Jewish cemeteries in Szeged and Chernowitz
December 13, 2008 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Jewish cemeteries in Szeged and Chernowitz
Not a "project" so much as a set of photos to show the neglect of a couple of Jewish cemeteries in once vibrant cities of Jewish culture . . . Szeged, Hungary and Chernowitz, Ukraine.

If you get beyond the tourist sites in Eastern Europe, you'll be surprised at the number of clues which remain telling that this part of the world was once very much the center of the Jewish world. But today, synagogues are now abandoned (in Subotica, Serbia and Chernowitz, Ukraine) or turned into discos and internet cafes or art centers (Cluj, Romania) or furniture shops and storage places (more than I care to remember) or still standing in their grand and eloquent way . . . but empty enough that there's never the minyan required for services. (In Szeged, Hungary, they have services anyhow - these are liberal Jews, and as one told me, "God would understand. It's not because people don't want to come to services, it's because there are just a few Jews left.")

Historical anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and frequent anti-Jewish purges in Communist times have pretty much eliminated most aspects of a living Jewish culture. If you've ever wondered why so much of Eastern Europe suffered during Communism and is taking a while to recover, it's important to remember that an entire class of people - often the most educated and literate, with the most know-how in various areas - was eliminated - savagely - in a very brief span of time. I don't think it's an exaggeration to claim that much of Eastern Europe is still suffering from the sudden loss of its Jewish population more than 60 years ago.

Cemeteries tell great stories. In Chernowitz, Ukraine, I saw not one, not two, but THREE graves of different little girls born from 1939 to 1941, who died before the end of the Second World War . . . and all of whom shared the name "Adolfine." Now, Adolfine was never a popular German girl's name back in "mainland" Germany, so why so many in far-off Chernowitz? Chernowitz, at that time, had a population pretty evenly split between ethnic Germans, Romanians, Jews and Ukrainians; the Germans seemed to have greater economic and social clout, as they had for a long time. (One can see this in the glorious grave monuments to different German "burgermeisters" from the 1800s to WWII.) Before the war, everyone seemed to get along pretty well. But with Chernowitz far from Germany, and the threat of the Russians at their doorstep, the Germans of Chernowitz must have been pretty worried - whatever their political sympathies . . . and many must have ended up reacting in the sort of intensely senseless nationalistic way that those far from the real homeland often do. So I suppose that naming one's daughter "Adolfine" was a kind of hopeful, talismanic act. It's hard for me to have sympathies with nationalists - I've suffered plenty from those inflicted with that sickness - but it's interesting to ponder such things in any case.

This post is in relation to one on the Blue, no need to vote for it. Just thought it might be illuminating in some small way.
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