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Use our multimedia maps, and explore the family pictures, archival material, and personal stories of 21 Jewish Holocaust survivors to get a unique insight into Europe’s rich Jewish heritage, and to discover sites of Jewish life in towns in Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.
Located in the heart of Minsk, the so-called Yama serves as a main memorial for the Belarusian victims of the Holocaust. The enormous memorial is located at the site where on March 2 and 3, 1942, several thousand Jewish residents of the Minsk Ghetto were shot.
Elena Drapkina, who escaped the Minsk ghetto to join the underground partisan movement, talks about her experiences witnessing these pogroms and how this led to her decision to flee: “On March 3, 1942, there happened a terrible pogrom. At the warehouse we were told that the ghetto was on fire. We asked the assistant of the chief, the old man, not to carry us in the ghetto after work, but he said it was impossible. When we arrived, they made us stand in line at the ghetto entrance. We were surrounded by armed guards, it was impossible to escape. There were several cordons, and near each one a German checked documents. I had a worker’s pass. The Germans sorted people to groups. It lasted very long and night closed in, it was cold and the full moon gave a bright light. It was already about 3 o’clock in the morning. In the first group they gathered Hamburg Jews (they were holding hands). I came up [to] a German who checked documents and he struck me on the head with a whip, but he let me into the ghetto and I joined a group of our men with whom we worked together. At last, the Germans ordered ‘Go home!’ And the next day all our men arrived at the warehouse, but only two girls including me. After that I realized that it was necessary to escape.”
Nelly Schenker describes how she and her mother escaped the pogrom in the Pit:
“Then there was more mayhem. The pogrom, it was impossible to hide from it, it was the Pit, it was the Pit. You know that Pit, right? My mother and I were alive, the pit was breathing, breathing, because there were people murdered and people who were not murdered. They were being shot with machine guns and whatever you want. And my mother and I threw ourselves into this pit. Well, it was already late and there were a few people on us, it would choke us, of course. And when the cars were filling up this pit at night, they were filling it up and when they drove off […] My mother and I crawled out, terribly bloody, we went to the pump… We washed up and went home again.”
The Yama includes three parts on its territory, including a group of sculptures and an alley naming the Belarusian “Righteous Among the Nations”. Created in 1996, it honors a number of non-Jewish Belarusians who were recognized by the State of Israel for having risked their lives to save Jewish people during the Holocaust.
The oldest part of the memorial is the “Obelisk,” which was installed in 1946 and commemorates the victims of the pogrom on 2-3 March 1942. The inscription, in Russian and Yiddish, reflects the language used for memorials under the Soviets: “To the shining memory of the bright days of five thousand Jews who perished at the hands of sworn enemies of humanity, German-fascist butchers, on March 2, 1942.” Specifically mentioning Jews as victims was, however, very rare in Soviet commemoration.
In 2000, a bronze sculpture titled “The Last Way” was added to the memorial complex. It shows 27 intertwined people who are leaving the ghetto and descending into the pit. The memorial was created by the late Belarusian artist and chairman of the Jewish communities of Belarus, Leonid Levin, and Israeli sculptor, Elsa Pollak.
Commemoration events are held at this site several times a year, for example, the International Day of Holocaust Remembrance or important dates of pogroms such as March 2nd and 21 to 23rd of October.