Today (Sunday 6/9) we drove from Vinnytsa south to the small town of Kryve Ozero (curved lake), 22 km from Balta. We decided to check into our hotel there, then look for the Gelbinova colony; we would go to Balta tomorrow.
We will stay in Kryve Ozero instead of Balta because the only hotel in Balta has only two functional rooms and we are a party of three people (myself, Alex, and our driver Vasili).
On the drive out of Vinnytsa, Alex commented on how the apple orchards here supply most of the Ukraine, and the soil is the best in the world (the famous black soil of the Ukraine). Also famous is Salo or pig fat, which is much sought after.
The first large town we passed was Nemirov, which famous for its vodka brand, Nemiroff. The story is that one Countess Shcherbatova used the money from the vodka factory to pay for elementary scool education for children in the district.
The next big town town we passed was Uman, which famous in part because Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is buried there. Rabbi Nachman was a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, and is credited with organizing and popularizing Chasidism.
Outside of Uman we passed by the Scythian walls, also known as Trajan's walls.
Here is a view of the country side as we drove by:
We got to Kryve Ozero by lunch time, and found the Oktan hotel was combined with a gas station, and the building did not look terribly inviting. Inside however, it was decorated in a somewhat elegant style, with painting reproductions of 19th century art, evoking a Tsarist aristocratic feel.
It was also completely empty. Alex had to ring the bell 3 times for someone to come. We eventually got settled, and had a nice lunch in the restaurant. We were the only customers. The elegant decorations combined with the emptiness gave the place an odd feel, but it seemed nice. I guess this is the off season.
After lunch, we started to look for the lost colony of Gelbinova.
What was Gelbinova and why did I want to find it? The why explanation will come before the what.
Back February, I hired a researcher to go through the Odessa archives for the records of my grandfather's family in Balta. I would have done this along time ago, but I thought all of the Balta records were in the Kamanets Podolsky archive and had been destroyed by a fire in 2003. It is only recently that I learned that some records still existed in the Odesso archive.
So I hired a researcher, Yulia Prokop, to look through the Balta records for the surnames Mishurisman, Flickstein, Polesar, and Toberman (Grandpa Bernie's father was Louis Mishurisman, his mother was Tsipa Flickstein, his paternal grandmother was Pessie Polesar, and his maternal grandmother was Hinda Toberman (or so I thought)).
The research turned up a wealth of information and copies of documents, which I am still processing. Two interesting facts came to light, however.
The first was an 1883 marriage record for Tsipa Flickstein Mishurisman's parents, Abram and Hinda. In that record, Hinda's name is given as Ginda Mendelevna Kogan (In Russian, G and H are the same sound). The surname is not Toberman like I thought; I'm still trying to make sense of this.
The other interesting fact was that all of Flickstein records said that each individual lived in Balta but was registered in Gelbinova.
I had never heard of Gelbinova. It was not unusual for a person to live in one town but to be registered in another, so that made some sense; however, the name Gelbinova was a surprise.
Eventually I found this book: The Road To Letichev.
From the book and web research, I learned that Gelbinova had been a Jewish agricultural colony somewhere near Kryve Ozero. But where exactly it was I couldn't tell.
So what was Gelbinova? As I mentioned above, it was a Jewish farming community. This was unusual, because it most parts of the Russian empire, Jews were forbidden to own land or take part in farming; the fear was that the Jews would corrupt the peasants in their nefarious ways.
However, for various reasons in the early 1800s, the areas acquired by Russia were underpopulated, and the government of Russia invited a number of different peoples to create agricultural colonies, including German Menonites and Jews. The incentive for the Jews to become farmers was exemptions from military service (20 years) and less taxes.
A twelve colonies were created near Balta from 1849-1852, one of them was Gelbinova.
I'm not sure what happened to the Gelbinova colony, but it seemed to have disappeared after WWII; perhaps it failed much earlier. In general the Jewish colonies failed -- the new farmers had little experience farming, and money and equipment promised never arrived. Later goverment officials confiscated most of the farm land, so the Jews migrated to the towns like Balta.
So that is what Gelbinova was, and why I was interested in it. If I could find it, perhaps there was still a cemetary there, with the name of some ancestor, with a patronymic to lead to another ancestor.
But where was it? When I contacted the leader of the Balta congregation, he said he knew of the colony. Later, Alex got some rough guidelines of where it was -- in the fields near the village of Bobryk, which was on the road between Balta and Kryve Ozero.
So we drove to the first Bobryk (apparently there are several Bobryks on that road), and saw a number of old houses (50-100 years old, maybe) with thatched rooves:
This one was abandoned, other's were in better shape. Alex said you don't see those types of houses anymore.
We stopped by a house where an older man was bringing a bucket of water to his cow. Alex asked if he heard of the Gelbinova colony. He said no, but he had only lived in the village for 15 years. He gave us directions to find an older neighbor.
We followed the directions, and eventually found the older neighbor. His wife came out, and knew of a colony, but wasn't certain of it's name. She gave some more directions.
Alex talking to the old couple:
We turned up a side road and saw an older man in his 60s working with a horse and a cart, with a cow and a goat chained to the cart. The man didn't have a shirt and his pants were torn. Alex tried to talk to him, but he was a bit drink and kept forgetting what Alex was asking him. Eventally Alex got the story: the man knew about the colony, you had to go up a tractor road a certain number of kilometers, and it was at two ponds separated by a dam. The man called it a Jewish dam.
Another thing the man said was that during WWII, the Romanians, who worked with the Nazis, forced gypsies to live in the colony, and that there was a gypsy graveyard there.
So we followed the man's directions, and drove along the tractor road. Eventually we came to a side tractor road that was the right distance, but couldn't see a pond. We tried driving down it.
We eventually came to a pond, with something in the middle which could have been a dam. There was a tractor road along it. We turned there, and after going over a hill, found some some buildings (no more than 50 years old) and a herd of sheep and two shepherds.
The shepherds confirmed that this was the location of the "kolonia", but didn't know what was called. There were no existing structures from the colony, but they knew about the gypsy graveyard. They said it was in a certain direction, in the bushes, but couldn't be more specific.
We drove aroud for a while, looking for the graveyard, but couldn't find anything. We eventually drove back to the sheepfarm and took pictures:
We declared victory and returned to the hotel.