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Opinions & Interviews

21 Oct 2013

Yosef Shagal: Belarus is one of the few post-Soviet republics to cling to the memory of WWII

Yosef Shagal: Belarus is one of the few post-Soviet republics to cling to the memory of WWII

MINSK, 21 October (BelTA) - Belarus is one of the few post-Soviet republics which continues to cling to the memory of the Great Patriotic War, Israeli Ambassador to Belarus Yosef Shagal told a press conference dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the destruction of the Minsk ghetto, BelTA learned.

“Belarus is one of the few countries of the former Soviet Union which has kept the memory of the war among priorities. Today it is not popular, and for the past 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union I have been witnessing the erosion of the foundation upon which dozens of generations of decent people were brought up. Keeping the memory of the war and the past alive is the best way to raise the younger generation,” said the Ambassador.

He noted that only now, many years later, representatives of various countries, including Belarusians, have started to gradually learn things about the war and the Holocaust that they did not know before, and this is the great merit of the Jewish community. “I am grateful to the Jewish community. Yet, all of this would not have been possible in Belarus if the government had taken a different stance and shyly done what its predecessors used to do, calling the Jews the Soviet citizens and hiding the true scale of the Holocaust from the people. Modern Belarus is a different country, and today we know more about the war than we did yesterday. Past is difficult, but it should be remembered. Those who do not know the past have no future,” said Yosef Shagal.

The diplomat also recalled that to commemorate the Jews killed during World War II, a memorial is being created near Minsk on the territory of the largest death camp Trostenets. "In the context of the European policy the creation of the memorial is very important: this is a place where Jews from seven European countries were brought to be killed. It would be good if representatives or better yet, leaders of these countries came to Belarus to pay tribute to the memory of their countrymen. In my opinion, such a monument is important not only to the Jews and their descendants, but also to Belarus itself, as an assertion of its tolerance, treatment of representatives of other nationalities living in the country. The highest human right is the right to life. That right was violated 70 years ago by one of the most civilized European countries - Germany. 70 years have passed, and I really would like to see the debate on human rights to take place here, on the graves of my compatriots, so that the people who sometimes raise the subject remember that the greatest tragedy of the 20th century and the most terrible tragedy of my people began in the heart of civilized Europe. It must not be forgotten, especially now, when anti-Semitism is raising its head in the same Europe, in the countries that raise the topic of human rights.”

The Ambassador also noted that the history of the war and the Holocaust, the history of the destruction of Belarusian and Jewish peoples is the foundation on which Belarus-Israel relations are built on today. Yosef Shagal recalled that every third Jew and every third Belarusian died during World War II. He expressed gratitude to the Belarusians who during the Holocaust, risking their lives and the lives of their children, saved Jews. "It is a feat to which there is no comparison. Our gratitude to Belarusian people is limitless,” he said.

Yosef Shagal noted that for the heroism 711 Belarusians were awarded the highest honorary title "Righteous Among the Nations", and these names are known in Israel. It would be only fair if the names of the Righteous Among the Nations of Belarus should be immortalized in the Yama memorial in Minsk," the diplomat said, adding that this plan will be carried out by the important date – the 70th anniversary of liberation of Belarus from the Nazi.

The events in tribute of the 70th anniversary of the destruction of the Minsk ghetto were held in Minsk on 20-21 October. The events included a commemorative meeting and a mourning ceremony, a reception for the former ghetto inmates and the Righteous Among the Nations, a roundtable on the studies and preservation of the memory of the Holocaust, a tour around the Jewish historical places in Minsk, an evening of documentaries and other events.

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