The Unloading and Selection Point in Maly Trascjanec
Maly Trascjanec as a murder site was established in May 1942 in direct connection with the beginning of the deportations of Jews from Central Europe. From the Minsk ghetto, the Nazis transported their victims – Jews from Minsk and those who had already been deported there since 1941 – by truck and gas van to the execution site in Blahaŭščyna. For the arrival of further deportation trains from Central Europe with thousands of Jews on board, a railway track that had actually been shut down was extended. From August to October 1942, the deportees were not only "unloaded" here but also directly selected: Only those people who were strong and healthy enough for the work on the Trascjanec estate reached the camp. The others – the majority of the arrivals – were led directly to Blahaŭščyna, shot or gassed and buried in mass graves.
Due to the urbanisation of the area around Maly Trascjanec, it is no longer possible to say with certainty where exactly the unloading and selection point was located. Evidence of its existence is the railway track that still exists, which has been restored and is in use again today.
The Way to the Camp - "Strauch-Alley"
The so-called "Strauch-Alley" was used to transport the persons intended for forced labour from the unloading and selection point to the SD camp. These persons included deported Jews from Central Europe as well as prisoners from the Minsk ghetto and the Minsk prisons. The poplars that still line the alley today were planted at the beginning of 1942, according to the recollections of some eyewitnesses, i.e. at the time when the SD was busy setting up the camp economy.
The eyewitnesses named the street "Eduard-Strauch-Alley" after the commander of the SD in Minsk during the occupation. He planned to settle in Maly Trascjanec after the end of the war and to run an agricultural estate here using the Jews who would have been left alive.
Murders in the Barn
In June 1944, the Red Army approached Minsk. The German occupiers tried to eliminate the traces and witnesses of the mass murders they had committed. According to estimates by the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union (ČGK), about 6,500 inmates of the Minsk prisons and the last surviving – mostly Jewish – prisoners of the labour camp were herded into a barn on the camp grounds on 29 and 30 June, shot and burned along with the building.
When the Red Army reached Maly Trascjanec on 3 July, the barn was still burning. On 14 July, the ČGK began to collect evidence of the mass murder of civilians by the German occupiers. In the rubble of the barn they found the charred bodies of the victims, remains of their clothing and everyday objects.
The ČGK recorded that the murdered were Soviet citizens. The site of the burnt barn, where several thousand civilians from Minsk and the surrounding area died, occupied a central position in the local culture of remembrance: Many local residents had lost relatives or acquaintances here. This is why the memorial stone erected in 1961 commemorates "Soviet citizens who were tortured and burned by German fascists in June 1944".
Stepanida Savinskaya was one of the few survivors of the last extermination operation at Maly Trascjanec. She was born in 1915 and was 29 years old when she and her husband were imprisoned in the camp on Shirokaya Street in Minsk. On 30 June 1944, she and 50 other women were led into a truck and taken to the camp near Maly Trascjanec. They had to get out at a barn where bodies were already stacked. Stepandia Savinskaya later recalled:
"On the command of the German executioners, the imprisoned women got out of the wagon in fours. [...] It was soon my turn too. I climbed onto the pile of corpses with Anna Golubovich, Yuliya Semaschko and another woman whose name I do not know [...]. [...] Shots rang out, I was slightly wounded in the head and fell down."
Savinskaya remained lying down until she saw a chance to escape. With two men who were also just injured, she ran out of the barn before it was set on fire by the German occupiers and hid in the surrounding terrain. The men were shot in the process. According to her account, Savinskaya hid in a swamp for several days until she was found by Soviet troops. After the war, Stepanida Savinskaya worked as a nurse in ambulance No. 3 in the city of Minsk.
Nikolai Valakhanovich worked as a dispatcher at Negoreloe railway station, 50 kilometres from Minsk. From April 1943, he reported to Soviet reconnaissance liaison officers on the freight transports that were running. On 20 June 1944, Valakhanovich and other villagers were arrested by the German security service on charges of partisan activity.
On 29 June 1944, the occupying forces took him and many other prisoners on a truck from the Minsk prison on Volodarskogo Street to the Maly Trascjanec camp. By this time the Red Army was already close to Minsk. He was led into a barn where countless corpses were already lying on top of each other and where he was also to be shot. Valakhanovich survived the attempted murder, but lost an eye. For over a day he lay among the corpses, then, while the shootings were still going on, he crawled out into the open and hid. A short time later, the barn was set on fire by the guards, along with the bodies of thousands of murdered people. In the early 1960s, the Soviet authorities invited Valakhanovich to Moscow to testify, as the Soviet Union was collecting material for a trial against SS members in Koblenz. Until his old age, Valakhanovich took part in commemorative events in Maly Trascjanec, where he told schoolchildren about his experiences. He died in 1989 at the age of 72.
