Khatyn’s bells sound in sorrow
70 years ago, German fascists burnt the village of Khatyn in the Logoisk District, together with 149 villagers, including the elderly, women and children. Another 629 Belarusian villages shared the same fate, with Khatyn destined to represent them all, becoming chosen for the state memorial site
On May 22nd 1943, the Fascists surrounded the village and rounded up all the residents of Khatyn, locking them inside the barn. The Nazis then placed straw around the perimeter, poured on gasoline and set light to the building, which contained the elderly, women and children, as well as menfolk. Any who managed to escape the flames were shot — using rifles and machine guns. In all, 149 people were killed, including 75 children under the age of 16. Khatyn was then looted and razed to the ground. Only two children survived: Victor Zhelobkovich, aged 7, and Anton Baranovsky, 12, who were found and treated by citizens from neighbouring villages.
The only adult to survive witnessing the Khatyn tragedy was blacksmith Iosif Kaminsky, 56. He was wounded and burnt but recovered consciousness late at night, when the Nazis had left the village. His son, mortally wounded, died in his father’s arms, as is depicted in Khatyn’s only sculpture: The Unconquered Man.
At a recent memorial ceremony, the eternal flame’s pedestal became scarlet with so many mourning wreaths and carnations; that of the President was placed at the centre. Administration Head Andrei Kobyakov read an address from Mr. Lukashenko and later told reporters, “The tragedy of Khatyn is a lesson for all mankind. Monuments such as this, located where the Nazis burnt villages, are necessary not only in memory of victims but to remind us that such atrocities should never again occur. The country’s leadership is doing all it can to ensure that independence is not stolen from us. There are attempts to erode from our memory the great victory and the tremendous losses endured.”
A minute of silence was accompanied by the sound of a metronome and gun volleys from the honour guard. The bells sounded, as if to wake the dead. Paying tribute to the fallen, the First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Alexander Radkov, bowed his head, joined by the Chairman of the Minsk Region Executive Committee, Boris Batura, alongside clergy, veterans, war survivors and those who lived through their own villages’ destruction; 70 years have passed but those terrible war memories remain painful.
“In the third year of the war, I was very small. My knowledge of the burning of our village of Alexandrovka, in the Klichev District, is mostly from the mother’s stories. We were gathered from our homes many times but then released; however, one day, they didn’t let us go. My mother and I hid in the forest,” recalls Inna Mikhno, her voice trembling.
Yekaterina Sazonko, a tenth grade student of Kamen high school, read some poignant poems about Khatyn, rousing tears not only from the veterans. “Many people write poems about war but I’ll write a poem about peace. Let peace reign in every country, in every home and in every apartment. Let’s preserve our peace here and now, so that war will not touch us.” She often visits the memorial complex, holding Khatyn dear. The memory of that burnt village, and all others, is sacred to every Belarusian. Those memories will never die.