Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 2, 2012 Lublin, Poland to Lutsk, Ukraine

July 2, 2012              

In the months leading up to our trip, I gathered all the research I’d done on my genealogy, back to my college days in Berkeley.  The more challenging, and interesting, part was getting information on Marci’s ancestral towns.  She knew that her paternal grandmother was born in Leeds, England (so we visited last summer on our way home from Spain) and that her paternal grandfather was born in Lutsk, Poland (now Ukraine).  We had leads to get information on her mom’s side, as well.  We had little for the next generation earlier so the search began. 

(And in the hopes that our adventure will inspire you to do a bit of family history research), it turns out that most every family has one cousin (or Aunt or Uncle) who is the self-appointed keeper of the genealogy.  (OK. OK.  It’s me in the Dollinger family.  I took over for Uncle Jerry).  The trick was to figure out who were the keepers on Marci’s side of the family.

Thank you Aunt Betty for information that gave us six generations on the Keller (Irene Levine) side.  Howard handed over three privately published books by his cousins (one in Hebrew and another in Yiddish (thanks Howard!)) on his genealogy.  Through those I was able to contact the cousin in Israel who conducted the research and ask more questions.  Ann Levy, on my side, has devoted most of the last 20 years to researching my mom’s family, but more on that when we get to Bialystok next week.

We got a map of eastern Europe and started circling towns. Many did not exist and many more have had name changes.  Thanks to and, we were able to get modern names for ancient places.  Helise’s staff at the archives (Magda and Olga, especially) in Warsaw took all our lists and names and began figuring out a reasonable itinerary.

Be sheer coincidence, my ancestral homes clustered in the same part of eastern Poland while Marci’s clustered in the same region of what is now Ukraine.  (Next week, we will see that my family clustered between eastern Poland and Lithuania while Marci has multiple sites in Belarus.)

So, as it turned out, we would spend one day, yesterday, on the Dollinger side.  Today, we crossed the border to Ukraine for our first immersion into Marci’s side of the family.

The biggest challenge we’ve been facing is actually the weather.  While temperatures were mild for weeks before we arrived, it’s been in the low 90s for most of the last week, since we arrived in Warsaw.  The heat slows us down, reduces our patience, and forces us to be very very thoughtful about what we’ve doing and how.  I keep checking weather and, hopefully, temperatures will drop dramatically by Sunday, opening up more possibilities to be outside, exploring, and learning.

We are thrilled that our blog is being picked up by friends, and friends of friends.  Please forward to anyone you might think interested.  Welcome, Dvora!  (and we were thinking of you in the section below about the chickens). Folks have been having issues making comments on the blog (it may be that you have to subscribe first).  In any event, we give facebook status updates with each entry so you can make comments there.

I received an email from our Mizritch guide, Lucas, who has the Master’s degree in the history of Mizritch Jews.  Lucas told me three things.  First, Richard forwarded him the blog info and he’s following the adventure.  Welcome! Second, (and most exciting), he’d like to collaborate on projects in Jewish history.  (I’ve been keeping a low profile here, trying to soak it all in, and learn all I can.  Marci gave me up to Lucas!).  Third, he told me that his name isn’t Lucas, it’s Matthew J  (Sorry, Matthew!  I’ll get it right from now on.) For those who know me well, you can stop laughing now.  I’m doing my best.

Helise and her staff in Warsaw are following.  Welcome, Helise.  We’re having a GREAT time and thank you!  (Any chance you might speak to the Chief Rabbi and see if he can get the heat turned down?)  Or, maybe he’s following the blog too?

Now to the play by play…

We had an option to spend time in the archives in Lublin, where the surviving Jewish records from Mitzritch and Partzevah were transferred.  Olga advised that a visit was not critical since her office has a great relationship with the staff there (ie Warsaw could get the info on our behalf).  If we were on a trip focusing on just one branch, we could spend a week sitting in the archives with a translator and really see what information still exists.  Since we are moving a great distance in a short period of time, we decided extra sleep was more important. 

And a stop at the bakery for meringues was also important...

We loaded the van and headed south, towards the border of Ukraine.  We stopped first in Zamosc, Poland.  Fine, we actually stopped first at a gas station to use the bathroom and get some bottled water, but that’s not the point.  Zamosc was one of a small number of Polish towns that were not bombed during World War II.  Remarkably, a Renaissance-era and design synagogue survived and we had the opportunity to tour it.

