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20 March 2019

Memory of Ozarichi death camp prisoners honored in Belarus

A remembrance and mourning event at the Ozarichi Memorial in Kalinkovichi District to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp prisoners gathered more than 300 people on 19 March, BelTA has learned.

The commemorative meeting remembered the innocent victims of the tragic events of 1944. The event brought together the former prisoners, war and labor veterans from Belarus and Russia, representatives of the authorities, civil society, youth, and others. 

Addressing the participants of the meeting, head of the Kalinkovichi District administration Sergei Gvozd noted that in Ozarichi, for the first time in World War II, prisoners were used as bacteriological weapons against soldiers of the Red Army. “The Ozarichi death camp is an embodiment of grief, sufferings, pain and tears of Belarusian people,” he noted. 

Anja Luther, Deputy Head of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Belarus, emphasized that Ozarichi is a living wound in the hearts of those who survived, in the hearts of all people. She stressed the importance of preserving the memory of those terrible events. “We cannot and must not forget” was the keynote of the speeches during the event.

Many years have passed but the scars on the hearts of those who survived the death camp have not healed. Tatyana Kutina, a native of Parichi District, comes to this place of grief every year. The girl was four when her pregnant mother with two children had been brought from the village of Krasnovka to the camp. “Unfortunately, the baby born in the camp did not survive. The conditions were inhumane. 

Tatyana Kurilovich has tears in her eyes every time she remembers those events. Her three-year-old brother was killed there. Tatyana, who was five at the time, her mother and an eight-year-old sister survived but the pain would never go away. She would never forget the terrible barking of shepherd dogs guarding the camp. Another scary picture was the moment people started running from the camp once the Germans abandoned it. The area around the camp was mined, however. “Many people died. Later our soldiers made a path and we followed each other’s steps to leave that place,” the woman said crying.

Raisa Bondareva was born in the village of Zapolye, Rogachev District, and got to the camp together with her grandmother, mother and a two-year-old sister. “It is a miracle that we survived,” the former prisoner said. To warm up during cold March nights people in the camp would take clothes off the dead and use tree branches. “Pieces of bread were thrown to us only once. They threw them to us as if we were dogs,” the woman recalls. 

The participants of the meeting observed a minute of silence in memory of the killed and laid wreaths and flowers at the memorial. School students released into the sky blue balloons with white doves that symbolize peace and concord.

In March 1944, the Nazis set up three temporary concentration camps near the villages of Dert, Ozarichi, and Podosinnik. More than 50,000 people from Gomel, Mogilev, Polesie regions of Belarus, and also Smolensk and Orel regions of Russia were brought there under the guise of evacuation. These three camps were called the Ozarichi death camp. Those were the wetland areas enclosed with barbed wire. People were kept in the open. Building huts or dugouts, collecting firewood for bedding or making fires were strictly prohibited. No food and drinking water were given to prisoners. The Nazis brought people with typhus and other infections from nearby settlements to the camp to spread the disease among the local population and later among the soldiers of the Red Army. The prisoners were guarded day and night by German soldiers on watch towers. When someone approached the barbed wire, the guards fired without warning.
 
In the early morning hours of 17 March the Nazi soldiers left the camps and backtracked some 7km to the west. On 18-19 March the troops of the 65th Army of the 1st Belarusian Front liberated 33,480 people from the Ozarichi camp. Among them were 15,960 children under 13, 13,072 women and 4,448 elderly. Although short-lived, the Ozarichi death camp took the lives of about 20,000 people.

A memorial to honor the prisoners was set at the site of the Ozarichi death camp in 1965.

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