The Archaeology of Memory

From 25 July to 10 August in Sniatyn a volunteer camp to organize and document the town's Jewish and non-Jewish cemeteries took place. The camp's participants were students of the Institute of Architecture at the Lviv Polytechnic National University and students from Poland and Germany.

The focus of the volunteer camp "Sniatyn: The Archaeology of Memory" was the town itself, on the border of Pokuttia and Bukovina, an area that at various times constituted the borders of the Polish Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire, the Austrian and Ottoman Empires, Poland and Romania, and after World War II the region ended up in the southwest of Ukraine between the counties of Ivano-Frankivsk and Chernivtsi.

Sniatyn was selected as an example of a border town, particularly interesting in its location in the southern part of Galicia on the border with Bukovina. In Sniatyn, as in many other small towns of Galicia, the population was multi-ethnic. Statistics from the first half of the 20th century show that close to 40% of the population was Ukrainian (Ruthenian), more than 30% was Jewish, and 20% was Polish. Besides these three primary groups, there were Germans, Armenians, and Czechs living in Sniatyn. Professional and cultural organizations, neighborhoods, places of worship, marriage, and burial were all organized along religious and ethnic lines. At the same time, people from these various groups were constantly intersecting and interacting, whether in commerce, school, social organizations, or military or state service.

For two weeks the students of the Institute of Architecture together with students from Poland and Germany worked on putting the two local cemeteries in order and describing them. The goal of the project was twofold: to engage students in the practical work of conservation and description of monuments, as well as the integration of young people from different countries. This project was also aimed at improving the quality of education by adding to the standard program of lectures in academic auditoriums a summer educational practicum, aimed at fulfilling certain practical tasks in architectural measurements of tombstones.

A further goal of the project—no less important—involved drawing the attention of the local population to the multi-national and multi-confessional past of their town, as well as preserving the multi-cultural material heritage.

The work of the volunteers was focused on the two cemeteries in Sniatyn, the Jewish and the Christian, located not far from each other. Both cemeteries are monuments to the culture and history of the town, witnesses to the lives and deaths of the former residents of Sniatyn. The volunteer camp became a wonderful opportunity for learning both about the cultural heritage, as well as the contemporary life of Sniatyn.

Clearing certain sections of the Jewish and Christian cemeteries was an important element of the project. By putting these cemeteries into order and creating an inventory, we hoped to preserve the existing monuments now neglected and subjected to daily destruction.

The exhibition "Sniatyn: The Archaeology of Memory", organized on the basis of the material gathered by the volunteers and set up outside the Sniatyn Town Hall, informed residents about the interesting multi-cultural past of their town. Between this international group of young students and the inhabitants of Sniatyn local monuments, witnesses to the multi-cultural past of this small Galician town, were activated and actualized. The organizers of the project gave the exhibition to the local museum for permanent display.

The project organizers considered this volunteer camp as a kind of intervention in the landscape of memory of today's Sniatyn. In 2008 the town celebrated its 850-year anniversary. Many events, publications and speeches addressed the town's past and strengthened in the social imagination an array of important facts and figures associated with Sniatyn.

The project was made possible by the Institute of Architecture of the Lviv Polytechnic National University and the Center for Urban History, and co-financed by the program "Memoria. Volunteers for Europe's Cultural Heritage" under the German Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" and the Polish Stefan Batory Foundation, which aims to encourage young people from East Central Europe to carry out mutual projects for the preservation of European cultural heritage.