This year (1988), from July 6 through 15, the investigative agencies of the Procurator's Office of the BSSR carried out a selective exhumation of the graves at Kurapaty. The criminological investigation enquiry headed by Counsellor of Justice J.J.Broliss, a special investigator. A number of specialists (criminologists, medical experts, archaeologists, etc.) were officially invited to participate in the investigation. The archaeological excavations and the examination of the buried remains were carried out by a group of archaeologists from the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of the BSSR (Z.S.Pazniak, M.M.Kryvalcevic, A.V.Iou). The scientific report on the archaeological investigations was reviewed, analysed, and approved by the Department of Archaeology (of that Institute) and submitted to the Procurator.
During a recent conversation with the Editor-in-Chief of this weekly ("Literature and Art") and Z.Pazniak, the Chairperson of the government commission. Deputy Chairperson of the Council of Ministers of the BSSR Nina M. Mazaj, spoke about the work of the commission at the present stage and indicated that after all these investigations and specialist reports were completed, the results of the commission's activity would be made available to the mass media, including "Literature and Art". Today we have a report by Zianon Pazniak, a participant in the excavations, and a co-author of the famous article "Kurapaty, the Road of Death".
I should like to share with the readers of "Literature and Art" some of the results of the archaeological excavations.
First of all, I must point out that our investigations revealed nothing that was in principle new in comparison with the first excavations carried out at the beginning of May this year and described in the article "Kurapaty, the Road to Death". This in accordance with the well-known rule of archaeology that to determine the essential characteristics of a monotype monument (in this case, a cemetery), it is sufficient to investigate only parts of it, providing that several locations are studied. The historical fact of the mass shootings of the population in Kurapaty carried out by the Stalinists in 1937-1941 was clear from the start, the subsequent selective exhumation using archaeological methods simply confirmed it at a more scientific level. The excavations and exhumation also had to be carried out in order to make an expert criminological study, to obtain unambiguous juridical arguments and proofs for the criminal case which would be necessary to elucidate the nature of the crime, the identities of the guilty persons and the victims, to frame the charges, and to transmit them to the court.
The archaeological investigation was carried out by means of test-trenches, excavations, and trenches on three sides of the burial ground.
In all, seven excavations and one test-trench were dug (general numbering). Excavations 1-3 were carried out on the eastern side, on the northern slope of the hill (ridge), which was grown over by sparse coniferous woodland. Excavations 5 and 6 were on the southern side of Kurapaty (Brod) about 200 m. south-west from excavations 1-3, and close to the Ring Road. Excavation 8 was approximately 75 and 160 m. north-west of excavations 1-3, on the northern edge of the upland.
The excavations were carried out layer-wise using spades. The soil was sorted manually and checked by metal-detectors, and the depth, character, and colour of the contents of the graves were recorded, and determined stratigraphically. For this purpose the graves were first investigated by intersecting trenches. Along the lines of the trenches drawings were made of the longitudinal and transverse profiles (sections) of the burials on a scale of 1:20.
The extraction and sorting of the infill soil of the graves was carried out until the burial layer was revealed over the whole area of the excavation. We then began to clear this layer of sand, using trowels, knives and brushes. This enabled us to observe the upper level of the burials. After this, we recorded the depth, individual finds, skulls, footwear and bones, clothing, and drew a plan (scheme of the location of the principal finds and remains of the victims) on a scale of 1:20, and photographed the excavations using photographic film (the criminologists also made video recordings).
When this work was completed, we began, together with the medical forensic experts, to remove the burial layer. Here we recorded all individual finds, skulls, footwear, and the remains of clothing, noting the location and depth at which they were found. All the finds from this layer and the necessary amount of human remains were described and recorded on the plan by the archaeologists and then taken by the medical forensic experts and criminologists for specialized study.
