Exploring Cemeteries and Byways of Ukraine
by Harriet Kasow
I made the trip to Ukraine to accomplish a lifelong dream. Based on the stories my father and mother and aunts and uncles related, I wanted to see for myself where they were born, lived, married, and to understand their reasons for leaving during the great Jewish immigration to the United States between 1891-1924. I have been a volunteer for the Israel Genealogical Society for many years, and combined with family stories, my love of history, and my research skills as a professional librarian, I decided to plan this trip.
One of my first tasks was to study the Russian language to get a feel for the culture and to be able to read on a basic level. Knowing Hebrew added to the mixture. The second task was to get my cousin, who I discovered on JewishGen Family Finder, to come along for the ride. Aizic (Yitzhak) Oked Sechter is related to me on my father's side, and has created a wonderful family tree of 6,000 names. Next we needed to find guides who were also translators and drivers. Their details are listed below.
The first six days of the trip I was in Kiev, Vinnytsya, Borschiv, and environs. This area was where my mother and her family came from. The next nine days we were based in Chernivtsi, where Aizic and I visited family shtetlach. He can convey his extensive knowledge of the area in a book or an article and I am appreciative of his total participation in the second-half of my journey. In the bibliography below I have listed the documents we obtained and the unusual books that were given to us or that we purchased along the way.
A report of the trip was published in Avotaynu's Summer 2010 issue. Click here to read this article.
Names and Places
My name is Chana Fruma Belfer Sadoff, a k a Harriet Frances Kasow. Both sets of grandparents and parents immigrated to the United States between the years 1907 and 1923.
My genealogical research in terms of many names is not extensive. I am searching the following names: on my father's side, Sadovnic/Sadownik/ Sadoff. The towns searched are Klishkivtsi, Khotyn, and Novoseltsy. On his mother's side is Krohn/Cron from Borshcev and Tarnopil. My paternal great-grandmother is Pessia Zazulia from Iasi, Romania. This is essentially all my data on my father's side. My father, Jacob David, was born in 1904, the youngest of three; his father Hirsch Zvi (one of six) was born in 1874. My grandmother Frieda Krohn was born in 1875. Her father, Yehoshua Krohn, was born in 1845. My mother's father's name is Belfer/Bellfer/Behelfer/Bell and her mother's maiden name was Haas.
My mother Hinda (Helen) was born in 1910, the youngest of six. Her mother Raisel was born in 1874 and her father Yechiel/Chiel/Charles J. was born in 1876. They are from Bar in what is currently the Vinnitsya oblast and formerly Podilia Gobernia.
The methodology I chose to use included visiting the places known to me from the following sources: my father, Jacob David, whose memory up until the age of 90 was phenomenal. He knew about his family and where they had dispersed. I examined Ellis Island records and found all the relatives that came between the years mentioned above.
I discovered the petition for naturalization from my paternal grandfather and have copies of naturalization papers for my father and his two sisters. I have the passenger manifest for my paternal grandmother Frieda Kron as well as the Romanian passport with her children that she obtained before she left in 1920. I have the death certificates of both sets of grandparents. I know their burial sites. There are social security death index records of some family members. On the Belfer side there are many stories and anecdotes from the children of the immigrants.
I wanted to visit archives, and therefore sent requests for information to Kiev and to Chernowitz. The archives in Vinnitsa we visited on the spot as the one in Kmelnytsky as well.
I found a lot of information about what information is not available; the visits to these archives, and looking at some very old documents, was an experience. I will relate what is available and what you need to do in order to get material. This is specific only to the archives I visited.
I then wanted to visit all the cemeteries I could, and not only those that were connected to family.
I will list those cemeteries visited and their physical state, and provide some photos.
Synagogues were also to be visited. In the second-half of my trip where I spent nine days in Chernowitz with my cousin on the Sadovnik side, we also visited town halls; spoke to mayors and educational staff. They led us to older people, not Jews, who could still remember Jews living in the towns of interest.
Archives, Cemeteries, and Synagogues
Part I: Vinnitsya
We visited the Director of the State Archives of Ukraine in Kiev (without an appointment) and he explained the workings of the archive. There is a regulatory body for all the archives in Ukraine. The procedure for requesting information is to submit a request in English, giving the following information: family name, date of birth, death, marriage, and birth place. (E-mail below). You are requested to indicate the relationship with the person being searched. He stated clearly that this was the procedure for all requests for all the archives.
He gave me a book that was based on the work of Miriam Weiner. (Archives…). The Archive is under renovation. You need only a passport for entry.
The National Library requires a letter from an institution stating your research needs. We went there without a previous appointment and a librarian kindly downloaded a list or items related to the town of Bar on a flash drive.
