Belarus genealogy tours

Special guided Minsk tours aimed at the field Belarus family research.

A trip to Naliboki - The Hodyl family roots

updated on 02/08/2011

Naliboki Village can be found 10 kilometers north-west of Derevnaya Village in Stolbtsy Area. Naliboki is one of the oldest settlements of the area that was first mentioned in the Chronicles in 1447. It was a property of many noble families in Belarus including the Radziwills and the Witthensteins. In 1636 Albrecht Stanislav Radziwill built a cathedral that in 1699 was rebuilt. In 1717 the Radziwills established one of the country’s largest manufactories in Naliboki and Yankovichy to produce mirrors, tableware and other articles. In the 1860s the village became the center of volost. The wooden Ascension Cathedral built in the early 20 century was rebuilt after 1943 and is still there.

In the modern days of globalization relocation to another country is a common thing, but in the older times people migrated from Belarus elsewhere mainly because of different hazards – wars, famine or repressions. For instance, after Belarus was added to the lands of the Russian Empire in 1795 thousands of revolutionists followed by those who fought for Napoleon in 1812 started to leave Belarus for Europe and America.

The first wave of mass migration from Belarus started in the early 19th – late 20th centuries. Before the First World War over 700 000 people, mainly peasants, left Belarus for Siberia for economic reasons. From 500 000 to 800 000 people migrated overseas – to the United States of America, Canada, Argentine, Brazil and Western Europe. In general they became unskilled laborers and farmers. By that time the level of the national consciousness of the Belarusians was rather low and therefore the migration authorities of different countries put them all down as Russians and Poles based on their religion – Orthodox or Catholic.

The second wave of mass migration was caused by the First World War, the Revolution of 1917, German and Polish occupations of Western Belarus. Most of the emigrants were politicians and peasants from Western and Soviet Belarus. According to the Riga Peace Treaty over 700 000 refugees returned to Western Belarus from Soviet Russia. Between the two wars about 100 000 Belarusians settled in the USA and in 1923 Belarusian-American Association was established in Chicago. In Latin America there were about 350 000 Belarusians and the most organized diaspore was located in Argentine.

Photos of ancestors in Naliboki
The faces of the past looking us in the eyes...

The Second World War displaced many people in Belarus. From 1939 till 1941 over 1 million Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians and representatives of other nationalities were relocated to the north and east of the USSR. After the Red Army assumed control of the Western Belarus many its residents were forced to leave. Hundreds of thousands of people fled to the east away from the Nazi threat, tens of thousands of Belarusians were imprisoned and taken to Germany for forced labor… The emigration processes ceased after the 1950s until 1980s because of the migration ban in the USSR.

The father of my customer, Mr. Peter Hodyl, was a child when his family left the village of Naliboki, Belarus, for Australia – a popular destination of the time, beside Canada and the USA. That happened after the Nazi occupied Poland and unleashed the Second World War. Soon after that Peter’s grandfather – Alexander Hodyl was killed and was presumably buried in Naliboki or whereabouts. Armed with this knowledge Peter and his wife Nessa embarked on a trip to Belarus to learn something about Peter’s family roots. 

Before taking Peter to Naliboki I made a test tour to see the place on my own and to discover some people, the possible surviving witnesses of the time. The second attempt was successful and I was introduced to an old lady Leonarda Yuntsevich, 82, who was 14 years old when the Great Patriotic war started. I asked her if she could summon any memories of the Naliboki Massacre and of the Hodyls if she knew any.

At the table with Leonarda Yuntsevich in Naliboki
From left to right - our dear old hostess Leonarda Frantsevna, Nessa and Peter Hodyl

When we arrived to Naliboki Village on Monday, the old lady was expecting us, the table generously laid with the best products she could afford – a fine tradition of the village people in Belarus and Poland.
Nessa and Peter Hodyl in Naliboki
The table at a hospitable village house in Naliboki

In the first line Mrs. Leonarda Yuntsevich asked Peter if their family had any particular nickname. The thing is that the Hodyls was a rather widespread surname in Naliboki and very often the families got nicknames that underlined their peculiarities. Unfortunately, there was none and Leonarda could not recall any familiar man called Alexander Hodyl. One of the ladies who lived next door brought us some pictures of their ancestors – the Hodyls – but none of the faces were familiar… 
The pictures of the Hodyls of the 1940s
Neighbour's pictures
Leonarda then told us about her young years and the events that devastated the village of Naliboki twice in the course of the war.

Before the war there were about 3 thousand dwellers in Naliboki. About 90 per cent of these were Roman Catholics – Poles and Belarusians – and there was a whole street of Jews. When the war broke out some people took to the forests to join the partisans, some fled eastwards and some died. In 1942 a self-defense unit was organized by the Nazis in Naliboki.

According to the Polish sources this unit was controlled by Army Krajova and had a tacit non-aggression agreement with the partisans. Still, the soviet commanders were keen to liquidate the self-defense Polish unit and in the early morning on 9 May 1943 they launched an attack against Naliboki. According to witnesses, the attackers captured mainly men who were then shot, burnt other people in their houses and pillaged the households. The old wooden cathedral burnt down as well. It is believed that 127 residents of Naliboki were executed on that day. Leonarda recalls that when it started to rain, streams of blood ran along the streets… 
A tombstone commemorating those killed in Naliboki Massacre
A tombstone commemorating the victims of the Naliboki Massacre of 8.V.1943
In the course of a German punitive operation in August 1943 the whole Naliboki Forest was surrounded and searched for partisans. According to Leonarda, since the Nazis failed to find any partisans there (the latter in fact hid on an island in the middle of the marshland) they assumed that the partisans disbanded and went to the nearby villages. The Nazi surrounded Naliboki with armored vehicles and gave everybody one hour to get ready for the relocation to Stolbtsy, the town not far from Naliboki. They later proceeded to Germany, from which Leonarda returned only in 1949…
A goodbye photo with Leonarda in Naliboki
Saying goodbye to our hospitable lady
We thanked dear old lady for her hospitality and headed to the cemetery to find any tombstones that belong to the Hodyl family. 
Naliboki cemetery
A view over the Catholic cemetery of Naliboki Village
Personally I was impressed by the old Catholic graves that are over one and a half century old, some of them damaged by the time, the names and dates being hard to decipher. We did find several tombstones – with the names written in Latin and in Russian – but unfortunately Alexander Hodyl was not among them.
We then paid a visit to the local priest who showed us into the cathedral and told us about the history of its construction. The wooden cathedral existed until 1943 when the above mentioned events destroyed them. The new stone cathedral of the Ascension of the Holy Virgin Mary was founded in 1935 and it was complete only 30 years later. The white stone gate leading to the church courtyard is over 300 years old… Again we were unfortunate – the archives of the church were destroyed completely in the course of the last war.

Although we didn’t find much evidence about Alexander Hodyl in question, the mission was in general fulfilled. There was some comfort for Peter and Nessa in having a look at Naliboki – the place where Peter's family comes from – they were leaving for Australia with a number of pictures and a story for Mr. Henrik Hodyl, Peter's father…
P.S. Four weeks later Peter sent a letter from Australia saying that one tombstone that we photographed at the cemetery actually belonged to his father's grandmother and he could clearly remember her. It looks like Peter's father was keen to give a call to the old lady Leonarda to speak some Polish - which he avoided to do for quite a while...

P.S. 2017: I've put the Naliboki cemetery online on my free website.

The panoramic views of Naliboki in August


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Andrei Burdenkov - your personal guide in Belarus
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