KURAPATY – THE ROAD OF DEATH

On 3 June 1988, the newspaper Litaratura i mastactva published the article written by Zianon Paźniak titled Kurapaty, the road of death (Курапаты – дарога смерці).

For the first time, the article told the story of mass shootings by Soviet secret police in the forest of Kurapaty near Minsk.

The article ignited mass interest towards the topic of Communist terror in the Belarusian society. It became a starting point for the awakening of the Belarusian society in the late 1980s – very soon, the people demanded democratic reforms and, eventually, the restoration of the independence of Belarus from the Soviet Union.

In October that year, the Belarusian Popular Front was established – the movement that became the key driving force of the restoration of Belarusian independence in 1991.

Below an English translation of the article.

Kurapaty, the road of death

By Zianon Paźniak and Jaŭhien Šmyhaloŭ

The information which we want to give our readers will be familiar to many of them. But it seems that, like us, those who knew all about it were victims of circumstance, and therefore have suffered. For us this suffering has been unbearable. Unbearable on account of the awareness that life slips quickly away, that people die, and that the memory of the terrible crimes committed during the 1930s against our nation is vanishing. Unbearable on account of the awareness that, if this memory is lost and perishes, it will all be repeated again from the beginning.

He who commits a crime and lives with it is a criminal. He is capable of doing evil. He deserves punishment. He who repents and, by enduring the torments of conscience, shame, and pain, makes a new start, in order to do good, is cleansed and becomes a human being. And herein lies the spiritual essence of life and death, eternity and immortality. The demand for the whole truth about the crimes committed between the 1930s and the 1950s, is the voice of the nation’s conscience.

A cleansing of the conscience is necessary for a society which permitted and gave birth to genocide, the greatest crime against humanity. Of course, the deceased murderers will not repent, nor even the “quiet pensioners”. It is later generations who will have to repent, those who did not even witness this tragedy. They will have to repent for the sins of their forefathers. These moral torments must be assumed by the heirs of the nation, they must weep for the victims, they must pass judgement on these crimes. This is the spiritual dialectic of society. An examination of conscience is necessary if death is not to return. A nation, like a human being, has its own individuality. But a human being, has its own individuality. But a human being is a single entity and the nation is manifold. Human beings are bounded in time by their own life span, but the nation is eternal in its history.

Zianon Paźniak: In my youth, a shiver of pain always ran through my heart when I heard the stories of people who had returned from Stalin’s prisons and camps, almost from non-existence. But I wrote nothing about it then. I did nothing about it, and I was horrified during the “era of stagnation” of the 1970s, when it all started happening again, as the national memory of those times receded into folklore and myth and simply disappeared. The hideous images of those stories remain in one’s consciousness…

Look, the people are being herded out to Siberian exile. The train carries them in a frost of 20 below. They stop at some railroad station. “Take off all your clothes”, the guards command, – “We’re going to the baths!” In the bitter cold, they turn fire-hoses on the naked people. – “Enjoy the steam!” – cackle the guards, – “and now go to sleep!” And they close the doors. Next morning, there were very few people left alive out of that trainload. The ice-covered corpses were loaded on to carts, so that their heads hung down, and one of the executioners split their skulls with an axe. They’d apparently had orders to make sure! The years pass by, but this slayer of the already-dead never fades from memory.

Look, they are taking them to Kolyma, and herding them into wooden barracks, riddled with holes, where the Siberian wind whines through. Half of them did not survive the night. The rest stacked up the rigid, frozen corpses along the walls, to block up the cracks, to try to keep warm. And theses Atlases and Caryatids rise up distinctly before me. This was the architecture of that epoch, and its symbol – the barracks.

Ivan Trafimavič[1] Smal, a Communist party member since 1917, and a member of the Homiel Revolutionary Committee, told this story. In 1937, he was employed at the Mahiloŭ automobile repair works as a deputy director. He was arrested as the result of a groundless denunciation by a Young Communist shock worker: the plant had failed to repair two automobiles on time. He was thrown into a cell in which a dense mass of people was already packed so that it was impossible even to turn round. People suffocated, went mad, and died standing up, and the corpses went on standing there among the living. And when it became impossible to squeeze in even half a person more, the guards threw in the new prisoners from above, on to the heads of the living.

