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My Journey to Bukaczowze

by Linda Cantor

My maternal grandmother left her home shtetl, Bukaczowze, in what was Austria-Hungary and is now Ukraine, in 1910. When my friend and fellow genealogist, Lucille Gudis, suggested a trip to Ukraine together, I jumped at the chance to finally investigate my maternal roots.

After posting a message on JewishGen asking for recommendations for guides and receiving many replies, we decided to employ the services of Alexander Dunai, from Lviv. Alex met us at our first stop, Krakow, which was a sightseeing rather than genealogical stop for us.

From Krakow, we drove to Ukraine, passing through Rzeszow and Jaroslaw on our way to Lviv. Despite reading and hearing horror stories about Ukrainian border crossings, we went ahead after assurances from Alex that it would be fine. He recommended crossing on a Sunday when truck traffic would be light; the crossing, including leaving Poland and entering Ukraine, took twenty minutes. The entire trip took us about four and a half hours. It was a pleasant drive (in Alex’s comfortable VW station wagon) and much easier than the alternative of flying from Krakow to Warsaw and then Warsaw to Lviv. (There are no direct flights.)

Roads in both Poland and Ukraine, usually two lane but occasionally four lanes, are, for the most part, in reasonable repair. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that there were many modern service stations, which offered cafes, modern bathrooms, and, of course, gasoline and other car services, along the main roads. We did not encounter any of the travel troubles described by the pioneer genealogical travelers, such as police stops, no place to eat, no gasoline, and so on. (Our only encounter with less than wonderful plumbing, i.e., outhouses, was in the really small towns that were off the beaten track.)

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Lviv is a lovely old city and I had no trouble visualizing the Lemberg of my grandmother’s youth while looking at all the old turn-of-the-20th century buildings. There isn’t much of a Jewish community left but we did visit the one remaining active synagogue as well as the ruins of the “Goldene Royz” synagogue, destroyed by the Germans during World War II.

Our next Galician stop was Ivano-Frankivsk, Stanislau in my grandmother’s time. We used it as a base since it had a nice hotel. From there, we drove through Burstyn and Rohatyn on our way to my grandmother’s town of Bukaczowze.

My mother’s first cousin, Sol Mandel, a survivor, had drawn a map of Bukaczowze for me; as we drove into town, the first thing I saw was the school that Sol had attended. The children were on their lunch recess and we, of course, became an instant object of interest and curiosity. They were all studying English and were able to answer a few simple questions. Since there was now a mob around us, the adults came to see what was happening and when Alex told an older woman why we were there, she immediately told him that the Mandels had been in the meat business. Bingo! She even remembered that one of the Mandels who survived had moved to Poland after the war. Right again. She told us to wait till she had led her cow home and then she would come with us and show us around.

Hanna took us to the site of the Jewish cemetery, which was destroyed by the Soviets, who had removed the stones to use for other purposes, and also pointed out where most of the Jewish families had lived. Most of the old houses were gone as they had been destroyed by Russian bombing during the war. The town was very run down and its population was now 2200. It had been 3000 before the war, when it was from 1/3 to 1/2 Jewish. We asked at the town hall if there were any records but they told us that they were all in Lviv. In fact, some records are in the Archives in Lviv and some 20th century records are located in the Archives in Warsaw. (Alex had found a few vital records and some school records at the Lviv Archives. Although they were few in number, they did bring me back to my great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother.)

The rest of our trip took us through Volhynia, and to Kiev, where we did some more sightseeing. In Kiev, we visited Babi Yar, where thousands of Jews were killed during the Holocaust, several synagogues, and all the usual sightseeing, including souvenir purchases on picturesque Andriyefsky Street.

During our trip we found people to be very friendly and helpful. Few people spoke English and we would not have faired well without Alex’s assistance. His English is excellent and he has an abundance of good humor and patience. But even the few times when we were on our own, we functioned with sign language, our Ukrainian phrase book, and a lot of laughter and smiles, which worked rather well.

We stopped in two archives, both times without previous appointments. Yet the archivists in both Kiev and Zhitomir were friendly and helpful and more than willing to show us what records they had available.

I was quite pleased with Alex’s research for me. He provided estimates of cost ahead of time, asked for permission to proceed and gave me beautiful pro- fessional reports, including copies of the originals as well as translations. He was a wonderful guide who understood our interests as genealogists, knew his way around, was a pleasure to spend time with, and generally looked after our every need and care. (You can contact him at dunai@dunai.lviv.ua.)

Hotel prices varied greatly in Ukraine. Prices in the smaller cities were quite low while in Lviv and Kiev, they matched prices in American cities. Over all, this was a reasonably inexpensive trip, even with airfare, my half of Alex’s fee, all travel expenses, hotels, food, and entertainment. You can go for less if you want to stay in inexpensive hotels but we chose to stay in the best available, and therefore, most expensive hotels. Interestingly, Ukraine hotels have a two-tier system of prices. So while we might have paid $75 a night for a room for ourselves, we paid $45 for Alex’s room in the same hotel. That made for substantial savings for us.

Food was quite good, plentiful and inexpensive by American standards. The three of us were able to eat a lovely dinner in the nicest restaurant in town for under $20. And we had a good time eating all the things that we grew up thinking of as Jewish food — kasha, borsht, blintzes, stuffed cabbage, latkes. Of course, these dishes are native to the country and were readily available on all menus. The only precaution we took was that we did not drink local water. Instead we relied on bottled water and restricted our consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables. We stayed healthy and had a ball.

After a wonderful trip I went home appreciating even more than I had before I left, just how lucky I was that my grandparents had gone to America.
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Gesher Galicia is a non-profit organization carrying out Jewish genealogical and historical research on Galicia, formerly a province of Austria-Hungary and today divided between southeastern Poland and western Ukraine. The research work includes the indexing of archival vital records and census books, Holocaust-period records, Josephine and Franciscan cadastral surveys, lists of Jewish taxpayers, and records of Galician medical students and doctors - all added to our searchable online database. In addition, we reproduce regional and cadastral maps for our online Map Room. We conduct educational research and publish a quarterly research journal, the Galitzianer. Gesher Galicia is also organized for the purpose of maintaining networking and online discussion groups and to promote and support Jewish heritage preservation work in the areas of the former Galicia.

You can search our free All Galicia Database, Map Room, and archival inventories, and read about member benefits starting at $50 per year. You can also join online.

Our general contact address: info@geshergalicia.org