Meeting of Israeli Skalaters regarding the Skalat Memorial in Holon

by Israel Pickoltz

A meeting was held about the cemetery in Skalat, which has been turned into a soccer field. Following is the report on the meeting, which was held Sunday evening, 27 August, 27 Av, at Kevutzat Yavneh, Israel.

The meeting was called by Chaim Bronstein, who edited the second Skalat Yizkor book. There were nearly thirty people in attendance, about half Skalaters and the rest their children or children of other Skalaters who have died or could not come. I was the only participant who is neither.

Many of these same people participated in the trip to Skalat in 1996, for the dedication of the Holocaust memorial in the fields of the village of Novosielsk.

The official hosts of the meeting were Mottel Weisman and his sister Yocheved Sarid, both of whom live on Yavneh. Yocheved's husband Yitzhak and their four children also participated. Yocheved's son Yehudah welcomed the participants.

Chaim recently returned from his seventh trip to Skalat in recent years. He has developed very good relations with the mayor and vice-mayor, with the head of the kolhoz (who was recently replaced) and with the local clergy. During his recent visit he met with the new head of the kolhoz and found her very willing to help perpetuate the memory of the Jewish community, within the severe limits of their resources. This is the recurring theme, for the small towns of Western Ukraine are very poor.

Chaim was a guest at the Sunday services of all three churches, where the theme of the day centered on the Jewish community of the past. Chaim feels that all this is genuine.

Evidence of this is the way the locals treat the Holocaust memorial, which is an area 10 X 10 meters, but the locals are planting trees around it in an area of 50 X 26 meters. The husband of the head of the kolhoz is in forestry and he is the one who will be arranging for the trees.

The farmers in the nearby fields prayed at the memorial for the success of their wheat harvest. The village of Novosielsk brings the village children to the memorial to help maintain the area.

Lest we think otherwise, Chaim made the point that the Christian cemeteries are badly neglected - although obviously none have been taken for other uses.

The Jewish cemetery was intact when the Russian troops drove the Germans out. In fact, there were even a few late-war burials there. Apparently the area was taken over by the school and turned into a soccer field in 1952. (This was not a case where the cemetery was destroyed and later made into a soccer field, but rather it was destroyed for this specific purpose, despite the available land on the other side of the school.)

There are about fifteen tombstones piled in a corner of the cemetery. There are over 160 stones being used to pave the entrance to city hall and to fence the area around city hall. The mayor and the other city employees walk on these stones every day. The city is willing to allocate an area of 18 X 12 meters in the corner of the cemetery and to bring the stones from city hall there.

No one is talking about taking the tombstones from the Holocaust memorial or about looking for other stones in Skalat.

Chaim spoke with the local architect who designed the Holocaust memorial, and he presented a design for a monument that would be constructed from the 180 available tombstones. These stones would be used as building material, but as a pile, rather than displayed. The cost would be about $10,000 and Chaim wants to raise this amount from the Skalat Jews in Israel and abroad. Several of the older Skalaters who could not attend had already given him checks to get this started.

This is a matter of urgency, as the survivors themselves are old and many are very unwell. (One man participating in the meeting, Genia Razenstein, was in a wheelchair with an aide, and his presence was considered an expression of the importance of the project.)

"How," Chaim asked in concluding his presentation, "can we leave this world without bringing these stones to rest?"

A younger man named Zvi (who seemed to be with Mr. Razenstein) questioned whether we wouldn't simply be giving the local anti-Semites another target for vandalism. He also questioned the legal status of the proposed memorial. Chaim responded that he felt that the town was with us on the memorial and that it would be treated with the proper respect. The intention is that the land would be deeded to the government organization which protects memorial sites, as was done for the Holocaust memorial in Novosielsk.

Bronia Birnboim asked about the organization of the finances. These will be handled by Shammai Segal and Henyk Weinberg. Shammai Segal's address is an English speaker, having lived the US for many years. checks are to be made in his name. [They do not intend to get involved in the legalities and time for non-profit status etc. - IP]

Yitzhak Sarid voiced basic objections to the entire project. He objected to the idea that the city is "giving the Jews" this piece of the cemetery, when the whole cemetery rightly belongs to the Jews. He objected to Chaim's tone about the "poor Ukrainians" who, he feels, deserve all the suffering they get. He objects to it's being the Jews' responsibility to remove the stones from city hall after all these years. In his way of thinking, if the locals have had no problem walking on stones from the Jewish cemetery all these years (and some have visible lettering), then they
should continue to do so and should rot in Hell for their trouble. Yitzhak submitted an alternate design that would display the stones that are not at city hall and that would be topped with an appropriately insulting inscription in Hebrew. (Something like "here lies man's respect for human dignity" - I did not write down the precise language he had in mind.)

Apparently, this type of debate between Chaim and Yitzhak has gone on before, with Chaim always having the upper hand. But the inscription "Am Yisrael Hai" (the People of Israel live) on the Holocaust memorial was Chaim's concession to Yitzhak the last time.

Another rearguard action was my own insistence that if the stones are to be the building material for Chaim's memorial, they must first be photographed and recorded. I said that knowing full well that the ones at city hall have almost nothing legible. The paving stones were treadworn on top and in contact with the ground on the bottom and the ones in the fence have been whitewashed periodically. The Skalaters themselves didn't much see my point, I'm sorry to say.

The general consensus was that if enough people send contributions, Chaim will return to Skalat and arrange for the memorial as he proposed. This will probably go very quickly or not at all.

The town of Skalat would then have two memorials. The Holocaust memorial would stand to the memory of what was done to the Jews and the cemetery memorial would stand to the living community that existed before the Holocaust. In theory, anyway.

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Last updated 10/21/03 by ELR
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