On Monday, it was the last opportunity to travel during my recent trip to Ukraine. My friends Marla, Jay, Vasyl and I decided for a route eastwards to the towns and villages of Holohory, Zolochiv, Sasiv, Pidhirtsi and Brody with its Jewish heritage sites. Back in Lviv we had a look at Jewish tombstones recently discovered during construction works. Summed up, it was a kaleidoscopic view of beauty and horror.
Holohory is a village south of the road from Lviv to Zolochiv. To visit the Jewish cemetery there was a recommendation by our friend Alex Denysenko. As so often, Alex was right. Holohory Jewish cemetery is situated on a hill next to the village, offering a spectacular view over the surrounding landscape. Albeit, we had trouble to identify the cemetery. Only a few stones and stumps survived and we were for a long time too occupied with the beauty of the place to recognize them in the high grass. Beautiful flowers were all around and the air was filled with the sounds of bees and of a horse neighing somewhere in a distance. The destructions are obviously old and the stones weathered, its inscriptions unreadable. Close to the cemetery is a strange building, known as the ‘Turkish Tower’. Its foundation may root back to the times of invading Ottoman, Tatar or Mongolian horsemen.
On the way to Zolochiv we were contacted by the town’s mayor. He wanted to meet us – in particular Marla. Zolochiv Jewish cemetery is a fenced in empty terrain with a memorial for the murdered Jews. While we were taking pictures and talking a car approached with the mayor, the former mayor, the consultant for international affairs of the municipality and a representative of the local media. Zolochiv’s mayor has not only big plans, he already did something. Together with members of the city council and other volunteers he cleaned the Jewish cemetery just a few weeks ago. “In our town Ukrainians, Poles and Jews shared a common house and I believe this could be the same in the future”, the mayor said during our conversation. An important gesture.
On the way to Sasiv, it was Vasyl who recommended to visit a mass grave site nearby. As in so many other cases it was him who knew so much more about the region than we did. The mass graves and a memorial are hidden in a forest. Jews of Zolochiv and other places were shot there by the Germans. Names are listed on the black granite of the memorial. “In memory of our loved ones”, it reads.
Not much remained of Sasiv’s Jews. Just the fenced in territory of the Jewish cemetery with two ohalim – tombs of prominent rabbis – within. In a distance we saw the bowls of radio telescopes from the Soviet era – a strange view. Not less strange is the view of a giant church next to the road to Brody – in the middle of nowhere. It is part of the complex of Pidhirtsi castle. We found the castle closed – it was a Monday – but we had a look on the magnificent wall paintings in the church.
Until the German invasion, Jews formed the majority of Brody’s population. Centraly located, the ruin of a typical Galician fortress synagogue tells about this time – a stranded ship from a different age. The building is in poor condition, all efforts to save it so far failed. At least, a newly set up sign provides information. Brody had two Jewish cemeteries, an ‘old’ and a ‘new’ one. The old cemetery was destroyed in the Soviets era, the new one is in fairly good condition. All of us had been here before, but Brody Jewish cemetery is always striking, its stones imposing.
After our return to Lviv we headed forward to a construction ground in Barvinok Street. Jewish tombstones had been discovered there just a day before. According to neighbours this is not the first time – whenever there are road repairs, tombstones appear. From a Facebook post by Josef Gelston we learned, the vicinity was a residential area of high German police and SS officers and the streets were paved with Jewish tombstones by prisoners of Yanovska concentration camp. There is a hard to understand sadism in this act of vandalism. And what we see today is what was done to stones – we will never fully understand what was done to people. Meanwhile the stones were brought to the Jewish cemetery by Sasha Nazar and his volunteers of Hesed Arieh, a local Jewish charity organisation.
It was a long day on the roads of Galicia – with so diverse impressions. It will take time to process them. Wrting about it is part of coming to terms with it.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.