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My travel in Belarus
by Marius Hermaniwicz

contributed by Rita Redlich

My father’s family comes from Vilna. My mother’s also, but before 1939.They had three properties (farms) in Byelorussia. In all the areas I have been, I met people who remember my family. 

Since the beginning of July, 1999, I have been a photographer for Polish historians of art in Belarus who are doing an inventory of properties of religious art, primarily Catholic. 

In Michalishuck there is quite an interesting church. Not much about the town. It is like other Belarus towns. Many houses made of wood. In Communist times, they built brick houses – very ugly – like Communism. 

There is a river, the Vilya, which goes through Michalishuck. The local people call it Neris. The same river goes through Vilna.I n Michalishki it is wide. We swam in it in the evening. Michalishuck is on a high scarp of the river. The Vilya flows in this little town and reminds me of a narrow passage between mountains, like a small canyon. 

With us was a man from Leiblein, Pavel (Paul). I can find out more about him – he went his own way. He is interested in Jewish Art. In this little town, we took photos of Catholic Churches. He was trying to find Jewish cemeteries. The Jewish cemetery in Michalishuck survived. Paul did not write about all the graves – he was only interested in the most interesting for artistic reasons. He is not Jewish – he learned the Jewish alphabet. He gives the text to someone who knows Hebrew. He told me that in Belarus there is a group from the University of Jerusalem and in Petersburg. They also catalog Jewish cemeteries. 

I saw synagogues that survived in Grodno. One made of brick. In Ushman they buy bottles for recycling. There are two or three synagogues in Ivna. One is a garage, another is a gym.  There is also some other structure for Jewish family services. 

Belarus is very poor, always was poor. It was devastated during WWII and communism contributed to its backwardness. Under government of Lukazenki this country is not developing at all. I met many nice wonderful people, specifically in small town. This trip reminds me of the atmosphere in Poland at the end of the 19th century, which does not exist anymore. 

As far as looking in archives – I looked in Vilna. Now I am trying to get archives from Belarus – but it is all about Catholic churches. For Michalishuck the church records should be in the Historical Archives in Vilna. I do not know if they would have Jewish records. Do you have the address of the Jewish Museum in Vilna? There are several historians who specialize in the history of the Jews. Possibly you can write them with your questions.

© 2003 Belarus SIG