Object Alone

Obj. ID: 53343  "Last way," Holocaust Memorial Yama in Minsk, Belarus, 2000

© Hanna Zelenko, via Wikimedia commons, Photographer: Zelenko, Hanna, 2007

Memorial name:

No official name.

Who is Commemorated?

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


"Last Way" is of the parts of the Holocaust memorial "Yama" in Minsk that is erected at their killing site/mass grave near Melnikayte (former Ratomskaya) Street, at the former sand quarry. According to witnesses, in the early after-war years the memorial's territory 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 so-called "black obelisk" and the stairs leading to it, was embodied. 

The monument under discussion is a bronze sculptural composition erected along the stone stairs that lead to a large round paved area in the Pit's bottom. It is designed as a row of schematic people's figures walking down to the memorial's center. 

The project is made by the famous Soviet architect Leonid Levin with the involvement of Elza Polak. 

Commissioned by

The Belarusian authorities. 

Author of description
Liza Schwartz | 2024
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Name / Title
"Last way," Holocaust memorial Yama in Minsk | Unknown
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Levin, Leonid (architect)
{"4325":"A prominent Belarusian architect and the chair of the Union of Jewish Communities of Belarus. Born 2.7.1936 in Minsk, died 1.3.2014 in Minsk"}
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Summary and Remarks

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]. 

Today, the Yama memorial consists of several parts installed in different periods and by different actors. The commemoration began in 1946 when the first monument in the form of the black granite obelisk was erected by the Jewish stone master Mordukh Sprishen. In the middle of the 1990s, an alley to the Belarusian Righteous among the Nations was established near the obelisk's place. Later, in 2000 a menorah-shaped stela was installed in the Yama memorial with the participation of the Belarusian government. 

The idea of the erection of the "Las Way" monument goes back to the end of the 1980s when, after decades of Soviet anti-Semitism, the public debate around Holocaust memorialization finally became possible. Though it faced both a lack of support and financing, the process of reflection and discussion had started.

It was the famous Soviet architect Leonid Levin who developed the idea of the Yama's transformation. In 1992 for the first time, Levin exhibited his project proposal for the new monument. A big event in a so-called Russian theatre in Minsk became not only an honorable celebration of Belarusian Righteous among the nations but also a stage for the first public discussion of his work. It took almost ten years and much effort to implement a new design in 2000. For designing the "Last Way" sculpture Levin involved the famous Elza Polak who at that moment lived in Israel. Polak created the sculpture on a base of Levin's sketches in her expressive and recognizable manner. A physical model for the future monument made by her was taken to Minsk and further developed by a Belarusian sculptor Aliaksandr Finski. While in original Levin's idea the figures of the "Last Way" were conceived as more detailed, the final sculpture represents them in quite a stylized way. Levin himself called them "shadows" claiming that these twisted human silhouettes were supposed to represent that anyone could be in their place on the way to death [Semenchenko]. 

In November 2006 the Yama Holocaust memorial was damaged in a vandal attack: vandals splashed white paint on the bronze figures of the "Last Way" monument and painted a large white swastika on the obelisk [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

"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.

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)

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)
The following information on this monument will be completed: