From Brest to Slonim

Day 7 of our 9 days road trip through the west of Belarus brought us on 25 April finally to the town of Slonim. For all of us – Achim, Petra, Juliana and me – it was one of the highligts of the entire journey. Not much compares to the beauty of the Great Synagogue. En route were more heritage sites in Kobryn and Byten, but also sad places – mass killing sites – in Smolyarka and Bronnaya Gara.

Again, it was a beautiful spring day. We left Brest and headed towards Kobryn – known for the ruin of its Great Synagogue, one of the most imposing Jewish structures in the west of Belarus. The Jewish cemetery is one of the best maintained we saw during this trip. Three ohalim have been errected over the tombs of rabbis. The disatvantage of the wall surrounding the cemetery is, you need a key to visit the place.

Before we started this trip, Juliana had added some places, unknown to me at that time, to our itinerary. Two of them were Smolyarka and Bronnaya Gara. Both were sites of mass killings during the Holocaust. Bronnaya Gara is one of the most notorious places. In a forest, not far from a train station, rest the remains of 50,000 human beings – local Jews and Jews deported from Central Europe to be murdered here.

There are two commemoration sites: one memorial next to the road and a second one at the location of the execution pits. We stood there for a long time and stared into this landscape. For 50,000 it was the last place they saw – a forest in Belarus.

We had a stop at the Jewish cemetery in Byten and finally reached Slonim. I have no words for the beautieful Great Synagogue, but I hope the images may tell. I rarely saw the remains of a synagougue in the former Soviet Union, in which everything is still there – the bima, the torah arch, the wall paintings. Nevertheless the building is endangered. A renovation project had been reported to be underway, but so far it did not start.

Just opposite of the Great synagogue is a second synagogue – now a furniture store. Also there the bima is preserved. Quite a bizarre view! A third synagogue can be found in the outskirts of Slonim. Solid built, it still shows the traces of Soviet transformation.

Slonim has no hotel – somehow surprising for a town of its size. Through a booking portal I found a guest house in the nearby town of Zhirovichi. „Guest house v Zhirovichakh“ was one of the most wonderful experiences of hospitality in Belarus. Thank you guys, for all you did for us!

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