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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Last day

I am in an internet cafe just down the street from our apt. in Prague. This is the last day of our trip, and I don't know how long I will have to write. I will do as much as I can until Loring and the kids come to get me. It is almost noon, and they are still having breakfast. Max and Carolina, that is. Loring has been up and out for hours, climbing hills in this hilly city.

We are staying on Nerudova street, the main way up to the castle from the famous bridge crossing the river from Old Town on the other side. Although a busy street, it is still charming, lots of wonderful architecture as everywhere here. If Nerudova sounds vaguely familiaar, as in Neruda, there is a reason. The famed Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, who was massacred along with many others in Chile in 1972, if I am remembering right, took the name from the famed (here, at least) Czech writer, Jan Neruda. About whom I know nothing, but will try to find some information when I get home. There is a plaque to Jan Neruda across the street from our house, I assume he lived there. There are plaques all over the city, most only in Czech of course. There were a fair number of them in Krakov, as well.

Prague has continued to be interesting, despite the crowds and overabundance of kitshy souveniers. (Ok, I did buy a pair of earrings, from the man that made them.). I am glad we came. The trip has continued to have a Jewish flavor. Not of my doing, really. It is just that some of the major sites, in both Prague and Krakov, are related to Jewish culture. After the castle here, which is massive, almost a village in itself, the Jewish quarter is the next biggest attraction.

Yesterday, after walking around for hours, first all together, then by myself, I had the curious sensation of being disassociated from myself, that my voice didn't sound like my own, that my brain wasn't centered in my body. Then I realized that I had just finished reading Kafka's Metamorhosis that morning, and that this feeling seemed strangely similar to what he experiences when he awakens changed into a cockroach! Hmmm! Actually, I think I was just tired!

Kafka was born and died here, of tuberculosis at only age 41. Several places he lived are here, and he, along with his parents, is buried in the New Jewish cemetery. (As opposed to the old Jewish ceremony, in the middle of the Old Town, which got too full in the late 1700's.) And had I mentioned the Old New Synagogue, the one still in used, which was new, obviously, when it was built, I believe in the 1500's. But they changed its name when later synagogues were built.

Seeing the number of synagogues that did exist in earlier times makes one realze just how large a part of the population the Jews were. On our tour of Czernowitz, by a history teacher who happens to be Jewish, he mentioned that the main street of what used to be the Jewish quarter was called synagogue street, and that there were once over 50 synagogues along it. How could that be? Apparently congregations were smaller then. And why would they all be on one street? Questions to answer at another time.

The last piece of information that I read at the archives in Czernowitz about my great grandmother was that she lived on Synagoguegasse. But I couldn't really understand the German, and wasn't sure if the street was in Czernowitz or in Sadagura. Might there be a Synagogue Street there as well? I am hoping to have more information when Nikola, from the city council there, has time to photograph and I can have someone tranlate.

I expect the family to come by any time, and so just want to mention that this will not be the last posting. I will definitely post some photos after we are home. And hopefully I will be able to go back and fill in some of the experiences that I didn't have time to include up until now.

The plan for today is to climb Petrin Hill, which we can do from our house. Up there, in addition to spectacular views (I have it firsthand, Loring has already climbed it once) are a couple of remnants of a fair in the late 1890's, a tower modelled after the Eiffel, though smaller, and a funhouse mirror kind of thing. After that, I hope to go to a folklore festival including dancers from many places. On the schedule for this afternoon are dancers from here, Prague, and also from Israel. This will actually be the second folklore festival we've come across in two weeks. The other was in Zacopane, where we went for two days from Krakov, renting a car. I don't believe I have even described Zacopane yet. This festival I knew about in advance, when we rented the apt. in Krakow and the owner also had a place in Zacopane. The town is a ski resort, but little did we know that it would be a summer destination as well, absolutely saturated with tourists, although they mostly seemed to be be Polish. We our place was actually about 6 miles outside the city, which was better than staying in town. It was in a little village. But even there, as in the town, there was development construction everywhere, although it seemed as though there was hardly anyplace more to build. As we were leaving town, the line up of traffic going in was at least a mile long, and it wasn't a weekend. It hadn't been that bad when we arrived. But there had been people, lots of them, holding signs saying "pojole" or something like that, which it took us a while to figure out. The word meant rooms. ie. to rent, and I wondered what percentage of the folks holding sings actually found takers.

Isn't there anyplace left that is scenic or of cultural interest that isn't overrun? Well, I guess Chernowitz would fit that category. Part of the reason is that it isn't all that accessible. There are few planes into the small airport there, and otherwise it's a matter of a long train ride or renting a car. I don't wish Czernowitz the amount of tourism that some of these other places have, but it could certainly do with a few more visitors. This October, when the city celebrates its 600th anniversary, would be an interesting time to be there.

I will stop here, for now. Please check back in a few days.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I am still here!

In cyberspace, that is. Geographically, I am now in Prague, after nearly a week in Poland.I hope people haven't given up on checking back, there has just been so much happening, and it hasn't been easy to locate internet cafes, at least not in Krakov. Here, in Prague, there is one conveniently down the street from our apartment, and I hopefully will have time to write at least once more before we head home on the 1st of September. If you are reading this, let me know, it's nice to get the feedback!

This is our second day in Prague. Iwas prepared to be disappointed by the city, I had been told by quite a few, mostly folks in my volunteer group, how over touristed it is. And it is. So perhaps being forwarned was an advantage. I have to say that I feel about Prague the way I do about Machu Picchu, it is overtouristed, yes, but so spectacularly beautiful that it is worth bearing with the crowds. I suppose, though, if I had known Prague at an earlier time, I would feel much more negatively now.

We arrived here very early yesterday morning, so early that we couldn't get into our apt. for several hours. So we sat in a cafe up the street, in a scenic spot, had some breakfast, and it was early enough that the first tour group didn't appear until shortly before we were able to get the key.

Yesterday we just wandered the city. Amazing architecture everywhere. Today we walked through the castle gardens, and then over the river to the Jewish quarter. The Jewish museum consists of several former synagogues, all in a very small area, plus the old Jewish cemetery. The newest graves in this cemetery are older than the oldest ones in Czernowtitz. They are crammed close together, and, according to the guidebook, are stacked about 15 deep. We had trouble comprehending how they would have done that. Each synagogue is beautiful, each has exhibits relating to some part of Jewish history. One concerned the burial society and burial practices, and had paintings, very endearing in a primitive style, of each part of the burial process, ritual bathing, etc. One was of the burial society members having their annual dinner! Part of the exhibit was a collection of ornate silver combs and nail cleaners. I gather that was all part of the ritual preparation of the body. I don't think I have ever seen a silver nail cleaner before.

The most touching section of the museum was an exhibit of drawings by children at the Terezin concentration camp, which is about an hour away from here. There was one woman, a prisoner, who somehow arranged to obtain art materials for children and encouraged them to draw, make collages, etc. to help deal with their situation. She was eventually shipped to Auschwitz, as were most of the children, but left two suitcases and hundreds of pieces of artwork behind. Some of the pieces depicted life at the camp, some life before they were interred, others did pictures depicting crossroads, some had people flying away.

Auschwitz. The word most associated with the terror of the Holocaust. I had both yearned to and dreaded going there. The dread is easy to understand. The yearning is something I have brooded over. I have wanted to go for a long time, and the desire intensified after I was in Nurnberg, Munich, and Dachau several years ago. It is certainly the reason I arranged for us to fly into and visit Krakov. Once I decided to go to Czernowtitz I knew this was also the time to visit Auschwitz.

It is difficult to decide what to write about it. I believe the reason I wanted to visit is to try to come to terms with what had happened in the Holocaust, to try to understand both what happened the victims had to endure, and how the survivors managed to do so, and, most importantly, to try to fathom how people could be driven to commit the awful crimes they did. I fear that if we can't understand it, we can't prevent it from happening again. To me, the worst part is not the murder, but the systematic nature of treatment, torture, and eventual killing of those millions of people. This was carefully thought out, developed, and carried out for years. And that is what I have the hardest time understanding. I have read a number of accounts and memoirs of the Holocaust, but don't feel any closer to understanding what happened than I did when I was thirteen or fourteen and read Ann Frank's Diary, and, a few years later, visited her house in Amsterdam. The more I read, the more I want to read.I brought two Holocaust books with me, and bought two more at Auschwitz. When will I be able to stop? I felt somewhat heartened when I read Eli Wiesel quoted as saying he thought he had read every memoir written on the subject, and the more he read, the less he understood.

The place was, of course, chilling. How could it be otherwise? Max and Carolina seemed equally fascinated, in fact in some places we had to urge them along, because I was afraid we would run out of time to visit Birkenau, a couple of kilometers away. That camp was built when they ran out of room at Auschwitz, and is where the gas chambers and crematoria were, as well as the infamous train tracks where the people were unloaded from the freight cars, and sent either to the barracks or to the gas chambers. About 75 percent went directly to the gas. I can't help but feel they might have been the lucky ones, never to endure the horrors, and in most cases, death, in the camp.

The exhibits at Auschwitz that made the strongest impression on me, and I expect, most, were the collections of items taken from the prisoners. There was a room full of skeins of human hair, one of hair and toothbrushes, one of suitcases. The suitcases were especially poignant because they were nearly all labelled with their owners' names and addresses. These people who believed, or wanted to believe, that they were being shipped east to camps where they would work, but live in decent conditions, and hence took their best possesssions. The hair was made into cloth, and there were samples of the cloth there. I wondered what the cloth was made into, how many people if any knew what they were wearing. I noticed that all the hair in the display was light brown to blond. I am guessing that the Nazis, or the prisoners, for it was they who did all the sorting of the possessions of those who had just been murdered, sorted the hair by color and then made cloth of different colors.

But, and I can't say why, the section of the exhibit that got to me the most was the huge collection of shoes, and I am sure that what was exhibited was only a small part of what was collected. Perhaps it was just the variety of shoes that spoke to the lives of the victims. There were men's shoes, women's shoes, children's shoes, stylish ones, practical ones, well worn ones, new ones. I couldn't tear my eyes away.

The barracks were lined up evenly across the grass. They were so evenly lined up, in fact, that one could look through the windows of one through the next and the next, seemingly infinitely, like looking through facing mirrors. There was almost a kind of beauty in the quiet line up of beds, of toilets, of sinks. I felt a pang of guilt at even thinking there could be beauty in a place where such terrible things had happened. But it was hard to even conceive of what had happened there. I had to make my mind envision the scenes I knew had occurred. Or maybe that was the point, that I didn't want to let myself think that this had really happened.

At Birkenau there are the remains of the gas chambers and ovens. They were bombed by the Germans as the end of the war neared, to cover up their deeds. And, most strikingly, the famous railroad tracks and platform where the passengers disembarked from their horrible journey, were sent either to the right or to the left, and went off to horrors worse than they had already endured or could imagine. We walked along the railroad tracks on our way back to the entrance gate, with the famous, and cruelly ironic, slogan, arbeit mach frei, work makes you free. I later felt like it was a desecration to walk along the tracks, although many visitors did.

I can understand the appeal that a charismatic leader can have over young, like the Hitler youth, and the older as well. I can understand, to a degree, blind rage leading to murder. I can understand, to an extent, not being able to break away from following orders. What I cannot understand is how people can continue to torture, degrade, and murder people over a period of years, the continous cruelty and debased behavior. I know there are Holocaust study programs, I know there must be people who have studied this at length and written about the pschology of mass murder. CAn anyone suggest some readings to help me understand<

I know that visiting Auschwitz, and Dachau as well, is an experience that will never leave me. I hope it is something my children will also never forget.

I amn

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Her email is I think! It's Tetyana Tatarchuk. Please copy me if you cntact her.

