An Unfinished Memory:  Jewish Heritage and the Holocaust in Eastern Galicia
A Permanent Exhibition at the Galicia Jewish Museum, Kraków, Poland


Artist’s Statement
To speak of the Jewish in Galicia––and in eastern Galicia specifically, the subject of this exhibition––is to speak of both a legacy and an enigma.  It is to speak of a past that is not past, a thousand year old civilization whose recognizability largely belongs to them, the ancestors, and whose unrecognizability largely belongs to us, the inheritors.  It is to speak of an annihilated world that is not pulseless, an actuality of devastation that can be traced but not quite followed, whose relics can be found but not recuperated.  To speak of the Jewish in eastern Galicia is to make a path into the paradoxical condition of an unfinished memory.  It is to speak of remembrance and brokenness both endowed with a quality of inertia, and to speak of a special kind of imagination apart from imaginariness.  The things of the imagination are, after all, precisely what is most real in matters of love and grief.
The work here is part report and part meditation, a factual account of and also a contemplative encounter with the Jewish past as it exists today.  The project's guiding problem, as I have given it to myself, is to infuse perception of what exists with an imagination of what no longer exists––to seek and receive the Ukrainian social geography of contemporary eastern Galicia for the sake of its destroyed Jewish civilization.  The result is a visual dialectic on social, historical and moral levels simultaneously.  The picture sequence in this room moves between traces and tracelessness, ruined presence and the absence even of ruins, the Jewish something and the Jewish nothing.  
The most common kinds of Jewish something in eastern Galicia are synagogue structures in various states of dilapidation, and cemeteries with a least some headstones standing.  Beyond this, there are various examples of Jewish heritage repurposed for other uses, Holocaust memorial tablets here and there, a handful of memorials honoring specific Jews, and a few modest museological displays honoring Jewish communities.  The Jewish nothing exceeds all of the above in scope and in number:  once-Jewish buildings, streets, districts, individual and communal properties denuded of Jewish recognition, uncommemorated Jewish killing sites, unmarked Jewish mass graves.  The Jewish something and the Jewish nothing are irreducible to each other.  Both are equally important expressions of the Jewish as it exists now in eastern Galicia––a great civilization in its still-tangible destroyedness and its incomplete forgottenness.  
I made the photographs here using a large-format analogue camera, a tool that forces a slow and contemplative observational process.  Just as the English language (and no other language either, as far as I know) does not have a verb that fuses looking and reading––visual poetics with socio-historical scrutiny––so too English has no good word to describe the mercurial combination of imagination-of-what-was and perception-of-what-is that characterizes the use of a large camera.  The most common contemporary metaphor for the photographic act––capture, holding captive, immobilizing––strikes me as particularly deficient, owing to the indeterminacies of narrative, cause and effect, and time itself in images like the ones here.  Better, perhaps, is the metaphor of release, which asks us to look for the ways that photographs circulate feeling, information and insight from place to place, moment to moment, predicament to predicament.  To photograph in eastern Galicia for the sake of such release means undertaking a reading of the Jewish scars marking the Ukrainian lifeworld, and also a reading of the ashes––the formless Jewish losses––strewn through that lifeworld.  
I am a photographer with a deep love of pictures and little faith in them.  If photographs mostly show us what we are already prepared to see, sometimes they provoke us to ponder what we are not prepared to understand.  In such situations, we stand to receive memory not just as an anterior truth but a future possibility, a force of change and renewal as against the forces of indifference and oblivion.
Jason Francisco
Kraków, 2018


