In the Western Ukraine, now plain for all to see and experience, there lies a slice of European history. Since the opening up of the Soviet Union, this significant part of it - once home to some five million members of the largest Jewish community that ever existed - has been made accessible once more. The film seeks out the traces of this world and mourns its boundlessly tragic demise, in a moment, when it is threatened to vanish forever in the future.
There, isolated in a wood (Drohobycz), in a clearing (Pechora), and on an old airfield (Berdichev), the mass graves of tens of thousands of victims bear witness to the Holocaust that took place in the Baltic States, White Russia and the Ukraine from June 1941 onwards - as a result of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union.
Survivors have had to stifle their memories in decades of solitude in the Soviet Ukraine. Now, for the first time, Esther and Michail Bartik in Tulchyn, Genija Burmenko and Raissa Tamara Halperina in Berdichev speak openly about it - about what they went through and how they lost their parents, their brothers and sisters, and their neighbours.
“Forgetting prolongs exile. Memory is the gateway to salvation”, is what Baal Schem Tov, founder of the popular Hassidic belief, offers up for consideration. His grave is in Medshibosh, in the heart of the ever fascinating and spell-binding Ukrainian countryside, which was the source of his devoutness in the 18th century. Up until the Second World War this region was densely populated by Jews. The sound of Jewish music resounded here and Yiddish was spoken in many of the villages. The film takes on this atmosphere with authentic Ukrainian Klezemer music (arranged by Joel Rubin) and with protagonists whose "own" language has remained to this day Yiddish.
That Jewish cosmos which has left its traces on the seam that binds the European West to the European East, has bequeathed to us a rich culture. The Yiddish writer, Josef Burg in Czernowitz, recollects on this, as well as on the importance of Yiddish, which was once the sixth language of the world, spoken by 12 million people.
"Fading Traces" fuses the memories, which have been put into literary form by the writers Joseph Roth, Paul Celan, Rose Ausländer, Manès Sperber and others, with the accounts of the experiences of those still alive. In this way an exchange of memories is created which, in a landscape that is timeless, rekindles images of a world long lost to the survivors - as well as to ourselves.
The film was realized in the summer of 1997. One of its protagonists, Rosa Roitman of Tulchyn, passed away two months later. From now on her recollections have become just another part of memory ... fading traces.
Walo Deuber, writer and director
Born on 29th March 1947 in Fribourg. Grew up in Zürich. Studied German, History and Philosophy in Berlin and Zürich. Worked as a journalist. After a lengthy spell in the USA, he now works as writer and director for film and television. With Xavier Koller he co-authored two transmissions of "Telebühne" for Swiss Television DRS (1981/82, subjects: Freedom of the Press, and Data Protection respectively). Co-scriptwriter of "Der schwarze Tanner" ("The Black Tanner") with Xavier Koller (1985). Worked in co-operation with Peter Stierlin as co-author and co-director on the TV film "Videopoly" (1986, a TV comedy on the subject of manipulation and the media, for NDR, SF DRS) and on the feature film for cinema, "Klassezämekunft" ("Class Reunion") (a black comedy on the subject of the Swiss process of coming to terms with the past and starring veterans of the Swiss cinema and Ursula Andress (Condor Films)). From 1992-95 he was responsible for the launching and chief-editor of the programme "CloseUp" (Teleclub). "Fading Traces" is Walo Deuber's first full length documentary film. "The film stands at the cross-roads of my inquisitiveness as a Germanist, politico-cultural journalist and fiction film-maker".
Walo Deuber passed away in spring 2017.
David Kahane began to write his "Lvov Ghetto Diary" on 26th September 1943 in a hideout at Andrej Sheptytskyi's, the Lemberg Metropolitan of the Ukrainian United Church. Kahane was the Rabbi of a Lemberg Synagogue, had experienced the ghetto and had escaped from the Janowska labour camp in Lemberg. He later became Chief Rabbi of the Israeli airforce.
"Everything began on Wednesday morning, July 2. The retreating Soviets left behind three prisons. Their population consisted mostly of criminals and political prisoners from the Lvov area. Many of them had been executed and buried in the prison courtyard. The Germans opened the prisons wide and released the inmates. - The Gestapo decided to reap a propaganda benefit from the release of prisoners. For that purpose, Lvov Jews were to dig up the graves in the presence of a special commission, the work would be photographed, and the German propaganda machine would thereby acquire first-class material. They would be able to tell the whole world: 'Look at the Jewish-Bolshevik murderers whom we have just caught red-handed. Behold their luckless innocent victims!'"
