May 22, 2001, my husband and I made a trip to Podhajce, the shtetl from
which my maternal grandparents came and about which I had heard so many
times when I was a child. We were in Lviv on an Elderhostel trip
Ukraine and Russia. Prior to leaving the U.S. we had arranged for
driver and guide to accompany us on this one-day journey. Our
Svetlana, arrived at the agreed upon 8 a.m. departure time, and we were
off. Podhajce was only 75 miles from Lviv, but the poor
conditions made for a slow ride.
sights along the way included cows being herded along the side of the
road. Our guide explained that the owners take the cows out each
to graze along the road-side. The fields are all planted, so no
grazing can be done there. Another common sight were horses
wagons. The wagons were sturdy and made of wood in various sizes
said that Podhajce translates roughly into "town under the
Other towns or villages through which we passed were translated as
"wild trees", "under the big rock stream" (located on "the rotten lime
tree river"), "dawn", and "peaceful".
guide related the following information as we drove along.
was founded in the 13th century. The first Jews came in the 15th
century. Country fairs were often held; in 1519, there were
of fairs, and these helped the growth of the Jewish
1820 alone, there were 11 fairs. The Jews lived in the southern
of Podhajce. Before WWI, there were 3,700 Jews living in
there were 4 Jewish schools. In 1921, 60% of the population was
Jewish. The population of Podhajce is now 3,000, and there are no
Jews, since all but a few were murdered in the Holocaust.
ELABORATE SIGN WITH A VIEW OF PODHAJCE
OLD CITY HALL
OF MY FAMILY'S HOMES AROUND THE SQUARE
OTHER BUILDINGS IN PODHAJCE
Home - later a vetrinary clinic
Dr. Sher (dentist)
Right: An indentation shows where
a Mezzuzah used to be --->>
we were wandering on a side street, a gentleman came along and struck
up a conversation. He was Dr. Bohdan Metyk, a retired physician with a
very good command of the English language.. It was "beshairt" that we
should meet him. He identified some of the homes shown above, and then
went with us to the synagogue. Now in ruins, the synagogue was erected
in the first half of the 17th century. ( The number 1559 on the
synagogue plaque is not the date of dedication.)
synagogue itself was obviously once a large and imposing structure.
Today, it is only a shell. On the side is a small open-air market. I am
torn between saying it should be restored or saying leave it as a
symbol of the lives that were destroyed in Podhajce.
Dr. Metyk leading the way, we walked the few blocks from the synagogue
to the cemetery. It is in a large, partially fenced-in
field. A horse
who wandered up to us was an indication that the cemetery is used
grazing. There were hundreds of large grave stones on either side
the field. The middle portion was clear, as these stones had been
removed and used for things such as paving blocks. Identifying
individual stones would be a monumental task.
Metyk said that he knew of a mass burial ground just outside of the
city and asked if we would like to see it. He made a phone call
directions and went with us in the car. Twice, we stopped to ask
people for more specific directons. (Obviously, the existence of
grave was of common knowledge.) We came to a hill, at the top of
the grave was said to be. There was not a road leading to the
only two ruts that indicated a path used by horse and wagon.
our driver was determined to get us up there, and he did. There
two markers--one an old gravestone from the cemetery and the other a
metal stele. On the latter, the Hebrew reads:
This place is a mass grave of the martyrs that were
the sanctity of God by the Nazis, may their
name be forever blotted out.
God shall revenge their blood.
grave mound is still very visible. It is the final resting place of
some 800 Jewish residents of Podhajce. To think that such horror could
have occurred in such an idyllic setting.