Memories will never die

During WWII, Minsk Ghetto was considered to be one of the largest in Europe. Opening in the summer of 1941, its residents were held there until October 1943. During this period of time, the black muzzle of Nazi hatred absorbed almost 100,000 Jews, including tens of thousands deported from Austria, Poland and other European states. Minsk recently held a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of those terrible times: Memorial Days of Minsk Ghetto.
By Galina Ulitenok

Time cannot heal every wound, as the audience was reminded at a concert hosted by the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society, devoted to the prisoners of Minsk Ghetto. Some cried, even now unable to recollect those sufferings without intolerable pain. Others were learning about the torture endured by those souls. However, everyone understood that remembering past events is essential in ensuring that they never again occur.

A round table discussion tackled how best to study and preserve recollections of the Holocaust, organised by the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Associations and Communities. The central event of the Memorial Days was a mourning ceremony, held at the ‘Hole’ complex, in the centre of Minsk. Gathering townspeople, representatives of the Jewish Community of Belarus, rabbis, and clerics of the Belarusian Orthodox and Catholic churches, all paid tribute to the memory of the innocent victims. Among those present was the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Vladimir Makei, the Chairman of Minsk City Executive Committee, Nikolai Ladutko, and the Plenipotentiary Representative for Religions and Nationalities, Leonid Gulyako, alongside diplomats, and visitors from Israel, among other countries.

“In modern Belarus, much is being done to preserve the memory of Holocaust victims,” noted Vladimir Makei, adding that ‘Hole’ is a ‘monument not only to tragedy, but to the feat of Jewish people’. He explained, “All the prisoners of the ghetto struggled for life and freedom. Moreover, they were not alone in their struggle and grief. Many Belarusians risked their own safety to rescue Jews from inevitable death, hiding them in their homes and helping them to escape into the woods, to the partisans.”

According to Mr. Gulyako, the Jewish people will never forget this help, and have already awarded over 700 Belarusians the distinguished title ‘Righteous Among The Nations’ for heroism and compassion. At the memorial ceremony, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Israel to Belarus, H.E. Mr. Yosef Shagal, awarded the title ‘Righteous Among The Nations’ and a commemorative medal, to the daughter of Galina Bildyukevich.

During the occupation, Galina Bildyukevich rescued the Jewish family of her friend, Galina Kostelyanets, from massacre. The Chairman of Minsk Executive Committee, Nikolai Ladutko, stressed the scale of the tragedy, saying, “While it was raining water on Tankovaya Street, on Zaslavskaya Street, streams of human blood ran; those who suffered were being destroyed but remained unbroken... Today’s Memorial Day is one of the key components of preparations for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from the Nazi aggressors. We’ll celebrate this anniversary together: Belarusians, Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, and all who live in our country.”

Archbishop Gury of Novogrudok and Lida, the Executive Officer of the Belarusian Exarchate, spoke words of compassion on behalf of the Head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, the Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk Filaret. He emphasised, “Expressing sympathy with the Jewish people today, we cry also for our personal troubles, and the grief of all those who suffered indignity, persecution or death at the hands of Hitlerite executioners. I especially wish to honour all those who endured those times of catastrophe and can now tell us about the horrors of war from their own life experiences.”

During WWII, the Germans created more than 200 ghettoes within the territory of Belarus, imprisoning hundreds of thousands of people. The words ‘It happened!’ sounded out at the meeting; our debt is to remember, so that it might never happen again.

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