Goodbye Ukraine

Once again I am at the train station in Lviv, between trains, on my way back to Krakow. Marcus and Marielena from the volunteer group are here, too, also headed to Poland, but Warsaw, where they both have been living and where they met each other. Marcus is Swiss, Marielena Italian. I never had a chance to introduce the group, a bunch of dedicated and interesting people. Perhaps at some point further down the line, although that might feel too strange. It's been a series of goodbyes since yesterday afternoon, always difficult after living and working with people so closely.

But right now I want to bring up the issue of continuance of clearing and maintenence of the cemetery, which I see has been discussed quite a bit on the Cz list. First of all, it is very gratifiying to see all the attention our project has gotten, from people in the city, the press, and people with strong connections to and opinions about the project. I do not disagree with the people who brought up the issue of maintenence, etc. We discussed this as a group repeatedly, with Mimi and before and after she was there.

Hopefully, the cemetery staff and the city will continue to support the work. The staff does do some maintence, worked wonderfully well together with us, and hopefully will stay motivated. There is still so much more to clear. There is already talk about a bigger volunteer project involving both local and international volunteers.

I would hope, but can't say, that the cemetery staff is familiar with how to treat the roots. I have to say that all this discussion about roots makes me very happy, because what I spent most of the two weeks doing, while others were felling branches and entire trees, was to sit by a grave and pull the tenacious roots, following them to the source, which was sometimes a grave or two away. So I feel now that my work is validated, even though I didn't product the large quantities of brush that most of the others were hauling day after day.

This project has generated so much interest, it is amazing, and I hope and think the energy is there to have it continue. I think it would be helpful to have people who have family in the cemetery express their appreciation to Tetanya, who has the mayor's ear. I will see if I can locate her email address before I sign off, otherwise I will post it here later. And perhaps there is a way for people who will be visiting Cz in October to meet her. She was as impressed with our work as we were her helpfulness. I think she'd be impressed by the number of people who care about the cemetery. Also, for some reason, the Jewish community here (I mean there, as I am now gone) did not seem aware of the project, which puzzles me (and them.) But they now plan to have a group of students work there, hopefully on a regular basis.

To all of you who had requests to locate graves, information, etc. whose requests I was not able to fulfill, I am sorry. I would really liked to have, but there were two problems, dealing with the extremely overgrown condition of most of the cemetery, and also time. We were kept so busy by both the work and all the activities that were planned for us and that we were invited to, that there wasn't time to try to track down info.

I may continue on with more details of the sojourn, as I have time. And I will certainly write about our visits to Krakow, Auschwitz, and Prague in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, Czernowitz has become a permanent part of my existence.


I ended the last post rather quickly, as I was just aabout out of time and should actually stop writing now. I have to get back home and finish packing and head off to the station.

But there are a couple of details I realized I should mention before I lose track of them. First, I just wanted to describe the feeling of holding the ledger books and finding my relative's names. I think it effected me more strongly than finding the graves. First, I didn't know the info existed so it was even more of a surprise. There was also something about reading the names, written in this elegant script, that made these people feel even more real to me. One, Sure, was from the distant past, and someone whose name I never even knew until a month ago. The others were relatives I had personally know, written in a beautiful script, in a place so far away from where and when I had known them.

I also wanted to relate a touching offer that was made to me by Marina, the young student who's been working with us. This afternoon at the cemetery, she said, with one of the volunteers translating, that she would like to keep my great grandparents' graves clean for me, if that was all right, and that she would send me pictures. They may have not gotten along, and divorced ( I sure hope there's a way to find more about that) but they will be cared for together in perpetuity. Well, for a couple of years, anyway.

Time to say goodbye to Czernowitz. I am not ready. Maybe I will come back.

Please check in again. I wll write more from Poland and the Czech Republic.

Feeling melancholy

I am actuallly feeling melancholy and elated at the same time, if that is possible. The project is over. It is 7:30 pm and I leave Czernowitz tonight, in about 3 hours, on an overnight train back to Krakow, where Loring, Max, and Carolina should have arrived by now, or will in a little while. It's hard to keep track of time zones. Actually, it's hard to keep track of days!

The last couple of days have been very intense. Let me try to recount some of what has happened, and then if there is time I will backtrack and tell you some more about the Yiddish confernce and some of our other adventures.

But I also just wanted to say thank you, to all my friends old and new who have been reading this and leaving me comments. And also all the people on the Czernowitz list who have been commenting on the project. I have never been involved in a volunteer project that has gotten so much attention, publicity, and support. It's really gratifying, and I really do believe, more than I did just a few days ago, that this project can take root(pun intended) and grow.

Although I had given up a few days ago on finding my great grandparent's graves, we actually did find them, yesterday. One of the volunteers, Pedro, suggested that the group try to search. I had mixed feelings, didn't want to divert the group's energies, but of course wanted very much to try. So Basha and Jasmin, our intrepid group leaders, Pedro, Katya, Marina, and I set out to parcel 43. Marina is a young woman, a student, from Czernowitz, who came to join us on one of the first days and pretty much became a member of the group. She is a happy, energetic person who is just a delight to be around, even though we can hardly speak a word to each other. Jasmin, a true detective, said right away that we should approach the lot from the other side, as that was the way the stones faced. We did, and everyone entered the dense foliage. In not more than a couple of minutes, Marina found Mortche's grave! It took us (in fairness, I should say them, I was terrified of getting the nettle reaction again. just after it had subsided. )So I stayed at Mortche's grave (Nick, FYI, that is the spelling on the grave) until they shouted to say they had found Sure's, not far away. I can't even describe my emotions, it was almost more shock than anything else. Sure's did not have any date of death on it. Pedro, although he isn't Jewish, reads Hebrew, so he was able to read the first part, and Katya read the German at the bottom.

