Sopotskin Cemetery Project Correspondence (3/25/2003 through 7/17/2005)
In a message dated 3/25/03 5:36:21 AM Eastern
Daylight Time to AlfredNeilKramer :
You are probably aware that in June 2002 there was a RESTORATION PROJECT carried out at the Sopotskin cemetery in Belarus.This was carried out by Dartmouth University students and faculty in collaboration with Hillel Rabbi Edward Boraz.They discovered numerous covered headstones,some of which they re-erected and also trimmed the grounds and built a fence around it.
Details are available at: www.dartmouth.edu/~hillel/belarus/ccesp.html and www.restorejcem.org
I recently became aware of this project and contacted Dr.Michael Lozman who is a driving force behind this project.They are going back to Amdur(Indura) Belarus in August,as well as to Sopotskin.Their main interests are to stimulate understanding of the Holocaust by the students and by their efforts to clean up ,fence and identify the cemetery. His concern is that Belarus law provides that a cemetery not used for 25 years can be taken over by the state and used for other purposes.There is thus a danger that if restoration is not done soon the site may be lost irrevocably. In their project they received the close co-operation of the Sopotskin authorities who provided some of the work force for their project.
During their work they discovered a large number of headstones and were only able to clean up a few.
My interest was that their presence on site or nearby provided an opportunity to clean and re-erect the headstones, to digitally photograph the inscriptions on the headstones, and to map the location of the headstones for future visitors.
We discussed the possibility of hiring local workers to carry out the cleaning and re-erection of the stones so that on the student's arrival photography and mapping could be undertaken. Dr.Lozman felt this would be feasible with proper co-ordination and planning providing funds could be provided to cover costs,which he felt would be relatively modest.
I thought Jewish Gen might be interested on two counts:
1)By providing direction and assisting planning, a database for Sopotskin could be generated.To date it had been believed that the cemetery had been completely destroyed and no official vital statistics have been found. Also through your auspices those with family ancestors from Soptskin(including me) could most easily be reached to raise the necessary funds.
2)It is possible if this project is successfully carried out that campus Hillel groups might develop into a valuable resource for collecting genealogical data,as well as permitting cemetery maintenance. Indeed Dr.Lozman has already initiated steps to initiate similar projects on other campuses with community and voluntary financing.
I would appreciate your input as to the desirability of this project. I realize that time is very short but believe it is nevertheless feasible to raise funds quickly.
I am at this E-mail address until March30, but I can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org both now and after Mar.30
In a message dated 4/7/03 3:03:35 AM Eastern
Daylight Time, email@example.com
I'm forwarding you this e-mail because it looks that it might interest you.
From: Marvin Langer [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Sunday, April 06, 2003 1:47 AM
To: Belarus SIG
Subject: Sopotskin Project
In June 2002 Dartmouth University students and faculty in collaboration
with Hillel carried out a RESTORATION PROJECT at the Sopotskin cemetery
in Belarus.They received the close co-operation and assistance of
Sopotskin authorities.There they discovered a large number of headstones
imbedded in the ground.They were only able to clean and re-erect some 20
of them.They trimmed and beautified the cemetery grounds and built an
imposing fence around it.Details and pictures are available at:
Dr.Michael Lozman, a driving force behind the project, is taking a group
again in August of 2003.Dr. Lozman believes it is feasible to
uncover,clean and re-erect all of the headstones,to map their
location,and to digitally photograph them.It will then be possible to
create a data base for the use of those researching their ancestors in
If you are interested in this project would you please contact me
In a message dated 4/12/03 8:37:01 AM Eastern
Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:
I wrote to you a while ago. Didn't you receive my e-mail? I said how may I help? Al Kramer
Dear Al: I did not receive your earlier e-mail.Thank you for your offer.