And to get statements out of them, there was a special cell, dark, with a low ceiling, less than 1.5 meters high, filled with ice-cold water. In the one dry place, in the center, stood a black coffin. And that was the only place where a person could escape the cold water. Many people went mad in that coffin.

Ivan Trafimavic resisted all the torture and did not give in, did not sign a confession. After the fall of Yezhov [2], he was released, ill and gray-haired… And at the beginning of the 1950s, he happened to go on business with his son to the Ministry of Social Security of the Belarusian SSR. In the vestibule, they met a self-possessed woman, dressed elegantly, with her head held proudly high and her graying hair fashionably coiffured. – “Hello, Ivan Trafimavič!” – she sang rather than said in Russian, in a deep-chested voice, and walked on. Ivan Trafimavič fainted into the arms of his son. – “Who was that, Dad?” – “That was Baykova. Before the war, she was an investigator with the Mahiloŭ NKVD”. She had tortured Ivan Trafimavič. All the prisoners in Mahiloŭ trembled before Baykova. She was a sadist. She only interrogated males, and was especially fond of torturing veterans of the revolution. She would order a prisoner to strip naked and to the waltz-tune “In the hills of Manchuria” would demand that he sing. Then she would take her specially-made whip with wire thongs and would beat the man on his private parts and most sensitive spots, working herself up into an ecstasy, while the prisoner fainted from the pain.

Until 1937, Ivan Trafimavič’s son had gone to the same school as Baykova’s son (Baykova’s husband also worked in the NKVD) and he would sometimes go to their home, knowing nothing about all this. The hospitable lady of the house, wearing an apron, would bring them candies and tea.

Jaŭhien Šmyhaloŭ: In the mid-1950s, when I was a captain in the Soviet Army, I was stationed in Vologda province[3]. There I got to know a first lieutenant Pyotr Uvarov, who had taken part in the deportation of the Crimean Tartars in the 1940s. He told me that all the apartment blocks where the Crimean Tartars lived were simultaneously surrounded by NKVD troops. A limit of an hour was set for the round-up. They were rounded up under the barrels of guns. Trying to escape meant death. The Tartars were herded into railroad box-cars and taken off to Siberia and Kazakhstan. On the way they were given only salt sprats and herrings. But they were given no water, and they began to die: first the sick and the old, and then the others. At every halt, they threw out the dead. People begged for mercy, but there was no mercy. The guards took their valuables and money for themselves. Uvarov spoke about the Tartars’ sufferings with satisfaction, with enjoyment. He considered that he had acted correctly, and he praised Stalin’s policy towards the Tartars.

Pazniak: There ought to be a book of National Remembrance. The images which rise up from peoples stories make a deep impression. “I remember that in the winter of 1938, I was going along the road near the NKVD building”, – recalls Siarhiej Fiodaravič Ladućka from Minsk, – “The cold took your breath away. But from the open windows of the NKVD cellars, from underground, as it were, steam was rolling out through the bars just as if from a locomotive – that’s how many people were arrested!” The image is piercing, like a flash of lightning. On the upper floors, there are stern hominids, in uniform tunics and breeches. They write reports, they open and close portfolios, they walk around busily with papers. And below them, in cellars packed to bursting, people, choking in blood and sweat, breathe out steam. Where is this locomotive rushing to? Where will it stop?

We have found the stop. The thought: “What did they do with the people they shot?” gives one no rest. Where have they gone? There were not just two or three of them, but thousands. At the beginning of the 1970s, on the northern edge of Minsk, to the left of the Łahojskaje Highway, but not as far as the Ring Road, there was still a village called Zialony Łuh. Old people living there told us that every day and every night from 1937 to 1941, people were brought on trucks to the forest two kilometres north of the village, between the ring road and the Zasłaŭskaje Highway, and shot. On the hills there stood an old stand of conifers, surrounded by broadleaf trees and thickets. Some 10 – 15 hectares of the coniferous stand had been surrounded by a fence, more than 3 meters high, made of closely fitting, overlapping, wooden planks, with barbed wire on top. Outside the fence were guards and dogs. The people were brought there along the gravel road which ran from the Łahojskaje Highway towards Zasłaŭje. They used to call it the “Road of death”.

Questioning the people of Zialony Łuh and neighbouring villages – Cna-Jodkava and Drazdova – observers and witnesses of these terrible events – helped us to establish not only the facts, but even to plot the scenes of the mass murders. But in the 1970s, to go public, to tell everyone about this, was impossible.