The Grounds of the Camp
In April 1942, the German occupiers confiscated the former "Karl Marx" collective farm in the village of Maly Trascjanec. The entire complex was in the hands of Eduard Strauch, the "Commander of the Security Police" (KdS) in Minsk, the central office of the German occupation rule in Belarus. Among other things, the estate served as an excursion destination for members of the SD in Minsk, but also as a substitute prison to hold Minsk civilians. In order to provide food for the troops, agriculture and cattle breeding on the basis of forced labour were practised on the approximately 250-hectare site. In the course of time, workshops and an asphalt factory were also built on the camp grounds. Slightly off to the side were the barracks, fenced in with barbed wire, which housed up to 900 forced labourers at times.
Skilled workers had to work in the workshops. They were guarded by "ethnic Germans", Latvian and Ukrainian auxiliary troops. Those who became ill were "sorted out" and murdered during the regular selections. It was one of the tasks of some forced labourers to manage the personal belongings of the murdered. While the occupiers initially also used inmates from the Minsk prisons to manage the estate, most of the forced labourers in the camp from 1942 onwards were Jews deported from Central Europe. They had been led to believe that their deportation was a "resettlement to the East", but only the strongest of them ever reached the camp. Most of them died immediately after their arrival in Maly Trascjanec in the Blahaǔščyna forest.
Shortly before the German occupiers were pushed back by the Red Army at the end of June 1944, they murdered the forced labourers who had survived until then and burned down the barracks. During its investigation in July 1944, the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union found only remains of the former camp infrastructure.
Eduard Strauch was born on 17 August 1906 in Essen. From the beginning of the extermination war against the Soviet Union, he commanded an Einsatzkommando within the Einsatzgruppe A. His men were involved in the murder of Jewish women in the forest of Rumbula near Riga.
From March 1942 to July 1943, Strauch was the commander of the Security Police and SD in Minsk. The extermination site Maly Trascjanec was built under his active involvement, as was the farm located on the camp grounds, which was run on the basis of forced labour. Strauch intended to live on the Trascjanec estate after the war and to farm it with the remaining Jewish forced labourers.
Eduard Strauch arranged and orchestrated the mass extermination in Maly Trascjanec between 1942 and 1943. In April 1943, Strauch stated the following about the Jews: "I think we can still be reassured, because there were an estimated 150,000 and now 130,000 have already disappeared". At the end of July 1943, the General Commissar for White Ruthenia Wilhelm Kube reported on the "outstandingly efficient head of the SD, SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. jur. Strauch", who had managed to "liquidate 55,000 Jews in the last 10 weeks alone".
In 1944, Strauch was promoted. He became Commissioner of the Chief of Security Police and SD (BdS) in Belgium and Northern France. In 1948 he was sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Einsatzgruppen trial, but as early as 1952 a court pardoned him to life in prison on the grounds of "mental illness". Eduard Strauch died in prison in 1955.
Girsch Kantor was born in Minsk on 24 August 1914. His parents Mendel and Sima had three sons and two daughters besides Girsch and lived in good circumstances. After Girsch Kantor finished Jewish school in 1928, he worked as a mechanic in the Minsk shoe factory like his father.
Already in the first days of the German attack on the Soviet Union and the beginning of the bombing of Minsk on 24 June 1941, the Kantor family home was burned down. Girsch's older brothers were sent to the front, and the remaining family members were imprisoned in the ghetto. In autumn 1941, Girsch was transferred to the camp on Shirokaya Street as a locksmith. Because of his skills, he was sent to the Trascjanec camp in August 1943, where he had to set up weaving machines to mend clothes. He recalled his time in the camp as follows:
"In this camp there was a cowshed, stables and workshops. There were many workers in the camp. There were geese. There was everything to feed the SD members (Sicherheitsdienst in Minsk), it seems. They sowed rye and planted potatoes [...] When I talked to the camp inmates, I could notice that they came from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. There were also many Jews from Minsk [...] Transports brought people from Europe. At the station we selected those who had skills. People were told to leave their suitcases, they would be brought later. The people were taken to Blahaǔščyna and shot there. The suitcases were taken to Trascjanec. The best, sometimes new items (tens of thousands of lanterns, watches, glasses, etc.) were sent to Germany. There were such large quantities of bedding that we could have covered all of Minsk, but we didn't get it."
