A new Jewish heritage trip to Galicia and Bukovina has begun. It was a long day for my friends Marla, Jay, Vasyl, my cousin Nana and me when we went from Lviv to Ivano-Frankivsk. In between were the towns of Zhydachiv, Stryi, Bolekhiv, Dolyna and Kalush with its synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. Some of them are beautifully preserved, others are fully gone.
Zhydachiv Jewish cemetery is hidden between garages from the Soviet era. Only a few fragments of tombstones remained on a hill with lush vegetation. Goats were grazing there peacefully when we explored the ground. Two imposing new ohels give prove of the former Jewish community and its echo in the present.
Stryi is well known for its magnificent synagogue. The inner space was recently cleared by the Lviv Volunteer Center and there is also some hope for a restoration project. We found traces of two Jewish cemeteries – one rather centrally located and marked by a memorial, the other one in Stryi’s outskirts in midst of a former Soviet industry complex. While we were searching an old man offered his help and guided us through dense vegetation and an abandoned industrial landscape – this is the territory of the former cemetery.
The contrast of Stryi’s Jewish cemeteries to Bolekhiv cemetery could not be more extreme. Bolekhiv cemetery is the best protected Jewish graveyard in Galicia. A high wall safeguards the place, which is only accessible through the gardens and fields of a kind and hospitable farmer. We spent a long time under the old oak trees which shadow the beautifully ornamented old tombstones and enjoyed the peace of this unique place.
The synagogue of Dolyna is now a church. Children were playing in the church yard when we arrived. Behind the church a memorial was set up on the mass grave where Dolyna’s Jews were murdered. Nothing indicates in the inscription the victims were Jews – it just speaks of local citizens. The cemetery of the small town was totally destroyed. We found two ohels, two remaining tombstones and just a few more fragments.
Kalush with its Soviet tower buildings is an extraordinary ugly town. In the shadow of one of those buildings the Jewish cemetery is hiding. Albeit the tombstones are well preserved, it is difficult to pass the terrain. High grass and lots of mosquitoes make the cemetery nearly inaccessible. Since my last visit in 2013 the situation got worse.
The places we visited left us with mixed emotions. But one thing has to be highlighted: our friend Natalya, her grandmother and her husband welcomed us in Stryi with incomparable hospitality, delicious food and drinks. Thank you so much Natalya!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.