The International Public Charitable Organization Dialog in cooperation with the Brest City Executive Committee, the Brest Jewish Community and the British charity The Together Plan has launched a project to build a memorial (Lapidarium) on the site of the former Jewish cemetery in Brest (Belarus).
We want to make this project as open and public as possible. Our team has initiated the implementation of the first stage – the creation of the full catalogue of all surviving matzevot (photographing, measuring, weighing, reading and translating epitaphs into Russian and English). The catalogue will be made available as a digital database, showing all data collected and this will be in the public domain through The Together Plan’s website. It is hoped that this will be available within 6 to 12 months.
This information will be useful for those who are looking for their relatives – immigrants from Brest, buried in this cemetery. The technical characteristics (size and weight) of the matzevot are necessary for the development of the concept, design and construction project of the memorial. The headstones had been transported from a previous storage area but were in need of sorting. We are grateful to the students of Hillel Minsk for sifting and sorting the huge pile of broken pieces of matzevot, and for the attempt to systematize and catalogue the headstones.
Hillel sorted the matzevot according to the following principle: visually unspoiled fragments were selected for the catalogue, and small pieces were classified as unreadable and unusable and set aside in piles. Our team has carried out a full audit of the discarded pieces, which comprises more than 2000 fragments of matzevot. Among them, we found more than 500 fragments on which it is possible to read the information relevant to the catalogue.
In order to identify each matzevah in accordance with the catalogue, it is necessary to number every piece. We attempted to keep Hillel’s numeration, but this was not possible: the numbers were glued to the headstones with double-sided tape, some had become unstuck and were lost; in addition, the matzevot that had been placed on pallets were out of order. We had to therefore re-number them. Each number is marked with a special marker on the end of each matzevot, the fragments are placed in order on pallets and each pallet is signed. All matzevot will be set aside for safekeeping until the construction stage of the project.
Photographing for the catalogue takes place on a special base with a measuring ruler and a counting tool. Each matzevah, or fragment, is measured and weighed in order to calculate the load on the memorial structure for the design work. The work at this stage is being carried out by specialists including; engineers, architects and Jewish epigraphy specialists, with the participation of volunteers. Historians, researchers and Rabbis are also playing a key role in developments. We are very pleased that caring volunteers from Jewish youth organizations are participating in projects to preserve Jewish heritage. For a complex project such as this, to be successful and to achieve its goals, a competent organization with a team of highly qualified professional specialists is critical.
As the stages of the project are implemented, we will report on the completed works and further plans.
July 18th 2021