In 1987-88, we located several former inhabitants of Zialony Łuh, which by now had been demolished, and once again we questioned old people and witnesses of the events in neighbouring villages, we elucidated circumstances and details, and recorded the answers.

The shootings began here in 1937. At first, three times a day – at dawn, at 2.00 p.m., and at dusk in the evening. They brought a few truck-loads of people into the forest and shot them. They threw down the corpses, as ordered, into deep pits which had been dug there, layer upon layer. when they had shot enough to fill the pits right up, they put a layer of sand, not more than 20-25 cm thick, on top of it. Sometimes they planted pine saplings on top.

In the second half of 1937, they enclosed the site. They began to carry out the killings according to a different timetable: after lunch, in the late afternoon, and all through the night. The transport went on rolling up, every day, without a break on Sundays. “They used to shoot every day”, – says Kaciaryna Mikałajeŭna[1] Bahajčuk (born 1919), a resident of Cna, – “and the trucks went on roaring. Sometimes, in the evenings, when the men came home, they would go out into the yard and listen to the shooting; they would talk about it quietly, grieve together, and disperse.”

“Another time several trucks at a time would roll up together, straight into the enclosure and they kept coming with no let-up,” – says Darja Ihnataŭna Toŭscik (born 1911) from Cna. – “And the road into the forest was rolled flat, like asphalt. When they started shooting, you could hear moaning, weeping, cursing.”

“The whole village was in a state of terror. For years we could not sleep at night because of the shooting,” – says a long-time resident of Cna, Raman Mikałajevič Bacian (born 1913). This was confirmed by Mikałaj Piatrovič Niachajčyk (born 1921) and other inhabitants of Cna. – “The older boys, those who were braver, even used to get inside the fence. They made holes in the barrier and could see quite a lot.” – We asked if any of them were still alive. – “Yes. Mikoła Karpovič.”

Mikoła Vasiljevič Karpovič was born in 1919. He is a portly man, and still fairly strong. In 1939 he went into the army. Fate tossed him around the world and on to several fronts. In 1937-38, on several occasions he had seen how they killed people in the forest. The graves, it seemed, were dug in the first half of the day, because in the late afternoon (sometimes after lunch), when the trucks started to roll up, the graves had already been dug. M. Karpovič told us that the people were shot in batches. They were stood in a line, and each of them had a gag put in his mouth and tied round with a rag so that he could not spit it out. The executioners wore NKVD uniforms. They fired their rifles from the side, into the head of the end person, so that the bullet went through two people. – “As soon as they shot,” – Mikoła Vasiljevič says, – “two people immediately fell into the pit. They didn’t want to waste cartridges. When they had shot one batch, they threw a bit of earth on top of the heap of bodies, smoothed it over, so that it was all level, and brought up the next batch. When they had shot the grave quite full, they shovelled sand on top, and smoothed it over.”

“Once”, – M. Karpovič says, – “a guard from Malinaŭka (a village some 4 km away – Author) met me. He was in a state of nerves, disturbed. – “They’ve packed them in already,” – he said, – “come and see. They haven’t filled in!” We went to the fence, which was near the road. Close by, in a hollow, there was a great wide pit, filled to the top with corpses. They lay there, brother, in a row, like piglets.” – “Did anyone ever manage to get away from here?” – I ask. – “Where could they get away to, there’s that fence!” – Mikoła Vasiljevič replies. – “True, once in the late afternoon, when the light was already fading, I was on my way through the forest from Zialony Łuh to Cna with one of our people. It was horrible. Suddenly they stopped shooting. And we saw a man sitting under a tree, with his shirt soaked in blood, barely alive. We came up to him – what to do? Suddenly – the rumble of a truck. We jumped aside, we went on. There were two NKVD men in front of us. – “Who are you?”, – they asked (in Russian) – “People from Cna!” – “You haven’t seen anyone, have you?” – “No – we-ell, there was some chap sitting over there…” – the old man quavered. Then they spotted him and dragged him away by the feet. They threw him into the truck, like a log, and drove off. But how he ever managed to get out of there, I still can’t imagine to this very day!”

