In spring 1967 in the BSSR, a competition for the creation of the Khatyn Memorial Complex project was announced. The project was aimed at commemoration of hundreds of Belarusian villages which had been destroyed by the Nazis during The World War II and in memory of 2,230,000 Belarusians who died during that war.
The contestants were brought to the place where the village of Khatyn had disappeared: a death squad burnet it down along with all its inhabitants on the 22 of March 1943. There were 149 people, 75 children. All were burnt alive.
There, 50 kilometres from Minsk, the architects were to meet Joseph Kaminsky, the only adult left alive. And also - to look around, to immerse themselves into that atmosphere, to feel...
The overgrown field, a witness to that tragedy, was silent. Only birds’ voices were ringing in the silence: live trills of larks, as if the souls of dead children who never grew up... Those songs gave birth to the idea of a sound, the idea of bells, the ringing that should make the memorial alive.
This is how the project by architects Yuri Gradov, Viktor Zankovich and Levin emerged. It not only won in the competition. It won time.
Every meter, every step, every monument in Khatyn is full of memory and meaning. The former streets of the village are grey, and concrete slabs have the colour of the ashes. Each house is a light log cabin with an obelisk which resembles a burnt chimney. Each house has an open wicket door, a symbol of hospitality. And above each of it there is a bell, a symbol of life. There are 26 burnt-out houses. Every 30 seconds 26 bells sing their requiem - their sad chime cries in the silence of the picturesque Logoysk region.
There is a barn in the centre of Khatyn where people were burnt. It is a pair of black granite slabs like a fallen roof. There is a white marble path from the shed, a road of life where people were looking for salvation. They were fleeing from the fire there. They were caught up with the bullets there.
At the end of the road there is the only sculpture in the memorial: an invincible man. The 56-year-old Joseph Kaminsky, who miraculously survived, came to his senses when the death squad had already left. He found his son, who had been mortally wounded, and took him in his arms. And in this position he froze forever.
The Khatyn Memorial has been visited by tens of millions of people from different countries. It is the only one in the world that keeps the memory of the geographical place that does not exist on the map anymore. There you can find a cemetery of villages with 185 graves. 185 petrified flames. Each is an unborn Belarusian village ruined by fire together with people. The 186th is a village of Khatyn itself.
Many of them were burnet twice, three times, four times... Many have been reborn - they are immortalised in the symbolic trees of life. Instead of leaves, there are 433 names of settlements on them. They were also destroyed along with the inhabitants, but rebuilt after the war. But this time by other people.
The history of the small village of Khatyn is similar to the great history of the whole Belarus, which lost one in four in that war. It is a hot song about eternal fire that has been burning for half a century surrounded by three birches: three lives and one dead soul.
It is easy to find Khatyn, it is impossible to get lost - the path is trampled by the millions that have travelled the way of dozens who were burnt alive.
Khatyn is the spiritual calling card of Belarus. It is a place of repentance, reconciliation and memory. It is a place where people feel and sympathize. And thus they become better: now, tomorrow, and always.
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