If you travel in Galicia, you are crossing a continent. The region is a compaction of European history. Leaving Chortkiv in the morning, Marla, Jay, Alex, Vasyl and I have been to Buchach, Monastyryska, Pidhaitsi and Peremyshliany today. A day of discoveries – pleasant and painful ones.
In Buchach we met Mariana, who is an expert for local history and was so kind to guide us around. Buchach is known for its celebrities: Nobel Price laureate Samuel Agnon, Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, and Emanuel Ringelblum, initiator of Warsaw’s underground ghetto archive. Mariana showed us a vivid market. Next to it was Buchach’s Great Synagogue, blown up by the Nazis and finally demolished by the Soviets. Also the Beit Midrash, which was immortalized in Agnon’s literature, does not exist anymore. The building collapsed due to its low construction quality about 15 years ago.
Since my last visit, big parts of Buchach’s Jewish cemetery have bean cleaned of rampant vegetation. The tombstones are now visible from the bus station. We took our time to explore the territory. The old stones constitute a strange contrast to the urban life below.
Concerning Monastyryska none of us had big expectations. Jay’s old map shows a building that once belonged to the Jewish community. But the map tells nothing about its purpose. To our surprise we found a big synagogue. Alex came in touch with the neighbors – Aleksandra and her son. We asked her about the fate of the local Jewish cemetery. “It was destroyed in the 80s”, she told us. The tombstones were used to built the base of the pigsty of a nearby collective farm – a typical Soviet practise. Thanks to Aleksandra’s description we were able to locate the place. Some stones have still visible Hebrew letters. Two days ago we faced a similar situation in Chabarivka and wonder how many of such places may exist. Probably hundreds.
Pidhaitsi is one of my favorite towns in Galicia. It once was the typical mix of Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Armenians and others. Compared to other locations, much is still preserved in this town – one of the oldest in Galicia. We strolled around the market square and the former Jewish quarter – we even found the trace of a mezuzah. What is really spectacular, are the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery. While the synagogue needs urgent help, the cemetery with its beautiful tombstones is well maintained.
When we passed Peremyshliany, Vasyl said he would like to show us something. We passed the former Jewish cemetery – now built over by a garage – and reached a field overlooking the town. About a dozen Jewish tombstones have been dumped there – some of them with beautiful ornamentation. Many believe the present owner of the former cemetery has removed them when he built the garage. This is how Galicia’s heritage vanishes.
Thank you dear friends – Marla, Jay, Alex and Vasyl! It was such a pleasure traveling with you!
This blog post comes along with special greetings to Jerome Schatten, whos ancestors came from Pidhaitsi!
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