The Archives in Vinnitsya is located in a 400-year-old building; the help given was very friendly. They had some old documents related to Bar that only included certain years, and these were birth registers in Russian and Hebrew. I looked up the birth year of my mother 1910 but couldn't find her. I did photograph some of the pages as they were about to fall apart. (photo). They do searches, but you need to submit them in advance. They told us we would find more information in Khmelnytsky. (E-mail below)
We visited the formerly Jewish part of the town, the archives, the cemeteries, and the synagogue (photo) (scan) and talked to Victor Nisin, a friend of my guide, who had been born there and who told us about the Jewish streets. The synagogue hosts a project relating to the Holocaust. Out of 28,000 Jews before, there are now about 1,500.
Victor taught Hebrew at the synagogue by default, as he was not trained. The cemetery is located at Privozanaya Street. (photo) The older cemetery is located in an apartment complex with very few gravestones remaining and under dense foliage. (photo) There are non-Jewish gravestones as well. When they were building the complex they discovered these gravestones and removed them to the central cemetery. (photo) Interestingly enough, most of the gravestones that I photographed had not a single Hebrew symbol. The text was in Russian only. I thought this odd but then again for years the Soviets never mentioned that Jews died in a particular killing site until pressure was put on them to add a plaque in Hebrew or Yiddish. There is a street, Jerusalimika, where Jews lived in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Another street name is Shalom Aleichman. We visited the three streets where Jews once lived. (photo) Currently there are a cinema, an archives, and other stores. Nearby, on the bank of the river where once was a Jewish community center, is now a park.
In exploring the cemetery at Bar, we came across a gravestone with the name of Belfer. Rachmiel Belfer was born in 1895 and died in 1968. (photo) The gravestone had a Magen David but the text was in Russian, common during the Soviet era. As I knew my grandfather had lived and was perhaps born there, I thought it must be a relative. Having combed the archives in Vinnitsya and not finding any documentation we were overjoyed in finding this gravestone. My guide was so ecstatic that you would have thought it was a relative of his. By total coincidence, while I was filming some of the gravestones in this relatively small cemetery, a couple passed through and out of curiosity asked us who we were searching for. It seems they took care of a grave site of family members who perished in the Holocaust and whose survivors, living in Israel, are sending them money to maintain the grave site. The man, Victor Kolodiy, knew Rachmiel, who had been a teacher, and his son Victor, with whom he had gone to school. He claimed that Rachmiel was born in Mitke about four kilometers from Bar. He said his son and wife Tatiana had emigrated to the U.S. in 2000. I gave the couple $100 to take care of the plot for a year and they have already sent me photos of their work. Although he said there was no official caretaker for the cemetery it doesn't seem to be as overgrown as most of the others I have seen.
We traveled to Mytky and discovered only one gravestone but there must have been a Jewish cemetery there as we noticed broken stones and other detritus. (photo). On the way to Kanonytske, which was nearby, we discovered a fairly large cemetery that had been moderately restored. I had hoped to see if I could find Belfer gravestones but was not successful. (photo) We also visited the cemetery in Brailov. (photo) This has a memorial to the martyrs killed in the Holocaust. In addition, there is an old but well-tended small cemetery. We asked directions to the cemetery from older folk who knew the exact location. Brailov was a proto-typical village with dirt roads, but had beautiful scenery and a lake.
We went to the archives in Khmelnytsky for two reasons. The archivists at Vinnitsya said that information pertaining to Bar might be found there and that any remnants of the archives that would have survived the fire at Kamyanets-Podilskyy would be there as well. The archivist couldn't find anything by name mainly because the data is not computerized and without knowing the dates of births, deaths, and marriages it is difficult to search. They do not search by names. Despite being named after the Cossack revolt leader who killed Jews, the city is lovely and more modern than a lot of others in Ukraine. (photo)
We then went to Borshchiv, where presumably my paternal great-grandfather Rabbi Yehoshua Cron was born, to visit the cemetery. What we discovered was a truncated cemetery with one memorial for all those buried there. Apparently the cemetery had been destroyed in the war. (photo). We arrived in Ternopil on a Sunday so we couldn't go to the archives but instead visited the tiny, neglected, unlocked, and graffiti-ridden cemetery. Of interest to note that the text on the gravestones is only in Hebrew and German. (photo).
Part II. Chernivitsi
We stayed here for nine days making day trips. We visited the State Archives after having made an appointment in advance and sending in our request. We were welcomed by the director in his office who presented us with a book of the archive's holdings as a gift. (Guide: State Archives…) He then turned us over to his staff who found for us the documents listed below. We paid a small fee for photocopies.
