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August 17, 2012
The Ukraine: Ensuring the lessons of history endure
After reading my recent post about my visit to Lithuania, Russia, and the Ukraine, an 8-time traveler named Janet Gorkes asked to hear more about the two women we met in the small Ukraine town of Starokonstantinov—because “there are so few people still living who experienced the war that now is the opportunity to hear more.” Janet, thank you for this request—I couldn’t agree more. So here is what I know.
In 1939, 31 percent of Starokonstantinov was made up of Jewish people who were killed during murder operations by Nazi invaders between August of 1941 and November of 1942. As I wrote before, while we were in Starokonstantinov, we shared lunch with two 85-year-old women who survived the war. They had recently found each other with the help of a small organization that was set up to help the remaining Jews find living relatives—or to find out what happened to their relatives who did not survive.
Their stories were full of courage, hardship, luck, and sheer will. One of the women had recently graduated from nursing school when the invasion began, and the Nazis needed her skills to tend to their wounded. She was moved about and protected by police so she could continue to serve them as a nurse. The other woman received a message from her sister, telling her to get out of town as soon as she could. She and her sister managed to escape to a hidden cabin in the woods, where they spent the duration of the war. Both women returned to the town to find that nearly everyone they knew had been killed.
Through these stories, we deepened our understanding of what life was like for the Jewish people living in Central Europe during World War II and the tremendous loss of life and community that this region endured—and still endures, as Alan and I saw throughout our journey, to this day.
We truly believe that the best way to learn the history of a place is through its people—which is why we strive to weave personal encounters into every one of our trips. For example, our Ukraine’s Dnieper River to the Black Sea River Cruise Tour features a visit with Ukrainian World War II veterans in the town of Cherkassy—which was also devastated by the Nazi invasion. As Janet so wisely noted, the passage of time will soon relegate these firsthand stories to history and memory—so it’s our duty to ensure these lessons endure.
If there’s ever anything you’d like to hear more about in Harriet’s Corner, I always look forward to hearing from you. Just leave me a message in the comments, or email me at email@example.com. And check back next month, when we'll be featuring our vacations in Italy.