In southwestern Ukraine lies the town of Chernivtsi. Ruined building of “Beit-Kaddishin” or “House of Farewell”, a historic Jewish memorial, has been for last half of century one of the symbols of Chernivtsi, South-Western Ukraine. Located on the territory of the Jewish cemetery on Zelena (Green) Street.When the Nazis occupied the area, they didn’t destroy this rare structure. However, after World War II, the government of the Soviet Union decided to destroy it themselves. Rather than simply blow it up, they destroyed it using a method that was often used when destroying religious buildings. They converted the structure into a warehouse that housed raw materials. The warehouse got shut down after the Soviet Union collapsed. It then became an abandoned building which was not changed or altered in any way. People could still see the building since it was very tall and stretched up over the cemetery. Heavyduty trucks had destroyed the walls and the windows were also broken. However, it became a real symbol for the “era of destruction” of the Soviet Union.
But some disagreed. A group of local activists did not propose just to restore the building and to return to it the original symbolic meaning - the house of memory of the deceased. There were other locals who didn’t believe this, though.This was what led them to make it a memorial for those who died. The only problem was the cemetery was not being used anymore, and it served as a memorial for those who were buried there already. Therefore, the idea of the Holocaust Museum being build there was proposed instead.
One of the main initiators of the reconstruction was a head of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (Vaada) of Ukraine Joseph Zisels.This was a project that he spent many decades fighting for. Over the last few years, this fighting paid off because the reconstruction finally became approved. Another famous activist, Honorary Consul of Austria in Chernivtsi Sergei Osadchuk told us that “since the late 80s Joseph Zisels was working on the reconstruction of the Jewish cemetery in Chernivtsi, and in particular on the restoration of “Beit Kadishi”. I
These popular Austrians were known for restoring the Austrian Parliament and the Winter Hofburg Palace. Their job was to analyze the site and then create documentation for the project which outlined all the tasks necessary to repair and restore it. The hardest part for the entire group was to obtain funds which would finance the restoration project
Sergei wrote a request letter in the middle of 2015 to Dr. Christoph Weil, who was the German ambassador at the time. Dr. Weil responded and then sent the request to government officials in Berlin, Germany.
The ambassador redirected the letter to Berlin, from where he received the response that in the framework of the current program for the restoration of Jewish burial sites in Eastern Europe, the German government was providing 100,000 euros.
This led to Josef Zissels, Dr. Christoph Weil, and Sergei Osachuk to have a meeting over this matter. When it came to managing the equipment, restoration, repairs, and operations of the Memory Center’s building, they decided this task should be given to the Vaad of Ukraine. This is a very reputable organization with plenty of experience in these matters. Plus, they were motivated to see this project through as well.
So it became a real crowd-funding, private-public, multi-partners project. 5000 euros were given by the local authorities of the town in order to adjust documentation developed by Austrian architects to Ukrainian standards. “Vyacheslav Kishlyaruk oversaw this adjustment. He was previously Chernivtsi’s chief architect. Once the funds were paid for the project, the final documentation and complete action plan were finished and ready to go.
Reconstruction work began after the approval of vendors, in the mid-2017, and today are on the active stage, told us Joseph Zissels
So far, the workers only focused on the external repairs because the German government demanded it. Since they provided the money, then their wishes had to be obeyed. When winter came around, construction on the outside was halted for a short while. This provided the chance to work on repairing the interior and the infrastructure for communication. Aside from that, there will be another gallery built in the back of the primary building. The rest of the reconstruction efforts will resume in the springtime. There will be various facilities built for electricity, water, microclimate, ventilation and more. There will even be a pavilion built if it gets approved.
“We intend to install engineering facilities: water supply, electricity, ventilation, microclimate, etc. And if we get permission, we will build this pavilion behind”, said Joseph Zissels.
Since the funds are being raised from multiple sources throughout the globe, there is no main donor that needs to be consulted with. The whole budget of the reconstruction itself is about 400 000 euros. The same amount, approximately, will be needed for the equipment of the museum, it will cost about this much too.