We then went to the cemetery in Khotyn where my cousin arranged for us to meet with someone who would show us the cemetery and the synagogue.
Aizic sought to find his grandfather's (whom he was named after) gravestone of which he had a photo of part of the gravestone that was taken in the 1950's. The cemetery is enormous and very overgrown. Aizic couldn't find the gravestone he wanted and I took many photos of gravestones. (photo) We then went to the synagogue which was in poor condition as only twenty Jewish families remain. (photo).
We then went to Klishkivtsi where Jews are still living. We were guided by Dr. Alexander "Sasha" Parsionovish Kyriak who was born and lived in the town his entire 70 years. He practiced medicine until he retired. He showed us the streets where the Jews once lived, the site of one of the two synagogues that is now a private house. (photo) The second synagogue had been torn down and in its place is a huge warehouse (photo). We also saw standing one of the last Jewish homes, just as it was more than 100 years ago. (photo) We saw the remnants of a factory (cottage industry) for the production of Povidel, plum jam. (photo) My grandfather Hirsch Zvi worked there according to my father. Dr. Sasha introduced us to a 90-year-old resident, Roman Sienonovich Vovk, a Seventh Day Adventist, who greeted us in Yiddish which he had learned from his Jewish neighbors. He related to us stories of the Jewish families who lived there before World War II. He went on to tell us very clearly how the Jews were expelled from Klishkivtsi by Romanian soldiers. The non-Jewish Ukrainians stole all the belongings of the Jews when the Romanians took them away. The few Jews that returned were left without anything. I have this conversation on a tape in Ukrainian and Hebrew translation. (photo) There are two cemeteries in Klishkivtzi. The old one, which is about 400 years old, is totally abandoned, and is located near a gas station on the busy highway between Chernivitsi and Khotyn near a private house whose owner cleans the foliage yearly and would like to buy this property (photo).She also told us that she has been living on this property for over fifteen years and that we were the first people to ever visit the cemetery. Her property adjoins and probably overlaps into the cemetery's grounds.
This cemetery is very extensive but most of the gravestones are undecipherable. (photo). The other cemetery, which was inaugurated about 1880, is located outside of the town in a very bucolic area but nearly impossible to traverse by auto or foot. Money was given to fix the access road but apparently it went into someone's pocket. We managed to get there, I almost couldn't manage the walk, but I was on an important mission and was rewarded by finding the gravestone of my Grandfather Hirsch Zvi's sister Haya, who was born in 1869 and died in 1933. (photo). Most of the very extensive cemetery was in a jungle. Though some restoration had been done, it was hardly noticeable.
At Aizic's instigation and indefatigable persistence we went again another day and visited the Mayor's office as well as the local high school. (photo) Despite numerous phone calls by our guide, we were unable to see the Mayor but managed to talk to the deputy mayor. Our purpose was to encourage the preservation of the Jewish sites and display our interest in our ancestral town. But as elections were in the offing, our meeting was less than satisfactory. However, the principal of the high school and his staff welcomed us with open arms even though we sort of barged in without having made an appointment. (photo) We had heard about a book written on the history of the town and wanted to know where we could see it. Lo and behold, he offered to make us each a CD which we would pick up in a few days. (Karvatsky…) We promised in return to help them with a project on Judaism for their next year's curriculum. They also presented us with a gift of a history of Chernivtsi. (Berezina, S.I…).
We returned again to Khotyn and explored the municipality and some archives (photo) but we were repeatedly told there was no documentation. On my grandmother's Frieda Sadovnik 's passenger manifest, when she arrived at Ellis Island with her three children on a Romanian passport was listed an address in Khotyn. This was where her mother lived with her second husband. Unfortunately, I didn't have this address on hand to look up the street.
My three visits to the cemetery in Chernivtsi produced photos for the Czernowitz Jewish Cemetery Restoration Organization (CJCRO) project and lots of random photos of interesting and beautiful gravestones that caught my eye. The most important gravestone I found through chance conversation at the archives. On hearing that we were researching the Sadovnik family, an archivist revealed to me that she had been a former student of Shlomie Pessie Sadovnik who taught Romanian Literature at the University. He had passed away and was buried in Chernivtsi. She said that he was buried there. A kind fellow at the archives took me to his gravestone and et voila. (photo)
Novoseltsy was the third of the cities in which we spent a lot of time. Here, through the local owner of a small supermarket, the son of Roman Vovk from Klishkivtsi, we were introduced to an old-timer and one of the last remaining Jews in Novoseltsy. He was a possible relative of my first cousin's husband (Harac) who allowed me to film photos and documents. He directed us to the synagogue where restoration is underway, but quite a lot of work still remains. (photo) He also directed us to the cemetery and war memorial. The cemetery is huge and very well preserved, which is a tribute to descendants of the town living in Israel and other places who contribute to its upkeep. There is a woman caretaker who lives on the grounds and a groundskeeper. (photo) At the war memorial we discovered some Sadovniks, and once again we were presented with leads not from archives but from grave sites.
