14 June 2013

Labun (home at last), 14 June 2013

Several years ago when I first started thinking about a trip to Ukraine my main goal was to visit Labun. After about eleven days of travel, I awoke this morning with a sense of anticipation. This was going to be so darn great! Then I thought, "Be careful of over-expectations. I don't want to be disappointed." By the end of the day, all my expectations were fulfilled!

The day started with beautifully sunny skies - very different from most of the days since we arrived in Ukraine. A good sign. Alex suggested that we should consider going to Medzhibezh in the morning, since we had cancelled our plans to visit there yesterday. I thought about it but decided that I didn't want to risk not spending most of the day in Labun.

As we approached the shtetl called Labun (today comprised of Yurovshchina and the adjacent community of  Novolabun), Alex noticed a village sign, "Matsevichi." He'd been working with me for two days at the Khmelnitsky Archives and Mazewitsky was one of my (unusual) family names. Yesterday, we'd discussed its possible origins. There were several communities in Poland that included the word Mazevitski in their names. I had thought that my great grandfather's family might have lived in Poland before settling in Labun. But, Matsevichi (there are actually two in close proximity one called Beliki Matsevichi. I'll have to confirm the name of the other Matsevichi), about 20 miles directly south of Yurovshchina, now presented itself as a more local possibility.

We hung a left off highway T-06-12 to drive the three kilometers to Beliki Matsevichi, founded in 1640. We introduced ourselves to the mayor who decided to accompany us to the home of the late town historian. We spoke with his son who told there had been some Jewish people in the town in the past, but mostly, this was an agricultural village and Jews did not work in agriculture. He said that there had been a Jewish-owned tavern in the village. I'm filing this away as a possibility for the origins of the family whose transliterated name shows up as Mazewitsky and Macevicke (once in the USA, they changed the surname to Morris).

We moved on toward Novolabun and Yurovshchina. This sign says, "Novolabun." I really like the old (horse) and the new (tractor). We never did see a similar sign for Yursovshchina.

Alex knew from his research on Labun that there was a museum in the community. We stopped at the store and while we were asking the clerk about the museum, a museum employee walked by. The museum was closed and she was on her way out of town for a few days, but she offered to open the museum doors for us.

The museum was much larger than I'd expected. It had about five rooms of Soviet-era displays. Right before we had to leave I noticed a stack of files in one of the back display rooms. I picked one up and found a map showing World War II troop movements in the area. The museum employee told us that there is a community history book published and available for sale at the post office. The post office was closed on Friday, so we will return tomorrow to get a copy of the book.

We receive some general directions to the cemetery. Then we were lucky enough to find Vladimir Miketavich Rak grazing his cow. He not only knew where the cemetery was, he also knew where the WWII mass grave is located.

The cemetery is on a heavily forested hillside. Most of the stones appear to have been affected only by the elements and years of neglect. I estimate that I located about 60 to 80 stones, most of which are partially or mostly buried, toppled over such that they cannot be read, or deteriorated such that they are now unreadable. I photographed 22 stones. About 13 are readable and 7 are possibly readable. Here a a couple of examples of readable stones.

Vladimir was about 5 or 6 when the action in Labun took place in 1941. He recalled that the Jews were rousted from bed late at night and taken by truck to the ditch that had been dug in the forest east of the community. There they were shot. He rode with us in the SUV to the forest. We parked and walked quite a way into the trees on an old forest road. Nothing. We returned to the vehicle and Vladimir found the correct road. It was exceedingly muddy and we drove in on the road. There, as he had recalled, was an area surrounded by posts and a memorial stone and plaque. There had once been a chain attached from post to post, but that was now gone. 

Alex translated the sign for me, but I didn't write it down just then (will do so today). It is a little generic (as most Soviet era signs are) and doesn't mention that specifically Jews were killed here. The action(s) took place between July and September 1941. As far as I recall this is new information for my research. I believe the Polonnoye Yizkor book, which includes several Novolabun chapters, says that all the Novolabun Jews were taken to the Polonnoye ghetto and killed with Polonnoye Jews outside of that town. 

I said Kaddish for the people in this mass grave.

We drove around the town a bit more and I took photos of some former Jewish buildings and homes and other old buildings. Vladimir told us that the long ruin of a building in the rynak (market area) had been the location of Jewish shops. Unfortunately, someone much more recently had added brick work of pseudo turrets and the cap on the roof line.

We dropped Vladimir near where we had found him and thanked him appropriately. We were so fortunate to make his acquaintance. We continued our survey of the town and drove a couple of the northernmost streets. We plan to return tomorrow and I will post more photos after that.

It was a terrific day with several serendipitous occurrences. Can't wait to return. 


  1. So glad your trip to Labun was so fruitful! The two gravestones are very readable. The first says: A woman, important and modest, Ms Razel daughter of Rabbi (meaning learned or important man, not necessarily Rabbi here) Yehoshua Abraham, died on the 6th of Shvat and the year, shin, taf, reish, ain and I think gimel at the end which would be 1/14/1913 according to the date converter and then the typical abbreviation which stands for may his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

    The second gravestone reads: Here lies an important elderly woman Ms Rachel daughter of Rabbi Meir Feinil (English spelling?) on the 9th of Adar. I can't make out the year. It's partially covered by the plants.

  2. My grandmother was born here around 1905. Her name was Mary Morris or Marach. Her parents were Gregory and Christina . He went by Harry. My email is apple12@comcast.net. Gina Applegate. They left for America when she was a little girl .

    1. Gina:
      Good to hear fro you. I will send you an email.


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