July 2, 2015

Art in the Middle of Nowhere, South of... (Sozopol - 4105 km)

(Sozopol, 27.06.2015 - 28.06.2015) Following the route of the Struma on-shore along the Black Sea coast, the road takes us southwards, past Burgas and Sozopol, through forestlands down to the Bulgarian-Turkish border.

Astonishing and far away for art lovers, south of Sozopol, i. e. in Yasna polyana, we come across several wood sculptures, exhibited on the occasion of the 2013 National Symposium for Wood Sculpture.

A windfall art exhibition in the middle of nowhere, free and in full harmony with nature. Why not, it made for a nice change. Next stop: Istanbul!

July 1, 2015

No more Judo at the Synagogue of... (Varna - 3919 km)

(Varna, 27.06.2015 - 28.06.2015) This is the modern reconstruction of the Ashkenazi synagogue of Varna. The Jewish community in Varna had two synagogues. The Sephardi synagogue was the first to be established at the end of the 19th century. A smaller synagogue served the Ashkenazi Jews. From the article The Jewish Community of Varna by Beit Hatfusot we learn on these synagogues as follows: "The two synagogues, the Ashkenazi and Sephardi, were nationalized. The Sephardi synagogue, around which the Jewish community was established, was used as a boxing ring for many years. By late 1990’s it was a ruin with only the exterior walls still standing. The Ashkenazi synagogue was used until the beginning of the 1990’s as Judo club. During late 1990, both synagogues were deserted and badly in need of restoration."

Varna was the port of registry for a small ship with a long history. It was launched as SS Xantha, but subsequently carried the names SS Sölyst, SS Sea Maid, SS Kafireus, SS Esperos, Makedoniya and finally MV Struma. As Struma she tried to take nearly 800 Jewish refugees from Romania to Palestine in December 1941. Turkey detained her in Istanbul because Britain refused to admit her passengers to Palestine. In February 1942 a Soviet submarine torpedoed and sank Struma in the Black Sea after Turkish authorities had towed her out to sea and cast her adrift. We'll keep following Struma's course and her fate down to Istanbul.

June 30, 2015

The Parallels Between Czernowitz and... (Brăila - 3610 km)

(Brăila, 26.06.2015 - 27.06.2015) Currently the Municipality of Brăila is idealizing Brăila as a "cosmopolitan city", stating that "Turks, Jews, Roma, Lipovan-Russians, Bulgarians, Armenians, Greeks, Hungarians, Germans, Ukrainians, Polish, Albanians and Italians lived 'in good friendship' with the Romanians settled here, each of them having their well-established place in the community, each of them writing in their own way a page in the history of Brăila." Doesn't that sound very familiar to many Jews from Bukovina? Well, as a matter of fact, the cityscape shows many striking parallels between these two cities.

Looking closer at the dilapidations brings us rapidly back down to earth and the decrease in the number of Jews from more than 11,000 in 1930 down to 40 in 2013, according to ProBrăila, doesn't convincingly reflect that Jews always lived "in good friendship" with the Romanians settled here.

June 28, 2015

Good News from the Region State Archives of... (Odessa - 3070 km)

(Odessa, 21.06.2015 - 26.06.2015) My day in Odessa usually starts (and ends) at one of my most favorite places in town, the Gogol-Mogol Art Café, a cozy restaurant serving traditional regional - i. e. mainly Jewish - specialities.

From the Gogol-Mogol Art Café it is only a stone's throw away to the State Archives of Odesa Oblast located in the former Brodskaya Synagogue named for the "Brodski" Jews, since many of them came from the Galician town of Brody to Odessa.

Generously assisted by Tatiana Dettmer, a young Odessan philologist and prospective historian, living in Cologne, who was extremely helpful in identifying the database at the State Archives of the Odesa Oblast, we met Deputy Director Lilia Bilusova [in the middle]. In close cooperation with the MIGDAL Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Museum of Odessa, Lilia and her team are doing an oustanding job in unearthing historical treasures from the deeps of the archives. The Ghetto Prisoners Database, is just one of these projects of special importance and was for me the decisive factor to add Odessa to my itinerary.

Let's have a closer look to the above document from the September 1942 in order to comprehend its significance. It displays 21 recipients of payments, being deported to Bershad in Transnistria, as well as the payments effected in R.K.K.S (Reichskreditkassenschein) by donors from Romania destined for softening the cruel fate of their relatives and/or friends. Out of 21 entries, 13 deportees came from Czernowitz, 3 from other places in Bukovina, 1 from Bessarabia and for 4 of them no place of origin was mentioned. That is very much in line with the content of this database, meaning that the overwhelming majority of the deportees, who received a financial aid came from Bukovina. After processing the Ghetto Prisoners Database, made available to the public both by courtesy of MIGDAL and the State Archives of Odesa Oblast, we've compiled a listing of more than 5,000 payment transactions to deportees in Transnistria, sorted by the recipients.

In addition we learn from The Nizkor Project: "A special Jewish Aid Commission for Transnistria was set up in Bucharest. It worked with the Federation of the Unions of the Jewish Communities of Romania, but it maintained complete autonomy. The commission consisted of Dr. M. Zimmer, A. Schwefelberg, Fred Sharaga, Israel Leiwandman and E. Costiner, The Joint, the Zionist Organization (Michon Benvenisti), the WIZO, and 'The White Angel'. They all collaborated with this committee. Volunteers collected from donors a variety of goods, as well as money, and found ways to clandestinely send parcels to Transnistria. Due to bureaucratic procrastination, the aid shipments usually arrived after lengthy delays. Eventually, a special Romanian delegate was sent to intervene and accelerate the process. Money was also sent to Transnistria. By November 1943, a total of 79,462,000 lei (exchange rate was 143 lei to one US dollar) had been sent. The official monetary aid was accomplished by Jewish donors depositing Romanian lei in a government account at the National Bank, which exchanged these monies for RKKS (Reichskreditkassenschein), according to the specifications of the Aid Commission."