In all the burials which we excavated, the picture was the same. The graves were filled with sand to a depth of 1.80-2.00 meters. From this point, there occurred an undisturbed layer of bones, skulls, rotten clothing, and footwear. The thickness of this layer at the center of the grave was 0.20-0.70 meters. The depth of the grave-pits varied in an analogous manner from 2.00 to 2.75 meters. It was a characteristic feature that at the edges of the burial-pits the skulls and bones occurred as early as the level of 1.75 m. below the present surface, while at the center, as has already been noted, they occurred at 1.80-2.00 m. The difference in level of the burial layer between the edges and the center in some burials amounted to more than one meter, and the whole layer of bones appeared like a deep depression. Around the edges of this depression, as a rule, there were skulls. In the center, in the lower part of the depression, everything was mixed together: footwear, bones, rotten clothing, skeletons all jumbled up, and as a rule, the skulls and certain bones were missing, the spines were broken up into individual vertebrae, and some of these were missing too, there were a great number of galoshes, shoes, and boots not connected with the bones and lying separately. Some examples of footwear were found outside the sandy contents of the graves and here too there were a large number of spent cartridge-cases from Nagan revolvers.
What does this mean and how did such a situation come about? It came about as a result of a previous exhumation; the graves were excavated and the bones removed when someone, as we have already written, wanted to "muddy the trail".
The earlier exhumation was carried out in a slipshod manner, any old way. Not all the bones were removed; some were left at the bottom and sides. This is because the contours of the grave-pit and the excavation pit do not coincide. They made an approximate excavation mainly in the center. The excavation pit was usually smaller than the grave-pit. Moreover, they dug slant-wise, like a cone. And so bones were left around the edges of the graves. Obviously they dug without a properly thought-out plan of action, and without clearing the burial layer. In such a case the excavation is carried out blindly, during the work the sand is constantly falling in and accumulating at the bottom, making it more difficult to find and remove the bones, and creating the illusion that one has reached the end of the burial, especially at a depth of some 2 meters, where it becomes difficult to throw one's spadefuls up to the surface, and stereotype concepts about the standard depth of a grave (2 meters) come into play. And they, as we see, were even deeper.
An analysis of the state of the remains of the burial layer discovered during our excavation leads to the conclusion that the people who actually carried out the previous digging and exhumation of the Kurapaty graves had no interest in their work; they carried it out any old way, as "hack-work" even, unconscientiously. That is how people normally work under compulsion. All this makes one pay attention to the reports that in the 1940s, after the War soldiers "used to dig" here. It might even be possible to find witnesses of these excavations. Theoretically, this is possible, providing, of course, that the Stalinists allowed them to live.
It is possible to establish the fact of the previous excavation and exhumation unequivocally only by archaeological methods. Other methods (medical analysis, etc.) play an auxiliary role. Hence the archaeological work was carried out with exceptional care. The signs of the previous exhumation could be observed very clearly during the excavation of burial No 5. which we took to be of average dimensions (4.00 x 3.10 m.). On the transverse section the stratigraphy of the layers and contours of the two pits was well defined. The outer contour corresponds to the edges of the original grave-pit; the inner contour to the edges of the former exhumation pit. They are, as it were, "placed" one in the other. The mismatch in breadth is 0.55 m. In this space, along the wall of the grave there appeared the upper level of the burial layer, which had been left during the earlier clearance. The bones were located here at a depth of 0.70 m. below the present surface layer. But the surface, before the war, when the grave was dug, was 0.20 m. lower than today, and this can be clearly seen on the profile (wall) of the excavation. The 20 cm. rise was due to the sand cast out of the grave when it was being dug. Does this mean, you ask, that the bodies lay at a depth of 0.50 m.? Yes, at that time, when the exhumation was carried out in the 1940s, they were at this depth. But the grave itself was shot full almost to the top. It must be taken into account that later, as the clothing crumbled away and the bodies decayed, the burial layer sank lower, by at least 20-25 cm. Here we may recall the accounts of people and eyewitnesses that after the shootings the graves were covered in by a layer of sand not thicker than 20-25 cm. The coincidence of these reports and the results of our investigations is obvious.
All the burials on which we carried out an archaeological investigation and where traces of the earlier exhumation were apparent, had depressions of depth from 0.18 to 0.65 m. from the line of the edges of the grave. Thus all the burials at Kurapaty which still exist today are characterized by analogous depressions. Hence it follows that the depressions over the graves formed after the previous exhumation and the subsequent infilling with an insufficient amount of soil (since a considerable volume of corpses had been removed from the burial layer). Thus we may draw the conclusion that all the burial sites which have been discovered at Kurapaty up to the present time underwent an earlier excavation and exhumation.
