Information Board at the Entrance to the Memorial Site
The entrances to the memorial site are marked by information boards with identical content. They show the plan of the site and provide an initial historical introduction in Belarusian, Russian and English to the Nazi past of Maly Trascjanec. The text describes the camp as a place of extermination of more than 206,500 civilians from Minsk and all of Belarus, resistance fighters and partisans as well as Soviet prisoners of war between 1941 and 1944. The Holocaust is not mentioned and the Jews from the Minsk Ghetto and deported Jews from Western Europe are subsumed under "civilians".
This idea of both the identity and the number of victims is based on the minutes of the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union (ChGK); further details can be found in the exhibition section "Trascjanec Death Camp" in the Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War in Minsk.
Memorial Stone at the Site of the Barn
During its investigation of the barn, the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union (ChGK) determined that the approximately 6,500 people murdered here by the Nazi occupiers were Soviet citizens. As early as in September 1944, employees of local collective farms and representatives of the authorities held the first memorial meeting for the dead. The first, presumably wooden, memorial signs were soon erected. They contained the following words: "Eternal memory for Soviet people who died at the hands of German executioners". In subsequent years, however, the mass graves were neglected, prompting the relatives of those murdered at Maly Trascjanec to write to the authorities urging them to take proper care of the mass graves.
Since 1961, the Minsk authorities have repeatedly erected and removed memorial stones at the historic site of the barn in memory of the civilian victims of Maly Trascjanec. The inscription on all the monuments has remained identical: "Here lie Soviet citizens tortured and burned by German fascists in June 1944."
Foundations of the SD camp
As part of the post-Soviet redevelopment of the former camp site near Maly Trascjanec, some of the foundations protruding from the ground were shuttered and preserved. Signs such as "Suitcase warehouse", "Sawmill" and "Crypt" refer to the original function of the buildings.
It cannot be ruled out that individual buildings, which are now considered part of the camp infrastructure, are indeed located on the former camp site, but were erected as collective farm buildings in the post-war period. Other protruding foundations remained unconsidered in this work, such as the remains of the building that might once have served as accommodation for the camp commander.
Gate of Remembrance
In 2010, a national competition was announced for the creation of a central monument in the Maly Trascjanec memorial project. The sculptor Kanstantsin Kastyuchenka won with his draft named "Gate of Remembrance". The ten-metre-high "Gate" is still one of the tallest sculptures in Belarus. It forms a kind of symbolic entrance to the grounds of the former camp. The monument depicts camp inmates wrapped in barbed wire as a symbol of their imprisonment. According to the inscription, the victims of the German occupiers symbolized in this way are Soviet civilians. The dimension of Maly Trascjanec as a scene of the Holocaust is ignored.
The "Gate" was inaugurated together with the preserved camp foundations and information boards on the grounds of the former labour camp on 22 June 2015 as the first of three sections of the memorial site.
Massive of Names
More than 9,000 Austrian Jews were murdered in Maly Trascjanec. Despite the high number of victims, interest in clarifying the crimes committed during the Holocaust and in publicly commemorating those murdered did not arise until late in Austria. It was not until the so-called "Waldheim Affair" in 1986, which marked a turning point in the politics of remembrance, that the mood in the country changed: questions about the Nazi past began to be asked of the older generation in Austria as well. With the growing interest on the part of Austria, further developments for remembering in and about Maly Trascjanec gradually emerged.
However, it was not until 2018 that the competition for a memorial in Maly Trascjanec to commemorate the persecuted and murdered Jewish Austrians was announced in Austria. The architect Daniel Sanwald was able to convince with his design for the "Massive of Names". The Belarusian sculptor Kanstantsin Kastyuchenka (author of the central monument of the memorial, the "Gate of Remembrance") put the concept into practice.
According to the design, the "Massive of Names" consists of a huge stone that is broken into ten partial columns. The partial columns symbolise the trains in which people were brought from Austria to Maly Trascjanec. Although the individual fragments stand freely, they are arranged so close together that a person cannot walk between them: This is a symbol for the lack of escape possibilities from the transport.
The columns bear the first names of the deportees, which could be identified thanks to the preserved deportation lists. In order to keep the memory of the victims alive, the architect Daniel Sanwald worked carefully with this information. Every name that was recorded on the transport lists can be found on the "Massive" today. The first names that appeared repeatedly were not duplicated on the memorial. In total, there are about 950 names on the monument.
The inauguration of the Austrian "Massive of Names" took place on 28 March 2019.
