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Trip to Volhynia (August 1999)

By Ellen Shindelman Kowitt

Related to: Volhynia (Province)Travel Reports

Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 17:45:27 -0400 (EDT) From: Ellen Shindelman Subject: Trip to Volhynia Our trip for six was organized through Jewishgen Shtetlschleppers and their Kiyev-based travel partner FLIMM, owned by Jewish Michael Barszap. It was an excellent presentation of Jewish Kiyev and included personalized trips to Volhynia-area shtetls and cities including Starokonstantinov, Polonnoye, Chudnov, Ostropol, Lyubar, Zhitomir, Novograd-Volhynsk, Berdichev, Medzibus, Chmelnitsky and Vinnitsa.

Semyon Bentsianov of Polonnoye reported that anti-semitism is everywhere. 'Hard times are still blamed on the Jews'. Their mass grave and three gravestones in the Jewish cemetery had been vandalized. He says that '100 Jews remain, there used to be 10,000'. That number has declined since my last visit in July of 1997. Most are elderly including Semyon and his wife Hannah. Semyon says that the Joint has already delivered wood to homes without gas for the coming winter. That is an encouraging report of Jewish community support compared to another in Chudnov which follows. He appreciated the medication and supplies that Chicago Action For Post Soviet Jewry donated. Semyon and I discussed the organization of a major project to photograph and map out the 400 gravestones in the Polonnoye Jewish cemetery. There is tremendous interest in this effort and it is now underway. Material will be posted on the soon-to-be launched Polonnoye Web site on Jewishgen's Shtetlinks.

I asked to meet some other Jews and only saw one in Polonnoye, so I can't really report on their condition. Overall, everyone is struggling. Again, stories abound about how the pensioners haven't received their payment in 6-8 months and when they do, it equals about $15-$20/month. Everything is speculated on trade. Everyone lives on their own crops and animals. No one owns cars. Young people all want to leave. Having children is expensive and two different people talked to me about how family planning is very serious since they cannot afford to provide for larger families. A detailed Polonnoye report is available - please email privately.

In Chudnov, we met three elderly Jews, visited a mass gravesite, a fairly well preserved Jewish cemetery and toured the town with the local English teacher, Vlad Gizlitsky. His family hosted us graciously at their home and with the help of his mother Anelia, who is the town librarian, they presented a list of former Jewish family surnames put together with the help of an old woman, Milenia Gregorevna Gluchenka who lives adjacent to the Jewish cemetery. I can share that with anyone interested. Interestingly, the Gizlitskys are not Jewish. Vlad has subscribed to this Volhynia digest and is willing to answer questions related to Chudnov. His email address is .

A disturbing incident in Chudnov occurred. Mr. Moiyer showed us a 'Jewish' bible and literature that he said came from 'Zhitomir' which we assumed to be the Chabad or the Jewish Joint Distribution aid groups based there. In fact, the bible and material were not Jewish at all. The new testament was included and there was reference to 'him' coming. We assumed that it was Hebraic Christian or Jews for Jesus paraphanalia. We later showed the Chabad Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm the material in Zhitomir and he confirmed that the Jews for Jesus are prostelizing in the area. It is a shame because these old Jews raised during Soviet times have no judgement about what is and is not Jewish. Now they are being taken advantage of because of their lack of Jewish literacy and being preyed upon by these missionaries reaching out to their sense of anything Jewish. The material was printed in Hebrew and pictured a Rabbi. The Chabad and the Joint do also visit on occassion. They recalled once last Succot. A detailed Chudnov report is available - please email privately.

Lyubar had not changed much although the Jews have dwindled. One family has emigrated to Israel since my last visit. Only four elderly women remain. One of their sons is still there but contemplating a move to Israel. The only other one with grandchildren still in Lyubar does not identify as Jewish. I did visit with the Catholic priest, a father Yosef. He was accomodating when I inquired about where church records were held, if any Jews were buried in Christian cemeteries and general Lyubar history.

I gave the Jews in Lyubar money, clothing, coffee and medication (donated by the Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal (BACJRR) ) which they humbly accepted. It is very hard for them to understand why Americans want to help them. Money was most appreciated. They appear old and tired and complain about feeling ill. Life is difficult and uncomfortable there. A detailed Lyubar report is available - please email privately.

In Ostropol, there are only two elderly Jews. Anatoli Ostopovich Polonsky and Bella Lvovna Zelinska. The newer cemetery is well cared for by Mr. Polonsky. A detailed Ostropol report is available - please email privately.

Efim Melamed joined our group for dinner and was our guide in Zhitomir one morning. He showed us interesting Jewish sites of interest and shared local history. The cemetery is in good condition and I am pleased to note is visited by locals. Several people were there while we were.

The synagogue in Zhitomir has a newly constructed wing housing Rabbi Wilhelm's family and mikvah. A total renovation of the interior of the old building is almost done too. There is now a clean dining area for the daily soup kitchen and a modern sanctuary. All of this has occurred over two years since I last visited.

Although, this list is for Volhynia, I'd like to refer to one person we met in Kiyev. I was very impressed with a young man who was our knowledgeable guide in Kiyev one day, a Yan Privorotsky, Umanskaya str., 37-31, Kiev 252087, Ukraine. He is working on his doctoral thesis which he hopes to publish as a book. It concerns the Jews of Kiev and Kiev Province (the end of the 10th to the beginning of the 20th centuries). He currently works for the Israeli Embassy but hopes to find financial support to work on his thesis/book full time.

For detailed reports on Polonnoye, Chudnov, Lyubar or Ostropol or specifically on Jewish aspects of the trip including places in Kiyev, please email me privately.

For information on shtetl visits to Starokonstantinov, Berdichev, Vinnitsa, Chmelnitsky and Medzibus, you'll have to wait for the other trip participants to report - I didn't go everywhere on this trip!

  • Last Modified: 06-08-2012
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