6th July 2012 – Urycz and Drohobycz
We started the morning early at 6.00 with a few of us walking with Shmuel Wachtel to Urycz – about 45 mins from our hotel in Schodnica- into the hills via a dirt road. I wasn’t aware of the reason for choosing Urycz as our destination but happened to be walking next to Shmuel and he started to tell his story. Urycz was the home of his grandparents – a small village of mainly farmers and workers in the oil wells that existed in the area.
See some pictures in this album.
Shmuel learned at a young age (13) that in order to survive the German occupation he had to avoid contact with people at all cost and he learnt to live in the forests around Schodnica. He would avoid the forest rangers who were working for the Germans and learned how to build “bunkers” to hide.
His earlier childhood involved frequent visits to his grandparents in Urycz and he loved being there.
As we walked over the hill he pointed out his grandparents house in the distance. As we got closer he also pointed out a large statue near their house. I could feel his excitement.
It turns out that he had been involved in the setting up of the statue and the creation of a mass grave for over 100 Jews who had been rounded up and killed in Urycz – including his grandparents and other relatives from Urycz and Schodnica (a total of 7 members of his family.)
He and other relatives of those murdered by the Nazis raised the money and arranged for the bones of their family to be moved from their original burial site in Urycz to the new location where the large memorial was setup in their honour. It was very moving to hear Shmuel and the story of how and where many of his family had been brutally murdered and then buried by the Gestapo. He also told of us of the trial and eventual incarceration for life of one of the Germans involved in the killing at that spot.
After the walk back and breakfast we set out for Drohobycz in our minibus, normally only a 15 mins ride, but this took longer on roads which, as I wrote, were in parts in extremely bad shape. The route is through Borislaw and then another 20 mins to the larger town of Drohobycz. We visited first the huge but badly damaged Synagogue.
I don’t think I have ever been in such a large and impressive Synagogue building. Massive pillars and high roof ( I reckon the building was some 6 or 7 stories high…with the remnants of the blue and silver paint on the domed roof and some Hebrew texts on the walls. We were met by Leonid Golberg – a local Jew who told us about the Shul built in the 1860s and was amongst the largest in Poland/Galicia. The Drohobycz Borislaw website has much material on the history of the community and some of its families and well known individuals in many spheres and disciplines. Its most famous son is Bruno Shultz – a famous writer and painter of his time and has become a national symbol of both Polish and Ukrainian culture – see Hebrew background and English background to Shultz.
During the Russian/Soviet period religious practice was denied and after the decimation of the Drohobycz Jewish community the building fell into disrepair and was used as a furniture store/warehouse. A fire in a next door building had spread to the Shul and damaged it further ( reminded me of the Bulawayo, Zimbabwe Shul story – a story for another time – see my website www.zjc.org.il ) . The discussion has continued for years about rebuilding……the cost of such a project and for whom ? )
Chabad have built a small Shul in one of the rooms at the entrance to the Shul and it is in use by the small community of some 70 Jews.
See pictures and video clip here.
We saw the ghetto area, the house of renowned artist and writer Bruno Shultz…Drohobycz’s claim to fame. For more on the famous poet and painter Shultz – see http://brunoschulz.eu/en/
We walked around the town in the scorching sun and saw the area of the ghetto another smaller synagogues. Most people said that they don’t remember such warm summers in this area.
We had lunch and were joined by Mr Shrier who claims to be the last of the dynasty of the original Jews in the town. All the rest, he said, we’re Jews who came to the town after the war…
He gave a long and fascinating account – translated by our guide Angela from Russian to Hebrew. (see video clips with Hebrew translation.)
There are four separate clips of his talk. He spoke in Russian which was translated by Angela into Hebrew.
We returned to our hotel at 6.30 pm – freshened up and had a beer while listening to Shmuel and some of his other stories …the conversation moved into the whole issue of holocaust deniers and the criticism that holocaust survivors experienced in Israel in the early days. He had some interesting perspectives ” I came to Israel and wanted to only live for the present and the future and to to wipe out the past.” only years later did he start telling his family…to date he has brought all his family to Schodnica including his grandchildren…he comes almost every year.
Today he is 83 but amazingly fit and on the ball. He has given an audio visual interview “for the family” – which can be seen on the Drohobycz-Borislav website at
(scroll down to watch video – Hebrew)
You can see a separate online photo album by two members of our group Hana Granot and her sister Margalit showing their visit to Drohobycz – click here
So far I have been listening and asking questions at every opportunity trying to absorb as much as I can of both the atmosphere of this place and it’s history pre WW2 and during the Russian and German occupations.
I have been relaying stories by Shmuel but it has been fascinating to hear those of the other members of the group…Yossi Rand was born after the war to holocaust survivors from Borislaw but his parents lost his older sister (a young child at the time) to the Nazis and she is buried in the area of Borislaw. He wrote and read out a very emotional piece at the “slaughterhouse memorial” ceremony which is on video.