The night of Solstice, when the sky comes down to the ground and turns the world to snow, the old man gathers his grandchildren around the coal stove as the wind whistles and moans outside.
“The branches around us are hung with ghosts,” he croaks, the shadow of his hands sliding over the stone walls like demonic puppets. “At Kurapaty they came with machine guns and pistols, took the Jews and the friends of Jews from their homes, stood them against the trees and shot them all!”
The children, who have heard this story many times, pretend a shock they no longer feel.
Later, in bed, the young brothers whisper to one another.
“Why does he always tell that story?”
“He wants us never to forget.”
“Forget what? To hate Nazis? Who likes Nazis?”
“You boob. It wasn’t Nazis. It was Soviets. Weren’t you listening?”
“Nazis, Soviets. What’s the difference?”
Between 1937 and 1941, the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police under Stalin) carried out large-scale executions in the wooded lands of Kurapaty outside of Minsk. More than 7000 people, mostly Jews, were executed and buried in crude graves. The tragedy remained shrouded in Soviet secrecy until 1988, when a Belarus historian and one of the founders of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front party exposed what had happened.