On Wednesday, March 22, progressive groups in Belarus paid tribute to the victims of World War II’s Khatyn massacre on its 80th anniversary. Delegations from political parties including the Communist Party of Belarus (CPB), the Federation of the Trade Unions, youth groups including the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM) and the League of Communist Youth (LKM), the Belarusian Women’s Union, the Belarusian Public Association of Veterans, and others laid flowers at the monument to the Unconquered Man and the Eternal Flame at the Khatyn memorial complex near Minsk to mark the occasion. Several ministers and government officials also paid tribute to those who died, as part of the state-led commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the massacre that took place on March 22, 1943.
The Khatyn massacre was a horrific demonstration of the brutality of the Nazis and those who collaborated with them on the eastern front during World War II. On March 22, 1943, in retaliation for an attack on a German Nazi convoy by Soviet partisans, almost the entire population of Khatyn village in Lahoysk district of Minsk was massacred by Schutzmannschaft Battalion 118 (composed of Ukrainian nationalists) with the backing of the Nazi troops from Dirlewanger Waffen-SS. According to reports, 149 people—including children—were killed and their houses were burned to the ground. Following the war, several of those who participated in the massacre—Nazis and collaborators both—were prosecuted, and some were later executed.
In 1969, the memorial complex in Khatyn was dedicated as the national war memorial of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. The eternal flame in the memorial represents Belarusians who died in the war, and the wall with niches represents those who died in concentration camps. The ‘Cemetery of Villages’ in the memorial complex, with its 185 tombs, represents the villages in Belarus burned down by the Nazis and their collaborators during the war. The statue of the Unconquered Man at the memorial depicts Yuzif Kaminsky, the 56-year-old village smith, who survived the Khatyn massacre carrying his dying son in his arms.
On Wednesday, after paying tribute at the Khatyn memorial, the Communist Party of Belarus (CPB) stated that “149 residents of Khatyn, including 75 children under 16 years old, were burned on March 22, 1943 by the perpetrators. Today, probably, there is no person who would not know and not hear the word ‘Khatyn’. The name of a small Belarusian village became a symbol of the tragedy of the people of Belarus during the Great Patriotic War.”
On the occasion, CPB also screened the documentary film titled ‘People with Black Souls,’ made by Belarusian filmmakers ID Gursky and PP Shamshur in 1962, which depicts the role of Belarusian collaborators in World War II.
On Wednesday, Alexander Lukyanov from the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM) said, “today, the whole country has come to bow to the memory of the unconquered. We are an unconquered people, and today, we have every right, standing on this sacred Khatyn land for every Belarusian, to appeal to the international community to never again allow—not only in Belarus, but also in other countries—a similar catastrophe.”