Posted Ian Shulman
The Jewish Memory and Holocaust in Ukraine Museum, the biggest post-USSR Jewish memorial complex newly opened in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, was declared to have a somewhat larger focus group than other Jewish establishments of the city. Just like the Menorah Jewish Community Center, where the museum is situated, it aspires to attract people of all beliefs, heritage and interests.
A Jewish museum rarely becomes a major attraction for non-Jewish public, but looks like the rule is going to be broken in Dnipropetrovsk, and here are some reasons:
The museum is accessible. It is not only that one can find the exhibition in the very center of the city and enter it for free with no need to speak to a doorman or a cashier. No prior knowledge of Judaism or Jewish culture is required. The ground floor exhibition introduces a visitor with the main concepts of Judaism through an impressive collection of ancient items - Torah scrolls, tzitzit, Kiddush cups and many more. Further rooms familiarize guests with the milestones of the Jewish history and some major holidays. If a visitor would like to hear some more than what captions say, he is welcome to join a free guided tour held every two hours.
The museum is universal. The first introductory exhibition is followed by the main one, focused on the topic of World War II and the Holocaust. Yet it manages to touch some extraordinary and important topics, such as Ukrainian Righteous Among the Nations or the involvement of the Jews in the Ukrainian Nationalists Organization. The third exhibition is dedicated to the Jewish life after the war, symbolically showing how the story goes on (a red ‘crack’ on the exhibition’s floor leads to the globe, a symbol of peaceful after-war life). Even though the Holocaust seems to be the main theme of the museum, both pre-war and after-war exhibitions are all-sufficient and full of interesting pieces.
The museum in innovative. All exhibitions are equipped with various interactive elements. One can track the movement of Soviet and German armies through the Ukrainian map projected on the wall; enjoy the animated early XX century postcards of Berdychiv or Lviv, or even use an ancient camera to take a photo of a friend standing on a street of 1910s Katerynoslav. Apart from interactivity, the museum features many modern art objects and decor complementing an exhibition’s theme (a monument to a broken piano is a strong symbol of the bright singing Jewish world destroyed by the Catastrophe).
Finally, summing up said above, the museum is important for the city. With its rich Jewish legacy, Dnipropetrovsk obviously lacked a Jewish museum. Even though the venue is dedicated to the Ukrainian Jewish history in general, the exhibitions provide a special focus to the Jewish heritage of Dnipropetrovsk, presenting many rare and surprising documents, photos and other valuable items. Moreover, the city simply lacked a modern and innovative museum. Most of Dnipropetrovsk museums offer some interesting collections, but haven’t been sufficiently renovated since the 1980s. Thus they lack modernity and interactivity needed to attract young audience - something the newly opened museum has and manages to do quite well. If the case will inspire other museums to follow the successful example, the whole city is going to hugely benefit from it.
And last but not least: it actually works. It’s 14:00 of a weekday and a dozen of visitors are waiting for a guided tour. This is quite a diverse crowd. Some of them decided to come here for the second time and still look quite captured by the exhibitions. Many of them are not familiar with the basics of Jewish culture, religion and history - they curiously follow the guide’s story. Many are not especially enthusiastic about the Holocaust exhibition - they prefer to pay attention to the Jewish customs, holidays and traditions. After a two-hour guided tour (covering only the most crucial points of the exhibitions) and a quick Q&A session another tour by another guide is already about to start. And again, a dozen of curious guests are exploring the exhibition halls.
The Jewish Memory and Holocaust in Ukraine Museum is an interesting phenomena no matter what you would like to find there - an impressive exhibition, a beautiful interactive center, a friendly introduction to the Jewish culture or even a combination of the three.
All photos are courtesy of the public relations department of The Jewish Memory and Holocaust in Ukraine Museum. Further photos can be found in Gallery section. www.ejpg.org
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January 20, 2013 | 12:26 pm
Posted Ian Shulman
The Jewish activists played an important role in the revolutionary movement, which originated in the Russian Empire at the turn of the XX century and eventually led to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the establishment of the USSR. Some opposers of the revolution even labeled it the ‘Jewish’ one, due to a substantial number of Jewish people (Leon Trotsky being the best known example) behind the turnover. This period of Russian history was indicated by a massive rise of various movements.
