Starting in the morning of April 23 in Hrodna, my friends and I turned south to continue our road trip through the west of Belarus. Join us to visit imposing synagogues, hidden Jewish cemeteries and a haunted house – a former beit midrash – in the towns of Indura, Lunno, Wolpa, Mstibovo, Svislach, Porazava, Lyskava and Ruzhany!
April 23 was another long day on the road for my friends Achim, Petra, our wonderful guide Juliana and me. Sometimes it was hard to find the places we were looking for, sometimes we had to creep through bushes to get access to a cemetery, sometimes things were easy. Out of the many places we visited, I would like to highlight some.
Indura synagogue and cemetery impressed us deeply. The town was a Hasidic place, unusual for this part of Belarus, twhich was for a long time under the influence of Vilna Orthodoxy. The synagogue stands out by its size and the Jewish cemetery by the beauty of its enviroment. We rested on top of the cemetery hill, looked down on the small town and again realized the immense size of the synagogue.
In Svislach we visited a surviving beit midrash, now a youth club. Today, it offers children and young people space to meet, talk and play. We were warmly welcomed by the director, who is well aware of the history of the building. According to her, the former beit midrash is a haunted house. The staff observed shadows on the tapes of the video surveillance and sometimes there are strange light effects on the wall, for which they have no explanation. “Deceased were prepared for burial here and this is, I believe, the reason for these phenomena”, the lady said.
The small town of Lyskava was one of the sadest places we found. The Jewish cemetery is well maintained, but the Catholic curch is a ruin – unusual for a country in which churches are well preserved – and the synagogue is nearly fully destroyed. With the help of a local farmer we found the synagogue. According to him, there used to be also a Jewish school, of which only a basement survived. The ruin of the synagogue is densely overgrown and nearly inaccessable. The place is covered with garbage and in the bushes was the cadaver of a big black dog, smelling terribly.
The town of Ruzhany was our last stop at that day. The size of the ruin of the synagogue gives visitors an impression of the former wealth of the Jewish community. The building is in bad state; the roof has collapsed and there are big cracks in the brick walls. What impressed me the most was the huge three stories bima – the place from where was read from the Thora.
Ruzhany Jewish cemetery is located far from the town’s center in a forest and is not easy to find. The place is peaceful as many other spots we found so far – despite all tragedies. It calmed our minds after the many places we visited at that day.
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