Thursday, March 22, 2007

March 22

German soldiers -- aided by Ukrainian and Belarussian collaborators -- destroyed the Belarussian town of Khatyn on this date in 1943, burning and shooting 149 people, half of whom were children. The town lay within the European regions of the Soviet Union targeted for absorption by Germany, which launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 to accomplish precisely that goal. From the vantage point of Aryan racial ideology, the presence of inferior Slavic peoples in the region would pose a problem after the conquest. Nazi leaders arrived at a plan to reduce the Slavic population -- by extermination or transfer -- by 75%. As the Reichsfuhrer Hitler himself mused,
[W]e are extremely interested in not letting eastern nations unite. On the contrary, we must spit them into small groups and branches. As for separate nations, we are not going to allow them to get closer and bigger, let alone allowing them to cultivate the sense of national identity and culture. Quite the contrary, we are concerned with splintering them into numerous small groups...

I hope we will be able to completely destroy the very concept of a 'jew', because we think there is a possibility of resettling all jews in Africa or some other colony. However, we will need rather more time to exterminate Ukranians, Gorakis and Lemkies on our territory.
By August, Belarussia was completely occupied and the systematic extermination of the republic’s citizenry began in earnest. Mass executions and concentration camps eventually claimed more than 2.2 million lives -- a full quarter of the Belarussian population -- while more than 5000 villages were destroyed, some of them three or more times over the course of the war.

Khatyn was targeted on the pretext of punishing the killers of a German officer in a nearby town in mid-March 1943. Although no one from Khatyn was involved in the shooting, the entire community was made to bear collective responsibility for the soldier's death. On March 22, the village was surrounded and nearly everyone was herded into a large shed that was doused in benzine and set ablaze. When the building collapsed and the terrified residents of Khatyn scattered, German soldiers gunned them down. A handful of children lived through the slaughter, though their parents did not. Only one adult, a 56-year old craftsman named Joseph Kaminsky, managed to survive after losing consciousness and being left for dead. Kaminsky found his son in the rubble and held him in his arms as he died.

A statue at the Khatyn memorial, not far from Minsk, commemorates that moment.

Labels: ,