Yesterday, Robert and I spent over 2 hours looking at my photos.  As the pictures of the matzevot passed across the screen, I tried to sound out the names (Yiddish, Hebrew, Ukrainian, Russian or Polish), sometimes needing two languages in order to make sense of them.  There were so many I captured, but so many more I didn’t.  I know in a few months, that Myroslav will be able to photograph all the stones in two cemeteries, but that leaves so many more as yet uncaptured in a photographic record, and still many millions more that have been destroyed – as effectively wiped out as if they, or worse still, the person, never was.  I don’t mean only those murdered during the Shoah who didn’t even get a marker, I mean the millions who went before them, the remnants of whose very existence was also destroyed – records, homes, matzevot.  I am not unrealistic to suppose that a person’s grave or home will remain eternally “there” but generally, gravestones disintegrate through time – the damage only what the elements do to the stone.  These were deliberately destroyed.  What happened to the caskets – the concrete and stone vaults in which the dead were placed?  Their stone markers were turned into streets, bridges, fences and buildings.  I have seen ancient stone markers in Egypt destroyed by time and vandals, in the U.S. there are plenty of readable gravestones that still stand from the 17th and 18th centuries, from the European dead.  Many of the Native Americans traditionally did not put markers such as the ones we are used to seeing.

Since I got back home, I’ve been sleeping much better than I was in Ukraine, until last night.  The images really haunt me – they are just behind my eyes, the colors, the shapes, the sounds.  I didn’t realize that it would be so difficult to shake loose from them – after all, I was just a by-stander, a witness of what is left.  Perhaps that is the best any of us can be now – a witness to the remnants.  I asked whether Native Americans know their history and the history post-conquest of the destruction of their traditional lands, and was told that for the most part they do not.

Today I heard from Ella (I am really happy that she and I exchange emails almost daily, and I often also hear from Julia) with the name of the Polish book and author that Rabbi Kalesnik showed to us – she included the publisher’s name, from Krakow.  I am hoping I can locate and purchase the book.  There are photographs in it of Stanislawow from a by-gone age.  Ella also found Diana’s birth certificate and I hope she can get it scanned and emailed to me.  I think we already have all the information in it, but more information and original documents is always good.

Last night, well actually all day yesterday, the news was full of the “birthers” – those people who claim that President Obama really wasn’t born in Hawaii (which by the time of his birth was a US state).  If he isn’t a US citizen, he would be ineligible to hold the office of President, and of course their claims are idiotic.  It made me think of those born in Europe, like my dad’s parents, in one country, which by the time they were 20 had been under the political auspices of at least one other country, and perhaps as many as 2 or 3 other countries!  In the US, we don’t generally lose territory, and our borders are pretty stable, with the exception of the change in the US border when states like Alaska and Hawaii joined the US within the last 50 or so years.  When I was in school, I found European and African geography difficult to grasp – the shapes of the continents remained the same, but the names and borders of the countries kept changing and I just didn’t understand that sort of reality.  Of course there was the attempted secession of the southern states during the Civil War era, and Key West, the Conch Republic, seceding from Florida in 1982, and some other regions talking about seceding from the state with which they are affiliated and forming another, but I don’t think that has actually ever happened most people consider these “political movements” to only be tongue-in-cheek.  Oh, what was the point?  Only that in spite of our loud out-spoken political arguments and some ridiculous policies set in recent years by the White House, as a political entity, the US is pretty stable, and Europe traditionally has not been.

Ukraine cannot be defined as killing fields, cemeteries, marked & unmarked graves, pogroms.  It is a place of many contrasts.  There are wonderful, kind and caring people there who live (as they always have done) among the anti-Semitism (which cannot be laid at the feet of the ignorant – there are plenty of educated people who are involved in the present as they were in the past), the beauty of the countryside can be breathtaking at times and most of the time appears to be peaceful and pastoral.

Typical street in Lviv

Typical street in Lviv

The colors of the churches with their blue, silver and gold as they shine against the blue of the sky dotted with white clouds, the musicians, the contrasts of modern with ancient in the architecture of the buildings as well as in lifestyles in the city and country – all these add to the inconsistencies.  Just to make sure that there is a cold dash of reality against the backdrop of the beauty, there is always a soviet era style building or two – so out of place – or the contrast of modern advertisements!