Officials at a southwestern city in Belarus are forging ahead with plans to build a luxury apartment building complex despite finding a Nazi-era mass grave containing nearly 2,000 remains at the construction site.
The mass grave was discovered by construction workers in the city of Brest more than two months ago and since then, specially trained soldiers have unearthed the remains of hundreds of Jews, killed when the city was occupied by Nazi Germany.
It’s the site of the old Jewish ghetto in the city.
The bodies are tangled with the remains of shreds of cloth and the soles of shoes.
“You see the results of this horrible war and of a genocide,” the commander of the search battalion, Major Pavel Galetsky, told DW. “History speaks for itself here.”
One of the remains found was that of a female holding the skeleton of a baby, as if she’s been cradling it, the BBC reported.
Before World War II, almost half of the more than 50,000 population of Brest were Jews. Up to 5,000 men were executed shortly after the Nazis invaded in June 1941.
The rest was crammed into a ghetto only several blocks large surrounded by barbed wire.
In October 1942, an order from Nazi Germany came to wipe them out, the BBC reported.
Thousands were herded on to freight trains and were driven more than 60 miles to a forest and shot at the edge of a vast pit.
The city register kept by the Germans showed that on Oct. 15, 1942, there were 17,893 Jews in Brest, according to the BBC. The next day, that figure was scratched out.
"That's how we know when the ghetto was liquidated," community leader Efim Basin.
Only a handful of Jews in Brest survived the mass executions, DW reported.
Near the site of the old ghetto, a small marble stone is dedicated to the 34,000 Jews killed in around Brest during World War II.
For several weeks after the remains were discovered, it was unclear what would happen with the construction of the building complex, according to DW.
It seems that the planned apartment complex – a lucrative project for the city – will continue as planned.
Some, including the city’s head of the cultural department, believe that the city does not need another memorial, but it does need better apartments.
"There should be a place where people can live well, a nice corner of the city of Brest," Alla Kondak said.
City authorities and the construction have said that the actual foundation of the building would not touch the spot where the remains were found. Instead, the mass grave would be underneath a landscaped courtyard.
Kondak also pointed out that many of the buildings in the city are built on graves.
“When the buildings around here were built they also found bones,” Kondak said.