The team tasked with recovering headstones from the dismantled Jewish cemetery in Minsk has now unearthed over 200 headstones since the project began in April. As with many Jewish cemeteries in the former Soviet Union, Slutsk’s had been demolished by the Soviet authorities, with the headstones repurposed as building materials or simply abandoned and buried. The recovery project is being run in collaboration with the Zeliger Foundation – named for a Jewish citizen of Bobruisk who risked his freedom to preserve the memory of the Holocaust in his hometown, whose relatives are now continuing his work.
Many members of the Slutsk Jewish Community have ancestors buried in the demolished cemetery. Watching the excavation, the community – many of whose number are Holocaust survivors who witnessed the near-destruction of Jewish life, first by the Nazis and then by the Soviet authorities – repeatedly stressed the importance of preserving their shared history. (The community’s very name, translated from Russian, means ‘Remember’.) The project, which will culminate in the building of a memorial, will involve community members of all ages in a range of activities, helping to engage them with their Jewish identity and their community, transforming memory of the past into a vibrant future for the community.