In almost all the skulls which we dug up (there were 312 of them), bullet-holes could be observed, usually in the nape; often there were two, or even three holes. There were also lateral holes, and holes at the back, under the skull. Maybe some of the victims tried to make a break for it, and the killers shot them wherever they could, or maybe we see here the various "signatures" of different killers.
We found about 200 cartridge-cases from Nagan-type revolvers and one from a TT pistol. There were several dozen bullets, some of them in the skulls. The diameters of the Nagan cartridge-cases, bullets, and bullet-holes in the skulls coincided.
The majority of the skulls had large jagged holes of diameter 5-6 cm. and even larger in the forehead, at the side, or on top. These were the exit holes of the bullets. They are evidence of the fact that the barrel of the revolver was pressed right against the nape. When the shot was fired, the gases from the powder were forced under pressure to follow the bullet into the skull and out through the exit hole, spurting out blood and brain matter. We may recall the testimony of Maryja Ivanauna Paciarsuk and other people who said that there was a lot of blood all around on the leaves and grass.
In grave No.2 during the extraction of the burial layer, two thin layers of light sand were revealed between the bones, alternating with an interval of 0.30-0.40 m. This was due to layer-wise infilling with the victims. Once again, we recall the evidence of the eye-witnesses that they shot people in batches, and shovelled sand in after each batch, until they had shot enough to fill the pit right up.
All the clothing in the graves had rotted away. We found only a few rare fragments of synthetic fibres and parts of leather garments. In burial No.3 we found a carefully folded leather greatcoat with shoes wrapped up in it. Folded leather clothing and wrapped up footwear were also found in other burials, including women's boots and leather gloves. There was even one object which in form and consistency resembled a sandwich (the experts consider that this was entirely probable). In burial No.3 we also found chicken bones (breastbone). These were the remains of packed meals which people had taken with them... for the trip.
The footwear had been preserved the best. We found boots, women's ankle-boots, shoes, pumps, galoshes, women's gumboots, slippers, rubber work-boots, hemp-sandals, and moccasins. The Soviet galoshes, as a rule, bore the date of manufacture and the name of the factory, ("Red Knight", "Red Triangle", "Rezintrest", etc.). In burials No.1-3 there was only Soviet-produced and home-made footwear; most of the galoshes were marked 1937. We also encountered home-made rubber work boots, including some made out of automobile inner-tubes and tires - the footwear of the poorest peasants. Most of the pumps and boots had worn-down heels which had been repaired a number of times.
In graves No.5-6 and 8, Soviet-made galoshes were encountered only rarely. The markings here were mostly in Latin script with the trademarks of firms: "Gentleman", "Record", "Rygawar", etc. This footwear also bore the impressions "Made in Poland" At the same time, we also found galoshes with the markings of the well-known "Red Triangle" factory and the date 1939, and besides woven-leather sandals, were moccasins or, as they call them in Western Belarus, "walkers". These "walkers" used to be worn by the poorest peasants, and they were still in use up to 1939. The footwear found in these burials must therefore have been worn by the population of Western Belarus.
It is worth noting that between these groups of graves, in April of this year, when they were digging the trenches for the gas-main, a grave was discovered in which there were several dozen pairs of footwear, mainly of Soviet manufacture: galoshes dated 1939. And among them there was one with the inscription "Riga", "1939", and one shoe with the markings "Kvadrats", "Riga", "1941".
