Tetiev, Day Four: June 15, 2016

We started again at the cemetery, flying the drone (Bruce hasn’t crashed it yet) and taking more photos. I walked down to the bottom of the hill and photographed the three large stones at the bottom – the graves are from the early 1950s. We could read two last names on the stone, Turner and Olshovskya (spelling?), which are written in Ukrainian.

I found another stone down the left side of the hill with Hebrew characters on it – the roosters use it to sit above the grass field and crow. The graveyard is quite a busy place for the chickens, who come and go back and forth from their chicken houses to the edge of the wooded area. The roosters crow constantly and dogs bark in the distance.

We talked to several people who live near the cemetery who remember stones in rows, but we got conflicting information about when they were moved or removed. One woman said there were still many stones hidden in the trees. Several people told us they knew it was a cemetery but didn’t know when it became neglected.

I talked to two women who live in houses at the bottom of the hill – they are glad the mayor, now a member of our Facebook page, is trying to improve the cemetery’s condition because it makes it better for them. The water sometimes runs down the hill knee-high and takes a lot of dirt with it – one older woman said the Jewish people were very smart and the cemetery used to have ditches or swales down the sides to carry the water away but they filled with dirt long ago. Svitlana said that building troughs to carry away water is a common characteristic of cemeteries in western Ukraine.

Both women said they voluntarily clear brush away from the three stones at the bottom and mow every so often to keep the weeds down.

We also talked with a local historian and artist who wrote an illustrated history book of Tetiev. We’re going back to see him tomorrow – he painted the cemetery when it still had stones so we’ll see what it may have looked like. We met with Maistruk Ruslan, the town mayor, in the afternoon, along with Alena Kotseruba (also a member of our FB page), a journalist who works for the local newspaper/town newsletter, to talk about the efforts in Tetiev to better recognize its Jewish history.

Two streets in town are being renamed after two Jewish Tetievers — it’s part of a larger effort in Ukraine to change the names of streets linked to the Soviets. One street will be named for Yaakov Orland, a famous poet and playwright born in Tetiev. The other will be named for Hirsh Turi, the leader of the Zelbshuts self-defense militia in Tetiev during the pogrom period. Turi died after he went back into the town to seek mercy for the townspeople and take responsibility as the leader of the Zelbshuts for the deaths of some of the rampaging bandits.

The city is planning a ceremony in September to commemorate Jewish heritage in the town – the mayor would like to build some kind of monument to the pogrom victims as well. He’s also planning to fence in the cemetery to give it more protection.

He invited anyone who wants to attend the ceremony to come and visit Tetiev – he would love to have people whose ancestors grew up in Tetiev come to the town. He’s also looking for some partnerships to help restore some of the important Jewish sites in town, including the cemetery and the area near where the synagogue burned down. I told him I would be happy to try and facilitate that conversation – the Israel Ambassador to Ukraine visited Tetiev recently and wants to help as well. If any of you have suggestions or are interested in ways to help with these efforts, feel free to comment on the FB page or let me know your thoughts. I can relay to the mayor for you, if you like.

Last interview of the day was at the Tetiyev Museum with Father Taras Kinash, a Ukrainian Orthodox Priest. Father Taras is basically the parish priest for Tetiev and is working to build his church. Most of the churches in Ukraine are Eastern Orthodox, which is Russian and slightly different. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church begin in the late 1990s after Ukrainian Independence.

Father Taras talked about the religious relationships between Ukrainians – he stressed that for generations, the different faiths in Ukraine (and Tetiev) coexisted peacefully while following their separate ways. The pervasive anti-Semitism and hostility toward Jews during the Ukrainian Civil War did not grow from the inside of Ukraine out, but rather was influenced from the outside in, he said.

He said there were certainly bad people who wanted to gain favor from those in power, but that most people didn’t participate in the pogroms. Some Ukrainians tried to help – many died because they assisted Jews. Others were too afraid to do anything because they feared their own deaths.

„The pervasive anti-Semitism and hostility toward Jews during the Ukrainian Civil War did not grow from the inside of Ukraine out, but rather was influenced from the outside in.“

– Father Taras Kinash –

One interesting note – Lidiya, the director of the museum brought us a ledger book, something like a census, with names compiled in 1944 by the Soviets of the people living in Tetiev at that time. There is a railroad station worker named Ivan Oleksiyovych Zaika listed. He was born July 13, 1925 in Buhaivka village in what was then the Pogrebysche district, now Vinnytsia.

He doesn’t list himself as Jewish, but in 1944, few people did. Those with Jewish names on the list left their nationalities blank.

Lidiya and Svitlana are both puzzled by our last name, which means “man who stutters” in Ukrainian. They said it is not ethnically a Jewish name – it is Ukrainian. They pronounce it Zie-eek-a, with the emphasis on the second syllable, and are sure that’s how it would have been pronounced here.

I asked if Yone Zake, Bruce’s great grandfather, could have originally been Ukrainian and married a Jewish woman, which would mean their children would still be Jewish. The idea doesn’t make much sense, since Yone spoke Yiddish and boarded with a Rabbi named Sam Levine when he immigrated to Cleveland.

It would also have gone against the customs of the times, when mixed marriages between the faiths were rare and often meant the couple was forced out of the community.

So, we have a mystery. I’m going to try and see if my friends here can track down Ivan Zaika after we leave. Maybe we have some long-lost cousins out there somewhere.

One thing the list proves – there were definitely some Jewish people in Tetiev after WWII. At dusk, we went back out to the cemetery.

Tomorrow, we regroup with the mayor, the artist and Oleksandr to tie up some loose ends. We’re also going to shoot some more general street scenes from our van as we drive, plus Oleksandr is going to show us some of the best “scenic overlook” spots around town.

We’ve decided to stay an extra day in Tetiev to keep collecting information, so we’ll be here until Saturday morning, then head to Lviv.

Please feel free to share your thoughts with Mayor Ruslan about the kinds of memorials and/or events you think would be appropriate. I’m sure he will value the input.

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