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As an American journalist, author, editor and researcher, I’ve published and lectured widely and won awards for my work on Jewish heritage and contemporary Jewish issues in Europe, as well as my work on the European fascination — and embrace — of the American Wild West, its mythology and its music.

I’ve chronicled European Jewish issues for more than 25 years — I  coined the term “Virtually Jewish” to describe the way the so-called “Jewish space” in Europe is often filled by non-Jews — and am Coordinator of the web site www.jewish-heritage-europe.euan online resource for Jewish heritage issues that is a project of the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe. I had a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on my project “Sauerkraut Cowboys, Indian Dreams: Imaginary Wild Wests in Contemporary Europe.” 

Among my other awards is Poland’s  Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit, one of the highest awards that Poland grants to foreign citizens. And I was the Arnold Distinguished Visiting Chair in Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston, SC, for Spring Semester 2015.

 

Music — and the Imaginary Wild West in CZ

In Brno

In Brno, Czech Republic, the Imaginary Wild West leaps off a wall…. advertising “the best steaks” in the city at an eatery called “U Starýho Bill” (At Old Bill’s) that calls itself “a real ‘TEXAS’ restaurant.”

The wall here was a few steps away from the Sono Center, a major Brno venue for contemporary music — where I was headed to attend a concert by the Czech bluegrass band The Malina Brothers, with guest appearances by Charlie McCoy, the Nashville-based harmonica virtuoso and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Czech singer Kat’a Garcia. The concert was sold out, and got a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd. And it was being filmed for a live show DVD.

Malinas concert Sono Center

The Malinas are old friends of mine. Banjo player and multi-instrumentalist Lubos Malina was one of the founding members of the great Czechgrass group Druha Trava, and I met him (amazingly) nearly 15 years ago, at one of the many summer bluegrass/country festivals in CZ, when I first started exploring the Imaginary Wild West in Europe.

Guitarist Pavel Malina used to play with DT, and fiddler Pepa Malina still sometimes plays with them. The Malina Brothers band came together informally at first, but over the past five years or so has developed a remarkable following in CZ — as the concert in Brno demonstrated.

The three brothers visited in Italy six years ago and gave a house concert at the home of a friend. It was the first of a series of house concerts anchored by Lubos. We’re looking forward to the entire band (the three brothers plus bass player Pavel Peroutka) coming next month. The brothers  played this arrangement of Smetana at the house concert in 2013 — and at the concert in Brno.

On the night after the Brno concert, Pepa Malina performed with Druha Trava at the start of a a week-long tour with Charlie McCoy — a sold-out, standing-ovation gig in the town of Ceska Trebova.

Here’s a video of the run-through before the Ceska Trebova concert:

Charlie McCoy has had a standout career in the USA and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

I’ve written about him in the past, on my Sauerkraut Cowboys blog, because he is quite wellknown in the country music scene outside the USA. He tours regularly in Europe and elsewhere (i.e. Japan), and he makes a point to play with European bands and also records with them; he has released albums in France, Denmark, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Later this summer he will be touring in Sweden in England.

Onstage at the concert in Ceska Trebova, he recalled how he met up with Druha Trava — it was at the festival in Strakonice, CZ, where he was performing in 2001. DT was also on the bigg and asked if he would join them for a few songs — since then he has toured with them half a dozen or more times in CZ, released a live album with DT and also released a CD with The Malina Brothers.

Here’s a promo video about the Malina Brothers album (partly in Czech, partly in English):

I met Charlie back in 2005 during one of his tours with Druha Trava — the concert I saw was at a “Days of Texas” festival in the little town of Roznov pod Radnostem, in eastern CZ.

The festival, I wrote in an article

highlighted the fact that from the mid-19th century until World War I, thousands of people emigrated from Roznov and other towns and villages in the region to Texas. Today, Texas has the largest ethnic Czech community of any state in the United States.

There were demonstrations of 19th-century farming customs used by the emigrants and performances by American-style Czech country-western groups, as well as local folk groups performing Wallachian songs and dances. An exhibition of quilting featured a big patchwork quilt reading “Texas,” hung prominently from the upper floor of the old Roznov Town Hall.

Like the Malina Brothers concert in Brno, the Druha Trava/Charlie McCoy concert in Ceska Trebova drew a standing ovation from an energized crowd — and lots of autograph-seekers and CD-buyers afterward.

And here we are in Ceska Trebova, backstage.

 

 

On the power of built heritage — my op-ed

Holocaust memorial outside restore synagogue in Subotica, Serbia

In the wake of the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, I wrote an op-ed for JTA discussing the transcendent symbolism of built heritage.

JTA gave the essay the title “Notre Dame will be rebuilt – but most European Jewish sites never will be” — but the essay goes well beyond this idea.

 

Read it below:

 

BUDAPEST (JTA) – Architecture and built heritage can be powerful symbols.

Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the most famous and familiar buildings in the world, visited by an astonishing 30,000 people a day, or 13 million people a year. It is embedded in global collective consciousness and immortalized around the world in a zillion holiday snaps, videos, works of fine art  and memories.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds this week have been full of posts grieving over the great cathedral’s fiery fate and heaving sighs of relief that most of the 800-year-old building and its treasures apparently will be saved.

But they have also been full of posts questioning why so much emotion – and money – is (or will be) spent over the fate of one building, however old or iconic, while myriad other important heritage sites are under threat worldwide and millions of people are homeless or go hungry.

My most recent visit to Notre Dame, last October, was for the opening event of an international conference about how to save the thousands of abandoned or endangered churches, synagogues and other sites of religious heritage in Europe. I’ve been working to document and preserve crumbling Jewish heritage sites for three decades, and it’s often been an uphill battle.

Inside Notre Dame during conference opening, October 2018

Unlike the damage incurred by the vast majority of vulnerable heritage sites, the Notre Dame fire happened dramatically, in real time, as thousands watched by the Seine and millions followed online or on TV. Millions of those who watched the flames had a direct, tangible connection with the building, even if just as a tourist who visited once with a group. What’s more, the fire was sudden, unexpected and – unlike so many other cases – it was not due to war or, as far as we know at this point, attack.

People need symbols, and the world needs culture, beauty and art. Notre Dame was and is a symbol of all such things – and an important symbol of continuity and connection.

The global response shows how built heritage can transcend the specific and become a potent symbol for society at large.

Back in 1999, the then-French culture minister, Catherine Trautmann, sought to make this point in an address to an international conference on Jewish heritage in Europe held in Paris and sponsored by the French government.

“Jewish heritage in France is also the heritage of all the French people, just as the cathedrals of France also belong to France’s Jews,” she said.

Her statement was a noteworthy expression of a new way of thinking that has still not fully permeated society – namely that Jewish built heritage is part and parcel of European heritage, not distinct from it.

During the Holocaust, Jewish heritage sites were more than symbols – they were surrogates: In addition to the mass murder of Jews, the Nazis deliberately targeted the physical places that Jews held dear. Untold hundreds of synagogues, prayer houses and Jewish cemeteries were destroyed during World War II, and following the war, hundreds more were either destroyed, left derelict or converted for other uses that totally obscured their original identity.

In the decades that I’ve been involved in the Jewish heritage field, many once-ruined synagogues have been restored, and some have been rededicated with high-level ceremonies: in Berlin, Budapest and Krakow, as well as smaller towns and cities. Some are used again (or still) as places of worship. Others now play prominent roles as cultural landmarks.

In Warsaw, once home to 350,000 Jews and the most important pre-Holocaust Jewish center in Europe, only one prewar synagogue remains standing today. No synagogues were rebuilt when parts of downtown Warsaw, primarily its war-leveled Old Town, castle and cathedral, were reconstructed from rubble after World War II. As far as I know there are no plans to rebuild any in the future.

A year ago, however, a powerful public installation in the heart of Warsaw elevated the symbolism of Jewish built heritage in a way aimed at touching the city as a whole.

Held on the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the failed Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the installation, with a second edition planned for this year on April 18, entailed the public “virtual reconstruction” of the Great Synagogue, the most imposing of the city’s destroyed shuls.

A stately domed building that seated 2,000, the Great Synagogue was blown up by the Nazi occupiers on May 16, 1943, following the destruction of the ghetto. A sleek skyscraper known as the Blue Tower now stands on the spot.

Directed by the artist Gabi van Seltmann and organized by the Open Republic Association Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia, the “virtual reconstruction” featured a multifaceted sound collage integrated with a visual centerpiece – an animated projection onto the walls of the Blue Tower of a shimmering, ghostly image of the grand synagogue that once stood there.

The huge projected image, organizers said, was “animated in such a way that the viewer will have an impression that the building is rising from the ruins.”

Warsaw’s Great Synagogue will never be physically reconstructed.

I look forward, though, to the day when Notre Dame is.

A ceremonial virtual reconstruction of the Great Synagogue Warsaw from Otwarta Rzeczpospolita on Vimeo.

 

Visiting Wild West theme parks in CZ and PL

Me at the Western park outside Boskovice, CZ

(This is a crosspost from my Sauerkraut Cowboys blog…)

I managed to get to two Wild West theme parks this summer — “Twin Pigs” in Poland, and the Western Park (once called Wild West City) outside Boskovice in the Czech Republic.

I’ve visited a number of wild west theme parks in Europe over the years — they are key elements in the Imaginary Wild West. Real Imaginary spaces that have grown out of dreams, passions, stereotypes, and yearnings — but also help create them.

This was my first visit to Twin Pigs — but the latest of several to Boskovice.

The Boskovice park was founded in 1994 as a private initiative by a local man, Luboš “Jerry” Procházka, who developed the park in a natural setting in and around a disused sandstone quarry. The first time I visited — in, I believe, 1997 — it was out of season and the park was closed; I could only look at it over a fence. But I was struck by the view of the saloon and other movie-set buildings.

At that time, I was researching my book “Virtually Jewish” — about the relationship of non-Jewish people to Jewish culture in Europe. I wrote this in an essay published at the time in The New Leader magazine (and also in my 2008 book “Letters from Europe (and Elsewhere)”):

Some people compare Europe’s current interest in Jewish culture with the United States’ interest in Native Americans. To be sure, I have seen Indian dolls wearing beaded costumes for sale in the Denver train station that reminded me of the “Jewish” puppets and figures I have photographed in Prague, Krakow, and Venice.

I was not surprised, therefore, by two posters I found on display in the Boskovice tourist office. One is for a jazz festival whose proceeds are to go toward renovation of the Jewish quarter. The other advertises a rodeo at a place called “Wild West City: Boskovice’s Western Town.” It features photographs of people dressed up like American Indians riding horses, with corrals, rickety wooden structures and even tepees in the background. A handbill shows a seductive Indian maiden looking over her shoulder.

I found Wild West City on my map, the edge of Boskovice, and stopped there on my way out of town. It is a theme park set up in an old quarry that resembles a stage set from a John Ford movie, replete with a flimsy wooden saloon and general store. A sign at the entrance reads, “Indian Territory.” Another notes the kilometers to various spots in the American West — most of them spelled incorrectly. It’s off-season The place is deserted. The only sound is that of hoofbeats, as a costumed employee rides a horse round and round the repro corral.

On the Boskovice Western city main street

On subsequent visits over the years, I spoke with Jerry — who is still the owner and managing director — and observed the town “in action.” It includes the usual wild west tropes — a “main street,” saloon, “boot hill”,  bank, “Indian Village” etc.

Boskovice’s Indian Village

But I’ve always found it much more low key and laid back than some of the others I have visited — there’s a dusty slightly rundown feel — though I did notice on my visit this July that some of the buildings had been repainted since my last visit. There also seemed to be more activity elements aimed at kids.

The imagery is based on US western movies and Karl May books, but it also is influenced by Czech tramping tropes. The Czech movie Lemonade Joe, a 1964 spoof of the singing cowboy genre, also plays a role — in particular with the big “advertising” mural for “Kola Loka” — the sarsparilla type drink enjoyed by the movie’s hero.

The park includes an outdoor theatre where live performances take place — I didn’t see one this summer (it apparently was based on the shootout at the OK Corral) but some years back I took in a performance based on Karl May’s Winnetou characters.

Imaginary wild west at the wild west theme park, Boskovice, Czech Republic (Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber)

Twin Pigs, located in southern Poland near Zory, off a main highway, is a somewhat different story, It employs the same general skeleton, but has quite a different feel: a purpose-built construct born out of a commercial business plan rather than from personal passion.

Opened in 2012, it is described as an amusement park, and it is much more “top down,” planned out, and hard-edged than Boskovice, with its grassroots origin and — despite recent improvements — still rather amateur feel.

There is a regular lay-out along the Main Street, and also a ferris wheel, roller coaster, and other rides, restaurants, a 5D theater, and children’s activity trails. Lots of red-white-and-blue bunting and American flags (and a few Confederate ones, too).