The Hanukkiah was reconstructed based on a 1930s photograph of the Ark...I'm thinking the photo was taken in December.

It was one of the few Sephardic (from Spain and the Meditteranean) synagogues in Poland since Polish Jews are, by definition, Ashkenazi (eastern European).  We learned that the Jews were welcomed to Zamosc because of their business connections (and the Sephardim had a better network of business contacts).  Our guide in the synagogue was one of Jakub’s students…and no she isn’t Jewish either..

There’s a gorgeous square populated by outdoor cafes.

And it was time for lunch..  Alas, the heat was so oppressive, we actually found a café with a cool, air conditioned, basement room and we really did enjoy our lunch.

And with a Nutella Pizza for Shayna, what's not to like?

Back to the van and heading again towards the Ukrainian border.


We just passed a highway sign (maybe “highway” is an overstatement) but we asked Jakub to keep an eye out for another one just like it.

There it is.  Please…pull over….we need a picture..

Here it is..

This picture is now a finalist for our Dollinger family travel wall, 2012 entry.

We arrived at the border and fortunately no line.  We handed over passports, a quick inspection of the trunk, two more stations with police or border agents or clerks, and we were in the Ukraine.

Jakub has started to tell us the story of how the Allied powers re-divided Poland after WWII, giving the region that we are traveling from Poland to Ukraine.  Its Polish residents, en masse, were exiled to the north so that many of Poland’s most classic and important locales have been rid of their Polish populations, language, and heritage.  He’ll tell us more, I think, when we leave Ukraine and since some of it involves his own family, I’ll share here only with his permission.

The larger lesson we are learning is that national, ethnic, and religious identities intersect here in very complex ways.  At the very least, there have been periods of German-Nazi occupation and destruction, Soviet-Communist occupation and destruction, home rule (mostly since the late 1980s/early 1990s).  Mix into that the precarious status of Jews, against each of the other identities and you have to think carefully to understand how and why different people thought and acted as they did.  The best example of this is with the partisans, whom I have always thought were Jews who lived in the forests and killed Nazis.  Turns out there were Ukrainian nationalist partisans who were trying to kill Nazis as well as Polish nationalists trying to kill Nazis…and if either a Pole or Ukraine partisan saw a Jewish partisan, they’d kill him too.

The first visual difference in Ukraine were the roads, which degenerated feet after the border.  They were wide enough for one lane in each direction, but no dividing line down the middle (look closely and you will see a white line but its been worn to near invisibility).  Chickens lined the road, horses ran free without fences or tethers.  Most of the vehicles were cars and trucks but we began seeing many horse-drawn wagons, as well.  

Then, on the side roads off the main road….cows….slow moving cows…slow moving cows that occasionally just stopped and stared at your 7-passenger tourist van of American Jews on a roots journey trying to get to their hotel before nightfall.  I heard cows weren’t that smart.

We have been excited about seeing Lutsk.  Poppy (Howard Levine) has been mentioning it in family history conversations for years.  It’s also meaningful that Marci knew her grandfather, Lutsk-born Philip Levine.  Our research revealed that the grand synagogue was still standing..and we have to believe that Marci’s grandfather went there.

As we imagined, Lutsk is a small town with many Soviet-era buildings.  In fact, there was only modern-looking building, 5 stories high, with huge glass columns…and it was our hotel.  Yeah! 

Rooms start at $50/night.  This two-room suite is less than $100/night.

We checked in, headed out to dinner to a Czech restaurant and it gave me a chance to practice my Ukranian and my Czech.

I ordered one of those really big Bavarian Pretzels, with giant pieces of salt all over them. I didn't do too well..
(Really, I just asked for an English menu and pointed to the items we wanted to order J).  Still didn't do well.

Marci did better with her Greek salad.

Shayna just played cards.

Our Ukrainian guide, Svitlana met us back at the hotel and we planned for an earlier wake up…  Three Levine villages in store for tomorrow…


  1. Awesome Chelm picture! Every Jew should have one of those! :-)

  2. Your trip sounds fabulous. I love having the vicarious thrill of the sights you are seeing and the towns you visit. i always knew we were related, Moshe. My mother came from Lithuania. I don't know one more thing than that. Have fun. I can hardly wait to see pictures and talk to you about your trip. Love to you all...s

  3. Hi!
    I found your blog during my own family roots' research in the Internet. I have also some Dollingers is my family. Please, you can write me: jozek_doellinger[at] Best regards!