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The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943

The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943: Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism

Barbara Epstein
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 376
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnw9q
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  • Book Info
    The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943
    Book Description:

    Drawing from engrossing survivors' accounts, many never before published,The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943recounts a heroic yet little-known chapter in Holocaust history. In vivid and moving detail, Barbara Epstein chronicles the history of a Communist-led resistance movement inside the Minsk ghetto, which, through its links to its Belarussian counterpart outside the ghetto and with help from others, enabled thousands of ghetto Jews to flee to the surrounding forests where they joined partisan units fighting the Germans. Telling a story that stands in stark contrast to what transpired across much of Eastern Europe, where Jews found few reliable allies in the face of the Nazi threat, this book captures the texture of life inside and outside the Minsk ghetto, evoking the harsh conditions, the life-threatening situations, and the friendships that helped many escape almost certain death. Epstein also explores how and why this resistance movement, unlike better known movements at places like Warsaw, Vilna, and Kovno, was able to rely on collaboration with those outside ghetto walls. She finds that an internationalist ethos fostered by two decades of Soviet rule, in addition to other factors, made this extraordinary story possible.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93133-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. [Maps]
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This project had its inception in the summer of 1997, when I was studying Yiddish at the Vilnius Summer Program in Yiddish. The major assignment for my class was to research and write a paper on Jewish history in Vilnius, and then give a report in Yiddish to the class. I located two women in Vilnius who had participated in the Vilna ghetto underground, interviewed them, and wrote the paper. When I gave my report to the class, one of my fellow students, a woman from Minsk, told me that there were circles of people living in Minsk who had...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Jewish-Byelorussian Solidarity in World War II Minsk
    (pp. 11-39)

    In his bookNeighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland,1 Jan T. Gross tells the story of what happened after the Germans took power in the half Jewish, half ethnically Polish town of Jedwabne, Poland. The occupying Germans indicated to the Polish mayor of the town that he and his supporters could do what they liked with the Jews. The mayor then coordinated a massacre in which gangs of Poles killed virtually the entire Jewish population. Gross’s book raised a furor in Poland and elsewhere because it showed the extent of local collaboration with Nazi anti-Semitism. But...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Why Minsk Was Different
    (pp. 40-76)

    Very few Jews from the Minsk ghetto reached the forest and were accepted into partisan units without direct or indirect help from Byelorussians. Those who fled in groups organized by the underground and those who fled on their own benefited from such assistance in different ways. Over time the proportions of these categories shifted. In the early months of the ghetto’s existence, especially from August 1941, when the ghetto was established, until March 2, 1942, when the Germans conducted their third major pogrom, in which they massacred some 6,000 ghetto inhabitants, most of those who fled the ghetto and reached...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The Minsk Ghetto
    (pp. 77-109)

    On the morning of June 22, 1941, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union. Later that day an emergency meeting of leaders of the Byelorussian Communist Party was held in Minsk; it was decided to evacuate children from Minsk and to form armed detachments, and place them throughout the city in order to provide security and keep order. But it was too late, at least for providing security. On June 23 and 24, German planes bombed Minsk, destroying many buildings in the center of the city and causing fires. Because the summer had already begun, many of Minsk’s children were in...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Ghetto Underground
    (pp. 110-147)

    Within weeks after the establishment of the Minsk ghetto on August 1, 1941, secret groups were formed in the ghetto, consisting mostly of Communists and some non-Communists whom they trusted. One group consisted largely of members of the Komsomol, the Communist youth organization, and another, which was to play a major role in bringing these groups together in an underground organization, included several Communists from Poland and elsewhere outside Byelorussia, who had fled eastward to escape the German attack. Relatively small numbers of people, at most several dozen, were involved in these groups. Out of a Minsk population of nearly...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Solidarity in Wartime Minsk
    (pp. 148-187)

    There were many cases in wartime Minsk of Jews and Byelorussians working together against the German occupiers, and of Byelorussians helping Jews to survive while in the ghetto or to escape it, sometimes hiding them, but more often helping them to reach the partisans. Some of these Byelorussians were awarded the title of Righteous Gentile, although relatively few, because applications to the Israeli commission bestowing this status were not possible under Soviet rule, but only after diplomatic relations between the Republic of Belarus and Israel were established in 1992. By that time many who had assisted Jews during the war...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Going to the Partisans
    (pp. 188-227)

    Sending as many Jews as possible to the forest was the central goal of the ghetto underground; going to the forest was also the personal goal of very large numbers of Jews in the ghetto who did not belong to the underground. This coincidence of aims gave the underground organization wide support within the ghetto population. The highest priority of the Minsk underground was to provide support for partisan units in the Minsk region; the partisans needed supplies and volunteers capable of fighting. Supplies were always welcomed, and the underground outside the ghetto often helped to transport supplies that came...

  13. CHAPTER 7 The Soviet Betrayal of the Minsk Underground
    (pp. 228-257)

    In late June and early July of 1944 the Red Army swept through Byelorussia, and on July 3, 1944, Minsk was liberated. Partisan units throughout Byelorussia converged on Minsk, and on July 16 a massive partisan victory parade was held. Some partisans were mobilized into the Red Army, but many Minsk residents who had served in partisan units remained in Minsk and tried to resume something like the lives they had led before the war. The Soviet authorities returned to power. In the postwar years the partisan struggle, and the Communist underground that had supported it, were celebrated throughout the...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Strategies of Resistance Elsewhere: The Kovno Ghetto
    (pp. 258-282)

    The Minsk ghetto was one of five ghettos in German-occupied eastern Europe in which major resistance movements formed. Minsk was the only one of the five located in the now-occupied original territories of the Soviet Union. Warsaw, the farthest west of the five, was within the western part of Poland that the Germans took over on September 1, 1939 (see map 2). Bialystok, Kovno, and Vilna were all part of the territory occupied by the Soviets under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (Vilna was not officially annexed by the Soviets until 1940). Following the German attack on the Soviet Union, Vilna and...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 283-292)

    The Warsaw ghetto uprising and the strategy of internal ghetto rebellion that it followed have come to be regarded as the gold standard of Holocaust resistance. Though Hersh Smolar published a short account of resistance in the Minsk ghetto immediately after the war, and a more detailed account years later, the story of the Minsk ghetto has not become part of the popular memory of Holocaust resistance, nor has the fact that in some ghettos resistance took the form not of internal revolt but of flight to the forest and participation in the partisan movement. Ghetto underground movements that followed...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 293-322)
  17. Guide to Names
    (pp. 323-328)
  18. Sources
    (pp. 329-336)
  19. Index
    (pp. 337-351)