Western Park Boskovice web site

Twin Pigs web site

Watch the movie Lemonade Joe

Me, defending the Latke….

I took part in the “Great Latke versus Hamentash” debate, held at the JCC in Krakow during the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival.

I defended — of course — the Latke. My opponent was an American-Israeli stand up comic, Benji Lovitt, and the debate was moderated by Benjamin Lorch.

The whole debate was filmed for a documentary film…. see trailer below:

So far I don’t have pictures of the event — but suffice it to say that it got, well, heated! Especially when Benji tried to prove his point by a fabricated email supposedly written by me — Fake News….(I mean, But My Emails….?)

I’ll try to post more, but here, for anyone interested, is the text of my opening statement:

IN DEFENSE OF LATKES

Latke vs Hamentasch Debate, Krakow, June 30, 2018

Ruth Ellen Gruber

“Let them eat cake.”

This is the legendary put down allegedly uttered by a high-ranking princess when she learned that peasants – that is, the mass of the people — had no bread. It has come to represent the height of elitism and insensitivity on the part of, shall we say, the “upper crust” in regard to ordinary folks – that is, in regard to most of us.

The phrase is often attributed to Marie Antoinette, but in fact its origins predate her by decades. In the 1760s, when Marie Antoinette was just a child, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau identified the person who made this disparaging remark only as having been a “great princess.”

“Cake” is the usual English rendition of the original French term, “brioche”. And while Rousseau did not give a nationality for this anonymous princess, he did add a footnote. This stated that the original term that she used was not actually brioche, but – “poche” – short for Poche d’Haman.. That’s Frnech for Hamentash.

Yes, hamantasch. Let them eat Hamantashen.

It makes sense. Because, however you look at it, hamentashcen are – cake. Metaphorically, they are the tasty delight of the plutocracy. They’re dessert. Fun food. And given the wacky excesses encouraged at Purim, they are the ultimate party food. Up there today along with chips, dips, candy, and, yes, even orange-colored Cheetos.

They represent frivolity, folks. Entertainment. Abandon. You can’t really take them seriously.

And this, by the way, makes it perfectly fitting that the organizers of this debate have chosen a stand up comic to defend them.

You can’t live on hamentashen. Unless you patronize a Jewish-style café such as those here in Krakow that serve them all year round, you eat hamentashen only at Purim.

And need I remind you that Purim is a party. You’re supposed to get drunk. Act out. Act wild. Do things that you ordinarily would not do.

Even the very act of eating hamentashen with their traditional fillings can give rise to hilarity, if not derision. The poppy seeds always get caught in your teeth and look comically gross. And need I mention the effect of prunes? What other food is associated with garish noisemakers, anyway?

You can’t change the nature of Hamantashen. You can try — but if you fill one with cheese, for example – it becomes, basically, a baked blintz.

Latkes on the other hand, are the staff – or, given their shape, the stepping stones – of life. Think of them laid out, one after the other, crisp on the outside, cloud-like on the inside — charting a course through the tangled terrain of Jewish existence.

They are sustenance. You eat them all year round. They don’t just feed the people, they nourish them — us. Unlike Hamentashen, they can be eaten as any part of a meal, depending on how you serve them: with sour cream or even a meat sauce as a main dish; naked with a little salt and pepper as a side dish; with apple sauce or sugar to sweetly end a repast. As such they are in many ways nature’s perfect cooked food.

Moreover, they are simple to prepare for a people, like the Jews, who have been historically on the move. You don’t need an oven to bake them; you don’t need to wait for dough to rise; just mix them up and fry them in a pan over any type of heat source. Even, it has been reported more than once – but this could be an urban legend — on city pavements in lower Manhattan on scorching hot summer days.

When my own ancestral family members immigrated to Texas from what is now Lithuania, that’s what they did. They started out poor, like most immigrants. Some of them, like my great-uncle Hyman Simon, who died in 1941, started out as peddlers who plied the dusty roads of east Texas with horse and cart. As part of his travel kit Hyman always had a cast iron skillet and an easy to store and carry bag of potatoes, and bottle of oil, or usually, in his case, a chunk of rendered goose fat lovingly packed by his wife, Sarah, my grandmother’s oldest sister, who lived to be 101 years old.

