Torah and churches of Lemkivshchyna: historical memory drama

19.06.2015, 12:44
Torah and churches of Lemkivshchyna: historical memory drama - фото 1

Мойсей Мейр Фінкельштайн та його дружина Таня – прадідусь і прабабуся Тані Кляйн, котрі загинули у Голокості“Moshe Meir was a remarkable man. He knew the secrets of plants and herbs ... He had been everywhere in Bukivske, healing people from their wounds. He treated the Jews and foreigners, not taking any fee for it. He was called a doctor due to his comprehensive medical competence – a resident of Baltimore, US, Tanya Klein describes her grandfather Moshe Meir Finkelstein, whom she has never seen.

Tanya Klein was given a name after her great-grandmother - Tanya Weigler Finkelstein, Moshe’s wife. However, she has also seen her great-grandmother only in the photo. The reason is not just the age difference. It lies in the fact that both men were killed in the Holocaust. Their traces have been lost in numerous dramas and tragedies of the tumultuous era that is still raging in the hearts of their descendants. The latter, in spite of anything, survived Shoa (Hebrew «השואה» disaster, catastrophe – author’s note), Nazi policy of systematic extermination of the Jews.

The descendants of Moshe and Tanya Finkelstein, like millions of others around the world, cannot even come to the graves of their ancestors and pray there. The graves simply do not exist ... But families keep their memories. Moreover, they are looking for at least some strings, which might connect with the lost world of pre-war Galicia, where Jews often constituted the majority population of provincial towns.

A dream and a wooden church

“About a year ago I had a dream that my great-grandfather passed the Torah scrolls for keeping to Christian priests in the basement of a church. In the dream, he was standing on the top of the staircase and looked at the basement. I had this dream twice, and it was so real that I asked an artist to draw it for me ...” says Tanya Klein.

Wooden church with paintings, painted for Tanya Klein

Indeed, the picture shows a wooden building with a steep roof, covered with shingles. There is a fence nearby. As a woman suggests, it is an important landmark.

“Once an artist has painted a picture for me, I started searching on the Internet for churches in Galicia, surroundings of Tarnov and Syanok, and was amazed that the church of my dreams looked so similar to the large number of churches in those areas. I did not know of their existence until I saw them online after the painting was completed,” the woman says.

Tanya hopes that one can really find these Torah scrolls and began searching, inquiring about their probable location.

Moshe Meir Finkelstein and his wife Tanya are great-grandfather and great-grandmother of Tanya Klein, who perished in the Holocaust.

“A dream « חלום » in Hebrew sounds like “halOm”, in Yiddish – “hOlem” that means a fantasy, and to some extent a ghost,” says the rabbi of Ivano-Frankivsk region Moshe Leib Kolesnik. “The Jewish religion does not deny that God can speak to a man in a dream and if there is a chance to verify something, you should do it. However, in most cases, dreams are a fantasy and are to be treated critically. After all, a person usually sees in a dream what he thinks about.”

Tanya really thinks constantly about her grandfather, who was born in modern Ukraine, Lviv region, in the town of Brody, but lived in modern SubcarpathianVoivodship of Poland. No one knows what made the man to leave his native city. Most probably, he was looking for a job. After all, he was “shohet”, a ritual butcher, and these were already living in Brody: in 1880, 15316 Jews, i.e. 76.3% of the population, lived in the town. Having got married, Moshe Meir Finkelstein, started searching for a different place. For example, during sometime he lived in the town of Sasiv 8 km north of Zolochiv. After all, young family settled in Bukivske.

Bukivske under Beskids

Bukivsko, Polish Bukowsko, Yiddish Bikofsk- בוקאווסק), is located in the middle Beskid, in the former Syanok County, 16 km south-west from Sanok, Poland now. The settlement dates back to 361 when it was known as Bukowsko in ferius.

