April 20 was the first day of our 9 days road trip through the west of Belarus. My friends Achim, Petra, our guide Juliana and I expolred the towns of Rakaw, Ivyanets, Butkovichi, Valozhyn, Vishneva, Kreva and finally Ashmyany with its synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and other heritage sites.
One of today’s discoveries were tombstones at the cemetery in Rakaw – a beautiful and peaceful place. From several places in Ukraine I know tombstones that were “recycled” as gindstones or millstones. In Rakaw Jewish cemetery it is opposite around. Poor Jews bought damaged millstones and made them tombstones. We would see more such stones in other places during this trip.
Also under other aspects tombstones in the Jewish cemeteries in Belarus differ from places in Ukraine, Poland or Moldova. They are simple, often without a specific design and almost without decorative elements.
Most of the cemeteries are well maintained – at least compared to other places. Mass killing sites are often marked with memorials, sometimes with old Soviet style inscriptions, sometimes with more contemporary inscriptions, which not only mention “Soviet citizens” but explicitly Jews as victims buried there.
What I liked from the first moment on, were the Belarusian villages. They mainly consist of wooden buildings, often beautifully decorated and always colourful. Many look like coming straight from a tale by Sholem Aleichem and you expect Tevye the dairyman coming around the next corner.
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