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Photographer's Note

This "broken"-looking wall was part of the Khatyn village memorial complex near Minsk. Sorry in advance for the quality of the images in this series. The lighting was very poor the day we visited: very drab and atmospheric for visiting this type of memorial, however, which I think comes across in the photos. They were also taken with just a small, point-and-shoot 35 mm camera, which I had when I was a teenager! These photos were taken in July, 1993. I also wish I had got more photos of the country (!) when I was there, as I seem to only have a few of Belarus in general, and the majority of them are from this site.

In March of 1943, all 26 homes of this small, traditional village in the Lahoysk Raion region of Minsk, about 50 km from the city itself, were burned. All but eight of the 156 inhabitants, 75 of them children under age 16, were murdered by Schutzmannschaft Battalion German troops, assisted by the Dirtewanger Waffen-SS special battalion. The massacre was supposedly in retaliation for the attack on a German convoy on March 22, 1943 by Soviet partisans just six km away, which killed four soldiers, including the commanding officer. Troops from the Dirtewanger Brigade, a unit composed primarily of criminals who had been recruited to do the regime's dirty work, herded the entire population of the village into a shed, which was covered with straw and set on fire. The people trapped inside apparently managed to break down the door, but any who attempted to escape were killed by machine gun fire. The village was looted and burned to the ground.

This is one of the many WWII memorials we visited while in Belarus. Nearly 5,300 Belarussian villages were destroyed by the Nazis during the war, and usually nearly all, if not all of the inhabitants were killed, in one case, up to 1,500 people. 22 villages were burned four or more times, reportedly as punishment for assisting "partisans" fighting against the Nazi regime. The site of the former village is now the Khatyn WWII Memorial, which was opened in 1969. The only remaining structures from the original homes were the brick chimneys, which now hold bells that ring every 30 seconds to commemorate the rate at which Belarussian lives were lost throughout the entire duration of the Second World War.

There were only eight survivors from this village, seven of them children. One 12-year-old suffered leg injuries but somehow survived, but died five months later; Another 12-year-old was put on a horse by his mother, who awakened him and helped him to escape before the troops could surround the entire village. He fled to a nearby village. Another child hid in a potato pit while his sister cowered in a cellar, and the last survivor, aged seven at the time, miraculously survived the fire in the shed by being sheltered under the corpse of his mother. The only adult survivor was 56-year-old Yuzif (Josef) Kaminski(1887-1973) was seriously wounded, suffering multiple wounds and serious burns. He reportedly found the body of his badly burned son. There is a sculpture of the man holding the body of his son, which he recovered from the ruins. The commanders of both of these battalions were put on trial after the war and executed, one as late as 1975.

Many small villages like this one destroyed during the war were never repopulated as all the inhabitants perished. Thus, the memorial also houses the so=called Cemetery of Villages, which consists of an area with small red and black “urns," seen in the other photo I loaded; each holds a small amount of earth from each of 618 villages destroyed during the war. It has been estimated that one in four Belarussians was killed during WWII, in only three years of Nazi occupation, as many as two million, the vast majority of whom were civilian non-combatants. The memorial was renovated in 2004, and by 2011, it was one of the top ten attended tourist sites in the country, visited by 182,000 people that year alone.

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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 88 W: 78 N: 943] (1733)
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