In 1748 King Stanislaw August III granted Magdeburg Law. As of 1880, the town had a district court, a one-year school, fairs for trading corn, cattle, horses, sheep, as reported by «SłownikgeograficznyKrólestwaPolskiegoiinnychkrajówsłowiańskich». There was a Roman-Catholic parish, but it was noted that Bukivske had previously belonged to Novostanytsi. The first parish church was erected in the settlement in 1648, and the new, wooden one was built in 1710, according to «Słownik ...». Before the Second World War and Ukrainian eviction from these lands, Bukivske was also the deanery centre of the Greek Catholic Church. It retained the status of a city until 1946, when Ukrainian insurgents burned over 460 Polish homes therein.

Bukivske on Austrian military map of 1861-1864

Ethnic backdrop of Bukivske and the surrounding area has always been extremenly diverse. Having emerged on the territory of Ukrainian Lemkivshchyna, the town was surrounded by many Ukrainian villages: Belhivka, Volytsya, Kamyane, Karlyky, Nagoryany, Polonna, Prybyshiv, PetrovaVolya, Ratnavytsya, SenkovaVolya, Tokarna ... In the town, the situation was radically different: Jews and Poles prevailed. For example, in 1900, 748 Jews lived in the town, which constituted 75.5% of the population. In general, the Jewish community equalled 1587 people, who settled in much of rural area. However, the number of Jews has decreased almost three times due to emigration to America and the hard times of the First World War. In 1918, the Jewish community was much affected by the massacres committed by non-Jew commoners (read on Many companies were then robbed. In general, before World War II 800 Jews, 800 Poles and 5 Ukrainians lived in in Bukivske. Jews held in their hands the local economic life.

“Workshops and even transport links between Bukivske and Syanok and were controlled by Jews. Exceptions were only the sale of pork and the products thereof, servicing the Christian religious needs, postal service and government service, which were run by non-Jews. Warehouses and shops were located in the center of the town, as well as the Jewish residences,” reports the article “Bukowsk” on

Synagogues, rabbis, scribes

The whole of cultural life of the Jewish community was centred around synagogues, which were already three in Bukivske. There were no secular Jews living in small towns at that time, and education was based on the study of Torah, the code of religious and legal rules of life "Talmud" and comments thereto. The synagogues of Bukivske had rich libraries, from which those who sought knowledge and improvement drew upon. It is due to them that ChaimFuternika «The Saar» and «Erech Haim» (value of life). The latter was especially popular among students who took on the study of Talmud.

Another author from Bukivske, David ArieTsunts, author of works “Gdolot Jonathan” and “AretehYehoshua”.

“Bukivsko had three synagogues used by the three main branches of Hasidic Judaism in this area: Dynów, Sants (New Sanch) and Sadyhora. The synagogues have a long history, but we do not know when they were built. Of course, if you look back, they were all like, but with time, the differences evolved and bitter confrontation between various Hasidic groups emerged,” the authors of «Bukowsk» article report on

First, in Bukivske there was no permanent rabbi – spiritual mentors stayed here only for some time. For example, Shlomo Leib from Lantshiyi and EleazarVaysbaum called Raysher (from the Yiddish name of his native Rzeszów) worked there. The teachings of the first of these rabbis were not accepted by Ropshits and Dyniv factions, although in contrast this mentor was respected by Rabbi Shlomo students from Bobovo, grandson of Rabbi Chaim of Sants (New Sanch). The second rabbi, EleazarVeisbaum, grandson of the founder of Hasidic movement in Galicia Rabbi Elimelech of Lezhask, stayed in Bukivske at least two years, although planned to settle here permanently. Probable reason for that is all the same disagreement among the faithful.

Eventually, in Bukivske, each community had a rabbi in its own synagogue. Representatives of Shapira family, Meir Yehuda David, and Moshe Taytelbaum, belonged to the Dyniv branch. The first permanent rabbi of the Tsants direction became Chaim Pinter, who later passed the community to his son Abraham. Already, this picture shows the pluralism of religious life of the Jews in Bukivske. However, because of disagreement there had been different groups and individual experts who served one or another aspect of religious life. For example, in Bukivske there were two religious butchers ‘shohetim’.

