Preserving what we inherit from the past helps us interpret the present and plan for the future
The Power of Heritage
Heritage provides one of the foundations on which people construct their identity, and we have found it to be of vital importance when working with communities. Many of the Jewish communities that we are working with have chosen to develop cemetery or heritage mapping projects and these act as a vehicle to bring people together, not only from the local community under development, but as a way of linking to the wider Jewish community who have personal connections to these communities.
Through the heritage projects, communities are becoming visible. This heritage mapping is enabling them to be found, where before they were isolated. Connections are forming which brings new support partners which in turn empowers the once isolated communities as they are start to grow. Growth attracts new interest locally and with more people, more projects develop and so the capacity of the community builds.
Headstones Project, Brest
Work to recover lost Jewish headstones will also secure the future of Brest’s Jews
We help communities to rediscover their past, restoring and cataloguing Jewish cemeteries
Working to give a voice to a forgotten group of people, whose stories were at risk of being lost.
The Jewish community of Brest has started work to reclaim, clean, archive and log many rediscovered headstones which were taken away from the cemetery when the Soviets turned it into a sports ground in the 1950s.
Their discoveries are now being recorded in international archive databases such as the Jewish Genealogical Society. In some cases, the communities are able to provide photographs and information to update existing entries. In many instances however, these cemeteries constitute entirely new entries. This project will enable Belarusian Jews to reconnect with their lost ancestry, and will link them to other Jews around the world.
Repatriating headstones to cemetery land in the form of memorials is vital to this project. It is a very powerful community building tool—something that appeals to all age groups. It is a way of uncovering communities’ Jewish roots, and serves to reclaim, and create pride in, their Jewish identity.
Many people, old and young, are coming together to locate lost, neglected and abandoned cemeteries. Community members are finding them, clearing the foliage and uncovering lost histories.
Members of the Polotsk Jewish community are working on the conservation of cemeteries in the villages of Bobynichi and Gorodok. They have cleared the site, photographed every headstone, are carrying out research and translations of the stones.
The Together Plan is collaborating with the Minsk Ghetto Survivors Association, a community of 80 people who endured life in the most notorious ghetto in Europe. Together, we are seeking to capture the memories of those that survived massacres carried out by the Nazis, and later, by the Soviet Guard. The stories they tell are of survival, the trauma of losing everything and everyone, and the scars that they still carry with them today.
The first of such books is Bequeath the World to Remember, which contains memories of life and survival in the Minsk Ghetto, as well as pictures of the survivors then and now. The translation of the book is nearly complete, and when finished, it will be generously published by the Jewish Gen Yizkor Book Project. This is the first time that these stories will be told and read by the English speaking world.
There are three other books in Russian that we hope to translate. One is a man’s story of survival as a young boy, after seeing his family murdered in front of him. Another is the story of the Mogilev Ghetto and the horrors that occurred there, and a third catalogues the fate of Jews living under the Soviets at the hands of the KGB.