover and Vasyl was so nice to provide medicine from a pharmacy. I’m grateful to both. At least I felt good enough for a trip of some hours.

Vasyl is an experienced driver – mainly bringing Hasidim to their holy sites – while Renata is a professional guide for the Galician Jewish heritage. Sylvia and I could not imagine better companions. Our first stop was in Velyki Mosty north of Lviv. As to Belz and Uhniv I have been to Velyki Mosty before and am familiar with its impressive ruin of a synagogue, but I did not know about the mass grave site in a forest east of the town. 1,500 Jews have been shot there. The inscription on the memorial, erected on the initiative of a survivor, reads like this in Ukrainian, English and Hebrew:

Memorial for 1500 Jews of Mosty and its surroundings, tortured by the Nazis and their helpers, murdered and buried in this place 1943. They died singing HATIKVA.

In the month of Adar, in that time of joy,
The assailant gathered the Jews to prayer,
Tortured and murdered them with rabid cruelty –
Burned them together with Torah scrolls.

The blood cried out and won’ be still;
Fresh as yesterday, the wound still aches.

Excerpts of a poem by Avraham Akner, born in Mosty 1907
Mosty Wielkie Memorial Book 1977

The memorial was errected by the victims’ descendants, 2006.

This memorial speaks not only about the fate of Velyki Mosty’s Jews, but also about the countless Jews of Galicia and other places who were murdered during the years of German occupation.

We continued our trip to Belz. Like no other town it represents the multi-ethnic world of old Galicia. It has a nice town hall from the Austrian period, the ruin of a Polish monastry, a nice Ukrainian wooden church next to the Christian cemetery, and the remains of a Jewish cemetery. Belz had once an important Hasidic court and for Hasidic pilgrims from all over the world, Belz is still sacred ground. Next to the cemetery is a pilgrim’s hostel with a prayer room and closer to the town’s center a mikvah. Pilgrims find here the infrastructure they need. Thanks to Renata’s support we were able to visit the mikvah and the prayer room.

Uhniv had a comparable ethnic composition as Belz until World War II. Albeit there was no Hasidic court, there are still the remains of a synagogue, a beit midrash and a catholic church – all of them in sad condition. Uhniv is also known as the smallest town in Ukraine with the status of a city since the middleages.

After our return I went to bed immediately – still feeling sick and feverish. In the morning Sylvia and I had to get up early as our flight to Kyiv was at 7am. Now we are back – Sylvia for some days in Amsterdam and I back home in Cologne. Am I now where I belong to? I don’t know. Maybe I’m rather made for walking the roads of Ukraine endlessly – if there were more breaks inbetween. Whereever the truth is, I would like to thank all you who followed our journey via this blog. It was good to have you around!

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3 thoughts on “A last Galician excursion

  1. hope you are now fully recovered! Your trip was followed in an emotional manner, so many ghosts coming around you must have made it very difficult for you also.

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