Workers, communists, anarchists, zionists, independence fighters were all starting their fight. Many of these were indeed lead by Jewish people or actually were Jewish movements (like zionism or BUND, Jewish Workers’ Union). Some memories have survived the massive repressions of the 1930s, which have demolished what was left of the revolutionary spirit. Some were completely forgotten. Aron Baron was probably one of the most rebellious and unchained leaders, causing unrest in any place he arrived to. But while many were fighting hard for the new government to take power, Baron’s life goal was to fight any form of government, power and order.
Aron Baron was a 15-year old Jewish baker boy from a small village in Kyiv region when he took part in a strike movement of Kyiv bakers union. It was in 1906. Baron’s journey has begun. He was arrested and sent to Siberia. He manages to flee to Chicago, where he joins the anarchists’ movement together with his wife Fanni. While in the USA, Baron becomes an active fighter for workers’ rights. He is a member of Industrial Workers of the World, an editor of ‘The Alarm’ and an active contributor to a number of other workers movement’s newspapers; collaborates with Jewish, American and Russian anarchists and labor unions, participates and leads countless demonstrations, gets beaten, arrested and set free again.
In 1917 Aron and Fanni return to Kyiv to become a part of the turbulent social and political life there. The baker’s union hasn’t forgotten Baron and nominated him as a deputy to Kyiv’s workers parliament.
At the same time, with the start of the Russian civil war just after the Bolshevik Revolution, Baron is assigned to form the first regiment of Ukrainian ‘red’ cossacks. In a week the army heads to the city of Poltava and captures it with Baron becoming the city’s governor. In the meanwhile, Baron solves the armed conflict between the anarchists and Soviets in Katerynoslav (modern-day Dnipropetrovsk). Though he doesn’t stay in the place for too long - German army enters Poltava and Aron together with other anarchists flees to Russian Rostov. In Rostov Baron proceeds with his mission - robbing banks, releasing prisoners and fighting the capitalists. Later Baron moves to Kursk, where he starts the local ‘The Alarm’ newspaper and creates and heads the Ukrainian Anarchist Confederation.
In 1918, together with the Soviet Army, Baron enters Kharkiv, Katerynoslav. Though apart of his army duties, Aron manages create Ukrainian Anarchist Confederation offices in the captured places. This doesn’t go in line with the Soviet’s strategy. After his lecture on ‘Anarchism and the Soviets’ in Katerynoslav, Baron is arrested.
Released again, Baron moves to Odessa - naturally, to publish his ‘The Alarm’. It gets banned by the Soviets. In couple of months he flees to Moscow. In some more months Baron gets accused of the explosion in a governmental building and gets to jail again. Released in 1920 and being seriously sick, Baron returns to Kharkiv. Collaborating with the head of Ukrainian anarchists Nestor Makhno, Baron still find time for writing for several newspapers, giving speeches at Kharkiv factories and labor unions and planing the all-Ukrainian anarchist assembly. Another plan Baron discusses with Makhno is a possibility to establish an autonomous anarchist land in Crimea. All of these plans, efforts and actions did not come true.
After 1920, Baron experiences never-ending arrests, being moved from one camp to another, tries to commit suicide, undertakes hunger strikes, being released and arrested again and again. He was executed in 1937.
Baron certainly was one of these forgotten fighters, drunken by the revolution and the possibility to change the world. His struggle, however right or wrong it was, was purely ideological, and that’s why execution alone was able to stop his fight.
January 15, 2013 | 12:54 pm
Posted Ian Shulman
The biggest (and probably the most splendid as well) Jewish community center in the world was recently opened in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine. The building, reminiscent both of an ultra modern tower complex and a pre-war constructivism dream, is called ‘Menorah’. Seven towers constituting the building indeed look like Menorah candles, especially at night, when each tower glows with a powerful illumination, looking somewhat like a spaceship landed on the banks of river Dnipro. In the daytime, the towers are shining with a precious Israeli marble. The immense 50,000 sqm construction, which encircles the old synagogue, hosts a luxurious hotel, a youth hostel, a restaurant, a concert hall, a museum dedicated to the story of Jewish life and the Holocaust in Ukraine, a tourism center, office premises and many more. This set is not random: the center is planned to be a ‘harmonious combination of spirituality, culture and business’ as well as to become an important landmark for the whole city and country population disregarding faith or background.
