In April 2016 Iris Tillman and I took a trip to Poland and Ukraine. Iris wanted to go to Ukraine because much of her family came from there around 1900. She also wanted to see Poland because of its long history with the Jewish people.

Website timeline

  • The photos of the trip are now online
  • This overview page has been written but will change over time
  • Some pages are already fairly complete, with lots of written details, but the majority of the pages simply show photos.


Before discussing Poland and Ukraine, we need to discuss Galicia. The name is important because some of Iris’ family said that they had come from Galicia. It’s hard for us to understand just what Galicia was and is. Here is our simplified understanding based on this site and others.

The name Galizia derives from Halychyna.

…before 1370 [Galicia] was an independent and powerful medieval Ruthenian (Ukrainian) Kingdom with capital in Halych which was built by Prince Volodymyrko in 1140. Since then the name Halychyna was applied to whole land. Galician king Danylo took and ruled over Kyiv (Kiev) even. In 1264 Danylo’s son king Lev moves capital to Lviv. In 1349 Poland won a battle against Galicia and it stopped to exist as independent state for a long time until 1918 when short lived West Ukrainian Republic with capital in Lviv was proclaimed but quickly taken by Poles. Former territories of Galicia are now shared between southern Poland and Western Ukraine, with most of Galicia in Ukraine and small minor part in Poland.

In other words, Galicia did exist for a time as an actual country, but now it seems to be a way to name an area on both sides of the Polish-Ukrainian border:


This map shows Galicia as essentially divided between Polish and Ukranian areas.

But look at this map:


This map shows Poland at the end of the 18th century after it had been partitioned by Prussia, Austria and Russia, as explained at greater length here. If you compare the two maps (start by locating Kraków and Lviv), you’ll see that most of Galicia was in the Austrian partition, with a bit in the Russian part.

Finally, notice this map of the Pale of Settlement, an area created in 1791 by Catherine the Great of Russia. It was an area where Jews were allowed to live (they could not live beyond the Pale). Its borders varied, and the also area contained cities where Jews could not live.

Pale of Settlement

Notice the town of Kamenets-Podolsky just to the right of the words Austro-Hungary (above) and just inside the Russian area. This means that on April 17, 2016, when we drove from Yaremche to Kamenets-Podolsky, we went from former Austro-Hungarian Galicia to former Russian Podollya:

Iris’ Grandparents

This map shows the four locations where Iris’ grandparents came from:

Maternal Grandparents

The blue pins to the west are in Galicia and show where Iris’ maternal grandparents came from.

Iris’ maternal grandmother lived the farthest west in Weitlin, Galicia. At the time Galicia was Austrian; now Weitlin is in Poland.

Iris’ maternal grandfather lived in Obertyn, near Kolomyya, which was in Austrian Galicia, now in Ukraine.

My mother’s side: Schepsel (Sam) Merel (Merrill) married Gussie Lefkowitz (sometimes appears as Leff) in Manhattan. They are the Austrian side of the family.

The couple married in Manhattan. It is a mystery how they met but I like to think Schepsel’s sister Devore (Dora) Blitzer (her married name) may have introduced them. Devore lived on Ludlow Street and she’s listed on the ship manifest as the relative Schepsel is going to live with when he arrives at Ellis Island.

Gussie is likely to have lived in Weitlin, Austria. She identified as Galician as did Devore, Schepsel’s sister. My father linked Schepsil to Kolomyea but records show that Schepsel lived in Obertyn. After much searching I found their NY marriage license: Their names on the marriage certificate are “Samuel Mayerill and Gossie Leff,” the Date 19 March 1904. Both list their birth places as “Galicia.”

Paternal Grandparents

The red pins to the east show where Iris’ paternal grandparents lived. They were in territory controlled at that time by Russia.

Iris’ paternal grandfather lived in Myn’kivtsi, only about 13km west of Nova Ushytsya, where her paternal grandmother lived. It’s not surprising that they met and married before coming to the United States.

My father’s side: Smiel (Sam) Tillman married Rose Bileskman in Russia. They lived in neighboring towns, he in Minkovitzky, she in Novayya Ushitsa. He came to the US around 2 years before she followed with their son Yankel (Jack) who was 3 at the time. They never considered themselves “Galician,” but Russian. My father said his family came from Kamenets Podolski though there is no evidence that they ever lived in that town/city. They were, however, in the region of Kamenets Pdolski.


Poland was reassembled into a single country in 1918 at the end of WWI:

Notice that Kraków, which was one of the capitals of Galicia (Lviv was the other capital), is in today’s Poland.

Our trip to Poland was arranged by Roadscholar, but we arrived a couple of days before the tour began so that we could explore on our own.

This was what Roadscholar calls an independent tour, so we actually didn’t do much in Warsaw with the group although we did do some exploring with subsets of the group.


Treblinka (2016-04-05) Wandering in Warsaw (2016-04-07) Warsaw Jewish Cemetery (2016-04-08) Warsaw Parks (2016-04-09) Polish Anxiety (2016-04-10)


We traveled with the group from Warsaw to Kraków in a very fast, very modern train. You know, the kind that we don’t need in the US.

Arrival in Krakow (2016-04-11) Walking tour of Krakow and Kazimierz (2016-04-12) Wavel Castle in Krakow (2016-04-12) Morning in Krakow (2016-04-13) Auschwitz-Birkenau (2016-04-13) Exploring Krakow (2016-04-14)

The Roadscholar tour ended in Kraków. We were picked up by a young Ukranian couple and taken to Lviv.

Krakow to Wietlin to Lviv (2016-04-15)


Traveling with Alex Dunai

In Lviv, we met Alex Dunai, our amazing guide.

Arrival in Lviv (2016-04-15) Lviv to Ivano Frankivsk (2016-04-15) Ivano Frankivsk to Kolomyya (2016-04-16) Kolomyya to Yaremche (2016-04-16) Obertyn, Ukraine (2016-04-17) Obertyn to Pidverbsti to Borshchiv to Kamianets-Podilskyi (2016-04-17) Mynkivtsi, Ukraine (2016-04-18) Nova Ushytsya, Ukraine (2016-04-18) Kamianets-Podilskyi to Khotyn (2016-04-19) The Castle in Khotyn (2016-04-19) Jewish Cemetery in Khotyn (2016-04-19) Mass Grave in Kamianets-Podilskyi (2016-04-19) The Castle in Kamianets-Podilskyi (2016-04-19) Former Synagogue and Mosque in Kamianets-Podilskyi (2016-04-19) Kamianets-Podilska to Lviv (2016-04-20)

On our own in Lviv

At this point, Alex went home to celebrate his birthday. It had been an extraordinary trip with him. Now we were on our own.

Walking Tour of Lviv (2016-04-21) Wandering on Our Own in Lviv (2016-04-21) Tiny Jewish Museum in Lviv (2016-04-22) Central Square - Lviv (2016-04-22) Dinner and Opera in Lviv (2016-04-22) Ethnographic Museum and Easter Booths - Lviv (2016-04-23) Old Jewish Quarter - Lviv (2016-04-23) Last Night in Lviv (2016-04-23)

Last Night in Lviv (2016-04-23) < Trip Overview > Treblinka (2016-04-05)


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The trip begins with a visit to Treblinka (2016-04-05).