Belarus SIG #Belarus Jewish Cemeteries in Belarus #belarus

David M. Fox <fox@...>

Dear Belarus SIGers,

I'm sure that Frank and Professor Frey won't mind me posting
this private e-mail. It gives some good information on
the cemetery situation over there and gives us some hope
that Frank will be able to gather at least some of the
names on the grave stones before anymore cemeteries are

David Fox
Arnold, MD
Belarus SIG Coordinator

18 November 1998

Dear Professor Frey,

David Fox, Coordinator of the Belarussian SIG, has with his usual
assiduousness, been kind enough to forward a copy of your letter
to me.

As David mentioned I am, for what it is worth, the Director of
the East European Jewish Heritage Project. We are a registered
charity in the UK and in Belarus. We are formally affiliated
with the Union of Religious Jewish Congregations of the Republic
of Belarus. Our main goals are the preservation and perpetuation
of East European Jewish Culture and the provision of material aid
to the Jewish community.

One of our main areas of activity is the restoration of Jewish
monuments, cemeteries and buildings. We are presently restoring
the Rakov and Radashkovichi cemeteries. We also recently
assisted in the restoration of the Volozhyn cemetery. We are
endorsed by the Presidential Committee for the Protection of
Historical and Architectural Monuments as the nominated Jewish
organization for the preservation of Jewish monuments, cemeteries
and buildings.

The Beshincovichi cemetery is known to us and, in fact, we have
listings of many of the headstones, none of which, I am afraid,
are at hand as I write. Deplorable as the state of the cemetery
is, it is not untypical of many Jewish cemeteries. Under Soviet
law, as you may know, cemeteries that have been unused for
twenty or more years may be reclaimed for other purposes. It is
a usage that has been retained. This rule is equally applied to
the burial grounds of all faiths but naturally has its greatest
impact on those which have no supporting community. While the
economy is in recession this is not a major threat. When the
economy recovers then such cemeteries will inevitably disappear.
The major threats at the moment are erosion and their use as

Working with the above Committee we have an approved plan for the
preservation of unused Jewish cemeteries. It is to have them
listed as historic sites. The government has agreed to do this
where ever three conditions are met: First, a plan of the
cemetery must be drawn and the headstones recorded. Second a
permanent caretaker should be appointed. Third the cemetery must
be surrounded by a wall capable of withstanding the intrusions
of cattle and the people. The first two conditions are easily
met. It is the third, the fence, which presents the chief
difficulty. The standard fence used for the purpose here is
composed of a five foot high concrete wall surmounted by four
foot high metal rails. The cost is usually in the range of
$20,000-$30,000 USD. We are trying to find alternative methods
of fencing. One possibility is the use of thorny hedges such as
barberry, hawthorn or holly. The government will accept these
but we do not yet have full information about them. Perhaps
there is a botany department in your university. Hedges should
provide an inexpensive, attractive and permanent alternative to
the fences now used. These, owing to exotic, vodka fuelled
construction techniques have nearly the durability of paper
mache. They are only warranted for five years.

I have contacted the leader of the Jewish community in Vitebsk
and he will gather information on the work to be done. It is not
clear to me whom you contacted at Yad Vashem, or where, but there
is plenty of information available about Beshincovichi. Please
let me know what your interests are.

The East European Jewish Heritage Project and the Union of
Religious Jewish Congregations of the Republic of Belarus will
be glad of the opportunity to render you all assistance possible
at every stage.

If I am not mistaken the University of Melbourne has a Jewish
Studies Department. If I am correct then there is a Jennifer
Dowling there who knows of us. More to the point she seems to
have quite a few international connections and might be of some
help. This is merely conjecture.

(personal portions deleted by moderator)

I look forward to being of assistance to you in your extremely
worthwhile project.

Best regards,

Frank Swartz
Executive Director
East European Jewish Heritage Project
13b Dauman Street
Republic of Belarus
tel/fax: +375 17 234 56 12/234 33 60

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