Expedition diary: July 13, 2021
Our third day of the expedition was partly spent on the road: from Barysaw via Smilavichy we arrived to Navahrudak.
We met with Smilavichy online in the morning to listen to the story of the creation of the very successful tourist object Chaïm Soutine Space and to discuss ways of potential tourist development in former townships. We were interested in how it became possible to make a brand out of the person of the world-famous artist born in Smilavichy.
This museum has been working for about 10 years and is well known outside Belarus. Chaïm Soutine’s “Eva” was recognized as the most expensive painting of Belarus. The question that does not leave us is: would it be possible to make the person of Izi Kharik the same brand for Zembin and attract the attention of tourists, increase the number of visitors, develop the infrastructure? Is the name of the world-renowned artist whose works sell for a lot of money not equal to poems written in Yiddish and translated into several languages?
Shtetlfest team’s impressions:
“One of the halls with reproductions of Chaïm Soutine’s paintings is decorated in the style of a Parisian café with tables where museum visitors are treated to coffee.”
“Zarfin’s paintings are very impressive! We were told that they have medicinal properties – they calm the nervous system. They are encrypted, so you have to watch carefully.”
“I have never seen so many of Zarfin at the same time. There are 11 originals of his paintings! And he was also engaged in drawing on fabrics.”
“Descendants of Jews from all over the world come, people just care and help the museum a lot: someone gave a beautiful piano there, they gathered a large collection of literature about Jews…”
We still had time to visit Minsk to leave gifts for our friends. Someone helped us choose an image for the project logo. Someone contributed to our interest in towns with their activities. We are talking about the famous Belarusian collector, researcher and popularizer of Belarusian folk dance culture Mikola Kozenka. On the last day of the expedition, together with our Polish friends, we will learn and dance the Belarusian dance “Zhydovachka” (hyperlink to the edited episode from the last day) recorded by Mikola Kozenka in the Barysaw district back in the distant 1980s.
We had a delicious lunch at the “Likhtaryk 1876” café in Mir. This place is located near the market square, which has preserved the typical appearance of a town center.
Finally, shalom, Navahrudak. For rest between field trips, we chose the cozy “Grazhina” hotel, which is located in the very center of the town in an old building and is a historical and cultural value. Navahrudak, as a location, was also included in our research plans, because we knew that the town has an interesting Jewish history and until now almost every house near the main square is marked with the “Former Jewish Property” sign. We wondered whether the townspeople still remember this. Because it was at this time that our Polish friends explored the similarly “Jewish” Bialystok.
The Jewish heritage path and a visit to the Jewish cemetery were included in the plans of the Polish part of the expedition group.
Next, the group headed to the Market Square, where about a hundred of Jewish shops used to be located, and to several iconic places.
The next goal of the expedition was the house of the famous Polish journalist, writer, teacher and Esperanto propagandist Jakub Szapiro.
Stories about a Jewish photo studio known throughout Bialystok and a family that produced textiles and hats were inspiring.
Apparently, Bialystok now looks like an interactive museum exposition on Jewish history. Here you can work with the memory of global events, and with local content about citizens, their doings and activities, and research and join cultural and scientific events. Unfortunately, Navahrudak has almost lost its “Jewish flavor”. When we watched the newsreel of 1931 in the local history museum, it seemed to us that we would now go outside and get to the same interwar town and hear Yiddish and Polish, dive into the historical context.
But a walk in Navahrudak with our guide and creator of the Museum of Jewish Resistance, Tamara Vyarshitskaya, was both inspiring and disappointing for us.
You can find more about our impressions in the Expedition Archive. The main insight of this eventful day was as in “Do you see a gopher? Me neither, but it is there!” quote from a stupid Russian film about meaningless service in the post-Soviet army that best reflects the current state of memory about the important thing that once formed and developed the town, and then disappeared from its landscape through the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and… our insensitivity. Or maybe through the desire to forget the terrible moments of history. With this in mind, after dinner at the “Lyahenda” café, we returned to the hotel and took out the accordion and the violin.