North of Czernowitz

Sylvia, Marla, Jay and I went for an excursion today, which lead us to Zastavna, Balamutivka and Vikno – all north of Chernivtsi (Czernowitz) – as well as to Sniatyn in the west. All of those towns and villages – except Vikno – had Jewish cemeteries, but they are not preserved at every place.

Zastavna Jewish cemetery appears in David Goberman’s ground breaking book ‘Carved Memories’, in which he documented the Jewish cemeteries in the west of the former Soviet Union. But all we could find was a single grave in the yard of an restaurant. As none of us reads Hebrew it is not even clear whether this is a tombstone or a memorial. Yuriy – our driver – remembered that human bones were found when the restaurant was built. Whether tombstones were removed during the construction are were already destroyed before is unknown. Goberman took his photos from the 30s to the 60s and his in 2000 published book gives no information about the creation date of single photos.

We turned west and reached the village of Balamutivka after a short ride. South of the village – in the open fields – is a small Jewish cemetery which was used by the Jewish communities of Balamutivka and neighbouring Rzhavyntsi. Some tombs are accessible, others are hidden in the bushes. Farmers on their way home came by and and were curious to know what we were doing here. Since a long time nobody had shown up to visit the cemetery. They remember that relatives of those buried in the cemetery came to care for the graves until the 50s. Since then the place is abandoned.

Before we continued our trip to Sniatyn we had a short stop at the banks of river Dniester and the village of Vikno, where I found an mysterious inscription during my last stay. The inscription states that a Prince Cantacuzino is buried in the little Christian cemetey next to the village’s church. The Cantacuzino family claims to be decendents of the Byzantine imperial family. If they are right, Vikno’s cemetery hosts a last echo of a long gone empire.

In Sniatyn we had trouble to locate the Jewish cemetery. My sources said it would be behind the Christian cemetery in the east of town. But all people we asked said there is no Jewish cemetery anymore. After some phone calls we searched behind the Christian cemetery in the west. With the help of a local farmer we finally found the cemetery in a dense forest. Even when one stands close to the forest, the tombstones remain invisible. For an hour we creeped through the rampant vegetation. The stones we found are decorated in a very simple style, Goberman’s book shows older stones with much more complex decorations – indicating that there was most likely an older cemetery, which does not exists anymore.

While Yuriy brought us back to Czernowitz we reflected the day. It was clearly a day that needs time to be processed.

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One thought on “North of Czernowitz

  1. The Center for Urban History in Lviv organized a student project called “Sniatyn- Archeology of Memory: Discovering and Reviving the Historical Heritage of Galician Town” back in 2009, which included hands-on conservation work in the Jewish cemetery. It was well documented, and there was an exhibition afterward. See http://www.lvivcenter.org/en/chronicle/news/?newsid=184 and http://www.lvivcenter.org/en/exhibitions/mobile/sniatynexhibition/ Also see Sam Gruber’s post about it: http://samgrubersjewishartmonuments.blogspot.it/2010/01/ukraine-sniatyn-jewish-cemetery-cleaned.html It is interesting that in the years after this project, the cemetery seems to have returned to oblivion.

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