Soviet destruction of Jewish cemeteries

From: Adam <>
Date: Wed, 2 Jul 2003 15:08:37 +0000 (GMT)

I thought some of you might be interested in this news story - it reflects
how lucky we are that the Czernowitz area cemeteries still exist, even in
their dilapidated state.

Human Remains Found at Belarus Stadium
Tue Jul 1, 2:18 PM ET

By YURAS KARMANAU, Associated Press Writer

GRODNO, Belarus - When the spring melt began, the people living on New
Street made a horrific discovery: Mixed in with dirt from a construction
site that had been dumped in front of their homes were human jawbones,
femurs and even entire skulls.

The bones are the remnants of a once vibrant Jewish community that was
nearly wiped out in World War II. Its memory had been buried even deeper
in 1963 when officials in this then-Soviet republic built a soccer stadium
over a Jewish cemetery dating back to the 18th century and containing the
graves of Jews who died during the Nazi occupation.

"My grandmother was buried in the cemetery, and the Soviet authorities
never warned us that they would start constructing a stadium there and
that we could move the bodies," said Grigory Khasid, 78, the oldest of the
1,600 Jews now living in Grodno, a city of 304,000 people.

There was no warning this time, either. Construction workers began
renovating the Nieman stadium in January, carting off truckloads of soil
to fill in holes on New Street and other nearby dirt roads over the next
two months.

As the winter's snow melted, broken headstones with Hebrew engravings were
found mixed in the dirt along with bones and gold teeth. People have swept
bones to the side of the road and some have tried reburying remains in the

But with each rain these relics of the past wash up again, leaving some
people squeamish.

"Everyone knows these are bones from the Jewish cemetery at the stadium,"
said Galina Pilits, a medical lab worker who lives on New Street. She said
people in the neighborhood hope street crews will pave over the bones.

The city's Jewish community, which numbered more than 20,000 before the
war, wants the remains reburied with respect. Khasid has collected
headstones and taken them to Grodno's sole surviving Jewish cemetery.

City authorities ordered workers to collect bones found at the stadium for
reburial. Occasionally they send municipal workers to collect bones from
the streets, said Sergei Dubavets, a city council member.

"But who is going to walk along and pick up inidual bones on the
streets? It's impossible to collect every bone," said Mikhail Korzh,
president of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Grodno.

Grodno, once home to 43 synagogues and still the site of one of the oldest
and most beautiful synagogues in Europe, the Great Choral Synagogue, has
no resident rabbi.

A group of rabbis who visited earlier this year were disturbed by the
handling of the remains.

"Grodno's Jewish community shouldn't stand off to the side, 'keeping their
hands clean,' and just observe this flagrant blasphemy," said Leonid
Levin, president of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Organizations and
Communities in the capital, Minsk.

He said the government had promised to retrieve and rebury the remains
"but the reconstruction of the stadium is going a lot faster than the
perpetuation of the memory of the Jews buried there."

The first Jews came to Grodno in the 14th century, and by the mid-19th
century they comprised more than half the population. The city, then in
the far west of the Soviet Union, was one of the first captured by Nazi
Germany's army in the June 1941 invasion.

The city's Jews were forced into ghettos, transported to death camps, and
massacred over the next two years. Only about 200 survived the war,
according to Yad Vashem, Israel's leading Holocaust research institute.

Received on 2003-07-05 22:32:50

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