We visited several other towns that were connected with Aizic's mother's family.
They are Mamayevtsi, Shyrivtsi, Sadgora, Kalinkovtsi, and Nedobovtsi.
On the way to the airport in Lviv, we stopped at the gravesite of the Baal Shem Tov's mother in Tovste. (photo). This is a beautiful cemetery both in style and in its physical state. It contains a mass grave where during the Holocaust thousands of Jews were murdered. There is a well-kept memorial placed there by the Israeli descendants of the martyrs, which includes an Israeli flag that creates the feeling of "Never Again". This was an appropriate last stop to this awe-inspiring and unforgettable genealogical research trip.
One conclusion I can come to is that documentation for my families' existence is non-existent in the Ukrainian archives. It may be possible that I should have gone to the archives in Mogilov-Podolski and Ternopil, or waited for a response from archives before making the trip. But from many points of view: my finding family gravestones, discovering Jewish cemeteries, seeing the extent of Jewish existence in towns, and finding leads to other family members made it all worthwhile. Sometimes, being on the spot where your ancestors lived produces inspiration for further research. The reasons why my family left are the ones that propelled a lot of Jews to leave: poverty and pogroms. As bucolic and beautiful as Ukraine may have been and is still, the difficulties of living there are still evident to me 90 years later.
Our plans are to create a website for Klishkivtsi and to become active in promoting cemetery restoration.
Guides and Contacts
Kiev Archives contact: Mr. Alex Khamray E-mail email@example.com
Alex Saksonov was my driver and guide on the first 6 days of my trip. He is based in Vinnitsya.
Vinnitysa Archives: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alexander Saksonov - Ukrainian, Russian, German and English translator.
Tel: 38 0432 432175. Cell: 38 067 7923112.
E-mail: Alex@saksonov.com E-mail 2 email@example.com
Alex Masenkis was our driver and guide the nine days we were in Chernivtsi.
He is a native of Chernivtsi. He speaks Ukrainian, Russian, and Hebrew. He is able to drive to Romania as well.
Cell: 318 952 522 326 Skype PER41k21 E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
1. List of Sadovnic family members who had Romanian citizenship from Klishkivtsi from 1941 to 1944. Chernivitsi State Archives.
2. Selected family names from Klishkivtsi who applied for Romanian citizenship in 1936
Archives of Ukraine; Guidebook. Kyiv. Archives State Committee of Ukrainian Research Institute of Archiving and Study of Documents, 2008.
Berezina, S.I. From the History of Chernivtsi Jews. Chernivtsi. Technodruk. 2007.
Ukrainian and English.
Guide: State Archives of the Chernowitz Archives. Vol. 1. (Ukrainian) Kiev. Chernivtsi. 2006 ISBN: 966 8285-14-7.
Karvatsky, D.S. Journal of the History of Klishkivtsi. (Ukrainian). Klishkivtsi. Handwritten. CD copy. 1975. Given to us by the Director of the High School in Klishkivtsi.
Prestupenko, Yuri. Chernivet's'ki nekropoli. Chernivtsi. The Chernivtsi Centre of Culture Heritage. Micto. 2000. Ukrainian and a German summary. Description of the graves both Jewish and non-Jewish in the Chernivtsi Cemetery
Segal, Joshua L. A Field Guide to Visiting a Jewish Cemetery; a Spiritual Journey to the Past, Present and Future. Nashua, NH, Jewish Cemetery Publishing, LLC. 2005.
Shea, Jonathan D. & William F. Hoffman. In Their Words; A Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. Volume II: Russian. New Britain, Connecticut. Language & Lineage Press. 2002.
Suedliches Blatt vom Europ. Russland. Albany N.Y. Reproduced by Jonathan Sheppard Books. English title: Russia in Europe-1845 (Southern Sheet).
A Tour of Chernivtsi and Bukovyna; Guide. Baltia-Druk. 2008.
Harriet Kasow is a retired Media Librarian from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
She was the volunteer Librarian for the Israel Genealogy Society and wrote a column and articles for their journal "Sharsheret Hadorot". She is currently a volunteer for Yad Vashem and interviews survivors. The importance of family research was made vivid to me in this capacity. She was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Miami, and made aliya in 1971.