My grandfather was born in Dvorets and lived there until he was about 20 and moved to Chicago in the 1920’s. I have been fortunate that I have been able to travel to Belarus about 6 times for work in the past year and a half. I spend most my time in Minsk, but I have had a free day a couple times and rented a car and traveled around the country.
I just returned from a trip that took me to Belarus from 4/10-13. I was free on Saturday, 4/12, so rented a car with a Russian colleague. We decided to head southwest of Minsk to visit Slonim, passing through Baranovich on the way. I have always been very impressed with Belarus. Despite being very poor compared to Western Europe, Belarus is one of the safest and cleanest countries in Europe, the roads are on par with US infrastructure, and outside of lodging, it is pretty inexpensive.
Slonim is in the Grodna district, about 20 miles or so from Dvorets. I love traveling around this area, because I’m sure I am walking in my family’s footsteps.
In Slonim, there is a large, fortress like synagogue near the center of town. It towers over Slonim’s central market. It dates back to the 16th century. It is crumbling and appears to have been out of use for at least the last 50 years. It is surrounded by a fence, but I managed to find a way inside and take some pictures. Several churches in Slonim have been restored, but the synagogue is looking pretty sad. Do you know if there are any organizations that look after these old Jewish buildings in Belarus?
From Slonim, we headed towards Novogrodak. On the way, we passed through the town of Dyatlovo, where I noticed a street sign pointing towards Dvorets! I had no plans to visit our “home” town on this trip, but since we were only about 5 miles away, I figured, why not?
This time, I approached Dvorets from a different direction. The last time I visited, we approached via the Baranovich – Lida highway. This way makes it feel like Dvorets is a very isolated town. However, approaching via a smaller road, you find that there are many slightly larger towns within a couple miles of Dvorets. This time, I only spent about 30 minutes in Dvorets, but found a part of the town I had not explored before on the opposite side of the Molchada River. There is a small WWII memorial over there, some more houses, and a stork nest. I was glad to see the two public buildings bordering the central square near where the synagogue used to be have been repainted. I also visited the site that I was told used to be the Jewish cemetery. While driving down one of the few Dvorets streets, I remarked to my colleague that we were passing Stanislav’s house. Stanislav was an elderly local who showed us around the town on my last visit. Sure enough, he was standing outside his front door, so we stopped and chatted for a couple minutes. He is 77 now and remembered me from the summer of 2006.
Life still seems stuck in the past in Dvorets. From what I can tell, indoor plumbing is not the norm there. Most houses still have a well and outhouse. I saw one woman walking into her home with a dead chicken under her arm. Everyone keeps their own, small vegetable garden too, and many people were outside getting ready to plant.
Driving through the Belarusian countryside, you pass many, many WWII monuments, both in towns and seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I have found holocaust markers too – in Minsk, in the woods outside Dvorets, and in the town of Mir. I can only imagine how many other holocaust memorials are hidden in the forests, like the one about 2 miles outside Dvorets. I wonder if there is a directory of these sights?
I always enjoy my visits to Belarus and especially like traveling through the countryside and former shtetls. I can only imagine how much more interesting it would have been to visit 100 years ago!
Happy Pesach! Marc Blehart. 4/20/08