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Belarusian village today where Shimon Peres was born and raised
We are taking an unpaved road off the Vilnius-bound highway to Vishneva in central Belarus, the birthplace of Nobel Prize laureate Shimon Peres. The locals waited for Shimon - if he comes, we will ask for money to make a proper road - but he was no longer able to make it: in the morning of September 28, news media reported that the former Israel president was dead at 93.
The green wooden building, built on the foundation of the house where the future Israeli president would be born, bears a memorial sign:
"Here on August 2, 1923, Shimon Peres, a son of Sarah and Isaac Perski, a Nobel laureate and 9th president of Israel, was born."
Ivan who bought the house on Perski's plot 14 years ago is vividly tipsy. His wife Aniuta is a bit tipsy too. She says that when she heard the news of Shimon Peres's death, she cried. Although Ivan and Aniuta know nothing about the life of the Perski family in Vishneva, they are happy to see the guests: they welcome them into the yard and treat everyone with water from the well, according to the established ritual. The legend has it that the well is allegedly the same one dug out by Shimon Peres' ancestors and water in it has a healing power.
The guests from Minsk's Jewish community take pictures with the well and the house in the background. They tell Euroradio they come here often and are thankful to Ivan for keeping the household's yard. Afterwards, the delegation led by rabbi Ryhor Abramovic proceeds to the monument to the Jews and other local residents killed by the Nazis in 1942. The next stop is a small Shimon Peres museum at the local culture center, which showcases numerous photographs of Peres and his family.
Nothing else here reminds about the birth of the future Nobel laureate and Israel president. An old bath house takes the place of the sinagogue which the Perski family visited and where Peres' grandfather used to serve as a rabbi. The abandonded Jewish cemetery with the graves of Perski's relatives is nothing but a wall of bushes and high wild grass. There is almost no one who could recall the Perskis. The locals only know that Peres came to Vishneva several times but no stories from his childhoon seem to have survived.
"He used to live here, would come often and visited the Jewish cemetery and the memorial site. The year before last his daughter came. A new house was built on the place where their house used to be. But there are no more seniors who could remember those times," says neighbor Vitalia Ivanauna.
The only local resident who personally met Shimon Peres in childhood is 93-year-old Uladzimir Volkau who broke his leg and is now being treated at the district hospital in Valozhyn.
We take a risk and drive to Valozhyn. We have found Uladzimir Volkau in the surgery ward. He feels pain but seems to have a good memory and even tries to joke: he is trying to bargain a chocolade bar in exchange for his story... We told him the sad news about the death of his compatriot:
"What can I say? We used to go to a Polish school. That's it. There were a lot of Jews in Vishneva, about two thousand. We all lived next door and used to play together. You know, all kids are the same... We chatted in Polish with him, how else? We learned Polish at school! They used to have their own school, a synagogue and a hospital. He used to come here later and we met. Is he still alive? Died today? Let him rest in peace and have a good memory of him."
According to Uladzimir Volkau, the well all guests come and drink water from is not indigenous:
"It used to be in the street not in the yard. Neighbors would take water from it. We used to have our own well. We were well-to-do. My father Jan was a big shot - one of the senior managers at wood-chopping and processing enterprises. Shimon's relatives were traders. There were over one hundred small Jewish vendors here in Vishneva. Their father seemed to have become sick and tired and he abandoned everything and left for Israel. The Jews were friends with Jews, Belarusians with Belarusians and Poles with Poles. I am a Pole but my mother was on friendly terms with Shimon's mother. They visited her and my mother would visit them too to buy clothes, footwear and foodstuffs. There were only five Polish shops. The rest were Jewish."
Uladzimir Volkau regrets he is not at his home now. Otherwise, he would show us a childhood photo with Shimon Peres and have a drink shot just like they gulped it down with Shimon 19 years ago:
"[You are asking] about our meetings? We would drink a shot and that's it!"