MINSK -- A memorial honoring victims of Trostenets, a Nazi extermination camp near Minsk, has been unveiled by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka together with delegations from Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, and Poland.
The camp, known as Trastsyanets in Belarusian and Trascianiec in Polish, operated as a prisoner-of-war camp from July 1942 until October 1943 when it was transformed into an extermination camp.
Soviet authorities estimated that more than 200,000 people -- mainly Jews from Belarus, Poland, Austria, Germany, and Czechoslovakia --were put to death in the area, but this figure is disputed by historians who say it is exaggerated.
The Holocaust research institute's Yad Vashem says 65,000 Jews were killed there in 1941-43. If the correct figure is closer to the Soviet estimate, that would make Trostenets the fourth- largest Nazi extermination camp after Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Treblinka.
"Jews from Berlin, Bremen, Dortmund, Prague, other European cities were brought here to find their deaths," Lukashenka said at the June 29 ceremony. "Also here are the remains of Belarusian civilians, guerrillas, and Soviet prisoners of war who were murdered. We have to do everything to remember them in order to prevent Nazi-like ideology from coming back."
Lukashenka was accompanied by Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, former Austrian president Heinz Fischer, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Also attending the ceremony were Polish Secretary of State and presidential cabinet chief Krzysztof Szczerski, Czech Deputy Speaker of Parliament Vojtech Filip, and World Jewish Congress representative Maram Stern.
After a minute of silence in remembrance of those killed at Trostenets, Lukashenka thanked the guests for gathering "like one family to share the pain of the horrific developments during the World War II."
'Demons Of Intolerance
Lukashenka, without naming Russia or Ukraine, also indirectly criticized Moscow's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"We see today that the past is not leaving us," Lukashenka said. "Many do not recognize state borders. The world community again encounters demons of intolerance that ignite hatred and provoke violence."
Van der Bellen said that Trostenets had been a "white spot" in European history for too long.
"People know Auschwitz and that is important. But because of Auschwitz, many other names of places that were no less horrific are being forgotten," the Austrian president said. "There is a danger that by forgetting the names of such concentration and extermination camps we might forget memories of countless victims and the gigantic scale of the annihilation."
"The Nazis created a network of terror that was imposed on Europe," he said. "For our own sake, as a warning, we must preserve knowledge about it in Europe's collective memory."
Germany's president, saying that the name of Trostenets should have been put in European history books long ago, vowed to preserve the memory of the camp's victims for generations to come.
"Today I stay in front of you as Germany's president, as a German, and as a human with the feeling of gratitude for signs of reconciliation, with the feeling of shame and sorrow for the suffering Germans brought to your country many years ago," Steinmeier said.