Among the personal items found, the most common were men's combs, women's back-combs, purses, and wallets (sometimes containing money and coins), tooth-brushes, toothbrush cases, spectacles, spectacle-cases, soap-boxes, enamel and pottery mugs, a box of matches, coins, with dates of the 1930s, cigarette-holders, buttons, dental prostheses. Catholic medals (medallions) for wearing. We also found a saucepan, a glass ampoule containing medication (tablets), a comb case, a plastic jar for tooth-powder, a wedding ring with the date 1935 engraved on it, a monocle, pince-nez, a razor-blade, etc. Most of these items bore manufacturer's marks. The inscriptions on the mugs were: Rostov-on-Don, Warszawa, etc., on the combs "Mosplastmas f-ka No.4", "NKLP-BSSR", "King Hall fax Garantie", "Durabit garantie", etc., and on the toothbrushes "Art Shchetkagreb", "Vitshche Kombinat", "Marque Peposee", "Bo-bo", "Non Plus Ultra", etc.
Archaeological analysis of the relationship and distribution of the finds in the burials provides essential information about the people who were killed. Firstly, it made it possible to trace the geography and chronology of the burials at Kurapaty. The shootings began on the eastern part of the territory. This area is densely covered by burial depressions. The graves date from 1937-1938. During the excavation of May 5, 1988, and also in the excavations of graves No.1-3 carried out on this site, we found items and objects of exclusively Soviet manufacture, including some produced in the BSSR, and a great deal of home-made footwear. There were a few toilet articles. All this indicates that those buried here were local people, belonging to the civilian working stratum of the population. The social level of most of them was not high (workers, peasants, rural intelligentsia, possibly some white-collar workers. Grave No.1 was "shot full", it would seem, in winter. Here there was a great deal of rotted winter leather clothing jackets), remains of felt over-boots, rubber work-boots, etc.
Further to the west and south-west, were located burials from 1939 and after 1939. In the grave under the gas-main and in excavations 5, 6 and 8 on this site, in addition to Soviet and home-made items, there were finds of Polish manufacture, and, it appears, objects imported from abroad into pre-war Poland. There can be no doubt that here lie the peasants and intelligentsia from Western Belarus, shot after September, 1939. Among them, too, there were probably persons coming from the Baltic States.
The lowest social level of the burials in this group was recorded in excavation No.8. Here there were no toilet articles (toothbrushes, soap-boxes and similar items), and in general few personal items. The footwear was fairly ordinary, of low quality and workmanship, there was little leather clothing, and no spectacles, etc. It would seem that mainly peasants from Western Belarus were buried in this grave.
Excavation No.5 yielded the highest number of "intelligentsia" personal items (a large number of toilet articles, spectacles, a monocle, pince-nez, medication, etc.). The footwear here was of high quality, factory-made, stylish, custom-made, the women's ankle-boots had high heels, some gloves were found, etc. It is not hard to guess what social group of the population lies here.
Tacciana Vikiencieuna Matusievic (b.1906) from Zialony Luh, whose house stood beside the road to Kurapaty, recalls that before the War, they used to bring truckloads of people here to be shot, day after day, without a break, truck after truck. Kaciaryna Ivanauna Audziejenka, a resident of Drazdova village, which is near Kurapaty, recalls that in 1939, people were taken by truck into the forest up on to "Siarhiej Hill" and shot in pits. (Apparently they could not cope in Brod, there were too many!)
From the inventory of the finds and from the fact that a lot of the objects (clothes, footwear) were folded, and from the presence of packed meals, purses, etc., one may conclude that these people were prepared for a long journey, that they had left their homes shortly before their deaths and that they had not been detained in prison. This makes one think that they were shot without trial, or, in the language of the Stalinists, "liquidated".
T.V.Matusievic recalls an instance how on one occasion, before there was a fence at Brod, but after they had started the shootings, the forester Karol Kananovic observed in the forest some pits which had been filled in, and set with pine-saplings and nearby, at a fork in the road, a forgotten rustic bag containing provisions (sausage, bread, etc.). Someone didn't even have time to get hungry before he was shot.
