As we move from autumn to winter in this increasingly challenging year, the days grow shorter and we grow further away from our beneficiaries in Belarus.
As our clocks change theirs do not, which means we go from being two hours apart to three. We may be further apart in time zones, but we are closer than ever in terms of developments and our charity projects. This is an immensely hard year for sure, but we have never been so productive.
Books that tell
In 2018, our four-year translation project reached completion and we launched the book ‘We Remember Lest the World Forget – Memories of the Minsk Ghetto’. The launch was hosted by the British Embassy in Belarus and the book gives an insight into what life was like in the Minsk Ghetto. The suffering of the Soviet Jews is a topic yet to be fully understood, discussed or appreciated. Post 1945 it was not safe for surviving Jews in the Soviet Union to speak about their suffering and their losses and for this reason, books that were written during that time are of immense historic importance.
We are now translating a second book about the Minsk Ghetto and we have a third in waiting. Each book gives us more detail and helps to build a clearer picture and understanding of the brutality of the ghetto, the Jewish people who found themselves incarcerated there or who lost their lives. These books help to give a clearer understanding of the unique political landscape, known as the bloodlands, under the Soviets and the Germans between 1941 and 1944. The information that the books offer is also valuable content for the Belarus Jewish Cultural Heritage trail we are creating. The ghetto survivors, still alive, are hugely grateful and appreciative that their stories are being acknowledged, accessed and valued in the English speaking global community. Our work is giving them a real sense of empowerment and also relief to know that their stories will be known long after they are gone.
Meanwhile, we are also now undertaking a project translating Yiddish to English to understand what life was like in the shtetl town of Rubezhevichi. A memory book written in Yiddish by members of the community and published in Israel in 1968 has been brought to our attention. This book has been partially translated and can be found on the Jewish Gen Yizkor Book Project website.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, this town had some 200 wooden houses. There were over 2,000 inhabitants, the majority of them Jews.
In Rubezhevichi, you can find a small wooden house, which has been lovingly restored by a non-Jewish resident of the town and is today the Jewish House museum, except no-one knows it is there or how to find it. We will be featuring this museum on our heritage trail and we hope by translating some more of the book, we may be able to learn more about that lost community.
So that we are able to better manage this project, we have a new volunteer, Rachel Gordon, who will be helping to coordinate these translations and we welcome Rachel to our team.
Heritage trail developments and a campaign to mark history
There is a hive of activity now developing around the heritage trail and we are extremely excited as this develops. Our first phase of the route in Belarus covers Brest, Slonim, Novogroduk, Minsk, Vitebsk and Polotsk and we have researchers and community groups in Belarus now in place exploring content. Meanwhile, we have commissioned additional research from Jewish tour educator Muki Jankelowitz in Israel, and our text will soon be publicly accessible as the trail builds. We are also starting to create an interactive map that will enable us to show just what Jewish Belarus has to offer. Communities and individuals in Belarus are playing a part in the development of this project. The exciting part is that by looking to the past, this gives strength to the communities of today so that they have the capacity to build for a better future Jewish community.
In the period between June and November 1942, over 50,000 Jews were murdered at Bronnaya Góra, a mass killing site set in a secluded area along a railroad track. There was no mercy; men, women and children were shot and murdered. Most were Jews. They were brought from Brest, Pinsk, Kobryn and other surrounding areas to be killed by the Nazis and Nazi collaborators.
Now, in the present day, there are two memorials commemorating these deaths. One was erected in the Soviet period and there is a second more contemporary memorial that was installed post-1991. Currently, these memorials stand unmarked and are almost impossible to find. That’s where our campaign comes in. The Together Plan is raising funds to erect 11 road signs in total which will direct visitors to the memorial and provide explanation once they have arrived. Signs will be installed on the main highway (M1) in each direction, on crossroads leading to the memorial and a sign will be built to provide a contextual description of the memorial itself.
To support this campaign click here
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Aid Together in a COVID world
Donations of clothes, shoes, toys, baby items, stationery, arts and crafts resources and Judaica continue to reach us and our dedicated volunteers are continuing to sort and pack these donations at our warehouse in Mill Hill, London. This has become increasingly challenging to ensure that all the volunteers are COVID-safe but we are currently operational. Our next lorry will be loaded on November 13th and will travel to Minsk by road. Our search for a new warehouse/ storage solution continues as we will be losing the use of our existing warehouse in February 2021. If you happen to know of any empty spaces out there, do let us know, and we are also looking for donated use of empty garages. Please contact us if you have donations or if you have a garage to donate.
Genealogy archive work with stunning results
We have spent a great deal of time developing our archive research service to ensure that we have a reliable team of researchers across Belarus, able to work in the archives dealing with the requests that we receive. This is a complex process as the records are not digital and have to be searched manually. There is also the language issue, where some records are in Yiddish, Polish or old Russian, and often searches have to be made in more than one archive. Although we always say that we cannot guarantee that records will be found, our searches more often than not yield great results. Most recently we were able to do an incredibly detailed search for which we received this testimonial in return:
When I first contacted The Together Plan, I had a hand typed copy of a family tree that my uncle had put together in 1995. I was quite proud my uncle was able to determine the names of my great-great grandparents, but had doubts there would be anything left to find.
However, after getting the research results, my family and I were shocked to see our family history back to the 1740s, along with a detailed story about my great-grandfather. I knew the Tsar had forced the Jews to take surnames in 1804, and now I knew the name of our family’s first “Kaplan”. I never imagined learning that. Reactions from family members to these findings were: wow, amazing and incredible.
I would recommend The Together Plan to anyone.
With the Coronavirus pandemic into its second wave, we continue to rely on social media and our team in Belarus to be our voice for the work we are doing, and there is a lot of activity in Belarus which we are continuing to share through our social media and our newsletters and blogs. So do follow us and our activities as we forge ahead towards our mission to empower communities and put Jewish Belarus back on the world map.
In the absence of any real-time events, please consider signing up to become a regular monthly donor to help us continue to do the work we are doing. Just click here.
Thank you for your continued support.