Mizoch and the Emptiness

Mizoch (Mizocz) is a small town in Volhynia. The population was composed of Ukrainians, Poles and Jews – until World War II. The scars of the past are still visible in Mizoch; the town’s center remained half empty until the present day.

The first time I got aware of the Volhynian town of Mizoch was some months ago in an exhibition about mass shootings in Berlin’s ‘Topograpy of Terror’ museum and memorial. Mizoch is represented in the exhibition as an example of how mass killing was carried out and Jewish communities were destroyed. One reason for choosing Mizoch, may have been a series of five photos – some of the very few from killing sites that are known. They show a group of women and children undressing, waiting for execution, and finally a German policmen killing women from a short distance.

The photos were taken by the German police officer Gustav Hille in 1942. It remains unclear why Hille took the photos. In 1944 or 1945 he showed the pictures to his former employer Heinrich Kunert who sent them through a lawyer to the Vatican, hoping for an international resonance for the crimes commited. The Vatican showed no interest.

At about the same time when I visited the Berlin exhibition, I got a message from a Facebook friend – Roman Myhalchik, a historian living in Mizoch. Roman asked me to come to his town. Today I took the opportunity to visit the place – as so often with friend and driver Vasyl, who did a great job by mastering the icy roads.

Mizoch is a remote place, half way between Dubno and Ostroh. The snow covered fields make it look even more remote. Roman was waiting for us in the town center next to a supermarket. The center looks somehow empty. There are only three buildings from the pre-war periode. ‘Here was the ghetto’ explained Roman. Most of the houses were build from wood and were burned down by the Germans after the liquidation of the ghetto.

Roman turned out to be an extraordinary nice guy, who guided us with passion. We went to the Jewish cemetery first. Not much ist left over there. Some tombstones are preserved in one section of the recently fenced territory – the biggest part vanished.

After a short ride to the opposite end of the town we arrived at the spot, documented in Hille’s photos. A memorial was already errected in 1988, referring to ‘Soviet citizens of Jewish nationality’. The new inscription speaks about the Holocaust. Some hundred meters away is the valley where Mizoch’s Jews were murdered. Today was cold, the sun was shining, there were traces of hares in the fresh snow. The landscape looked idyllic. Roman interviewed an old man who observed in 1942 what happened in the valley. He remembered how people had to undress, deliver their valuables and were finally shot.

They were not the only victims in Mizoch; A part of the Polish population was later killed by Ukrainian nationalists. Half of the town’s population did not survive the war; the center remained half empty until the present day.

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