The Holocaust in Belarus

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The Holocaust in Belarus is the term that refers to the systematic discrimination and extermination of Jews living in the former Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic which was occupied by Nazi Germany after August 1941 during World War II. It is estimated that roughly 800,000 Byelorussian Jews (or about 90% of the Jewish population of Byelorussia) were murdered during the Holocaust.[1] However, other estimates put the number of Jews killed between 500,000 and 550,000 (about 80% of the Belarusian Jewish population).[2]


The Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany in the territory of Byelorussia began in the summer of 1941, during Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.[3][4] Minsk was bombed and taken over by the Wehrmacht on 28 June 1941.[5] In Hitler's view, Operation Barbarossa was Germany's war against "Jewish Bolshevism".[6] On 3 July 1941, during the first "selection" in Minsk 2,000 Jewish members of the intelligentsia were marched off to a forest and massacred.[5] The atrocities committed beyond the German–Soviet frontier were summarized by Einsatzgruppen for both sides of the prewar border between BSSR and Poland.[7] The Nazis made Minsk the administrative centre of Generalbezirk Weißruthenien in the Reichskomissariat Ostland. As of 15 July 1941 all Jews were ordered to wear a yellow badge on their outer garments under penalty of death, and on 20 July 1941 the creation of the Minsk Ghetto was pronounced.[5] Within two years, it became the largest ghetto in German-occupied Soviet Union,[8] with over 100,000 Jews.[5]

Jewish prisoners of the Minsk Ghetto clearing snow at the station, February 1942

The southern part of the modern-day Belarus was annexed to the newly formed Reichskommissariat Ukraine on 17 July 1941 including the easternmost Gomel Region of the Russian SFSR, and several others.[9] They became part of the Shitomir Generalbezirk centred around Zhytomyr. The Germans determined the identities of the Jews either through registration, or by issuing decrees. The Jews were separated from the general population and confined to makeshift ghettos. Because the Soviet leadership fled from Minsk without ordering evacuation, most Jewish inhabitants were captured.[9][10] There were 100,000 prisoners held in the Minsk Ghetto, in Bobruisk 25,000, in Vitebsk 20,000, in Mogilev 12,000, in Gomel over 10,000, in Slutsk 10,000, in Borisov 8,000, and in Polotsk 8,000.[11] In the Gomel Region alone, twenty ghettos were established in which no less than 21,000 people were imprisoned.[9]

Holocaust in Reichskommissariat Ostland, which included Byelorussia

In November 1941 the Nazis rounded up 12,000 Jews in the Minsk Ghetto to make room for the 25,000 foreign Jews slated for expulsion from Germany, Austria and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.[5] On the morning of 7 November 1941 the first group of prisoners were formed into columns and ordered to march singing revolutionary songs. People were forced to smile for the cameras. Once beyond Minsk, 6,624 Jews were taken by lorries to the nearby village of Tuchinka (Tuchinki) and shot by members of Einsatzgruppe A.[12] The next group of over 5,000 Jews followed them to Tuchinka on 20 November 1941.[13]

Holocaust by bullets[edit]

Resulting from the Soviet 1939 annexation of Polish territory comprising the Soviet Western Belorussia,[14] the Jewish population of BSSR nearly tripled.[1] In June 1941, at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, there were 670,000 Jews in recently annexed Western Belorussia and 405,000 Jews in the Eastern part of present-day Belarus.[1] The territories of Western Belorussia in 1941 and modern day Western Belarus are not exactly the same, since the Soviet annexation of Polish territory of 1939 included less land than the annexation of 1945. On 8 July 1941, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Main Office, gave the order for all male Jews in the occupied territory – between the ages of 15 and 45 – to be shot on sight as Soviet partisans. By August, the victims targeted in the shootings included women, children, and the elderly.[15] The German Order Police battalions as well as the Einsatzgruppen carried out the first wave of murders.[16]