Felix Landau was born 1901 in Vienna. Long before the "Annexation" he was a collaborator of the Nazis in Austria. By 1938 he was already Chief Troop Leader of the SS and worked for the Nazis in Vienna. In 1941 he took part in secret police activities during the Eastern Campaign. Having already taken part in massacres in Lemberg, he was sent to Drohobycz in the summer of 41 as "Head of Jewish Operations". He was always referring in his diary to a lover of his - Gertrude - whom he had left behind in Radom where he had previously been Commandant of the Security Police. After the war, Landau lived undetected in Germany until 1963 when he was condemned to life imprisonment by the Stuttgart County Court..
"Strange, I am completely unmoved. No pity, nothing. That's the way it is - and then it's all over."
Mauricy Weiss born in Vienna in 1915, was enlisted into the Soviet army shortly before the German invasion of Drohobycz and spent the war in the Eastern part of the Soviet Union. When he arrived back in Drohobycz after the war, his whole family had been wiped out. He is now chairman of the Jewish community in Drohobycz and performs rabbinical duties for the 250 remaining Jews.
"My entire family used to live here in Drohobycz. My grandmother had had thirteen children. Some of them left and some of them stayed here. They had wives. They had children. All of them died here. Twelve thousand human beings - Jewish human beings - are buried in the wood in eleven huge graves."
Josef Burg born 1912, the son of a penniless raftsman in Wischnitz. After studying in Vienna until 1938 he joined the Soviet army and went to war. At the end of the Sixties the Yiddish writer came back to Czernowitz. As champion of the - massively suppressed - Yiddish culture in the Soviet Union, he published - in fact the 86 year old polyglot still publishes - the "Czernowitzer Blätter" ("Cernowitz Pages") in Yiddish and Russian. In German there is a collection of narratives available entitled "Ein Gesang über den Gesängen" ("A Song of Songs").
"Before the war twelve of the sixteen million spoke Yiddish. It was Judaism that...it was the Jewish language that was dealt a blow - a death blow. Because, of those six million (annihilated in the Shoa), five million of them spoke Yiddish. There were one and a half million children amongst whom nowadays - who knows how many Einsteins, how many Freuds, and how many doctors, how many workers and intellectuals. - Yiddish ones! and writers and Sholem Alejchems, and who knows what else..."
Erika Ginsburg was three when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and the German army, together with the allied Rumanians marched into Czernowitz which had been under Soviet power since 1939. She was seven years old when she and her parents left the town on the Pruth and later moved to Bucharest. Nevertheless, on her first visit to the place since then, she still remembers many parts of the town, as well as the tension that had her family holding its breath at that time. In 1962 she emigrated to Israel. Since 1969 she has been living with her husband and two sons in Zürich.
"My father was enlisted for work on the spot. He was a specialist in paper and they needed that for the war. A couple of times he was taken hostage but luckily it never ended in death." (Not quoted in the film)
Isak Weissglas is the father of the writer Immanuel Weissglas. In his report "Ghetto and Deportation", he tells of how he experienced the first wave of persecution in Czernowitz and the subsequent deportation of Jews out of Czernowitz and Bukovina to Transnistria. In the district which lies between the rivers Dnjestr and Bug the allied Rumanians set up numerous labour and concentration camps in collaboration with the Germans. It was there where hundreds of thousands of Jews died of exhaustion, disease and through the bullets of the murdering firing squads.
"Terrible news was coming from localities on the other side of the Pruth. Whole districts were being "purified of Jews", sometimes by slaughtering the Jewish community, sometimes through the deportation of the Jews who survived."
Rosa Roitman, Esther and Michail Bartik
Rosa (b. 1915) and Esther (b. 1929) are sisters who grew up with Michail (b. 1928) as neighbours in Tulchyn. In 1941, all three of them were interned in the Pechora concentration camp and returned to Tulchyn after being liberated by the Red Army. Michail and Esther have been married since 1952 and have two sons who have emigrated - one of them to the USA, the other to Germany. Michail has spent the whole of his working life in a shoe plant. He was able to persuade the authorities that memorials should be erected in Tulchyn and 40 km away in Pechora. Rosa Roitman lived in Tulchyn up until shortly before her death and died in the autumn of 1997 at the home of her daughter in Moldavia. Late in 1997 Esther and Michail Bartik moved to Germany to join their son and a grandchild, since when they have been living in Magdeburg.
