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Russian Village Haunted By A Hidden Holocaust Past

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Russian Village Haunted By A Hidden Holocaust Past


Russian Village Haunted By A Hidden Holocaust Past

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And let's go next to Russia, where some people are looking back on the atrocities of an earlier generation. A Russian village on the Baltic Sea is still coming to terms with its role in the Holocaust. NPR's David Greene has our story.

DAVID GREENE: The Yantarny, Russia, the Holocaust memorial is out of the way. A bumpy road takes you down a hill, toward the chilly waters of the Baltic. Climb over a rope, walk around a restaurant, finally there it is - a few stones arranged like a pyramid and a long inscription in Russian.

My translator read in English for me. The words recall a massacre on this beach in January 1945.

Unidentified Man: That was the last Holocaust act in the Second World War.

GREENE: Some may debate whether what truly was the last Holocaust Act, but this event did come several days after Auschwitz was liberated. The Nazis still had Jewish prisoners on the move and one death march that started with 7,000 people ended here. My translator kept reading.

Unidentified Man: There were hungry women and nearly undressed - they were walking. It was minus 20 and - well, then it was decided in the end to destroy - to kill everybody who was still alive.

GREENE: Frail women and children were ordered into the icy water and shot.

Mr. VLADIMIR NIKOLAEVICH (Fisherman): (Speaking Russian)

GREENE: Sixty-five years later, some in this village are still unaware. Vladimir Nikolaevich was leaving a fishing hole near the memorial. I asked him about this beach's Holocaust past.

Mr. NIKOLAEVICH: (Russian spoken)

GREENE: What Holocaust? he said in Russian. It's unlikely there were victims here. There is a book about this massacre written by a German witnessed some of the killings. But this memorial, dedicated in 2000, became the first tangible recognition of this atrocity anywhere in a Russian province of one million people.

One reason is the area's peculiar history. This Baltic coastline was East Prussia. After the war, the victorious Soviets seized the province, renamed it Kaliningrad and repopulated it with Russians. As the Germans died or left, so did their memories.

Mr. VIKTOR SHAPIRO: (Russian spoken)

GREENE: But Viktor Shapiro pointed to something else. He is a prominent voice in the Kaliningrad region's small Jewish community.

Mr. SHAPIRO: (Russian spoken)

GREENE: One of the hallmarks of Soviet rule, he said, was to downplay any ethnic or religious differences among Soviet citizens. And so, to single out Jewish people as special victims of fascism, he said, would have contradicted communist policy. As for the memorial on the beach, Shapiro visits it often. And he said he hopes it begins to teach people that the Holocaust left its mark here.

Ms. LYUDMILA KIRPINYOVA (Director, History Museum): (Russian spoken)

GREENE: In Yantarny today, you can also visit a local museum. Lyudmila Kirpinyova is the director.

Ms. KIRPINYOVA: (Russian spoken)

GREENE: She was born here in 1958. And she remembers her parents telling her to stay away from this beach close to her house. Looking back, she believes her parents and some others in the village may have known what happened in 1945.

Ms. KIRPINYOVA: (Through translator) In those days, everyone kept silent. They did not reveal anything. Even now, my husband tells me, if I had a shorter tongue, I'd be of greater value. But since I couldn't speak much in the past, now it is my time to speak - a lot, at last.

GREENE: But only to a point. This museum director said she'll never force people to confront what happened here.

Ms. KIRPINYOVA: (Through translator) There are people who would like to speak about those events and people who don't want to speak or even think about it. It's not for us to judge.

GREENE: And you do notice something in her museum. There's the history of East Prussia, there are portraits of Lenin and Soviet memorabilia - hard to find anything about the Holocaust.

David Greene, NPR News, Moscow.

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