In the Holocaust by bullets, no less than 800,000 Jews perished in the territory of modern-day Belarus.[1] Most of them were shot by Einsatzgruppen, Sicherheitsdienst and Order Police battalions aided by Schutzmannschaften.[1] Notably, when the bulk of the Jewish communities were annihilated in first major killing spree, the number of Byelorussian collaborators was still considerably small, therefore the Schutzmannschaft in Byelorussia consisted in most part of Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Latvian volunteers.[17] Historian Martin Gilbert wrote that the General-Commissar for Generalbezirk Weißruthenien, Wilhelm Kube, personally participated in the 2 March 1942 killings in the Minsk Ghetto. During the search of the ghetto area by the Nazi police, a group of children were seized and thrown into deep pit of sand covered with snow. "At that moment, several SS officers, among them Wilhelm Kube, arrived, whereupon Kube, immaculate in his uniform, threw handfuls of sweets to the shrieking children. All the children perished in the sand."[18]

Saving Jews[edit]

The Pit is a monument on the corner of Melnikayte and Zaslavskaya streets dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust in Minsk

As of 1 January 2017, the Yad Vashem in Israel recognized 641 Byelorussians as Righteous Among the Nations.[19] All of the awards were granted after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Many of the distinguished individuals came from Minsk, and are already deceased.[20]

Postwar research[edit]

