A last excursion to Galicia

Again, I was travelling with Vasyl and Renata. I highly appreciate both of them – because of their kindness and because of their excellent knowledge of local history. My journey is slowly coming to an end and it was a final opportunity to explore Galicia during this trip. Olesko and Busk were the places we went to.

Olesko is famous for its castle, which is connected with the Polish royal house. Jan Sobieski, King of Poland, whose cavalry defeated the Turks at the gates of Vienna, was born here. In the parking lot at the foot of the castle hill was a convoy of coaches. Surprisingly, there were only Ukrainian buses, no Polish ones, which I expected here. What impressed me the most, however, was not the castle itself, but the wonderful collection of icons, which is exhibited there.

In Olesko there is not only Polish heritage to explore. The ruins of a synagogue and a small Jewish cemetery bear witness to the multi-ethnic heritage of the place. Little is preserved from the Jewish cemetery. A small hill with an Ohel on the top and only a few grave stones. The synagogue is a ruin.

On the way back to Lviv we stoped in Busk. The local synagogue is one of the strangest buildings I’ve seen in Ukraine. Two-thirds of the building are used by the Baptist community as a church. The other part is used as a residence. 8 families share the few rooms. Renata told that they were promised new apartments, a promise that has never kept.

I already know the Jewish cemetery of Busk, but it impressed me again. The stonecarvings of the old grave stones are gorgeous. But the Jewish cemetery of Busk is also a very sad place. At the foot of the hill several mass graves were located and examined by Yahad in Unum, a foundation by the French Catholic curch. Traces of these excavations are still  visible. Here are the remains of the former Jewish population of Busk. While I photograph I realize that I’m walking over the bodies of hundreds of victims.

It’s not the first time that I made this experience, but I still do not know how to cope with it. To photograph the locations, to document them, and to talk about this experience is the only answer I have so far.

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6 thoughts on “A last excursion to Galicia

  1. Thank you very much. My Mother was from Busk. No one remained alive except for her. These pictures are heart wrenching , to say the least. I was wondering , is the rest of the city modern and kept up? is the jewish places the only spots that were ignored?

    • Thank you for your comment, Betty. Your questions are not easy to answer in one sentence. Much of old Busk is preserved and still visible. But also much is in a bad state and the destructions – like in the Jewish cemetery – are obvious. Destruction and neglect does not only concern the Jewish heritage. People don’t care much about the past as they struggle with the present. Think about the 8 families who are accommodated in the former synagogue. They dream about a better place to stay but don’t have the ressources to do so. Anyway I would like to encourage you to visit the place. Travelling is easy and people usually are nice and helpful. If I can be of any assistance please feel free to ask.

  2. It’s interesting to see what changes and what doesn’t. This is (more or less) what I wrote about Busk in the 2007 edition of “National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel”:
    “The power and beauty of the ancient Jewish cemetery in Busk provides a telling contrast to the rather charmless, depressed-looking village itself, located east of L’viv on the road to Brody. Jews settled here more than 500 years ago, and in the 18th century the town became a center of the messianic followers of Shabbetai Zevi and Jacob Frank. Nearly 2,000 Jews lived here before World War II.
    “The cemetery is located on Shevchenka street, just outside town near a picturesque wooden church. Hundreds of massive tombstones — the oldest believed to date from 1520 or even earlier — spread out over a hill, many of them tilted at impossible angles and some fallen to the ground. Many bear exceptionally rich and well preserved carving. Parts of the cemetery were destroyed, and stumps of broken tombstones poke up through the grass. The area is used for grazing, and this keeps the weeds down. Flocks of geese waddle honking among the stones. Deeply worn paths run through the cemetery — local people, as well as cows and sheep, walk through, paying no heed to the history. On a rise, in the middle of the cemetery, a black marble plinth stands as a memorial to Holocaust victims.
    “In the town itself, there is a large, late 19th century synagogue just off the main square. It was long used as a warehouse, but the front part has been converted into a dwelling; lace curtains hang in the windows, and a cactus plant sits on one windowsill.”

  3. Dear Mr. Herrmann,
    My mother survived the pogrom in Stanestii de Jos on July 5, 1941. Have you been there? if not, I strongly encourage you to go to the area which is about 30 kilometers from Chernovitz. I have been there and visited the sites of the pogrom, including one of the mass murders which was behind the lumber mill that my grandfather had managed. Fortunately he, my grandmother and mother survived; many others of my close relatives did not. I am named after the brutally murdered pregnant woman who is mentioned in the article by Simon Guessbuhler. She was my mother’s Aunt Chaya. After a flood in the 1960’s the bones from the mass grave floated out. Then they were placed by Jewish Americans in a unified burial location within one of the Christian cemetaries with a plaque explaining the pogrom and huge Star of David gravestone. It took us quite awhile to find it.
    I am currently finishing my first book which mostly deals with the affects the Holocaust and Diaspora have had on the next generations.
    If you care to be in touch or would like any additional information I would be very happy to hear from you.
    Sincerely,
    Carol Elias

    • Dear Carol, I would indeed like to come in touch with you. It is very well posible that I will go to Stanestii de Jos in Summer. You will find my contact data in the imprint of this blog.
      Best wishes,
      Christian

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