“Human life was nothing at the time”

Time seems frozen in Olyka; a horse drawn carriage passes on the paved road, crows take flight, we are immersed in the memory of Petro. Ten years old at the time, he saw everything: the arrival of the Germans, the set-up of the ghetto, the Jewish police, the hunger, up until the shooting. The first image that he shares with us is that of a Jewish child, at the end of his strength and attempting to flee, killed by a bullet in the head, before his eyes. With his energetic pace, he guides us through the village. Through his words, two images are overlaid on each other: that of the past where one can imagine the vitality of the Jewish community then, and that of the present, without a trace of the former. The only visible marks of it are two memorial monuments outside the village, near a former Soviet shooting range transformed into a killing site in July 1942. Hidden from view are the bodies that repose of more than 4,000 Jews. “We are walking on a cemetery,” states Petro. If he likes to share his memories, it is so that this is never reproduced.

It’s in the same spirit that this afternoon we meet Sergueï, who, with the help of the archival photos and his knowledge of the town, enabled us to relive the destruction of the dynamic Jewish community of Lutsk. The mechanisms were overall the same as in Olyka, on a larger scale. Outside of the town, in three graves 200 meters long, more than 25,000 bodies were piled up near a sugar factory, only 30 centimeters from the surface.

We had the opportunity to meet the three current Jewish communities of the town, of which Sergueï is the representative. Welcomed with much warmth, we spoke with young people who are the keepers of this memory and the durability of their culture and who are making the link between the past and the present, investing from a young age in learning and sharing their traditions and their history with the rest of the population, who are less informed.

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