"Now and then (sometimes) I think back at what happened fifty, fifty-five years ago, and I ask myself how was it that any human being was capable of putting up with it? How were 12 and 13 year old children ever able to survive such a terrible tragedy?" (Esther Bartik in the TV version)
"There was nothing to eat, nothing to drink, nothing we could survive on. You might really ask yourself what we ever lived on those two long years." (Michail Bartik)
Sonja Eismann born 1926 in Shargorod, well remembers how she once got a beating for forgetting to wear the Jewish star. She is now widowed. As a 16/17 year old young woman, she was forced to labour for the Germans. Thanks to financial "arrangements" with the Rumanians, Shargorod - unlike other villages in the district - was spared any massacres or destruction. Sonja Eismann lives in a typical little "Shtetl" house. Her married daughter lives a few hundred kilometres away in the town of Shitomir.
"There are only a few Jews left here. Most of them emigrate. Life's hard. It's impossible to survive on the little money you get. There's no work. I'm getting on now and can't work. But the younger ones have no work either."
Ster Jelisavetskij born 1929 in Berdichev, now lives in Kiev and lectures as a historian at the "International Solomon University in Kiev". As a young boy, he fled from Berdichev before the German invasion. Prof. Jelisavetskij is doing research on the events that took place in the town of his birth. His father lies murdered in one of the mass graves at the airfield. A book by Prof. Jelisavetskij - "Berdischevskaja Tragedia" - has been published in Russian.
"In many of the places where Jews were shot dead - here too - people are still digging up the grave in the hope that they might find some gold. Last year alone they dug up 13 skulls in a place and carried on looking for valuables, as a woman who lives here had indicated. A crime on the memory of the victims." (Not quoted in the film)
Genija Burmenko born 1917 in Berdichev, was already a married woman when their henchman found her together with her sister in the attic where they had hidden themselves when the ghetto of Berdichev was being cleaned out in preparation for the mass execution on 15.9.1941. Papers which confirmed that she was in the employment of the Germans, saved her from death on the brink of the mass grave. Now twice widowed, she lives in a simple house in Berdichev without water or sanitation.
"I held up my "Bescheinigung" ("work permit" ) that's what it's called in German - and showed him that I...that I...I don't know...I... He said , "The swine, the swine, scram out of this place, you're not a Jew, scram! "And he pushed me away. I stopped when I was passing my sister, and she said, "Genija, you must think back on us all! You don't look like a Jew at all. And you'll pray for us. You must think of us. All of us!"
Raissa Tamara Halperina born 1927 in Berdichev, had to watch while her mother and sisters were murdered on the airfield at Berdichev. She herself escaped the eyes of the Germans by hiding in some bushes. A never-ending odyssey led the 14 year old Jewish refugee from hiding-place to hiding-place for months on end throughout the Ukraine and then into a labour camp in Germany where - undetected as a Jew - she had to do forced labour as a Ukrainian. At the end of the war she returned on foot to Berdichev and had to suffer countless humiliations in her attempt to get an identity back. Later she moved to L'viv and became a theatre director. Now a pensioner, she continues to live in L'viv.
"It started at four o'clock, about five. And by six they'd shot them all. And there were - well, you know, I can't really explain it - there were lots of little trees. I lay down flat there - I was very small. And I moved back a little bit, you see, away from the people, so they didn't notice me. The Germans didn't notice me. And I saw everything - how people got shot - I saw it with my own eyes. I saw the way mummy and my two sisters were murdered. Then I thought, I've got to get out of it quick. But were was there to go? There were Germans all over the place."
Today, of a total population of nearly 52 million people, there are now 400,000 Jews living in the Ukraine - most of them in the towns of Kiev, Charkov, Dnjepropetrowsk and Odessa. Only very few remain in the Western Ukraine - In L'viv and the surrounding district there are about 6,000. Since 1989, 170,000 Jews have emigrated from the Ukraine to Israel. The average age of those left behind is 45. The Jewish "International Solomon University" in Kiev has 800 students. The Jewish communities are led by foreign Rabbis.
