South African Jewish Report
15 - 22 February 2008 SA JEWISH REPORT (page 5)
Giving dignity to the massacred of Dokshitsy
A worker puts the finishing touches to the restoredJewish cemetery in Dokshitsy, Belarus, in preparation
for its rededication in May this year. (PHOTO:FRANKLIN SWARTZ)
A HISTORIC injustice will in some small measure be put right when the cemetery in Dokshitsy,
Belarus is rededicated in May this year. The town’s entire Jewish population of 3 000 men, women and
children were taken to a pit across the street from the burial ground and murdered by the Nazis on Lag
Ba’omer, 1942 and now, 66 years later to the day, the victims will at east be accorded the dignity of a
A unique feature of the projects that it was initiated by the town’s non-Jewish authorities. In a letter some two years ago to Yuri Dorn of the Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus appealing for help in restoring the cemetery which had been destroyed by the Soviet government in 1965 and turned into
a park, they 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”.
Aaron Ginsburg, an American genealogist who is president of the Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy, says he was “dumbfounded” that the non-Jewish locals were initiating the restoration and “had to quickly overcome any preconceptions about their attitude to the town’s Jewish past”.
A further letter written two years later to Ginsburg appealing for financial support for the restoration, reiterates these sentiments. “Dokshitsy’s regional magistrate considers it 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.”
And so, on Lag Ba’omer this year - May 23 - descendants and others from the United States, Israel, South Africa and Russia, as well as the town’s mayor and Belarus officials, will gather to remember
the Jewish community at their final resting place and recite Kaddish at the newly restored cemetery and the site of the massacre across the road.
Soon after this, Ginsburg says, the group plans to landscape the site of a Holocaust massacre in nearby Parafianov and participate n the local historical museum, including a memorial wall containing the
hundreds of names of known Holocaust victims. The wall will be left unfinished in memory of the thousands whose names are ost,” he says.
Among those attending the re-dedication will be Capetonians Dinah and Joe Polliack, who traces his family’s presence in the village back 300 years. They first visited Dokshitsy, which is 109 km north of
Minsk, three years ago. “We found a graveyard with only three or four tombstones, a number of trees that the Russians had planted there and across the road a mass grave that was not demarcated,” Joe recalls. “We found an old-timer who took us around.
“He was there when the Germans arrived in 1941 and he corroborated what had been told to me by my parents. He had vivid memories of the war, witnessed mostof what had happened, he knew my grandmother and related one or two occasions on
which he had occasion to speak to her.”
Polliack says there are quite a number of
South African descendants of the town. Among the better-known in the community are Rabbi Yossy Goldman, the late Rabbi Irma Aloy and his daughters, Batya Kurtstag, wife of the rosh Beth Din, Rabbi
Moshe Kurtstag and Rebbetzin Winnie Gourarie, as well as Jack Bloom, leader of the DA in the Gauteng legislature.
Recently the town of Dokshitsy returned to the cemetery over 100 tombstones that had been buried under a road for 40 years. A fence is being erected, the cemetery is being landscaped, and monuments will memorialise the Jews buried there. At the site of the Holocaust massacre, a monument will be erected that states that among those killed were 3 000 Jewish residents.
* Donations for the cemetery and allied
projects are sorely needed. Those wishing
to contribute or obtain further details of
the rededication, should contact Dr Joe
Polliack at .... The website is jewishdokshitsy.org