The center appeared exactly where it was supposed to - with a beautiful ‘Golden Rose’ synagogue at its feet (built in the 19th century and rebuilt in 2001), Menorah is located on Sholem-Aleichem street, named after a legendary Ukrainian Yiddish author of ‘Fiddler on the roof’ and many other works. That’s where the heart of Dnipropetrovsk lies; that’s also where the heart of city’s Jewish life is and was from the very beginning - the previous name of Sholom-Aleichem street used to be ‘Evreyskaia’, literally meaning ‘Jewish’ street.
Dnipropetrovsk, country’s 4th largest city situated in the Central Ukraine, was always considered an important Jewish center. Still before the war, the Jews were nearly constituting the majority of population. The city still had an immense Jewish population till the fall of communism, since many Jews managed to escape the city to the Asian regions of the USSR during the war. Today, after the massive emigration of the 1990s, official numbers say some 15,000 Jews live in the 1,000,000 people city (unofficial sources claim the numbers of above 30,000). The community is led by Ihor Kolomoyskyi and Hennadiy Boholyubov - businessmen, billionaires, Jewish leaders and one of the most influential people of Ukraine. These people are also initiators and main sponsors of Menorah center and major guests at center’s opening in October 2012, together with the Chief rabbi of Israel, city’s officials and the ambassadors of Germany, the USA and Israel. Another prominent figure behind the center - Hennadiy Akselrod, mentioned as the conceptualist and developer of Menorah, - was killed in April 2012. His name is put on a memorial plaque at one of the entrances.
Opened in October 2013, Menorah is still on its way to fully launch all of its facilities. Nevertheless, the center doesn’t experience any lack of visitors. Menorah regularly hosts different performances, exhibitions, concerts and lectures. The program is not limited to the Jewish culture; it rather involves famous personalities which are of interest for a regular, though well-educated visitor. This opened, multicultural focus relates to the whole center. For example, the store section features an ever growing range of shops, including the one with Ukrainian folk art. Signs and labels in Menorah can also be seen in different languages - English, Ukrainian, Russian and Hebrew.
One of many distinctive features of Menorah is its accessibility. Not only it is located in the very center of the city, surrounded by business centers, shopping malls and architectural landmarks. Anyone can access it anytime within the opening hours and take a walk along its spacious hallways, decorated with full-sized patterns of some old Dnipropetrovsk buildings, historic pictures and postcards. The same applies to the museum of Jewish life and the Holocaust in Ukraine. The entrance is free; one can walk in anytime not even talking to anyone, stroll through some exciting exhibitions or join a regular guided tour. That’s just one of many features underlying the core message of the new center - openness to people of many religions, nations and occupations. All one needs to do in order to see how the Jewish life looks like today is their city and country is to enter the building.
January 14, 2013 | 12:52 pm
Posted Pavel Pustelnik
It is a rare situation that you imprison poetry. However, this is exactly what has happened to the works of Naftali Hertz Kon – a Jewish poet accused of espionage.
The poems are currently being stored in the State Archive in Milanówek, not far away from Warsaw. They might occupy several boxes together with photographs and other items collected from the author’s house. All that content ended up in a yellowish building once the trial against Naftali Hertz Kon has been closed in 1962. His case was brought to the court due to the ideas contained in his writings – allegedly subversive articles.
If not the daughter of Hertz, Ina Lancman, the boxes would have been surely forgotten. The issue was interesting enough to catch attention of a renowned Polish lawyer, prof. Tomasz Koncewicz, who until recently has been vainly trying to bring the poetry back to the real world, outside of the communist buildings in Milanówek. He has submitted countless letters to the institutions that have been engaged in the issue but it seems that nobody wanted to assume responsibility for the “arrested poetry”.