Nevertheless, in 1938, one man did manage to escape from the shooting. – “Through the fence – and they didn’t find him,” testifies Maryja Ryhoraŭna Paciaršuk (born 1911) from Cna. One man. Maybe he is still alive. Maybe he is reading these lines and will make himself known?

Maryja Ryhoraŭna confirmed that before shooting the people, they gagged them. Vasil Jakaŭlevič Skvarčeŭski (born 1930) a resident of the village of Drazdova also spoke about this. So did others. But many people heard screams, weeping, pleas for mercy. Maybe they were short of gags. But surely the explanation lies somewhere else. A person who goes on killing people regularly for a long time gradually becomes a sadist. It becomes necessary for him to torment his victims before he kills them. And so they tormented these people before they killed them.

It seems that the killers were not just trying to save bullets when they made one bullet go through two people at once. This was their kind of bravura, an executioner’s sport, a demonstration of their professionalism. Karpovič certainly witnessed this atypical form of rifle-shooting. We questioned everyone in great detail who heard the killings or who had heard from those who had seen, and we came to the conclusion that the shooting was normally carried out with Nagant revolvers or pistols. (This was confirmed later by the excavations.)

“Did the shots sound loud?” – we asked Valancina Michajłaŭna Šachanava (born 1929) from Cna. “No. It was a dry klop-klop-klop – but it went on the whole time. They did some shooting. Then it went quiet. Then klop-klop-klop again.” – Valancina Michajłaŭna also went inside the “execution grounds”. She and a neighbour’s boy dug a hole under the fence and clambered through to pick berries (they were 10-12 years old). There they saw the dug-up earth and a great number of filled-in pits. They clambered out with their berries, and there, facing them, was a soldier. “Stop! And now turn them out!” – he ordered the boy (in Russian). He took the berries and barked: “Quick march, out of here!”

The shootings went on until the very beginning of the war (June 1941). During the war, the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages pulled down the fence to use the wood, and quickly cut down and carted away the old coniferous forest. Now a post-war forest has grown up here, with trees 40-45 years old.

“Didn’t the Germans shoot people here?” – we asked Valancina Michajłaŭna. “No, the Germans weren’t here. They didn’t shoot people here.” We put this question to everyone we interviewed. They all gave us the self-same answer: the Germans were not interested in this site.

“What did the site look like when they pulled down the fence?” we asked V. Šachanava. “It was all dug up, sand and tall grass, and also a lot of red toadstools, pink mushrooms, on thin stalks. As if blood had been spilt there. Well, people said that they had grown out of human blood.” A lot of people recall the toadstools on the grave pits; they reckon that they had come from the blood which was spilt there. Ah, we thought, another folklore motif of suffering. But later we discovered that the people were telling the truth. These toadstools are called “garlicheads”, they grow on sand that has been dug up to a great depth and they smell of garlic.

It was painful to talk to the old women about this time. “Well, my children, how many good people they shot,” – wails Kaciaryna Mikałajeŭna Bahajčuk. – “If only there were a monument put up to them!” – she weeps. – “There was one especially terrible night,” – says Nadzieja Jafimaŭna Chomič (born 1922) from Zialony Łuh. Before the war she lived in Babrujsk, but she often went to Zialony Łuh to visit her sister whose house was right by the forest. “The whole time, shooting, dogs barking, shouting, weeping and lamenting!” And she too weeps.

“The dogs were fierce. They were probably hungry,” – adds Sonia Andrejeŭna Kozič (born 1925) from Zialony Łuh. – “And they kept on shooting almost without a break, especially at night.”

“There was a great deal of blood splashed around,” – reports Maryja Ivanaŭna Paciaršuk (born 1925) from Cna. – “And groans. Even those who had been buried, still groaned.”

Viera Fiodaraŭna Toŭscik (born 1933) from Drazdova recalls that when she was seven years old, she and some other children used to run to watch the killing. Her recollections are fragmentary, what a child’s memory retained – the pits heaped with fresh yellow sand and the blood on the grass. “And the sand over the pits was still heaving, as if it were breathing.”

Question: Did they take anyone from Drazdova? “I don’t remember. I was a little girl. But older people told me that they took people from all the villages around. An automobile would come. They came in the night and said: “Get ready!” Where to, they didn’t explain.”

“Well, the person would get ready. Stuff some bread and lard into a bag. And then they just took them over there and shot them in the pits. Why doesn’t someone put up a monument to them? So many people were killed! So many of our nation they carried off!”

