Nothingness and a Ray of Hope

Trochenbrod is internationally known due to Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel “Everything is illuminated” and its Hollywood adaption. Like in the novel, nothing is left of this former all-Jewish town. My friends and I were out there for an excursion on 22 June. On the way back to Lviv we had stops in Lutsk, Stoyaniv and Radekhiv. If you are depressed by the nothingness of Trochenbrod, in Radekhiv you can find a ray of hope.

It was a spontanious decision: Thursdy, June 20, was a holiday in Gemany and I decided to spend a “long weekend” weekend in Lviv, Ukraine. But what is a trip to Ukraine without traveling with dear friends? My friends Marla and Jay wanted to go to Trochenbrod since a long time – a destroyed all-Jewish town, that was eternalised by Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel “Everything is illuminated”. Our friends Iryna and Anna, who were traveling already in the past with us, joined us. Yuliya, who had guided me and my friends Achim and Petra through the west of Belarus flew in from Minsk. Tammy, who is on a family research trip through Ukraine, joined us too. A perfect travel team!

We decided to go straight to Trochenbrod in the morning of 22 June and – depending on the time left – to have stops on the way back. I had been to Trochenbrod twice – in December 2014 and in June 2015 – so I’m not going to repeat myself. You may read about my impressions following the links to former blog posts. Since my last visit a new sign has been set up to direct visitors and new memorials, commemorating murdered families, have been errected. Our little group tried to locate the two nearby Jewish cemeteries – of which nothing is left too. But we quickly gave up in the densely overgown territory.

On the way back to Lviv we had a brief stop at Lutsk synagogue. While it was used as the home of a sports club in the past, it is now abandoned and obviously needs restoration. Vasyl, our dear friend and driver, wanted to find a place he had heared of but never had been to: a mass killing site near the road to Lviv. None of us had ever heared of the place. Vasyl managed to find the place. It is situated on the territory of a sugar factory. We found the memorial well maintained. More than 25,000 Jews had been shot there during the German occupation. Some fragments of Jewish tombstones have been brought to the site as there is no other place since Lutsk’s Jewish cemetery had been destroyed.

It was also Vasyl’s recommendation to have a stop in Stoyaniv, a small town north of Radekhiv. A Jewish cemetery is preserved there. It is fenced in but nearly all stones are missing. Among the still upright standing stones are three which surprised us – slim stelaes made of concrete. They looked like their original purpose was a different one – parts of a fence or former pylons.

Radekhiv is a charming typical Galician town. Some parts of the town center are a kind of time capsule, that contents of much that once made Jewish Galicia: the shops, a mezuzah trace at a doorframe, the former synagogue. But what is even more stunning are the piles of fragments of Jewish tombstones at the Christian cemetery. Some of them are extraordinary beautiful. They were discovered by local activist Tetyana Sadovska when she and her friends removed a fence that seperated a Soviet massgrave from the wartime from the civil part of the cemetery. The tombstones had been misused to pave a path along this fence. Tetyana and other local residents brought these beautiful stones to daylight again.

Yes, the nothingness of places like Trochenbrod is depressing. So is the mass killing site near Lutsk. But there is also a ray of hope: people like Tetyana and her friends, who care und who try to rescue what still can be rescued.

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2 thoughts on “Nothingness and a Ray of Hope

  1. Have you been to the Forest where the Jews of Kolomea/Kolomyya were butchered? I hear the original town was destroyed. My family lived there and newcomers were shipped in daily to what became a ghetto and a train station to hell.

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