It takes a lot to come to Belarus. First, there was the visa regime that involved purchasing a special insurance card, applying for the visa, sending in a passport, and then waiting. The application asked about the usual visa-related questions, but then also had a whole section devoted to one’s spouse and in my case HER relationship to Belarus. I told the director, Rob Adler-Peckerar, that I would not lie about my marital status, to which he responded, “I don’t think those processing the visas know the sex of a ‘Gregg’.” Good point. The visa arrived a few days later, and a week after that I was off: DEN-IAH-FRA-MSQ.
I ended up sitting next to a dear friend and amazing traveling companion, Jewlia Eisenberg, with whom I will be collaborating on a project about Lin Jaldati, the magical Dutch Jewish Communist, Holocaust-surviving Yiddish art-song singer, whose life I have been exploring for several years. Slept a bit on the airplane and arrived in Minsk the next day. We were greeted with gray skies and fantastic concrete architecture.
Part of the group’s luggage never made it. Why? Because Luthansa uses a small plane on its FRA-MSQ run and alas there was too much luggage. It arrived to the hotel the next day. After busing into town, we checked into our very Soviet-style hotel (think 12 stories of concrete, one giant key that has to be left with the door ladies at the front desk, the ones who assist the late night “ladies” in identifying single men whose rooms get called late in the night.
At least there was no floor lady like there would have been in a Soviet hotel, but we had an excellent breakfast every morning. A small group made an impromptu Shabbes ritual at the Yama memorial, located about 200 meters from our hotel. Erected in late 1946, dedicated in early 1947, it was one of the earliest Holocaust memorials established anywhere in the world, and its memorial text is in Russian and Soviet Yiddish. Following the impromptu ritual, we gathered for dinner, then council (which means group conversation) and then debrief. I began fighting insomnia, so turned in.