Tycoon’s Belarus memorial appeal

11-6-14. Ruslan Kogan speaking at a Young UIA donors function at the home of Tony and Jenny Smorgon. Photo: Peter Haskin 11-6-14. Ruslan Kogan speaking at a Young UIA donors function at the home of Tony and Jenny Smorgon. Photo: Peter Haskin

AUSTRALIAN electronics entrepreneur Ruslan Kogan is helping to set up a memorial to the Jews of Belarus murdered in the Holocaust.

The Melbourne businessman, who is the founder and CEO of consumer electronics brand Kogan.com, was born in Belarus, arriving in Australia with his parents Irene and Alex and his sister Svetlana in 1989, after his uncle Roman helped bring the family here.

Of some 375,000 Jews living in the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (now Belarus) at the outbreak of World War II, around 245,000 died in the Holocaust after the Nazis occupied the region in 1941.

The idea for a memorial originated with Michael Berkhinfand and Michael Meltser, two Belarusian immigrants. Kogan told The AJN he wanted to fund the memorial himself but his mother declined the offer.

She told him members of Melbourne’s Jewish Belarusian community wanted to assist financially, in order to make the memorial a truly communal effort. Around 140 members of the local community are organising the memorial.

But to lend a hand, Kogan set up an online crowdfunding project on gofundme to raise awareness about the memorial, to be built at Springvale Cemetery, where the Melbourne Chevra Kadisha has donated land for the project. To date, around 75 per cent of the $20,000 target has been reached.

There are as yet no structural plans for the memorial but the community is discussing some concepts with a Melbourne Jewish sculptor from the former Soviet Union.

Irene Kogan told The AJN about her early life in Belarus amidst the legacy of the Shoah. “We grew up listening to the tragic stories and first-person accounts from our parents and grandparents about the atrocities that took place in Belarus, Poland and Ukraine.

“We have done our best to ensure those atrocities aren’t forgotten and have shared the stories – like how my husband’s grandmother had seven of her sisters buried alive in front of her – with our kids.”

She said anti-Semitism was “alive and well in Belarus as we grew up …  As Jews, school teachers would often refer to us in vulgar terms”.

“Most of us that have fled Belarus remember our lost ones and always send money back to Belarus to pay people to look after the graves of our family members,” she said. “It would be great to have something locally to ensure that we can continue to honour the memories of our lost ones.”

To make a contribution, visit www.gofundme.com/BelarusMemorial.


Ruslan Kogan. Photo: Peter Haskin