In a years-long effort spearheaded by a family of descendants, the long-neglected Jewish cemetery in Derechin, Belarus (also spelled Dereczyn) has been restored and a commemorative plaque will be mounted at a rededication ceremony May 22.
The works, carried out with the assistance of Yuri Dorn, the coordinator of the Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus (JHRG), included clean-up of the overgrown cemetery, as well as construction of a new stone wall and installation of a new gate.
George Sokolowski, whose family financed the restoration, said the project began after he made a visit to the village in 2010 — his father had grown up in nearby Slonim, and his mother was from Derechin. Almost all family members on both sides were killed in the Holocaust.
“After quite a bit of searching we discovered the cemetery totally hidden in what appeared to be a forested area surrounded by fields,” Sokolowski, who lives near New York City, told JHE.
He said he contacted the Jewish Heritage Research Group in Minsk and facilitated an action by the Minsk Youth Hillel & Sochnut in 2011 to clear the trees and underbrush.
“A few years ago I reached out once again and hired a construction crew to rebuild the walls and install a gate,” he said. He added that truckloads of stones had had to be brought in to rebuild the walls. “The project is now complete except for a dedication plaque which we plan to install […] in May.”
(Unfortunately, it was reported in early 2012 that workers cutting trees in the cemetery had damaged some stones by allowing cut trees to fall on them.)
Jews began settling in Derechin in the beginning of the 17th century, and Jews made up more than two-thirds of the population on the eve of World War II. The cemetery, located near the road to Zelva, is believed to have been established at the beginning of the 19th century. It has some 100-150 gravestones.
Pictures from Sokolowski’s visit to the cemetery in 2010: