21 June 2013

Kiev - The Exodus, 21 June 2013

So my daughter and I have finished our dinner, procured some gelato and noticed that the fountains at Maydan Nezalezhnosti seem to be dancing to music. We sit down on a bench to watch. The next song: "Exodus." Seems wildly appropriate for our last night in Ukraine.

This morning we visited the cathedrals to St. Sophia and St. Michael. The latter is another reconstruction due to the destruction of the original by the Soviets as they fled Kiev in advance of the Germans arrival. St. Sophia's, however, was started about 1011 and features wonderful frescos and mosaics. It is now more of a museum than a working cathedral.

St. Sophia

St. Michael

After spending some time at the museums in the cathedral complexes, we moseyed down Andriyivsky urviz to purchase some last minute souvenirs. 

Alex left to head back to Lviv and Katherine and I collapsed for a short while in our hotel room. Nearly three weeks on-the-go has taken its toll. Later we strolled the Globus Mall under the Maydan Nezalezhnosti, had dinner and watched the dancing fountain.

I will definitely need some time reflect, but right now I'm feeling completely positive about my Ukraine journey. The archives did not yield a great deal of information about the Labun branch of my family, but I really did not expect to find much. The visit to the shtetls, particularly Labun, was, however, priceless.  Prior to this trip, I had tried to imagine Labun from the high altitude shots on Google Earth, but Google Earth does not convey the reality of the small rural hamlet. Slow moving, relaxed, bucolic, simpler are adjectives that come to mind. People, no matter their usual source of income (if they have income), seem to be tied to work in the fields. They are close to the land.

I have traveled in agricultural areas in several states in the USA and I do not recall seeing many people working in the fields. Perhaps that is due to the mechanization of US agriculture. In Ukraine, it seems that there are always people in the fields, sometimes only a couple or a few. But someone is always out there, tending crops or livestock, hand hoeing or raking. Someone is hauling hay in a horse drawn cart.

Jewish people, of course, were not usually farmers in the Russian Empire. When my family left to seek a better life, they were not allowed to own land and farm. This land that was theirs treated them as outsiders, limited their movements and limited their options. All too frequently, it took their most valuable asset, their lives. 

I know that for many of my grandparents' generation, returning to this land was neither an option nor a desire. They were happy to leave. I imagine that most of them would be perplexed by my desire to visit. Placing my ancestors and relatives in context gives me a far better sense of who they were and what they became after emigrating. I can imagine my great grandfather with, perhaps, a stall in the Labun marketplace selling butter and eggs. Perhaps my great great grandfather had a tavern at the edge of town, bartering drinks for produce.

The exodus of my father's family from Labun and mother's from Galicia and Bukovina was nearly complete. A few made the ultimately poor choice to stay. We mourn their fate. I'm not a religious person, but I'd like to think that all my ancestors and relations would be happy to know I was able to honor those who died. We can celebrate the families that grew and prospered despite the horrible fate of the few who remained. I think it's nice that I can come to Ukraine and leave at will, as my ancestors could not.

20 June 2013

Kiev, the Great Choral Synagogue and Art, 20 June 2013

We continued our stay in Kiev with a visit to the monument to the Great Patriotic War (1941 - 1945), known to the USA as World War II. The memorial is located next to the Lavra complex and features a museum and several sculptures. We did not go into the museum, but did walk through the impressive concrete structure portion of the memorial.

This complex was dedicated 1981 and is essentially a tunnel of sculpted concrete slabs placed at a variety of angles. Inside are reliefs of soldiers, partisans and villagers. 

Outside on the hill above the structure is a basin that once held an eternal flame. And crowning all of this is the Motherland statue (originally Soviet, now Ukrainian). She is over 60 meters tall and is a landmark in the city.

This monument complex looks to me like so many made by committee. I found the slab and relief structure a very effective work of art evoking the struggle and deprivation during the war years. It could standby itself with no additional elements. But someone decided they needed an eternal flame on their war memorial and someone else needed a huge motherland statue. So, everyone's vision is included.

Next we visited the Great Choral Synagogue (also known as the Podil Synagogue) on Shchekavyts'ka Street. It was originally built in 1895. In 1929 it was converted to a stable and, after the war, it was used again as a synagogue.

The Pinchuk Art Center's main exhibit this summer is called China China and features artwork by several Chinese dissidents. This is the exhibit on the sidewalk outside the gallery.

After some wonderful Uzbek food ( we forgot to take photos of our food) for dinner, we ended the day with a visit to the House of Chimeras, an unusual building crawling with animals and gargoyles. It was built by architect Wladislaw Horodecki about at the beginning of the twentieth century as an apartment building (in which he also had an apartment). One could spend a great deal of time studying each creature.