Historical Context
The Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria first appeared on maps of Europe following the First Partition of Poland in 1772, forming one of the the largest and most populous provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  For the previous four and a half centuries, it had been part of the Polish Crown and later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and widely known simply as Galicia.  Galicia’s capital was the multinational, multiethnic city of Lemberg, known variously as Lwów (Polish), Lemberik (Yiddish), Lvov (Russian), and Lviv (Ukrainian).  With the dissolution of the Dual Monarchy in 1918, the western half of Galicia came quickly under the control of the newly created Republic of Poland, while the eastern half was contested by Poland, Soviet Russia, Soviet Ukraine and fighters for an independent Ukrainian state, finally becoming part of interwar Poland in 1921.  After 1919, the name “Galicia” ceased to be used officially, but the region has informally retained the name to the present day.
On the eve of the First World War, eastern Galicia’s 5.3 million residents (two-thirds of Galicia’s total population) broke down demographically into three major groups.  Ukrainians formed 65%, Poles 22%, and Jews 13%.  Poles and Jews formed the majority in most cities and towns, with Jewish town populations sometimes reaching 50%-70%––making eastern Galicia a legendary region of shtetl life and culture in eastern Europe.  150,000 Poles and 100,000 Jews lived in Lviv during the interwar period, forming half and a third of the great city’s population respectively.
The events of the Second World War, both during the Soviet occupation of eastern Galicia (1939-1941) and especially during the Nazi German occupation (1941-1944), were catastrophic for Jewish life.  Without exception, every Jewish community was wrecked.  The Germans and their collaborators killed Jews in myriad ways:  some died by gas and some by bullets, some in deportations and some in roundups, some by disease and some by hunger, some by exhaustion and some by fighting.  The Jewish minority accounted for over 70% of total non-combat related deaths in eastern Galicia during the war, and almost 95% of eastern Galician non-combat deaths when factoring out the city of Lviv itself.  Altogether, of the 656,000 Jews living in eastern Galicia in 1939, over 85% were murdered during the Holocaust.  In the years following the war, most surviving Jews emigrated, so that the Jewish population in eastern Galicia in 1959 was just over 4% of what it had been twenty years earlier.  Today, the Jewish population in eastern Galicia is estimated at fewer than 10,000 of a total population of approximately 5 million, or .2%.
The mass killing of Jews mostly occurred in the 18 months following the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.  The Jews of eastern Galicia were subjected to two distinct types of genocidal actions.  First, they fell victim to the massacres of the specially designed mobile killing squads, principally comprised of German SS and Order Police units––known collectively as Einsatzgruppen––working in collaboration with local civilians and Ukrainian police.  These squads fanned out behind the German advance and murdered Jews in their own communities.  Second, the Jews of eastern Galicia were subjected to the system of ghettoization and deportation to industrially-designed extermination camps.  The Germans established thirty-three such ghettos in the eastern Galicia, plus at least 55 forced labor camps, including the infamous Janowska Street camp in Lviv.  From these ghettos and camps, approximately 345,000 eastern Galician Jews were shipped to the Bełżec death camp in western Galicia.  Of the half-million Jews murdered at Bełżec during its brief but lethal existence from March-December 1942, eastern Galician Jews accounted for 70-80%.  Altogether, while the Nazis failed in their plans for global domination, nowhere more than in eastern Galicia did they realize the most consistently articulated element of their ideology and policy, namely the physical elimination of the Jewish people.   
After the Second World War, most of eastern Galicia became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and since 1991 has formed part of independent Ukraine’s western region.  In the Soviet period, the Holocaust was suppressed and indeed dissimulated as a historical subject, its victims folded into the encompassing, state-sponsored narrative of Soviet sacrifice.  In many locales, Jewish communal property––synagogues, cemeteries, hospitals, schools, the readiest things we call Jewish patrimony today––was appropriated for public works, and further destroyed or modified beyond recognition.  In the post-Soviet period, Jewish history and heritage in eastern Galicia has been likewise marginal, and at points antithetical to the new, urgent project of creating a workable Ukrainian national identity.  In western Ukraine this tension is especially acute, as eastern Galicia and Volyn are the widely regarded as the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism in independent Ukraine.  Practices of and discourse about Jewish history and heritage remain significantly within the province of private Jewish initiatives, bracketed off as the concern of Jews themselves, or the Ukrainian intelligentsia.  Only in recent years, and mostly in Lviv, are Jewish history and heritage beginning to appear as a point of focus in more complex conception of heritage, linking the local to the transnational, and tracing the circulation and adaptation of the Jewish, the Ukrainian and the Polish in time and in place in eastern Galicia.

