Belarus: Comprehensive survey of Jewish cemeteries announced

Abanonded Jewish cemetery in Ivenets, Belarus. Photo: ESJF

Abandoned Jewish cemetery in Ivenets, Belarus. Photo: ESJF

The European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative will launch in early July a three-month project to “comprehensively survey the Jewish cemeteries of Belarus.” Training is currently under way for the teams that will go out in the field.

ESJF said its survey teams will spread out across Belarus, “providing a full mapping of all the Jewish cemeteries in the country and their current state.”

ESJF said it expects that as many as 500 sites will be surveyed, and a full report will be published in the autumn. (The Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus has a list of more than 150 Jewish cemeteries on its web site.)

“We are very grateful also to our local partners in the Jewish community in Belarus and particularly to Chief Rabbi Mordechai Raichinstein for his technical support for this project,”  ESJF said in a statement on its Facebook page.

The project is funded by the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.

Belarus Foreign Minister and U.S. Commission Chair Lesley Weiss sign accord

Belarus Foreign Minister and U.S. Commission Chair Lesley Weiss sign accord

It follows on from a bilateral agreement signed in September 2016 between the U.S. and Belarus regarding the protection and preservation of cultural property, focusing on that of groups “that were victims of genocide during World War II and are no longer able to protect and preserve properties without assistance.”

The bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Belarus is one of 25 such accords currently in effect. These agreements have resulted since the mid-1990s  in surveys of Jewish cemeteries and other heritage sites in Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania, Moldova, Slovenia, Croatia, Ukraine. All these are available online in downloadable form on the U.S. Commission web site.

Belarus was renowned for synagogues, sages and yeshivas but has seen its Jewish heritage devastated over the past century, both by World War II and by Soviet rule: today’s Belarus was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union until 1991.

Many of the hundreds of Jewish cemeteries were destroyed, their gravestones were removed for use as paving and construction, and the sites Jewish cemeteries and mass graves were built over, ignored or marked with monuments that failed to note that the victims were Jews.

Some work on documenting Jewish cemeteries in Belarus has already been carried out, but  seemingly not in the comprehensive manner of the ESJF/Commission survey.

Students in the Jewish cemetery, Beshenkovichi, Belarus. Photo courtesy of the Sefer Center

Students in the Jewish cemetery, Beshenkovichi, Belarus. Photo courtesy of the Sefer Center

In August 2016, for example, some 29 people took part in a field work session in Beshenkovichi , Belarus, one of whose aims was to completely document the Jewish cemetery as part both of a broader catalogue of Jewish cemeteries in the country and a general Jewish heritage preservation project in the town. The project was organized by the Sefer Center together with the Institute of Slavonic Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences) and supported by Genesis Fund, UJA Federation of NY and Russian Science Foundation.

During the field work the Jewish cemetery was completely catalogued, with 1,200 gravestones describes, and a detailed map of the cemetery was made.

 

6 thoughts on “Belarus: Comprehensive survey of Jewish cemeteries announced

  1. Puhovichi. There is another cemetery named Popova Gorka. Another one at near by Marina Gorka. I visit them at 2015 in search of the Rashal’s graves.

  2. Hello. Last year my son and I traveled to Zaslavl with Andrei Burdenkov who helped us to locate the ancient Jewish Cemetery location. We were able to take photos of 12 gravestones of Jewish burials that were pushed over and many were covered with leaves and dirt. This is the cemetery were my Father’s family should have been buried in the 1800’s. The original location was identified on an ancient map of Zaslavl. We compared this location to the modern GPS map we had of the town and were able to find the cemetery next to a housing development in a forested over region. I am an archaeologist with a Masters Degree in Classical Archaeology from the University of Albany in New York. I would like to participate in the review of this cemetery and the discovery of any further gravestones.

  3. Dear Colleagues,
    Thank you for this mention and high appreciation of the Sefer Center’s work! We would like to add that Sefer Field Research Project dedicated to the exploration and preservation of Jewish cultural heritage in the CIS and Baltic States emerged in 2004. The project includes collecting of the oral history (by recording interviews with the local Jewish and non-Jewish population), documenting of Jewish cemeteries as well as conducting archival researches. For the past several years Sefer Research Team has visited and explored about 100 former Jewish shtetls and heritage sites in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia (the full and updated list of Sefer expeditions is available on our website: http://bit.ly/Sefer_Expeditions). More than 15 cemeteries (with 6000 tombstones approximately) have been documented during the Project, four of them located in Belarus: Zheludok, Lepel, Hlybokaye and Beshankovichy. The comprehensive research of every cemetery resulted in a complete catalogue including name list, full texts of epitaphs (translated into Russian and English), tombstones photos and a detailed map of the cemetery. Most of these materials (together with recorded ethnographic interviews and discovered archival documents) have been printed as a series of volumes and published online (http://bit.ly/Sefer_Publications, see some additional links below). Currently we also develop a new digital database called SFIRA (Sefer Field Research Archive) that will provide open access to all the collected data.

    Best wishes,
    Sefer Team

    Some pdf-versions of the published volumes available at our website:
    Hlybokaye (Belarus) – http://www.sefer.ru/Glubokoe_light.pdf
    Ludza (Latvia) – http://www.sefer.ru/Latgale_for-site.pdf
    Lepel (Belarus) – http://www.sefer.ru/lepel_sbornik.pdf
    Birzhai (Lithuania) – http://www.sefer.ru/Birzhai.1-376%20(19.06).pdf
    Zheludok (Belarus) – http://goo.gl/tMBJy

      • Project Bundle
        of Life (“Uzel zhizni”), managed by the Mogilev Jewish Community, has been studying Jewish cemeteries for a number of years. The first step was a renovation of the Mogilev Jewish cemetery at the beginning of 2000 with the generous support of several US residents.
        Later on, with the support of Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, we conducted several seminars with invited experts in Jewish ephigraphy. We have also catalogued Jewish cemeteries in Mogilev and former shtetles Byhov, Ryasno, Suhari and Dashkovka. In 2016, in collaboration with the CHOICE Foundation and non-Jewish organizations in our region we were able to catalogue and clear up cemeteries in Shklov, Dribin and Chausy. Visiting experts from Moscow, Kiev and Israel have helped us as consultants.
        During the years of these activities, we have been able to engage hundreds of local residents and Jewish youths in the movement to preserve historical cemeteries. Some of them continue to be involved in this project until today.

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