On 28 June 1941, German forces occupied Minsk. After 2 weeks of the occupation, the ghetto was built in the city; around 75 thousand people were gathered there. The local Jews and inhabitants of the neighbouring towns and villages were imprisoned in the ghetto. Later on, around 19-20 thousand Jews deported from Germany, Austria and other countries occupied by the Third Reich were brought there[1.1].
Originally, it was planned to enclose the ghetto with the brick wall; brick was to be obtained when the abandoned buildings would be pulled down. It appeared, however, that there are no uninhabited flats in the ghetto and that there was less than 1 square meter of inhabited area per each person. Finally, the ghetto was surrounded with multiple rows of barbed wire[1.2]. Inside the ghetto, isolated „Sondergetto” was created when transports with German Jews arrived in Minsk[1.3].
The centre of the ghetto was at the Yubileiny Square. The headquarters of Judenrat was located there. Unarmed Jewish police also worked in the ghetto. The policemen who mostly maintained order were accompanied by the German gendarmerie. They often warned the prisoners about the prepared pogroms (a foundation stone of the planned monument was laid at the Yubileiny Square)[1.4].
No one was allowed to leave the area of ghetto apart from the people who were employed by the Germans. Only the employed persons were receiving food rations. Starvation and death due to lack of the medical care were common. It is estimated that 80 thousand Jews died in the Minsk ghetto[1.5].
The first pogrom took place on 7 November 1941 in Rakovskja Street (previously Nikolai Ostrovsky Street). It was caused by the lack of place for Jews deported from Germany. Their transport was to arrive on 11 November. The witness of the event, P. Dobin, recalled: “On 7 November, at 6 a.m. the Germans and the police surrounded around 15 blocks. People were chased away of the houses to the streets. It was announced that Jews should gathered at Chlebna Street; they were driven to the small rooms for “despatch”. Many elderly and children died there due to the squeeze and the lack of air and water. Then, groups of 200-250 people were taken to the city border, in the vicinity of the Calvary Cemetery. There, over the large pits, Jews were forced to take their clothes off and they were shot”[1.6].
The second pogrom took place on 20 November 1941. Inhabitants from the vicinity of Rakovskaja Street were ordered to take the most necessary things as they were informed that they would be transferred to work in another city. The action was conducted quickly and with great brutality. Many inhabitants did not manage to prepare for the “travel”; all of them were forcefully expelled from their houses. P. Dobin recalled: ”Exactly at 8 a.m. several blocks were surrounded by the Germans. All the inhabitants were ordered to go out to Shpalerna Street. The houses were searched, among others, by the policemen”. The prisoners were forced to form columns and then they were taken in the direction of Opanski Street. When Jews saw the German soldiers with the dogs, they realised what was awaiting them. They left their bundles and tried to hide in the neighbouring houses. The resistance was futile. The prisoners were taken out of the city to the clay mine Tuchinka where the executions were carried out. Over 10 thousand people were shot[1.7].
Jews from Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Düsseldorf and other German cities were resettled to the houses of the people murdered in November 1941. Some of the survivors recalled later that when they entered the houses they were finding recently prepared meals that were still warm[1.1.7]. The area encompassing Rakovskaja and Suhaja Street, where the foreigners lived, was additionally fenced and separated from the area occupied by the “local” Jews and called “special ghetto” („Sondergetto”). Both communities were forbidden to contact each other. It is estimated that around 19 thousand German Jews went through Sondergetto; mostly, they were murdered. Survivors coming from Bremen recalled that during deportation from their family cities, the Nazis informed them that they would be taken to Palestine. Many inhabitants of Sondergetto were murdered in the Nazi extermination camp in Mały Trostinec. Several thousand people were shot and buried in the Jewish Cemetery at the end of Suhaja Street[1.1.3].
The third pogrom was organised on 2 March 1942. Overall, around 5 thousand people were killed. Over 2 thousand people were taken to Koidanova (Dzyarzhynsk) where they were shot. The bodies of the wounded and shot during the action were buried in the sandpit called the Pit, in the nowadays Melnikajte Street[1.8].
After the fifth, last pogrom, which took place on 21-23 October 1943, the Minsk ghetto ceased to exist[1.1.5].
The prisoners of the Minsk ghetto recalled that one day the Nazis began making a movie showing the pogrom of Jews made by the Belarusians. The “actors” brought from the outside did not want to take part in the show. The Germans were later to admit that “it is not successful to arrange the pogroms against Jews”. Abraham Rubenczyk, imprisoned in the ghetto, in his book “Pravda o Minskom getto” wrote: “Regardless of a great effort of the Nazi propaganda, true, human friendship was not destroyed by the ideologists of the Aryan overhumanity. I am proud that in the Nazi documents sent to Berlin I found their regretful acknowledgement that there was no anti-Semitism in Minsk”.
Around 20 thousand people ran away from the Minsk ghetto to join the underground army. The resistance movement also operated in the camp. The first meeting of the Communists from the ghetto took place in the building in Rakovskaja Street (Nikolai Ostrovsky Street). Printing house was established there. It printed leaflets. Smoliar, Kirkajesht, Bajngaus and Gebelevwere were the leaders of the underground resistance movement (on 16 June 2005, at the corner of the building in Rakovskaja Street and Mebel’nyiLane a plaque commemorating Mikhail Lievovich Gebelev was unveiled; moreover, Mebel’nyiLane was renamed to Gebelev Street)[1.9].
In March 2003, in the pre-war building at 25 Suhaja Street, witnessing also the time of the ghetto, the History Workroom was opened. The building was renovated thanks to the German support. A museum exposition devoted to the Holocaust victims is located there; the studies and research about the history of the Second World War are conducted; conferences, seminars and concerts are taking place there.
- [1.1] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 100.
- [1.2] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 100-101
- [1.3] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 111.
- [1.4] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 104.
- [1.5] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 100-101.
- [1.6] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 101.
- [1.7] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 101-102.
- [1.1.7] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 101-102.
- [1.1.3] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 111.
- [1.8] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 104, 109
- [1.1.5] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 100-101.
- [1.9] N. Metelskaja, O. Kamieniewa, Mir jewrejskich miasteczek. Putiewodzitiel, (2008), 103-104.