Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Belarus: The Dokshitsy Jewish Cemetery Project

The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy was formed in 2005 to perpetuate the memory of the Jewish residents of Dokshitsy, Parafianov, and nearby villages in Belarus by preserving the remnants of the Jewish Cemetery in Dokshitsy and undertaking other projects consistent with this goal.

According to Aaron Ginsburg, president of the non-profit organization, the town (68 miles from Minsk) recently re-erected 134 tombstones on the Jewish cemetery grounds, destroyed in 1965. Most of the stones were buried under a road for four decades.

In 1942, the Germans killed more than 3,000 Jewish men, women and children, who were buried in a mass grave across from the cemetery. In 1964, the Jewish cemetery was destroyed and, a year later, a park was constructed there. In 2005, repairs on a street revealed the gravestones from the cemetery that had been buried since 1965.

In October 2005, Aaron received a letter from the town's officials seeking help to restore the cemetery:

“We would like to discuss with you the methods of resolving this situation in the best way so that all our actions do not seem to be blasphemy regarding the buried and also we would like to correct a mistake that was done many years ago.”

In an April 2008 article in the Providence Voice & Herald, Aaron writes about what happened as a result of that letter:

I was in the right place at the right time. I had long been interested in history and Jewish history, and more recently in my family history. I believe that the message of Judaism is about respecting each other. This extends to respecting those who preceded us. So I was ready to respond to the surprisingly friendly message from Belarus.

Joining with others, I created The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy, Inc., and sought out descendants to help the citizens of Dokshitsy save their and our Jewish history.

In October 2007, he received another letter from the regional magistrate, asking for help in the reconstruction of the cemetery and adding:

The Dokshitsy District Soviet considers it is necessary to preserve the remnants of the Jewish Cemetery: to beautify the place, to install a memorial. ... We hope for your support and understanding in the intention to create a Memorial to the hundreds of Jewish citizens of Dokshitsy.

The dedication was on May 23, 2008, which was Lag B'Omer on the Jewish calendar. On Lag B'Omer (in 1942) and on the following days, most of the Dokshitsy ghetto's Jewish inhabitants were murdered in the town or in the ravine across the street from the Jewish cemetery and buried in a mass grave.

Friends and family from the US, Israel, South Africa and Moscow gathered for the dedication. As an example of a common emigration pattern, families from one shtetl transplanted themselves into towns where their neighbors had already settled, thus many Dokshitsy families settled in Newport (Rhode Island), Brooklyn (New York), Waterbury (Connecticut), Sheboygan (Wisconsin), Cleveland (Ohio) and Memphis (Tennessee).

Read about the group's work at Jewish Dokshitsy and view photos of the tombstones here..

Read more about the town and its history here. There is also a Dokshitz Shetlinks Page on JewishGen with more information.

Aaron seeks help in translating the inscriptions on the 134 stones. If you would like to help, have questions or need more information, contact him.

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