Sponsors from both the corporate sector and private sector have already been found for this. There is already a group of immigrants in Israel’s Bukovyna region which have given their word that they’ll raise more funds for this project. Iurii Borysov is by far the largest private sponsor and highly reputable Ukrainian businessman
He is interested in this project because he came from Chernivtsi originally. There are negotiations still taking place with many other organizations and people. The Austrian Embassy certainly seems to care about the issues around this project. After communications were made with the Romanian Embassy, they seemed to be very interested in raising funds for this project. The Vaad of Ukraine is confident that all the other funds needed to complete the project will be received, since most of the funds received have commitments already attached to them.
The outcome is going to be an interesting new museum in Chernivtsi. The Bukovynian Jews will finally get a memorial center which honors them and the ones who died in the Holocaust. Inside the building, the cemetery will get its own museum too. This is to honor all the notable people of Chernivtsi who got buried in this cemetery over the years. These people include famous city mayors, scientists, writers, college presidents and so on. Therefore, the Holocaust Museum will honor and remember the famous deceased people of Chernivtsi and those who died in the Holocaust. Since the building was previously the “House of Farewell,” this makes it the perfect setting for both honors. People still pray in this building and that does not have to change. The building is the right environment for the memory of the deceased Bukovynian Jews to be preserved.
“Considering that we have already commitments for a significant part of the funds, I think that we will be able to get what we are still lacking”, said the Head of Vaada.
As a result, a new museum with a very interesting concept will appear in Chernivtsi.
“It will be a memorial center dedicated to the tragedy of Bukovynian Jews, the Holocaust. At the same time, in the building there will also be a museum of the cemetery itself, as eminent personalities, who lived in Chernivtsi at different times were buried there - scientists, poets, writers, city mayors, university presidents. So, the museum will include two components: Holocaust commemoration and remembrance of people, who lived in this city. The building itself is suitable for this: it used to be the “House of Farewell”, where the funeral service was held, and then the deceased were buried in this cemetery. Inside of the building there are still prayers, and this we also want to preserve. From this point of view, the ritual character of this building is just right to perpetuate the memory of those Bukovynian Jews, who are no longer with us”, explained Joseph Zissels.
The creation of such museums, according to Joseph Zissels, is an extremely important issue, as such tragic pages of history, which was the Holocaust for Jews, became a part of their national identity.
“The Holocaust among the Jews, like the Holodomor among Ukrainians, is part of their national history, which means that it is also a component of the national identity, so it is very important to remember and to know”, stressed the head of Vaada.
The only way to get the energy necessary for future progressive development is to not be too focused on the events of the past. Instead, you need to think about the events of the future. This doesn’t mean you forget the events of the past. Just take note of what happened in the past and then move forward in a better way.
Furthermore, don’t keep reflecting on how others harmed you. Reflect on the harm you’ve committed too.
“I would like to emphasize that it is very important in the cultivation of one's own tragedy not to go over a certain reasonable boundary, when it becomes some kind of irretrievable path to the image of a “sacrificial nation”. And the point here is not even the excessive sacralization of certain events, national temperaments, but in order to have energy for further development, you should focus not on the past only, you need to look to the future. Of course, you should not forget the past, you have to clarify it for yourself, and build on it. Moreover, you have to remember not only what harm was caused to you, but also what harm you caused. This is very important. In this case, history should prompt us the way to the future, not just to trampling on the spot with the head turned back. This is also very important. Here is Israel, which managed to push off, and now is moving into the future. They paid tribute to the memory, built a very worthy museum “Yad Vashem”, they recognized the Holocaust as the tragedy of their past, but they did not stay with it. I think that Ukrainians should also realize this and, pushing themselves away from their past, go further” – said Joseph Zissels.
After all, in the experience of this past, in a certain catharsis, you just get the right energy for moving forward. This was demonstrated by Israel, and I hope that Ukraine will demonstrate it sooner or later.