The site of the Brest-Litovsk Jewish Cemetery in the south west corner of Belarus on the Polish border, holds profound historical significance as a testament to the vibrant Jewish community that once flourished in the region. This is a cemetery, devoid of a single gravestone, with no marker to show that it was, and still is, a Jewish burial site. Recognising the importance of preserving Jewish cultural heritage in Eastern Europe, the Brest-Litovsk Jewish Cemetery Memorial Project has emerged as a powerful initiative, dedicated to marking and commemorating the cemetery. This article delves into the history of the cemetery, the challenges it faced, and the anticipated transformative impact of this long awaited memorial project.
The Brest-Litovsk Jewish Cemetery dating back to the late 19th century, served as the final resting place for generations of the Jewish community in the region. The cemetery became a poignant symbol of religious and cultural identity, with its tombstones bearing witness to a rich tapestry of stories, traditions, and lives lost to time. However, due to tumultuous events of history that so tragically impacted the Jews of Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, the cemetery disappeared, along with its invaluable historical legacy. However, twenty years ago, miraculously headstones that once stood in this cemetery started to be discovered all across the region and today there are over 1200 salvaged remnants, now in the care of Dialog, The Together Plan’s partner organisation in Belarus.
Recognising the urgency of preserving this invaluable piece of history, Dialog and The Together Plan embarked on an ambitious restoration endeavour, a journey which began back in 2014. The project brought together local communities, international organisations, and passionate individuals who were determined to honour the memory of the Jewish community that once thrived in Brest-Litovsk. Through meticulous efforts, the salvaged damaged tombstones were collected, stored, cleaned, photographed, read, translated and catalogued. That catalogue can be found here. The next step has been to implement measures to ensure the long-term preservation of the site. Thanks to the unwavering belief and support of Stephen Grynberg and the Illuminate Foundation, a stunning memorial design is now a reality. A third of the funds have been pledged and a campaign will soon be launching as the project starts to come to life.
The Brest-Litovsk Jewish Cemetery Memorial Project serves as a powerful symbol of resilience, remembrance, and reconciliation. The project is a result of collaboration between communities, and will foster dialogue and understanding well into the future. It offers the potential of educational opportunities to raise awareness about the history and significance of the cemetery, which will encourage people to connect with the shared humanity represented by the remnant tombstones. The memorial will be a place of reflection, where visitors can pay their respects, learn about the vibrant Jewish heritage, the story of the communities of the past and connect to the community that is there today.
This memorial will preserve Jewish heritage for future generations. By safeguarding the Brest-Litovsk Jewish Cemetery, the memorial project ensures that future generations will be able to explore their roots, deepen their understanding of history, and appreciate the importance of cultural preservation. The project will act as a living history book, reminding us of the enduring spirit and contributions of the Jewish community. It will stand as a testament to the power of collective action, demonstrating that through dedication, collaboration, and respect, we can safeguard the past for the betterment of the future.
In conclusion, the Brest-Litovsk Jewish Cemetery Memorial Project in Belarus stands as a beacon of hope and resilience. Through its restoration efforts, the project honours the rich heritage of the Jewish community and encourages dialogue, understanding, and unity. This memorial will enable visitors to stroll through the memorial complex, where they will be reminded of the profound importance of preserving history, preserving memory, and preserving the stories of those who came before us. The project serves as an inspiration, demonstrating the transformative power of cultural preservation and the enduring legacy of a community that should never be forgotten.
This month, Artur Livshyts representing Dialog and The Together Plan attended a very productive meeting with the Mayor of Brest and the planning committee along with representatives of the Brest Jewish Community to discuss the proposed design and plans for the memorial.
As we move into the next stage of the development of this significant project – we will be asking you to play your part wherever you are in the world; to contribute to the campaign, to be part of the dialogue and to help us to bring this memorial to life so that this heritage site has the long awaited recognition it so richly deserves and the headstones are finally brought home to rest.
The campaign film and fundraising pages are now under development and will be launched shortly.
Thank you in advance