Girsch Kantor tried to escape from the Trascjanec camp several times, but was recaptured and beaten by the guards. On 29 June 1944, shortly before the camp was dissolved, he and a group of other prisoners managed to escape. After the end of the war, Kantor again took a job at the shoe factory in Minsk, where he worked until his retirement.
Tamara Albuch was born in Minsk on 21 December 1918. After six grades of Jewish school, she began working in a brush factory. Later she married a mechanic called Haim Gumanov. On 3 May 1940 Tamara gave birth to their daughter Sara and on 31 August 1941 to their son Gena.
After the war began, Tamara's father and two of her brothers were drafted into the Red Army. The family members who stayed behind were sent to the Minsk ghetto after the German occupation of Minsk began. Tamara later reported on one of the largest pogroms against the Jewish population of Minsk at the end of July 1942: "I went to work and they let us stay there for four days. They didn't let us go back to the ghetto. But when I came back to the ghetto from work, the house where my mum and the children had lived was already part of the Russian district." Tamara's mother and her two children Sara and Gena had presumably been classified as "unfit for work" on 28 June 1942 and murdered by the Minsk SD in Blahaǔščyna. After the dissolution of the labour group at the turn of 1942/43, several young people, including Tamara, were taken by truck from the ghetto to the Maly Trascjanec camp 12 kilometres away. Here Tamara witnessed mass murders:
"The truck drove up. It was a gas truck. The door opened and the vehicle unloaded people into this pit like a dump truck [...]At the place where this crematorium used to be, there is still a monument [in the Šaškoǔka forest]. At the end of June 1944, Tamara and some other prisoners managed to escape from the camp: they took their hoes and pretended to go to the fields to work. Saved by a miracle, the fugitives reached a field near the village of Šabany. They hid there until they learned that Minsk had been liberated by Soviet troops. Tamara Albuch decided to go back to the camp: "What we saw there?! Burnt people [...] charred people, you couldn't recognise anyone, anyone."
Returning to Minsk, Tamara Albuch discovered that everyone she had been friends with before and during the war was dead. For a long time she used to visit the "Yama" memorial stone, the main place of remembrance for the victims of the Minsk ghetto, which had already been erected in 1946. After her husband's death, Tamara Albuch moved to the USA at the invitation of her brother's family.
The Provisional Crematorium
As early as in 1942, the Red Army discovered execution sites of the Nazi occupiers on its way west. Fearing the possible consequences of the discovery of further crime scenes and Soviet propaganda, the perpetrators developed a strategy to eliminate the traces of their mass murders.
In Maly Trascjanec, a primitive corpse incineration plant was built for this purpose in the nearby forest area of Šaškoǔka. It happened under SS-Hauptscharführer Karl Rieder at the end of 1943 as a substitute for the Blahaǔščyna execution site. This "move" had two advantages for the perpetrators: First, Šaškoǔka was much closer to the SD camp Maly Trascjanec and could therefore be better guarded and defended against the increasing partisan attacks. Secondly, the use of this primitive crematorium instead of the execution pits allowed the perpetrators in Minsk to commit murders without leaving corpses as traces for their deeds. With the assistance of collaborators, members of the KdS Minsk office shot thousands, possibly even tens of thousands of inmates of the Minsk prisons and civilian hostages in the Šaškoǔka forest area until the end of June 1944. Their bodies were then burned on the spot.
During the investigation in the summer of 1944, the Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union (ČGK) found the remains of incendiary grenades in Šaškoŭka, along with tar and projectile casings, which were apparently used to accelerate the incineration of thousands of people.
Deportation Truck Stop at Blahaŭščyna
The fork in the road is located right next to the Blahaŭščyna clearing where the mass shootings took place. According to later statements by a perpetrator, this place served as an "unloading point" for the trucks on which victims were transported to the scene of their murder. In the largest known extermination on 28 July 1942, members of the SD transported about 6,000 Jews from the Minsk ghetto and the next day another 3,000 Jews deported from Western Europe from the so-called "special ghetto". From the fork in the road, the victims were herded in small groups to the place of execution.
Those who had to wait at the unloading point to make their last journey to the clearing in Blahaŭščyna could hear what was going on in the forest area. Some tried to escape, but members of the SD guarded the unloading point, the short distance to Blahaŭščyna and the entire execution site; not a single case of successful escape has been recorded.
Execution Site in Blahaǔščyna
In the clearing located in the Blahaǔščyna forest area, Jewish people, partisans and others who did not conform to the ideals of the "NS-Volksgemeinschaft" were executed from May 1942 onwards. This clearing was the easternmost Nazi extermination site for deported Western European Jews and also one of the largest on the territory of the occupied Soviet Union.
