Mapping the Unknown

A new journey has begun. During the next days, I will travel with my friends Marla, Jay and Vasyl in Ukraine again. A journey that will bring us to places widely unknown to many. How complete is our “inner map”? And how complete is our map of murderous actions in the 20th century? One of the missing spots is the site of Janowska concentration camp in a suburb of Lviv.

Yesterday, during the flight from Frankfurt to Kyiv and further to Lviv I was reading Martin Pollack’s book “Contaminated Landscapes” (Kontaminierte Landschaften), an essay on mass grave sites of wars and genocides falling into oblivion. Pollack is contemplating why this is happening:

The tombs are to become invisible, to disappear in the landscape, to eliminate the nameless victims forever: no corpse, no crime – and no crime, no prosecution.

This is also true for Janowska concentation camp site in Lviv. I visited the place today – maybe inspired by Pollack’s essay. It’s scary there, I didn’t wanted to go alone, I asked my friends Marla and Jay to accompanie me – and they did.

More than 100.000 men, women and children were murdered in Janowska camp. Following the liquidation of the camp, the corpses were unearthed and cremated. Next to the camp was a site known as “Piaski” – literally “the sands” – were executions took place and were the ashes of the murdered victims was dumped in pits. The German concentration camp became a Soviet penal camp after the war, now the territory of the camp is build over by a Ukrainian state prison. “The sands” are a neglected park today. We found syringes in the grass when we visited it today, indicating the park is a meeting point for junkies. Holes have been dug everywhere – people were searching for the “gold of the Jews”. Also this makes Janowska a scary place, even when it looks like this activity came to an end. The holes looked looked more fresh during my visits in 2014 and 2015.

Nevertheless, Janowska has not been forgotten. In 2003, the Alexander Schwarz foundation errected a memorial. Since then, Janowska is part of the imaginery European map of mass murder sites – against the plan of the former perpetrators. Martin Pollack writes:

We need to pace off these landscapes and measure them.

In a short distance from Janowska camp site, the train station of Klepariv is located. Who was sent from Janowska and Lviv ghetto to the gas chambers of Bełżec, was deported from this train station. Hundreds of thousands of Galician Jews on their way to their deaths passed it. A plaque reminds us of these victims.

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One thought on “Mapping the Unknown

  1. An unknown number of our families had been executed in Janowska.
    We have stunning memoirs of Mathes Heillig, one of the very few who survived Janowska by managing to escape. He is describing the horrible fate of those encamped in Janowska. Moreover, there is a vivid description of the Valley of Death – his name for “Piaski” – of Janowska. Heillig’s memoirs are in Polish and also translated to Hebrew by our Organization.
    As always, such personal memoirs make these statistics even more horrifying.

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