My grandfather comes from Sopotskin.To
my knowledge there have as yet been no archival
vital statistics records(ie. births marriages and deaths)
located..That was what excited me about the discovery of numerous
tombstones in the Sopotskin cemetery which could be a source of
possible information about our ancestors.While exact
costs aren't available as yet, it appears that for a modest
expenditure it is possible to restore and re-erect many of these
headstones,photograph and translate them into English from the Hebrew
or Yiddish and make them available online through
the JewishGen(.JOWBR)This would permit some of us to gain more
information about our ancestors.This is only possible because a
group will be on site to supervise the work and take the final
pictures.A number of my relatives have expressed support for
the project and we are meeting to collect some funds and hope that
others will also be interested in contributing as well..If so we will set up a
mechanism to collect and safeguard the use of the funds solely for
that purpose, possibly through Hillel.Because the project involves cemetery restoration as well,
fund raising cannot be done directly through JOWBR..Since the group is
going in August speed is essential to take advantage of their trip.Your feedback would be greatly
appreciated. It is not only the collection of the funds that we wish to stimulate
but also a participation and communication between those who have a common interest.
Again, thank you for your reply and I will certainly keep you informed of what develops.
Your expertise and knowledge of Sopotskin will undoubtedly be most helpful.
I hope to have firm figures as to costs next week and will get back to you with specifics.
Thank you for your kind offer of help.
In a message dated 4/16/03 12:27:57 AM Eastern
Daylight Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Marvin, you know there were two Jewish cemeteries on the same street. The older one was closer to town and the newer one further, where the non-Jews lived.
The cemetery being restored is the new one at the end of synagogue street. I asked Michael tonight, by coincidence, if he had visited the old cemetery. He was unaware of its existence, and I mentioned your papers and web site about Sopotskin. He would be pleased to hear from you about how he might access the old cemetery. He will be sending me cost figures for the work of cleaning, restoring and photographing the headstones on their visit this summer. I hope to send an update this week-end to all who expressed interest.
Subj: Re: Sopotskin Cemetery
Let me thank you on behalf of all the Jewish people actually from Sopotskin who are alive today and living throughout the world; as well as, on behalf of all the descendants of all the Jewish people from Sopotskin. Restoring the cemetery is indeed a blessing on you and the other wonderful people who have and are participating in this project. We are very, very grateful and eternally indebted to you for this.
With regard to the old cemetery, it was located between Synagogue Street and Vasalevitch Streets, close to the market square. This information comes from my cousin who was born in Sopotskin and lived there until she was 17 years old (1941). If you were standing on the market square facing Synagogue Street and started walking up Synagogue Street on the left hand side of the street, about a half of a block up you would find the well. First, before you came to the well, on the left of you, you would see the "old shul," then the "summer shul." The summer shul, which was the big fancy wooden one, that's pictured in the book Wooden Synagogues. Then you would reach the "new shul." The well was in the middle, about abreast of the summer shul. So, when you got to the well, from walking up Synagogue Street, you make a left turn and face the well. If you kept walking in a straight line, going toward Vasalevitch Street you would pass the well and come to the side of the summer shul. On this side would be the side entrance for the women. Turning to the left at the women's entrance and going around the corner of the building, would take you to the front entrance of the summer shul (which faces the Market). If you continue past the summer shul towards Vasalevitch Street, just on the other side of the summer shul was the old cemetery. Diagonally, to the right of that end of the summer shul was a school building. To the left was the rear of the stores that faced Market Square. Straight ahead past the cemetery were the rear of the homes that faced Vasalevitch Street. In front of the summer shul was the "old shul" and behind the summer shul was the new shul. If you need more I can draw a map, send it to my cousin for confirmation, and then forward it to you. My cousin states that she doesn't remember any headstones, but it was so long ago. She said when she lived there she didn't know anyone who was buried there, that evidently they had stopped using that cemetery in her lifetime and started using the new one that you are working on.
Of major concern to all the descendants from Sopotskin who are doing genealogical research are the vital records for Sopotskin. No one so far is able to locate them. We have tried many, many depositories, archives, and the like, but to no avail. We have tried in Poland, Belarus, Lithuania and Russia. We have tried in regional and county archives, in church records, etc. This has gone on for over 12 years that I know about. We have been told, but not in any official capacity, that no civil records exist in Sopotskin for Sopotskin; but no one has ever been there to confirm this one way or the other. We know that in 1906 there was a synagogue fire, where it is said that the records kept there were burned and destroyed. Nevertheless, in all other towns records that were kept in synagogues and churches were also kept by the civil authorities. Why wouldn't the civil authorities in Sopotskin also have their own records? So, having said all that, is it possible that on your next trip there you could inquire locally about these records?
