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, Mikalaj Vasiljevic Ihnasou (born 1914) from Zialony Luh (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. Skarbaceuski 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 intelligentsia, 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 Marias" went roaming round the villages.
The site near the Zaslauje 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 Luh 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 Mensk. Children play here.
Pazniak: May 1 of this year was happy and noisy, like on the 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 lay a generation. But once again that image of the locomotive came back to me – only this time, with smoke from barbecued kebabs.
Shmyhalou: When those "quiet retirees" die who created this oblivion, 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 know 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? You burned them? It was no small fry who gave the order for exhumation. Beria? Tsanava? Malenkov? 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 there 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 Viciebsk factory, a large number of spent cartridge cases from 7.5 mm Nagan 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 Nagan 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 Mensk, Viktar Piatrovic and Aleksandar Makrusyn.
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 Belspecmontaz 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 domestic factories and the date 1939. One galosh had the mark of a Riga factory and an inscription in the Latin alphabet. 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 Baraulany Rural Soviet was notified. The chairman of the rural Soviet, Siarhiej Cacaniec received the news about the grave of the victims without 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 himself. 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"!…