Khatyn National Memorial Complex, Minsk Region, Belarus

NB. Khatyn (Хатынь) should not be confused with Katyn (Катынь), the site of the massacre of Polish officers by the NKVD in April-May 1940. Katyn is near Smolensk in Western Russia, about 200 miles from Minsk.

The Khatyn Memorial Complex is built on the site of a village that was burned to the ground by SS anti-partisan units and is the Republic of Belarus’ national monument to the country’s war dead.

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On the morning of March 22, 1943, a German convoy was attacked by partisans a few kilometres from Khatyn, resulting in four fatalities, including Hans Woellke, the 1936 Olympic shot put champion. Later that afternoon, Schutzmannschaft Batallion 118, an auxiliary police unit that consisted mostly of Ukrainian former prisoners of war and deserters, and the Dirlewanger Brigade entered Khatyn and forced the inhabitants into a shed, which was set on fire. When the villagers broke down the door of the shed, they were machine-gunned. One hundred and forty-nine people, including 75 children, died, with only one adult and two children surviving.

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The decision to build a memorial at the site was taken in 1966, and the project was awarded to architects Y. Gradov, V. Zankovich, L. Levin and S. Selikhanov. The first part of the complex opened in 1968, and the completed memorial was officially opened on June 5, 1969. Parts of the complex were reconstructed and restored in 2004.

Two of the dominant features of the complex are the 6-metre-tall statue “The Unconquered Man,” which depicts the only adult survivor Iosif Kaminskiy hold the body of his son, and a large black monolith represents the roof of the shed. The locations of the village houses are marked by low walls, with obelisks representing the chimneys. Bells on the top of the obelisks ring every 30 seconds.

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The “Cemetery of Villages” commemorates 186 Belarussian villages that were destroyed during the war and never rebuilt. Each “grave” has the name of the village and an urn containing soil from the location in question.

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Nearby, the “Trees of Life” name 433 Belarussian villages that were destroyed during the war years but that were later rebuilt. The loss of one-quarter of the Belarussian population during the war is represented by an eternal flame that is flanked by three birch trees.

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Khatyn is about 50 kilometres north of Minsk, near the village of Logoisk. There is no direct public transport connection to the site, so the only realistic option for most visitors will be to arrange a trip with a tour agency in Minsk. It should be possible to combine Khatyn and the Stalin Line Museum into a day trip, spending the morning at one site and the afternoon at the second.

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The complex is the subject of two major controversies. First is the charge that the site was chosen so as the create confusion over the Khatyn and Katyn massacres and to deflect attention away from the latter. The second issue is the lack of acknowledgement of the participation of Ukrainians in the massacre, which even now is not mentioned on the memorial’s official web site.

Also in Minsk:

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