Each year I travel to eastern Europe to visit places I refer to as “former Jewish sites:”  a synagogue, a bet midrash, a town square surrounded by homes and businesses that were formerly owned by Jews, and always cemeteries.  These sites are found in any of a thousand small towns and villages scattered across eastern Europe.  I go there to make a small record of a vanished culture and to pay respect to that civilization and to its members.  I make no claim to merit as a photographer; rather, I go in order to set my feet on the ground in these places and to bear witness that someone who has no ties of religion or ethnicity or family to a part of the world where terrible things took place nonetheless has a stake in the Shoah.  The photographs and the occasional commentary that appear here are merely by-products of that process.  If anyone finds the information presented instructive or enlightening, then so much the better.

By way of disclaimer I should say that my language skills for eastern Europe are minimal at best. I can get by fairly well in German and understand a little Polish if I have a context, but I have no knowledge of Ukrainian or Hebrew or Russian. Prior to making a trip I research the location so that in any particular town or village theoretically I know what I should find. Of course what I do find depends in large measure on the skill of my guides and the helpfulness of the local people. All of which is to say that when I identify a photo as portraying a particular place, I am generally repeating what I have been told. It is an imprecise process into which errors can undoubtedly creep. If a viewer has questions about the accuracy of my information, I would be happy to discuss those issues so that discrepancies can be resolved.

While name of the website is GalicianTraces, that does not mean that all the photos come from Galicia. The majority of the places we have visited are in the former Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia, but we have also worked in Bukovina, both the Ukrainian and the Romanian parts; other areas within Romania; perhaps in the southern edge of Volhynia; in Podolia; in the area between Warszawa and Wroclaw and to the west of Poznan; in the Bohemian area of the Czech Republic, and recently in Moldova.

Over the years many people have facilitated my travels, my work, and the creation of this website.  Foremost among those individuals was my late wife Charlotte who traveled with me in full partnership in this venture. She possessed superb skill in communicating and working with local people and that skill has been sorely missed.  Many others have helped as well:  the Artur Kryński family provided invaluable assistance and wonderful Polish hospitality and friendship; my friends Penny Herbst and Ora Barkan have given steadfast  encouragement; Martin Stoger has shared generously with me his experiences in this part of the world; David Semmel provided the impetus to launch the original website; Małgosia Mucha has labored to teach me both the Polish language and an understanding of Polish culture; and Zdzisław Leś of the Jarden Book Store in Kraków has shared freely of his knowledge and offered warm hospitality.  Equally important to the success of this venture has been the work of my tireless and resourceful guides Vladyslav Tsarynnyk, Zenon Znamirowski, Dan Jurca, Julius Müller, and Serhiy Bilichenko, who is undoubtedly the best driver in all of Ukraine,  They have taken me to and from a host of remote locations successfully.  To all these friends, and to those who have been intrepid enough to travel with me, go my deepest thanks.

– – Charles Burns