Jews have never lived in Brody

Brody was once one of the most Jewish cities of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The writer Joseph Roth, the most famous native son of the city, described with melancholy the decay of the monarchy. The ruins of a synagogue and an impressive cemetery still recall Jewish Brody. But in the local museum, the reinterpretation of history is already completed: Jews have never lived in Brody.

For the “marshrutka”, the minibus from Lviv, the train station of Brody is the final stop. The map in my guidebook is not very clear concerning the direction to the city center. I just follow the other travelers. After a walk of about 10 minute I face to the left the remains of the Great Synagogue of Brody. An impressive Renaissance building that is like a huge ship wreck amidst a faceless  surrounding. I circle around the synagogue for a few times, take photos. A drunken man comes to speak to me, askes me for a cigarette and a light. The man hobbles. He had been with the Red Army in Germany. If he would still be in Germany, they would safe his leg, he says. “The doctors here are not good,” he adds. And there is no money for a surgery. “Here’s nothing,” he says.

The way to the Jewish cemetery is easy to find. One has to keep straight ahead, passing through the city center, has to continue through the woods and along commercial buildings. At a gas station one must finally turn left. I’m lucky: The sky is overcast and gray, but it keeps dry. Finally, I stand at the locked gate of the cemetery. An ocean of ​​stones is in front of me.

I follow the fence a few hundred meters – it ends abruptly. I enter the cemetery and climb onto a small elevation. Only now I see its full size. And only now I realize, how big the grave stones are –  large as menhirs. The site is in good condition, not a rampant undergrowth. On some stones painted numbers are visible. Someone obviously has counted and cataloged the stones. A few days later I find out: A local historian has photographed all the stones and translated the inscriptions. A life’s work.

I’m on my way back. An old lady with a beautiful colorful cow passes by. The cow does not like to go home. The green grass of the cemetery tastes so well.

Back in the center I’m looking for a place to eat. Despite the size of Brody that turnes out to be difficult. Finally, I find a bit off the market a pizzeria. The restaurant is run by some young women and is so bad lit that it is also suitable for a discreet rendezvous at lunch. The waitress is glad to practice her English, and the pizza is good.

It is still to early to go back to Lviv. I decide to look around the central square a bit. A sign points to me the local museum, which makes me curious.

The museum is small, but whoever arranged it has made enormous efforts and gathered numerous exhibits. Some cabinets show prehistoric finds, followed by a big leap in time, the visitor finds himself in the middle of Khmelnytsky’s Cossack uprising against Polish rule, followed by the Ukrainian national movement at the end of WWI. There is some discrepancy in the representation of World War II. The exhibition curators could not decide whether they wanted to praise the history of the Ukrainian Insurgency Army UPA or the victories of the Red Army more. How they would get this into consistency, remains a mystery.

I am asked by a young man where I come from. He counts the visitors and runs the statistics of the museum. “From Germany,” I answer. “Ah, Joseph Roth,” he says, pointing to a photo in the size of a postage stamp in one of the display cases. It is one of two exhibits that refer to Jewish history. A few books written in Hebrew are shown as representatives of education in Brody. No further explanation is given. Hebrew reads and understands no-one here any more.

German troops occupied Brody on July 1 1941. The Jewish community at that time consisted of about 9,000 citizens, 250 were shot on July 15 1941. In August 1941 a pogrom was committed by the Ukrainian neighbors. In December 1942, a ghetto was established. The survivors of the ghetto were sent to the death camp of Maidanek in 1943.

The history museum of Brody says nothing about it.

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