“My great-grandfather was a ‘shohet’ for the Tsants community,” says Tanya Klein.

In addition to skill in his craft, Moshe Meir Finkelstein, as a devout man, was well-versed in religious texts. After all, how could one work for a religious community without knowing the tradition! Moshe knew it very well. Besides, at first, the man belonged not to the Tsants but to Belzer, i.e. Belz branch.The latter was founded in the XIX century by Rabbi Shalom Rokeah, adherent of a succession of rabbis – the founder of Hasidism students and native of modern Ternopil region Baal Shem Tov (Izrael ben Eliezer).

Descendants worldwide

Manya and Sarah were the children of Hirsh and Esther Lovenbaum in Bukivsk. The pre-war Finkelsteins gave birth to at least six children.

“The names MordheBerisha (1894, Sasiv) Lifsha, David, Esther, James ... were recorded,” goes the article “Welcome to Bukowsko, Poland” on

Before WWI Jacob Finkelstein moved to the US, Wisconsin. Esther lived with her parents until she married Hirsch Lowenbaum. The couple had five children, three of whom died young.

“My grandfather Hirsch was also a ‘shohet’. Since the town was small and it had already lived several representatives of this profession, he could not make enough money for living,” continues Tanya Klein. “So my grandparents decided to move to the city of Charleroi in Belgium, where a ‘shohet’ was really needed.”

Already the new location Hirsch became rabbi. Also worked as a “mohel”– an expert in “bit mila”ritual, i.e. circumcision. The family moved from Lemkivshchyna on the brink of the 1920s and 1930s. This move appeared to have saved their lives.


“Only Esther and Jacob survived the Shoah”, reports about the children of Moshe and Tanya Filkenstein.

Other children, and most relatives were killed ...

Once the Nazis came to Bukivske, looted and destroyed property owned by Jews with the help of some local residents. In the spring of 1942, 804 Jews from Bukivske and over 300 from nearby villages were herded to the ghetto, according to the English Wikipedia. Out of these, 100 people were shot at the local Jewish cemetery, and the rest were sent to the camp ZwangsarbeitslagerZaslaw, near the town of Lisko. No synagogue survived ... In addition, from August to October 1942, a labor camp for Jews operated in Bukivske, where 60-year-old men were forced to repair the road.

“We heard that Moshe Meir and his family were burnt alive in the school of Bukivsk, but this information has not been verified,” says his great-granddaughter.

Among the other versions of the relatives’ death Tanya Klein lists the camp in Zaslaw.

Monastery in Gillet and good people

“As for my mother (Tova – author’s note), she was born in 1938. World War II started soon. My parents were rushing in search of a safe place for themselves and their children. Aunt Sarah was summoned for “resettlement to the East”. Grandpa and Grandma thought she was sent to a labor camp. Haya Sarah was taken by train to Michelen in Belgium, which was actually a step on the way to Auschwitz,” Tanya Klein retells.

Anna Vistini is a woman who, together with Margarita Lyarosh and her mother, rescued two Jewish girls, daughters Tovua and Manya. On the advice of another Jewish woman, Esther hid the two younger daughters Manya and Tova in a monastery of St. Joseph in Gillet. Later the children fell ill there and were starving, so the mother handed them over to other caring people, a childless couple Anna Tanya Klein and her husband, and their neighbour, widow Agnel ​​Lyarosh. Esther Lowenbaum even said in despair that in case she did not return, the Vistini couple could leave Manya for themselves.

Tanya’s mother lived on the same farm of AgnelLyarosh and her daughter Margarita. Even when children were hidden in the monastery of St. Joseph, the latter repeatedly fed Manya and Tova, visited by the younger of them and drove them in a basket of her bicycle to the farm to feed ... Parents were forced to hide separately, but often attended daughters to keep their affiliation to the native people, Tanya explains.

