The damages to Jewish life are visible in the Transcarpathian towns of Uzhhorod and Mukachevo: synagogues used for other purposes than worship, a destroyed cemetery and the missing Jewish presence in public life due to mass deportation and extermination under Hungarian and German rule and later Sovietization. Nevertheless, there are rays of hope. In both towns we found functioning synagogues, active communities and well maintained cemeteries.
The former Orthodox synagogue of of Uzhhorod belongs to the most beautiful in Ukraine – a proud building in moorish style, now a theater. Just around the corner a former yeshiva is situated, the former Neolog and Hasidic synagogues are in a walking distance. Another former synagogue can be found in the Radvanka neighborhood. Hidden in a backyard of Mukachevskaia Street a former private synagogue is now the center of the present Jewish community. Marla, Jay, Vasyl and I were warmly welcomed by the rabbi. Preparations for Pesach were in full swing when we arrived. Vegetables and fish was cleaned for the Seder dinner, wine and more food unpacked.
Our experience in Mukachevo was similar. The local synagogue is within the former court of the Munkach rebbe. Most of the buildings were transformed to an extent, the former function became invisible. But community life recovered after the collapse of the Soviet Union – with active support from abroad, mainly from America, where the descendants of the Munkach rebbe live. Also here we were warmly welcomed.
Mukachevo’s old Jewish cemetery was nearly fully destroyed in the Soviet periode. The community managed to move about hundred tombstones to a new cemetery next to the Christian cemetery near the neighboring willage of Koropets. The old cemetery offers now a strange view: symbolic tombstones and memorials cover a huge field.
The Jewish cemetery in Uzhhorod belongs to the most spectacular heritage sites in the region – not only because of its size and the quality of stone carving. There is a special aura, which can hardly be described but has to be felt.
A bit earlier than expected we returned to our hotel – our heads full of thoughts. Tomorrow our trip continues, we will head further west.
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