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!