(JHE Coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber recently visited Jewish heritage sites in more than 10 towns near Lviv in western Ukraine to observe conditions and note changes. As part of the site visits, she met with the Mayor Ihor Hryn'kiv of Zolochiv to discuss the town's planned projects.)
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Municipal officials in the town of Zolochiv, east of Lviv, have ambitious plans to recognize and foster awareness of local Jewish history as part of a broader project aimed at promoting appreciation and awareness of the town's multicultural past: before World War II the town was approximately 40 percent or so Jewish, 35 percent or so Polish, and 20 percent or so Ukrainian.
In a meeting in his office in late July, Mayor Hryn'kiv outlined plans for four main projects: placing plaques to honor Jewish individuals from the town -- including Naftali Herz Imber, who wrote the lyrics to Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem; creating a memorial; renovating/preserving parts of the historic town center; and establishing a history, culture and research center, to be named after Roald Hoffmann, a Zolochiv-born American scientist who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981.
Few physical traces of Jewish heritage remain visible in the town, however: the site where the synagogue stood, for example, is now occupied by the bus depot: signposting here could recover the memory of the space.
NOTE: The Mayor and his staff are actively seeking contact with survivors and descendants of survivors and emigrants from Zolochiv to share stories, memories, and material about the town to help with plans for preservation and restoration, and also to help prepare a detailed book on local history.
The contact for this is -- Igor Muryn, an adviser of the Mayor -- at email@example.com
Already in June, to mark Hoffmann's 80th birthday, the town placed a plaque on his birthplace/childhood home and staged other events in his honor. A limited edition book on local Jewish history, written by a local history teacher, has also been published.
Eleven years earlier, in July 2006, Hoffmann attended the dedication of a Holocaust memorial erected at the destroyed Zolochiv Jewish cemetery by survivors and descendants to commemorate the 14,000 Jews of Zolochiv who perished during the Holocaust. The memorial includes a monument in the cemetery, shaped like a group of candles, and a plaque on the Zamok (Castle), where 2,000 Jews were killed. (I was also in attendance at the dedication.)
The memorial occupies a small part of the large cemetery, whose entire area is fenced. The City maintains the site and cuts the grass and weeds two or three times a year -- but it is only able to keep the area immediately around the monument under control.
Since the monument was erected, several matzevot have been discovered lying flat under the surface -- Mayor Hryn'kiv believes there could be more and would like to see them recovered and either re-erected or used to form a memorial.
Following the monument's dedication ceremony in 2006, Hoffmann wrote movingly about the experience in an article published in the International Herald Tribune:
Can one forgive what happened - the pain, the killing? Forgiveness comes from the soul, it is individual. I can only speak for myself.
I can forgive. But only if I remember, and, importantly, if I see that the people in whose midst the killing took place remember. If they do not, if their children are not taught that it must not happen again, then my soul hardens.
There are wounds from that time, physical and mental. They can be healed, in part, by righteous actions today. Recognizing the sacred nature and historical significance to the Jewish community of places of spirit and memory - the Jewish cemetery, the castle courtyard where so many were killed, the obliterated synagogues - is an act of universal charity.
For his birthday this year, Hoffmann prepared a video message aimed at encouraging the town in its efforts to preserve and commemorate.