Sambor and Bronica Forest

8th July 2012
We started the day with another 1 hour walk in the area of Schodnica – nice way to start the day in the fresh mountain air surrounded by pine forests and running streams. Several times during the trip we commented on the contrast between the physical beauty of the area with the pure evil, hate and death that was prevalent here during the 1930s and 1940s.
Later we drove towards Borislav and stopped  about a kilometer south of the city at another monument to Jews killed in an “Akcia” in November 1941 and buried in the forests. The place itself was quite overgrown and we cleared weeds before laying candles and saying Kadish. We talked amongst ourselves at how these places which are meant to commemorate will not survive much longer and be forgotten unless they are repaired and looked after. ( see pictures and video )
From there we drove about 35 Kms west to Sambor – a town which originally had a population of about 6,000 Jews of which only under 200 survived WWII.  We were shown around the small town by one of the very few Jews left – he took us to The Ghetto area (see video clip) – not much to see…Also a building which was once a synagogue.
We also went to the Jewish cemetery which looks like a large open overgrown field until we started walking through it and saw a few headstones lying on their sides with Hebrew inscriptions. We also visited a plaque on a long brick wall on the one end of the cemetery commemorating the murder of Jews at that place who brought from the prison and shot. ( see pics)
It is very troubling to see that so many monuments and plaques have almost no reference to the fact that Jews were the victims – they normally refer to Ukrainians as having been killed. Shmuel told us that the Ukrainians find it difficult to confront the issue, or prefer to deny it and the authorities normally give the lame excuse that they dont want to “embarrass” the Jews…
We were also shown the main prison (outside) of the town where Jews were kept until taken to their deaths. Today there are less than 30 Jews in the town – our guide was the youngest and is 75 years old.
We then drove back towards Drohobycz and stopped about 5 Kms out of town at the Bronica forest to witness the largest mass graves in the area. Again Tanya explained the “non-reference” to Jews on the plaque at the entrance to the memorial site.
Some 15,000 Jews were murdered over several days possibly weeks and buried in this forest and there are several large mass concrete  grave slabs to mark the burial sites. On the turnoff to the site was one of the few signs I have seen so far referring to a Jewish Memorial. Inside the forest another plaque refers to Ukrainians. Apparently an attempt to add a plaque referring to the fact that all those killed were Jews, has been removed.  We had a moving ceremony at the site .
This is one of the better kept sites and it was a very powerful and moving experience to stand in the beautiful forest, see these large and stark grey slabs of concrete and to try and imagine what mayhem and evil occurred here 70 years ago. I discussed this with our guide Tanya and she used words like “Satan” and “zombies” to try and described the Nazis who did the killing.
She told me a story of a Nazi officer who was in Drohobycz and went into a barber shop to have his hair cut and at one point gestured with his hands and with a wide grin said “oh what a great day of killing I have had today..”
I filmed the group ceremony and I was standing there in my shorts and sandals I was bitten all over my legs by incessant Mosquitos and could not help but feel uncomfortable in worrying about the mosquito bites in the presence of a site where Jews suffered such pain, torture and finally brutal deaths.

See video with tribute by the group and kadish

Also this tribute by Hana Granot
That evening our Israeli trip organizer Angela arranged for a trio of young musicians dressed in local costume to play local music for us at dinner at the hotel in Schodnica.  They even gave us a reasonable rendition of Hava Nagila.  The violinist in the group was a young very blond boy and my thoughts wondered to the famous scene in “the Sound of Music” where a young fair-haired and good looking German starts to sing at a pub and stirs his audience to stand and sing along in a frenzy of nationalist expression. I cannot escape the context of all these events.
The contrasts in experiences and emotions is enormous..hard to absorb and process. After dinner a few of us sat outside and chatted about some of our family’s traumas during the holocaust. One mother of a person in the group had not spoken for years but eventually did tell her children some horrific incidents including jumping from a window and breaking both legs and having to crawl to survive.

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