19 June 2013

Kiev, the Lavra and Babi Yar, 19 June 2013

Today was a glorious day, weather-wise, and we decided to visit some Kiev sights that were out-of-doors. 

We started the day at the Kiev Perchersk Lavra, a huge complex developed by monks and still an active monastery. Now there are about 100 monks, but during its heyday, it supported more than 500. The Lavra's caves were dug out and used by monks starting in 1051. Today a maze of catacombs includes about 100 burials. Later above-ground features include a bell tower, additional monastery structures, a cathedral and old fortification walls.  The cathedral was completely rebuilt in 2000 after destruction during the WWII (who was actually responsible for the destruction is a question, but the thought now is that the Russians blew it up as they fled the city before the Nazis arrived).

Entrance to the Lavra.

Rebuilt cathedral.

Fortification wall.

The complex features several museums. We visited the Museum of Microminiature where we took in microscopic art by Nikolai Siadristy, who just happened to be in the museum chatting with patrons. Each piece must be viewed under a microscope. I have no idea how he produced this amazing artwork. It was definitely worth a visit.

After the Lavra, we headed to Babi Yar, a ravine known as the killing site for more than 100,000 Jewish people. Alex told us that the ravine in Babi Yar has a long history of horror. Stalin, apparently, used it for his political enemies before the Nazis found it a useful killing spot, as well. Today, there is a memorial along a main street

and another, specifically Jewish memorial, accessed via a long paved path.

I think the paved path and the forest paths near the memorial really encourage reflection. I thought this Jewish memorial was understated and very effective.

At the end of the day, we visited Sholem Aleichem and then wandered around taking in some of the city sights.

I really like this next shot because of the layers of buildings in the city-scape. Maybe I can airbrush out the McDonald's sign. 

18 June 2013

Zhitomyr Archive, 18 June 2013

Today, we visited the Zhitomyr Archive. The archive is now only open three days each week. The archives staff was very helpful and retrieved the books for us in record time. They delivered everything they could locate on Labun. Unfortunately we did not find a great deal of information on Jewish people.

Alex checked two sources that Miriam Weiner lists on the Routes to Roots website: the  1865 Census for Labun (Fond 118, O14, S 79) and the 1816 Census for Polonne (F 118, O 14, S 118). The second volume contained only Christians, no Jewish people. The first contained only four jewish families from Labun:
    Durfinkel (or Garfinkel), Feivel son of Schmuel
    Lubarsky, Pesach son of Itzko (wife listed but name not readable)
    Brodetsky, Michel son of Berko
    Bernshteyn, Srul Lipovich

We also checked Fond 118, O 14, S 14, 113, 114, 116, and 317. They contained Labun records but only those for Christians.

There are a few additional record sets mentioned by Miriam Weiner's website. These will have to be checked after I return to the States.

After the archive we headed to Kiev where we will end our trip with several days of tourism.

17 June 2013

Labun, for one more visit, 17 June 2013

We've been driving through Labun for the last several days going from our hotel in Zaslav to and from Polonne and Baranivka. I thought we were through touring the community until our chat with Semyon Bentzianov yesterday in Polonne. He told us that there had been two murder sites in Labun. He was surprised to hear than no one in Labun had told us that. So, on our way to Polonne on 17 June, we decided to find the second site.

We asked a couple of locals we saw on our way in to  Novolabun if they knew where the site was. They said (the Ukrainian equivalent of), "piece of cake!" The site could be easily found along the road to Polonne by driving about 200 meters past the picnic table on the left side of the road. There would be a trail leading into the trees on the left and a sign. Fearing we not, we headed off. We saw the picnic table, but no trail or sign. After wandering around the forest for a while we decided to head back into Labun to see if we could get someone to accompany us to the site.

Since it was a Monday, and offices would be open, we went to the mayor's office. Mayor Tatyana (I didn't get her last name)' told us that the site near the road to Polonne was much more difficult to find than the Trojeshchina Forest one we already visited with the help of Mr. Rak. She said towns people used to go out there every year to place flowers, but that she'd not been there, herself, in a while and would probably not be able to locate it. She called the forestry department in the next town, Velika Berezna, and see if they could help us. She noted that Labun had asked the foresters to clear the trail and the site a year or so ago but, due to low budgets and the foresters' view that no one ever visited the site, it had not risen in priority.

While visiting with Tatyana we asked if she had any pre-war records from Labun. She said no. She took out three books of records from after the war, but said that after the war there were no Jews in Labun and there would be none listed in the books. We asked her about any maps of Labun. She related that the museum director used to have one, but he gave it to someone and never got it back. The director was very ill and she said he could not meet with us.

We met Vladimir, who worked for the forestry department, at the picnic table along the road to Polonne. The trail actually led from the picnic table area into the forest. Then there was no trail and we moved cross-country to the site.

