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?”


What Pegman Saw: Belarus

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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.


Add Yours
  1. Lynn Love

    It’s a terrible truth that while most of us in the West are familiar with Nazi atrocities, we’re much less familiar with those perpetrated by the Soviets under Stalin. I suspect the rather unpalatable reason for this is that the Soviets were our allies and lost more troops than any other nation. Still, as your story describes so well, so chillingly, they were more than capable of horrors on a huge scale. Well done Josh

  2. Iain Kelly

    If you haven’t already read (or seen the film) Enigma by Robert Harris, it features a similar revelation about the NKVD and the massacre of Polish soldiers. No one is immune to commiting war atrocities, least of all Stalin. And yet, what would have been the outcome if the West had not sided with him in the war?

    • J Hardy Carroll

      I’ve not seen that. I recall The Lives of Others about the Stasi and of course have read The Gulag Archipeligo. I’ll definitely add that to my list. As to your question, the west didn’t exactly side with Stalin because Hitler attacked the USSR and made the decision for Churchill. Interesting stuff.

  3. Alicia Jamtaas

    Don’t get me started! I’ve read, watched movies and taken classes about the atrocities of WWII. In fact just started taking a class about the Holocaust last Wednesday. No excuses…. You captured that well. May the young never forget. Lish

  4. pennygadd51

    I love your opening paragraph; it’s a great way of gathering your readers around the stove with the children. The middle of your tale is good solid historical fact, and then you deliver a great conclusion equating the Nazis and the Soviets. They’re just men with guns when all’s said and done.

Don't just stand there.