Matruna Mikałajeŭna Mantasava (born 1914) from Zialony Łuh recounts how in 1937 they took two men of the Stryh family, from Padbaloccie. “Who were they?” we ask, “Just simple people, workers.” – “Why did they take them?” – “No one knows. In those days no one said anything or asked questions. At night an automobile, some kind of truck – they called it a “black raven” – went round the villages. They took the husband of Tania Matusievič as well, and the teacher who lived next door. I can’t recall their surnames. Everyone said that they were taking people from all the villages around. How many good people they’ve killed! If only there were a memorial to them now. What terrible tyranny our nation suffered!”

Valancina Šachanava says that she remembers how they took three people from the neighbouring village of Jakubavičy. “Why?” – “Oh, they said that all denounced one another for some crime – they all perished. And in our village, in Cna, they grabbed the schoolmaster, Arsień Paŭłavič Hruša. He was a fine man.” Valancina Michajłaŭna said that she had heard her elders saying at that time they were grabbed because an activist, a brigade-leader in Cna was under pressure to “make up” the required number of “enemies of the people”.

We questioned Maryja Ryhoraŭna Paciaršuk about arrests in the area. – “From Chmarynščyna (this village no longer exists – Author) they took three people: Andrej Filipovič, Sciapan Ciarluk and, I’ve forgotten the third one’s name, he was some newcomer.” – Did you hear about enquiries or demands to denounce “enemies of the people”? – “From 1937, the head of the Rural Soviet – we were the Papiernianski Rural Soviet then – was Cimafiej Vasiljevič Bacian, and he was asked, if there weren’t any of them around. And he replied: “No, we don’t have any.”

Question: Did they shoot people anywhere else in the locality? “Yes, there were shootings. At Ždanovižy, near Baravaja, near Drazdova, to the right of the narrow-gauge railway. (The narrow-gauge railway no longer exists – Author), and in Minsk, at the back of the Cheluskinites Park, where the Vavilov plant is.”

Question to Maryja R. Paciaršuk, D.I.Toŭscik and M.I.Paciaršuk (Village Soviet Deputy and member of the Communist Party) “What should be done with the site now? The city has spread right up to it and the Ring Road touches it.” – “Put up a monument!” – they all replied.

We also met people who talked about all this almost in a whisper. They asked us never to mention their names. Some of them kept silent. And, for example, Mikałaj Vasiljevič Ihnačoŭ (born 1914) from Zialony Łuh (he survived the entire war and wound up in Berlin) told us only that he had been afraid even to go near that fence, because people who went inside it never came out again.

But there were also dare-devils who took pride in digging up bodies (especially in the early days when there was no fence) and laying them under the trees to “put one over on the NKVD”. One time someone dug up two of them and dragged them away from the pit” – V. Skvarčeŭski recounts, – and set them out under the trees, with newspapers in their hands so they could read! There was a row. They wanted to find out who had done it.'” That is how life was then. Circumstances gave birth to icy terror and icy sacrilege.

Analysis of the Stalinist system of genocide and the new facts which have recently come to light allow one to understand why they destroyed, first of all, the intellectuals, the leading party and military cadres, and the industrious peasants. But it is not always understandable why they destroyed the simple, sometimes even illiterate, peasants and workers. It was difficult to explain Stalin’s logic even for those who were with him, because, in essence, this was not human logic, but some other brand. An explanation may be given in part by the so-called “planned economy” of the repressions. In the 1930s, Molotov told Stalin that there were not enough prisons, and that, most important, prisoners “have to be fed”. There was already a famine in the Soviet Union. And so they began to make extensive use of the camp system, killing people during transport to the camps, letting them die of cold and hunger, etc. A planned “progressive “method was used to destroy whole nations. In every town, county etc. quotas were imposed.

The repressions were carried out according to a blue-print. A “movement” sprang up for the fulfilment and overfulfillment of the plan for repressions (revealing “enemies of the people”). The number of “enemies” uncovered by individual efforts was made known in reports, speeches and newspapers. If the plan had not been fulfilled and it was the end of the plan period, they took anyone. That’s when the “black ravens” went roaming round the villages.

