It seems like an eternity since I was last time in Ukraine. The pandemic simply made it impossible. And it’s been almost two years now since Susanne Brahms and Rainer Krause from Blind Cat Documentary in Bremen asked me if I would support them in a TV documentary about the shtetl. Now that the whole team has been vaccinated and the infection figures in Ukraine are relatively low, this has finally become a reality. From 20 August to 5 September I was on the road in Galicia, Podolia and Bukovina. In the coming days and weeks I will report on the trip. At the beginning there is Lviv.
I finally found time to walk the streets of Lviv again – in search of small or big discoveries. This time, the Soviet sculptures kept in the Territory of Terror memorial were my discovery of the first day. For some years now, Soviet propaganda art has been “decommunised” in Ukraine. In the case of Lviv, however, the monuments are not destroyed, they are exhibited in their historical context.
Why Lviv for a documentary about the shtetl? Lviv is anything but a shtetl, it is a big city, a hub of trade and culture. Up to the present, there is a significant Jewish history there and there are Jewish activists who care not only about the cultural heritage in the city, but also about the heritage in the many small towns in Galicia.
Meylakh Sheykhet and Sasha Nazar are such activists. Meylakh locates and protects the graves of Hasidic rabbis, Sasha restores the Jakub Glanzer Shul, one of two remaining synagogues in Lviv. These are just two examples of their many activities. Both were kind enough to give interviews to the TV crew.
When we visited Sasha in the Jakub Glanzer Shul, he came up with a surprise. A few days earlier, he and his friends had opened the mikva – a Jewish ritual bath – in an annex of the synagogue. The mikva dates back to the Soviet era, but was already closed about 70 years ago. Shasha and his friends removed the rubbish it was filled with and lowered the water to normal level. Now the mikva is accessible again.
Sasha is also the one who keeps salvaging gravestones from the pavement of Lviv. The TV crew therefore accompanied him to the Jewish cemetery where these finds are stored. Hundreds – if not thousands – of gravestones continue to lie under the city’s asphalt.
Much of the Jewish heritage of Galicia has been lost and disappeared since the days of the German occupation. If it weren’t for activists like Meylakh and Sasha, there would be much more lost.
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