During World War II, no one betrayed Tanya Klein’s mother TovaLowenbaum on the Lyaroshs’ family farm. As Hillel Kyutler explained in the article “For her mother's rescuer, a Baltimorean bids to YadVashem” at, since 95% of Belgians were Catholics in those days and the Catholic Church urged to save Jews, even pro-German people who did not save Jews, did not ...

Finally, the war ended and Tova, Tanya’s mother, moved with her parents from Belgium to Uncle Jacob, to Wisconsin, USA. Manya, the eldest daughter of the couple, repatriated to Israel and became one of the first settlers in EinHanatziv Kibbutz. In 1960, Tanya’s grandparents – Esther and HirscheLowenbaum also repatriated.

Epilogue: “We went a full circle”

Дідусь Тані Кляйн Гірш Льовенбаум служить під час першого повоєнного Роша га-Шана – юдейського Нового року

“My grandparents and Lyaroshs family kept in touch over the years, exchanged letters and gifts,” says Tanya.

Our narrator is a native and citizen of the United States. Moreover, at first she did not know about her family drama, and gradually began to learn, even unwittingly.

“Growing up, I always learned something new about my mother. She spoke perfect English and seemed to be a native American. However, very often it returned to a forgotten French children's song, thus evoking a whirlwind of questions in my mind,” Tanya recalls.

Tanya Klein’s grandfather HirscheLowenbaum serves in the first post-war Rocha Hashanah – the Jewish New Year.

My daughter started asking her mother about the past and the curtain rose. Since 2008, Tanya, in her own words, started searching for information about the Lyaroshs family and found Andre –Margarita’s nephew. He helped find the savior. Therefore, Tanya first visited the grave of her uncle, who died as a child in Belgium, then went to Margarita.

“We only did what was necessary,” said MargaritaLyarosh during the meeting.

She had no children of her own.

“I asked the interpreter to tell her that in fact she had many children. For our family,“Baruch Hashem” – thank God, has originatedand grown from a baby that she had saved. It was an incredibly moving and powerful visit for all of us who came to Margarita. I felt that we went around full circle,” our heroine conveyed her impression.

But then the woman had a dream about her grandfather that she mentioned already twice indicating dungeon wooden church. Tanya really hopes that her ancestors succeeded to rescue the Torah scrolls.

“These Torah scrolls cry out and appeal to me, and I do not know how to find them ...” she concludes.

The search continues opening more and more details of the Holocaust. The obstacle here is not the lack of documents, but yet another great tragedy – Operation Vistula, forcible resettlement of the Ukrainians from their ancestral lands, organized by totalitarian regimes. Wooden Churches around Bukivske were Ukrainian. With the eviction of local residents, these churches deteriorated and were eventually dismantled ... even if one of the priests or believers knew about a Torah hidden in one of the churches, historical memory thereof has been interrupted.

Thus, a wooden church of 1881 in Kamyane was dismantled after 1946, the church of 1840 in Karlykove– after 1947, the church in Prybyshove of ​​1845 – after 1947, the church in Ratvanytsia in 1881 – after 1947, the church in Tokarnya of 1884 – after 1947, the church in PetrovaVolya of 1921 – after World War II, the church of 1864 in SenkovaVolya– in 1968, according to AndriySaladyak in his book “Pamiatki I zabytkikulturyukrainskiej w Polsce”. Only the villages of Bukivske areawere indicated. But there were many others!

“Can it be true that the church of my dreams is very old and stands somewhere in the ruins and no one has been there for many years, and I have found the scrolls of the Torah? Maybe these churches are standing in the middle of forests?” Tanya Klein asks.

I answered the woman that yes. I give links to an English-language article on Vistula, because she does not know of this historical event. In response, I get compassion and a question whether Ukrainian settlers in this new land were able to keep faith in God and their culture?

“Perhaps your article will help in search of ...” Tanya says.

Therefore, everyone who know stories about hidden Torah scrolls in church somewhere in Lemkivshchyna, please respond.