The site near the Zaslaŭje road was called Brod. Here, not far away, there was a swamp. We asked the inhabitants of Drazdova whether there had been an old name for the area which was later fenced off, that stand of conifers on the hills, Yes, they said, the area was called Kurapaty. “Why?” – “Because in the spring white flowers grew all over it, and they are called “kurapaty”.” “Maybe you mean “kuraslepki”?” – “Aha, kuraslepki, yes, they’re kurapaty!” (Dialect name for the white anemones – Author)

Kurapaty makes an indescribably painful impression. Across the southern side of the site cuts the Ring Road, which was built in 1957. There they dug up skulls and bones. We walk up the slope and go into the forest, and at once the graves begin, a countless number of sunken, overgrown pits. The people had rotted away, and the earth sank. The dimensions of the pies varied: 2×3, 3×3, 4×4, 6×8 meters and larger. In the center there was a big hill – a ridge. All over its slopes and the lowland area were sunken pits, and more pits. Only at the very top of the ridge was it more or less smooth, as if there had once been a road there. Maybe they had driven automobiles up there, to have the light from their headlamps at night. On the southern side we found the place where the fence had been. The ditch in front of it had been well dug, just as the villagers had told us. From the barely perceptible hollows, we determined where the posts had been – at a distance of four meters apart.

The pits differed in dimensions. They had possibly also been dug to different depths. So it was not possible to calculate exactly the number of victims in each pit.

In the 1970s it was still fairly quiet at Kurapaty. Now the Zialony Łuh development has spread out close to it. When you approach the graves, a kind of despair seizes you. Now this is a recreation ground for the citizens of Minsk. Children play here.

Paźniak: On May 1 of this year it was happy and noisy here, like on a boulevard. Families and groups were relaxing and enjoying themselves. They had lit campfires on the graves, here they were eating, drinking, barbecuing kebabs, playing guitars, playing cards, breaking branches, chopping down trees, transistors were blaring. Someone was tapping a birch-tree which had grown up in a grave depression, to get at the sap… I was amazed why blood didn’t flow from it. Of course, the people knew nothing. They did not know that beneath them there lays a generation. But once again that image of the locomotive came back to me – only this time, with smoke from barbecued kebabs.

Šmyhaloŭ: When those “silent retirees” who created this oblivion die, they will be laid in a coffin. At their funerals people will say fine things about them, and an orchestra will play. But for those who lie here the only orchestra was the barking of dogs and revolver shots. And how the children and families of the victims suffered! Oh no, it must all be remembered. And after death, let each be given his due.

The appearance of several of the graves evoked alarming suspicions in us. Exceptionally deep depressions with sometimes small mounds along the sides, as if someone at some time had dug them up. Some of the pits had been dug up fairly recently to a depth of more than a meter. There were no bones to be seen anywhere. In one of the graves, schoolchildren had dug themselves a “den”. It was more than one meter deep… Clean, friable, uncompacted, undisturbed sand. Our alarm was all the greater when we recalled that one of the villagers, who wanted to preserve his anonymity, had told us that just after the war, soldiers had been digging there for a long time.

On May 5, 1988, with the help of the archaeological group of the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the Belarusian SSR, we began the excavation of one of the graves. A trial trench of 0.5×1 meter was dug at the center of the depression to a depth of 1.5 meters. No results. Pure sand.

This discovery impressed our group (five persons in all) no less than the very fact of the mass repressions. How could we fail to appreciate their vileness. Someone had been digging here after the war. They were trying to cover their tracks. This means that, even then, they knew what they had done. So where is your “honest” conviction of the righteousness of your cause, of the righteousness of your orders! It seems that you were afraid, even then. To undertake such a task, like something out of ancient Egypt? To dig up so many corpses? What did you do with them? Did you take them away and bury them? Did you burn them? It was no small fry who gave the order for exhumation. Beria? Tsanava? Malenkov?[4] Who?

But the very same day we learned that the killers had not been able to remove all traces. Some boys came up to us, the boys who had dug the “den” in the grave depression on May 1, and led us to the other end of the territory. They pushed aside the fir twigs which covered the pole fence and we saw a heap of human skulls with bullet holes through them, bones and leather and rubber footwear. The boys had been making their “den” deeper, and had gone down to almost two meters, when they came upon an obstruction of human bones. The boys had dug up the lower stratum of the grave.

