Restoring the Dokshitsy Cemetery

"They should know that there was once a shtetl named Dokshitz, where Jewish life flourished." Shechina Kantorovitch. This monument was erected by the Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy with your help.

At the end of January, 2006 Joel Alpert, who created a website about Jewish Dokshitsy on, forwarded a message to me from Yuri Dorn, of the Jewish Heritage Research Group in Minsk, Belarus about a letter from G. N. Portyanko of the Dokshitsy District, about the best way to save the remains of the Jewish cemetery in Dokshitsy. In the letter Mr. Portyanko wrote:

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 surprised by the warm tone of the letter. I thought that eastern Europe was filled with anti-Semites, and that restoring such a site would not be a priority. I seized the opportunity to work with the Dokshitsy District.

I corresponded with Yuri, who answered my questions, advised me, and supplied some of the pictures on these pages. I was surprised to learn that the memorial at the mass grave across the street in Dokshitsy did not mention Jews, although this is where most of the Jewish victims are buried. Eitan Kremer, of Israel, pointed out that a memorial to the Holocaust victims should be at the site of the mass grave, across the street from the cemetery and that in the cemetery there should be a memorial to the Jewish community as a whole. Eitan also pointed out the need to protect the Shoa site. A proposal was sent to the Dokshitsy administration. We were also asked to landscape the area around the recently erected Holocaust memorial in Parafianov.

With help from Attorney David Rosenbloom I learned how to create a non-profit organization "The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy" was created on September 15, 2006. Here is the organizational document. On October 11, 2006 "The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy, Inc." was registered as a non-profit Massachusetts corporation. In July 2006, I Joel Alpert told me about "The United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad," which was established to help preserve sites of interest to Americans that were behind the iron curtain for so many years. Commissioner Martin Gold arranged for tax-deductible donations to be made to the Commission which will pass them through to "The Friends Of Jewish Dokshitsy." If tax-deductibility is not sought, donations may be made directly to "The Friends." Donations should be accompanied by this form This has made it unnecessary to apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS, saving considerable expense and paperwork.

An announcement was e-mailed to many. It is my hope that the descendants of the residents of Dokshitsy, Parafianov, and nearby villages will support the efforts to respond to G. N. Portyanko request to resolve "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 January, 2007 it was pointed out to me that I should have attempted to reclaim the entire cemetery, rather than part of it as I had initially proposed. I directed my efforts towards this goal. I asked Rabbi Herschel Gluck in London to help, and he diligently brought the subject to the attention of the Belorussian embassy in London. This issue is discussed in a letter I sent to the Dokshitsy government, which I also forwarded to the Belorussian Commission of Religions and Nationalities. In May 2007, I learned from Rabbi Gluck that assurances were made by Belorussian embassy in London that the cemetery would be preserved in it's entirety. I followed up with another Letter to the Dokshitsy authorities. I recently (August, 2009) have reviewed my correspondence, and I now believe that the intention was always to preserve the cemetery. I also think the Dokshitsy District always intended to restore the cemetery in a respectful and tasteful manner.

Vice-Chairman Demeshka sent me the following letter, probably in response to my letters in May 2007.

Republic of Belarus

Dokshitsy Regional Magistrate

October 22, 2007

Dear Aaron Ginsburg :

Dokshitsy Regional Magistrate asks for your help in the reconstruction of the Jewish Cemetery in the town of Dokshitsy.

During the WWII, in May 1941, Germans killed about 3000 to 3500 Jews, who were buried at the Mayakovsky Street.

In 1964 in accordance with the Decree by Dokshitsy Regional Magistrate the Jewish Cemetery was eliminated. In 1965 in the place of the Jewish Cemetery a park was planted.

In 2005 during repair works on Pionersky Street some grave stones previously covered by soil were discovered. Dokshitsy Regional Magistrate considers it is necessary to preserve the remnants of the Jewish Cemetery: to beautify the place, to install a memorial.

Work on the reconstruction has been started, however financial resources are needed to continue the work. We ask for your financial help in the beautification of the place of the former Cemetery. We hope for your support and understanding in the intention to create a Memorial to the hundreds of Jewish citizens of Dokshitsy.

Vice - Chairman S.M. Demeshka

Once again, I was overwhelmed by the friendly attitude of the Dokshitsy District.

At my request Dr Franklin Swartz, an American resident of Minsk, arranged to visit Dokshitsy, coincidentally just after the preceding letter was written.

On November 2, 2007 Dr. Swartz went to Dokshitsy, and met the authorities. Dr Swartz learned that the town had carefully re-erected the tombstones. Assurances were again made that the entire cemetery, most of which is a vacant lot, would be preserved. I responded in writing.

With the help of Dr Swartz, plans discussed previously were put into action: building a fence around the cemetery, erecting a memorial stone to the Jewish community in the cemetery and to the Holocaust victims at the site of their deaths making clear that they were Jewish. The Dokshitsy District also suggested beautifying the cemetery with appropriate landscaping. I also decided to arrange to go to Dokshitsy to dedicate the restored cemetery.

Since November 2, 2007, I spent as much time as possible preparing for the restoration and dedication. This includes frequent communication with Frank Swartz, Joe Polliack, and other friends and advisers as we completed arrangements for the restoration and dedication. In January 2008 Joe Polliack, a Dokshitsy descendant from Cape Town, South Africa realized that our fund raising pace was lagging with a May 2008 dedication fast approaching. He spoke to members of the Cape Town Jewish community. Sensing that something special was afoot, they responded generously, . More than 1/2 of the donations were received from people, primarily from South Africa, who had no connection with Dokshitsy.You too can help. Our work is not finished.

In addition to fund-raising, decisions had to be made about every step of the project from the design of the fence to the wording on any memorials and the program for the dedication. Although I did not think the cemetery fence needed any embellishments, the Dokshitsy District suggested Stars of David on each side of the entrance, and in fact they look good. I was also told that they thought there was a problem with the text I had chosen on the site of the Holocaust. I asked myself, what could be wrong. I had checked everything. Their complaint: I had understated the number of victims.

On May 23, 2008, I went to Dokshitsy with my daughter, Rebecca, Joe and Dinah Polliack, ,my cousin Mark Izeman and his wife Tanya and his two children, John and Jane Fisher, Janet Wolfe, Ron Gould, Peggy Blumenthal and Meredith Hoffman to join the local residents at the dedication the restored cemetery and to dedicate a memorial that makes clear that the mass grave directly across from the cemetery included most of the Jewish residents. When I arrived I was immediately consulted by Andrei, who worked for the Dokshitsy District, about the placement of the monument at the site of the massacres. (The second memorial at the mass graves was not erected until the summer of 2010. see next paragraph)

It is now July 2009. Descendant David Freedman is translating the tombstones. Plans are being finalized to erect the monument at the site of the Holocaust to make it clear who was killed there.

The black monument on the left, erected by the Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy and the Dokshitsy District makes clear that most of the victims at this site were Jewish. The original monument erected in 1965 during the Soviet era and still standing calls them Soviet citizens. A second cemetery on the other side of the river from the primary cemetery needs to be saved. It now has a electric transmission station, but some tombstones are extant.

Aaron Ginsburg , President and Treasurer, The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy

I would to thank Attorney David Rosenbloom, Commissioner Martin Gold of The United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, and the Commission itself for their assistance in bringing this project to life. It is also a privilege to work with the other members of the Friend's Board of Directors and the entire Dokshitsy community.