I woke up at 4:00 this morning. I tried desperately to fall back asleep, but was too anxious to record my thoughts from the previous day. Before I knew it, it was 9:30 and Tanya called for me to come down.
We drove first from my hotel in Truskavets back to Boryslav, where we picked up our driver for the day, Tanya’s former father-in-law, Ilye. Ilye is married to the head of the Boryslav Jewish community, but he himself an ethnic Ukrainian. Unlike Tanya, Ilye had traveled during his many years in the region to Turka, our ‘shtetl stop’ for the day.Ilye was waiting for us at the storage units owned by Tanya’s humanitarian organization, dedicated to providing services for minority groups in the region, primarily Jews.
From there we visited her organization headquarters, and ate a nice breakfast before hitting the road to Turka at 11:00.
It was a one and a half hour drive on winding roads, miserably paved, through the most beautiful scenery I’d experienced in my young life. It was truly the heartlands of the Carpathians. We could see fur trees for miles in every direction.
Turka resided deep in a valley, and once we reached there, it was another 13 kilometers of unpaved roads until the village of Ilnyk. We were joined on the road by cows, donkeys, men driving carts and short old women carrying crops to town. After asking multiple friendly locals for assistance, we finally reached the village. Max Eidex (my great-great-grandfather from Boryslav) was the son of Chaia Rachel Frommer, who was born in the village of Ilnyk in 1835.
The village surrounded the beautiful river Rika.
After driving down the central (and only) road for a couple of minutes, Tanya pointed out what looked to be a 19th century home.
She encouraged me to investigate, and I was exceedingly embarrassed when she knocked. I had originally thought it was a barn.
To my amazement, the door was answered by a short stalky woman. She invited us into her modest home. The woman, we later found out, was 87 years old. She could speak but was deaf for all intensive purposes. Tanya communicated with her in writing.
It was an out-of-body experience. She had remembered Jews living in the village before the War. They resided at the beginning of the street she said. We learned that she had been rammed by a calf at a young age, and was disabled for most of her life.She said that I had a beautiful smile, and encouraged me to marry one of the young women fro Ilnyk. I told her that I would consider it.
She directed us to the home of the village historian just a few houses down.
Nikolai Ivanovich Ilnytsky was born in Ilnyk in 1938. He had served as the director of Ilnyk secondary school and was the de facto town historian. Tanya inquired about the village’s Jewish community, and he had many stories to share with us.
(1) One cold winter night, during the War, a Jewish man with the surname Sandler knocked at the door. Nikolai’s grandparents provided the man with a coat and a loaf of bread, and allowed him to briefly lay by the furnace before sending him on his way. They were afraid that they would be turned in by the Nazi-collaborator next door and ultimately killed for harboring Jews.
(2) A family in the nearby village of Frohlich was killed for harboring Jews.
(3) Moshko, a friend of Nikolai’s father, owned a pub in town. Moshko would lend money to locals, and if they were too poor to pay, he would accept land in return.
Nikolai’s father fought in the Red Army and his uncle fought in the Polish army. His uncle was captured and eventually murdered in Dachau Concentration Camp. Nikolai served in the Soviet army. Nikolai corroborated the old woman’s memory that Jews lived at the front of the village. I left Nikolai’s home feeling as though I just stepped out of a story-book, completely astonished by the repeated warmth of Ukrainians.
As we drove back through Ilnyk we stopped to take pictures at the village entrance where Jews resided.
We took the unpaved road back to Turka, passing impressive homes along the way, likely funded by expat family in Western Europe. Just a little western money goes a long way Ukraine.
In Turka, locals were again very willing to assist us.
One promptly pointed out the synagogue, where Jews from the surrounding villages (including my ancestors) would come to celebrate the high holidays. It was a magnificent, but dilapidated, 19th century structure.
A man residing nearby reached out to tell us about the structure and the former Jewish community. He pointed out a Jewish star, but it was oddly shaped. Tanya suggested that its shape may have some Kabballistic significance.
From there we were directed to the Jewish cemetery. To reach the cemetery we had to pass through the market, and from there a treacherous journey up a hill of overgrowth and insects. I was wearing Timberland boots and Tanya was in flats. She was nevertheless determined to make the journey. She surely wins the award for best tour guide.
After a complicated and itchy climb, we finally saw the first headstone.
It was an unbelievably emotional experience. Somewhere in this cemetery lied my great-great-great-great-grandparents, Mechel and Sosche Fromer.
We finally reached the top of the hill and were upset to find a road that we could’ve taken, but truthfully I think our path was probably more fulfilling.
At the top stood a memorial to Turka’s massacred Jewish community, albeit in complete disrepair.
In stark contrast stood the most breathtaking views of Turka, the surrounding villages, and the Carpathians.
Most of the headstones were unreadable, washed away by time and the elements, but a few were legible.
Again, I said the Mourners Kaddish.
Tanya remarked that many of the graves looked to be from the early 19th century, and I found a stone dated as recently as 1935.
After a short while we traveled down the road, back to our car in the city center.
I talked to Dad for a bit on the ride back, and also managed to sleep between potholes.
Tanya and Ilye dropped me off at my car in Truskavets, and then directed me towards the best path to Lviv. Tanya gave me her phone number and insisted I call if I ever need assistance. She has been so beyond helpful and insightful. I am so extremely thankful and fortunate to have found her.
The road back to viv was significantly better than the one I originally took.
I arrived at the airport at 8:40 and blogged until Chase arrived an hour later.
Chase Nelson is in my fraternity at Northeastern University. We got close last fall when we had an anthropology introductory course together.
I helped Chase perform some preliminary research into his ancestry of the course of the year, and after discovering that he too had roots in this region, the idea for the trip came about.
He arrived at 9:40 from Israel, where he had just enjoyed ten days on the Birthright program. He was clearly exhausted and had a mild cold, but was nevertheless very excited to begin our journey.
We headed straight for the hostel, where we checked into a room.
We then walked to the city center where we ate vareniki per my suggestion, after really enjoying them the night before in Boryslav.
After sufficiently catching up we made our way back to our room where we found 3 young men from Tajikistan. They were very excited to be sharing the room with Americans, in particular one from Los Angeles.