Who was Hertz? He was born in Storożyniec in 1910 (Bukovina region, Ukraine today), close to Chernivtsi a small Jewish world of his times. People used to speak Yiddish and the day off at school was not Sunday but Saturday. Herz was a gifted child who spoke several languages and his memory was said to be remarkable. His debut took place in Chernivtsi, where he was writing for “Chernivtsi Blater” – a leftist anti-Zionist magazine related to Bund (General Jewish Labour Party). His calling for revolution is quickly spotted by the Romanian secret police agency Securitate. The young author is arrested couple of times and finally flees to Vienna. There he changes his name and becomes Jakub Serf. After that he is ready to head for Warsaw, the centre of the Jewish-Yiddish world. Countless discussion, vivid cultural life and the inspiring atmosphere of the Jewish Association of Writers and Journalists – this was the atmosphere that inseminated Jakub. There he has found his love and future wife – Liza Goldman. They move together to Kharkiv in 1933 not knowing yet what blunt future awaits them. The beginning is light and promising. Jakub publishes two volumes of his poetry, simultaneously in USSR, USA and Poland, Liza gives birth to their first doughter, Vita. Four years later, the Soviets decide to come to terms with all the minorities living in the country. Jews are among those who the state will deal with. Jakub is convicted for three years in a labour camp. The court claims that he was engaged in passing anti-Soviet information to Jewish journalists in Poland and the US. When Hitler crosses the USSR’s border, Jakub, Liz and their daughter are evacuated to Kazakhstan. The second girl is born – Lenina (Ina). During the war period in Moscow a Jewish Antifascist Committee is established. Stalin needs Jewish influences and money. The Serf family moves close to Moscow and Jakub is employed to document extermination of Jews in his native area. Finally they settle back in Chernivtsi and live a peaceful, prosperous life. The idyllic period ends in 1949, when Jakub is taken by the police. Stalin changes his mind and Jews are not only not needed any more; they are posing serious threat to the state. Kon is brutally cross-examined and accused of espionage. By a stroke of luck his death sentence is changed into 25 years of gulag (forced labour camp). He was released in 1956, four years after Stalin’s death. No matter how hard the time in the camp was, Kon “writes” all the time. He notes his poems on a piece of glass with toothpaste and learns by heart. There is no way to take down the cavalcade of thoughts. After coming back the nightmares of the past are a part of his life. He plans a suicide, there is always a rope under his pillow. Doctors who are trying to treat Kon are helpless and see a last resort in moving back to Poland, as this might heal poet’s mind. Liz does not want to go, but finally she gives in and the family moves again. Thanks to friendships from the period when they used to live in Poland (and the fact that Liz was born in Poland), they are granted Polish citizenship. Ina remembers that her father was drunk with happiness when they were crossing the border. After living for some time in Przemyśl, Czerwińsk and Otwock they settle down in Warsaw. The flat they occupy becomes full of poems and memories. There are a lot of people visiting, including the cultural attaché of the Israeli embassy. At some point a KGB agent in disguise becomes a friend of the family. He plants bugs in the flat and the family is observed closely the security police. The author travels a lot to Romania, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia to write about the situation of Jews there. In one of his pieces he equals the ruling of communists with the Nazi period. Polish “Fołks-Sztyme” does not want to print the article; therefore Hertz sends the story to his brother who owns a printing house in Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, the security police put hands on the letter. The future is easy to imagine. A day before Christmas Eve in 1960 the police knock to the Kon’s doors. They arrest him and all his writings and notes kept in his flat are confiscated.
Hertz’s case receives a lot of attention internationally. There are articles printed in the US, France and Israel. Nothing is being published in Poland. International human rights organisations appeal to the Polish authorities. As an effect of the pressures the accusation of espionage is dismissed and after 11 months Kon is moved to a mental hospital. Though he finds it even worse than being under arrest. The sentence in his case is pronounced 19th March 1962: a year of prison and a fine 250 zloty. He leaves the hospital a day after as the period under arrest has been calculated as imprisonment.
