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The Village of Barguzin

In November a journalist from Israel asked us to accompany her to Barguzin as she wanted to write an article about the local Jewish people.  Barguzin is a place where exiled Jews from Poland came to live.  We have long planned to visit Barguzin as many people who approach us for help in the search for documents have their roots in this village.

The history of the Jews of Barguzin is very interesting.  Almost all the Jews who established themselves in Barguzin did so at the beginning of the 19th century, during the time of the exile of the Jews to Siberia after the suppression of the Polish uprising.  On arriving in Siberia the exiled Jews quickly adapted to the harsh local climate and mastered popular local activities – hunting, agriculture, fishing, and after some time began trading with remote villages.  These Jewish people also benefited the local economy by their involvement in gold mining.  Gold from Barguzin further contributed to the development of energy in Israel.  Barguzin had its own synagogue and the old Jewish graveyard has been preserved to this day.

The village of Barguzin

Our journey was very fruitful.  Despite the strong wind and the snowfall we managed to get to the Jewish graveyard, taking many photos of the graves, for which people have to go to extreme lengths to get.  (From Irkutsk to Barguzin it’s only possible to get there by night train to Ulan-Ude and then a further 6 hours in a minibus, and that’s if you can get tickets!)  The Consul often asks people to bring a photo with tombstones and now we will have our own database of photos!

The village is situated between mountains and taiga.  At one time this was a very inaccessible place, where it was very problematic to reach.  So it was very important for us – to help with the search for documents – to get to the Archives in Barguzin and come to an agreement with the staff there on cooperation.  We had a good meeting with the Archive staff and also with the Registry Office in the region.  We agreed with the workers that they would talk to us by phone about the information in the National archives so that people don’t have to travel so far in vain.

Work in the archives

Work in the Library

We also worked with written material in the local Library and Museum.  In the museum unique information has been preserved on Jewish families and their ancestors living there from the beginning of the 20th century.

They also have a copy of the holy Torah there, handwritten more than 300 years ago and we were struck by the fact that it was the book of Exodus!  We thought that was very symbolic!

Work in the Museum

The Director of the Museum carries on a lot of work to preserve material about the Jews of Barguzin.  She organises volunteers to maintain order in the Jewish graveyard and dreams of creating a photo-archive of all the gravestones there, as the graveyard has already suffered from vandalism more than once.  She asked our help to translate the inscriptions on the gravestones from Hebrew to Russian.

Jewish graveyard in Barguzin

Many damaged gravestones

We have been working in this village since 1998.  During that time the Lord has given us the opportunity to help a large number of Jewish people make Aliyah from there.  As it’s written:  “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commandments, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’”  (Nehemiah 1:8-9)