Likewise, my grandfather, Joe Moskowitz, was a surveyor who traipsed through the Texan swamps, oil fields and snake-infested highlands in a Stetson hat and knee-high boots. He often had to camp out at night and prepare dinner in the wild, in his own cast-iron skillet over a campfire.

What did he prepare? Latkes of course. The cowboys he sometimes shared a campfire with would chow down on their beans and bacon. But Joe Moskowitz kept kosher.

When he was really ravenous, out in the wilds, he would tell folks that he was so hungry he could eat a ham sandwich…. But he didn’t. He didn’t have to. He had latkes.

I have my grandfather’s notebook where he kept track of all this. He noted down how many latkes he ate, what they looked like, what topping he ate them with, and how many potatoes he used to make them.

And my brother still uses that same cast iron skillet in his ultra modern kitchen in California.

I don’t think it has ever entered my brother’s mind to bake Hamentaschen. But he cooks with that skillet every day. It is very well seasoned after nearly a century of oily use, and it’s still perfect for making latkes.

So what’s the “perfect” Jewish food?

Frivolous once-a-year party fare? Pastries whose filling gets stuck in your teeth and may have other, ahem, digestive effects?

Or the versatile latke, whose savory fried goodness, dressed up or dressed down, sustains and, more importantly, nourishes the Jewish people, and has done so for generations?

The answer, friends, is clear. Power to the People!

 

WATCH: me in conversation with Shaul Bassi, in Venice

At the conference Jewish Heritage Tourism in the Digital Age, held in Venice October 23-25, 2017, there was an event celebrating 25 years year the first edition of my book Jewish Heritage Travel was published — and 15 years since my book Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe.

The event was a conversation between me and Shaul Bassi, of  Ca’ Foscari University and Beit Venezia, looking back on my involvement in Jewish heritage over the past nearly 30 years.

Watch it here:

 

 

The videos of all the presentations at the conference are posted online in a dedicated YouTube Channel.

Click here to access them.

 

 

 

My chapters in two new books

I have chapters in two recently published books — one in my Jewish heritage field and one rooted in the Imaginary Wild West.

I wrote the Foreword to this book, Reiten Wir! — edited by Alex Jahnke and a tribute to Karl May (the German author of the Winnetou sagas) published as part of events marking the 175th anniversary of May’s birth. It’s a collection of short stories by fantasy writers, using characters and situations from the Karl May universe.

It’s in German and can be purchased via amazon.

All proceeds from the book will go to the Karl May Museum in Radebeul, Germany.

 

The other chapter is in the book Space and Spatiality in Modern German-Jewish History, edited by Simone Lässig and Miriam Rürup.

The book grew out of a conference I spoke at in Hamburg in 2013, on Invented Jewish Traditions. My chapter (belying the title of the book) has little if anything to do with Germany — but it does also mention the Imaginary Wild West.

It’s called “Real Imaginary Spaces and Places: Virtual, Actual, and Otherwise.”

REVIEWS

“The range of approaches and the sheer breadth of spaces and texts treated here—synagogues and cemeteries, German landscapes, Freud and his reception, philanthropy, urban ghettos, photography, and museums—provide a compelling and rich window into Jewish spaces in their historical context.” · Barbara Mann, Jewish Theological Seminary of America

“This collection makes a convincing case for the application of ‘space’ as an analytic category for the study of minorities in European society, affording new insights into the complexities and fluidities of intertwined and ‘entangled’ histories.” · Jonathan Skolnik, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

 

DESCRIPTION

What makes a space Jewish? This wide-ranging volume revisits literal as well as metaphorical spaces in modern German history to examine the ways in which Jewishness has been attributed to them both within and outside of Jewish communities, and what the implications have been across different eras and social contexts. Working from an expansive concept of “the spatial,” these contributions look not only at physical sites but at professional, political, institutional, and imaginative realms, as well as historical Jewish experiences of spacelessness. Together, they encompass spaces as varied as early modern print shops and Weimar cinema, always pointing to the complex intertwining of German and Jewish identity.

 

It can be purchased from the publisher, Berghahn Books — but alas costs $120 !!

 

 

 

Watch my lecture in Lviv

The Center for Urban History in Lviv has posted the full video of a lecture I presented in Lviv July 27, 2017 at the conclusion of the lecture series “Jewish Days in the City Hall: (Un)Displayed Past in East European Museums.” In the talk I reflected on the changes that have taken place in Jewish heritage tourism since the publication of the first edition of my book “Jewish Heritage Travel” in 1992.

