Viktor Zhelobkovich, the last Khatyn massacre eyewitness, dies

The Belorussian village of Khatyn was destroyed on March 22, 1943 by Nazi punitive squads

On May, 2020, there came reports news from Minsk about the passing of Viktor Zhelobkovich. He was the last of the surviving residents of the village of Khatyn, destroyed on March 22, 1943 by Nazi death squads. Viktor was born in 1934 to Andrey and Anna Zhelobkovich. He was the youngest of the four children in the family. 

Many times did Zhelobkovich recall the tragic day of March 22, when the Dirlewanger battalion and the 118th Ukrainian battalion killed 149 villagers, including 75 children. 

“My father and I went to the thrashing-floor that day. Father was chopping, and I was riding the see-saw he had made for me, when suddenly shots and several explosions were heard. The partisan sitting next to us on a haystack jumped off, fired in the air and shouted, “Fascists!” 

As Father took me by the hand, we ran home. We entered and locked the door and came down to the cellar, but could not hide from the soldiers. At first, they were knocking. Then they broke down the door, got us all to the street and then to the big barn that used to belong to our collective farm. Since our house was the end house on the left side of the street, we had to walk through the whole village,” Zhelobkovich remembered. As all the villagers were inside the barn, the fascists locked it. I was standing with my mother next to the door, my brothers and my sister and my father keeping closer to the center of the building. Through a crack in the wall, I watched the soldiers bringing fuel tanks… The thatched roof was set on fire immediately, the cracking sound of burning wood and straw coming from everywhere. Everybody cried like hell!

When Mother and I were out from the barn they met us with a hail of fire. We could not run away so we fell down. Frightened, I cuddled up to my mother’s body when it suddenly did a short gasping move. It was the bullet that killed mom and scratched my shoulder. “I am shot,” I whispered, hearing nothing in return but the terrible human moan.” 

9-year old Viktor lay down on the ground waiting for the fascists to leave the village they had burnt. He lost all of his family. The boy was found the next day by people from another village. After the war, he found himself in an orphanage. He finished a trade school and started working at a machine tool factory, then at an engineering office in Minsk.  

Zhelobkovich is one of the few survivors of the Khatyn tragedy. Beside him, Yuzif Kaminsky, a 56-year old blacksmith, was also kept alive as he was absent in the village that day; young girls, Maria Fedorovich and Yulia Klimovich, could escape from the burning barn; others were 12-year old Anton Baranovsky, whom the occupiers counted as dead, and the three children who hid themselves from the Nazi police: 9-year old Sophia Yaskevich, 13-year old Vladimir Yaskevich, and 13-year old Alexander Zhelobkovich. 

Back in 2018, Viktor Zhelobkovich and Sophia Yaskevich were the only Khatyn witnesses living. As the curators of the Khatyn memorial told Nasha Niva newspaper, Yaskevich had passed on before Zhelobkovich died.

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