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Landscapes of Displacement

A memorial landscape for the historic Jewish Cemetery in Sambir, Lviv Oblast, Ukraine.

Miriam Gusevich, in collaboration with Peter Miles and Jay Kabriel.

The Catholic University of America and Gusevich-Miles Studio, LLC and

Displacement evokes tragedy and loss of home, of place. In science, displacement is value neutral; it is a spatial condition that can be measured and controlled.  It is charged with value by the human condition, through suffering.  Displacement is oppressive when imposed against our will. At stake is the violence forcing displacement and the ensuing trauma, which may linger for generations. Forced displacement through State action or complicity is now a crime against humanity.  

Sambir, our case study, is 70 km (43 miles) from Lviv (Lemberg, Lwow, Lvov), the Eastern Capital of Galicia under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a major region for Jewish Ashkenaz culture.  In “East-West Street”, by Phillipe Sands, the human rights lawyer and scholar, Lviv is the fulcrum of four lives. Three Jews who suffered persecution and displacement: Leon Buchholz, his maternal grandfather, the two lawyers who laid the foundations for international human rights law: Raphael Lemkin, the architect of the concept of “genocide”, who advocated for the Genocide

Convention and Hersch Lauterpacht who drafted “crimes against humanity” as the legal grounds for the Nurenberg trial, and prosecuted the Nazi lawyer, Hans Frank, the “butcher” of Poland and Hitler’s personal lawyer, convicted in Nuremberg.  

Mark Freiman, our client, is also a Jewish – Canadian human rights lawyer with roots in Lviv Oblast.  He is the son of two of the 100 Holocaust survivors from Sambir; they survived by hiding in the basement of a stable for 18 months. Mark was born in Vienna, after WWII, in a displaced survivors camp. As a young child, he and his family emigrated to Toronto, Canada. This last displacement was a liberation from a horrific past.  

In 2007 Mark and his brother Steve visited the Jewish cemetery in Sambir, where the rest of his family was buried. They were dismayed by the destruction and the three crosses placed by local nationalists in 1999. For over 10 years, he has sought to restore the cemetery, protect the graves and relocate the crosses. Patiently and tenaciously, he has built an interfaith and international coalition to restore the dignity to the site. 

On September 8th, 2016, the Sambir City Council and the Friends of Sambir Jewish Cemetery Ltd. (Canada) signed a Memorandum of Understanding witnessed by the Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine. Religious authorities would decide the crosses and secular elected authorities would decide the park. A part of the site would be dedicated to a common garden and a common monument without religious symbols.  

We met him a few days later, in Kyiv, after our official presentation for Babyn Yar, and he invited us to join his team. He recognized our affinity.  As a Cuban refugee, the daughter of Jewish refugees and granddaughter of Holocaust victims, I have known the trauma of displacement. It has inspired our choice of design competitions, most recently in Ukraine. “Constellations” for the martyrs of Euromaidan and “Yahtzeit Candles”, (2016) for Babyn Yar, the most infamous site of the “genocide by bullets”; both received awards.  


Landscapes tell stories. The Jewish Cemetery in Sambir was a crime scene and still bears the scars of violence and desecrations. How do we tell the story of Sambir?

Our plan is a mnemonic device. A circular perimeter path tells historic events and a new linear path across the center tells an idea: the new freedom to remember in a Democratic Ukraine.  

From the city core, at the north gate, we create a new entrance plaza. Counter clockwise, is the oldest Jewish Cemetery, little remains. In 1974, the Soviet regime ordered the destruction of Jewish cemeteries throughout Ukraine; these became State properties after 25 years without burials. In Sambir, old tractors plowed the gravestones to clear the site for a soccer stadium; it erased over 200 years of Jewish life, rewriting history to promote Soviet ideology.  To remember now is an act of resistance to the Soviet imposed amnesia. 

