Jewish Heritage Europe

Belarus: finding, recovering, fencing a devastated Jewish cemetery

Montage of the new Lohishyn cemetery fence, from the Belarus Jewish Genealogy and Ancestral Travel FB page

 

The devastated Jewish cemetery in  the small town of Lohishyn, Belarus has a new fence, largely thanks to a descendant from the town, working together with local people including a school teacher and the mayor.

Mimi Kim Klausner, an American historian and archivist, has documented the two-year project to clean and fence the ruined burial ground in a detailed blog post that described both ups and downs in the process.

“In 2016 I visited Logishyn, the birth place of my great great grandfather Mayer Klausner,” she wrote in a comment to a Facebook post that showed photos of the new fence, which was completed this month (November).   Yuri Dorn of the Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus organized her trip.

We met Svetlana, a gentile teacher who had tried to keep the cemetery clean. After the trip we all joined forces and got the town’s mayor Valery to help. Under Yuri’s coordination and financial help from 28 donors it took us two years to complete the project.

It’s worth reading her full blog post to understand what had to be done — and how they did it.

She writes that on her first visit in 2016 she found the cemetery “almost lost to the ravages of nature, the grave stones almost completely buried under a thick layer of leaves, compost and brush.”

After I enlisted the help of Yuri Dorn of the Jewish Heritage Research Group and offered to raise money to restore it Svetlana measured the cemetery; it was 100 x 100 meters, or about the size of 1 1/2 football fields — much larger than was apparent. She was finally successful in getting Mayor Valery to organize volunteers to clear away some of the brush and small trees!  When I returned to Logishyn in April 2017 it looked remarkably different. Svetlana, Valery and I discussed the type of fence and the rest of the clean up. I promised that I would raise the money to complete the project.

Raising money entailed making a short fundraising video.

In July 2017 additional clean up of the cemetery started. The team had to stop work in August because their only electric saw broke and they had to wait a week for it to be fixed. […] Unfortunately, by [September] the town’s tractors were harvesting their potato crop and could not be used to remove trees and brush. Yuri decided to send his engineer from Minsk to Lohishyn to scope out the situation. Public transportation in Belarus is not good so he would have to find someone to drive him there, also not an easy task.

The engineer did arrive, however, and after his survey the team

decided to build an iron fence which would be more durable than a concrete one. We also needed to find someone to remove the tree stumps or new trees would start to grow out of them. By the end of the year the major clean up had been completed and we contracted with a local company to build and install the fence.

They chose a simple iron fence, with open railings that clearly delineates the cemetery boundaries but allows people to see it and does not cut the cemetery off from its surroundings, as do some concrete fences (or high walls).

There were further challenges, which you can read about on her blog, but the fence was finally completed in November.

Click here to read the full blog post and see photos documenting the whole process

 

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