No doubt about, "Good News from the Region State Archives of Odessa", but the best is yet to come: The Ghetto Prisoners Database is an ongoing project and another approximately 15,000 - 20,000 datasets are scheduled to be released as early as September 2015 on the occasion of the 2nd Academic and Research Conference "Archives. The History. The Present." dedicated to the 95th Anniversary "State Archives of Odessa Region, 1920-2015", which will be held in Odessa on September 3-4, 2015. The slogan "Next year in Czernowitz!" has to be supplemented with "This year in Odessa!".

June 24, 2015

Bershad, Oy Vey... (Bershad - 2750 km)

(Bershad, 20.06.2015 - 21.06.2015) Different from the last stages of my journey, in Bershad the awareness for the Holocaust is omnipresent. It stands to reason since in 1941 Romanian forces transformed this city into the Bershad Ghettowhere thousands of Jews, so many of them from Bukovina and Bessarabia, were starved to death. Among the victims were the grandparents and the aunt of Miriam Suss from Melbourne, Australia. Thus Miriam and her cousin Sabina Brecher (née Ziller), born in Czernowitz, became the driving forces behind placing a memorial at the mass grave site on the grounds of the New Jewish Cemetery; see Miriam's 2002 report at Ehpes.

The first memorial, erected after World War II (Photo: Yad Vashem Photo Archives), is in close vicinity to the new one, both of them commemorating the 12,000 victims buried at this mass grave. From Yefim Vygodner, the devotedly acting chairman of the local Jewish Community, we learn more about both the two memorials, presumed we do understand "a bissele Jiddisch".

Was it the introduction to Yefim Vygodner by Andrzej Polec from Warsaw, was it the hospitality of the Jews from Bershad, was it their vivid interest in my travel experiences or was it at the end of the day my feeling of attachment to them? I don't know, any way, the reception in the two hundred years old synagogue by about half of the remaining - fourty - Jews of Bershad was awesome. The range of our discussion reached from trivial issues such as the disastrous state of Ukrainian roads or an emergency repair of a pierced motorcycle tire, up to the comprehension of Adolf Hitler's Seizure of Power in 1933 in conversation with Holocaust survivor Yosl Kogan.

The visit to Bershad was both an intellectual experience and one for the senses too, but photography is capturing - if at all possible - the atmosphere just partially.

This applies to the Sunday morning farmers' market on Lenin Road too, the main road, which formerly divided the lower and the upper sections of the Bershad Ghetto. Bershad, oy vey Bershad!

June 20, 2015

Historical Amnesia and Memorabilia around... (Ladyzhyn - 2414 km)

(Ladyzhyn, 18.06.2015 - 20.06.2015) It's frustrating, but I think we have no choice but to accept that when it comes to the crimes committed during the Holocaust by Nazi Germany and its Romanian allies in Transnistria and beyond, it's all water under the bridge; in this particular case the water of the Bug River, which delimitated the Romanian from the German sphere of control during World War II.

Perfect natural landscapes hiding the atrocities, which happened here, as per my 2014 posting "The Stone Quarry on the Bug River at 8 Miles from N 48°40' E 29°15' and 54 Miles from Uman"  or Christian Herrmann's June 2015 posting "In Transnistria" . From Marion Tauschwitz's biography on Selma Merbaum we learn that even Selma, despite her horrible situation, had an eye for the natural idyll (Marion's posting dated 14.08.2014).

No monument, no plate, literally nothing in remembrance of the victims, among them so many Jews from Bukovina and Czernowitz! From Ladyzhyn I continued driving west to Vapniarca and yet again, apart from natural beauty, nothing whatsoever is reminiscent of the Vapniarca Camp, which was one of the main articles of accusation during the First Trial Against the War Criminals in Front of the Romanian People's Tribunal in May 1945.

No knowledge of historical circumstances, but just a sensitive metal detecting device is needed, to discover memorabilia from World War II such as a SS helmet or a double rifle both made by Krupp steel. A., a most sympathetic young man from a small village near Ladyzhyn is quite rightly proud of his dig.

Nature is recapturing terrain, people fall into historical amnesia, what are we to do? I don't know, but at least I'm keeping on pointing to Holocaust survivor's testimonies:

June 19, 2015

The Differences in Commemorative Cultures in... (Vinnytsia - 2280 km)

(Vinnytsia, 17.06.2015 - 18.06.2015) It's yet again a Czernowitzer, Vladimir Borzhemskiy, the Executive Director of "Hesed-Emuna" Charitable Jewish Center, who pointed me in the right direction to the still working two synagogues in town as well as to the old Jewish cemetery.

The old Jewish cemetery, or rather what remained of it, has been evidenced by the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad and there are indications of an ongoing reconstruction project, presumably financed by American, British and Ukrainian funds.

For locating the World War II Remembrance Monument in the heart of town I didn't need assistance; it sticks out a mile and proves that as a matter of fact there are differences between the commemorative cultures.

Vinnytsia has to deal with so many atrocities such as the Vinnytsia Massacre by the NKVD during Joseph Stalin's Great Purge in 1937-1938 as well as the killing of as high as 28,000 Jews by Einsatzgruppen C and D during World War II.