Reviving a lost world: Jewish history in Galicia and Bukovina


Alexandra Pavlova and Michael Vasilyev cleaning and reading a tombstone in Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine (photo: Dr. Valdimir Levin)The Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and East European Jewry, in cooperation with the Ludmer Fund, recently launched a unique project to preserve the history and culture of East European Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust.

The past decade has seen a growing interest and urgency in documenting Jewish communities which vanished or were decimated during the Holocaust. The trend is fueled in part by rising general interest in Jewish history and genealogy. However, scholars in the field are also motivated by the very real threat that the history and stories of these communities may soon be lost forever. Due to the destruction wrought by the Holocaust and the ravages of time, evidence of these communities is rapidly slipping away. Immediate efforts are needed to preserve whatever remnants can be found. The advancing age of first-hand witnesses, the fact that Yiddish and local languages have been largely forgotten by descendants of the pre-war population, and the decay of material vestiges like buildings, tombstones and documents, means that the surviving traces of a once rich and vivid Jewish world in Eastern Europe are now in danger of disappearing from the historical record.

The Faculty of Humanities’ Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and East European Jewry, in cooperation with an initiative of the Ludmer Fund, recently launched a new pilot program, Jewish History in Galicia and Bukovina, tackling the challenge of preserving this lost history. The project emphasizes “micro-history” as its research paradigm, which analyzes local events and the daily lives of ordinary people to uncover trends, answer general and specific historical questions, and deepen our understanding of the past as a whole. Using this approach, Nevzlin Center researchers supported by the Ludmer Fund have embarked on several field expeditions to areas of modern-day Poland, Ukraine and Romania, collecting photos and physical evidence as well as conducting interviews and direct research with local populations and survivors of the lost communities. The field work is combined with extensive archival investigations and bibliographical research. The Nevzlin Center’s researchers are creating an unparalleled record of pre-Holocaust Jewish life in Eastern Europe.

Beyond the scholarly research, the Jewish History in Galicia and Bukovina pilot project offers a unique online, interactive scholarly database. This searchable website makes available to the public a vast array of materials revealing Jewish life in pre-Holocaust communities in Eastern Europe. Currently up and running at www.jewishgalicia.net, the advanced, interactive and user-friendly online digital database appeals to academics, the global Jewish community and all those with a deep interest in local and family histories and genealogy. The website includes a gallery with stunning photographs from cities and towns, synagogues, cemeteries, mass graves and other objects of interest in the region. The site’s database contains primary sources pertaining to Galician and Bukovinian Jewry and short historical essays about the communities, archival documents and newspapers articles, oral histories, and documentation of tombstones and Jewish buildings, and other material. While still in development, the database grants the global academic community an invaluable research tool, organized, documented and cross-referenced to the highest standards of academia, and overseen by top Jewish studies scholars from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In the coming years, the Ludmer Fund and the Nevzlin Center hope to continue the Jewish History in Bukovina and Galicia pilot project, and to expand into new areas. The goal of these projects will be to allow the widest possible access to an array of historical materials (archival documents, newspapers, oral testimonies, tombstones, Jewish buildings) in a format comprehensible to non-professionals on the one hand, yet simultaneously meeting the exacting criteria of the scholarly community.

To read press coverage of the Jewish Galicia project, click here.

To view JPOST TV item on this project, click here.