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A group of thirteen Dartmouth College students and three Dartmouth staff members traveled to Sopotskin, Belarus, this summer to restore a Jewish cemetery destroyed sixty years ago during Nazi occupation of the former Soviet republic.
Part of the Cross-Cultural Education and Service Project Initiative sponsored by Dartmouth's William Jewett Tucker Foundation and Dartmouth Hillel, the trip also included visits to historic sites in the region, including Auschwitz, Birkenau and the former Jewish ghettos in Krakow and Minsk.
In Sopotskin the group worked with local townspeople to erect a 800-yard wrought-iron fence around the cemetery and attempted to uncover some of the older gravestones from overgrown weeds and vines. The fence was designed to clearly delineate the land, protecting it from reclamation and sale by the Belarusian government. The Dartmouth team worked hand-in-hand with local townspeople and children from the local school to erect the fence.
"The team represented the diversity of Dartmouth while also including some Dartmouth students whose family lineage can be traced to Eastern Europe," said Rabbi Edward Boraz, Executive Director of Dartmouth Hillel. "Some members of the team had very intimate knowledge of the Holocaust while others were exposed to it for the first time."
Student coordinator Jeff Murphy said the group's mixture of youth and experience was a key asset. "With Rabbi Boraz and two Tucker Foundation staff members in addition to a solid student core, the team really possessed the maturity to handle the horror of Holocaust memories," said Jeff Murphy.
Over the course of the trip, students got to know their host city, participating in family stays and activities at the local school.
"The connections our entire group made with the community of Sopotskin were amazing," said Laura Goodrich '05, the trip's communication officer. "To be taken in and loved by a group of people in such a short period of time really amazed me."
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