The territory of what is today Belarus was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1793. In January 1919, it was proclaimed the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. After the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, the western regions of Belarus, including the cities of Brest, Grodno, Nowogródek (Novogrudok) and Pinsk, were incorporated into Poland, while the east remained Soviet. Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov Agreement, the Soviet Army occupied eastern Poland in September 1939 and reclaimed previously lost territory. When German armies crossed the Soviet border on 22 June 1941, they seized the capital of the Belarusian Soviet Republic, Minsk, within a week. By September 1941, Germany controlled all of Belarus. The western part of the occupied Soviet Republic came under a civil administration, while the east was administrated by the military. The territory under civil administration was divided between the White Ruthenia General District (the main part of the territory) and the Lithuania General District (the north-western part), both subordinate to the Reichskommissariat Ostland. Other areas were attached to the Reichskommissariat Ukraine (in the South) and the Białystok District, which was attached to the German Gau East Prussia (in the North-West). The German occupation of Belarus was ended by the Red Army in August 1944. Belarus declared independence from the USSR in August 1991.
On the eve of the German invasion, the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic had an estimated total population of 9,200,000 people. About 700,000 of them were Jews. According to various estimates, between 153,000 and 165,000 Jews from Belarus managed to flee or be evacuated. The main perpetrators of the murder campaign were members of Einsatzgruppen A and B and the Security and Order Police stationed in Belarus. Most of the Jews in Belarus were exterminated in two major waves: between the late summer and winter of 1941, and during 1942. As the scope of the mass murder extended, the Germans increasingly relied on local collaborators and collaborating organisations. The last Jewish ghettos in Western Belarus were liquidated in the summer of 1942, while the Minsk Ghetto, one of the largest in Europe, was fully liquidated by October 1943. The percentage of Jews who perished in Belarus during the Holocaust is among the highest in Europe. The number of victims has been estimated to be at least 450,000 and may be in the range of 600,000. They include Jewish refugees from Poland. In Belarus, the Germans not only murdered Jews living in the country, but also Jews from the Reich or Bohemia who were deported to or escaped to Belarus from all over Europe.
The Department of Archives and Records Management at the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus heads the archival system. This Department administers and coordinates most of the central and regional archival matters. Preliminary discussions with this Department are a prerequisite for access to the archives. Only after receiving permission from this senior authority is it possible to make arrangements with specific archives.
EHRI has identified a number of helpful archival guides on Belarus, some of which are available online. A list is provided in the EHRI extensive report on Belarus. EHRI established contact with central Belarusian archival authorities to facilitate future exploration of Holocaust-relevant archival sources in the country.
Belarusian archives most important to Holocaust research include the National Archives of the Republic of Belarus. Their collections cover German occupation organs, Communist Party and Partisan organisation files as well as the post-Liberation investigations of the Belarusian Extraordinary State Committee to Investigate German Fascist Crimes Committed on Soviet Territory. Similar files of more local provenance are contained in the Regional Archives in Vitebsk, Mogilev, Gomel, Grodno and, most importantly, Brest, where larger collections containing material of Jewish origin also exist. EHRI has identified 26 archival institutions in Belarus which hold Holocaust-relevant material. Seven of them are located in the country’s capital Minsk. For a complete list, see the EHRI extensive report on Belarus.
Furthermore, there are regional, “zonal” or otherwise specialised archives with Holocaust-relevant collections which can be found in 14 urban centres of Belarus, namely in Baranovichi, Bobruisk, Borisov, Brest, Glubokoe, Gomel, Kobrin, Lida, Mozyr, Orsha, Pinsk, Polotsk, Rechitsa and Vitebsk. They are also listed in the EHRI extensive report on Belarus. Based on a published finding aid, EHRI identified 238 collections spread over 11 repositories.
Outside of Belarus, EHRI has identified and partially described archival institutions and/or collections that may prove relevant to Holocaust research on Belarus, for instance in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. In Israel, Yad Vashem holds significant documentation from archives in Belarus from 1930 to 1960, containing over 4,000 files. Furthermore, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum stores selected records from the Belarus Central State Archives and from the Gomel, Grodno and Mogilev regional archives.
A. EHRI approach to Belarus: Pre-existing research, available archival guides, expert support
EHRI’s exploration of Holocaust-relevant archival sources in Belarus relied on some important pre-existing research in the field, such as Christian Gerlach’s “Kalkulierte Morde. Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in Weißrußland 1941-1944” (1998), which had already made use of archival material available in the country. EHRI was also able to identify a number of helpful archival guides, some of which are available online.
For a general overview, which is also available in English, see:
More specialised archival guides include:
-  Stefan Karner & Vjačeslav Selemenev (Hg.), Österreicher und Sudetendeutsche vor sowjetischen Militär- und Strafgerichten in Weißrussland 1945–1950 (Graz – Minsk, 2007). This guide provides information about the post war trials.
-  Kupovetsky, Mark, Eduard Savitsky & Marek Web (eds.), Dokumenty po istorii i kulture evreev v arkhivach Belarusi (Documents on the history and culture of Jews in the archives of Belarus) (Moscow: RGGU, 2003).
-  Zumar, Sergej V., Dokumente zur Geschichte des Zweiten Weltkrieges in den Staatsarchiven der Republik Belarus. Ein Nachschlagewerk / Dokumenty po istorii Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny v gosudarstvennykh arkhivach Respubliki Belarus (Dresden: Ludwig-Boltzmann-Institut / Komitee f. Archiv- u. Schriftführung / Belarussisches Wissenschaftsforschungsinstitut / Nationalarchiv d. Republik Belarus / Stiftung Sächsische Gedenkstätten, 2003). This guide is available online, albeit only in Russian: http://archives.gov.by/index.php?id=156936.
