Minsk Captured by Nazis, Trapping 40K Jews (1941)
On This Day in Jewish History: June 28, 1941
On this day in 1941, the Nazi German Wehrmacht seized Minsk in Belarus, trapping 80,000 Jews in and around the city. During the previous two decades, border disputes and land conquests had shuttled Minsk between the Belarusian People’s Republic, Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Second Polish Republic. The city achieved modest stability after 1922. For almost the next twenty years, new industry, schools, hospitals, theatres and cinemas emerged to help make Minsk a culturally rich city with a population of 300,000 people. But very quickly after the German invasion, what the Nazi’s called Operation Barbarossa, the Minsk Ghetto was established. Officially declared on July 20, executions of Jewish intellectuals and communists had already been conducted and Jews were forced to wear yellow badges on July 15.
The Minsk Ghetto would be the largest in Nazi-occupied USSR, and the consequences would be devastating for the nearly 100,000 Jews who had either lived in Minsk or were transported from nearby territories to the Ghetto. Within a couple months, the Einsatzgruppen murdered close to 20,000 Jews. In July, the Nazis also established a civilian administration called the Reichskommissariat Ostland to oversee the day to day operations of the Ghetto and this included working with the newly formed Jewish Council. That winter, a second Ghetto, the Hamburg, was established, this one to house Jews deported from Germany, Bohemia/Moravia. Occupants of the second Ghetto had little contact with those in the adjacent Minsk Ghetto. Dozens of new arrivals to the Hamburg Ghetto were killed every night by the Gestapo. Those who survived in the Ghettos were subjected to forced labor and barely survivable living conditions.
In March, 1942, the Minsk Ghetto was the scene of an incredibly cruel massacre of children. SS officers threw candy to the Ghetto children and then buried them alive as they excitedly gathered to pick it up. That same month, 5000 Jews were murdered in a pit. A memorial to that mass killing stands today. By August 1942, there were only 9000 Jews left in the Ghetto and it was liquidated when the remaining occupants were sent to the Sobibor death camp or were murdered at the Maly Trostenets extermination site not far from Minsk. There was a strong force of resistance within the Ghetto and thousands who escaped joined the partisan groups in the adjacent forests. Many of them joined with Soviet partisans fighting the Germans. Still, by the time the Red Army liberated this part of Eastern Europe in the summer of 1944, very few Jews remained. The Minsk Ghetto and the destruction of the Jewish population of Belarus remains one of the most devastating chapters of the Holocaust.