Actually, it turns out to be so difficult to awake the past which should be literally “awoken,” as the death became its resident forever. Second World War belongs to such recollections even now.
The work of the Historic workshop, located in an old one-storey building on Sukhaya street, is well-known to all Minsk citizens. It is actually the place where during the Great Patriotic War Hitler`s forces outlined the region of a Jewish ghetto. This small but, nevertheless, very active research structure appeared under the auspices of Johannes Rau Minsk International Study Center. Kuzma Kozak, the Candidate of Historical Sciences, is the Head of the workshop. All the members are deeply concerned with one very big and important task: to cherish the memory of this terrible war.
Partners and like-minders of Belarusian research workers are German historians, voluntary workers, participants of anti-fascist initiatives. The participants follow traditional forms of cooperation — search, meetings, and discussions. But in reality people who are not acquainted with such “bakery” from within cannot realize how complicated and sophisticated it is, as reconcilement and mutual understanding are achieved through great efforts and persistent selfless activity.
“Even now I cannot listen to German songs,” a Minsk citizen Galina Livshits said, a former underage prisoner of the fascist camp situated in the village Krasny Bereg of Zhlobin district during the years of occupation. Hitler`s forces gathered more than 3 thousand children aged from 8 to 14, who were used as blood donors for wounded soldiers of German army or were simply sent to compulsory labour. Galina Livshits is a rare guest at interviews; it is too hard for her to recall these events. But this time in Germany the group of former concentration camp and ghetto prisoners, who came here last summer on invitation of Dortmund IEC, agreed to meet local schoolchildren. She says she told about just “a hundredth part of what she really went through.” She addressed the whole audience, but anyway chose one boy as a kind of understanding indicator, because at first he seemed to express his indifference quite ostentatiously, one should say, he seemed even arrogant. And it was Galina Livshits who won this battle of characters: at the end of the talk she saw a new young man with totally different eyes — attentive and dazed. She also made some conclusions for herself and for everyone: “Even if he is the only one who will draw the moral, it is worth doing.” But we can just guess what emotional stress she went through!
On the whole, today’s relationship of former Nazi prisoners from the Soviet territories, including those from Belarus, and modern Germans is a special topic for discussion, and sure enough it is quite complicated. Looking at people who came from Minsk — already elderly people who suffered so much from the actions of Germans during the fascist invasion and, actually, miraculous survivors — you cannot but admire the profoundness of their nobleness, ability to understand and forgive. We say forgive, yes, but not torturers and victimizers, but those, who have to pay for ineligible bills once issued by Germans to the Devil itself. Here is Evgeni Stasevich, an underage prisoner of camps in Breslau and Gross-Rosen. He was only thirteen when he was bought by German owners-bauers. It is surprising, but this aged person, bearing in mind everything, nevertheless, comes to Germany and even sings songs in German. He is an accordionist, a choirman of former underage prisoners. Just try to imagine how terrible it sounds: choir of underage prisoners!
And Maya Isaakovna Levina-Krapina, a former prisoner of Minsk ghetto, saved by a peasant woman from Village Porechje Pukhovichi district, Anastasia Hurs, introduced me to her old friend Lore from Germany. Lore visited our country several times as a volunteer and took care of the most serious patients in Minsk hospitals. And I saw it in her eyes: Lore recalled these trips and her work with warmth, bearing good feelings. That means it is really important for her!
Besides, who has the right to claim that Germans do not care? Today public opinion in Germany is formed by anti-fascist state policy. It is strictly forbidden to use Nazi symbolics and fascist propaganda, and there is also prescribed punishment for Holocaust negation. But it was not always like that. The events of the Second World War and the national repentance were actually highlighted only from the 80`s of the ХХth century. The initiative started to develop and grow. But today you can hear here and there quite careful opinions which non-intrusively implicate: may be it is enough? The Germans washed their sins, may be its time to forget. Forget?
