Sol Sylvan is shown here interviewing an 89-year-old Gentile women, Vasylyna Basok, who knew his grandfather and his family.
Sol Sylvan is shown here interviewing an 89-year-old Gentile women, Vasylyna Basok, who knew his grandfather and his family.

As memories of World War II fade with the passing of time, it becomes easier to believe that Adolph Hitler’s efforts to exterminate Jews started with the gas chambers of Auschwitz and the other death camps.

In fact, hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered before the death camps were built, in hundreds of small towns and villages throughout Eastern Europe.

Sol Sylvan will discuss this “untold story” in a talk focusing on the research he did on one shtetl – the Yiddish term for a small town or village with a large Jewish population in Eastern Europe.

His presentation – free and open to the public – will begin at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow (Friday, Jan. 11) in the Great Room of the Arizona Senior Academy, on the campus of Academy Village. Academy Village is an active adult community located off Old Spanish Trail six miles southeast of Saguaro National Park East.

Sylvan’s research began in October 2002, when he made his first visit to Lanovtsy, Ukraine, where his father had been born and raised before emigrating to America. In all, Sylvan made 10 visits to Eastern Europe, culminating in the restoration and dedication of the abandoned Jewish Cemetery and Mass Grave Site in Lanovtsy.

“The extermination camps such as Dachau, Auchwitz etc., were not established until February of 1942,” Sylvan said. “Most of the Jew killing took place in situ. I will detail, in one shtetl (Lanovtsy), how the Nazi/German killing program worked before the death camps were built.”

His 10-year explorations centered on numerous small towns throughout Poland and Western Ukraine. He found records of his ancestors going back to the 1750s in five different villages. The fate of his nearest ancestors brought home the horrors of Nazi Germany.

“My grandfather, his second wife and two adult daughters, his oldest daughter and her husband and four of five adult children, all were killed in a Nazi/German orchestrated massacre in Lanovtsy in August of 1942,” Sylvan said. All were buried in a mass grave near the village.

Sylvan was saddened to see that the abandoned Jewish Cemetery and Mass Grave Site had been neglected during the Soviet Union’s post-war occupation of Eastern Europe. In June of 2004, on his third trip to the area, Sylvan took video footage of the site and began efforts to preserve the cemetery and a Mass Grave Memorial.

“I had them cleaned up in the winter of 2004-5,” he said. “From then to 2010 I sent money to a local Christian pastor to maintain them. In 2010 I and another descendant began a successful endeavor to raise money to build a fence and get the Mass Grave and Cemetery declared National Historic Sites to be maintained in perpetuity.”

The talk at Academy Village will include a 9-minute video from his 2004 visit to the site, before his restoration efforts began, and slides taken last September to show what it looks like now.

Sylvan, a retired real estate developer and property manager, is a member of the Arizona Senior Academy and a resident of Academy Village. He earned a BA in history from Wayne State University and did graduate work in anthropology, which he drew upon for this research, at the University of Michigan.

Submitted by Mike Maharry, Academy Village Volunteer

An ‘Untold Story’ of the Holocaust: Jan. 2013
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