(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).
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Built in the 1740s and heavily damaged in World War II, the hulking ruins of the fortress synagogue in Brody, Ukraine, have loomed over the center of town near the Rynok (market square) for decades. Recently, as part of a larger project to highlight the town’s multicultural history, new signage has been installed at the site — in Ukrainian and English — that describes the building and explains the important Jewish history of the town.
A tourist brochure on Jewish Brody has also been published and can be downloaded.
The main signage is a large three-sided poster incorporating three separate illustrated placards that provide basic information: one on the Jewish history of Brody; one on the history on the synagogue; one on the town architecture in general.
In addition, the synagogue is prominently marked on big maps positioned in the town (and which can be viewed online and downloaded HERE), and it also appears as a prominent attraction on a poster aimed at welcoming tourists.
The new signage is part of a general project throughout the town to publicly identify buildings of local historical significance and highlight Brody’s multicultural heritage (which was largely Jewish). The initiative comes as part of a project carried out by the NGO “Kraj” (“Land”) within the framework of “CHOICE – Cultural Heritage: Opportunity for Improving Civic Engagement“, a broader project funded by the European Union and the Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA, France).
The purpose, according to a post on the project’s Brody History web site, is “to inform the community and foreign visitors about the historical and cultural heritage Brody.”
Funded in part by the City Council, Informational markers have been placed on a number of buildings including houses, the former Bristol Hotel, and also at the gate of the vast Jewish cemetery outside town.
The web site notes that the current signs are temporary makers — plans are to replace them with permanent markers once the planned renovation of the facades of historic buildings takes place and other infrastructural and procedural issues are resolved.
The temporary signs themselves provide only minimal information — but they include QR codes which visitors with cellphones or tablets connected to the internet can scan for more information.
According to the initiators of the project:
“this tool will contribute to a better perception by of local historical heritage by city residents (particularly young people – generation smartphones), and will draw attention to the need for its rescue and preservation. For tourists visiting Brody, this is a convenient source of information about the historical and architectural features of the city.”
Jews began settling in Brody in the 16th and 17th centuries. More than 16,000 Jews lived in the town in the 1820s, making up nearly 90 percent of the local population. The town’s Jewish population dwindled over the 19th century; still, in 1939 Jews made up around 10,000 of the 18,000 people who lived there. Fewer than 100 are believed to have survived the Holocaust.
The Kraj project’s aim is to highlight the “historical heritage of multicultural Brody” as a means of fostering development of today’s town. “Using advanced visualization, cultural and educational activities, project proponents seek to present the city as multicultural heritage both within the local community and outside (for tourists, scientists, potential investors and others.)” as well as to involve local people in the development of the “preservation and use of historical and cultural heritage.”
This recognition marks a welcome change.
In a blog post from March 2013, JHE friend Christian Hermann, who makes frequent trips to eastern Europe to photograph Jewish heritage sites, wrote that in Brody it appeared that “in the local museum, the reinterpretation of history is already completed: Jews have never lived in Brody.”
He wrote that — at that time — a small photograph of Brody native Joseph Roth, the author of Radetzky March and other important books of both fiction and reportage, was one of only two exhibits in the town museum that that refer to Jewish history. “A few books written in Hebrew are shown as representatives of education in Brody,” he wrote. “No further explanation is given. Hebrew reads and understands no-one here any more.” (NOTE – we did not visit the museum to see if this has changed, but the local museum is a participant in the Kraj project and the Brody History web site.)
In addition to the Kraj project’s signage, web site, and informational material, the area around the synagogue has also undergone improvement. In particular, the small children’s playground next to it has been modernized and expanded.
Unfortunately, however, children still manage to scale the crumbling brick walls and enter the ruins — causing concern and calls for safety measures. Long-term preservation of the ruins is also an issue that will have to be addressed.