Monday, April 30, 2007

Murder Sites

The trail of Jewish history in eastern Europe is a mixed one. Pogroms and random anti semitic murders during the centuries were a fact of life. The coming of the Soviets and their antipathy to religion in general squeezed most of the remaining vitality out of the Jewish religious community, which was already losing members due to changing values and emigration.

Nevertheless, there was a long history of a rich communal lifestyle full of tradition, and close family relations, with a joy and a love for life and learning.

The Nazis and their accomplices came along and decimated the remaining Jewish population with an unmatched vehemence and a lack of any discernible human feelings that defies belief. Many Belarussians stepped up to save their Jewish neighbors, some losing their lives in the process. The population of Belarus in general saw 25% of the population lost during the war years of 1941-1945, the villages and cities ravaged during a brutal occupation.

Driving through the Belarussian countryside, there are numerous monuments at murder sites where Jews were marched en masse into the forest and shot and buried in mass graves. There is an incredible sadness to being there at these spots, knowing the horror that occurred beneath your feet. There is also a feeling of appreciation for a country that remembers its own.

The photos are of two random sites we passed on our trip to Mir and Volozhin. 800 were murdered at one, 1600 at the other.

Jewish Cemeteries

In both Mir and Volozhin, we found Jewish cemeteries, generally neglected, but with some updates. Each has memorials to people murdered by the Nazis.


Volozhin was a town with a renowned yeshiva, known throughout the Jewish world. The photos show the yeshiva building and some village scenes.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mir Castle and Village

Mir Castle! A site designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site and a major source of Belarussian pride, it was built in the 16th Century, subsequently obtained by the Radziwill family and is a reflection of the mixed cultures and history of Belarus, a pastiche of Lithuanian, Polish, and Belarussian cultures. Not far away was Volozhin, a village with a rich history. Although Mir seems to have been a more prominent location, both villages still show remnants of an unchanged lifestyle.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


From classic Belarussian folk dance to operas, ballets and concerts, the city of Minsk enjoys and appreciates its culture and makes it available, inexpensive, accessible, and most of all, professional.
The artists as well as the production values are often world class. We won't soon forget the smugglers gradually appearing through the fog in 'Carmen' nor the whirling dancers of the Khoroshky troupe.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Students and Teachers

Teaching, lecturing and consulting has been a load of fun as well as a rewarding experience. The level of motivation and enthusiasm I've experienced from students, teachers, and the general community has been truly marvelous. I've done classes in Business English at the Minsk Jewish Community Center, lectures and showings(together with Fulbright scholars) on American film at Minsk libraries, 'English Nights' at the corporate offices of British American Tobacco, classes on American business practices at the Belarus Academy of Public Administration, and several classes at Minsk State Linguistics University, which is where I am on the faculty as consultant/senior lecturer. Especially edifying have been the editing tasks that have helped faculty members here to feel confident concerning the English texts of various papers that they are publishing in professional journals, the ongoing work on a major Belarussian/ English/ Belarussian dictionary in the early stages, and the minor, but important clarifications that I've been able to provide to a wonderful Belarussian poet in the process of publishing an English translation of some of her poems.
It's been quite an eclectic experience!