Jason Francisco
Kraków, 2018

Sokal, the great synagogue
Sokal’s main synagogue opened in 1762 and stood in the center of a large Jewish district in the heart of the town.  In 1921, Sokal’s total population numbered over ten thousand, of which nearly forty-five percent were Jews.  Fifteen Jews managed to survive the Holocaust in hiding in Sokal.

Zhovkva, view of the Jewish cemetery
Before the Holocaust, Zhovkva was a regional center of Jewish culture in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, famous for religious scholars and for its Hebrew printing houses.  The town’s vast Jewish cemetery dates to the early seventeenth century, and was in continuous use until 1941.  The cemetery was used for periodic executions during the Holocuast, and completely stripped of its thousands of tombstones.  In the 1970s, its territory was partly converted into an open marketplace, which remains in weekend use today.

Berezhany, view of the hilltop Jewish cemetery 
Approximately two hundred tombstones or tombstone fragments remain in this cemetery, which dates to the early nineteenth century.  The tsaddik Meshulam Shraga Feiwish Halpern is buried here, for whom a new ohel was recently constructed.

Bibrka, the great synagogue
The Jewish community in Bibrka dates to the early seventeenth century, and by the early twentieth century came to number over 2500 people, just under half of the town’s population.  The community’s number declined significantly during the First World War, and the community was completely annihilated in the Holocaust.

Rozhniativ, view of the Jewish cemetery
Located in the middle of agricultural fields and difficult to access, this cemetery is almost entirely covered by vegetation, but contains a great number of complete tombstones still bearing legible Hebrew epitaphs.  In 1921, the Jewish community of Rozhniativ numbered 1349 members, who comprised over forty percent of the town’s population.

Chortkiv, the Hasidic synagogue
The Hasidic dynasty of Chortkiv (Chortkov) was founded by Rabbi Duvid Moshe Friedman (1828-1903) around 1865, and quickly became one of the largest and most renowned Hasidic groups of Galicia.  The town of Chortkiv was widely considered an important center of Jewish mysticism and Hasidic religious thought.  While the community was destroyed in the Holocaust, Chortkover communities continue to exist in Jerusalem, Manchester and Antwerp.

Busk, view of the mass graves beside the Jewish cemetery  
Beside Busk’s historic Jewish cemetery are seventeen mass graves, containing the remains of approximately 1750 Jews, most of them women and children, massacred in 1941 in the phase of the genocide known today as the “Holocaust by Bullets.”   The French Catholic priest Father Patrick Desbois confirmed the precise location and forensic information concerning these mass graves, as part of his team’s expansive project documenting Holocaust massacre sites across eastern Europe.

Plebanivka, view of the killing field
On April 7, 1943 more than 1100 Jews from the town of Terebovlia were forced out of the ghetto that the Germans had created for them, marched to the nearby village Plebanivka, and shot into pits on a remote hillside.  Two months later, during the final liquidation of the Terebovlia ghetto, another 800 people were executed in the same place.  No trace of the Jewish community of Terebovlia exists, but descendants of the town’s Jews built a monument at the site of the massacres after Ukraine’s independence in 1991.  No roads or even footpaths lead to the site today, but it can be accessed by walking a high railway viaduct on the southern outskirts of Terebovlia. 

Rozhniativ, view of an erstwhile Jewish street
This small and remote town was once home to a thriving and diverse Jewish community.  A century ago, Rozhniativ had six competing Zionist groups covering the spectrum from religious to cultural to socialist, two Jewish sports clubs, an active Jewish theater, a Jewish library with over two and a half thousand books, in addition to a vigorous Jewish religious life.  In 1939, 1650 Jews lived in Rozhniativ, comprising over 40% of the population.  Ten of them returned after the Red Army liberated the town in 1944.

Pidhaitsi, view of the Jewish cemetery
This vast cemetery belonged to an important Jewish community founded as early as the sixteenth century.  By 1939, 3155 Jews lived in Pidhaitsi, comprising over fifty percent of the town’s population.  During the German occupation of the town, most headstones in this cemetery, as in Jewish cemeteries across eastern Galicia, were either pulled entirely from the earth, or smashed and broken, to be used as building materials or pavement.

