Minsk Memorial to Jewish Suffernig
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd September, 2007
Tucked away in an area of anonymous apartment blocks in the Belarussian capital is a chilling reminder of the fate of what used to be one of the largest and most vibrant Jewish communities in Europe. The 1926 census showed that 40% of the city’s population were Jews at that time: 53,700 people — a figure which rose to approximately 90,000 by June 1941, because of incomers fleeing persecution in occupied Poland. Within hours of the Germans arriving in Minsk, they started a process of registration, which led to Jewish boys and men, in particular, being led off, sometimes singly, sometimes in groups, to be shot.
The Minsk Ghetto was established on 20 July 1941, by which time all Jews were obliged to wear a yellow badge on their chest and back. The ghetto comprised 34 streets and lanes, as well as Yubileiny Square, the whole area surrounded by thick rolls of barbed wire and watch-towers. By now the area’s population had climbed to 100,000 souls. Adults were allocated 1.5 metres of space; children, nothing. In August, the mass executions started. Heinrich Himmler personally watched a group of 100 Jews being shot. The following year, after a winter of unbearable hardship inside the ghetto, the extermination accelerted, including Jews brought in from Poland and Germany. In just four days in July 1941, 30,000 were slaughtered.
The Minsk ghetto memorial depicts a line of emaciated, naked men, women and children descending into a pit, where they will perish; at their tail, but one of them, a lone violinist is playing. It is a haunting piece of work. I stood and contemplated it for quite a long time, in silence, in the late summer sun. No-one else came to the memorial while I was there, or looked down as they passed in the street above. Small traces of paint could be seen on the heads of some of the figures, where the authorities hadn’t quite managed to clean away traces of vandalism. Or anti-semitism? Whichever, despicable.