Memorial Stone in Šaškoŭka
In the 1960s, interest in the Nazi past of Maly Trascjanec grew and the first attempts to establish a culture of remembrance were made: in 1961, a memorial stone was laid on the site of the burnt-down barn. In the neighbouring village of Vyaliki Trascjanec, the construction of an obelisk for the victims of the camp at Maly Trascjanec began in 1963, followed in 1966 by a memorial stone at Šaškoŭka, the place where the German occupiers had built a makeshift crematorium for burning the bodies. Šaškoŭka was thus the last extermination site in Maly Trascjanec to be included in the Soviet culture of remembrance.
Meaningfully, the inscription on the memorial stone states: "This is the place where the fascist executioners burned peaceful Soviet civilians". In this way, the memorial follows the Soviet narrative of remembrance, in which the anti-Semitic dimension of the German war of extermination was omitted and Jews were not considered as a victim group.
Since 2018, there have been plans for a new memorial sculpture. However, the "crematorium pit" in the form of two crossed black beams hovering over a trench has not yet been constructed.
“Path of Remembrance”
The "Path of Remembrance" leads to the "Gate of Remembrance", the central element of the post-Soviet memorial complex on the former camp site. This part of the memorial complex was ceremonially inaugurated on 22. June 2015.
The symbolic "Path of Remembrance" crosses the former camp site and continues to the former cremation pit in Šaškoǔka. Along the path there are memorial stones that provide information about the number of victims in the territories of Belarus occupied by Germany from 1941 to 1944. A breakdown is given of how many victims there were in each oblast. However, the information is based on the minutes of the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union from the immediate post-war period. More detailed information on the number of victims can be found at the Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War in Minsk.
The Way to the Grave in Blahaŭščyna
The Way to the Grave was designed by architect Leonid Levin and includes three parts: The "Square of Life", the "Square of Paradox" and the "Square of Death".
The "Square of Life" is designed in white which is the colour of hope. Next to the square there are benches. The benches are 47.5 cm wide - just like the seats in the 3rd class railway carriages in which Central European Jews were deported. The sculpture group "Suitcases" is also to be erected on the square. Suitcases stand for travel and hope: until the very end, the deported Jews were led to believe that they would be "resettled" in the East.
A kind of connecting element between the Squares are the replicated "railway carriages", which also serve as memorial spaces. Each carriage is 20 m long, 4 m high and 3.4 m wide and thus corresponds to the actual dimensions of the railway carriages in which the deportees were brought to Maly Trascjanec. In the evening, the carriages are illuminated, red on the inside and white on the outside.
According to the original idea, the names of the murdered people should be written on the inside walls of the carriages. The names of the deportees from Central Europe have been preserved thanks to the deportation lists. However, only a few names of Belarusian victims are known because the traces of the crimes in Trascjanec were deliberately eliminated by the Nazi occupiers. In order not to create hierarchies between different groups of victims, the project was abandoned.
The next element is the "Square of Paradox" with its zigzag ground plan. In the corners of the zigzags, there are metal inserts for sculptures to be set up later: a house, a tree and a cross (all turned upside down), a smashed and upturned menorah candlestick, and a shot-through icon. These sculptures are meant to symbolise the fact that life has not gone its "normal" course here. The "Square of Paradox" is paved with uneven red stones, which is meant to make visitors reflect on the victims' last moments.
The "Square of Death" marks the end of this section of the memorial site. The square, kept in black, symbolically marks the line beyond which there was no more life. Like the entire memorial complex in Blahaŭščyna, "The Way to the Grave" was inaugurated by the presidents of Belarus, Germany and Austria on 29 June 2018.
Forest of Names
After Auschwitz-Birkenau, the forest of Blahaŭščyna is the Holocaust site where most Austrian Jews were murdered. Therefore, in 2009, Waltraud Barton from Vienna, who came across Maly Trascjanec while researching about her grandfather's first wife, Malvine Barton, founded the citizens' initiative IM-MER (abbreviation for Initiative Malvine - Maly Trascjanec Erinnern) in Austria. Since 2010, the representatives of this citizens' initiative have been placing yellow plaques with photos and names of the murdered on trees in the direct vicinity of the execution site in Blahaŭščyna. The school in Vyaliki Trascjanec and relatives of deported and murdered Jews from Germany have since joined the initiative.