Drohobych, view of the old Jewish cemetery
Prewar Drohobych boasted two Jewish cemeteries, an older one founded in seventeenth century, and a newer one founded in the early twentieth century.  The old cemetery, where the famous Polish-Jewish writer and artist Bruno Schultz’s parents were buried (Schultz himself designed their tombstone) was completely destroyed during the Second World War.  The site was used to build new housing after the war.

Brody, the center of the wartime ghetto for Jews
By the eighteenth century, Brody was already a famous Jewish town––a center of trade and liberal religious thought, with the highest proportion of Jews in eastern Galicia, at almost ninety percent.  Virtually all Jews in the town and surrounding hamlets died in the Holocaust, some 5000-8000 in deportations to Bełżec in 1942, a further 500 in shootings in the ghetto that the Germans established after the Bełżec deportations, and some 2500 more in deportations to Sobibór in May 1943.  This photograph shows a street in the middle of what was the wartime ghetto for Jews.

Ivano-Frankivsk, view of a Jewish mass grave
Ivano-Frankivsk contains several sites of Nazi atrocities.  The massacres of October 12, 1941––Bloody Sunday––were among the city’s most notorious, when an estimated 10,000-12,000 men, women and children were executed in the new Jewish cemetery.  The building in this photograph, under construction in 2014 and now completed, stands on an unmarked mass grave of 2000 Jews, according to the Holocaust researcher and current chief rabbi of the city, Moshe Kolesnik. 

Lviv, view of the old Jewish cemetery
Lviv’s old Jewish cemetery was founded in the early fifteenth century and closed in 1855.  It was the first project of restoration and documentation undertaken in 1914 by the famous Polish-Jewish historian Majer Bałaban, who termed it a “Jewish Pantheon.”  The cemetery was destroyed during the Second World War, and its sprawling territory repurposed as a marketplace during the Soviet period.  Jason Francisco has worked extensively on the complications of memory at this site, including his book The Everyday Life of Mutilated History.

Lviv, view of the former Janowska Street camp
The camp on Lviv’s prewar Janowska Street was created in September 1941 as a labor camp, which then became a transit camp and also a death camp, until its liquidation in November 1943.  According to current estimates, at least 100,000 prisoners passed through the camp, the vast majority of them Jews, and approximately 40,000 were murdered there.  Simon Wiesenthal was one of the few survivors.  Most of the camp’s area is now comprised of fields, but its central building complex was never destroyed:  it became a Soviet prison and today is a Ukrainian prison, whose walls are shown in this photograph.

Lviv, moonrise over Piaski Hill  
The Piaski (Sand) Hill on the perimeter of the Janowska Street camp was the site of most of the camp’s mass shootings.  Piaski’s victims included tens of thousands of Jews from the Lviv ghetto and also prisoners from the camp itself.  According to the Soviet Extraordinary Commission investigating Nazi crimes, the burning of bodies also mostly occurred at Piaski, after which the ashes were buried in at least 59 sites across the territory of the camp, at a depth of one to two meters.  Today the Piaski Hill is part of the prison complex, off-limits to the general public.

Lviv, the Vuhilna Street synagogue
Lviv merchant and Hasid Jakub Glanzer funded the construction of a large Baroque synagogue, which opened in 1844 as the second largest synagogue in the city, and formally bore his name.  It remained in religious use until 1962, when it was converted into a gym.  In 1989 it was returned to the local Jewish community, and languishes today in a state of acute disrepair.  The Sholom Aleichem Jewish Culture Society uses it for occasional meetings.

Lviv, the remains of the Golden Rose synagogue
Lviv’s Golden Rose synagogue was one of the city’s jewels, a masterpiece of Renaissance religious architecture.  Opened in 1582, it was the oldest synagogue in the territory of contemporary Ukraine prior to its destruction in 1943 by the Germans.  In 2016, the ruins of the building became part of a new memorial honoring Lviv’s 700 year old Jewish community, the most important Jewish commemorative project in Ukraine since Ukrainian independence, and arguably since the Holocaust itself.  The photograph shows the Golden Rose in 2014, just prior to the building of the new memorial.  Jason Francisco has worked extensively on the Golden Rose, including his photo-text-drawing work “The Golden Rose” and his hybrid text about the new memorial complex, “Spaces of Synagogues, Lviv.”

