Hebrew Watchman 2008

Restoring a Jewish Cemetery in Belarus

     In Dokshitsy, a small town in what is now Belarus, the entire Jewish population of 3,000 men, women and children was taken to a pit across from the cemetery and murdered. This heinous act took place in three "actions" during Passover, on Lag B'Omer and at the end of May in 1942. In 1965, the government destroyed the Jewish cemetery and turned it into a park.[At that time the Soviet Union was engaged in religious persecutions.]  Today, there are no Jews in Dokshitsy.                         

In December 2005 the local authorities  in Dokshitsy [in the new Republic of Belarus] wrote a letter seeking help to restore the Jewish 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.”
     Aaron Ginsburg, whose father was born in Dokshitsy, was surprised by this friendly message from Belarus. In response, he created a non-profit organization, The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy, and sought out descendants to help.  Ginsburg said, “I have always 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. When I became aware of the letter from Dokshitsy two years ago, I was in the right place at the right time, and with the help of others seized the opportunity to honor our ancestors and save our history.”
     A letter written by the authorities in October 2007 to Mr. Ginsburg who lives in Sharon, MA reiterated: “Dokshitsy Regional Magistrate 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.”
     On it’s own initiative and without receiving any assistance, the town of Dokshitsy recently re-erected over 100 tombstones, which had been buried under a road from 1965 to 2005, in the cemetery. With the help of donations from all over the world a fence will be erected, the cemetery will be landscaped, and monuments will memorialize the Jews buried there. At the site of the Holocaust massacres, a monument will be erected that states that among those killed were more than 3000 Jewish residents. The current monument calls the victims "Soviet citizens".
     On May 23, 2008 (Lag B'Omer), Aaron Ginsburg will be in Dokshitsy, Belarus with friends and family from the United States, Israel, South Africa, and Moscow to remember it’s Jewish community. “Together,” he said, “we will recite the Kaddish at the newly restored Jewish Cemetery and at the site of the Shoah massacres across the street.”
     Soon after the rededication on 23 May, The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy will landscape the site of a Holocaust massacre in nearby Parafianov, and participate in the local historical museum, including a memorial wall with hundreds of names of the holocaust victims. The wall will be left unfinished in memory of the thousands of victims whose names are lost.
     “Growing up in Newport, RI I didn’t understand what a special experience it was being in a transplanted shtetl. In addition to my family, many other families from Dokshitsy immigrated to Newport,” said Ginsburg. Other large concentrations of Dokshitzers went to Brooklyn, Waterbury, CT, Sheboygan, WI, Cleveland, OH and Memphis, TN.” Among the Memphis families was the Kabakoff family, which had a reunion in Memphis in 2006.
     To learn more about Jewish Dokshitsy including pictures of the current condition of the cemetery, instructions for making contributions to overcome 67 years of neglect, and how to be at the re-dedication in May visit http://www.jewishdokshitsy.org/ or contact Aaron Ginsburg at info@jewishdokshitsy.org or at 508-682-3115.

 (this article appeared in the Memphis Hebrew Watchman on  March 27, 2008)