The year 2003 will mark the bicentennial of the Volozhin Yeshiva created by Reb Hayim de Volozhiner, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon, in 1803. Construction of the yeshiva building, which still survives, was completed in 1806. A fire swept Volozhyn during the middle of the 19th century, but the yeshiva was untouched.
Before World War II, Volozhyn, 70km north of Minsk, had a population of 4,000 people – 2,500 of whom were Jews who were well integrated into the community. In 1942, 3,000 Jews from Volozhyn and surrounding areas were herded, by Lithuanian police and German soldiers, into a barn, where they were burned alive. There are now 12 Jews in Volozhyn. The Germans and their collaborators destroyed the town's three synagogues. Today, the only remaining evidence of Jewish settlement is the dilapidated yeshiva. After the war, the yeshiva was first used as a restaurant during the 1950s and then as a culinaria from the 1960s to the present. The culinaria was scheduled to vacate in February, 1999, which would leave the building empty, making restoration all the more urgent as an unused building is likely to be vandalized. The culinaria, which has its own bakery, on the other hand, is not helping the structure. The plumbing is defective and keeps the basement, which was once the ground floor, permanently flooded.
The original interior decoration has largely vanished but it is clear where there has been partitioning and the original layout is recoverable. The original floor tiles may also be present under the present floor. The original window casements also exist. During the building survey, cast iron plates for under-flooring were discovered.
Volozhyn, Belarus. Yeshiva building in its present state. Photo: Frank Schwarz/ECJC
According to Frank Swartz,
the director of the East European Jewish Heritage Project, the intention
is to restore the Volozhyn Yeshiva to its original use as a building for
education. It will be used as a venue by the many Jewish education
programs that now exist throughout East Europe. At the same time,
space is reserved for use as a repository of recovered pre-War Jewish community
records now dispersed in private hands. There will also be a computerized
resource center for genealogical and historical records. Plans calls
for the Volozhyn Yeshiva to become financially self-sufficient by renting
and carrying out genealogical research. Contributions for the restoration
can be made to the Union of Religious Jewish Congregations of the Republic
of Belarus through Yeshiva University.
For more information contact Frank Swartz, East European Jewish Heritage Project, 13b Dauman Street, Minsk 220002, Belarus; tel/fax 375 17 234 5612/234 3360; email email@example.com
International Survey of Jewish Monuments
c/o Jewish Heritage Research Center
Box 210, 118 Julian Pl.
Syracuse, New York 13210-3419, USA
tel: (315) 474-2350
fax: (315) 474-2347