Lviv, view of the inner-city Jewish quarter
The Jewish district within Lviv’s city walls formed approximately a third of the old city, in the south-southeastern section.  This photograph shows the area between Serbska and Fedorova Streets, looking east.  The ruins of Lviv’s famous yeshiva, founded in 1592, appear in the center-right of the picture, behind which is the Jewish community’s Kehilla building, through which the Golden Rose synagogue was once entered.  The area pictured has for almost a decade been the subject of deadlocked legal battles concerning the construction a hotel on the site.

Busk, the great synagogue  
Busk opened a large brick synagogue in 1843 to replace the town’s older wooden synagogues.   After the Second World War, the main sanctuary of the synagogue was used as a warehouse, and its rear converted into flats.  Recently the sanctuary was acquired by a small Protestant congregation, which renovated it for religious use; the rear of the building remains housing for poor residents of the town.

Burshtyn, the eighteenth century Jewish cemetery  
In 1921, the town of Burshtyn had 3581 residents, of whom 1431 were Jewish.  Burshtyn’s Jewish cemetery was looted in postwar decades, and its tombstones used as building material.  Locals today continue to use the cemetery for storage of hay and other materials.  Only one section of the cemetery, the women’s quarter, is still partially preserved.

Khodoriv, view of the Jewish cemetery
The Jewish community of Khodoriv dates to the early seventeenth century, and numbered some 2300 members on the eve of the Holocaust, almost none of whom survived.  Today, no trace remains either of the Jewish cemetery or the synagogue of Khodoriv.  The cemetery was completely destroyed, and its grounds repurposed for recreational sports; the wooden synagogue burned down during the Second World War.

Belz, the center of the destroyed Jewish town  
Belz is one of the oldest towns in Galicia, dating to the tenth century, and documented evidence of Jews living in Belz dates to the early fifteenth century.  By the nineteenth century, Belz had become one of the major centers of a Hasidic movement––its founder, Shalom Rokeach, was famous as a sage and miracle-worker––that remains today one of the largest in Israel.  On the eve of the First World War, the 3625 Jews living in Belz comprised than sixty per cent of the town’s population.

Buchach, view of an erstwhile Jewish neighborhood  
With origins in the sixteenth century, the Jewish community of Buchach had by the nineteenth century become an important regional center of Jewish political, religious and cultural life.  The Nobel Prize winning writer Shmuel Josef Agnon (1888-1970) came from Buchach, as did Emanuel Ringelblum (1900-1944), founder of Oneg Shabbat Archive in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Zolochiv, view of an erstwhile Jewish courtyard  
The Jewish community in Zolochiv dates to the sixteenth century, when Jews first settled under the protection of the Sobieski family, the town’s owners, who granted Jews equal rights and stable economic opportunity.  By the beginning of the interwar period, Zolochiv’s population had reached eleven thousand people, of whom fifty percent were Jews.

Zhovkva, the great synagogue
Partially destroyed by fire in 1833, Zhovkva’s synagogue was restored and remained in active use until the Second World War.  After the war, the building was used as warehouse, and deteriorated badly.  A restoration project began in 2000, after World Monuments Fund registered it as an imperiled cultural heritage site, but faltered due to a breakdown in relations between the project’s local and international partners.  No plans currently exist for the building’s renovation.

Berezhany, the great synagogue
The Jewish community in Berezhany dates to the early seventeenth century, and came to number 3600 residents by the interwar period, comprising over a third of the town’s population.  The town opened a large and sumptuous brick synagogue in 1718, part of whose ruins are pictured here.  In the nineteenth century a further seven synagogues and prayer rooms were active in the town, including a Hasidic kloiz founded by followers of Chortkover Rebbe.

Lviv, deteriorating synagogue paintings
The walls of Galician synagogues were often intricately painted, including calligraphed inscriptions from sacred texts, views of Jerusalem and other sites in historic and mythical Israel, references to the Temple of Jerusalem, and the zodiac.  The paintings in this photograph, by an unknown artist, are in the main sanctuary of the Vuhilna Street synagogue, where they appear in their deterioration like a post-Holocaust map of the world.

