On 22 March Belarus marks the 75th anniversary of the Khatyn tragedy. This day almost the entire population of the village was massacred by the Nazis.
149 residents were shot, burned alive or suffocated in fire. Khatyn became a symbol of mass killings of civilians on the territory of the USSR occupied by Germany.
Our colleagues at TUT.BY compiled a list of six facts abouth this dreadful tragedy to help you understand what happened on this fateful day.
What was the reason?
On the morning of 22 March, a German convoy was ordered to restore a damaged communication line between the village of Pleschenitsy and Lahoysk.
Here it was ambushed and attacked by Soviet partisans, resulting in the deaths of four police officers.
Among the dead was Hauptmann Hans Woellke, the battalion’s commanding officer.
Woellke was an Olympic champion in Berlin in 1936 and a good acquaintance of Adolf Hitler.
The Nazis decided to avenge the death of the Führer’s favorite.
Initially, they went to the village of Kozyri where they shot there 26 loggers.
They believed that the partisans had come from this settlement.
But then they found out that Woellke was killed by guerrillas, who had previously spent the night in Khatyn.
This is when the fascists decided to wipe out the village.
Who destroyed the village?
The Schutzmannschaft Battalion 118 and Dirlewanger Brigade, with the active participation of the latter.
They gathered all the inhabitants in a shed, which was then covered with straw and set on fire.
When the trapped people managed to break down the doors, they were killed by machine gun fire.
The village was then looted and burned to the ground. What happened to the chastisers after the war had ended?
The batallion’s chief of staff Gregory Vasyura, who was called the executioner of Khatyn, managed to hide his past and until the mid-1980s pretended to be a war veteran.
In 1985 he was sentenced to be shot. Earlier, in 1975, the battalion platoon commander Vasily Meleshko was shot.
In the 1970s, Stepan Sakhno was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Vladimir Katryuk took refuge in Canada. His dark past became known in the late 1990s, but he was not given away. He died in 2015.
The only adult survivor of the Khatyn massacre, 56-year-old village Yuzif Kaminsky.
He went into the woods for brushwood when the reprisal unfolded.
In the fire Kaminsky lost his 15-year-old son. The father and his son became prototypes of the Khatyn monument.
Marya Fyodorovich and Julia Klimovich were also among the survivors. They miraculously got out of the burning shed.
Unfortunately they died when the Germans burned the neighbouring village, where they were hiding.
Victor Zhelobkovich, who was seven at this time, hid under his mother’s body. Twelve-year-old Anton Baranovsky was mistaken for dead.
Another three children – 9-year-old Sophia Yaskevich, 13-year-old Vladimir Yaskevich and 13-year-old Alexander Zhelobkovich – managed to hide.
Almost all of them have already died. Only Viktor Zhelobkovich and Sophia Yaskevich are still alive.
The massacre was not an unusual incident in Belarus during World War II.
Over 9,000 Belarusian settlements were burned and destroyed by the Nazis. Why did they choose Khatyn?
Some Western historians believe that Khatyn was chosen because of the similarity of its name to Katyn.
Until the 1990s, the Soviet Union denied the shooting of Polish prisoners of war there.
Nevertheless, there is still no conclusive evidence of this version.
What to read or watch about Khatyn?
TUT.BY recommends the books of Ales Adamovich – “Khatyn’s story” and “Punishers”.
The stories were used by Adamovich and director Elem Klimov as a basis for the scenario of “Come and See” movie.
The film was released in 1985 and was a large box-office hit, with 28,900,000 admissions in the Soviet Union alone.
It was named by the film experts of one of the greatest films about the war.
Recently the film was restored and shown in Minsk.
The Khatyn Memorial was visited by millions of people.
In 2011, it was in the top ten of the most attended tourist sites in Belarus – it was visited by 182,000 people.
Richard Nixon of the US, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Rajiv Gandhi of India, Yasser Arafat of the PLO, and Jiang Zemin of China are among them.