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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.

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