All over the world, Jews are tracing their roots successfully and linking with the past. A chain of ties that was unbroken until the Holocaust. Now, they are fixing the broken chain and finding what little solace there is in that endeavor. Until your efforts, hope was fading for any further genealogical information about Sopotskin. Now there is the possibility of gaining some information from the tombstones. Perhaps you may also locate the civil records.
My very best regards~!
June 11, 2004
> Marvin, Hi~! Do you know who he went with? If they were going to
> Sopockin? If so, were they going to decipher the tombstones, and with
> what method? Please give me some meat for the bones. Regards, Al
Hi A l:
Michael has gone to Belarus with his group to save and restore another
Belarus cemetery.While there he,and hired Belarusians are to uncover,
clean and photograph the stones.As you recall this was to have been done
on his last visit which was interrupted by his recall to his mother's
funeral.I have sent him in the past the Internet instructions for
improving legibility and best photographic techniques. However I suspect
we will rerceive images similar to the earlier photographs and will
still have to find techniques for capturing as many images as possible.
Also there will undoubtedly be many readable and usable images as well.
I gather he will be back within a couple of weeks and I shall keep you
apprised of the situation.
Again Al, good luck on your paper on Sopotskin. Any pre-publication
advanced information about the gist of your article?
June 26, 2004
August 2, 2004
Sorry for the delay. I will be sending you pictures of gravestones I uncovered and uprighted this June. Please let your readers know that we can continue to do this work on Sopotskin and other Jewish cemeteries only with their fianancial support. In another few generations these cemeteries will not even be here to discuss unless we put fences around them. I have just returned from two more villages in Belarus where we installed fences for that purpose. If you can help me reach others with this message, please let me know. Just for the record, I am not part of Dartmouth College., I invited them to join me on these projects. Actually, I am a full time working orthodontist.
October 16, 2004
July 17, 2005
Thank you for your recent e-mail. I returned from Belarus on June 23. I coordinated a cemetery restoration project in Lunna, Belarus, with a group from Dartmouth College. We did a wonderful restoration of the Jewish cemetery and also engaged in integrating with the local school. I presented the school with a gift, and also ,for the first time, encouraged them to have an essay contest about the Holocaust for their students. This was designed to encourage the students to think about the contribution and fate of the Jews of their country; there has been no contact with Jews for the past three generations. I awarded a first ,second, and third prize to the winners, and the essays were brilliant. Many of the school children volunteered to help on the cemetery project and about 80 townspeople attended the dedication ceremony when we were completed. The added effect of this is that it draws the village into our work, and I think, protects the cemetery from vandalism after we leave. I will certainly do this contest again. With all due humility, this cemetery was a showpiece when we were "completed". So far, Sopotskin, Indura, Svir, Kamenka, and now Lunna, are all villages with Jewish cemeteries that I have now put fences around as well as righting gravestones and clearing the land of sixty years of overgrowth. The cemeteries we work on are those that have no walls, fences or perimeter demarcations. The primary purpose at this time is to give the cemeteries an identity by installing a fence around them. This helps to establish its presence. Oftentimes a cemetery may have only a handful of stones standing and the land is often used as a garbage dump or has structures such as garages built on them. Our wrought iron fences are installed in holes filled with cement and then the fence panels are welded together as a unit. I will send you pictures of our most recent work ( Lunna) and I think you will be amazed. I truly believe we are doing important work to preserve Jewish heritage and that we are fighting time to protect these cemeteries. With adequate funding and support from individuals, Jewish organizations, and grants, we will have the potential to grow large enough to make a significant change during our lifetime. Eventually I feel we will attract enough funding that will enable us to support a small staff, and then we will be able to organize enough colleges to work on numerous cemeteries each year. Each cemetery translates to about 2000-3000 graves, and it is this number that helps drive home the value of our project. In talks that I often am asked to give, I always remind my audience that these Jews buried there were not able to have family return from the concentration camps to preserve their names; that is the least we can do for them. The tax deductable foundation I have set up to receive donations is: The Restoration of Eastern European Jewish Cemeteries Project, Inc. c/o Dr. Michael Lozman 17 Johnson Rd. PO Box 821 Latham, NY 12110 Alfred, thank you for your offer of support. I have several villages lined up for next year and beyond. I will try to keep you posted as we progress.
Best Regards, Michael