Voice of Another: Placeless in Lviv, Ukraine

This month marks two years since I began writing A Wayward Duck.

If you’ve been with me since the beginning, you have seen a lot of the places, faces, cultures, and curiosities that I’ve encountered across the world. (If you’re new here, welcome! Hit the follow button for stories and travel inspiration delivered to your inbox.)

It is long past due that I opened up this platform to share the voice of another traveler. As luck world have it, I had a world class writer, and 26-time reigning Mom of the Year award winner, willing to share her story. Read on to hear about an experience in Lviv, Ukraine, narrated by my wonderful mother, Julie Murphy

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 8.03.53 PM
Lviv is a city located in western Ukraine, near the border to Poland

Last fall, I had the opportunity to accompany Jack’s father, Sean, on a trip to Ukraine.  He had been invited to speak at a conference titled “Placeless/Placeness: Ideas of Rights and Justice in Eastern Europe.”  

I came away from those four, cold days in western Ukraine with my own renewed sense of the importance of placeness: a place at the table, a place to call home.

In large part, the conference emerged from a book called East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.  It was written by a long-time colleague of Sean’s, Phillipe Sands, and follows the lives of four men, all of whom were connected to the city of Lviv, Ukraine (then a part of Poland) in the early 20th century:  

  • Phillipe’s grandfather whose name was Leon Buchholz;
  • Rafael Lemkin who coined the term genocide and actively worked to have genocide included as a part of the indictment in the trial of the Nazi leadership in Nuremberg in 1945-6;
  • Hersch Lauterpacht who worked equally hard to have the Nuremberg defendants charged with crimes against humanity;
  • Hans Frank, the Nazi leader of occupied Poland who was ultimately tried and executed at Nuremberg.

The great majority of the families of Buchholz, Lemkin and Lauterpacht died during the Holocaust.  In one scene in the book, Phillipe describes a moment in July 1942 in Vienna when both his maternal and his paternal great grandmothers – Rosa and Malke — were rounded up to be taken by train to the concentration camp at Treblinka:

“It was a haunting image, two elderly ladies on a platform at the Aspangbahnhof, each hanging on to a small suitcase, two among 994 elderly Viennese Jews heading east.”

Among those in the same transport were three of Sigmund Freud’s 70- and 80-year old sisters: Pauline, Maria and Regina.

Ukraine 4
Downtown Lviv

The day that I believe will always stay with me was our last one.  

We drove north from Lviv, about 45 minutes, to Zolkiew. It was a Sunday morning, a bright but wet feeling Sunday morning in a small community in Ukraine.  Our first stop was a home where a young Jewish girl named Clara and others hid for almost two years during the war.

We were invited in to see her hiding place.  There in the bedroom a portion of the floor had been removed like a jagged piece of a large puzzle to reveal the crawl space where Clara and the others huddled for 20 months.  It was in someone’s home, someone’s bedroom.

There were people about that morning.  One man was pushing a toddler bundled in a snowsuit; several older women with scarves tied around their faces pushed past us.  There were three churches, all having their Sunday masses. One was a remarkable all-wooden structure. Another was gold-domed, clean, white-washed.  We could hear the music of multiple Sunday masses.

Then we turned down a street.  We passed modest homes and small stores.  There in the middle of the block it stood, windows broken, surrounded by a leaning construction fence:  the synagogue of Zolkiew, built in the 1690s. We went inside. We were told about the bombs placed inside by the Germans in June, 1941; the roof was damaged but the walls of the synagogue stood.  Here you can see the synagogue as it burned and the German soldiers milling nearby:

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 8.06.52 PM

It was cold and cavernous inside.  Someone had stacked broken tiles. We were told there had been and would be efforts to restore it, maybe.  But there are no Jews to worship there. Zolkiew (which was in Poland at that time) had about 4000 Jews before the war.

By 1945, about 70 remained.

That morning in November, I saw places: places of worship in that small town, one full of life and music and another echoing with reminders of death.  I peered into a dirt-floored area beneath a modest bedroom that had been a home to human being for almost two years. Another place. Now, some six months later, I am struck by how many humans today are without a place to call their own, displaced by war and poverty, and give thanks for all of those who help us remember and who work for peace and justice.

Commemorative plaques in the city center of Lviv 


Thank you for sharing, Ma, and for putting your learnings and feelings into words.

Interested in sharing a travel story on A Wayward Duck? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s