Let us try to understand what the definition “memory culture” implies. Every folk has its own peculiarities. Every single society cultivates the memory of its own. That is why the way the Belarusian folk remembers the war to a great extent does not coincide with the corresponding conceptions and ideas of the Germans. But it is important to accept the viewpoints of other people and at least be interested in understanding them, — these are the claims of the Secretary of State on Federation, Europe and Mass media matters of North Rhein-Westphalia, Michael Meters, from his speech at the conference. Discussion is something that matters and then the history will arise as it actually is. Negation of historic evidence generates collective amnesia, assures Mr. Meters.
Just imagine the location of Minsk and Cologne. But a tragic history of thousands of people, whose way started at Cologne station and ended in the crematorium of the death camp at Trostenets, is the binding line of these cities. Among more than one thousand of Cologne Jews, deported in July 1942, were the students of a very famous in the City, and actually the first and the only one Jewish high school in Rheinland, called Yavne. The headmaster Erich Klibansky managed to evacuate some of them to London. At first the Nazi gave to German Jews exit permits to other countries for good pecuniary award, but then it was stopped. He took the rest of the children and joined them in their death. In July 24 complete transport came and the death train was not late even for a minute, right according to the schedule — famous German punctuality. And in July 25 all of them were slaughtered.
At the end of October of thelast year during the commemoration of the tragic date — 65 years from the liquidation of Minsk ghetto by the fascists — there was fixed up a sign-monument in Minsk, dedicated to all Jewish people, deported from Cologne. It was added to stone monuments of Jewish people of Dusseldorf, Bremen and Hamburg.
In June 1944 the last prisoners of Trostenets were killed. Overall, during the Second World War there were more than 260 death camps, prisons, and ghetto on the territory of the Republic of Belarus.
But there were also reverse tendencies. In Cologne and its surroundings Hitler’s forces created 376 large and small (including very small “locations” for 10–15 people who carried out light works) camps for forced workers. The museum archive EL-DE-Haus, situated at the building of former Cologne Gestapo, testimonies of people kept there, who were engaged in forced labour, collected right after the war. When I opened the folder, the first page I saw contained names, surnames, villages, which seemed surprisingly familiar, Belarusian: Ananich Nadezhda Fedorovna, Ananich Oleg, villages Motino, Chernaya Niva… The villages were burned, the inhabitants became forced workers in Cologne… I go on reading and understand — that`s right, these are our villages. After that you cannot but believe in the highest powers.
What is ahead in tomorrow? May be the answer depends on what the youngsters aged 18-20 think about that. It is natural that the Germans cannot to that extent perceive things that are so clear to us from yearly childhood. But what kind of memory should be preserved about this terrible war? Burkhard Gran, a teacher of the house museum of an International Educational Center in Dortmund, said, “An effective approach was proved by the projects of International Educational Center of Minsk. Their specificity is that apart from upbringing, education, scientific studies, they offer concrete assistance to aged people, former Nazi prisoners. It is actually one of the most important aspects of memory culture. Attention to every single person, care is more important than any information… A beneficent program “Let us provide worthy life to aged people” has been in progress for two years already. “Care about people, who lived through war horror and sufferings, that is what may be called “our attitude to the past, our memories,” the Head of the project Marina Bachilo says. Apart from that, she is sure that one of the crucial moments is attracting people to beneficent, volunteer activities of young people. These are not just words that can teach young generation to be kind and sympathetic. And it is such work that can teach how precious human sympathy and attention is.
Simple moral is that time goes quickly, but actually it is true. You can hardly notice how “tomorrow” becomes “today” and “today” becomes “yesterday.” And now these are our future followers who try to find something in their past. What will they find there?
“It hurts so much that today the monuments of Soviet times, which can be easily called monuments to “Soldiers-liberators,” erected in all towns, townships, in many villages are being destroyed,” Kuzma Kozak acknowledges with a sad heart, sitting in his enclosed court of castle Wewelsburg. “May be they even do not have artistic value. But anyway these are artifacts of the epoch, its authentic evidence. And we should keep them for the future, at least in museums.”
It is difficult not to agree with it. Certainly, the memory of tomorrow will be totally different in its form, but in its contents it will be the same as we see it today.