In the remains of the burial layers which remained at the bottom of the graves after the exhumations of the 1940s, various numbers of bodies were revealed. The least were in grave No.3 (31 bodies, reckoning by the skulls) and the most in burial No.5 (87 skulls, but 107 victims, counting by pairs of thigh-bones. The discrepancy between the skulls and pairs of thigh-bones was a result of the former exhumation). After taking measurements and considering all the data, one may make a rough calculation of the original number of bodies in the graves under investigation. This varies from 150 in the "winter" grave No.1 to 260 in grave No.5. If we take an average of 200 bodies to a grave and simply multiply by the number of burials so far identified (510), we obtain a figure of 102,000 persons. But the real number of victims must have been higher, for there are many graves of greater dimensions than those which we investigated and some burials were in pits more than 10 meters long. In such graves, thousands of bodies could have been buried. In addition, around 100 (if not more) grave depressions were filled in and then levelled by bulldozers during the laying of the gas-main and the felling of the woodland along its route in March-May 1988. A great number of graves were destroyed during the laying of the Ring Road at the end of the 1950s and through the beginning of the 1960s, and, possibly, during the 1940s, during the felling, logging, and replanting of the forest at this site. Nor did we take into account burials south of the Ring Road, where the southern edge of the shooting ground lay. The real number of burial sites at Kurapaty could have been as high as 900 or even more, while the size of the graves which have been destroyed or completely filled-in can now be estimated only from the dimensions of the existing graves.
What I found most disturbing, not as an archaeologist, but as human being, during the excavations, was the large number of women among the victims. Female skulls and possessions were found in all burials. In the remains in the burial layer of excavation No.6 for example, there were 35 skulls in all, of which, 10, the most complete, were taken for expert study. Out of these 10, eight were female. This discovery is yet further evidence that in the 1930s, there was a campaign of mass terror against the nation.
Secondly, subjective feelings. Pictures of childhood, of the 1940s and 1950s, clear images and subjects which are embedded in the memory, distinctly and in full colour, and which are later recalled like rosy dreams. As sharply as if it were today, I remember the details of life in my childhood home, - the spoon I used to eat with, the white china tableware with its gold lace rims, the mug with Warszawa inscription on it, the bright dark-blue enamelled little bowl with the picture of a white teapot on the base and the inscription "20 cm.". I even remember its "history". "And where is the little blue bowl?" I hear my granny's voice...
Excavation No.8. I carefully remove the sand around a little bowl which is lying on the pelvic bones of a skeleton. Now I turn it over and look at the markings, and put it back. "Bright, dark-blue enamel, with a white teapot on the base, and the letters "20 cm.". And now I hear how all around the pines are quietly murmuring over the grave.
When analysing the results of the excavations at Kurapaty, I noticed the exact coincidence between the information from the reports of people who had witnessed the shootings, and the facts revealed during the exhumation. Such a coincidence is characteristic precisely of direct testimony before the events have been folklorized in the national consciousness. The excavations thus confirmed not only the accuracy of the testimonies themselves but also the correctness of our method of procedure, developed together with J.Shmyhaleu, for questioning eye-witnesses. Out of the 170 eyewitnesses so far known, we questioned several dozen. Classification of the replies and summarising the results leads us in this case to the identical conclusion as if we had questioned hundreds of witnesses. (Since the basis of their observations was an unequivocal event, extended in time, and frequently repeated). A criminological investigation, however, will pose more specific tasks. For this, all the informants and eye-witnesses will have to be questioned.
The analysis of the reports also leads one to think that shootings at Kurapaty were carried out by specially detailed squads, but including, probably, some volunteers, who were impelled to do this for gain or simply in order to do something pleasantly different. The pattern of the killing may be reconstructed, in part, on the basis of the excavations. But let us add the words of an eye-witness.
Volha Cimafiejeuna Barouskaja from Cna (born 1927) says that when she was eleven years old, a neighbor's son, who was somewhat older than her decided to take the smaller children out to look for "big berries". He assembled a lot of them 10-11 girls, and they went to Brod. They crawled into the ditch under the fence and began picking. Indeed, there were a lot of berries there. The children were only vaguely aware of where the big boy had brought them. It was about four in the afternoon when they heard the trucks. "Heck, run for it! Let's get out of here girls!" shouted the young ringleaders, and they all piled into the ditch under the fence. While they were crowding in and crawling away the gate opened and through it drove an MK automobile, followed by three "black Marias", one after the other, and with rattling and shrieking, made straight for the last girl who was still at the side of the ditch. Now it was right beside her. She was so overcome with fear that she fell to the ground and hid under a dense fir-tree. And then she saw that there was some kind of sand and she was close to that sand. The MK drove up to the sand, and four men got our of it.
