The Belarus Holocaust Memorial Project — Kolenu, the Newsletter of Peninsula Temple Beth El, January/February 2018
The Belarus Holocaust Memorial Project
By Cary Kletter
On September 9, 1942, the remaining Jews living in Kurenets, Poland, now Belarus, were rounded up by the police. More than half of them were children and the elderly. They were all put in a large shed, which was set on fire by the Kurenets fire department. Those who tried to escape were shot. 1052 Jews were murdered that day. This is the shtetl where my family is from. My very fortunate great bubbe Rose Alpert (Alpertovitz) and her family had emigrated from Kurenets to Upstate New York before WWII. At the time of the September 9 massacre, one-third of the Jews living in Kurenets had the last name Alpertovitz.
Every summer UK citizens Diana and Michael Lazarus and representatives of the families of their US counterparts return to Belarus. I have had the honor of joining them on several occasions. Dedication ceremonies are held to say Kaddish and El Malei Rachamim for the deceased, many of whom were killed along with all of their heirs—leaving no one alive to mourn them. Eyewitnesses often describe the horrors that occurred on the day of the executions. This is a very meaningful ceremony and one way to engage in the mitzvah of honoring the deceased. For those whose families suffered unspeakably tragic losses in Belarus during the Nazi occupation, it is our earnest hope that knowledge of these memorials, in the cities, towns, villages, farmer’s fields, and forest clearings, the very sites where the massacres took place, will afford some small comfort. As one family put it: “now we have somewhere where we can stand to remember and mourn.”
The Lazarus family created the Simon Mark Lazarus Foundation and formed a de facto partnership with local Jewish organizations to erect memorials which became the Belarus Holocaust Memorial Project, identifying locations where atrocities occurred and coordinating the construction of the Holocaust memorials. To date (November 2017), more than 105 memorials have been erected throughout Belarus. There are more than 500 sites in Belarus where massacres of Jews took place; the Belarus Holocaust Memorial Project plans to erect a memorial at as many of them as possible. More information is available on their website: www.belarusmemorials.com.