Crowdfunding campaign for Belarus Jewish memorial

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Crowdfunding campaign for Belarus Jewish memorial

Charity wants £100,000 to build memorial in Brest-Litovsk

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Gravestones from the Brest-Litovsk (Brisk) Jewish cemetery discovered at the site of the Warbourg Colony in 2016 Photo credit The Together Plan
Gravestones from the Brest-Litovsk (Brisk) Jewish cemetery discovered at the site of the Warbourg Colony in 2016 Photo credit The Together Plan

An ambitious crowdfunding campaign will be launched for two days next weekend, (May 19 and 20) to raise £100,000 for a memorial at the destroyed Jewish cemetery in Brest-Litovsk, Belarus.

As Debra Brunner, chief executive of The Together Plan, a UK-based charity, explained, contributions to the campaign are expected to come from all over the world. It will be the culmination of an 11-year-long project, which has included the salvaging of pieces of 1249 Jewish gravestones which once stood in the Brest-Litovsk cemetery.

“We have had £100,000 already pledged and we are now seeking matching funds,” Brunner told Jewish News. The campaign’s major donor, who has asked to remain anonymous, is based in the US and is the son of one of the few survivors from Brest during the Holocaust.

After the war and the absorption of Belarus into the Soviet Union, the cemetery was effectively destroyed. “As with so many of these sites in the Soviet Union, they were re-purposed. One end of what was the Jewish cemetery is now a running track and stadium, while at the other end there is shrubland with a few embedded gravestones which can be found. Everything else is gone, with no marker, nothing to say that there was a cemetery there.”

Headstones in storage in Brest. Photo credit The Together Plan.

The Brest municipality has been “very supportive” and has approved the design of the memorial, which will be sited at the shrubland area. The fragmented gravestones, which will form part of the memorial, have been painstakingly gathered by volunteers in Belarus over the last 11 years, after they began turning up all over the city.

When Brunner first got involved in 2013, many of the Jewish gravestones were lying underneath the Brest Fortress, a memorial to the Soviet Union. “People started finding the stones in their gardens, in the river, on construction sites… they didn’t know what to do with them, so they contacted the Jewish community”. In turn, the community asked the municipality for help and it provided a storage area at the Brest Fortress complex.

Remnants of gravestones from the Brest-Litovsk (Brisk) Jewish cemetery, under the arches of the Brest Fortress 2014 Photo Credit The Together Plan

But the storage conditions were less than ideal and so Brunner and supporters raised money for them to be fenced in and covered while discussions took place as to what to do with them.

“But in 2019 the stones disappeared and we didn’t know where they had gone — we thought they had been totally destroyed”. They turned up in a warehouse outside Brest in early 2020, but many were badly damaged.

Brest-Litovsk-Jewish-cemetery-memorial-image-design.-‘Design by Brad J. Goldberg (USA) Photo-credit-The-Together-Plan.

Now the memorial design, says Debra Brunner, “brings all the gravestones back to the area of the cemetery land”. She hopes that if the campaign is successful, building can begin in the summer and the dedication of the memorial will take place either late this year or early 2025.

Click here to find out more and support the campaign.

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