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Holocaust Monument Unveiled In Minsk

Holocaust Monument Unveiled In Minsk
By Lubov Luneva
Radio Liberty
Survivors of Minsk's World War II ghetto, where more than 100,000 Jews were killed, joined a procession Tuesday to mark the 65th anniversary of its destruction.
About 1,000 people walked through the center of the Belarusian capital – formerly the heart of the ghetto – to lay flowers at the site of a mass burial pit. Survivors wept, squinting into a stiff breeze.
“That generation has almost gone. Even their children’s generation is passing away. It’s only their grandchildren, but they can’t say much to us. We, the Jewish community in Belarus, are trying to do our best to commemorate victims of that tragedy,” Israeli ambassador in Belarus Zeev Ben Arie said to Belorusskie Novosty.
"I didn't expect that so many people would come today," said survivor Sima Urbanovich, 75. "I came because I worry, you see, that soon there will be no one left to honor them. But having seen so many youngsters, it seems this place won't soon be forgotten."
Urbanovich said the event, though important, evoked painful memories for her. She said her mother had survived a mass shooting one night in the ghetto by playing dead, and was thrown into the burial pit by Nazi soldiers. After nightfall, she climbed out and escaped to the nearby woods, where she joined a resistance movement. Only 7 at the time, Urbanovich managed to flee to a separate hideout and was reunited with her mother after the war.
Berta Shnerson was an 11-year-old girl when she ended up in the ghetto. Her mother had worked for the NKVD before the war started. The girl got lost after a bombing in 1941 and was found by her mother and grandmother only after Minsk was liberated.
Berta complained that her neighbours issued many anti-Semitic statements about her: “I am a native Minsk resident. I managed to finish three years in school before the war. I was left on my own then. My dad was killed on the battle line at the very beginning of the war…
My mum used to work for the NKVD and didn’t pick me up – she was evacuated from Minsk in “an organised way”. During bombing in Minsk once my grandmother got some things up together and asked me to look after them. There were other people running towards Logoisk Avenue, so I joined the crowd and got lost. They found me only after the war. My mum fainted when she saw me…”
The Minsk ghetto, known as the Yama, or Pit, was one of Europe's largest. More than 100,000 Jews were killed there from August 1941. Most were shot in the street outside their homes. In October 1943, the Germans demolished ghetto buildings in an effort to find Jews in hiding. The remaining 2,000 Jews were rounded up and killed.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko began the memorial proceedings in Minsk with a televised speech on Monday. "Our sacred motto is 'Nothing is forgotten, no one is forgotten.' We have a great debt to the memory of front-line fighters, guerrillas, underground resistance fighters and victims of Nazism," Lukashenko said.
A monument to some 6,000 Jews executed by Nazi troops on what is now Sukhaya Street in Minsk was unveiled at the massacre site on October 22. Created by architect Leonid Levin and sculptor Maksim Petrul, the memorial represents a broken bronze round table and an armchair standing on a red-granite pedestal.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Leonid Levin, chairman of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Associations and Communities, said that the memorial symbolized a Jewish home destroyed during World War II. “There’s no house after the Nazi pogrom, the family has been killed,” he said.
Mikhail Titenkov, deputy chairman of the Minsk City Executive Committee, said that Belarusians remembered the tragic fate of the Minsk ghetto’s prisoners.
Representatives from the United States, Ukraine and Moldova also attended the lightly policed event. The ceremony also was attended by German Ambassador Gebhardt Weiss.
Aleksey Heistber, the head of a Holocaust victims group in Germany, said he had brought dozens of German children to Minsk "because it is useful to show what happened in Belarus in those tragic years."
Up to 800,000 Jews – or 90 percent of the Jewish population – were killed in Belarus during World War II. Fewer than 50,000 Jews now live in Belarus, a mostly Slavic nation of 10 million.


 

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