Recent visitors to Mogilev, Belarus, report that the Jewish cemetery is in terrible condition, and that the graves are routinely disturbed. Two former synagogues in the town, which was once home 40 Jewish houses of worship, remain in the hands of sports clubs – despite efforts for many years by the local Jewish community to obtain their return. Some nine years ago, the leader of the Jewish community, Michael Shulman, started the effort to return both buildings to Mogilev Jews but failed. The former Mayor of Mogilev, Mr. Gabrusev, informed Shulman that the city could not throw the sportsmen out into the streets. Mr. Gabrusev then advised the Jews who have rich relatives abroad to ask for money and to build a new synagogue. Things have not yet changed.
The only Jewish cemetery in Mogilev is in the very center of the town. The local authorities take absolutely no care of it and the Jewish organizations have no money to bring it to order. It was officially closed some 15 years ago, but nowadays, a lot of people from many different nations can obtain permission to be buried there, for a price. The old graves are opened, the bodies are thrown out of them and new coffins are put in. It is not unusual to see bones around the site.
Mogilev’s Jewish population has traditionally faced difficult times. Since its inception in the 16th century by Jews who collected custom duties, non-Jewish residents of Mogilev and surrounding areas have resented the Mogilev Jews. Jews were attacked by townspeople on Rosh Hashana in 1645; the Russians expelled the Jews in 1654 (and massacred the remaining Jews who did not become apostates); there was a blood libel in 1692. For a period of twenty-thirty years during the late 19th century, the Jews of Mogilev prospered and their population grew to 21,539 in 1897. By 1926, however, only 17,105 Jews were left. The Germans massacred the Jewish residents during World War II. After the war, in 1959, there were an estimated 7-10,000 Jewish residents. Mogilev has had a synagogue since the beginning of the 17th century.
All photos courtesy of Frank Schwartz.
International Survey of Jewish Monuments
c/o Jewish Heritage Research Center
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Syracuse, New York 13210-3419, USA
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