A World of Stones

Our little group continued its trip through Galicia today. We have been to Hrymailiv, Sataniv, Husiatyn, Chabarivka and Probizhna. A long day on the road. Many things we experienced are connected to the destruction of Jewish life in the region – the Holocaust and the post-war erasure of remaining testimonies of Jewish presence. If stones could speak…

I have been to Hrymailiv before. The little town is known for its imposing ruin of a synagogue. Thanks to Jay’s historic maps, we were able to locate the territory of the former Jewish cemetery. It’s now a park-like area in the outskirts of Hrymailiv. No marker indicates this was a Jewish cemetery once. But the locals know. Vasyl translated when we came into a conversation with some local residents who were curiously observing what we were doing. “Yes”, they confirm, “here was once the Jewish cemetery”. The stones were used to built a farm, they told us. After some minutes of searching Marla believed she found something that could be a tombstone. Jay turned the stone around. We saw Hebrew letters. The last tombstone of Hrymailiv Jewish cemetery.

In Sataniv – already in Podolia, behind the former border of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires – we made a different experience. The synagogue has been restored and became a center for Jewish pilgrims from around the world. The place looked somehow to clean and antiseptic compared to its environment – but at least the building has been preserved and protected for present pilgrims and coming generations. The cemetery is famous for to the quality of stone carvings. It benefited from the restoration works at the synagogue and looked well maintained.

We faced the sad reality of Jewish heritage when we came to Husiatyn. The town looks run down and the synagogue that once was used as a museum of regional history is abandoned. Nearly nothing is left of the Jewish cemetery, just three graves next to some Soviet tower buildings that have been built on the territory of the cemetery. A bizarre scene. What happened to the tombstones? Ukrainian online media recently reported about fragments of tombstones found in the ruins of a demolished building of a collective farm. The journalists believe the stones are from the destroyed Jewish cemetery of Husyatin.

Chabarivka is situated 5 kilometers west of Husyatin. Here we found the remains of the former collective farm “Communist”. The place is densely overgrown and is used as a trash dump. Tombstones have been used in large quantities for the base of a farm building. We found hundreds – if not thousands – of smashed tombstones. Help is urgently needed to safe this fragments as there are plans for new buildings and the last remains of Husyatins’s Jewish cemetery may disappear.

The situation here echoed our experience in Hrymailiv. After the Jewish communities of Galicia had been murdered by the Germans, the Soviets erased the traces of their presence.

On our way to Chortkiv we had a stop in Probizhna – a small town, rather a village with the ruin of a 19th century synagogue. After the war a factory was established in the former synagogue. A high chimney in the center of the building still tells about that time. Storks built their nest on top of the chimney. The Jewish cemetery is not far from the synagogue – but in the village of Probizhna nothing is far. The cemetery is differs to all we saw so far. The last remaining tombs were made of cheap cement and look like graves on a Sephardi cemetery. Was this a local style or did these tomb remain because they were not made of materials that could be used for other purposes?

On the way to Chortkiv we had a last stop. Vasyl made us aware of a memorial next to the road – a memorial for the murdered Jews of Chortkiv – exterminated by the Germans. Also here we found fragments of tombstones. Obviously they were found during construction works and people brought them to the memorial as there is no other place. What to do with this “world of stones”?

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