We recall that when the NKVD men had shot one batch of victims, they covered the corpses with sand and leveled off the bottom. During the exhumation, the soldiers had removed the bones to a depth of two meters, and had apparently come to the conclusion that that was the end of the pit. Or else they were simply cheating when their superiors were not around. The true depth of the grave pit was 2.8 m, and its area approximately 3x3m. The boys had very properly, like archaeologists, removed half the stratum (23 victims). Among the corpses were found ceramic enamel mugs, a leather purse containing Soviet kopecks from the 1930s (the latest date on the coins was 1936), a toothbrush in a case produced by a factory in Viciebsk, a large number of spent cartridge cases from 7.5 mm Nagant revolvers, and a pair of round, broken spectacles with thin metal rims.

All the rubber galoshes bore Soviet factory marks and the date 1937. Some men’s leather boots were found and also some women’s footwear. The bullet holes in the skulls were, as a rule, at the back, in the occipital region, where often two holes could be seen, side by side. There were some skulls with holes in the temple, in the forehead, and in the top of the head (shot while in the pit). All the entry holes were of diameter 7.5 mm.

What do these finds tell us? The grave was “shot full” in 1937-38. The victims were shot with Nagant revolvers. They were shot, it appears, without trial, without the pronouncement of a sentence of death. And so here they lie, with their knapsacks and the things they grabbed when they were ordered to “get ready”, mugs, toothbrushes, and even small change. They were clearly not aware that they were going to be shot.

I should like to give the names of the boys who helped us in these far from easy investigations. They are Ihar Baha (he has already graduated from school and is working as a mason), and two pupils of school No.171 in Minsk, Viktar Piatrovič and Alaksandar Makrušyn.

Another grave pit was broached during the laying of the gas-main along the top of the upland-ridge through Kurapaty. The grave was not large, and was sited to the side of the former road. During the exhumation it was apparently “overlooked”, and they forgot to dig it up. The workers of the BielSpiecMantaž construction department of the State Committee for Gas of the BSSR and later some children uncovered bones there and also 15 skulls with bullet-holes and 20 pairs of leather footwear and galoshes. The footwear included the remains of women’s shoes. The galoshes bore the marks of Soviet factories and the date 1939. One galosh had the mark of a Riga factory and an inscription in Latvian. The date was 1939. This gives one to understand that the grave must date from 1940 since there was a Latvian among those shot there (at that time we had no trade in galoshes with Latvia).

A formal statement concerning the excavation was drawn up and the Baraŭlany Rural Soviet was notified. The chairman of the Rural Soviet, Siarhiej Ivanavič Čačaniec received the news about the grave of the victims with understanding. A commission was even set up to determine the circumstances and to rebury the human remains and the bones were collected in a specially-made coffin.

Now, first of all, proper notice-boards must be put up around Kurapaty with information about the locality, so that people can know that it is not a place for picnics or recreation. We do not think that the exhumation of all the graves was carried out completely, to the end (taking into account that this was done in the 1940s). Surely thousands of victims still lie there, at the bottom of the deepest graves.

It will also be necessary to conduct a public reburial of the exhumed remains and to think about a memorial to the victims of Stalin’s repressions at this site.

A special topic is that of forgiveness and punishment. Let the reader think this out for themselves. We feel that there is no forgiveness for genocide. For those who carried out such deeds, there can be no Statute of Limitations. When you find yourself in a deep, cold, three-meter pit, carpeted with corpses, and take in your hand the slimy sole from a woman’s shoe, small-fitting, not more than size 34, you understand this beyond any doubt.

And yet, they are still trying to talk about some kind of “principles”!..


[1] Patronymic. To address and refer to people with their name and patronymic is a common polite style in the Sovietized modern Belarusian language.

[2] Nikolai Yezhov was head of the Soviet secret police NKVD from 1936 to 1938, during the height of the mass political terror in the USSR of the late 1930s. Having presided over mass arrests and executions during the Great Purge, Yezhov eventually fell from Stalin’s favour and power and was himself arrested and executed on false accusations.

[3] Region in northern part of European Russia

[4] Laverntiy Beria was chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus under Joseph Stalin during World War II. Lavrentiy Tsanava was chief of the NKVD of the Belarusian SSR from 1941 until 1951 and a close confidant of Lavrentiy Beria. Georgiy Malenkov was a senior Soviet politician who briefly succeeded Joseph Stalin as the leader of the Soviet Union.

Source: Knihi.com (translation was edited)