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Nazis or Communists? Belarus Probes World War Ii-era Murders

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Belarus has reopened an investigation into a series of mass executions of the country’s citizens during the World War II era.

The move came after a member of the original investigative team was quoted as saying the results of that inquiry were falsified.

One official has suggested that Nazi units — not Stalin’s secret police, known as the NKVD — were responsible for the murders of some 250,000 Belarussian citizens, including thousands of Jews, buried at Kuropaty, a mass grave on the outskirts of the capital of Minsk.

There is some question about the date of the grave, which was discovered only in recent years. Some believe that it was the site of mass executions in the 1930s, and that the NKVD was responsible. The decision to reopen the investigation was based on the possibility that the murders took place in the 1940s, after the Nazi occupation.

The issue of whether the Nazis or Communists were responsible for the mass killings is of more than passing interest in the former Soviet republic. Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenko, has made no secret of his affinity for the Soviet era.

The original investigation was conducted in 1988 and 1989, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was headed by archaeologist Zenon Pozniak, currently leader-in-exile of the opposition Belarussian Popular Front.

That panel concluded that Belarussian units associated with the NKVD were responsible for the mass killings.

Contributing to the ongoing controversy, a Russian television station recently aired charges that Pozniak’s father was a Nazi collaborator — a charge denied by Pozniak, who says that his father fought with the Red Army against the Nazis.

Human rights activists have criticized Lukashenko for his authoritarian ways, his treatment of the press and for the various restrictions he has placed on democratic reforms in his nation of 10 million.

But he remains highly popular among the country’s population, including many of Belarus’ 100,000 Jews.

Last week, some 1,000 people took part in a protest march in Minsk to denounce legislation that would allow Belarussian officials to close any media outlet publishing materials the government believes threaten the country’s national interests or defame its president.

Yakov Basin, a Jewish activist and editor of Mezuzah, a Minsk-based monthly newspaper of the Reform Jewish movement in Belarus, said the Jewish press in Belarus was not specifically threatened by the legislation.

But he expressed concern that the legislation would enable the State Committee on the Press to shut down any publication or broadcast operation it wants.

Under previous legislation, this could have been done only through the courts.

There are four Jewish periodicals in Belarus, three of which are headquartered in Minsk.

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