Earlier that day, just before lunch, Pedro mentioned that he had found, or been led to, the mass grave of 900 Jews that we had heard about one of our first days but somehow never pursued finding. Pedro had asked the woman who we think is the wife of the chain saw operator, without whom we never would have been able to accomplish much. And she brought him there. (Pedro speaks Russian, too, as well as English, Swedish and Portuguese.

The mass tomb hit me emotionally more than most anything I've ever read or heard about the Holocaust. First of all, just to be at the spot, right near we had been working for two weeks, was chilling. Also, I had recently read Daniel Mendllson's book, Lost, about his search for a family of his relatives that had died, and his description of their death's is very similar to what had happened here, a large group of Jews led to a hole in a cemetery and then shot. The most terrible detail, which had been relayed by the woman to Pedro, was the recollection of a local woman, still alive and a child at the time, who remembers the earth moving for several days afterwards by those who had been buried alive. This is something I have read about before, in other places, but it is so much real to stand in the place it happened and hear someone's personal recollection, even third hand.

So, these are some of the events of yesterday. On a lighter note, we went out to dinner at a local restaurant since it was the last night we would all be together. The only real traditional food we'd had before was the meal we were served outdoors at the summer camp we visited in the mountains the first week. I had stuffed cabbage, but stuffed with mushrooms and sour cream, delicious. They also served them stuffed with meat and rice, the way I am used to. Several people had potato pancakes, some with meat inside.

I would hardly believe that a day could be more intense than yesterday, but let me tell you what happened today. Tetyana, who works in the mayor's office and is in charge of public relations and I guess international affairs, had arranged for me to go the state archives with a colleague of hers, Nikola, who I believe is on the city council ( he doesn't speak much English, but just exudes helpfulness!) He is also a professor of international relations at the University. Nikola had brought along a student of his, Elvira, to translate. I have to just pause a minute and thank Tetyana, (Tetyana, I hope you are reading this!) who has gone above and beyond to help our group, arranging press conferences, excursions, and more and has really made our stay a pleasure.

Anyway, Tetyana brought me by bus to the archives and delivered me into the hands of Nikola and Elvira. We walked up three flight of stairs in a rather dingy building, then discovered it was the wrong staircase, had to descent and reascend another one. It was dark and musty smelling, and I had to laught, it seemed like a comedy of errors. We eventually found the right office. had to fill out all kinds of paperwork. I gave them dates of births and deaths and marriages where I had athem. Nikola warned me not to expect much, that perhaps one out of ten people ever found anything on their relatives.

The woman came out bearing several large old ledgers. We started to look for any listings of any relatives. Can you believe that within five minutes the name Sure Ester Glaubach just jumped out at me. I was absolutely floored. Nikola photographed the page, then had to leave. He told me that if we found anything else, he would come back later and photograph that.

The office closed for lunch at 1pm, and I also awanted to get to the cemetery for at least part of the last day. We were also expecting a goup of Jewish students to help for the afternoon. We have all been amazed by the number of young people who have come, some for a day, some repeatedly, over the last two weeks. Most of them seem to have heard about us on TV. (Tetyana had arranged a press conference at city hall and all 4 tv stations came) and several of them came out to the cemetery and interviewed us afterwards. They all seemed to want to interview me, because of my family connection to the city and the cemetery. So I probably was on at least one station, although the one tv report we saw didn't use me talking.

Well, back to the archives... I apologize for rambling, there's just so much to recount and I am trying to relate as much as I can. Just before 1 o'clock, when we had to leave, we located the birth records of my aunt Klara, my mother's sister, who was left behind by her parents until they could get her or send for her. (which turned out to be 16 years later. ) I decided I need to come back after going to the cemetery, which we did. Elvira had kindly offered me her help for the whole afternoon. We went back, and, unbelievably, found records for my grandmother's cousin, Regina Erdmann, who I knew as I child and into my 20's, and remember very fondlly. The amazing thing was that I just came accross her name as I was scanning pages for Glaubach, not even looking her her name. So I have left those ledgers for Nikola to photograph and translate. Sure, my great grandmother, is the only one I have some actual details about. She died in 1918, (so what happened to Clara until 1927? and what about the story that Sure wanted Clara to stay with her until she died?) I also got her address, 18 Synagogue st,. (but not sure if theat was Sadagura or CZ. ) Most remarkably, though, is the fact that she was divorced!

Monday, August 18, 2008

so much to tell, so little time!

This is a short post from a couple of days ago that I only had time to save as a draft before the computer shut down. Much more in next post.

It's hard to believe this project is almost over. i just don't have enough time to relate even all the highlights. Only 15 minutes today til the internet cafe closes at 10. so will squeeze in what I can.

We just came from the openng ceremonies of the Centenary Yiddish Conference, held in the Marble Hall of the university, a spectacular three story high room with painted ceilings, huge chandelier, etc. Person after person made speeches. The ones who spoke in Russian or Ukrainian were translated into eEnglish, but the ones who spoke in Yiddish weren't. Which makes sense, but made it hard for me to understand anything. The German speakers in our group understood most everything, as Yiddish is quite close to German.

This is the 100th anniversary of the first Yiddish Confersnce held here in 1908. I wonder what the world Yiddish speaking population now is compared to then.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A day of culture

Let me first pick up where I left off with the story of my aunt Clara, and then relate some of the incidents of the last few days.

My aunt came back here to Czernowitz, in I believe 1938 or 1939, according to my cousin to break off a relationship with a man, according to my mother, to marry him. In any case she met my uncle Murray, did break up with the other man, and Clara and Murray married. She went back to New York without him to arrange the papers, and he followed, apparently in one of the last ships to leave with people fleeing Hitler. My Uncle got a message while on the ship that my cousin, Sandra, had been born. Murray said that Clara saved his life, and that all his family was lost. I wonder about the other man, if he survived.

