Along the highway north of Minsk is a large sign pointing toward Khatyn. This could be any of the thousands of villages in Belarus; small wood frame houses, … a garden, … a barn for the farm animals … and people passing the time of day …
but it is not.
There are no houses … just chimneys where homes once stood … 23 in all; a stylized representation of wells that supplied water to the homes … gates connecting to the concrete walkways where roads were … all a drab gray, the color of ashes from a fire. Nearby, …is where the barn stood. The sounds of village life are replaced by the solemn peal of bells mounted on the top of each chimney.
This village of Khatyn, … on March 27, 1943, … was killed by Hitler’s fascist army.
Hitler’s army had been in Belarus since 1941 when they over-ran the Brest Fortress. By the time they arrived at this village, they had already destroyed most of Belarus including thousands of villages like Khatyn. Concentration and slave labor camps located in the cities and towns were full of Belarusian citizens. Hundreds of thousands of people were already dead.
Khatyn was just another village to the fascists. They arrived with tanks, machine guns and a flagrant disregard for life.
First, they rounded up all the villagers … 151 people, 75 were children … one baby was only 7 weeks old. They were herded into the barn and locked up. Gasoline was poured on it and set ablaze.
It didn’t last long … the screams … the pleading … all ended quickly. Those who tried to escape were gunned down.
Then, … on the way out, … after plundering … they set the homes ablaze … all 23 of them.
Then they left for just another village.
But, all were not dead. Two children survived, one protected by his mother’s body as she was gunned down. The other was pulled from the rubble of the barn. There was also a lone adult … who was a short distance away at the time of the massacre. Rushing to the empty village, he found his son in the smoldering barn and carefully held him in his arms as the boy died. … They were all dead. … Standing alone in anguish, … he remains for all to see.
Those who died here were buried near the barn where they perished Nearby are the tombs representing each of the 186 villages that were destroyed and never rebuilt during the three years of Hitler’s rampage upon this land and its people. A handful of dirt from each of the dead villages has been placed in the urn on the tomb.
Next to this graveyard are emblematic trees with names of the villages that were destroyed but later rebuilt. Along the pathway is a huge monument that reminds us all of the lives lost in the various places of Belarus … 206,500 in (Tras-EE-anis), 100,000 in Gomel, 10,000 in (DRAZ-dee), 10,000 in bar-EE-so). It goes on and on. 209 cities destroyed. 9,200 villages burned. 2,230,000 lives lost in Belarus … … one fourth of the population. The eternal flame honors these lives lost and the three trees surrounding the flame represent those who survived.
On the chimney of each of the 23 homes is a plaque identifying each family who perished that day when the fascists arrived at just another village. This gate invites you to come into the home of Josif Kaminski, … the lone adult survivor. At home … and included on the plaque … were his wife and his three children ages 15, 13, and 11.
All died that day, March 27, 1943.
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