Restoring a Jewish cemetery in Belarus
Newport native returns to Belarus on a mission of memory
By Aaron Ginsburg
MY FATHER was born in Dokshitsy, a small town now in Belarus, and immigrated to Newport, R.I., where I grew up, in 1921.
In 1942, the entire Jewish population of Dokshitsy — 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 1965, the government destroyed the Jewish cemetery and turned it into a park. Today, there are no Jews in Dokshitsy.
In December 2005, the local authorities in Dokshitsy 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.”
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.
Last October the authorities in Dokshitsy sent a letter to me. They 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 its own initiative and without receiving any assistance, the town of Dokshitsy recently re-erected over 100 tombstones in the cemetery. The tombstones had been buried under a road from 1965 to 2005. 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 3,000 Jewish residents. The current monument calls the victims “Soviet citizens.”
My daughter Rebecca and I will be in Dokshitsy with friends and family from the United States, Israel, South Africa, and Moscow on May 23, 2008 (Lag B’Omer) to remember its Jewish community. Together we will recite the Kaddish at the newly restored cemetery and at the site of the Shoah massacres across the street. Among those present will be my cousin Mark Izeman. Mark’s parents are Henry and Paula (Adelson) Izeman of Barrington.
Soon after the rededication, 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, 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. Among the Newport families from Dokshitsy were Kusinitz, Adelson, Friedman, Teitz, Ginsburg, Rosoff, and Shapiro. Other large concentrations of Dokshitzers went to Brooklyn, Waterbury, Conn.; Sheboygan, Wis.; Cleveland and Memphis.
Although the Holocaust took place almost 70 years ago, to me it retains its immediacy. My father’s first cousin, Shmuel Markman, a Holocaust survivor who I met a year ago in Israel, wrote in the Dokshitsy-Parafianov Yizkor book, “I want to write the names of my brothers and sisters and their families here, perhaps some of them survived.” He then listed 50 people whom he undoubtedly knew that did not survive. He also submitted a total of 70 names to Yad Vashem. And these are just the relatives whose names I know.
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 me at email@example.com or call me at my home in Sharon, Mass., at 508-682-3115.