The poet wants to get back his belongings confiscated when he was arrested. In 1963 the decision is taken by the court that they are being treated as a proof therefore will not be returned. Kon decides to emigrate to Israel, where he starts a new life with a 10 years younger Anna. Naftali Hertz Kon dies suddenly in 1971 never seeing his writings again.
Recently, in October 2012 the district court in Warsaw decided that the daughters of the writer should be returned the confiscated items. Those are not released though. The warrant was sent to Władysław Stępniak, the head of the Polish State Archives. He explains that the materials are in Milanówek and he has no authority to make them available. The judge should have sent the warrant to the department in Milanówek. The daughters are waiting.
I would like to thank Bożena Aksamit for sharing with me this story.
December 23, 2012 | 9:24 am
Posted Ian Shulman
A Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis could have become a real pride of the country and join a beautiful company of other Hollywood beauties of Ukrainian heritages (listing her namesake Mila Jovovich, Bond girl Olga Kurylenko and many more). Instead, she unwittingly became a part of a nationalistic provocation.
It’s not that Ms Kunis is not talented enough to be an example of a Ukrainian success story in Hollywood. It’s just that some people strongly believe that a person can only be either Ukrainian or Jewish. Mila belongs to the second group; hence, it’s Jewish people who can be proud of her if they wish, but not Ukrainians.
It all began when Ukrainian far-right Igor Miroshnychenko posted a Facebook status stating that there is no reason to be proud of Mila Kunis or to attribute her to Ukraine since she is not an ethnic Ukrainian, but a Jew. He added that Kunis is proud of being Jewish, while all her remarks regarding her childhood in Ukraine are plainly negative.
The story would not cause a scandal of such scope if not for a tiny detail. While referring to the Jewishness of Kunis, Miroshnychenko used the word ‘zhydivka’ (жидівка), which is offensive in modern Ukrainian.
Being accused of antisemitism, Miroshnychenko answered that by labeling Kunis ‘a Jew’ he was only referring to her ethnic background; moreover, he doesn’t consider the word ‘zhydivka’ offensive. Politician’s supporters claim that the word has been present in Ukrainian language for ages and used by many important Ukrainian authors. Later, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed that using the word ‘zhyd’ (male) or ‘zhydivka’ (female) is appropriate and can be used on any occasion except for official documents.
To explain the essence of the situation, one should deal with some basic linguistic. The word ‘Zhyd’ (or ‘Żid/Žid’) is a perfectly normal and the only possible word for ‘a Jew’ in most of the Slavic languages. It used to be so in Ukrainian too. However, in the 1920s and 1930s the word was declared inappropriate (just as it is in Russian) and substituted with a neutral word ‘yevrey’ (‘єврей’), meaning ‘a Hebrew’. ‘Zhyd’ in modern Ukrainian is perceived rather like ‘kike’ in modern English; the difference is that the word ‘zhyd’ used to be appropriate before. Even though the word is still in use in some remote Western parts of the country (which was annexed to the Soviet Union only after WWII and where Polish cultural and linguistic influences are strong), it’s not a surprise anymore that one can feel offended by this word. Even though the secretary of Kyiv’s Chief Rabbi has recently stated that he likes the word ‘zhyd’ and doesn’t mind being called like this (though he admitted that some people don’t like this word so much), the word ‘zhyd’ for a greedy and tricky person is in use in vulgar Ukrainian.
The word ‘zhyd’ is the one you can see written on a fence, while the word ‘Jew’ written there would sound slightly awkward. Many antisemites would be happy to explain you the difference between a Jew and a zhyd (the first category is less dangerous and you can be friends with one or two of them).
In other words, Miroshnychenko’s surprise of finding out that someone can be offended by a word ‘zhyd’ is doubtful. I am not quite sure if Mila’s got to know about this nationalistic remark, but to all others, the incident became a sad and unfortunate proof of Kunis’ negative memories on her Ukrainian childhood.
December 11, 2012 | 9:26 am
Posted by Klaudia Klimek
Up to 1945 Trzebiatów now a town of Polish West Pomerania was part of Germany. The history of the last 60 years, gradually erased all traces of the former local Jewish community. Devastated during Kristallnacht, the synagogue survived the war, but was demolished in the early years after the arrival of the new settlers. The Jewish cemetery was destroyed in the early 70s. The city without those places and forms of commemoration lacked the memory of the people.
