Tovste’s Jewish Cemetery
There is a large Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of town,
on the north side of the public road leading to Lisivtsi.
Surrounded by agricultural land, it is located on an elevated
hillside just in front of the modern Catholic cemetery. The
grounds are relatively well maintained and are mostly free
of undergrowth and other vegetation. Apparently restoration
work was carried out in 1980-1990, and the grounds continue
to be tended by the municipal authorities or local residents
whose goats keep the vegetation under control. This compares
favourably with the old Catholic cemetery, which is not maintained
at all and has been totally overgrown with shrubbery and trees.
|A survey carried out by Yuriy Isaakovich
in April 1996 reported that the cemetery was established
in the seventeenth century and was used by the local Hasidic
(Chortkovskaya) community. No other towns or villages
traditionally used this particular cemetery. Although
Isaakovich indicates that the last known Jewish burial
occurred in 1940, a Zalishchyky resident was said to have
been buried there in recent years, effectively prolonging
the operational status of the cemetery. (Apparently, there
is a regulation in Ukraine whereby a cemetery may be closed
if there has been no burial within the past 50 years.)
Incidentally, as reported elsewhere in the account of Ba’al
Shem Tov, the gravestone of the Besht’s mother (pictured
below) was observed in the cemetery until at least April 1944.
In his survey, Isaakovitch reports: “Stones are
datable from 18th to 20th century. The cemetery has
tombstones with traces of painting on their surfaces
…. There are 101-500 stones, most in [their] original
location. Between 50% - 75% of the surviving stones
are toppled or broken, whether or not in their original
location. Locations of any stones that have been removed
[are] not known.”
Today, many of the tombstones are no longer completely
upright – many are tilted over at odd angles –
but their inscriptions are still plainly visible.
One finds near the cemetery entrance a memorial to victims of the atrocities
perpetrated in Tovste by the Nazis and their collaborators
between 1942-1943. The inscription on the monument,
written in Hebrew, reads:
“In memory of the martyrs of Tluste and surroundings
who were annihilated by the Nazis in the years 1942-1943
and to remember all the martyrs who are buried in this
cemetery. Erected by the survivors from Tluste.”
As reported in the Jewish history section and in the account
of Baruch Milch,
found elsewhere on this website, it is estimated that between
2,000 and 3,000 Jews were murdered at this location on 27 May
1943. They were rounded up in the market square and then led
in groups of 100 at a time to the cemetery, where they were
shot and buried in mass graves.
Aerial photographs taken by German reconnaissance
aircraft in June 1944 confirm this atrocity.
The Jewish cemetery is situated in the upper right
hand corner of this photograph. In the enlargement (viewed
by clicking on the image), one observes row upon row
of densely packed tombstones.
Amidst the main grave area containing 25 or so rows of tombstones,
there is a large circular clearing towards the road where
one can make out the outline of two rectangular shapes. Further
in from the road, to the northeast, there is another circular
clearing surrounding what appears to be single, large rectangular
shape. It is believed that these shapes represent the mass
graves of the victims of the May 1943 massacre.
|The aerial photography also confirms the
point made by Isaakovitch, above, regarding the removal
of tombstones. A majority of the formerly densely packed
tombstones are no longer there today; indeed, one can
see the broken remnants of some of them in the margins
of the cemetery. Clearly, as Isaakovitch reports in his
1996 survey, the cemetery was vandalised during the war
and apparently in its aftermath, though not in recent
times. It is speculated that many of the tombstones were
removed after the end of war for use in road and building
UPDATE: I returned
to the Jewish cemetery in October 2006 to investigate the
feasibility of photographing the tombstones and having the
inscriptions transcribed and translated from Hebrew into English.
I estimate that there are about 400 (+/- 100) tombstones left
in the cemetery, of which at least half have fully or partially
legible inscriptions. I took 'test' photographs of about 40
individual tombstones, whose inscriptions ranged from 'very
clear' to 'difficult to read'. Sara Mages kindly volunteered
to transcribe these samples, and the results have been posted
under Jewish Cemetery
International Jewish Cemetery Project: https://www.iajgsjewishcemeteryproject.org/ukraine/tolstoye.html;
last accessed on 3 December 2017.
German Flown Aerial Photography, NWDNC-373-GXPRINTS, 1939-1945.
National Archives at College Park, Maryland.