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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


Anonymous said...

Just to tell you that I am enjoying this! Eagerly awaiting the next instalment...

Ken Liss said...

Hi Jo -

This has been great reading so far. I wish I could be there with you. Instead, I've been doing a little searching and found something that might be of interest. It's a 1988 article that examines the lettering and design of tombstones in the Jewish cemetery in Czernowitz (written by Moshe Barasch, an art historian who grew up in Czernowitz and died in Jerusalem in 2004.) There's a brief summary of the article online and I have the whole thing to show you when you get back.

Barasch also notes a book about the tombstones, in German, that was printed in Vienna in 1938 but "was confiscated before it could be bound." He says a few copies were bound in Czernowitz and distributed by the author but wonders "how many copies (if any) reached libraries in Western Europe or the United States."

Turns out there were a few, though not many, and there is a copy at Brandeis that you might want to look at when you're back.

- Ken

Unknown said...

Hi Joanna, thank you so much for keeping us in the loop. It really is great tracking your adventure and progress. My family's address was Krasnarmelskaya 39, Apt 5. I might have written 3A, but it's actually 39. Not sure if you'll get a chance to go again, but in case you do let me know. All the best. I also eagerly await the next installment.