On Friday 14 Iyyar 5760, 19 May 2000, we visited Skalat. "We" means Betty Lee Hahn (my new-found third cousin) and I, with our guide and translator, Alex Dunai of Lviv. Skalat is about forty minutes drive from Tarnopol and we arrived at the sign outside town about noon.
Our family is more than a hundred years removed from Skalat, but many of the "not-yet-related" Pikholz families lived there until the Holocaust.
We drove aroud the town for a few minutes, taking pictures of some local landmarks and taking in the general atmosphere. As in many of the places we had seen, the main streets were paved, but the smaller streets were often not. At one point we stopped to ask directions to the synagogue and engaged an older woman in conversation about some of the family names that we knew from town. She told us what we already knew from other towns - the Jews lived in the center of town and owned and operated many of the stores.
We knew that both the synagogue and cemetery had been - how shall I say it gently - had been converted for other uses.
The synagogue was a warehouse but is rather deserted now. we could not get in, but everyone told us that there is nothing inside that indicates its original use. On the outside it looks like many other synagogues in the area.
A local woman saw us at the synagogue and came over to talk to us. She took us to see some older people in the neighborhood and a small group gathered around us. The "leader" of this group was a woman in her late sixties who gave us a child's recollection of the pre-War days. She knew a store that was owned by a Pikholz and an ice cream store owned by a Kiwetz. She also volunteered that she knew the names Sass, Migden, Wallach, Shapira (she said Shapira several times!), Reichstein, Zelman and Kaczer. When I mentioned Bernstein, she knew to say that Bernsteins were related to Kaczers - something we already knew from our own research into the early 1890's. Speaking from a child's perspective, she didn't know first names except Betka Zelman.
Her own family hid four Jewish children during the War - Chaim, Betka, Regina, Esther and Zasha. I know - that is five, not four, but consistency was not her strong point. I am not sure myself how much credibility to give this type of information. (Everywhere, the stories we heard from people made it sound like the Germans were the only villains and the local people were either victims or heroes.) Some of those children were Reichsteins, but just which ones varied as the story progressed. She had no idea what happened to them after the War, except that they "went away."
This was the only person we met in our entire week in Galicia who asked for money after talking to us. The sum was trivial, but the whole thing left me with rather a bad taste.
And it got worse.
The Jewish cemetery in Skalat is now a soccer field. We passed it on our way to the memorial to the Jews and had no intention of stopping there, but Alex noticed a pile of gravestones in one corner of the field. He and I climbed the fence and saw that there were about fifteen gravestones piled there. One was by itself on the ground and was totally illegible. We could read parts of the top two - one was Wolf Goldstein who died 7 Tishrei 5676 (1915) and the other was Shimshon ben Menahem Mendel haLevi Segal who died on the first day of Sukkot 5675 (1914). This stone was complete, but the top lines of writing were covered by some kind of cement. I could see that the epitaph made an acrostic that spelled Shimshon HaLevi. I thought that this must be the grandfather of Rehovoth-Skalater Shimshon Segal, who was born a few years later, but I spoke with him and he said it is not.
We could also see that the bottom stones included a Plesner (HaLevi) who died Sivan 5675 (1915) and a woman named Chaje Jeti with a surname that began ELO or ELD.
While we were tyere, both the mayor and the vice mayor came by. The mayor was a slicker person than the previous officials we had met and when I told him that the stones should not be kept in this condition, he suggested that we hire some workers to do something with them.
We know of no lists of Holocaust victims from Skalat amd I asked the officials if they have anything. The vice mayor - a man of fifty-two - said he has a list of soldiers from Skalat killed in the war and this would include some Jews. He said he would send this to Alex Dunai for us.
The vice mayor accompanied us to the memorial, which is on the site of the murders of Skalat's Jews. It is not far from the edge of town, but accessible by a road that goes all the way around in a longer route. I asked the vice mayor - his name is Roman - if the school children are taken there and he said "well, you see it is a long way..." I wanted to point out that it obviously wasn't too long to make the Jews walk to their deaths, but decided to keep quiet.
Roman spend much of the time telling us (several times) how hard he personally worked to get permits for the memorial and to assure its standing as an officially recognized site.
The memorial itself stands in a field, accessible by a dirt road, therefore probably inaccessible in the winter months. It is surrounded on three sides by maybe twenty real gravestones. Someone decided that it would be esthetic for all of them to be the same height, so some had the bottoms (the part with the name) cut off.
(Between the stones at the soccer field and the ones at the memorial, I got the feeling that there were more somewhere - or at least had been until recently - but by then I saw there was no point in my pressing the issue.)
On the way back to town, Roman pointed out a large area previously owned by the Tennenbaum family. This land had had fields, a distillery and other enterprises.
On the way out of town, I realized that after I changed film in my camera, the film did not advance, so the twenty-or-so pictures of the stones are non-existent. At that moment I was not sorry.
So ended a visit that should have been one of the highlights of our visit.
The other photographs have been developed and will be added to this page after I get them scanned. Figure middle of the week.