Vladimir noted that no one had been to the site in the four years he'd worked at the forestry department. He said that his grandmother had recalled when Jewish people from Labun were led to this site. Only one survived. Like the other Labun murder site memorial site, there had once been metal posts and chain around the perimeter. People knew the two local men who stole it. One died and the other suffered other calamities. (This, by the way, seemed to be a theme for those who messed with Jewish cemeteries or murder sites. When we were in Ustechko, two locals told us that a man collected tombstones from the cemetery to use as the foundation for his house. Everyone in the family died. The locals took down the building. I do not know what ever happened to the stones.)

Polonne, 16-17 June 2013

We began yesterday's visit to Polonne with a stop at the local museum. Turns out, although it was a Sunday, it was closed. At the entrance, however, we met a man who knew Semyon Bentzianov, a journalist who compiled the Polonne Yizkor book translated online on JewishGen. He took us to his house.

I was interested in meeting Semyon and asking him about an 1897 metrical book he had worked with at the Polonne ZAGS office (the office for more contemporary records, i.e., earlier than 1935). Ellen Shindelman had written about this book in a February 1999 article in the Belarus SIG newsletter. 

Semyon mentioned the metrical book to us and showed us some abstracts he'd made several years ago. Semyon spoke Russian with Alex. Alex told us that that many Jewish people in Ukraine prefer to speak Russian rather than Ukrainian. 

Of greater interest was the Zabarsky connection. Semyon was born in 1928. He did not seem to recall many people from my family shtetl, Labun. But Alex asked him about all my family surnames. Apparently, Semyon's wife, also born in 1928 in Polonne, was named Anna Zabarsky. He did not recall either Perl Garber Zbarsky (my grandfather's sister who was murdered in 1941) nor her husband Izaak Zabarsky. He did tell us (and we confirmed this with his sister-in-law Sonya) that his wife's father was Josef Zabarsky and her mother was Ester Rimoynim. I have not researched the Zabarskys, so this information may be ultimately helpful.

Our contact with Semyon led to contact with Faina Martzinishyn, former director of the Peretz Markish Museum and head of the Jewish community in Polonne. The Jewish community is about 40 families, many of whom are of mixed marriages. Despite the fact that she was busy planning a 25th birthday party for her daughter, Faina offered to take us to the Polonne ghetto, two murder sites, and the old cemetery. We decided to leave her to her party preparations and arranged to meet with her the next day.

Today, 17 June, we began our Polonne visit at the ZAGS Office. We arrived around lunch time and the very pleasant woman at the desk offered to look through their indices for the family names I provided: Garber, Malzmann, Mazewitsky, Zabarsky, and Galperin, in post 1935 records. She found nothing. She told us that they had sent an 1894 book to the Khmelnitsky Archives. This may well be the one Semyon mentioned.

With some time to spare, we visited the museum, which is undergoing some rennovation. I was curious about the production of porcelain, which once had been Polonne's claim to fame. The factory no longer operates and no porcelain is now produce in Polonne. They do, however, have several nice pieces on display at the museum. The man at the museum told us that they are preparing a major exhibit space for displaying their large collection of Polonne porcelain pieces.

We met Faina a little before 2 o' clock and proceeded to the old cemetery in Novo Polonne. The newer cemetery is easy to locate in town. While not well tended, it is walled and access is off of a main road. We visited that one the previous day. The old cemetery is located behind some houses. In fact, one has to access it through a private yard. Faina told us that the lady who owns the house watches over and protects the cemetery.

She also has a yard of beautiful flowers.

I photographed several stones and then we headed to the murder site in Polonne. Faina told us that until Semyon had conducted interviews with survivors, no one in the Polonne Jewish community realized that Jews had been killed at this site. Apparently, the Jewish people from Polonne and surrounding villages (including many from Labun) were in the  ghetto in Polonne. Those less able to work were killed at a site in the forest. Those who were not killed in the forest were later murdered here.

The ghetto area is now developed with several buildings and out buildings. It is difficult to imagine how it might have looked in 1941. The people who were forced to live there worked in the nearby quarry and occasionally were taken to the Jewish cemetery to knock over stones.

We drove out on the road to the forest murder site, but, due to the heavy rains the past few days, could not access the site. This is what the access road looks like from the main road. Alex and I would have walked in the estimated ten minutes to the site, but Faina didn't think she could make it past the huge mud puddle and thought that there would be additional obstacles on the route in. Over 4,000 Jewish people were murdered at the forest location.

I asked Faina, whose family goes back several generations in Polonne, how her family made it through the occupation. Her father was in the Russian army and her mother, who worked at the hospital, was evacuated with her family to continue hospital work away from the front lines. She, of course, had several family members who died in the Polonne actions.

