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Mir Memorial

by Zvi Reshef - Architect
In November 2000, UNESCO decided to put the Mir Castle and its surroundings on the list of World Heritage Sites. Certainly this site is of prime significance to Belarus national and cultural heritage.

The beginning and the end of the Jewish community in the town of Mir are firmly bound to the Castle. Looking for new trade avenues, the Feudal Prince who resided there, invited the first Jews to Mir in the 17th century. A thriving community of 3,000 Jews grew with a diverse culture and a Yeshiva that became one of the most important centers of Jewish scholarship in the world.

The Germans imprisoned the last Jews of the town in the Castle. On the 13th of August, 1942 the remaining Jews of Mir were murdered. 

The largest of the four extermination sites in Mir is located close to the Castle. 1600 Jews were massacred there on the 9th of November, 1941.

 Mir Castle (zamek)
 Memorial Location Map

 

After liberation, the Soviets marked the site with an obelisk made of concrete, as they did elsewhere. The standard inscription on the obelisk tells about "innocent victims of fascism" with no mention of Jews.

The map shows the castle on the lower left and the site on the top right. The site is marked by an icon of an obelisk and a digit "2".

  
After the breakup of the USSR, Jews started to visit Mir. Visitors from the US installed, at the foot of the obelisk, a tombstone in memorial of Rabbi Avraham Zvi Kamai, the last Rabbi of Mir. The few survivors of the Holocaust, members of the Mir Jews Organization (Irgun Yotsai Mir) from Israel added a plaque to the obelisk.


 The survivors decided to install a new memorial in the spring of 1998. The memorial was finished for the 13th of August annual memorial ceremony.

 
Present at the ceremony were the Minister of Culture of Belarus, the Israeli ambassador, the president of the United Jewish Communities in Belarus, the Mayor of the town, a group of Jewish Mirers from all continents, representatives of Scotland Yard, a group of Jewish youth from Minsk and a group of local children and adults. The event was covered by WNT and by the local press.


With the new installation, all the memorial objects that existed were kept, except for the obelisk that was painted blue and the plaque that was replaced by a new one in a new location nearby.

 

Memorial Inscription

Here were buried
Jews of Mir
who were exterminated by the German Nazis
and their collaborators
18th of Heshvan 5071
(November 9th 1941)

 Memorial View behind Soviet Obelisk
 Memorial General View  Memorial Closeup
 The site now exhibits collective Jewish and universal commemorative symbols: a circle of crude fieldstone, a mound of stones (the ruins), a tree, rock shreds, a ceremonial path, a tombstone, and an obelisk.
 Memorial Site Plan  There are two focal points on the site: the obelisk - vertical and universal, and the ruins - horizontal and Jewish. They are arranged in an axial form and joined via "The Path of Pain" that proceeds by an imaginary line and links to the Castle.
 People who arrive from the Castle to the obelisk view the site and follow the footsteps of the victims down to the Pit. They may touch the pointed rock shreds along the Path of Pain and arrive at a memorial plaque and the Ruins at the lowest level. Out of the yellow shattered mound, piercing into the circle of crude field stones grows the Tree of Survival and Hope.
 
The path is narrow, since the experience and perception of the place need to be personal, leaving each individual to contemplate their own thoughts. There is a contrast between formality and informality; the blue solid obelisk and the yellow fragmented ruins that allows individual degrees of freedom and personal interpretation in the process of remembrance.


Zvi Reshef, an Israeli and the architect of this new memorial noted:

On the Memorial Day of the Holocaust my late mother, who lost almost all of her family, used to tell me that the great loss for her is the destruction of the Jewish culture and civilization." The people are gone and others are born" she used to say "but the warm Jewish home, the colorful life and vitality of the Shtetl were ruined." This is the perception that I inherited.


Updated March 2005

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