In August 2017, work began on the second section of the memorial, in which two projects were to be realised at the same time: the Blahaŭščyna Memorial Cemetery by Minskproyekt and "The Path of Death" by Leonid Levin in Blahaŭščyna. The "Forest of Names" thereby became - probably unforeseen - a kind of connecting element between the two projects. The integration of the yellow plaques with photos and names of the murdered in the Blahaŭščyna memorial can be considered a success for civil society actors in their efforts to create a culture of remembrance around Maly Trascjanec.
Today, in addition to more than 500 yellow nameplates commemorating deported Jews from Central Europe, there are also white plaques that local residents have hung up in memory of their deceased relatives from this area. The work of the Malvine Initiative also contributed significantly to the erection of the monument "The Massif of Names" in Maly Trascjanec.
Memorial Stone in Blahaŭščyna
In 2002 – almost 60 years after the liberation of Minsk – a memorial stone for the victims of Maly Trascjanec was laid at the fork in the road leading to the clearing near Blahaŭščyna. The central Nazi execution site near Minsk had previously hardly been included in the commemorative culture of the place.
The inscription on the memorial stone erected by the Minsk city administration in cooperation with non-governmental Belarusian organisations reads: "At this place in 1941-1943 the Nazi invaders murdered over 150,000 people: Soviet prisoners of war, underground fighters from Minsk and partisans of the republic, citizens from different parts of the republic, Jews from the Minsk ghetto and many European countries." The memorial stone was thus the first commemorative cultural object at the memorial complex that also names Jewish people as a group of victims of the Maly Trascjanec extermination site. The mentioned number of victims of 150,000 people murdered in Blahaŭščyna refers to estimates made by the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union in 1944.
In the course of the works for the construction of the memorial complex in Blahaŭščyna, the memorial stone was removed in 2018 and replaced by a new one in the "Forest of Names".
Max Starkmann was born in Vienna on 2 October 1880. As a violinist and violist, he joined the orchestra of the State Opera as well as the Vienna Philharmonic on 1 December 1911; in the same year he married Elsa Schimmerling. Both were members of the Jewish Community in Vienna.
Starkmann played violin in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for over 27 years until he was informed in writing of his forced leave of absence on 23 March 1938, at the age of 58: "The management of the State Opera hereby informs you that you are on leave of absence with immediate effect until further notice. With German greeting, the Management of the State Opera."
On 5 October 1942, Max and Elsa Starkmann were forced to board the last mass transport from Austria to Maly Trascjanec at the Aspang railway station in Vienna, together with about 550 other people. Only four days later, the couple met a violent death here.
Theresia Löwy was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Vienna on 9 May 1886. There, on 5 May 1912, she married Ignaz Brody, a high-ranking officer in the First World War, who died already in the 1920s from the late effects of war injuries. They had two daughters, Herta and Alice "Lizzi" Brody. Lizzi recognised the signs of the times early on and fled to Palestine in the early 1930s at the age of 22. In 1938 she returned to Vienna to save her sister and mother, but only managed to smuggle her sister Herta out of the country in an adventurous escape. Just a few months later, the family lost all contact with the mother Theresia Brody, which triggered great feelings of guilt in Lizzi. Because of the guilt, she remained silent about this subject until the end of her life, which is why she never gained any certainty about what had really happened to her mother.
Dr Edna Magder, Lizzi Brody's daughter and Theresia Brody's granddaughter, was born in Palestine during the Second World War and emigrated to Canada as an adult. Although she knew as a child that her family originally came from Vienna, she did not learn for a long time why she was never allowed to meet her grandmother. It was only after her mother passed away that Edna was able to embark on several trips to Europe in search of her family history. Through various archival researches and especially thanks to the help of IM-MER initiative founder Waltraud Barton, she finally found out that her grandmother had been deported to Maly Trascjanec on 14 September 1942 and that she had been murdered there. The topic of the Holocaust still has an identity-forming effect in Edna's family today, and it also has an impact on her children and grandchildren. Edna's daughter Ruth Abusch-Magder described this particularly impressively in a statement on Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Day:
"I grew up in a family where everyday was Holocaust memorial day. (...) No meal happened at my parents home, where the holocaust or Nazis were not mentioned. I don't recall a time when I did not know about the Holocaust (...). I grew up with hording food and always having a plan of escape. I live daily in the violence of the Nazis and the many bystanders, who did not only try to kill our people but our spirit."
Leo and Fanny Körner
The Körner family, consisting of father Leo, mother Fanny and son Heinrich Sieghart, lived at Am Tabor 13 in Vienna's second district. After the "Anschluss" of Austria to the Third Reich, son Heinrich emigrated to the USA in September 1938, while his parents stayed behind in Vienna. On 6 April 1939 Heinrich Körner reached New York, where he changed his name to Henry Koerner. The correspondence with his parents broke off in 1941. Leo and Fanny were taken to a collective flat at Rueppgasse 14/6. As part of the 1,006 passengers on the special deportation train Da 206 (the "Da" stood for David, as in Star of David), they were taken on 9 June 1942 from Vienna's Aspang railway station and brought via Vaǔkavysk to Maly Trascjanec, where they were shot in the Blahauščyna forest on the afternoon of 13 June.
In an interview with students at the University of Vienna in 2021, the grandson of Leo and Fanny Körner, Joseph Koerner, tells us that the fate of his grandparents had always been a great family secret. Henry Koerner himself chose an artistic approach to processing his family history and portrayed his parents in his artwork "My Parents I" in the Am Tabor flat in Vienna.
Minsk Ghetto and Former Jewish Cemetery
As early as in 1946, a memorial stone for the victims of the Minsk Ghetto was erected on the initiative of survivors and surviving relatives. It is located at the site of the shooting pit ("Yama") on the former ghetto grounds, where about 5,000 ghetto inmates were murdered on 2 and 3 March 1943.
After the fall of the "Iron Curtain", a total of nine memorial stones were erected on the site of the former Jewish cemetery between 1995 and 2015, commemorating deported and murdered Jews from Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. In July 2000, the architect Leonid Levin and the sculptor Elsa Pollack created a sculpture depicting 27 symbolic ghetto inmates descending the "Yama" pit. In 2008, the sculpture of the "broken table", also designed by Leonid Levin, was inaugurated at the former Jewish cemetery in memory of the murder of more than 5,000 Jews in the Minsk ghetto.
Leonid Levin History Workshop in Minsk
The Belarusian-German project "History Workshop" of the Johannes Rau Minsk International Education Centre (known as IBB Minsk) has existed since 2003. The History Workshop is located in an old building on the grounds of the former Minsk ghetto. The house dates back to the early 20th century and witnessed the tragic events of the Holocaust and the Second World War in Belarus.
The historical site and the historical building shape the content of the project: the focus is on the history of the Minsk ghetto and the Maly Trascjanec extermination site. The History Workshop takes on the role of a research and education centre in this thematic area. Among other things, the house is a meeting place for the last Belarusian witnesses of the Second World War as well as representatives of younger generations and offers them a space for individual confrontation with their own history.
Memorial Cemetery near Blahaŭščyna
In August 2017, work on the Blahaŭščyna forest area began. Tens of thousands of local Jews from the Minsk Ghetto, Jews from Western Europe, partisans, resistance fighters and civilian hostages were murdered at this site between 1942 and 1943.
During the preparation of the construction work for the redesign of the area, the clearing was superficially examined for artefacts from the occupation period. Staff members of the Institute of History of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences were able to find personal objects of the people killed as well as bullet casings.
The conception of the memorial cemetery follows the sketch drawn up by the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union in July 1944. The sites that the Extraordinary Commission identified as shooting pits were marked with concrete slabs in the new layout. On 29 June 2018, work on the memorial cemetery was completed and the cemetery was opened with the participation of Aliaksandr Lukashenka (President of Belarus), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Federal President of Germany) and Alexander van der Bellen (Federal President of Austria).
Obelisk in Vyaliki Trascjanec
223060 Bol'shoi Trostyanets, BY
About two kilometres from the former camp site in Maly Trascjanec, the village of Vyaliki Trascjanec is located. In 1963, an obelisk to commemorate the victims of the extermination site was erected here.
Vyaliki Trascjanec was chosen by the Belarusian Soviet authorities as the location for the obelisk so that it would be easily visible and accessible. Through the choice of a place of remembrance different from the place of extermination and through commemoration practices held at the obelisk, such as commemorative events, many people developed a distorted view of the historic landscape: more and more, Vyaliki Trascjanec appeared to the commemorators as the historical place of the Nazi crimes.
The inscription on the obelisk says in Belarusian: "In 1941-1944, here, near the village of Trascjanec, the German-Fascist occupiers shot, tortured to death and burned 201,500 civilians, partisans and prisoners of war of the Soviet Army". The figures given represent the interpretations of the Extraordinary Commission from 1944. Jews are not mentioned as a victim group.