Aug. 17, 2005 18:28

Jewish memorial in Belarusian capital defaced


MINSK, Belarus

Vandals defaced a memorial to Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust, burning plastic flowers and scattering gravestones, a Jewish leader said Wednesday.

The overnight incident is the third time that the memorial - called Yama or The Pit - in the center of the Belarusian capital has been vandalized.

Yakov Basin, of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Social Organizations and Societies, said plastic branches were torched at the monument honoring the estimated 800,000 Jews who were killed in Belarus by the Nazis. The vandals also took stones that are usually placed on Jewish graves and scattered them throughout the monument, Basin said.

"I have no confidence that the criminals will be found," Basin said. "Not one vandal has ever been punished by the Belarusian authorities."

About 28,000 Jews now live in Belarus, a mostly Slavic nation of 10 million that was home to a substantial Jewish minority before the Bolshevik Revolution. Some 800,000 Jews were killed in Belarus by the Nazis, and many have fled the country since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Many Jewish cemeteries have been subjected to vandalism in recent years. In 2003, people drew swastikas on a granite obelisk and a menorah at the Yama memorial. In 1992, someone threw red paint on the memorial just before a visit by Shimon Peres, Israel's current vice prime minister.