FIRST PERSON PLURAL
My Dokshitsy visit
Collaboration restores Jewish cemetery
By Aaron Ginsburg
ONE YEAR AGO, I returned from an incredible experience visiting the town of Dokshitsy, Belarus, in the Soviet Union. In 1921, my father, Maurice, had emigrated from Dokshitsy, a shtetl then in Poland, to Newport. During the Holocaust, more than 3,000 of the town’s Jewish citizens were killed and the cemetery was desecrated. In 1965, local Soviet authorities further damaged what the Nazis had left, leaving the cemetery virtually destroyed.
In 2006, the post-Soviet officials of the Dokshitsy District, with help from The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy, restored the cemetery
THE MONUMENT was erected in May 2008 by The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy.
Our group of 14 included two from Cape Town, South Africa; three from Massachusetts (including my daughter and me), three from New York, two from Florida, and Mark Izeman and his family from Moscow (Mark’s parents live in Barrington). A child survivor of the Minsk ghetto joined us.
We arrived on May 23, 2008. Dokshitsy District Chairman Oleg Pinchuk and other local officials greeted us under the gaze of the local newspaper and TV station and the JTA reporter who accompanied us. We each introduced ourselves and described our Dokshitsy roots. Most of us had parents or grandparents or great-grandparents who were born in Dokshitsy. Mark Izeman held up a picture of his grandfather and himself and said, “I‘m here because my grandfather, Joe Adelson, was born here.”
As we continued our tour, 10 town officials, and Nikolai Dmitrivich Chistakov, the town historian and formerly a history teacher, who has been helpful to many visitors, joined us. A teenager during World War II, Chistakov remembers his Jewish neighbors. “This was a terrible street to live on. People were marched to their deaths on this street. You can forgive, but you can’t forget,” he said.
Unlike Nikolai, I cannot forgive; like him, I am trying to make it impossible to forget the Dokshitsy Jewish community.
At the high school, students welcomed us at the door with the traditional bread and salt. In a room devoted to the town’s history 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, the students were standing as we entered. I received a plaque with the town symbol, an upside down pitcher with two streams of water pouring forth, symbolizing the two rivers that started in Dokshitsy. I thought of a third river, the river of Jewish emigration from Dokshitsy and hundreds of other Jewish communities across Belarus and all of Eastern Europe.
On the way out of town, we saw Shunevka, one of many villages in Belarus destroyed during World War II. In fact, 124 such villages were never rebuilt. I could see outlines of the houses, now destroyed, on a street that ran parallel to the modern road. Sixty-five residents were burned in the barn and 16 children were thrown alive down a well. The well still exists, a mute memorial to the young victims. I then took a personal trip to Uskrimie where my great-grandfather had a mill.
In my speech, I said, “We are also here to honor the people of Dokshitsy, a community that refused to let a past injustice stay buried. A community that proved what Anne Frank said, ‘In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.’”
Aaron Ginsburg is president of The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy. For more information, go to www.jewishdokshitsy.org, firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-682-3115.