Death of the Shtetl?

Sharhorod and Chernivtsi (not Chernivtsi in Bukovina) were typical Podolian shtetls. Even after the war, there were still substantial Jewish communities, because both places were part of the Romanian occupation zone “Transnistria”, where the chances of survival were higher than in the German “Reichskommissariat Ukraine” or the “Generalgouvernemant”. After 1991, most of the Jews left the successor states of the Soviet Union. What remained behind is their material legacy. Soon, in Sharhorod and Chernivtsi there may not much be left of that.

On 29 August, the television crew and I took a look around Sharhorod. In front of the impressive synagogue we met Inna, the chairperson of the Jewish community. Not much has changed in the synagogue since my last visit in March 2019. It is a bit tidier and there is an exhibition of historical photos. We asked Inna how big the Jewish community still is. “Until 1991 we were about 500, today we are very few,” Inna said.

We walked to a street near the synagogue where almost exclusively Jews used to live. The houses are beautiful examples of rural architecture in Podolia. Today they are almost all abandoned and in a condition where they may not be saved. Some have already been demolished and replaced by new buildings. Only a few have been renovated. Soon this street will have lost its character.

In Chernivtsi we found the same picture the next day. Some of the old houses have already been demolished and more will follow. The synagogue was closed by the Soviets. Later there was an insurance office there, a neighbour told us. Now it too is abandoned. Something is coming to an irretrievable end.

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