The following is an excerpt from my trip diary. My Zaida was born in a village called Stavische
(not far from Pavolitch) and grew up in a nearby town called Fastiv. We visited Pavolitch as well as these
RETURN TO MY ROOTS by Keith Levitt
I was so excited about today, I had a hard time sleeping (or was it still jet-lag). I awoke at 5:00 a.m. We were picked up at 8:30 A.M. by Natalie, our guide and Vlad our driver (BMW). We drove out of Kiev and about one hour later arrived at the entrance of Fastiv. We took photos at the sign ‘Fastiv’. We then drove downtown to start our search. The day before, we learned from Avi Katzman (Israeli), the director of the Jewish Agency in Kiev, that they had an office (ulpan) in Fastiv and that the Hebrew teacher was coming to Kiev and he would try to get some direction for us through her. It turns out we did it on our own. We first went to the museum of Fastiv. The women there were very helpful. They were thrilled to have visitors from Canada at their museum and took our picture. Keith gave them a polar bear print that Natalie proudly told them had been presented to the Prince of Wales. Also before we left we gave them a donation which made the women very excited - she blushed. First of all they contacted the head of the executive of the local Jewish Community. Ella Feinshane came with her husband Peretz (Peter) to the museum.
Fastiv currently has 105 ‘members’ of the Jewish Community (and 10 - 15 Jewish non-members). The population of Fastiv is 70,000. The town seems to be very industrialized and is a center of railway transportation. During the time Zaida lived in Fastiv (I assume 1900 - 1920) the town was 80% Jewish!!
We spoke with Ella and Peretz at the museum. Peretz spoke Yiddish so I was able to speak with him. Ella only knew a few words and spoke Ukrainian through the interpreter.
Ella said she heard of the ‘Levites’ family and it was a big family and a relative was still living. We got totally excited until she later realized that she was mistaken and that the family name was Levis.
Ella and Peretz took us to the Jewish Agency offices (in the municipal building). It was a small room where Hebrew was taught and holidays were celebrated. They gave us various Jewish newspapers published by the newly formed Jewish Council of Ukraine. At the office there were two girls waiting. They received food hampers. One girl was the grand-daughter of a ‘righteous gentile’ who lived in Pavolitch.
Upon leaving I gave Ella and Peretz a donation for the agency as well as a picture of the Kotel in
Jerusalem which they said they would display with photos of their Pesach celebration.
We then drove and walked through the once ‘Jewish’ part of the town. We saw and photographed the old Jewish Cheder (School) and the old homes of the Fastiv Jews. We met a Jewish friend of Ella’s, Erena. She spoke Yiddish. She invited us to her home and showed us old photos of her relatives in Fastiv and elsewhere. She maintained a very old fashion home with manual laundry, etc.
We then went to the Police Station that used to be the Synagogue. A floor was added and a new face was applied.
We then went to the Jewish Cemetery. Some stones were in Yiddish but most in Ukrainian. We were told (and saw photos at the museum) that the Nazis used the gravestone as foundations for the basements of their offices they built in Fastiv during the occupation. As a result there were few old stones but empty fields of graves. There were several newer stones of Jewish residents but few had any signs of Judaism, Yiddish or Star of Davids.
Then we went to an area marking a mass grave where hundreds of Jews were executed ‘mini-Babi-yar’. We then dropped Ella off at her apartment and after much discussion turned down her offer to arrange lunch for us at a rather suspect cafe. We drove to the main street and bought cheese and bread from a very authentic store which still used an abacus to count with. We ventured into a open air market where we bought oranges and a cucumber. We shared our picnic in the car and by coincidence the tomato juice Natalya (our guide) had bought was from Israel!
We set off on the road for Stavische. Our driver stopped many times for directions until finally one fellow said we were there. It was basically one long road with houses behind fences. We found the town council, also a small house. Nothing seemed to date back before WWII. The secretary treasurer took us across the road to meet a woman who was 86 years old. She told us that it had been a Jewish village but did not recognize the name Levites. She was very friendly and we took some nice pictures with her. After a few more pictures and wandering, we were off again for Pavolitch. We were now in an area with small lakes and rolling hills. The road became very bumpy and turned out to be cobblestone.
We arrived in Pavolitch into a very open area with buildings spread out. The city council, down the road an orthodox cathedral and one very old interesting building that we immediately started to photograph. Amazingly enough our interesting old building was a synagogue dating back to the mid to late 1800’s. It was now a museum. We went in search of the caretaker and met a lovely man named Ivan Bubitye. He was so happy to take us in and show us his pride and joy. Before we knew it he had started to show us archeological evidence from the bronze age 1500 years ago. At this rate we thought it would be night time before we made it into the Jewish cemetery. So we explained that we wanted to concentrate on Jewish History. The Museum had a section devoted to "The Jewish Era", including data on Jewish Population over the years, biographical information about a Jewish Army General that liberated the town and information on a large Jewish collective farm.
The museum director then took us to see the Jewish cemetery that was well hidden off the main road. It seemed that the cemetery once had a stone gate with lilac trees growing around it. The gravestones were very old and almost impossible to read. Ivan picked lilacs for Linda and Natalia and by now it was raining quite heavily. We then went to a site of mass execution. It was very moving thinking that Keith’s family had escaped this fate by leaving for Canada some 20 years earlier. We went back to the museum where Natalia looked through a list of victims executed in the area and the good news was that neither Karasick nor Rosenstein were on the list. Keith signed the guest book and made a donation to the museum. It was a very sincere and wonderful time in Palovitch.
We left to drive back to Kiev along very picturesque roads winding through fields, many of the streets of roads had trees framing them. We passed a horse and buggy and Keith just about passed out with excitement. Please refer to the website or photo gallery!!!