Mikolayiv, view of the killing field
When the German troops entered the small town of Mikolayiv in 1941, its population included approximately 600 Jews.  Between late 1941 and early 1942, the majority of Mikolayiv’s Jews and those from the surrounding area were deported to Bełżec and to the ghetto in Stryi. Approximately 100 Jews remained in the town after the deportation actions ended, and were murdered here in two executions in February and June 1943.  The site today is unsigned, and its mass graves unmarked.

Uhniv, the great synagogue and beis medrash   
The Jewish community of Uhniv dates to the sixteenth century, and comprised half of the town’s population of 4500 in the late nineteenth century.  Today fewer than a thousand people live in the town, which is exceedingly poor––its main square is a large dusty field between its massive ruined Catholic church and its remaining Jewish religious buildings.  The town has repurposed its great synagogue as a garage for tractors and heavy equipment, and the beis medrash as a school dormitory.

Velyki Mosty, the great synagogue and mikveh
At the end of the First World War, over eleven hundred Jews lived in Velyki Mosty, comprising thirty percent of the town’s population.  This twentieth-century synagogue, at the left in the photograph (located next to the Jewish ritual bath, to the synagogue’s right) was a notorious site of mass murder during the Holocaust.  Pogroms occurred in the town on June 6-8 1941, while still under Soviet control, a few weeks prior to the German invasion.  On the first day of the riots, two dozen Jews fled from a local mob, and sought refuge in this synagogue.  The mob set the synagogue on fire, burning the captive Jews alive.

Ternopil, view of the killing field
Between April and July 1943, the Germans and their Ukrainian collaborators murdered hundreds of Jews at this location in the Petryków suburb of Ternopil.  The massacre site is signed by a memorial, which appears to the left in the photograph, but the mass graves in the adjacent forest remain unmarked.  The memorial was recently vandalized twice:  painted with Nazi symbols in March 2017, and stained with an oily compound May 2017.

Ivano-Frankivsk, view of the old Jewish cemetery
Ivano-Frankivsk’s oldest Jewish cemetery was founded in 1662, and served the local Jewish community until 1927, when the new cemetery was established.  Devastated during the Second World War, the old Jewish cemetery was subsequently converted into a public park, on part of which now stands a cinema.  Ivano-Frankivsk was one of the largest and most important eastern Galician cities, and home to a flourishing Jewish community.  In 1931, 24,823 Jews lived in the city, comprising over one-third of its population.

Rava Ruska, the site of the Tailors' synagogue
Jews settled in Rava Ruska in the sixteenth century, and grew into a thriving and diverse community by the time of the Second World War.  In 1880, sixty percent of the town’s 6500 residents were Jews, and half were Jews by the middle 1930s.  Rava Ruska’s main synagogue stood on the site of what is now a community garden, as precisely described by a neighbor who grew up next to the building, and as a girl witnessed its postwar demolition. 

Lviv, an unreadable palimpsest  
Central Lviv contains several examples of prewar painted inscriptions advertising all manner of goods and services from formerly existing businesses.  These inscriptions appear in several languages––Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, German, and Yiddish––attesting to the extraordinary diversity that characterized the city for most of its history.  This photograph shows a wall whose layers of Latin, Hebrew and possibly Cyrillic letters have created an impossible-to-read palimpsest.  The metaphorically rich fragment appeared in early 2014 when a shopowner on Nalyvayka Street removed a sign that had been fixed to the wall for decades; Jason Francisco photographed what lay beneath before it disappeared shortly afterward under a new layer of paint. 

Zhovkva, the great synagogue
Zhovkva’s seventeenth century fortified synagogue still shows the beauty and scale of eastern European synagogues.  It was built with the support of Polish king Jan Sobieski in the Renaissance style with Baroque additions, and remains one of the largest fortress-style synagogues in Europe.

Lviv, the site of the Tempel
Lviv was the first Galician city to have a Tempel––a progressive synagogue––which opened in 1845, designed after the Main Synagogue in Vienna.  Standing proudly at the top of prewar Bożnica (Synagogue) Street, the Tempel was destroyed in the progroms that followed the German invasion of the city in June 1941.  Today a memorial stone marks the site of the Tempel, and commemorates Lviv’s Jewish intelligentsia, who were among the congregation’s core members.

