The Jewish cemetery in the village of Druya

Druya is a small settlement in Braslav district of Vitebsk region, situated on the border with Latvia. The name of the agricultural town came fr om the Druyka River where the settlement is located. Today its population is about a thousand and a half people. According to historical facts, four thousand seven hundred forty-two people lived there in 1897. More than three thousand of them were Jews who had settled the village many years ago.  The Jewish cemetery appeared in Druya in about 1542. Here lie the locals and victims of Jewish ghetto. It is the only Jewish cemetery in the country with colourful paintings on gravestones, and at the same time the oldest one in Belarus.

Belarus has always been a tolerant country to other religions and cultures. So the Belarusians got along well with the Jews as well: went to each other's homes, had tea together, helped each other. But peace and friendship were broken by the Great Patriotic War, the hardest time for the whole Soviet Union.

They say the Jews had a presentiment of a tragic outcome and they often said that it was a punishment for their sins. So Druya was occupied in the summer of 1941 and was in the occupation until July, 1944. The Nazis created a terrible organization there in 1941 – the Jewish ghetto – the place wh ere the Jews of Druya and the nearest places were resettled. The troops of Nazi Germany used the residents of the ghetto as a labour, robbed them, and forced them to wear special badges. In March 1942, the Jews were redirected to the synagogue near the Druyka River and were forbidden to leave the designated boundary. There was a bloody event in June of the same year: the Jews were shot. The Nazis killed more than one thousand three hundred people and only some of them managed to save. During the shooting, the Jews tried to resist and set fire to the territory of the ghetto in a few places. That was the way how famous Druya synagogue, one the most beautiful ancient building, built in 1766, disappeared from the face of the earth. The synagogue, situated in due time on the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, considered one of the most majestic in the neighbourhood. A hipped roof, elegant figured windows – the building fully corresponded to the Baroque style. There was a majestic altar inside the temple. Unfortunately, only fragments of white bricks have remained from the synagogue. However, according to one of the versions, the Church was burned down by the Nazis. According to another opinion, the Jews wanted to die in a prayer during the fire but not at the fascists’ hands. And according to the last version, people tried to save having hidden themselves in clouds of smoke and escaping through a tunnel that was in the synagogue. But they did not manage to survive – almost all died.

Nowadays the Jews do not live in Druya. Those who had survived moved to Poland. Only the cemetery, a monument on the place of the shooting established by the Jews and the remains of the synagogue remind of the life of the Jews in Druya. The locals say that the ceremony of the opening of the monument was very touching. The Jewish cemetery was also restored by those who had lived there.  The Jews made a fence for their money, cleaned the territory and put in order ancient monuments.

The Jewish cemetery of Druya is a place that reminds us about important historical events having happened in the Belarusian SSR.