Happy birthday Ukraine!

Now both voluntary services – SVIT Ukraine and Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP) – are working at the Jewish Cemetery of Chernivtsi (Czernowitz) to clear it from rampant vegetation. While ARSP started earlier this week, SVIT will end its work-camp by the end of the week. Also volunteers of the Jewish community joined the clean-up. Old time Czernowitzers Mimi Taylor and Sylvia de Swaan visited the volunteers of both groups in the morning.
Today is Ukraine’s Independence Day and people are celebrating in the streets. A good reason to think about the contribution of Ukrainian independence to the preservation of Jewish heritage and rebirth of Jewish life.

To understand the meaning of Ukrainian independence for preservation of Jewish heritage one has to remember Jewish life under Soviet conditions. Many cemeteries have been destroyed and synagogues closed and misused under Soviet rule. The Holocaust did not appear in history books – it was only said Soviet citizens were murdered by the Germans. Living openly a Jewish identity was rather a disatvantage.

The collapse of the Soviet Union opened the gates for those who wished to leave the country. By the same time it opened an opportunity for the self-organisation of remaining Jews. Chernivtsi has various Jewish institutions today – including social services and a Jewish museum. Having international organisations working in the Jewish cemetery would have been unthinkable under Soviet rule, today it is possible. Now Ukraine is on the way to incorporate Jewish history in its own national narrative. Even if this is not an easy and sometimes painful task, there are signs indicating this process is under way. Memorials have been errected, the Holocaust is part of the school curriculum, various initiatives for the preservation of Jewish heritage came into life, synagogues have been reopened. It is a hopeful beginning.

Happy birthday Ukraine!

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