You can watch the entire talk here:

 

 

 

My Article on Jews, Americana, Bluegrass

 

Hadassah Magazine has published my article about Jews and Americana/Bluegrass:

Jews Plus Bluegrass Equals Toe-Stompin’ Jewgrass

Nefesh Mountain

Banjo picker Eric Lindberg loves with a passion the distinctive harmonies of the acoustic country music known as bluegrass. However, he says, as a Jew, he long felt “a bit out of the loop.

“Much of the work from the inception and early days of bluegrass is deeply spiritual and Christian based,” says the dark-haired, darkbearded 30-something Lindberg, who also plays guitar. “Musically, I could connect with the songs on every level, but my identity as a Jew from Brooklyn always kept me from truly identifying with them.”

The solution? He and his wife, singer Doni Zasloff, formed a bluegrass band called Nefesh Mountain whose original songs meld bluegrass and old-time licks with lyrics reflecting Jewish traditions. “Nefesh is a Hebrew word which loosely translates as the soul or animating spirit of all living things,” they explain on the band’s website. “The mountain is a cross-cultural symbol used widely in Jewish text as well as in bluegrass and old-time musical forms.”

Bluegrass and old-time are two different approaches to traditional 20th-century American roots music, performed by ensembles made up mainly of stringed instruments such as fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar.

Nefesh Mountain’s 2016 debut album featured bluegrass greats Sam Bush, Mark Schatz, Scott Vestal, Rob Ickes and Gary Oleyar, and it included songs called “Singin’ Jewish Girl” and “Adonai Loves Me.” Lindberg and Zasloff are among the current crop of musicians who blend their deep-seated Jewish identities with an equally deep connection to traditional roots music—a fusion that some performers and critics dub “Jewgrass.”

[…]

Mark Rubin

New Orleans-based Mark Rubin, 51, a veteran of both the American roots and klezmer scenes, takes a different tack on his new album, Songs for the Hangman’s Daughter. In songs such as “Southern Jews Is Good News” and “Teshuvah,” Rubin, who was born in Stillwater, Okla., bluntly attempts to reconcile his experience as a culturally Jewish musician in the American South.

“It is not religious music in the usual sense,” says music critic Ari Davidow. Rubin “is in-your-face about who he is and how he doesn’t fit stereotypes. He is not just making a statement to anti-Semites who see Jews as aliens, but also to Jews of the coasts who find it alien to imagine that there are Jews who live in redneck territory, proudly embracing redneck values.”

Read full article

A podcast and article about my “Dark Tourism” work

During my lecture in Lviv on July 27, 2017

 

Nash Holos radio has published an article and podcast about my work by Peter Bejger– based on a lectures I gave in Lviv and Glasgow on the “dark tourism” aspects of Jewish heritage tourism, as well as on my recent posts on Jewish Heritage Europe from my day trips to Jewish heritage sites in western Ukraine.

Let’s take a moment to consider “dark tourism.”

The concept is elastic, and quite multi-faceted. And it has a distinguished historic pedigree. Evidently there are assertions that Thomas Cook, yes the Thomas Cook that founded the famous international travel agency, took people to see public hangings in England with some of his very first tour groups in the 19th century.

And there is even an academic Institute for Dark Tourism in England that promotes ethical research. Research into a social scientific understanding of sites of death and disaster. And how these sites have, or can, become tourist sites, whether appropriate or inappropriate.

The world offers so many options for dark tourism: the horrifying, like now visitor-thronged concentration camps; the easily accessible, like Ground Zero at the 9/11 memorials in Lower Manhattan; the far-flung and harder to reach, like the haunting ruins of lovely ancient Armenian churches in the isolated reaches of what is now northeastern Turkey. Reflecting on those ruins brings up uncomfortable questions on what happened to those people who once worshipped in those churches.

There is also the edgy. People are usually impressed when you’ve told them you were able to tour the radioactive zone around Chornobyl.

Which brings us to the endless supply of dark tourist sites in Eastern Europe, and specifically Ukraine.

The first edition of Ruth Ellen Gruber’s book Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe was published twenty-five years ago. This was the first, and is still considered the most complete, Jewish travel guide to the region.

….Read more

 

Click to listen to the podcast