16 June 2013

Baranivka, 16 June 2013

We visited Baranivka yesterday but got caught in a rainstorm of leviathan proportions. I only managed to take a photo of the village sign and this statue of Lenin and writer Maxim Gorky before the rain began.

By the time we reached Yurovshchina on our drive back to Zaslav, the sun was shining, but the sky was threatening. So today, after visiting Polonne (more on that after we return there tomorrow), we decided to try once again to visit Baranivka.

My interest in Baranivka stems from my recent research into Feiga Liderman Grinfeld and her family. Over the past year, I have posted several episodes of my on-going research to determine our familial relationship, if any (Use the label word Grinfeld on the right side of the blog to see all the posts in that series.). Feiga was born and resided in Baranivka before emigrating to the United States in 1922 with my great grandfather Avrum Garber.

Very little of Baranivka's rynok market core remains. This is the area where Jewish people were likely to have lived. There were no obvious pre-WWII buildings in sight, save the Ukrainian Catholic church.

I wanted to visit the Jewish cemetery to see its state and, if possible, photograph some tombstones.  We only had to talk with a couple of people before we were standing in front of the unmarked cemetery. The area is overgrown with vegetation and mostly untended. It is fenced and gated and the gate was open. Amazingly, there does not appear to have been much trash dumped within the fenced area.

There were a few tended graves where the weeds had been cut and some flowers or wreaths left graveside. For the most part, however, the graves could only be reached by climbing over, crawling under, or wending around weeds, brush and trees. 

After my Labun Cemetery visit a few days ago, I'd learned my lesson. This time I slathered on insect repellent to keep the mosquitos at bay. Today, however, the mosquitos were, miraculously, not at home. My biggest nemesis was the stinging nettle. After I'd recorded about ten possibly readable tombstones, I nursed my nettle wounds and considered the stones I could not see within two areas of thick brush. I knew there were nettles in there. I did not know if there were readable tombstones. Those possible stones will have to await a researcher with a machete, a heavy long-sleeve shirt and leather work gloves.

I continued through the cemetery and took about 45 photographs. Most tombstones were fairly recent and in Russian. A few were traditional and in Hebrew. Unfortunately, there were many older (likely Hebrew) stones that were significantly deteriorated, lying face down or mostly buried. Overall, the cemetery did not appear to have been purposely destroyed. When I get home I will translate the names and dates and donate the photos to the JewishGen Online World Burial Registry for posting.

There were several groups of stones at the far end of the cemetery. I photographed a few before it became plain that I would need waders to reach the rest. There was at least ankle deep standing water in the area. So, I abandoned the remainder of the effort, leaving probably a dozen stones (that I could see from afar) unrecorded. A few shots (the Russian ones show Rubenshtein and Kaplun family burials):

When I finished at the cemetery we toured a bit of the town. Most houses were of recent vintage, although a few might have had some age.

This one was not old, but I liked that it was colorful. The photo, unfortunately, does not do justice to the flower garden.

These stores (away from the traditional market area) seemed to be from the pre-WWII era.

15 June 2013

Hritsev, 15 June 2013

Hritsev has fared a little better than Labun. Around the time my relatives were still in Ukraine, the communities were roughly equivalent in population and economy. Make no mistake, these are not wealthy places, but Hritsev has grown and changed, Labun much less so.

Hritsev actually has fairly new hotel and several restaurants (one with a Las Vegas theme!). We seriously considered moving from our hotel in Zaslav (a sad place economically and gastronomically) to Hritsev, but decided, to stay put one more night. An article I found from 2003 extolled the virtues of a group of forward-thinking Hritsev locals who were working on town economic development. I assume that these restaurants and the hotel benefitted from group seed money. In addition, back then the town was touting its ceramic tile industry.

The upshot of this community growth, from a family history standpoint, is that Hritsev is not as interesting. It's not as scenic.

These are shots of the rynak.

I am fond of this arty shot. I like the colors. They seemed to stand out in the market area.

My interest in Hritsev, which is about 10 miles west of Labun, is that my great grandfather David Myers' (nee Malzman) brother Zachary Myers was born here and resided here before embarking for the United States in 1922. He followed his sons, Jacob and Israel, who had, respectively, arrived in the USA in 1908 and 1912. I have also found clues that there may have been other family members in Hritsev. In addition, it's clear than many unusual surnames occur in both Labun and Hritsev. The towns seem to have been closely connected. 

With the help of a local, we located the Jewish cemetery (there are no Jewish people now is Hritsev) across the street from a large Christian cemetery. This is the street. The Jewish cemetery is on the left, just past the fence.

I walked into the tangle of often 6 foot tall vegetation. There was a great deal of standing water and mud and only one visible tombstone lying face down. I determined that the only way to really investigate this cemetery would be to whack down all the vegetation and go in with waders. Since I was not prepared to do any of this, we left.