Belarus had Jewish population for a long time, but how did the war affect their relationship with the Belarusians and what image of the Holocaust is imprinted into the memory of the Belarusians?
The History Workshop association of Leanid Levin and the Belarusian archive of oral history opened an Oral historian club in Minsk. "EuroBelarus" Information Service attended the first meeting of the club, which was dedicated to Belarusian Holocaust remembrance.
First the audience watched a video report on what the ordinary passers-by think about the genocide of Jews during the World War II in different regions of Belarus. The video showed the knowledge is quite poor. And there are certain reasons for it, as believes Ales Smalianchuk, Doctor of Historical Sciences. He began his speech by explaining the ways the tragedy of the Holocaust was reflected in the Belarusian history textbooks. The topic of the Holocaust has almost disappeared from the textbooks published in 1997 - 2003. 2006 saw a new textbook for the 9th graders appear, but the tragedy is mentioned there only briefly.
"I gained the impression that the tragedy of the Holocaust is in the shadow of the traditional Soviet myths about the Great Patriotic War", - comments the historian the content of the modern textbooks.
Siarhei Hareuski, culturologist and art critic remarks:
"Why did the Belarusian art leave this topic without any attention? This issue is still unresolved."
Understanding the Holocaust through art in started only in the 1960s.
The Belarusian literature, which is rich in pieces on military topic, had almost no reflection of the tragedy as well.
According to Ales Smalianchuk, the interviews with respondents made during the expeditions have shown that there is a huge problem in our understanding of the Holocaust and the Belarusian memory of it.
The historian notes that in the course of expeditions there were collected stories about the murders of Jews, and they are full of regret. At the same time there is a stereotype about the "Cowards Jews" who almost never fled from massacres.
The historical memory of the Belarusians reflects certain reasons for killing Jewish population during the war. Researchers divided these reasons into several groups. According to the first group of answers thousands of Jews were exterminated due to their "cunningness and unwillingness to work." This statement makes the stereotype that the Belarusian-Jewish relations have always been neighborly and sincere doubtful. The second group of responses advocates a "personal revenge" of Hitler upon Jews. There is also an opinion of the Jews as the "cursed people" who killed Jesus Christ (such views are common in the western regions of Belarus).
Experts state that people had no idea of the scale of the tragedy during the war. People believed that the Jews were evacuated from the biggest cities at least, no one thought that there are huge ghettos everywhere.
"The majority of respondents did not fully understand that the catastrophe was global", - underlines Ales Smalianchuk.
Meanwhile, the historian highlights that the Belarusians had no solidarity during the war: it was common for people to move into the houses of their killed Jewish neighbors and to take their property.
"These memories are very important both to the victims and to the living as they say a lot about us the Belarusians," - sums up Ales Smalianchuk.