Monday, January 12, 2009

Ukraine: A photo essay

Here's photographer Trix Rosen's essay - and wonderful photographs - on her August 2008 trip to Ukraine.

I learned about Rosen in a posting by Ruth Ellen Gruber, with a link to Gruber's own photos of Ukraine. Rosen used Gruber's book, Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe, to organize her trip.

Rosen writes:

For me, a first-generation American, an artist, a photojournalist, and a historical preservation photographer, they have become a portal to rediscovering my own Jewish heritage.

She offers evocative photograph, arranged in albums, of the cemeteries located in Chernivtsi, Sadhora, Shahhorod, Kremenets, Sataniv and Medzhybizh.

Bet Hayyim - The House of Life

I could see hundreds of stones jutting out of the hills in all directions, leaning this way and that like silent figures pushing out toward the sun. In the distance, the worn grey, beige and brown graves were stark monuments, reminders of the people who had lived out their lives in this place, and died.

The cemeteries seemed to be swallowed up by nettles, wildflowers and hills of exuberant goldenrod. Where the ground had shifted, the displaced stones appeared as monoliths from some ancient civilization, left by time to lean against one another.

In August 2008 I travelled to the Ukraine for the first time, to meet two of my friends and to visit Odessa, the birthplace of my father. My two-week visit became an exploration into the history of the once vast community of Eastern European Jews and the relics they had left behind.

This odyssey started in Kiev at the ravine in Babi Yar, and took me to the tombs of Rabbi Nachman in Uman and the Ba’al Shem Tov in Medzhybizh, two historic Hasidic pilgrimage sites associated with the Kabbalah. I crisscrossed the heartland, over 2000 kilometers, to visit cities, towns, and shtetls, and to photograph the carved tombstones in cemeteries dating back to the 1400’s.

She describes the tombstones and their carvings of animals and symbols.

Some epitaphs were intricately carved, the stones decorated in an elaborate Jewish script covering the entire surface; others held only the most minimal outline of the Star of David. Massive, six-foot-high sculptures of tree trunks with their branches cut off towered over the simpler stones. Some retained a residue of ochre and blue paint, (perhaps the final touch of the engravers and stonecutters), while others were covered only in lichen and moss. ...
The cemeteries - called Bet Hayyim (Hebrew for House of Life) - survived pogroms and Nazi murders of Jews who lived nearby. Read the complete essay at the link above.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for bringing this essay and photos to light.