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Before opening of memorial in Kamen. My father – to the left, Joseph Reitman – to the right. Photo by Girsh Raihelson.
Before opening of memorial in Kamen.
My father – to the left, Joseph Reitman – to the right.
Photo by Girsh Raihelson.

On September 17th, 1941 my grandfather Borukh Raihelson, together with grandmother and other relatives, was shot by fascists in a place called Kamen.

In 1947, when we came back from evacuation, and father was demobilized, we found… a pasture on the place of the mass grave. Father put a fence around that place and later set up a small monument made of plywood. Only 25 years after the tragic events set a memorial, designed by Joseph Reitman, an engineer from Leningrad, whose relatives had also perished in Kamen.

Our project required special equipment; therefore I had to contact the regional authorities with a request to have the monument elements produced. Soon the monument and the fence were installed on the place, where 177 people, Kamen Jews, had been buried. There was an inscription and Magen David at the top.

Quite a few people came to the memorial opening – the victims’ relatives and locals. There were no official representatives and, in fact, they were not needed.

Memorial in Kamen. Photo taken in 2008.Memorial in Kamen. Photo taken in 2008.
Memorial in Kamen. Photo taken in 2008.

However, they showed up in about a year… I was requested to come to the Regional Council and the same clerk, who once had given me the permission to erect the monument, announced: “We would like to make it an official monument and make the local school responsible for looking after it. For this we need you to make some corrections on the inscription. Not only Jews died in the war, so you need to take out the word “Jews”. Magen David symbolizes a country, which is hostile to Soviet people; therefore it should be replaced by the Soviet star.”

I made a mistake of arguing with him and refused to make any changes. When I came to Kamen with my father the following spring, all the “corrections” had already been made. The Nazi bullet took their lives, and the Soviet anti-Semite deprived them of their nationality.

In the summer of 1998 I managed to visit the graves of my relatives in Vitebsk and Kamen. The place, where my grandfather’s house had been once situated, was now occupied by a modern-looking cottage of “a new Russian”. Next to it there still was a clear transparent lake with a forest behind it. So many childhood stories are connected with this place…

Our monument still stood there. It stood there, well-attended and bright, but hideously mutilated by those, for whom the word “Jew” was intolerable like red cloth is for a bull. What about the Jews? They left these places for good: some are in the mass grave, some spread all around the world…

Kamen, may 2009.

Jewish settlements in Vitebsk region

Vitebsk Albrehtovo Babinovichi Baran Bayevo Begoml Beshenkovichi Bocheikovo Bogushevsk Borkovichi Braslav Bychiha Chashniki Disna Dobromysli Dokshitsy Druya Dubrovno Glubokoye Gorodok Kamen Kohanovo Kolyshki Kopys Krasnopolie Kublichi Lepel Liady Liozno Lukoml Luzhki Lyntupy Miory Obol Oboltsy Orsha Osintorf Ostrovno Parafianovo Plissa Polotsk Prozorki Senno Sharkovshina Shumilino Sirotino Slaveni Smolyany Surazh Tolochin Ulla Verhnedvinsk Vidzy Volyntsy Yanovichi Yezerishe Zhary Ziabki

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