Back to present day Cernowitz - I did go searching for the graves of Mortke Glaubach and Sure Jers Glaubach, my great-grandparents, a few days ago. That turned into more of an adventure than I had bargained for. i was able to figure out where the graves should be, but getting there was another thing. I walked into the jungle confidently, sickle in hand, and was able to get to perhaps 10 graves and determine that they weren't the right ones. The I found myself totally entangled in vines. it was impossible t o take more than a couple of steps without hacking away, taking another step or two, and hacking away again.It took me about ten minutes to disentangle myself, but felt like an hour. Worst of all, I was covered with nettle stings on my arms. On other days, it had just been a few areas and the stinging went away fairly quickly. This turned int more of an allergic reaction, huge welts that both stung and itched. It lasted a couple of days, but luckily has almost disappeared overnight last night. No fun.

I think that is going to be the end of my searching for relatives' stones, mine or other peoples. i am not sure how disappointed I am to not locate them. It would have been nice to find them, certainly, and I wonder how i would have felt if I did. I am disappointed, but don't feel devasted. I don't really feel that this was my major motivation in coming.

On Friday afternoon we went, with bus and driver donated by the one remaining synagogue here, to Sadagura, now actually a part of Czernowitz, but formerly a separate community on the other side of the Prut river. The Czernowitz rabbi came with us. There is another cemetery there, also neglected but much smaller, and a tiny building that I don't believe is a synagogue, but which protects a few graves that it is built upon. And, we went to the site of the Palace of the Wonder Rabbi! This rabbi was renowned in the 19th century for his wisdom and advice, which he dispensed to Jews and non-Jews alike. He was widely famous, and is mentioned in literature by various writers. His house was a virtual palace. It was used in Soviet times as some kind of factory, now is abandoned, fenced in, and in ruins. The rabbi said it wasn't possible to go in, but a man came over with a key and let us in. I thought that perhaps the rabbi felt it was too defiled and painful to look at, but that may be just my own projecting onto the situation. The rabbi himself was quite a character, as far as i could tell from his gestures and a few things that were translated. He of course was dressed in black with a long beard, and made lots of Tevye-esque gestures. When someone mentioned the International Yiddish Conference that was beginning here today, he shrugged and said something to the effect that those weren't really Jews! But it all seemed quite good humored.

The Yiddish conference, on the annivrsary and on the same site as the one 100 years ago, begans this afternoon. We went to the opening. Several people spoke, and some were tranlated into English, what a treat! They were mostly the Russian and Ukranian speakers. The man who spoke the longest spoke in Yiddish, and he wasn't translated, probably because the translator didn't speak yiddish, or maybe because most people did speak Yiddish. There are a lot of speakers over the next week, from all over the world. including one from Cambridge, USA and one from Waltham USA. If some are speaking in ENglish, perhaps I will go. They said that out of respect for the victims of the recent flooding and the Russia-Georgia conflict, they were cancelling the two Klezmer concerts. But they are keeping a concert tomorrow night of Yiddish music from here, i believe, and I got to speak to the woman, who is from Israel, a bit. I really look forward to that. I have not been successful in tracking down any traditional music, Jewish or otherwise, or much at all in th way of crafts. There is a crafts market in a town about 60 km. from here, but that is a 2 hour 2 bus ride, and I couln't find anyone who wanted to come with me today.

So I went to the local art museum this morning, from which I wasn't expecting much, and which was a total treasure. I took my time through the first two rooms, which looked like medieval Christian iconography, but were actually done in the 19th century. If I had realized what lie ahead, I probably would have skipped those rooms. Although there was one large mural depicting Judgement Day, at which you had to peer closely because it had darkened, that was alone worth visiting in. It was Bruegel-like in its detail and grotesque quaalities. There were scenes of all kinds of brutality, and a multitude of devils with horns and spears and glowing red eyes. And then, side by side, a group of Hasidic looking men in traditional black hats and coats, and a group of frightened looking naked people all herded together. Obviously, this painting, done in the 1800's had no connection to the Holocaust, but in my current situation I couldn't help but make the association. And i did wonder what the significance was of the Hasidim. Couldn't find anyone to explain.

There were also absolutely wonderful woodcuts, a small room of them by a man, a Jew, named LeonKopelman, who died in 1982. And some really lovely paintings, landscapes and portraits. And upstairs, a whole floor of handicrafts, mostly embroidered clothing and painted eggs, cases and cases of them. I think i could have sat there, surrounded by them, for quite a while.

This morning, on the way downtown, I took a walk through the market, always an intersting thing to do. One small impression - a young woman sampling a bit of yoogurt by having the seller spoon a bit onto her hand, which she then licked, then trying a couple more from different vendors before deciding. The yogurt was all in reused soda and water bottles.

I will continue with events and impressions as soon as I find the time, hopefully tomorrow.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Another hot and sunny day.

Our group leaders, Jasmin and Basha, from Germany and Poland, decided last night that we would work only a half day today, because we were all so exhausted yesterday, I have mixed feelings, and I think we all do. Even though we know we can only clear a fraction of the cemetery, we still want to clear as much as possible. But the real trick will be to find a way to have the community support the upkeep of the cemetery, or it will just grow back into the jungle it is now. It does, as Pedro said, feel a bit like playing Indiana Jones, finding ruins in the jungle.

Even my half day today didn't involve much actual work. A reporter came and interviewed me and at least 3 or 4 others at length. Then Mimi and Christian arrived. Christian and I went in search of the section that should contain the graves of my great grandparents, Sure and Mortke Glaubach, my grandmother's parents. They both died in 1918. I think we've got the right section, but whether I can make my way through to find the graves is hard to know.

In about a half hour we have a press conference arranged by the deputy mayor. We certainly do seem to be getting a fair amount of attention, which is great. Hopefully it will translate into continued maintenance. And Mimi is working on getting some kind of herbicide or plastic to keep the weeds from growing back.

Later this afternoon we are going to Sadagura, and, hopefully, Neu Glucka, the hamlet of Sadagura where my family actually lived. I have heard several stories, including Mimi's, and also in a book by Daniel Mendelsson, which I recommend, called Lost, the Search for Six of Six Million, about people locating old folks who remembered their relatives, even decades later. I don't really expect to discover anything like that, but it would of course be amazing to find any memories or traces of my grandparents, great grandparents, or my aunt Clara.