Forced labourers had to dig large and deep pits here. After their arrival in Maly Trascjanec, many of the deported Jews did not continue to the camp, but went directly to Blahaǔščyna. The occupiers forced them to line up along the dug pits and murdered them with a shot to the neck. The firing squads rotated; alcohol flowed. To "relieve" the members of the SD, the occupiers additionally used up to six gas vans.
At least until the end of October 1943, the occupiers committed murders in Blahaǔščyna in this way. According to the Extraordinary Commission of the Soviet Union, which examined the clearing in July 1944 for traces of the crimes against humanity, the invaders laid 34 mass graves in total. As part of "Aktion 1005" to eliminate the traces of the crimes, Soviet prisoners of war had to dig these mass graves and burn the bodies on pyres.
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.
Joseph Wendl was born in Vienna on 3 September 1910. The trained hairdresser joined the army in 1930, but was expelled from the army in 1933 because he had been a member of the NSDAP since December 1931. Until March 1938, Wendl belonged to the so-called "2nd Sturmbann" of the SS-Standarte 89, in which many former members of the army were active illegally. On the side, he repeatedly worked as an unskilled labourer or motor vehicle driver. After the "Anschluss" of Austria to the Third Reich, Wendl entered the police service as a motor vehicle driver and reached the rank of SS-Hauptscharführer by 1941.
In 1942 Wendl was detached to the East, where he was assigned a so-called gas van as a motor vehicle driver. These gas vans were called Sonderwagen (S-Wagen) by the Nazis and were used for killing by carbon monoxide poisoning (an invention of SS officer Walter Rauff); this method was considered "gentler" for the German occupiers, as the perpetrators did not have to shoot their victims themselves with their weapons.
After the end of the war, Wendl was arrested and interned in Camp Marcus in Salzburg, where he was imprisoned until 1948. There were two trials against Wendl, in 1948 and 1970. The investigations for the first trial in 1948 had already been in preparation since 1945. Numerous documents were found which proved that Wendl had been a member of the NSDAP and SS at a very early stage. On 9 March 1948 Wendl was sentenced to 15 months in prison for high treason. However, his internment in Salzburg was already counted as imprisonment, which is why he did not have to serve the prison sentence. The second trial in 1970, which had been triggered by the proceedings in Koblenz on the Maly Trascjanec crime complex, was preceded by two interrogations of Wendl from 1964 onwards, in which he described the killings as follows:
"I remained sitting in the driver's cab of the car while the gas hose from the muffler was screwed to the connection pipe under the gas wagon by the SD escort commando with the help of Russian civilians. After the hose was connected, I let the engine run. [...] After about 8-10 minutes the gassing was completed. While the engine was running, I got out of the car, of course. I heard that terrible scenes must have taken place inside the wagon. The prisoners naturally realised what was about to happen to them and reacted accordingly, loudly or not so loudly. [...] The doors were then opened by the escort commando, Russian civilians [...] had to drag the bodies out of the wagon and pile them up in the pit".
After five years of investigations, which were delayed due to other court cases and Wendl's refusal to cooperate, on 12 May 1970, an indictment for murder was brought before a Viennese jury. However, Josef Wendl was acquitted. The jury's reasoning for this was that the accused should have expected a severe punishment if he had refused orders ("Enforcement of order"). Thus Wendl was not one of the 50 perpetrators known by name and originating from Austria who were punished for their crimes in Maly Trascjanec.
Viktar Barščėǔski was born in 1923 in the village of Semenavičy in Šarkaǔščyna District. At the age of 20, Barščėǔski joined the 13th White Ruthenian SD battalion as a volunteer. Members of this unit took part in the burning of villages during punitive actions and in the liquidation of the Minsk ghetto in autumn 1943. Barščėǔski's former comrades reported the following about this during interrogations in 1986:
"In late autumn [...] the policemen drove the ghetto prisoners out of their flats, took them to the ghetto gate and, after those condemned to death had stripped naked, loaded at least 40 people into a gas van and at least 20 people into an ordinary truck. Then we drove again to Trascjanec, where the gas van was unloaded by the 20 condemned to death. Then they stripped naked on our orders and [...] the police shot at the prisoners with all available weapons until they all perished in the pit". In the end, the German commander controlled everything and there were cases where a pistol was also used to shoot the prisoners who still showed signs of life. After shooting this group of Jews, policemen got back into the car and drove back to the ghetto, where the whole process started all over again.
