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Belarusians hold solemn meeting in memory of Minsk ghetto residents

October 21, 2013, 15:53 UTC+3

A stone delivered from Jerusalem was laid on Monday at the foundation of a monument on the site of a World War II city ghetto in the Belarusian capital

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MINSK, October 21 (Itar-Tass) - A stone delivered from Jerusalem was laid on Monday - according to centuries-old Jewish tradition - at the foundation of a monument on the site of a World War II city ghetto in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

The stone-laying ceremony was the culmination on Monday of solemn ceremonies marking a tragic date, the 70th anniversary since the start of the final elimination of ghetto residents by Nazi occupation forces.

Hundreds of people came to the Yama memorial to take part in remembrance of the dead. The gathering included representatives of the Belarusian and Israeli governments, Minsk municipality officials, activists of the World Jewish Congress and the Eurasian Jews Congress alongside leaders and members of Belarusian public associations, surviving prisoners of other ghettos and concentrations camps, and residents of Minsk.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, who took the floor at the meeting, said that the Minsk ghetto, one of the largest ghettos in Europe, was the place where the Nazis had launched practical action under the doctrine of a full, stage-by-stage extermination of Jews.

Still, the notion of the "Minsk ghetto" did not confine itself to pain and grief alone. Its history had also known fierce resistance to occupation troops and Belarusian people’s solidarity with the prisoners, Makei said recalling that 711 Belarusians had saved Jews at the risk of their own lives. For this, they had received the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

“That’s why the shared memory and history of the two peoples calls for active counteraction to the new manifestations of anti-Semitism,” Makei said. “Belarusian government does not permit any showings of anti-Semitism and facilitates the studies of Jewish culture and languages,” he added.

Flowers were laid at the end of the meeting to honor those who had died in the ghetto. Wreaths were laid by Belarusian government organizations, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the parish of the Roman Catholic cathedral.

Nazis killed about 100,000 Jews in Minsk alone. Many of them had been residents of the city before the seizure of the then Soviet Byelorussia by Hitler’s troops in June 1941, while others had been brought from a number of occupied West European countries.

Expert estimates suggest that up to 800,000 Jews were killed, burned alive or tortured to death on the territory of today’s Belarus from 1941 to 1944, when the Soviet Army drove the last Nazi units from the country.

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