The story of my aunt is one that is fascinating to me, and I first heard it only in the last 10 years, from my mother. My aunt, who I knew until she died in the early 1960's, had already been born when my grandparents decided to emigrate to the US in 1914. They left Clara behind, thinking the journey not safe for a baby. The plan was to send for her once they were established( I am not clear on how that would have transpired, who would have brought her.) But war intervened. My aunt did not come to the United States until she was 16 years old. She had not seen her parents for 14 years, and had never met her three brothers or sister, my mother. Clara then went back to Czernowitz in 1938. I've heard two versions of why she returned. One is that she went back to marry, the other is that she went back to break things off with the man she was supposed to marry.

My time is about to expire, and so I will leave this as a bit of a cliffhanger, to tell you next time!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Two more interesting days

I have more to tell than I possibly will have time to write. Just hope I can catch up at some point. But not tonite, Only a half hour until the internet place closes.

Yesterday I attempted to find my great grandparents' graves. (I also needed a break from chopping vines in the heat! ) I believe I found the right section, according to the map I have, and the one Mimi has that delineates the old numbers. Which reminds me, those of you who asked me to attempt to locate graves, please let me know whether you gave me #s on the old or the new system, or if you are not sure, when you obtained those plot numberss. It's a long and odd story, which some of you proably know, but the numbers were changed several years ago.

I wanderred in the much cooler uncleared area, looking at as many stones as I could get to. But many are hard to reach, the growth is too thick, and on many the writing has been obliterated, and some are only in Hebrew, so I can't read the names or dates. But I will make another effort, and it is actually possible that we may reach thaat section before the end of the two weeks. I found another grave with the name Melmat. Nick, do you think that could be the same as our family?

Jeanna, thanks for the correction. We walk down that street almost every day (to the internet cafe, so it will be easy to recheck the street number and find the house.

It is nice to get feedback and know people are actually reading this!

Yesterday after work, we had an "action." Someone from another organization had made a banner and fliers with photos of the cemetery, and we went to one of the main squares and handed flyers out describing the project. Spent about an hour in pairs, a Russian speaker in each pair, giving them to everyone on the street we could corner. I was surprised, and so was everyone else, by the high number of people that accepted and even read them! We talked aabout it, folks here arent' used to being bombarded with advertising flyers. We actually got a few more people to join us this morning, including three boys about 12 or so who had watched us setting up in the square yesterday.

Lots of people here are puzzled, even incredulous, that we are doing this. I think it is partly that volunteerism isn't a familar concept in less affluent countries where people are dealing with more basic needs. Although I must say that I have been surprised at how affluent the city seems, lot of people with fashionable clothes, stores with fairly expensive goods. The young boys in the plaza yesterday had ipods and cell phones. I have seen many less street people here than in Boston.

Today at the cemetery I could barely work, it was so hot, and had to stay in the shade or I would get dizzy. Again, though, at lunchtime, I was pleased to see that most everyone else was also exhausted. After lunch, I dozed off in the grass in the shade, and when I awakened, about half the people in the group were also taking naps.

Miriam Taylor and Christian Hermann have arrived. They joined us for a bit in the cemetery yesterday. Miriam is originally from here, left in 1945 for Holland, then Israel, then eventually the U.S. She was instrumental in spearheading this project, and Christian, who works for an NGO in Germany, connected her with the Ukrainian organization that is sponsoring us.

This afternoon, we all met for a drink in one of the cafes in the park by our house. She has wonderful stories to tell. Her family was lucky to be saved by a Romanian hero named Provocic, who was the mayor of the city during the war. In addition to our project, she is currently working to have a plaque erected on what was his house to honor him.

Out of time, more in a day or two.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The adventure continues

Today is Monday, and after a break from our work yesterday, we were back at the cemetery again this morning at 9am. Our schedule has been 9 to 3, aside from Saturday when it rained and they sent us home.

We are moving forward and to the right, uncovering graves thru the thicket as we go. It is remarkable to look back and see what we have done. I am having fun whacking at vines and then attempting to disentangle them in clumps from the gravestones and the trees. In many places trees have grown into the iron fencing that surrounds some of the stones. Despite the nettles, mosquitos, and the heat, I am actually enjoying the work, at least in the earlier part of the day!I alternate between the sickle and the long handled clippers, depending on my mood. I confess I am exhausted, though, by lunchtime, and even more so by 3pm. I am pleased to hear that most of the group are also exhausted. Except for Shannon, who wants to keep going.

Although neglected, the cemetery is beautiful. It is amazing to look into the thicket of vines and trees and disover new graves, and then look back an hour later and see how much more has been revealed. Some graves are fallen, some are covered with moss or vines, some are illegible. Others are clear, and some are obviously maintained. Many have photo images etched into the stone.

The city is very appealing, too. There is wonderful architecture everywhere you look, elegant facades, ornate ironwork. . An enormous amount of contruction work is going on, scaffolding, plastering, painters everywhere. It took me a while to realize that this is all preparation for the coming 600th anniversary celebration, in October. There are many buildings that are half painted in bright, sometimes garish colors, and half still dilapidated.

There are several lovely parks. Our house sits on the edge of one. It is a large house that seems to have once been a family home. (Dasha?) There are many rooms, at least 10 bedrooms, now it is a boarding school, I believe for blind children. And yes, we do have beds, and sheets, and they even gave us towels. And they cleaned the rooms for us this morning, which left us flabberghasted! Folded the clothes we had strewn about, straightened our beds, the works.
The only inconvenience is that we can't use their kitchen, so we have bought a two burner electric stove, and wash our dishes in the bathroom. We have been eating well, too, plenty of fresh veggies and fruit, etc. We all take turns cooking and cleaning up, as always in these work projects. Yesterday, in the van, we were talking about foods, and the subject of kasha came up. For those not in the know, this is buckwheat groats. I excitely volunteered to make kasha varnishkas when it is my turn to cook. Can't get my family to eat it, maybe it will go over better here. Anywy, much as when you are camping, food always tastes better at a volunteer camp.

