A new Jewish museum of ethnographic photography created by a group of local Jewish community volunteers, with the guidance of Yad Vashem and the support of Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Pincus Fund for Jewish Education, opened last month in the historic Ukrainian town of Zhmerinka.
The museum’s collection, assembled as the result of four years of archival research, includes an estimated 200 photos of various sites and buildings representing Ukrainian Jewish cultural heritage, helping visitors understand the current conditions of former synagogues and other Jewish communal structures scattered across Ukraine. In addition, the exhibition includes archive photos and artifacts of the local Jewish community in Zhmerinka, including an Israeli flag that had been hidden in the basement of the local synagogue before it was closed by the Soviets in 1962. In 2008, the authorities of independent Ukraine returned the building to the Jewish community, and the flag was recovered during renovations.
Considered one of the typical and historic Jewish communities of 19th century Ukraine, Zhmerinka’s history in the 20th century is marked by two significant events. During World War II, a unique set of circumstances, brought about by the policies of Romanian authorities occupying the territory, and the efforts of the leadership of the local ghetto, enabled most of 3,000 ghetto inmates to survive the war. In 1948, despite Stalinist repression, Zhmerinka Jews petitioned the Soviet authorities to allow them to immigrate to Israel.
The small museum houses a sample of the photos taken by volunteers on ethnographic expeditions across Ukraine. A larger online library for the museum is available at myshtetl.org/index2.html.