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© Douglas Hykle
2006-2012
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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.

Jewish cemetery of Tovste - panorama

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.)   Gravestones in Tovste's Jewish cemetery

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.
Tombstone of the mother of Ba'al Shem Tov, formerly on view in Tovste's Jewish cemetery  

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. [Click for a photo gallery of the Jewish cemetery.]

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.”

The base of the monument is showing signs of aging and is in need of repair.

  Memorial to Holocaust victims

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 photograph of Tovste, taken by German reconnaissance aircraft in June 1944  

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 construction.   Gravestone and rubble in Tovste's Jewish cemetery

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 - Tombstones.

Sources:
International Jewish Cemetery Project: http://www.jewishgen.org/cemetery/e-europe/ukra-t.html; last accessed on 16 August 2005 (this is an updated version of the original source material).

German Flown Aerial Photography, NWDNC-373-GXPRINTS, 1939-1945. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.