In the 1970s and 1980s historian and Soviet refusenik Daniel Romanovsky who later emigrated to Israel, interviewed over 100 witnesses, including Jews, Russians, and Byelorussians from the vicinity, recording their accounts of the "Holocaust by bullets".[21][22][23][24] Research on the topic was difficult in the Soviet Union because of government restrictions. Nevertheless, based on his interviews Romanovsky concluded that the open-type ghettos in Byelorussian towns were the result of prior concentration of the entire Jewish communities in prescribed areas. No walls were required.[21] The collaboration with the Germans by most non-Jews was in part a result of attitudes developed under the Soviet rule; namely, the practice of conforming to a totalitarian state, sometimes pejoratively called Homo Sovieticus.[25][26][27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Per Anders Rudling (2013). John-Paul Himka; Joanna Beata Michlic (eds.). Invisible Genocide. The Holocaust in Belarus. Bringing the Dark Past to Light. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 60–62. ISBN 978-0803246478.
  2. ^ Waitman Wade Beorn (6 January 2014). Marching into Darkness. Harvard University Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-674-72660-4.
  3. ^ Gross, Jan Tomasz (2003) [2002]. Revolution from Abroad. Princeton. p. 396. ISBN 0-691-09603-1 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Sanford, George (2005). Katyn and the Soviet Massacre of 1940: Truth, Justice and Memory (Google Books). pp. 20–24. ISBN 9780415338738.
  5. ^ a b c d e ARC (26 June 2006). "Minsk Ghetto". Hilberg 2003, Gilbert 1986, Ehrenburg 1981, Arad 1987, Gutman 1990, Klee 1991, et al. Aktion Reinhard Camps. Archived from the original on 3 September 2011 – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ Rein, Leonid (2013). The Kings And The Pawns: Collaboration in Byelorussia during World War II. Berghahn Books. p. 85. ISBN 978-1782380481.
  7. ^ Hilberg, Raul (2003). The Destruction of the European Jews. Yale University Press. pp. 1313–1316. ISBN 0300095929.
  8. ^ Donald L. Niewyk, Francis R. Nicosia (2000). The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust. The Minsk Ghetto. Columbia University Press. pp. 205, 156–165, 205–208. ISBN 0231505906.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  9. ^ a b c Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky (September 2005). Fran Bock (ed.). "Ghettos in the Gomel Region: Commonalities and Unique Features, 1941-42". Letter from Ilya Goberman in Kiriat Yam (Israel), September 17, 2000. Belarus SIG, Online Newsletter No. 11/2005. Note 16: Archive of the author; Note 17: M. Dean, Collaboration in the Holocaust.
  10. ^ Daniel Romanovsky. Zvi Gitelman (ed.). "Soviet Jews under the Nazi Occupation (Data on North-Eastern Byelorussia and Northern Russia)" (PDF). History, Politics and Memory: The Holocaust and Its Contemporary Consequences in the Former USSR. The National Council for Soviet and East European Research. p. 25 (30 / 39 in PDF).
  11. ^ "Gosudarstvenny arkhiv Rossiiskoy Federatsii (GARF): F. 8114, Op. 1, D. 965, L. 99" Государственный архив Российской Федерации (ГАРФ): Ф. 8114. Оп. 1. Д. 965. Л. 99 [State Archive of the Russian Federation] (PDF). 110, 119 / 448 in PDF – via direct download, 3.55 MB from Iz istorii evreiskoi kultury. Геннадий Винница (Нагария), »Нацистская политика изоляции евреев и создание системы гетто на территории Восточной Белоруссии«
  12. ^ Jewish Virtual Library. "Operational Situation Report no. 140". Activities of Einsatzgruppe A. The Chief of the Security Police and the Security Service, Berlin, December 1, 1941; OSR #140.
  13. ^ Snyder, Timothy (2011) [2010]. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Vintage, Basic Books. pp. 226–227. ISBN 978-0465002399.
  14. ^ Moorhouse, Roger (2014). The Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941. Basic Books. pp. 28, 176. ISBN 978-0465054923.
  15. ^ Longerich, Peter (2010). Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-19-280436-5.
  16. ^ Martin Dean (2003). "The Ghetto 'Liquidations'". Collaboration in the Holocaust: Crimes of the Local Police in Belorussia and Ukraine, 1941–44. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 18, 22, 78, 93. ISBN 1403963711 – via Goggle Books.
  17. ^ Rudling (2013). Invisible Genocide. p. 61. ISBN 978-0803246478.
  18. ^ Gilbert, Martin (1986). The Holocaust: the Jewish tragedy. Fontana/Collins. p. 296. ISBN 9780002163057. OCLC 15223149.
  19. ^ Yad Vashem (2017). "Names and Numbers of Righteous Among the Nations - per Country & Ethnic Origin, as of January 1, 2017". The World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
  20. ^ Yad Vashem. "Righteous Among the Nations Honored by Yad Vashem by 1 January 2017. Country: Belarus" (PDF). The World Holocaust Remembrance Centre. Righteous among the nations Department – via direct download. See: Yad Vashem (2011). "Rescue Story". Valentin and Yelena Tikhanovich, Bronislava Bobrovich, as well as Boris Matyukov recognized as Righteous Among the Nations on July 14, 2011, for rescuing Sonya Glazkova Gildengersh in Minsk (USSR).
  21. ^ a b Martin Dean (2005). Jonathan Petropoulos; John Roth (eds.). Gray Zones: Ambiguity and Compromise in the Holocaust and its Aftermath. Life and Death in the Ghettos. Berghahn Books. p. 209. ISBN 9781845453022.
  22. ^ Rudling (2013). The Invisible Genocide. [in:] Bringing the Dark Past to Light. pp. 74, 78. ISBN 978-0803246478. Between 1941 and 1945, Belarusians in the various German collaborationist formations numbered between 50,000 and 70,000 men.
  23. ^ *Romanovsky, Daniel (2009), "The Soviet Person as a Bystander of the Holocaust: The case of eastern Belorussia", in Bankier, David; Gutman, Israel (eds.), Nazi Europe and the Final Solution, Berghahn Books, p. 276, ISBN 9781845454104
  24. ^ Interview
  25. ^ The Kings And The Pawns: Collaboration in Byelorussia during World War II, Leonid Rein, Berghahn Books, 15 October 2013, pages 264-265, 285
  26. ^ Leonid Rein (2013). The Kings And The Pawns. pp. 264–265, 285. ISBN 9781782380481.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  27. ^ Barbara Epstein (2008). The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943: Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism. University of California Press. p. 295. ISBN 9780520931336. Notes.

Further reading[edit]