Editor’s note: I noted in a previous post relaying my father’s family history interview with his Uncle Aaron in Rio that the Ukranian town of Mogilev-Podolsky was the Roizen-Diamond family hometown. This morning, and quite by accident, I stumbled upon this article on the same town’s history as a Jewish settlement — and a study being conducted at the time of the article’s publication of the town’s tumultuous past.
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.
In one corner of the historical center, a St. Petersburg researcher asks an older woman about Jewish song; she responds by softly singing a melody.
When a rail-thin, 85-year-old Jewish man enters to beg for pocket change and cigarettes, scholar Anna Kushkova offers him a cigarette, and the two step outside.
The man starts talking about how he thinks he’s Lenin, Kushkova said, “but then he described his Yiddish school before the war, and how he was graded. Those were valuable details.”
It’s these nuggets, say Kushkova and others from the Petersburg Judaica Center of St. Petersburg’s European University, that make Mogilev-Podolsky the treasure trove it is for those trying to assemble pieces of a Jewish puzzle.