My friends and I continued our Belarus road trip on April 22. From Lida we headed further west until we reached Hrodna (Grodno) in the evening. En route were Jewish heritage sites in Radun, Noviy Dvor, Astryna, Razhanka, Zhaludok and Skidzyel.
Nothing is left of Lida’s Jewish cemetery – except a memorial next to the boating station. We took it as a sign for Belarus’ outstanding culture of remembrance and went further to Radun. The place is famous in the Jewish world because of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, who wrote the “Sefer Chofetz Chaim”. The author later became known simply as “The Chofetz Chaim”. From Wikipedia I learned: The subject of the book are the laws of clean speech. Rabbi Kagan provides copious sources from the Torah, Talmud and Rishonim (early commentators) about the severity of Jewish law on tale-mongering and gossip.
Since some years, an American foundation is active in Radun. They cleaned the Jewish cemetery, erected an ohel over the tomb of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan and restorated the Yeshiva (a place of higher religious education). Construction works for a pilgrim center next to the cemetery have begun but are far from being completed.
On the way to Astryna we had a short stop in Noviy Dvor. The size of the synagogue building surprised us. It serves as a store now. Probably nothing of the original interior decoration survived, but the structure itself is well maintained. In Astryna there are two former synagogues in direct neighbourhood. Both are abandoned; one of them obviously was a “house of culture” in the Soviet periode with a now rottening stage inside.
The small town of Razhanka turned out to be one of the strangest places of the entire trip. The synagogue was transformed into a church, but it takes not much phantasy to imagine how the building once looked liked. The cemetery stretches over two neighbouring plots of land and is a mix of garden, trash dump and chicken farm. None of the present owners seems to find this strange or inappropriate.
We had two more stops in the towns of Zhaludok and Skidzyel. In the village of Zhaludok a beautiful old Jewish cemetery is located in a nearby forest. The place is idyllic. Birds were singing and flowers were flourishing. The air was spring-like. In a distance of 200 meters from the cemetery is a mass killing site with a memorial for the 2,000 Jews of Zhaludok and neighbouring villages, who were shot there by the Germans and their helpers. We sat there for a while, enjoyed the silence but also tried to come to terms with what happened there – an unresolvable task.
In Hrodna – also known as Grodno – we were finally back in a city. And it’s a beautiful one! Opposite to many of Belarus’ cities it survived the war without total destruction. The Great Synagogue is a landmark of Jewish presence in the city and is still a working place of worship. The Jewish cemetery is well maintained and with its location in a forest or park-like enviroment another idyllic place. But other places underwent such radical transformation that their origin is unrecognizable. One of them is a former synagogue at Kosmonavtov Avenue.
We were glad to rest and enjoyed the evening in a restaurant just straight opposite of the Great Synagogue with Inessa, a friend of my dear friend Bella from Cologne.
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