Wednesday, August 7, 2013

IAJGS2013 Conference - Day 4, Part 1

Day 4 of the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.  My entire summary, day by day, here.

The day started with my listening to Alex Dunai talking about shtetl travel in the Ukraine.

Alex stresed that success depends on personal goals and interests of travel.

Planning a trip in advance helps to fully enjoy the trip. He recommends that people research ahead of the trip--this will save money and time. He also advised against doing research yourself on the trip rather than having someone else do it for you.  The time you will require, plus having to hire a translator will cost more than doing through researchers and may take more time than expected. Research may uncover more towns of interest, and it is hard to readjust to add more towns when you are already on the road.

He also advised checking online resources, but he noted that they don't cover everything. But it can be a source data for trip planning.

Writing to archives can help. They may not respond but it is worth a try.  Hiring researcher is the most expensive option, but it is also the most reliable.

If doing research on the trip, you need to be aware of several things.  Inventories (and possibly documents) will be in Russian or Ukrainian. Almost no archivists speak another language, and they don't have time to help.  You need a good Russian speaker or interpreter.

Archives are not reliably open. You need to check on specific days and times before going to the location.

In the early stages of planning, make sure you are the visiting correct places. He said it is surprising how often people go to the wrong place. There are many Ukrainian towns with the same name, sometimes in close proximity.

Ship manifests can be used as a clue--but often people said they were from a big town like Kiev rather than the small town where they actually lived. There are also many misspellings that mask the true town of origin.  He mentioned multiple instances of town names that sound very similar but are very different.

It is easier to fly to Kiev or Lviv or Odessa rather than having to deal with a border crossing. 

The situation is changing as to where to stay. It used to be that there were few hotels that were acceptable. Now there are many good choices.   You can be much more mobile now because can it is easy to find clean decent hotels with wifi, even in small towns.  There are especially many good choices the closer you are to the western border. 

Most places accept only cash, but it is usually easy to find an ATM in any city. Tell your bank before you go so they don't lock the card. You should bring a couple hundred dollars in cash just in case. Don't bring travelers checks.

Roads--this year was particularly challenging. The locals say that the asphalt has melted along with the snow. Even major roads have many huge holes.  No driving at night is recommended.

Typical realistic speeds are 40mph during the day. 1 km in Ukraine is equivalent to traveling 1 mile in the US.  It is best for a local to advise how long it will take from one place to another.

It is hard to travel by train. They are slow, not clean, and no one speaks English.

You can walk easily through pedestrian crossings between Poland and Ukraine. But going the other way is more difficult.  Even with a big suitcase and backpack the crossing is tough--1 mile across no man's land. Polish customs check very carefully for smuggled goods and make it difficult to cross.  So there are long lines for hours to get into Poland. Same by auto, but time of day makes a different.
For Carpathians, he recommends train to Hungary or Slovakia to the border town of Chop. Then get car and you can make stops, as it is a beautiful area.

Group travel is different experience--everything takes longer. You also can't go to individual homes. Going with a guide makes the trip much more personalized and meaningful, and you can ask all questions and get answers in great detail.

Alex then talked about interviewing people you meet during trip.  Most people are nice and hospitable. But be aware they may be too nice because they are trying to please you--they may be saying what they think you want to hear.  A good interpreter is important to pick up these nuances; he must understand local culture and habits and culture.

Before the trip, read books of history of Ukraine in general and your area in particular. Alex recommended:
Borderland by Anna Reid
Bloodlands by Steven Snyder
Yizkor books on town
The Loss by Daniel mendelson

Someone asked about the ease of eating kosher during such a trip. Alex says that kosher can be obtained in big cities. Ivano Frankiv even has kosher hotel. Kiev has kosher restaurants. The bigger cities often have chabads or local communities which can make you food.  Fruits and vegetables are also available in small villages. He summed it up by saying that kosher is not a huge problem, but planning will help.

And that was the day just until 9:30!  More on the rest of the day later.