Fot. Magdalena Kwiecińska

Ivyanets is a town with a population of about 5,000 located in the Valozhyn Region near Minsk. At the time of the Second Polish Republic the town was chiefly inhabited by the Jews. At present, the Poles still form a distinct ethnic minority there.

Ivyanets is located on the Volma River which divides the town into two parts. There is a small lake in the centre of the town surrounded by the Naliboki Forest from three sides. The Forest created good conditions for guerrilla operations during World War II. The nearby Valozhyn had the famous rabbinic school in the 1920s and 1930s. The only trace of the Jewish culture in the town is a large cemetery with a dozen or so Jewish tombstones (matzevas). Ivyanets is associated with the Sollohub and Plewak families who owned the place for several centuries. The ruins of their estate and park are still standing. The largest complex of monuments consists of the 18th century Franciscan monastery and Church of St. Michael the Archangel (popularly known as the “white” one). One of its two towers houses a bell cast in 1935, dedicated to Józef Piłsudski. The bell was funded by officers, non-commissioned officers, and riflemen of the Border Protection Corps (KOP) garrison stationed in Ivyanets. There is also another church in the town, dedicated to St. Alexis, build slightly later, in the early 20th century, called the “red” one from the colour of the bricks it is built of. A mass grave of the Jews murdered during World War II located in the forest is a memorial site in Ivyanets. The location of the town, very close to the border with the USSR, was conducive to smuggling. The local population was also strongly affected by the Communist propaganda. The time of the war left the remembrance of the tragic fates of the Jewish community closed in the ghetto and then exiled out of the town to be murdered, and of an armed uprising of a Home Army (AK) unit under the command of Kacper Miłaszewski “Lewald” in June 1943. The residents of Ivyanets also tell stories of the assistance extended to them by Feliks Dzierżyński’s sister-in-law who interceded for them with the Germans and saved them from being burnt in the local Orthodox Church.

In the independent Belarus the vast Ivyanets region is inhabited by the Poles. Major Polish centres can be found in such villages as Kamen, Stazhiki, Kulshitse and Janovshchina. There is a Polish Community Centre in Ivyanets. It has a choir and offers Polish language lessons. Local Poles are in permanent touch with their homeland either through their family ties or by taking part in organized trips to Poland. 

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