Jewish Tours in West Ukraine
Jewish tours, Jewish heritage tour become very popular all over the world. People who come to visit the places where their parents or grandparents used to walk in the streets, to hear the sounds which must have been there, to imagine people who were their neighbors, hold dear their family history and faithfully remember about those who made them a part of this world.
Present day the Jewish community of Ukraine numbers about 550,000 people. According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs statistics population of Ukrainian Jews counted about 2.5 millions by June 1941 when German Nazis troops invaded the USSR. The first postwar Soviet census registered only 840.000 Jews in Ukraine.
What is behind this oppressive statistics? Here are the known tragic facts of Jewish community’s life in Ukraine: Jewish Holocaust, deportation into ghettos and to Siberia, mass murders on a scale which didn’t have precedent in all of human history, a large scale emigration of people, seeking economical and political stability. We can’t change history. But we always have to remember that any historical event is not only a date “from – to”, but first of all fates of thousands people whose lives have been changed once and forever.
Our lives are formed and shaped to the large extend by those events which happened long before we were born. Who knows what could happened if… Now we can only guess how many cultural treasures, beautiful buildings, talented scientists, skilled specialists were lost to the world as the result of the tragic events we are not able to change. But there is one thing which history is not able to suppress. It is people’s memory. That’s why here and there in Ukraine we often meet children, grandchildren, grand-grandchildren of those people from Jewish communities who during all their lives considered Ukraine their native land. People come to Ukraine from all over the world for Jewish heritage tours. Just to look, to feel, to listen to, and … to remember.
Jewish tours in West Ukraine.
A former synagogue in Uzhgorod.
There are four major cities in Ukraine where the large Jewish communities can be found: Kiev (110,000), Dnepropetrovsk (60,000), Kharkov (45,000), and Odessa (45,000).
As for Western Ukraine, Jews constitute only 0.3% (about 12,000) of population unlike 1869 when 30.2% of population were Jews. At that time the area of present day West Ukraine was considered one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe .
What will you find in present-day West Ukraine if you are looking for your lost family roots and going there for Jewish tour? Not too much. Synagogues, tombstones and abandoned cemeteries, some monuments and museums, archival collections and elders who remember quite well about flourishing days of shtetls and willingly share their memories.
To avoid disappointment about your trip to Western Ukraine and to make it productive, you should go through a lot of work in advance. How can you start? I would separate all necessary research into two parts:
to find the location of your family shtetl and all possible documents before you go to Ukraine
contact the reliable local travel agency which has experience to organize Jewish tour in Ukraine
To find the location of your family shtetl.
One of the best ways to do it is using the services of JewishGen ShtetlSchleppers they have the multiple database search facilities grouped by countries, discussion groups, extensive help for genealogical research techniques, translation services, bibliography, a lot of practical information which will guide you through the research process. A lot of useful information about planning your Jewish tour to Ukraine can be found at Mel Comisarow’s article based on his experience during two trips to Western Ukraine. He gives you advices about getting information and maps, what should you take with you to Ukraine, making records while you are on place, working in archives, contacting local people, and so on.
To find the local travel agency.
You will certainly need someone who will take care not only about your accommodations and transportation while you are in Ukraine. There is a particular reason for you to go there. Your Jewish tour involves much more then a regular tourist trip. That’s why not every travel agency in Ukraine will be a perfect match for you. These are two different things: “desire to help” and “ability to help”.
Here are a few major things to consider when you are looking for a good helper for your special heritage tour to Ukraine:
Experience of the agency to work on the local tourist market. It is critical. Ukraine tourist market is pretty specific. Usual Western processing of travel arrangements just does not work in Ukraine.
Availability of qualified personal who is capable to perform nontraditional for the regular tourist tours work: archive research, good contacts with local administration and institutions, translation skills both oral and written documentation.
The last, but not the least. They have to have their own previous experience in Jewish tour arrangement and research. There are a lot of good and reliable travel agencies in West Ukraine. But you need the one which knows how to help you.
Good luck on your trip to West Ukraine!