19 June 2019, Wednesday, 21:05
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Brest Journalist: Authorities Allow Themselves Joking About Jewish Blood With Smile

The antisemitism of the Belarusian officials didn't go anywhere.

On May 22, a ceremonial reburial of the remains of 1,214 people found on the site of the former Jewish ghetto took place at the Northern Cemetery of Brest, 6 kilometers away from the city, Radio Svaboda reports.

Head of the Brest city executive committee Aliaksandr Rahachuk, as well as representatives of the Jewish communities of the city, the Israeli Ambassador, diplomats from the USA, Germany, Austria, Poland and other countries took part in the ceremony.

According to a Jewish tradition, human remains were reburied along with the soil, which was brought to the cemetery from the place of discovery. The Brest authorities promise to place a memorial sign at the reburial site.

''They knew that people were lying there''

The construction of a residential complex near the intersection of Kuibyshau and Masherau Streets in Brest began in August 2018. The Pribugsky Kvartal company became the developer, future tenants were promised luxury housing in 4-storey buildings. The cost per square meter reached about $ 1600 - not cheap, even for the capital. City center, near the pedestrian Savetskaya Street and the embankment of the river Mukhavets.

In late fall, the work entered the active phase, heavy equipment was driven to the site. In January 2019, they began to dig pits. Almost immediately, the workers stumbled upon human remains,and called the police. The law-enforcers arrived, examined the bones, said they were ''the echo of the time of the war, and therefore not ours,'' and left. In the meantime, more and more human bones were discovered, the number reached several hundred.

''The local authorities knew that burials could be found in these areas,'' says Brest historian Iryna Laurouskaya. ''The first human remains were found there in 1956. Quite a large number - 600 people. In the 70s, human remains were found there. A year and a half ago, a book by the German researcher Gantzer was published, which documented the events in Brest in 1941. It also refers to the executions. I think the documents on this should be in the KGB. So, yes, the city authorities knew what that place was.''

Laurouskaya, like other Brest residents, learned about the discovery from the Internet. A resident of one of the neighboring houses saw through the window that workers were pulling out human skulls from the pit and filmed it, and then posted the video on her Instagram account. The news quickly spread through the city.

The situation was complicated by the fact that the construction site was on the territory of the protected zone. According to the decree of the Council of Ministers, the security zone in Brest is located within the Cosmonauts Boulevard, Lenin Street, the railway line and the Mukhavets River. The state in this territory protects not only the development, but also the cultural layer.

Any construction works should be coordinated with experts, excavations should be carried out at the construction site. Whether this was done by the Pribugsky Quarter company, is still unknown.

''Before any construction, a project is created on the territory of the protection zone, which has a scientific supervisor,'' says Iryna Laurouskaya. ''Be sure, a historical background is made on the territory in which this project is being implemented. So I really would like to see this historical background, what is written in it. The question here is about serious violations of the procedure for allocating a site, maintaining a site, and further by the points of conducting design and construction works.''

The historian created a petition on the Internet calling on Brest residents to support her idea - to stop the construction of a residential complex on the site of the former ghetto and create a memorial park there. The petition was signed by 745 people.

''I am not opposed to a new construction project in the city,'' said Iryna Laurouskaya at the end of February. ''However, I totally disagree with the current ignoring of the established situation. About 1000 people were found at the site. This means that this is the site of a landmark historical event. What is a historical city? It's the sum of memorable places. This place, where the city lost almost half of its population within a few days, is such historical place for Brest. This event is not marked by us''.

According to the historian, it’s also symbolic that the discovery occurred on the eve of the celebrations of the 1000th anniversary of Brest. Iryna Laurouskaya believes that the former ghetto could become the ''place of reconciliation'' for residents of the city.

''We need to explore the entire territory of this neighborhood, the territory from the opposite side,'' she says. ''We also should find all the documents that are in the KGB. It is necessary to check where else such burials could be, to conduct another archaeological research. In this particular case, it is necessary to protect some specific territory, not cover it with buildings. To show that we remember and reconcile. We have not apologized yet for this. We were the witnesses.''

''It seems not Brest residents are lying here, but some aliens''

Maksim Khliabets edits the city media natatnik.by. He says that he was never particularly involved in social activities. Especially in the activities of the Jewish organizations of Brest. He first did it probably in the winter of this year, when he began to study the fact with the discovered remains in the territory of the former ghetto. He says he almost regrets it. They say that no one really needs the memory of the ghetto in the city.

''In August 2018, we climbed onto a site fenced in for construction, made a photo report from there,'' says Maksim. ''There were wooden houses, which were destroyed later. We published the pictures, captioned that this is all at the place of the ghetto, that executions took place there. You see, everyone in the city knows this. You don't have to write anything special about it. The people remember that there was a ghetto.''

Maksim shows the journalists two houses built in the ghetto during the Soviet era. The remains of 600 people were found under one of them, under the other - less, but there is no exact figure. Nearby is a small memorial sign. It was installed in 1992, already in the times of independence. The previous two, placed in 1945 and in the 70s, survived for only a few years. The new one also suffers a lot. The sign, which says about 35 thousand victims of the Brest ghetto, periodically gets covered with paint.

''The variant with the Northern Cemetery seems easier for everyone,'' says the journalist. ''For the Jewish communities - because the authorities themselves proposed and funded it. For the authorities - it is not necessary to put some kind of memorial sign in the middle of the city. The city residents don't care.They say, why do we need to create a memorial, even if the Jews themselves pay, it's the Jews who are buried here. There is no understanding that the Jews killed in the ghetto are the same inhabitants of Brest as all the others. Now there are almost no Jews in the city, they are not seen. So there is a concept they are some aliens. But this is not so. In Brest, before the war, half the population was Jewish, if not more.''

Maksim says that about 400 more or less active participants in four Jewish communities now live in Brest. A few hundred more Jews do not participate in community activities. The relationships between the communities are also uneasy. In addition to the memorial sign, on the site of the former ghetto, there is still a small museum in the basement of an ordinary residential building. There are parts of the Torah from the former synagogue. The cinema Belarus is still located in the synagogue itself.

''When this story began, I appealed to the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences,'' Maksim tells about his further attempts to somehow preserve the memory of the former prisoners of the ghetto. ''I offered to take part of the remains for examination, save them for the DNA analysis. All this can be done. I was first told that - yes, of course, it is possible and even necessary. That they even have money for the trip of their employees. I told everything to the head of one of the Jewish communities of Brest, Rehina Simanenka, she went to the city executive committee and offered this idea there. The city executive committee called the National Academy of Sciences, and then there was nothing but "I am not authorized to talk to you," they did not speak. That's how it ended.''

In the end, no scientific research of the remains of the victims was held. All human bones were removed from the pit and taken to the territory of the Brest Fortress, where they were kept in a kazimat near the gate in the form of a star. According to Maksim, not only Jews, but also local Belarusians could be buried in the ghetto. It will be be much more difficult to find this out now.

''No one here really needs this memory,'' says Maksim. ''These jokes come from there anyway. Anti-Semitism has not gone anywhere. You watch press-conferences with the participation of the city administration. They also allow themselves to joke on the subject of Jewish blood, with a smile. Brest now believes that this is some other story, it has nothing to do with our city. There are the heroes of the Brest Fortress, and then there are some Jews there.''

''Will there be a monument at the reburial site? Good question''

Rehina Simanenka, who heads one of the four Brest Jewish organizations, says that it is not yet known whether a memorial sign will be set up at the reburial site at the Northern Cemetery. According to her, the question rests on funding. Probably, international Jewish organizations will have to be involved in the case, but so far there have been no agreements on this.