The park is large, and includes a carnival, which seems permanent. Many of the typical rides, also bumper boats, even a roller coaster. At night we can hear the roar of the roller coaster and and the people on it from our porch. Marcus finds it annoying; I think it's pretty cool.

The folks here range from elderly women in colorful scarves, some selling blackberries and wild mushrooms in the market, to ultra stylish young women in very bright colors (yellow seems especially popular) in higher than high heels, which make clacking noises on the pavement. One wonders how they can negotiate the sidewalks and cobblestone streets but they certainly do. I imagine these young women are no more interested in the stories of their grandmothers than I was interested in the stories of mine.

My camera is kaput, which is a great frustration, as I am always compulsively photographing when I travel. Luckily Maria Elena, from Italy, has leant me hers. We will all download and share all of our photos at the end of the project, but having them is not the same as taking them.

Ola, from Poland,, and Marina, the young woman who saw us on TV and came to volunteer, and I attempted to find the childhood house of my cousin Jeanna, who was born here and left at age 6, first for Israel and then to the US. She married my cousin Matt, whose great grandmother was my grandmother, the one who lived here in the early 1900s. Another Czernowitz conncection. Jeanna of course didn't remember, but got the address from her mother. We found the street, one of the larger streets in town, but the address she had given me was 3A. There was a building #3, which is now offices for the medical school, but no evidence of what could have been a #3A. We did take a lot of pictures, though! If we find out that it is the right building, we will go inside and try to find an apt. 5. Jeanna?!

Our tour of the town, with Igor, had been wonderful, with a definate emphasis on Jewish history. Igor is Jewish himself. He showed us the Yeshiva, which he says has many more non-Jewish than Jewish students. It was his own elementary school, although it was not a yeshiva at the time. The Jewish quarter, which was also the ghetto, seems trapped in time. The houses are small and of a different vintage than the rest of what I have seen of town. He lives in that ara now. I didn't find out whether that was where he had grown up, or if the people that live there now are mostly Jewish. I want to learn more about the Jews who were here before the war, how many of those who live here now are survivors, etc. I came across, online, an interview my cousin Nick, whose grandmother was my grandmother's sister, did about 10 years ago with another cousin, Sarah. I had known Sarah when I was a child, when she and her husband and children emigrated to the US from Israel. Nick's interview was chilling. Sarah described her experiences at age three, first in the Czernowitz ghetto, then in a camp. I had never known anything about her history except that she was my "Israeli cousin." No matter how many stories and accounts I read, even of someone I know, I stll cannot begin to conceive of what it could have been like to suffer through the Holocaust.

On a happier note, let me briefly describe our trip yesterday to the country, and the beginning of the Carpathian mountains. We went to a summer camp, where different groups of children come for a week each over the course of the summer, about 50 at a time. We didn't actually interraact with the kids, a shame, but had a wondearful lunch cooked by the camp cook, borscht and chicken with potatoes, salad, cookies with homemade jam. The kids cabins held 4 each, there was an outhouse and a solar shower, which the folks in my group were quite taken awith!

Well, just got the 5 minute warning on the computer, time to go.

More soon, Joanna

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Tales from the city

I have arrived, safe and sound, in Czernowitz, or Chernitski, or several other names by which the city is known. This reflects the history of the area, and how it has passed hands over not just centuries, but decades.

The last leg of the train ride was uneventful, also a sleeper car like the prevous one, this time I did get a couple of hours of sleep, unlike the previous 4 hour leg to Lviv, on which I didn't sleep at all.

Was met at the station by Jasmin, the leader of the project, and Julia, the leader of the organization, and met the rest of the group back at the house shortly thereafter. There are volunteers from Poland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, France, Australia, Sweden, and another American, a young woman in the Peace Corps in the other side of Ukraine, where she is teaching English. The folks are all probably in their 20's aside from myself and Pedro, the Swedish guy, who is in his 40's. (yes, Pedro, he is actually half Portuguese.) They are all remarkably multilingual, with the exception of Shannon, the other American, Clare from Australia, and myself.

The first day we toured the cemetery, and the second day, yesterday, we went to work with our sycles(sp?) or were they scythes? clippers, ax, machete, and a cemetery employee with a chainsaw, without which we would not make much progress. There are some graves that are nearly free of overgrowth, but others, in some cases just beside or behind them, there are others that are totally overgrown. In some cases we don't even realize they are there until we start clearing. We have singled out a certain area, parcel 33 in the new system, for those familiar with the cemetery, to begin with. It is just behind the gate, after a few rows that have been kept relatively clear. But we are making such quick progress that I know we will cover a lot more area, although of course nowhere near the whole cemetery. I hope that with this effort, others will be inspired to continue the work. Angela, the director of both this cemetery and the Christian one across the road, both designated historic areas, has been very helpful and supportive so far. But all of us could not help but note that the other cemetery is much better maintained. .

Yesterday, a TV crew arrived and interviewed the two project leaders, and me, with Jasmin translating. I am sure they picked me because of my family connections to the cemetery and town, not because I am the oldest and wisest! This morning, the van driver picked us up (transportation also provided by the cemetery, what a treat, it is a long walk!) and told us the story had aired on the 6 o'clock news, and they gave it a entire half hour! And an hour or so after we arrived, a young woman came and said she wanted to volunteer with us, and that she had other friends who she would bring along tomorrow. This is exciting!

We also met another woman yesterday, Alla, who is an English teacher here. She had been here to locate a colleague's grandparent's grave and clear it. She wasn't able to locatethe stone, and came again this morning to try again, but then to also help with our clearing. She brought us a small painted cutting board, and a wooden spoon, as a gift. It poured for a short while, and we took refuge under trees and in a small mausoleum with stained glass windows at the front of the cemetery. The rain didn't last long, and we were all ready to go back to work. But the cemetery staff sent the van to bring us home. They were worried that we would get sick from being wet. So it was a very short day and a little frustrating.

