May, 2008. I just returned from the Dokshitsy. It was an incredible experience. Unbeknown to us, the town had prepared an all-day program.
Our group consisted of 14 people from Cape Town, SA (Joe and Dinah Polliack), Massachusetts (Meridith Hoffman, Aaron Ginsburg, Rebecca Ginsburg), New York City (Janet Wolfe), Rochester, NY (Peggy Raskind Blumenthal, Ron Gould), Moscow (Mark Izeman his wife Tanya Khotin, and their two sons), and Florida (Jane and John Fisher formerly of Duluth, Mn). We were also accompanied by Grant Slater, Jewish Telegraphic Agency reporter, our videographer, our representative Frank Swartz, his wife Galena Swartz our translator, and Freda Reismen of the Minsk Ghetto Survivors Organization.
To the left is a video by Mark Izeman. On our photo and video page are several slide shows with pictures of our time in Dokshitsy, Minsk, and Moscow.As we stepped off our mini-bus on Friday May 23, 208 we were greeted by the District Chairman with local media present including a TV crew and several journalists. At the municipal building I responded to a welcoming speech by the Chairman. Then each of us introduced ourselves and explained our connection to Dokshitsy. For most this meant parents or grandparents who were born in Dokshitsy. Mark Izeman held up a picture with him and his grandfather Joe Adelson who was born in Dokshitsy and came to Newport, RI when he was a child. We all received a booklet from the 600th anniversary of the town, celebrated in 2007.
When we left building, we switched to a full size bus provided by the town so ten officials could accompany us. We were joined by Nikolai Dmitrivich Chistakov, a retired engineer who took an interest in local history. Nikolai has been helpful to many visitors. He was a teenager during World War II, and remembers many of his Jewish neighbors.
We proceeded to School Number One. At the door the principal, superintendent, an English speaking student and a student wearing traditional costume welcomed us with bread and salt. During a tour of the school's museum, guided by the principal, we entered a room devoted to the history of the town. The principal paused at a picture of the ghetto and said "We know there is a missing page here, and we intend to complete it." In the auditorium where students stood as we entered. We sat down and introduced ourselves. I went last this time, which meant that everyone had already said my lines. I told the students that one person can make a difference, and that they could be that person, and that they were in school to get ready for that moment. ...Then I said have a great summer! (It was the last day of school). I was presented with a wooden plaque containing a swan and swan-let and the town shield, two jugs with water flowing out to symbolize the two rivers that start in Dokshitsy. We presented a digital camera to the school. I told them it was to help them remember. A program about World War II included singing and poetry and narrative.
As we left the school we were joined by Jonathan Moore, the ranking diplomat in the American Embassy. This unannounced arrival was a bit distracting to the local media, who felt obligated to ask him about American-Belorussian relations. He ably and patiently conveyed the American position.
During the short drive to the cemetery I was told that the officials thought the weather meant we should reduce the elaborate ceremony I had planned to a bare minimum. First we lay flowers at the original holocaust memorial. We then went across the street to the cemetery and did the same. It was cloudy, and starting to rain. They gave their speech, I gave my speech, written with the help of Rob Benjamin and then we recited the Kaddish.
The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy sponsored lunch for ourselves and the accompanying officials. This included numerous toasts, of course, and the vodka flowed. I sat opposite Jonathan Moore the American diplomat. He was there on behalf of himself and a fellow diplomat who was a Dokshitsy descendant, but unable to attend.
At the art and dance school we were again greeted with bread and salt. We viewed their work, which included some pictures devoted to the wartime horrors. Then they put on a musical review, including a song in English (summertime by Gershwin from Porgy and Bess. We then received presents...work by the students. We then were supposed to judge the art work. I had 3 mp players for presents. We decided to donate them to the school.
We revisited the cemetery. On the way back to Minsk I was driven ahead of the bus.. First we drove to Shunevka, one of many villages in Belarus that were destroyed during the WWII (124 were never rebuilt). It was a street parallel to the modern road with outlines of the houses. Sixty-five residents were burned in the barn and sixteen children were thrown alive down a well which is still there. I then sped to two locations that were 6 km on dirt roads. In Uskrimie, my great grandfather had a mill. Karalina was where Joel Alpert's family was from. I rendezvoused with the bus in nearby Begoml and it was back to Minsk.
Aaron Ginsburg President,The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy
help preserve our history. Watch for future plans. We will be going back, hopefully with more than 14 people.
http://www.jewishdokshitsy.org/ or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at my home in Natick, Mass., USA at 508-647-3739.