After the war Barščėǔski did not return to his home village. After his arrest, he and another former policeman were sentenced to death in 1986.
When the occupying forces systematically killed the last remaining Jews – several thousand people – in the Minsk ghetto in autumn 1943, the Red Army was already advancing westwards. The perpetrators of Maly Trascjanec feared the discovery of their crimes. In autumn 1943, SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel set up so-called "Sonderkommandos" east of the former Reich borders to cover up the traces of the crimes against humanity. The operation ran under the code name "Aktion 1005".
Starting on 27 October 1943, about 100 Soviet prisoners of war were forced to open the mass graves in the Blahaǔščyna forest in Maly Trascjanec. The occupiers called this process "exhumation": the forced labourers had to retrieve the sometimes badly decomposed bodies of thousands of murdered people with iron hooks, stack them on pyres and burn them. The ashes were sifted in search of dental gold and then widely scattered in the ground. The prisoners assigned to this terrible work were considered to be in on it. Instead of releasing them – as they had been promised in advance – after the end of "Aktion 1005", they were also murdered.
"Aktion 1005" in Maly Trascjanec was considered complete on 15 December 1943. From then on, the crematorium in the Šaškoǔka forest area served as the main facility for carrying out the murder of thousands of people as invisibly as possible.
In March 1942, "Aktion-1005" was launched with the aim of eliminating evidence of mass crimes east of the former Reich borders. The leader of this "special action" was SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel.
Before Blobel was appointed head of "Sonderkommando 1005", he had already been responsible for the murder of up to 60,000 people, mostly Jews, in what is now Ukraine and Belarus. As head of "Aktion-1005", his task was to find a method to destroy traces of mass murders. In the summer of 1942, at the Chelmno death camp in Poland, he began to develop a strategy that involved opening the mass graves, exhuming the bodies, burning them and grinding up their remains.
In autumn 1943, Blobel arrived at Maly Trascjanec to organise the elimination of traces at Blahaǔščyna. When the organisation was completed, he departed. At the beginning of May 1945, Blobel was arrested. He was sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Einsatzgruppen trial in 1947/48 and executed in 1951.
In 1943, Arthur Harder was assigned to SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel as a non-commissioned officer and in this capacity he was jointly responsible for carrying out the "Aktion-1005" operation to destroy evidence of Nazi crimes. Together, Harder and Blobel organised the exhumation of the mass graves near Blahaǔščyna.
As a non-commissioned officer, Arthur Harder was responsible for organising the materials and equipment to eliminate the evidence of the crimes and for putting together the "Sonderkommando". This Sonderkommando consisted of staff members of the Commander-in-Chief of Security Police and SD (BdS) and the Commanders of the Security Police (KdS) in Minsk. In addition, Harder recruited about 40 Romanian and Hungarian men from the "Volksdeutsche" company. They guarded the exhumation and cremation work that about 100 Soviet prisoners of war had to perform. The guards of the "Sonderkommando" shot the POWs after they had finished the work in December 1943.
In 1962, Harder had to stand trial before a jury court in Koblenz for his deeds in Maly Trascjanec. Here he was accused, among other things, of having participated in the burning alive of three Jewish prisoners who had allegedly carried out an assassination attempt on the Commander-in-Chief of Security Police and SD (BdS) in Minsk. Although the court considered the burning alive of the three persons to be a murder, Harder himself was only classified as an "auxiliary" and sentenced to three years and six months in prison. Before the sentence could be carried out, Arthur Harder died in Frankfurt am Main on 3 February 1964.
Investigation of Blahaǔščyna by the Extraordinary State Commission
The Extraordinary State Commission of the Soviet Union (ČGK) followed the Red Army on its westward march. Its task was to secure traces of the mass murders committed by the Nazi occupiers. Two weeks after the liberation of Minsk, the commission began its work in Maly Trascjanec.
On 20 and 21 July 1944, the commission members examined the Blahaǔščyna clearing, where they found several conspicuous spots with sunken ground. They interpreted these places as a total of 34 shooting pits. Some of the pits were excavated and their contents were examined: there was a mass of calcined bones, but also private belongings of the murdered.
In its minutes, the commission wrote that the victims of the mass shootings had been "peaceful Soviet citizens" – it blanked out the antisemitic dimension of the Nazi war of extermination. According to the commission, about 150,000 people had been murdered at Blahaǔščyna. Current research assumes fewer victims. Commission member M. F. Volodko created a sketch of the shooting trenches in 1944, which served as a template for the memorial cemetery at Blahaǔščyna created in 2017.