friend Cipora and I visited
this spring. It was my second visit to Bukachevtsy, the town in which my
maternal grandmother Pesia Mandel was born.
Cipora was born in Bukachevtsy
right before the German invasion in 1941. She and her family, along with
most of my family and all the other Jews in Bukachevtsy, were forced to
move to the ghetto in Rohatyn shortly thereafter. While most of the Jews
in the Rohatyn ghetto were either executed in Rohatyn or sent to the
extermination camp at Belzec, a small number managed to escape and
return to Bukachevtsy. They spent the next two years or so hiding in
bunkers in the
on its outskirts. Although Cipora was too young to remember any of this,
she and her parents and brother survived the war in this fashion along
with my great-uncle Joel and his son Solomon (and others).
It is amazing
to think that this group of people survived for close to two years by
living in a hole in the ground. They foraged for food, stole food from
nearby farmers, and bought and traded with locals who were willing to
help them. Occasionally things turned bad and some were captured and
killed (two of my young cousins were killed in this fashion) but other
locals helped. Cipora relates the story that a local Ukrainian
woman—her grandfather's maid, who also became her parents'
maid—used to risk her life and bring them food whenever she could.
not a genealogist, Cipora was interested
in returning to Bukachevtsy, her birthplace, and to Rohatyn, her
mother’s town. Her plans coincided with my intention to continue work
on my genealogy project, which involved a specific cemetery in that
area. The chance to revisit my maternal grandmother’s hometown with a
friend and work on a genealogical project of great interest to me was beshert.
years ago I had received an unsolicited email, written in Polish, asking
for money to build a wall around the remains of the Jewish cemetery in
Bukachevtsy. There was no wall when I last visited, and this had been
the first time I heard of a project to build one. The email came from
someone who claimed to be related to the mayor of Bukachevtsy.
I asked Alex Dunai, with whom I had traveled to
, to investigate for me. He discovered that the wall had been ordered by
the rabbi in nearby Ivano-Frankivsk, who said that it was fully paid
for. The mayor of Bukachevtsy claimed that they were not paid the
agreed-upon amount and so the work was not completed. What to do?
I raised some money from other Bukachevtsy researchers;
fellow Gesher Galicia member Sol Sylvan graciously agreed to bring the
money to Ukraine and give it to Alex, who would get it to Bukachevtsy.
Sol not only delivered the money but also used his own time to go to
Bukachevtsy with Alex and to photograph the wall for us. All this effort
lead us nowhere, as the mayor, claiming that we had not sent enough
money, would not accept the funds from Alex and Sol. The money was
returned to me and I, in turn, returned it to the donors.
Fast forward two years: now I had an
opportunity to try to deal with this situation in person. Once again we
were traveling with Alex Dunai, who not only drove and guided us but
also translated and helped us in all our negotiations.
We met with the Ivano Frankivsk rabbi, who had originally arranged to
have the fence around the Jewish cemetery in Bukachevtsy built. He told
us that he hadn't personally handled the project—a middleman had
handled all the negotiations and money. He thought that everything had
been paid for and wanted nothing further to do with this whole project.
It wasn’t clear whether or not all the funds were paid to the workers
in Bukachevtsy but we saw no point in discussing it further with him.
The next day we went to Bukachevtsy and were able to meet both
with the mayor (a new one) and the contractor who built the fence around
the Jewish cemetery. We made it quite clear that we were not involved in
the original negotiations or dealings and simply wanted to see the fence
completed. They said that they were never paid the entire funds that
were originally agreed to; we felt that they were truthful.
agreed upon a price and made tentative arrangements to complete the
including needed repairs (it hadn't been disturbed since the last time
Alex visited two years ago). We also wanted to surround the entire
cemetery, leaving an opening for entry and exit. We would pay
approximately half up front, and the balance upon successful completion
of the job. The mayor agreed to allow us to put up a sign or plaque but
we didn't want to get involved in such details at this point. It was a
friendly discussion and the vibes were good.
At Alex's suggestion, we didn't pay
as we didn't want to appear over-eager. We left funds for the down
payment with Alex, who will return and have the contractor sign an
agreement for us.
are now trying to raise funds to pay for this
project and hope that all will go forward according to plan. Face-to-face
contact still works better than phone calls and emails. Of course, I
will have to let you know if all goes well. My hope is that when this
fence is completed and we put up a sign indicating that this was the
Jewish cemetery, we will have a dedication ceremony
attended by the few remaining Bukachevtsy Jews and the descendants of
By the way, these negotiations took place in
, which was the former home of Cipora’s grandfather and father. What
better irony? We also explored Bukachevtsy and with the help of an
old woman found the remains of the last standing synagogue in town, now
abandoned. We had lunch in the Oasis Café. Progress comes even to
Bukachevtsy and the pierogies weren’t bad.
find the bunkers in which she had lived during the war. We located the
and drove around. But how does one find a bunker in a forest? Alex had
the great idea of looking for the Forestry office in town and indeed
found a worker who knew where the bunkers were. He guided us to them and
Cipora saw for the first time in over 60 years where she had spent the
first few years of her life. Most of us can only imagine what she felt.
We also visited Rohatyn and saw the Jewish cemetery, the home of
Cipora’s maternal grandparents and of the woman who had hidden Cipora
for several weeks before her family went to hide in the bunker. Cipora
had visited before and knew that this woman, who had once worked for her
family, was dead, but we met her daughter-in-law and Cipora was able
once again to say thank you.
The third part of our personal campaign was a
visit to Belzec, now across the border in
. Cipora’s grandparents and aunts and uncles, along with several of my
great-aunts and uncles, were killed in Belzec and we felt the need to
visit and pay our respects. Although no traces of the original
extermination camp remains, a very moving memorial was constructed on
the site of the camp in 2004. From March through December 1942 about
500,000 Jews, most from
, were exterminated at Belzec. The corpses were buried in mass graves;
there are no records of the names of these people. (There is a campaign
at the Memorial to record the names of those who are known to have died
Additionally, we did the standard Jewish sightseeing as well as some
non-Holocaust related sightseeing in Lviv, and visited Drohobych,
Truskawiec (a famous spa) and Stryy. Cipora’s father had studied at
the Music Conservatory in Lviv and we were able to visit it. Since we
are both opera fans we attended the opera in Lviv, and enjoyed a
pleasant evening in an absolutely beautiful jewel box of an opera house.
And because Cipora knew that her father had actually performed at the
opera house more than 60 years ago, this was a very special event for
made an overnight visit to Uzhgorod, in the Carpathians, to visit
cousins of mine who still remain in
, and on our return journey to the
spent three days exploring
this a successful journey? The end results of the cemetery project
remain to be seen. But certainly, Cipora was able to visit the
scenes of her childhood and I the scenes of my family’s history. To me
this is better genealogy than just names on the family tree.
(Linda, a retired high school
history teacher, has been working on her family history for nearly 30
years. She is very involved in the world of Jewish genealogy and is
currently president of JGS, Inc (
). She was the co-chair of the 2006 IAJGS International Conference on
Jewish Genealogy, held in
New York City