melody gross <melody@...>
I just returned >from a visit to eastern Slovakia, mainly in and around
Stropkov. I stayed at the local hotel (no hot water, but a sizeable
discount) for five days, travelling around to small villages -- all the
ones that I had ever wanted to see -- Okruhle, Medzilaborce, Havaj,
Bardiov, Bardiov Kupele (of the famed "rusty water"), Mikova, Chotca, .....
I was especially interested in Olka, as my family had lived there before
they moved to Stropkov. I had studied the LDS death records before I left,
We drove east to Olka, Slovakia -- halfway between Hummene and Medzilaborce
-- where my family had lived some two hundred years ago. Records in the
LDS Library show that some Olkans were buried in Kriva Olka, a hamlet about
three kilometers to the south. It does not appear on current maps,
however, so we discovered it by instinct Today, Kriva Olka is all of
seven or eight farms, tucked in a valley surrounded by hills. Speaking to
the older folks there, we heard that is indeed a cemetery there -- or
there once was.
Adults who died in Olka were taken the ten kilometers to Stropkov for
burial. Stropkov, with her chevra kadisha was "mother" to her
"daughters", small villages with a small number of Jews among the
population. But poor Jewish families of Olka buried their babies and
children beside their homes, just over the hillside, not even marking the
graves with a stone.
Today, the cemetery lies within private fields, unattended, unmarked -- but
still remembered by the locals. Just writing about it makes me feel
better, a little closer to those people then.
After the disappontment of the Kriva Olka cemetery, we searched for the
Radvan cemetery which served that nearby, larger village. Again we
stopped, speaking to the older people, and were told that the Radvan
cemetery is out in the fields, "not too far." Two elderly women
accompanied us to the edge of the village, watching as we started out. We
followed directions, but could not see any tombstones in the distance. It
was nearing sunset.
We walked and walked -- carefully navigating muddy hoofprints and other
signs that cows leave behind them. We crossed brooks and scrambled over
and under fences along the way. All the while, it was getting darker; the
women whom we had left behind looked smaller and smaller on the horizon --
and still no cemetery in sight. One of us hurried ahead into the woods --
and disappeared, while the other circled around the other side. Each
called back and forth to the other, until the cemetery was finally located.
It was deep in the woods, far beyond the fields, on a very steep hill.
The gravestones were nearly inaccessible because of the slope. Many had
succumbed to gravity; many had been displaced by tall trees. Although
isolated and neglected, this cemetery was uncommonly beautiful and
peaceful. I would choose to spend eternity here.
On the walk back, with darkness approaching, we heard a train somewhere,
whistling forlornly into the night. How easy it was to imagine the trains
that had carried Jews to the camps. Then, like now, trains passed by tiny
hamlets scattered throughout the green meadows of rural Slovakia, hardly
noticed, hardly heard.
Melody Amsel Gross