Question: "How were they dressed?" In a military outfit. Field shirts and boots, riding-breeches. "What colour riding-breeches?" I can't quite remember. The field-shirts were khaki, I think, and the breeches too. And they were all in belts, worn crosswise, what do they call them... baldrics, or what? "And did they have field cases of any kind?" They all did. And pistols in their belts. And round caps on their heads, like nowadays.
The military from the MK drove up to the pit. - Volha Cimafejeuna went on, - where that sand is, I thought, they've dug a pit there, and they looked into it. During this time the "black Marias" had turned round and made a formation in a line. One of them came up, unfastened the doors, and let out some people with bound hands. I thought: What are they going to do here? They must have untied one of them, and he fell straight on to his knees, clasping his hands and lamenting: "O, good people, O, my God, what is happening to me? What am I supposed to have done? What am I guilty of?"
Question: "What language was be lamenting in, Belarusian or Russian?" He spoke as we do in Cna, Belarusian. I saw how they drove them to the edge of the pit, and put their revolvers to the back of their heads and bang-bang-bang... And people began to fall over and fell into the pit. I even had to close my eyes. Such terror came over me, I had never thought that one could kill people. It was so terrifying that I kept losing consciousness, I fainted, I was shaking all over. And all the time they continued shooting, bringing people up and shooting them. There were only two people left... They tried begging. But instead, they shoved spades into their hands: Shovel some in! They shovelled some in. And then they (the military)... shot them too. And then they took the spades into their own hands and shovelled over them.
Question: "Were there women among these people?" Yes, there were. I saw them. And my father told me, and he often had a look round there, that there were women's back-combs scattered around in the sand on the pits. "How were these people dressed, in village clothing or urban clothing?" It's hard to say, somehow I don't remember, they were dressed, that's all. "How many people did they bring out from the trucks?" They brought them out in batches of six to eight at a time. Their hands were tied behind them. And in front of the pit, before they shot them, they untied them. "And how many batches were there in one truck?" I can't quite remember, maybe two. "And how did they reply to the people's lamenting and questions?" They didn't reply at all. Not a word. People were crying out and pleading, but they just went on with what they were doing! Just shouted "Stand! Stand! Stand!" (in Russian) - and that's all! "And didn't anyone try to make a break for it or resist, or escape?" No, no one. And where could you escape to? In front of you was the pit, and behind you them, with their guns. Where could you escape to. Into the pit? They'd just bury you alive. And that used to happen. When they did their shooting in the evening, next morning the earth would be breathing. More than once my father saw the earth moving, really breathing. He took this all too much to heart and really suffered. He would say: "God, what's, happening? The earth is breathing!" He would come home in the evening and say to mother: "Get up, mother. Come and hear the people weeping. Hear them crying". And mother went out and we children ran along after her and we heard their cries. The people were begging, women and men both: "Save me! Why? I'm innocent! Why me? If I only knew what I'm supposed to have done! Why me?" Well, you know, we all wept together. We thought that they were torturing them there. (The fact that people were asking what they were guilty of is evidence that they were shot without trial... - Z.P.)
Question: "Did they shoot them in fours, or how?" No, in twos. Two stood at the sides of the pit with revolvers on guard and two brought them out and shot them. "When they had finished shooting, what then? What did they talk about?" They didn't talk about anything. They closed up the "black Marias", sent them away, got into the MK and drove off. I jumped up, ran into the rye-field, I got lost, I started crying, I couldn't get home, something had happened to me. After this, every night I would jump up and cry, burst out crying. How many times mother dragged me off to sorcerers and healers. And even now, when I remember this, a wild fear seizes me...
The telephone rings. A woman's voice asks to meet me, choked with weeping. They killed her parents... her father and mother... in that forest...
Halina Sciapanauna Zukouskaja (married name Sidziakina, b.1924), resident of Mensk, recounts her memories. Her father Sciapan Ivanavic was born in Cna and lived there until 1932. He then built a house on Cna Street in Mensk and moved with his family into the city. He was educated as an economist, and worked as a social security planner in Government House. Her mother, Sofia Adamauna Sakovic, was a housewife, completely illiterate, she could not even sign her name. On October 31, 1937, at three in the morning, there came the noise of an automobile. It stopped, and NKVD men burst into the house. In those days, they used to round people up at night - Halina Sciapanauna says, - and everyone used to listen whether they could hear a car, they were on the alert. And so, the noise came. They ransacked the house, without (the statutory) witnesses, without warrants or any documents and gave no explanations whatsoever. They took people's (ID) passports and all their photographs and told them to get their things together. "Mother went off in slippers although the autumn had already turned cold", - Halina Sciapanauna recalls. She was thirteen years old at the time. That night she became an orphan. They came, they took and carried them off forever. No explanations and not a word of information. Only the curse of being a relative of an enemy of the people came down upon her.
The next day she went to the NKVD. There was a mass of people there. Long lines to see the investigators stood there for several days. She spent the night in the corridors, only to hear the routine announcement: exiled for ten years without the right of correspondence. She went and stood there three times. The apparatchik did not even look into the files, he gave everyone the same answer, as if programmed. They went on hoping. They did not know that their nearest and dearest had already been shot.
According to the information obtained from many of the witnesses, the shootings at Kurapaty were carried out by special squads. These included, according to Halina Sciapanauna, some of our own, local people. One of them was born and lived in Cna. (Since an investigation is in progress, I shall not give his name, but just denote him by the cryptonym "N"). He worked as a guard in the NKVD building in Mensk. Every day he walked to work through Cna Street, with his leather cross-belt creaking. When he happened to meet little Halina, he gave her a look of bitter hate. He knew his own people from Cna. He often boasted in the village that he had personally shot the Zukouskis in Brod. To vaunt yourself as a slayer of the "enemies of the people" used to be considered an honour (even if the slaying was done in the back of the head). Some girls wanted to marry NKVD men... "An ugly mug, a coarse ugly mug", - Halina Sciapanauna recalls that "hero". - "Not a face, but some long, non-human physiognomy. In the 1960s, I tried to find him. I thought he would be still alive. I suppose I wanted to tear him to bits because of my parents".
Question: "Was he alive or dead?" He died in 1954... And how much humiliation and hunger I suffered. I could never get a decent job. In 1947, they took me on as a typist in the Military Detachment. I put down that my parents were dead. I was summoned to the counter-espionage unit. There was some ginger-haired clot sitting there, with a red face. "Where are your parents, f... your mother!" - he shouted in Russian. His pistol lay on the table. "It's you who should tell me where my parents are!" - I replied. - "What are you asking me? Where have you put them?" - "Get out!" (in Russian). And straightaway I was fired from my job.
Question: "Was there anyone of the locals working for the NKVD besides "N"?" Another name was mentioned, someone who was from Zelanouka (the village does not exist any more - Z.P.) It was said that that guy even took clothing from the victims and sold it for alcohol.
The names of two more of the killers are also known. They are both dead. One died in Russia, the other had married a local girl and is buried here. I thought I would at least go and have a look at his wife. Soft furniture, carpets, etc., bourgeois comfort. And a photograph with the classic physiognomy of a Stalinist killer. I saw just what I expected. But I could not believe it. "My husband worked for the NKVD", - she told me. From the way she spoke, I was aware that she knew just what he did, but had married him nevertheless. Well, after all, someone had to have slept on these mattresses stuffed with human hair which the Nazis made.
