Old Jewish cemetery in Rakov

Several stairs up the stone ladder lead to the closed gates. Behind them there is a green hill overgrown with pines

Strolling through the small town of Rakov, it is easy to wander to an old Jewish cemetery. Usually people try to keep away from such places, but we advise you not to turn off the road, but to open the gates and go further. Lots of tombstones are on quite a large area - no need to explain, that it’s a place of mass people burial. Among non-Russian inscriptions Hebrew language is easily recognized – it is a Jewish cemetery. And it is one of the oldest in Belarus.

The first burial in Rakov Jewish cemetery dates back to 1664. It hasn’t preserved to the present day, therefore the oldest is the grave of the dead in 1767. According to the Jewish tradition people are buried on the hills. That’s the reason why the first graves, being the oldest ones, are located at the highest point.

Before World War II Rakov was densely populated with Jews

In XIX and the beginning of XX century a lot of Jewish families lived there - more than 2 thousand, and it was about 60 % of the entire town’s population at that moment, although it was central Belarus (Rakov is located 40 km from Minsk).

A huge part of the Jewish population of this town was annihilated by holocaust. 950 people were burned in Rakov synagogue’s building, and Germans shot more than a hundred of people right at the cemetery. In 2005 a memorial to those monstrous killings was set up on the place of that tragic event. According to the stories of local residents, in the 80-ies children played football right on the place of the memorial – on the graves.

Fate of Rakov Jewish cemetery after the War

Germans left quite a lot of Belarusian towns without a single Jew. In post-war Rakov the situation was the same – there were almost no Jews and it meant that there was no one to look after the cemetery.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union Jews, who had abandoned this place, their children and grandchildren began to come to Rakov. The descendants of Barni, Leia Gurvits and Aaron Gringolts families didn’t allow the cemetery to disappear and fall into disrepair due to the lack of care of the graves. They earmarked quite a considerable sum of money for its restoration. The cemetery has been arranged and it doesn’t look so scary.

Earlier vandals used to steal the grave-stones and use that stone as a building material for their houses or roads laying. But after the restoration it was fenced and such kinds of outrages ended. The local residents also stopped walking here and cut the way to the market place in that way.

Not a single cross or contemporary monument

If you walk each and every meter along and read all the epitaphs – you won’t find any grave, appeared here less than half a century ago. People haven’t been buried here since the 60-ies, and then the cemetery was officially closed. Altogether 7 hundred signed graves came to our days.