The first Jewish cemetery in Vitebsk begins its history in 1633. It was then that King Vladislav IV issued a decree, through which the Jewish community could redeem a certain piece of land and carry out burial there.
But this is not the end of the story. Due to the fact that Vitebsk was always known for a large number of Jews living in it, it was soon the time when there was no place left on the purchased land, and additional land was needed for new graves. The issue was decided only in 1909, nine years after the filing of the first petition to the city council. And so, contrary to the complexities of the legislation of the Russian Empire concerning the property of the Jews, the community still received a new “rest home”, as the Jews often call their cemeteries. It began to be called the Old-Ulanovichi cemetery.
Unfortunately, during the Second World War, many burials were destroyed, and mass executions were carried out on the territory. That’s why now it is difficult to say how many burials there are in fact. Literally several of the very first graves (until 1917) were preserved.
Due to the fact that other older graves in Vitebsk were demolished by the decision of the Soviet authorities, today this cemetery remains the only one in the city. And that’s why it carries a special memorial value. Realizing this, the former compatriots donated money to change the fence and at least to put in order the general condition of the cemetery.
In addition, it is here that many famous people are buried: biochemist Felix Berenshtein, composer Solomon Rabunsky. The parents of the artist Marc Chagall were also found at this cemetery. He himself bequeathed to bury him there, but this did not happen. Also, there is evidence that the grandmother and grandfather of Samuil Marshak were buried at the Old-Ulanovichi cemetery, although the exact location of their grave is no longer known.
Officially, the cemetery now contains 7000 burial places and each of them has its own unique history, which is important to appreciate and protect.