There is no age without its black sheep. What can we say about the population of the 1930s? For the sake of justice we must remember that among the villagers in Cna, there were many good, decent people. One of them Cimoch Vasilevic Bacian, the chairman of the village Soviet and later of the Collective farm, has already been mentioned. He never betrayed or gave away a fellow-countryman, not even one. Although they tried to force him to. Cimoch Vasilevic was a brave man and not typical of that vile time. A former teacher from Cna, Nadzieja Apanasauna Mikulic (born 1926), recounts how, when they took the teacher, Arsien Paulavic Hrusa, some good-for-nothing inhabitants of Cna shut the door in the face of his wife, Volha Ivanauna, so as not to annoy the Stalinists. Only Bacian did not shut the door, but helped the unhappy, beaten woman in the necessities of life and her sorrow. Then the NKVD men came in the night for Cimoch Vasilevic, and took him straightaway behind the fence. They stood him at the edge of the pit, with a pistol to his throat. "Will you give up the enemies of the people?" "I have no enemies!" - replied Bacian. "Give up the enemies, or we'll kill you!" "I have no enemies! - Bacian shouted at them. And, miraculously - they did not shoot him. It seems they had not completed the formalities.
However, there was enough formality to kill hundreds of thousands of people deprived of their rights. The Stalinists sent to the next world the parents of Nadzieja Sciapanauna. She recalls how in her native village Malysevicy near Sluck, the peasants were taken away. Among others, they grabbed a 60-year-old single woman, Maryla Smak. She was totally deaf and illiterate. She lived in a basement, in terrible poverty. She didn't even have her own home. They thought up a torture for her: they poured sand down her throat, demanding that she confess. Later, having tortured her enough, they struck her in the head and she died instantly.
In 1986, I had to carry out the hardest archaeological investigation of my life - the excavation of the foundations of the Dominican church and monastery in Mensk. It was not hard in the sense that 1000 square meters were uncovered in a season, and we had to work 18 hours a day, it was hard in that the whole monument was, as it were, "drowned" in human bones, buried in mass graves of the middle of the seventeenth century. There was one gigantic grave eleven meters long. A great mass of bones. The skeletons were in three piles. There were musket shots through the skulls, and fractures. This was a time of terrible war, a time of frightful destruction, when more than half (51 per cent) of the population of Belarus were killed or perished or died of epidemics. Then our people were victorious, they defended their independence, but their forces were already spent. Our history did not see another time so terrible until the first half of the twentieth century, the time of Stalinism. And, alas, it came just as we were beginning to stand on our own feet, when before our national future, there was still only the first faint glimmer of dawn.
And this, our dawn, in the excavated at Kurapaty, stares at me with empty eye-sockets, from which the yellow sand trickles, trickles down like tears. We remove the remains. We draw out the long hair of a woman, bright, like flax, from under the skulls with their bullet-holes, carefully, so as not to damage it... A belt, another, a third... buttons from underwear... The working day is over and all night, it seems - I am drawing out, endlessly drawing out flaxen hair from under the bones, and there is no end of it.
Once when I was cleaning the bones of our slain ancestors in the mass grave at the Dominican monastery, I thought: Lord, let this be the last time I have to do such an excavation, let this chalice pass from me! It did not pass from me. We can never escape from our history. Living and dead, we are all one. We are the nation. And although we cannot help the dead, the dead can help us. They can illuminate our path, bless our souls with their sufferings, stir up our minds, hearts, and spirits, provided that we wish it... Do you hear how the evil powers that be have gone mad, how they strive to "kill" our dead, to hide them, slander them, spit on them, trample on them. Hey, who goes there? It is you, Lady Macbeth! You cannot wash off the blood! Oh, the deep mystery of death! Oh, the power of our ancestors, when on All Soul's Day we become as one! And if we lose this force, lose it utterly, we shall cease to exist.
Every person, fellow human being, everyone who has a conscience must strive against Stalinism, which is the filthiest, most deceitful, and most anti-human phenomenon which has ever existed.
P.S. It is well known to specialists that recently, the destruction and plundering of archaeological monuments by "marauders" has acquired a monstrous form and scale. Several times we have warned that after the catharsis produced in many people when they learned about Kurapaty. after the investigations of the Procurator's Office and the Academy of Sciences of the Belarusian SSR, the moral "lumpen" may also show its hand. And so it has happened. While some people are experiencing a spiritual awakening, others are robbing the graves of the slain at Kurapaty, digging up and scattering the bones. There are people capable of actually robbing even the corpses of these unhappy victims! (We may add that the editors of "Literature and Art" have received urgent messages about unauthorized excavations, carried out, apparently, for plunder).