To the west, the mass grave tells the story of the Nazi occupation; the brick wall is still scarred by the “Holocaust by Bullets” (Father Dubois). In 1943, over 10,000 Jews, half the population of Sambir, were killed through four main “Aktions”: the meticulously planned mass murder, each deliberately coinciding with a major Jewish holiday. 1200 innocent Jewish children, men and women were shot in cold blood, the living and the dead and buried in the large mass grave. 

Gardens walls will create a more intimate, contemplative space. Concrete panels will protect the mass grave; the aggregate will reflect the light and sparkle. This alludes to the poem by Hannah Senesh, 1921-1944, tortured and executed by the Nazis.  

There are stars up above,

So far away we only see their light Long, long after the star itself is gone.

And so it is with people that we loved — Their memories keep shining ever brightly Though their time with us is done. But the stars that light up the darkest night, These are the lights that guide us.

As we live our days, these are the ways to remember.

Next is the smaller mass grave. In 1943, another hundred more Jews, were betrayed from their hiding place, killed and buried there.  We are dedicating it the hidden: the Jews, Roma, Polish and Ukrainians killed by the gestapo. 

To complete the loop, at the north entrance, there will be a new memorial to 17 fighters for Ukranian Freedom killed by the Gestapo in 1944. The brother brought us the design of the Christian monument. The plaque and landscape feature the viburnum to allude to the Nationalist anthem. 

Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow

Oh there is a bowed red viburnum tree in the meadow,

Somehow our glorious Ukraine is grieving,

But we will lift up that red viburnum tree,

But hey-hey, we, our glorious Ukraine, will rejoice!

But we will lift up that red viburnum tree,

But hey-hey, we, our glorious Ukraine, will rejoice!

But hey-hey, we, our glorious Ukraine, will rejoice!

The linear path tells the new idea: it celebrates the interfaith collaboration and the new freedom to remember in Democratic Ukraine.    

The contemplative garden is in a central triangle between the old cemetery walls and the current south path.  This interstitial zone is free of graves and free for a new common story.  Low retaining walls will provide seats and light the path.  Birch trees shade the space and columnar evergreen trees frame the triangular zone. Beech, oak and maples extend the forest to the south.  A wetland garden will be a drainage zone for storm water management. 

Dignity is the concept for the common monument. Walking through the dark entrance to the light beyond, we re-experience overcoming oppression and leading to freedom.  The level above overlooks the common garden and the city beyond. Our body, on the balcony, becomes a live sculpture. It animates the space and focuses the energy of the place to an intimate scale. 

REMEMBER SAMBIR will bring memories back into daily life and celebrate our freedom to remember.  Memories do not cure, yet they can heal.  Tracing the evolution of the site through these multiple clues, visitors will encounter a space of learning about a tragic chapter of Jews and gentiles in Ukraine. 

These memories trace a circle of awareness and transform a landscape of displacement into a possible landscape of reconciliation. Through mindfulness, knowledge can transform to empathy and compassion and transform our sorrow into soulfulness.  To remember the truth is to stand against oppression. It binds people to places and affirms love and life.

Our optimistic goal is to start construction in 2018 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nazi massacre.  


Sands, Phillipe. East West Street: on the origins of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity”. Knopf, 2016. 

Freiman, Mark. “Star of David and Three Crosses; writing the last chapter on a massacre”

Desbois, Patrick. The Holocaust by bullets: a priest’s journey to uncover the truth behind the murder of 1.5 million Jews. Palgrave Macmillan. New York: 2009.

Young, James E. The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning. Yale, New Haven, 1993. 

Gass, William, “Monumentality, Mentality:. Oppositions, 25, Fall, 1982.

Hartman, Geoffrey H. ed. Holocaust Remembrance: The Shapes of Memory. Basil Blackwell,  Cambridge, 1994.

Landsberg, Alison. “America, the Holocaust and the Mass Culture of Memory:Toward a Radical Politics of Empathy”. New German Critique, 71, 1997. 

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