Source: World Jewish Congress 1996
79 min. and 54 min.
German, Yiddish, Russian
German or English
Doc Productions GmbH, Zürich/CH
Written and directed by Walo Deuber
Editor: Jürg Messmer
Director of photography: Guido Noth
Sound engineer: Zoltán Imely
Voices: James H. Lurie, Ann-Marie Michel
Producer: Rose-Marie Schneider
Location Manager/Consultant: Raphael Pifko
Location manager/Interpreter: Nina Mirojewskaja
Continuity/Translations: Anna Katharina Pantli
Sound editor/Mix: Jürg von Allmen C.A.S.
Assistant sound studio: Patrick Storck
Theological Advisor: Martin Cunz
Driver: Vladimir Litvintchuk
Travel Agent: Osteuro Reisen, A. Nurkowski
Sound Studio: Digiton
Equipment Rincovision: Guido Noth, Dieter Meyer Tontechnik
Tape to Film Transfer: Swiss Effects, Ueli Nüesch
Film stock Kodak SA: Felix Berger
Laboratory: Egli Film&Video AG
Editors SF DRS: Paul Riniker, Madeleine Hirsiger
With the support of
Bundesamt für Kultur des Eidgenössischen Departementes des Innern
DEZA. Abteilung für Zusammenarbeit mit Osteuropa und der GUS
Stadt und Kanton Zürich
SRG/SF DRS and 3sat
Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirchen der Deutschen Schweiz
Georges and Jenny Bloch-Foundation
René & Susanne Braginsky Foundation
Gretel and Walter Picard-Weil Foundation
Alfred Richterich Foundation
Ellen and Michael Ringier
Heidi and Peter Burri
Carla and Peter Gut
Georg Fischer Management AG
The 35mm print was made possible thanks to the support
by the family Moricz Moldovan from Svalava (Ukraine).
PRO HELVETIA Arts Council of Switzerland
'Baveynen di Kale' - 'Russian Sher' - Zayt Gezunt'
Joel Rubin Jewish Music Ensemble
'Beregovski's Khasene - Beregovskis Wedding'
CD SM 1614-2 Weltmusik by Wergo Music&Media, Mainz, Germany
Joel Rubin, Rita Ottens Ed.
Symphony No. 13 'Babi Yar' op. 113 (1962)
© by Musikverlag Hans Sikorski, Hamburg
Courtesy Decca, London
Chamber Symphony, op. 110 Bis (1960)
'Dolorosa', Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
Dennis Russel Davies
© by Musikverlag Hans Sikorski, Hamburg
ECM New Series 1620, © ECM Records
Symphony No. 5, op. 47 (1937)
© by Musikverlag Hans Sikorski, Hamburg
Frédéric Chopin/Tamas Vasary
Courtesy Deutsche Grammophon
'Dos Kelbl' (Original: 'Dona, Dona')
Warner/Chappell Music GmbH, München
EMI Music Publ. Germany GmbH
and Neue Welt Musikverlag GmbH
'Di Grine Kusine'
trad. / Zupfgeigenhansel
'Nigun' - 'Why'
'Fantaziya' - 'Kotilasya' - 'Vesnyanka' - 'Bukovynski'
trad. / Ensemble Berehinya
trad. / Alicia Svigals
Ellipsis Arts, New York
'Radetzky March' - 'Wienerblut' - 'Fledermaus'
Rose Ausländer "Czernowitz"
Isaak Babel "Diary 1920"
Martin Buber "Encounters", "The Hasidic Books", "The Tales of the Hasidim"
Paul Celan "Death Fugue"
Alfred Döblin "Journey through Poland"
Wassilij Grossman "Life and Fate", "Black Book"
David Kahane "Lvov Ghetto Diary"
Joseph Roth "The Jewish Township", "The Radetzky March"
Bruno Schulz "The Cinnamon Stalls"
Manès Sperber "God's Water Carriers"
Isak Weissglas "Ghetto and Deportation"
Felix Landau "War Diary"
Cinema and Television in Switzerland
Visions du Réel, Nyon 1998
Solothurner Filmtage 1999
Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles 1999
Shoah Foundation, Los Angeles 1999
YerbaBuena Museum, San Francisco 1999
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington 2000
Jewish Heritage Museum, New York 2000
World Rights and Sales
Doc Productions GmbH