Visitors play ping-pong at the Jewish community center in Grodno, a once-vibrant Jewish community that’s now home to about 600 Jews. Many young people here plan to immigrate to Israel, thwarting attempts to revive the faith communities. Diana Markosian
Ida Kaslova shows photographs of those killed by the Nazis. She is the last Jew in Buda-Koshelevo, once home to 500 Jews. Diana Markosian
Preservationists are working to save this abandoned Jewish cemetery in Volozhin, Belarus. Many Jewish cemeteries are overgrown or were destroyed during the Soviet era, when Jewish worship was banned. Diana Markosian
Grigory Kagan (with his wife) is the last Jew in Kirovsk. At age 11 he escaped a massacre by Nazi invaders and then posed as a Christian to survive. Diana Markosian
A farmer’s son stands in a hamlet near Gomel. Hundreds of villages were ethnically cleansed of Yiddish speakers during the Nazi occupation. He doesn’t know any Jewish people. Diana Markosian
A statue of Lenin stands in the Belarus capital, Minsk. The nation is still a Communist dictatorship, the last in Europe. Diana Markosian
A woman and child in front of a typical Belarusian wooden house in the former shtetl of Senno. The landscape of the country is largely unchanged from before the war, except for the fact that hundreds of towns were ethnically cleansed of Jews. Diana Markosian
The last prayer house in Vitebsk, the town where painter Marc Chagall was born. There used to be 48 synagogues here. Diana Markosian
Riva Katz is one of four Jews in Ivenets, a shtetl wiped out by Nazis. She survived, as village children had been evacuated to Uzbekistan. Diana Markosian
On June 22, 1941, Hitler’s men swept into Belarus and within a short period, killed some 800,000 of the Jews living there. Of those who remained, most left. A few stayed, but even now that number is dwindling.
ByJudith Matloff, Contributor
For hundreds of years Jews lived in little towns called shtetls across Belarus, simple lives of wooden houses, dirt lanes, and Yiddish schools. Then 70 years ago, on June 22, 1941, Hitler’s men swept in and within a short period exterminated perhaps 800,000 of the Jews living there, 8 out of 10. Most survivors couldn’t bear to remain in their villages after the war, and they moved to big cities or abroad.