Russia’s oldest Jewish community is stuck in the crossfire of separatist chaos. After 12 centuries of co-existence with the Muslim majority, the Mountain Jews are fleeing.
The only time in my conflict reporting career that I received different treatment from the guys occurred in Johannesburg in 1993. Our Reuters bureau was finally — finally! — being outfitted with flak jackets to cover the violence surrounding the end of apartheid. Since a big part of the job involved driving into townships filled with men pointing assault rifles, I was very happy to receive body armor at long last.
Somewhere beneath the birch trees lies the Jewish cemetery of Senno. The graves have been there for 350 years, but the markers are so sunken into the earth that they look like random stones. Moss covers the Hebrew letters, and few people know about the site, which is hidden from the road by the foliage. The only visitors are mosquitoes.
The interviews we see in Holocaust documentaries are but fragments of lives. Subjects talk about their horrendous concentration camp experiences, and the story ends. But suffering has continued in Belarus for many of the elderly, who are among the poorest Jews in the world. Unlike survivors who moved to relatively comfortable circumstances in Israel or the United States, those who remained in Belarus endured religious intolerance under the Soviets after the war. Now they are finishing their days with further deprivation.