Nata Holava, 2020-2022, expedition.

Nata Holava, 2020-2022, expedition.

For the first time, I visited Navahrudak to get acquainted with the future location in early December 2020. I was curious (because I was aware that the history of the place is closely linked to the Jewish history) how it affects the city now. 

Gray it was then and told me almost nothing about the Jewish heritage. 

I saw on nearly every building in the center the signboards with information about their belonging to the Jewish population, it seemed to me that it was striking. I have never seen, neither here nor anywhere else, buildings with signboards attracting that much attention, like, “this property belonged to a Belarusian” or “this property belonged to a German”. It touched me strongly for some reason. In Izabielin, with which we are trying to compare Navahrudak, there are definitely no such buildings. 

In a souvenir shop (in fact, it is an antique shop that haggles over of souvenirs in an advantageous place) near the citadel one could buy several books on the Jewish theme of the “Book of Memory” type or something similar in English and small statuettes of “Jewish types”, there were 5-7 of them then. The shop owner said he’s lucky if he sells 1-2 the books per year. The statuettes are also not in demand. In principle, buyers do not often ask about the Jewish heritage. 

I returned to the same place at the end of the Shtetlfest project in 2022 to verify my impressions, because during our common expedition in the summer of 2021, I was engaged in organization and had no time for free walks.

The signboards about Jewish property were in the same place. A couple of units of Shtetlrouts paper guides (Тamara Vyarshitskaya’s project), which were brought for us to see from the pantry, were all that remained from the souvenirs in the antique shop. One book about the Holocaust “Pain and Anger”. One a bit strange replica picturing a Jew in a skullcap, counting money… that’s almost it.    

The owner of the shop, when asked why there are no Jewish souvenirs or at least any magnets with thematic images, replied: “It’s a delicate topic… Even the woman, the artist that were making those statuettes, refused. She said – no, no more of that, I won’t make them anymore. Well, you know… We thought. How can we put these Jews on a magnet? We had them with a hand out… Well, the Holocaust, of course, is a good topic… But you try finding at least one mature Jew here!”

Suddenly, the shop owner recalled that they had a Torah brought by a man he would not name. Because collectors then get to these people and demand to sell an object they are interested in. And this Torah is not for sale, just standing in the shop. “The Torah from the Navahrudak synagogue, for the record! How could we possibly sell it! It’s a memory!”, said the antique dealer. And when asked what goes off the best, he said, “Mickiewicz and the castle”.

From all appearances, antique goods (local and not very, and even not very antique…) also sells out well. 

On a shelf, I noticed porcelain statuettes of a Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian hopak – once very popular. What also caught my eye was a noticeable cornflower-blue accordion with a sonorous Ukrainian name MRIYA, as if deliberately exposed (but it can be it was just a feeling because I am involved in this subject now).

In the store opposite, the state souvenir shop, it was even worse. No Mickiewicz even. The saleswoman lit the light to make it more comfortable for me to take photos.  and complained that they would soon be closed forever, because: “Do you see all of this? And before, we had a lot on the history of the town. And now there are almost no visitors, there are no souvenirs… I traded today as much as about 40 rubles…” (less than 20 euros). We gladly added four rubles to her trade, purchasing a glass decanter of Soviet production, it is not clear how it ended up there. At the same time, two large buses with tourists stopped just during our visit near the citadel.

If I were just a tourist or accidentally in Navahrudak, I would not know that the town has a rich Jewish past and an interesting history of resistance during World War II. Because I would not be able to understand it through what I see in the town. Even the library that invites you to a “tour of the town of the early 20th century” does not make you feel that it will be something about a former Jewish town. I have the desire to visit Navahrudak in a year or two and see what will change, because I know people here who are interested in this topic.