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Obj. ID: 16038
Memorials
  Monument at the Yama killing site in Minsk, Belarus, 1946

© Center for Jewish Art, Photographer: Tal, Michael, 1993

Memorial name:

No official name.

Who is Commemorated?

500 Jewish Holocaust victims from Minsk, killed on March 2, 1942. 

Description:

The monument, commemorating the Jewish Holocaust victims from Minsk, is erected at their killing site/mass grave near Melnikayte (former Ratomskaya) Street, at the former sand quarry known popularly as "Yama" (the 'Pit"). According to witnesses, in the early after-war years the monument was surrounded by wild grass and bushes. However, due to the changing political regime, the Yama was transformed from a peripheral wasteland to a significant place of collective remembrance. This happened in the 1970s when the present design of the Pit, including the paved area in front of the monument and the stairs leading to it, was embodied. 

The monument is shaped like a black granite obelisk standing on a three-step base. It bears two non-identical inscriptions: in Russian and Yiddish, in Soviet orthography. The Yiddish description is composed by the poet Khaim Maltinski, a disabled war veteran. The murder date in the Yiddish inscription is given according to the Jewish calendar. 

At the top of the monument, there is a depiction of the vase with flowers and the wreath. 

Four steps lead to the monument. 

Inscription

In Russian:

Светлая память
на вечные времена 
пяти тысячам
евреев
 погибших от рук
 лютых врагов
 человечества
фашистско-немецких
злодеев.

2 марта 
1942 г.

Translation: To the bright memory / for everlasting time / of five thousand /  Jews / who perished at the hands of / the fierce enemies / of mankind, / fascist-German / villains. / March 2/ 1942. 

In Yiddish, in Soviet orthography: 

אליכטיקער אׇנדענק
אפ אייביקע יאׇרנ
די פינפ טויזנט
יידנ – קדוישימ
וואׇס זיינענ דערמאׇרדעט געוואׇרנ
דורכ די הענט פונ די
בלוטיקסטע סאׇנימ
פונ דער מענשהייט –
די פאשיסטיש – דייטשישע
מערדער – טאליאׇנימ.

דעמ 14 אדער
1942 יאר.

Translation: Bright memory / for everlasting time / of five thousand / Jews-martyrs / who were murdered / at the hands of / the bloodiest enemies / of mankind, / fascist-German / murderers-villains. On Adar 14, 1942.

Commissioned by

The victims' relatives. 

Summary and Remarks
Remarks

15 image(s)

sub-set tree:

Name/Title
Monument at the Yama killing site in Minsk | Unknown
Object Detail
Date
1946
Synagogue active dates
Reconstruction dates
Historical Origin
Unknown
Community type
Congregation
Unknown
Location
Site
Unknown
School/Style
Unknown|
Period
Period Detail
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Unknown |
Documentation / Research project
Unknown
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Material / Technique
Granite
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Documented by CJA
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Historical significance: Event/Period
Historical significance: Collective Memory/Folklore
Historical significance: Person
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Architectural Significance: Artistic Decoration
Urban significance
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0
Ornamentation
Custom
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History/Provenance

On June 28, 1941, the Germans occupied Minsk. On July 19, 1941, an order was given for the creation of a ghetto [The Map of Holocaust by Bullets: Yahad-In Unum].

According to numerous testimonies, in the course of the mass-murder operation carried out in early March 1942, some ghetto inmates were shot at a sand quarry on the ghetto's northern outskirts, near Ratomskaya (present-day Melnikayte) Street, known popularly as "Yama" (the "Pit") [Yad Vashem: The Untold Stories]. 

Shortly after the war, activists from the Minsk Jewish community decided to install the monument in the Pit. However, the city authorities rejected their official application for a monument's construction [Al'tman]. Due to the significance of this mission, a group of activists had started the process without a formal approval. To manufacture the monument they hired a Jewish stone master Mordukh Sprishen who could create it out of old gravestones from the cemetery in the former ghetto [Semenchenko]. The campaign dramatically affected Sprishen. In the early 1950s, he was arrested for "Anti-Soviet activity" and condemned to ten years in the Gulag [Zeltser]. 

The Yiddish poet Khaim Maltinski, a combat veteran who had been disabled in the war, wrote a text for the monument's inscriptions in Yiddish and Russia. He approached Minsk authorities to secure approval for the Yiddish inscription. Climbing to the sixth floor of the Government House on his one leg and crutches, he told the head of the Censorship Committee of the Belorussian SSR that the 5,000 persons who perished had included his mother, wife, and seven-year-old son. it was then that he received the Censorship Committe's permission for the inscriptions in two languages that virtually started the same message, and for the monument itself. It is quite likely that the very fact that the monument was erected in 1946 in Minsk, in the city itself, with an epitaph mentioning Jewish victims in Yiddish and Russian, became a key precedent for all of Belarus, and potentially for the Soviet Union as a whole [Zeltzer].

For a long time, the so-called "black obelisk" was the only monument to Holocaust victims in Minsk. Today, however, the Pit memorial consists of several parts installed in different periods and by different actors. In the 1990s an alley to the Belarusian Righteous among the Nations was established near this place. Among the additional monuments are a bronze sculptural composition called "Last Way" and a menorah-shaped stela that were installed in 2000 with the participation of the Belarusian government. 

In November 2006 the Yama Holocaust memorial was damaged in a vandal attack: vandals splashed white paint on the bronze figures along the steps leading to the obelisk and painted a large white swastika on it [London: BBC Worldwide Limited - BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union].

During the Soviet period, annually on May 9 (the Soviet Victory Day), the Jews of Minsk would gather there to commemorate their beloved departed – despite opposition from the Soviet authorities, who did their best to prevent the Jews from doing this [Yad Vashem: The Untold Stories]. Till today, the monument is the place of the commemorative ceremonies. 

Main Surveys & Excavations
Sources

"Execution of Jews and non-Jews in Minsk,"
The Map of Holocaust by Bullets, Yahad-In Unum, http://www.yahadinunum.orgwww.yahadmap.org/en/#village/minsk-minsk-belarus.423.

Il'ya, Al'tman (ed.), Kholokost na territorii SSSR (Moskva: ROSSPEN, 2011), p.601.

London: BBC Worldwide Limited - BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union: Vandals defile Jewish Memorial in Belarus Capital, November 13, 2006., https://www.proquest.com/docview/460298282?pq-origsite=primo&parentSessionId=xO2Ohhl4VAzDd3SUVWKbRL%2FEHBewalq9YLNynnyj7iA%3D&sourcetype=Wire%20Feeds (accessed March 7, 2024)

"Minsk,"
Untold Stories - Murder Sites of Jews in Occupied Territories of the USSR (Yad Vashem project), https://collections.yadvashem.org/en/untold-stories/community/14622437.

Semenchenko, Maryna, "Memorials to the Holocaust Victims in Minsk, Belarus: History, Design, Impact," Masters Degree Project in Urbanism Studies (Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2018)

"Yama (memorial)," see
Wikipedia, https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Яма_(мемориал).

Zeltser, Arkadi, Unwelcome Memory: Holocaust Monuments in the Soviet Union, trans. A.S. Brown (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2018), pp.127; 139..
Type
Documenter
Michael Tal | 1993
Author of description
Liza Schwartz | 2024
Architectural Drawings
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Computer Reconstruction
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Language Editor
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Negative/Photo. No.
The following information on this monument will be completed: