Maly Trostenets

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A former death camp of the Holocaust that the Nazis set up near Minsk from 1942 during their occupation of the Belorussian Soviet Republic in WWII. After decades of neglect the site has recently been given a major update and is now one of the more significant memorial sites in Belarus (even though the victimhood of primarily Jews still goes unmentioned … as in Soviet times).  
More background info: First of all note that the spelling of this place varies considerably. In the Belarusian version of transliteration from the Cyrillic it is “Maly Trascianiec”, alternatively also “Maly Trastyanyets”, in German it is “Maly Trostenez”, sometimes you see “Maly Trostinec”, but the closest to the Russian Малый Тростенец is the transliteration I am settling for in this chapter: “Maly Trostenets”.
It is probably the least known of the Nazi camps of the Holocaust, and there's also the least accurate information to be had about it (compared to the detailed documentation of e.g. Majdanek or Auschwitz). There were hardly any survivors.
The camp was not part of Operation Reinhard, but just like those camps it served almost exclusively only one purpose: systematic extermination. The camp had originally been set up as a prison camp shortly after the occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany commenced in 1941. But it was then turned into a death camp that operated as such from approximately May 1942 until late 1943. The victims were predominantly Jews, especially those from the Minsk Ghetto and the area around the city, but transports also arrived from as far away as Vienna, Theresienstadt and many German cities.
The victims were typically killed immediately on arrival, mostly by shooting in a nearby forest, but gas vans, the type of mobile gas chamber developed at Chelmno, were also used at Maly Trostenets.
The total number of victims is hard to determine, estimates range from ca. 40,000 to over 200,000. In any case, it was another exceedingly grim place. As usual, the Nazis tried to cover up its existence by destroying all installations and burning the corpses that had been buried in mass graves (cf. also e.g. Ponary), before they had to retreat as the Soviet Red Army advanced westwards in 1944. Hence virtually nothing of the camp remained.
The site was first researched when the Great Patriotic War Museum was set up in Minsk but in the subsequent Soviet decades commemoration of the Holocaust was not a priority. There was only a typical simple monument, erected not even at the actual site of the camp but at a place over a mile away, and as usual it didn't especially mention that Jews were the main victims (but instead praised Soviet partisans and POWs and their sacrifice in the fight against fascism).
In recent years, however, Belarus has kind of rediscovered its dark heritage, including crimes perpetrated by the Nazis on this country's soil. So a new memorial complex was set up at the former grounds of the Maly Trostenets camp, which was opened (by the president himself even) in July 2015. It still fails to acknowledge the main victimhood of Jews, instead at least talking of “Minsk residents” and “civilians deported from Europe” in addition to partisans and anti-fascists, but it is still a considerable improvement over the former non-site this used to be.  
What there is to see: At the former site of the actual Maly Trostenets camp there is now a rather sprawling new memorial complex (opened in 2015). The main part of this is a giant sculpture called “Gate of Memory”.
It consists of two tall brown stelae with graphic depictions of victims behind barbed wire and generally in very visible agony and desperation.
This main monument is approached along a so-called “Road of Memory”, a paved path flanked by dark granite monuments with trilingual inscriptions (Belarusian, Russian and English) that provide names of various places of “mass extermination of people on the territory of Belarus in 1941-1944” together with the respective numbers of victims. The figures are stated quite matter-of-factly, and for Maly Trostenets it is given as “206,500”, even though the real exact figure is probably impossible to ever know for sure.
A map-and-info-panel at the northern end of the “Road of Memory” provides an overview of the whole site and points out the locations of various parts of the former camp and the sites of mass shootings and other atrocities.
To the east of the main monument there are even a few remnants of the foundations of some of the camp's buildings that have been unearthed, such as the former “Effektenkammer”, i.e. the storage barrack where personal belongings taken from the victims would have been held. Small plaques provide basic information about these vestiges too.
By the car park north of the “Road of Memory” there are two deportation train carriages on open-air display too. One of them has the words “Minsk – Bielefeld” and “Vitevsk-auschwitz [sic!]” printed diagonally across its door. I doubt these are original. Again there is a small trilingual plaque explaining that such railway carriages were used by the Nazis.
In addition you may want to visit the old Soviet-era monument, which stands rather forlornly in a small park on the other side of the motorway a bit over a mile away. There isn't much to see here, just the old obelisk, a long-extinguished eternal flame and an additional set of memorial stones, some obviously added in recent decades as they have e.g. a Star of David on them.
All in all: this is really a site for “hardcore” dark tourists with a special interest in the history of the Holocaust and the Belarusian part of it – though more in the sense of a pilgrimage site. There's not much information to be had here, so you have to do your homework prior to visiting this site.  
Location: ca. 7.5 miles (11km) south-east of the centre of Minsk, right on the edge of today's city, by the side of the M4 motorway leading out of the city, just beyond the intersection with the outer ring motorway (M9). The old monument is to the north-east of the motorway, the new one at the original site to the south of it.
Google maps locators:
Main new memorial: [53.8352, 27.7036]
Deportation rail carriages: [53.8377, 27.7054]
Vestiges of the storehouse: [53.8349, 27.7062]
Old Soviet-era monument: [53.8523, 27.7065]
Shooting site in the forest: [53.8416, 27.7398]
Access and costs: quite far from the centre and not so easy to get to; but free
Details: In order to get to this site you either had to have your own means of transport, get a taxi for the rather long ride from the centre of Minsk, or brave public transport. You can get a bus, but only as far as the stop Partizanski Praspiekt, which is actually on the motorway near the location of the old Soviet memorial. But you'd have to walk past the big housing estate to get to the new memorial complex.
Alternatively you could do what I did and ask for a stopover at Maly Trostenets to be incorporated into a guided tour of Khatyn and the Glory Mound. My guide simply threw it in as a freebie addition, even though it isn't exactly on route (but not a massive detour either.)
As such, both the old Soviet monument and the new memorial complex are freely accessible at all times.
Time required: Not so long, perhaps 45 minutes to an hour.
Combinations with other dark destinations: In addition to the memorial complex at Maly Trostenets itself, there's apparently also a memorial stone at the main site where the shooting of victims took place in the nearby Blagovshchina forest. But I didn't go there, so can't say anything about it from first-hand impressions. Apparently there are plans for further development of this site too.
Back in Minsk, the Great Patriotic War Museum also has a section on Maly Trostenets and the Holocaust and is a must-see for anybody interested in history in any case.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Nothing in the vicinity which is characterized by residential blocks of flats to the western side of the site and rural flatness on the other sides. Better head back to Minsk.
  • Maly Trostenec 01 - new memorial complexMaly Trostenec 01 - new memorial complex
  • Maly Trostenec 02 - planMaly Trostenec 02 - plan
  • Maly Trostenec 03 - deportation train carriagesMaly Trostenec 03 - deportation train carriages
  • Maly Trostenec 04 - new memory laneMaly Trostenec 04 - new memory lane
  • Maly Trostenec 05 - death tollMaly Trostenec 05 - death toll
  • Maly Trostenec 06 - central monumentMaly Trostenec 06 - central monument
  • Maly Trostenec 07 - powerfulMaly Trostenec 07 - powerful
  • Maly Trostenec 08 - hollow faces of desperationMaly Trostenec 08 - hollow faces of desperation
  • Maly Trostenec 09 - remnants of foundationsMaly Trostenec 09 - remnants of foundations
  • Maly Trostenec 10 - few relics of the camp remainMaly Trostenec 10 - few relics of the camp remain
  • Maly Trostenec 11 - on the edge of MinskMaly Trostenec 11 - on the edge of Minsk
  • Maly Trostenec 12 - old Soviet-era monumentMaly Trostenec 12 - old Soviet-era monument
  • Maly Trostenec 13 - eternal flame long extinguishedMaly Trostenec 13 - eternal flame long extinguished


©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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