Khatyn memorial, in the Minsk region of Belarus, remains one of the most haunting memorials of World War 2 in all Europe
Until 1943, Khatyn was a usual Belarusian village to the north east of Minsk. But on March 22, 1943, after a skirmish nearby in which a German officer was killed, the occupying German forces encircled the village.
All the inhabitants were rounded up and taken to a barn, which was then set on fire. Some 149 people, including 75 children, died. Only one adult, 56-year-old Joseph Kaminsky, survived the attack. He found his injured son but was unable to save him.
Khatyn’s story is not unique. In the Great Patriotic War (World War 2) the inhabitants of 628 Belarus villages were burned alive by the Nazis. 186 of these villages have never rebuilt.
After the war, a memorial to all those who died across Belarus was built on the site of the former village. A handful of soil from each of the 185 burned and never rebuilt was brought to Khatyn to create a symbolic graveyard. Khatyn became the 186th village, the site of this symbolic graveyard.
As a haunting reminder of the horrors of war, it has become one of the most important places in Belarus.
At the centre of the complex stands an astonishing 6m bronze statue called “The Unconquered Man” – a tribute to Joseph Kaminsky and his son.
On the place of the barn where Khatyn people were burned there is a black plate resembling the roof. Nearby is a common grave with a symbolic wreath of memory with the words from the dead to the living.
The memorial has 26 chimneys with bells – one for each of the houses in the village – which ring out every hour. Each chimney has a plaque remembering the family members who died.
Two vast granite slabs mark the place where the barn was raised to the ground. Further into the memorial is a cemetery for the villagers, and another burial ground for all the other lost Belarus villages.
The symbolic cemetery of villages behind the houses-monuments has the soil brought from 185 burnt villages that never revived after the war.
The Wall of Sorrow near the cemetery represents the memorial slabs with the names of 66 largest death camps and places of massive loss of life.
The Square of Memory features three birch trees symbolizing life and Eternal Flame instead of a fourth tree commemorating the Belarusians killed during the war. Nearby is the Tree of Life with the list of 433 villages that were burned by the Nazis and were restored after the war.
In recent years a small museum and photo display have been added to the memorial.
Khatyn can only really be reached by road.
From Minsk, you take the M3 motorway towards Vitebsk. After 54km, there is a right turn to Khatyn, and the memorial is about 5km along this road.
If you’re planning a trip, it’s best to stay in one of the many Minsk hotels. Some of the larger hotels arrange daytrips to the Khatyn memorial.
Khatyn, one of the most important tourist attractions in Belarus, is in a rural area near Minsk. If you are planning a visit it is best to take a day-trip from Minsk.
If you have time, there are many other interesting sights in the Minsk region to take in, including: