New Holocaust Museum in Ukraine pays homage to Bay Area human history – J.

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As San Francisco resident Leo Gulko nears his 90th birthday on Sunday, a gift honoring his past awaits him 6,000 miles away in the Ukrainian town of Lypovets.

Gulko and her daughter, Yana Rathman, have spent the past year coordinating, planning and fundraising for the Lypovets Holocaust Museum, a one-piece exhibit of historical artifacts, information and audio clips hosted in a Lypovets school. It honors the place where Gulko was raised by his grandparents – and where many of his family members and neighbors were executed. The museum opened on September 13, commemorating 80 years since most of the city’s approximately 1,300 Jewish residents, comprising half of the population, were killed by the Nazis after the invasion of the Soviet Union. by Germany.

Yana Rathman and Leo Gulko helped plan and fundraise for the new museum.

“It was by chance that they escaped,” Rathman said of his father, cousins ​​and grandparents. According to Rathman, they fled in the summer of 1941 when Gulko’s uncle, an editor of a city newspaper who knew the Nazis were on their way to Lypovets, told them to immediately get on a train and go. join their family in Kiev, some 130 miles one way.

More than seven decades after this horrific event, Rathman, who lives in San Francisco near his father and works in Jewish education, visited his childhood shtetl and learned that his rich Jewish history had all but disappeared.

In 2020, she connected with RememberUs.org, a Massachusetts-based volunteer-run organization dedicated to teaching Ukrainian Jewish history through partnerships with local schools near where the events and atrocities happened.

Leo Gulko as a young boy (front left) surrounded by his grandparents and other relatives he grew up with in Lypovets, Ukraine.
Leo Gulko as a young boy (front left) surrounded by his grandparents and other relatives he grew up with in Lypovets, Ukraine.

“Every museum is different,” said Julia Korsunsky, co-founder of RememberUs.org. The organization has built five Holocaust museums and exhibits in schools across Ukraine over the past five years, each focusing on the Jewish history of their own city.

“In addition to leadership, in addition to funding, in addition to a strong team, you also need a partner, a local partner. Yana started this relationship, and that’s how it started, ”Korsunsky said of the Lypovets project.

Rathman and Korsunskly collaborated with Olena Nenyukova, a history teacher at a K-12 school in Lypovets, to build the one-piece museum.

When visitors enter, they will hear Yiddish chants, Hebrew prayers, and the Soviet radio announcement of the start of the war. Rathman, now a volunteer for RememberUs.org herself, donated an old menorah, prayer book, and other artifacts to the project. Students will be trained to guide their peers and visitors through the museum.

Yana Rathman donated a prayer book and other artifacts to the museum project.
Yana Rathman donated a prayer book and other artifacts to the museum project.

“It’s the children who tell the story, and it’s fantastic because the kids who are now growing up in Lypovets, you couldn’t tell it was the center of Jewish life, it was a shtetl,” he said. Rathman said. “I wanted people to know this life was here.”

Students are also taken to the site where the mass murders of Jews in Lypovets took place. RememberUs.org volunteers planted a Metasequoia Memorial Sequoia at the site.

“It turns out that these trees can withstand fires, they can be very, very resistant. They can also adapt. And when they adapt, they change the environment a bit, but they keep their personality, ”Korsunsky said, drawing a parallel between trees and the resilience of the Jewish people.

To help fund the museum project, Rathman and Gulko raised over $ 2,000 through Facebook fundraisers and their personal contributions.

The opening day of the Lypovets Museum attracted 200 schoolchildren, teachers and local elected officials.
The opening day of the Lypovets Museum attracted 200 schoolchildren, teachers and local elected officials.

Throughout the process of creating the museum, Rathman, who was born in Kiev, shared stories and photos of the city with her father.

“I was the one who said to my father, look, do you know this building? And he said, yeah, that’s where I went to the movies all my childhood. I said, ‘It was a synagogue.’ He had no idea, ”said Rathman, explaining that the Soviets had converted synagogues into businesses, leaving Jewish families like his father’s to pray privately in neighbors’ homes.

Rathman hopes the work she and her father did can inspire others to connect with organizations and educate future generations about Ukraine’s Jewish history.

Although the pandemic has kept them from traveling, they hope to visit as soon as they can. “My father even wants to go! said Rathamane. “We really hope we can do it. “


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