MOGILEV-PODOLSKY, Ukraine (JTA) – On a sweltering summer day, the researchers fan out in this city’s historical center, its walls lined with photos of local Jews who went through the Holocaust.
The visiting scholars from St. Petersburg aren’t here to dwell on Jewish demise, however. They have come to document Jewish life in what expedition leader Valery Dymshits calls “the last Jewish city in the Soviet Union,” Mogilev-Podolsky.
As recently as the early 1990’s — before an exodus to the United States, Israel and Germany depleted the community — Yiddish was widely spoken on the streets here. Despite the community’s rapid contraction, the Jewish presence here perseveres.
With this rare continuity, Dymshits and his team of scholars have staked a claim as the first and only team in 70 years to conduct field research into the region’s Jewish folklore, recording scores of interviews along the way.
Dymshits and his team come from the Petersburg Judaica Center of St. Petersburg’s European University to document the unique story of this community.
In Belarus and elsewhere, the SS. Einsatzgruppen and local collaborators killed some 98% of rural Jews. Podolia - the region including the city of Mogilev-Podolsky was under Romanian control. Although brutal, the Romanians, writes Jordan, were less methodical in destroying the Jews.
The researchers say they are following the father of Jewish ethnography, the writer and folklorist S. Ansky (Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport) who, in 1908, co-founded the Historical-Ethnographic Society of St. Petersburg.
"From 1911-1914, Ansky led expeditions through Ukraine’s shtetls, capturing hundreds of wax cylinder recordings — the earliest form of phonograph record — of Jewish folk songs and folklore, plus manuscripts, books, photographs and Judaica."
In Podolia, the Jews were able to maintain their traditions and Dymshits' team arrived in 1989, measuring and documenting the every synagogue, cemetery and Jewish home.
This past summer's team included two dozen researchers, mostly from Petersburg, some from Moscow and North America. They visited a Jewish bakery, library and were invited into private homes, where they saw precious family heirlooms and shared in services in the one synagoge.
The team plans to return next summer.
Read the story here.