THE TOWN OF TROCHENBROD: one of a kind in jewish history
THE TOWN OF TROCHENBROD: ONE OF A KIND IN JEWISH HISTORY
by Avrom Bendavid-Val
Trochenbrod was located in what is today northwestern Ukraine, not far from the city of Lutsk, in the province of Volhyn in what had been the Russian Pale of Jewish Settlement. The village, and then town, was in Russia from its beginning until the First World War. Following the First World War borders changed, and as a result throughout most of the 1920s and 1930s Trochenbrod was part of Poland.
Settlement of the marshy area that became Trochenbrod started in the early 1800s. Jews began settling there and farming because under Czarist decrees, only by doing that could they avoid oppressive anti-Jewish laws, including having their sons conscripted to serve in the Russian army until age 45.
In 1835 the Russian government gave the settlement official recognition under the name “Sofiyovka.” After that it was always known as both Trochenbrod and Sofiyovka, and even appeared with both names on government maps.
As Trochenbrod grew to its final population of about 5,000 people it became the only freestanding Jewish town ever to exist outside the biblical Land of Israel. Trochenbrod was a thriving regional commercial center that had a highly diversified and essentially self-sufficient economy. In Trochenbrod everyone—shopkeepers, farmers, craftspeople, workers, teachers, livestock traders, factory owners…everyone--was Jewish; and the languages the townspeople spoke in the street and in their homes were Yiddish and modern Hebrew.
In August and September 1942 the Nazis and their helpers murdered the people of Trochenbrod-Sofiyovka. The town had been created by anti-Semitism and it was destroyed by anti-Semitism. Because there had been none but Jews in Trochenbrod, no one was left there, and all traces of the town soon were erased from the face of the Earth.
In August 2006 a group of 85 Israelis and a few Americans journeyed to the place where Trochenbrod had stood and had vanished 64 years before. The group was made up of a few of those left who had been born in Trochenbrod and the second, third, and fourth generations of their families. They walked where Trochenbrod's main street had been, told stories of Trochenbrod, and conducted a memorial ceremony at the mass grave of their friends and relatives.
The visit was organized by “Bet TAL,” the Israeli organization founded by the first pioneers to Palestine from Trochenbrod and its sister village of Lozisht (TAL is the Hebrew acronym “T-L”). The visit stimulated a resurgence of interest in Trochenbrod and in staying connected with other families with roots in Trochenbrod. Photographs from that visit can be found on the website TAL.yesh.net (see “Day 6,” the day the group actually spent at the site of Trochenbrod and its two mass graves).
One result of the renewed interest in Trochenbrod, in the Bet TAL organization, and in establishing Trochenbrod family connections in Israel is the new website created by the Bet TAL organization at http://bet-tal.com, in both Hebrew and English.
Another result was a project to assemble a contact list of U.S. Trochenbrod descendants. That, it turn, led to the first national Trochenbrod gathering ever in the U.S. on April 13, 2008 in Washington, DC. Connections made at that gathering led to a new project, now underway, to make a documentary film about the historically unique town of Trochenbrod and its people. Enthusiasm about a Trochenbrod “reawakening” has now spread to Brazil, also.
Responding to excited demand from three continents, the Bet TAL organization, with the help of American partners and Ukrainian officials, is planning an historic international gathering of Trochenbrod descendants in August 2009. The gathering will center on the site where the town stood, now a spot amid remote farm fields surrounded by forests. About 200 “Trochenbroders” will gather for three days. They will hold remembrance ceremonies at the sites of the town and the mass graves of its people, events that connect to the reborn small Jewish community in nearby Lutsk, and events that reach out to Ukrainians in the surrounding villages that once traded with Trochenbrod. They will refurbish and expand small monuments that mark the sites of Trochenbrod and the mass graves. And they will walk the soil, tell stories, remember, and celebrate the place that gave birth to their parents and grandparents.