It might have been like that still, but thanks to Krzysztof Baginski, a resident of Trzebiatow and a student of Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and his project this can change.
The main feature of his project "Ner Tamid" is its apparent immateriality. The project is based on the technical properties of the ultraviolet radiation. Located on the eastern wall of the building (and the former eastern wall of the synagogue) the word "Ewiges Licht / נר תמיד / Wieczne Światło" made with colorless ultraviolet paint, will be visible only after dark, with a special UV lamp. The inscription, though physically exists, is readable only by highlighting that will take place for 8 nights connecting it to the holidays of Hanukkah. However, it began on Dec. 9, in the second of the eight days of the holidays and will end one day later symbolically extending the memory of the Jews of Trzebiatów.
The project is co-organized by the Cultural Centre of Trzebiatów, Jewish Community in Szczecin and Vocational Training Centre in Trzebiatów. The project was granted full support of the mayor of Trzebiatów Mr Zdzisław Matusewicz.
The illumination of the monument was accompanied by lectures and workshops related to the presence of Jews in Trzebiatów and Poland which were organized by the members of the Young Jews Club “Be’Yahad” from the Jewish Community in Szczecin.
December 3, 2012 | 1:25 pm
Posted Ewa Popowska
It was in 1987, when Polish catholic periodical, „Tygodnik Powszechny”, published on its first site the article Poor Polish looking at the Ghetto by Jan Błoński. One of the most significant texts in the magazine’s history, concerning complex Polish – Jewish relations during World War II, provoked a range wave of comments, including lot of disagreements. Why did it cause so much buzz around itself?
’80 in Poland it was still a time of mythologizing the mentioned relationship, which in many ways continues to this day. Post-war literature, as well as cinematography was not recalling any acts of Polish part in Nazi-made Holocaust if such existed. War movies were telling stories of people throwing food above the Warsaw Ghetto walls, some of heros were trying to take part in a Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. Noone was literally giving a name for any kind of participation. Noone was giving a name for inaction.
Jan Błoński, inspired by Noble prised poet, Czesław Miłosz, is looking back at the history from a point of view of a Polish catholic, considering the time that has passed since the tragic years of war. Miłosz, in his 1943 poem, Campo di Fiori, compares Polish society looking at the flames of burning Ghetto to Rome street sellers who did not wait for the ashes of Giordano Bruno’s pile to become cold before they got back to selling and haggling. The reason of this comparison is the carousel wchich used to stand just next to the walls of Ghetto. It did not stop working when the Uprising began nor when it was finished. Is it enough to blame Polish citizens of participation? Błoński disunites two different figures: participation and the complicity. No matter of what were the circumstances, no matter for how many of Polish were helping Jews and how many were not, in order to safe their families life during the Nazi occupation, Poland must work on its national memory to admit its trespasses and wrondoings. This is the only way to achieve the peace of mind and conscience.
This is the point, where Błoński takes inspiration from another poem of Miłosz, Poor Christian looking at the Ghetto. Lyrical subject is hiding from a mole, a personification of a remorse, digging in the ground. Błoński is asking why do we have to hide from it? To run awal from conscience, from questions? From a conversation? Isn’t it a sign of feeling guilty? Why in every conversation about Polish anti-Semitism he takes part in when abroad, he must run away from tricky questions to arguments from which the new accusations grow up? Author claims that Polish catholic has got to stand up and admit that not in every inch we were perfect in the past. History in its complexity cannot be considered as black and white, nevertheless, we must face up also the darkest elements. Using words “we”, not thinking of the concrete numbers of gulity and not guilty personas. Take the responsibility of whole nation. This is the necessary way to work the subject through and clear the memory. Not by forgeting, but by the analising – it allows us to understand the mechanism and learn. Miłosz said clearing the national memory is a obligation of Polish poetry. Błoński, not disagreeing, adds that it must be done by Polish people.
November 24, 2012 | 2:14 am
Posted Dana Haddadi