Another wonderful incident occured. A couple and a woman arrived and came to one of the graves we had been cleaning. They were visiting their grandparents' graves, had come from Israel. The second woman was a friend who visited the grave a couple of times a year to clear it, and said it had been totally overgrown the last time she was there. Well, in fact, it had been overgrown just this morning! What an incredible thing, to have family visit just as we were cleaning one of the graves.

Most amazing, though: I had told the group the first afternoon about my family connections and the name Glaubach. As we walked, one of the volunteers pointed out a grave with that name, Dr. Moses Glaubach, 1884-1951. And, even more incredibly, as I wandered down a partly passable path by myself a bit later, I came across the grave of a Salmen Melamet, which I believe had been my grandfather's last name until they changed it to Malmeth upon arriving in the United States in 1914. What is the likelihook of finding two graves with family names on my first day, in the vast overgrown expanse of the place?

To those of you who have requested I look for your family graves I definitely hope to be able, at least to try. David, wanted to tell you that I did follow the first part of your detailed instructions, came to the grassy area at the end of the cemetery, but was not sure I could pinpoint either of the "rabbit paths". But will certainly give it a try. I did, though, come upon a man harvesting potatoes, and then a woman picking beans, right within the cemetery boundary! They looked at least as surprised to see me as I was to see them.

I have not yet recounted our wonderful city tour with the high school history teacher, because I am afraid my computer time will run out and I will lose all I have written, so will sign off for now.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sitting in the railway station...

got a ticket to my destination. At least I think I do! I am in Lviv, in Ukraine, awaiting the last leg of my trip to Czeernowitz. The trip has involved flying from Boston to Amsterdam to Warsaw to Krakow, where I spent the last day and a half. Left Krakow last night, a three train ride. The station here in Lviv is elegant. I hope I have a chance to visit the city, I hear it is a delightful place.

I am, at the moment, rather frustrated. Just spent the last half hour describing my experiences in Krakow, only to have the internet shut off because my time was up. So I am starting again, but will have to leave most of the describing until later. Also, it is 6:30 AM and I have had no sleep, although a very pleasant and comfortable ride in a sleeper for 4 hours in train #2. It wasn't because the train wasn't comfortable, it was. I think I am just too excited about getting to Czernowitz and meeting the group.

I stayed at the Klezmer Hois Hotel in Krakow, which I loved and recommend. It's quaint and funky and filled with antiques and Judaica. There's a restaurant, and as one might expect, Klezmer music.

I will stop here for now, because I am nervous both about the internet shutting off again, and also missing my train, which is in about 15 minutes. And since the woman at the ticket window told me that it didn't exist, I showed her my print out from home and she eventually found it!

Next stop, Czernowitz. If you don't hear from me in a while, I am probably catching up on sleep. Hope there's beds where we are staying. My last stint, in Peru, we all slept crammed together on the floor. The crammed part was harder than the floor part. The brief description of the project mentioned a dorm, so I am hoping we are staying at the university, as I did in Romania.

Well, better go. Jo

Monday, August 4, 2008

I am embarking...

I am embarking on a journey. Journey does seem like the right word. “Trip” doesn’t seem encompassing enough,” adventure” a bit lighthearted for what I am undertaking, although I am sure there will be plenty of adventures along the way.

A little background, for those who don’t know about some of my previous adventures volunteering. This will be my fifth trip through Volunteers for Peace. VFP is one of an affiliation of groups around the world that sponsor short term projects in their own countries and enroll volunteers from their country to projects in others. There are thousands of opportunities in many countries. I have volunteered in Thailand, teaching English, in Romania working with children, helping to design a space in the courtyard of a Paris housing project housing mostly immigrant families, and in Peru again with kids, some of whom were boys who worked cleaning graves in either the morning or the afternoon, going to school the other half of the day. All have been incredible experiences, and if there is time along the way I will try to share some details of those adventures .If you would like to read about my experience in Transylvania, follow this link.

You can check out more about the organization at Their role is to promote the opportunities and coordinate registering people. Once you are registered you are on your own to get to the country and place of the project. (Often an adventure in itself!) A small fee covers room and board, which ranges from rustic to even more rustic. The volunteer group usually is between a dozen and 20 people. Most, but not all volunteers are in their early 20’s.

This experience will be similar in many ways (and I am just realizing the similar threads of garden and cemetery. Interesting.) But it will also be different in a significant way. At least that is what I anticipate. I do, however, usually caution people considering volunteering to be flexible, because the experience always has been, in some ways, different from what I had anticipated, whether in the accommodations, the nature of the project, or something else. So I had better . If you would like to read about my experience in Transylvania, follow this link.

I am going to Ukraine, leaving in just about 4 hours on the first leg of the trip, to Krakow, Poland. After a day there, staying in a place called Klezmer Hois, I will board an overnight train to Czernowitz, Ukraine, a 13 hour ride. I arrive, and the project begins, on Thursday the 7th.

Czernowitz (or more specifically Sadgura, a village across the river, now a suburb) is where my grandmother grew up. She and my grandfather left in 1914, leaving an infant daughter behind with my great-grandmother, planning to send for her once they were established. My mother and three uncles were born in the U.S. and grew up in the Bronx, as did I.

My job in Czernowitz will involve clearing graves in the neglected and badly overgrown Jewish cemetery. My daughter looked at me, incredulous, when I told her what I was going to be doing. My husband chuckled, no doubt at least as incredulous. I am not, you see, exactly an avid gardener. The closest I get is picking (once in a great while) and eating (often) the products of my family’s work. And, truth be told, I am not at all sure that I will enjoy this project in the way that I have enjoyed the others, at least the actual physical work. But I am not sure enjoyment is even my goal. This will be a journey, as I said, into the past as well as to the town of Czernowitz. It has already begun.