Zolochiv, view of the Jewish cemetery
No tombstones remain in the Jewish cemetery of Zolochiv, whose community was founded in the seventeenth century.  Destroyed during the Second World War, the cemetery was one of the sites of mass executions of local Jews forced out of their hiding places after the liquidation of Zolochiv ghetto in 1943.  A Soviet-era monument stands at the cemetery’s entrance––the chevron-shaped grouping of columns at the far right of the photograph––into which a smaller post-independence monument has been placed.

Pidhaitsi, the great synagogue
Pidhaitsi’s fortress-style synagogue, built in the first half of seventeenth century, is the town’s oldest building, and an indicator of the town’s long military history––local churches were also built as part of the town’s defensive system.  The 3200 Jews living in Pidhaitsi in 1939 were reduced to 50 by mid-1944, through ghettoization and deportations to the Bełżec death camp, and massacres in the town itself.  Twenty-three of Pidhaitsi’s Jews were saved by a single family headed by Julian Bilecki, the first Ukrainian after the end of the Soviet Union to be named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

Buchach, view of the killing field
Fedor (Fedir) Hill in Buchach was the site of a series of mass shootings of Jews carried out by Germans and their Ukrainian auxiliaries between 1941 and 1943.  Estimates of total number of victims range from 5000 to 7000.  The site is completely unsigned, and its mass graves unmarked.

Kuty, view of the Jewish cemetery
Jews were among the founders and first residents of Kuty, settling as early as 1715.  In the late 1930s, the local Jewish community numbered approximately three thousand people, comprising fifty percent of town’s population.  At least two thousand tombstones survive in Kuty’s Jewish cemetery, whose original layout is still preserved. 

Rohatyn, view of the killing field
The town of Rohatyn contains several monuments commemorating local victims of Nazi atrocities.  The monument in the photograph marks the killing fields to the south of the city, where 3500 Jews were massacred on March 20, 1942.  The monument is in fact a double monument:  a Soviet-era inscription mentions only “the victims of fascism,”  while an inscription from the late 1990s bears epitaphs in Hebrew, Ukrainian and English in memory of “3500 Jews, citizens of Rohatyn.”  According to Rohatyn activist and historian Mikhailo Vorobets, the monument does not mark the site of the mass graves, which are located in the middle of the surrounding agricultural fields.

Bolekhiv, the great synagogue
Bolekhiv’s main synagogue, pictured here, opened in 1789 to replace the old wooden synagogue, and by the early twentieth century formed one of three synagogues in the town, alongside a reformed synagogue and a Hasidic kloiz.  The great synagogue’s location––in front of the town hall and the Uniate church––alone speaks to the importance of the Jewish community in the town.  By the early 1920s, the 2400 Jews of Bolekhiv comprised eighty percent of the town’s population. 

Hvizdets, the site of the wooden synagogue
The wooden synagogue in Hvizdets opened in the 1640s, and its interior intricately covered in paintings in the years to follow, known to scholars in the early twentieth century as the “Jewish Sistine Chapel.”  The synagogue was burned down in 1941.  A slightly scaled down reconstruction of the sumptuously painted vault is now the centerpiece of the core exhibition at Warsaw’s POLIN, the Museum of History of Polish Jews.  This photograph shows the place that the synagogue stood.

Stryi, the great synagogue
Stryi’s main synagogue dates to 1817, forming the religious center of a Jewish community that numbered twelve thousand by the eve of the First World War.  Pieces of original decorative features are still visible on the building’s crumbling walls, as well as two original pieces of metalwork––steel gates with the Mogen Dovid.

Lviv, the sole surviving prewar Jewish prayer room
This shtibl (prayer room) was discovered accidentally in 2013 in the basement of an ordinary apartment.  Prewar Lviv had at least 60 synagogues and prayer rooms, of which only two synagogues were known to exist before this stunning discovery.  Jason Francisco has been working with the building’s owner and a German historic preservation company to secure the shtibl’s conservation, but it currently remains unprotected and highly vulnerable.

Back to Top