-  Sallis, Dorit & Marek Web (eds.), Jewish Documentary Sources in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus: A Preliminary List (New York: JTS, 1996).
EHRI established contact with central Belarusian archival authorities in order to facilitate future exploration of Holocaust-relevant archival sources in the country, whose full extent and importance have yet to be determined.
B. Characteristics of the Belarusian archival system and specific challenges
Most of the central and regional Belarusian archives were founded during the pre-war Soviet period and suffered, to some extent, from fighting, evacuation or occupation. A smaller number of archival institutions was created and began to operate immediately after the German occupiers’ withdrawal from Belarus. There are also some more recently established archival institutions. As a result of regime changes and administrative reforms, many archival institutions in Belarus have been repeatedly renamed, which may cause some initial confusion among researchers.
C. EHRI identification and description results on Belarus
C.I. In Belarus
In Belarus, EHRI identified 26 archival institutions which hold or may hold Holocaust-relevant material on Belarus. Seven of them are concentrated in the country’s capital, Minsk. All official names are given in Russian, as they appear on the Belarusian archives website:
- National Archives of the Republic of Belarus (Natsionalnyi Arkhiv Respubliki Belarus), which store the most collections relevant for Holocaust research on Belarus,
- Central Scientific Archive of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (Tsentralnyi Nauchny Arkhiv Natsionalnoi Akademii Nauk),
- State Archives of Minsk Oblast (Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Minskoi Oblasti),
- The Central Archive of the KGB (State Security Agency) of the Republic of Belarus (Centralnyi Arkhiv Komiteta Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (KGB) Respubliki Belarus),
- Belorussian Republic Foundation “Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation” (Belorusskii respublikanskiy fond “Wzaimoponimanie i primirenie”),
- Belorussian State Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War (Belorusskii Gosudarstvennyi Muzei Istorii Velikoi Otechestvennoi Vojny), and
- State Literature and Art Archive – Museum of Belarus (Belarusskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv-Muzei Literatury i Iskusstv).
The specialised Belarusian State Archives of Films, Photographs and Sound Recordings (Belarusskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Kinofotodokumentov) are located in Dzerzhinsk, near Minsk.
Among the numerous provincial centres, the cities of Grodno and Mogilev each host two Holocaust-relevant archival institutions:
- State Archives of Grodno Oblast (Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Grodnenskoi Oblasti),
- State Archive of Public Organizations of Grodno Oblast (Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Obshchestvennykh Obyedinenii Grodnenskoy Oblasti),
- State Archives of Mogilev Oblast (Gosudarstvennyj Arkhiv Mogilevskoy Oblasti),
- State Archive of Public Organizations of Mogilev Oblast (Gosudarstvennyj Arkhiv Obshchestvennykh Ob”edinenii Mogilevskoi Oblasti).
Regional, zonal and otherwise specialised archives can be found in all other urban centres of Belarus, i.e. in Baranavichy (Baranovichi), Bobruysk (Bobruisk), Barysau (Borisov), Brest, Dzyarzhynsk (Dzerzhinsk), Hlybokaye (Glubokoe), Homel (Gomel), Kobryn (Kobrin), Lida, Mazyr (Mozyr), Orsha, Pinsk, Polatsk (Polotsk), Rechytsa (Rechitsa) and Vitsebsk (Vitebsk):
- Zonal State Archives in Baranovichi (Zonalnyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv v gorode Baranovichi),
- Bobruisk Zonal State Archives (Zonalnyi Gosudarstvennyi Archiv v gorode Bobruiske),
- Zonal State Archives in Borisov (Zonalnyi Gosudarstvennyi Archiv v gorode Borisove),
- State Archives of Brest Region (Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Brestskoi Oblasti),
- Zonal State Archives in Glubokoe (Zonalnyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv v gorode Glubokoe),
- State Archives of Gomel Oblast (Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Gomelskoi Oblasti),
- Zonal State Archives in Kobrin (Zonalnyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv v gorode Kobrine),
- Zonal State Archives in Lida (Zonalnyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv v gorode Lide),
- Zonal State Archives in Mozyr (Zonalnyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv v gorode Mozyre),
- Zonal State Archives in Orsha (Zonalnyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv v gorode Orshe),
- Zonal State Archives in Pinsk (Zonalnyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv v gorode Pinske),
- Zonal State Archives in Polotsk (Zonalnyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv v gorode Polotske),
- Zonal State Archives in Rechitsa (Zonalnyi Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv v gorode Rechitsy), State Archives of Vitebsk Oblast (Gosudarstvennyj Arkhiv Vitebskoi Oblasti).
The above listed Belarusian archives keep huge numbers of valuable records on all conceivable aspects of the country’s general history: the Minsk-based National Archives alone stores about 1,200 fonds, and almost all regional or zonal archives hold similarly impressive numbers of collections. Given the dimension of mass murder in Belarus during the Second World War, many Holocaust-relevant collections are either known to be stored or can be expected to be found in the country’s archives. On the basis of Sergej V Zumar’s, Dokumente zur Geschichte des Zweiten Weltkrieges in den Staatsarchiven der Republik Belarus. Ein Nachschlagewerk / Dokumenty po istorii Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny v gosudarstvennykh arkhivach Respubliki Belarus (2003), Michał Czajka (EHRI) has selected Holocaust-relevant collections among the general mass of sources in Belarus. The descriptions of these selected collections have been copied from the Belarusian online archival catalogue (http://fk.archives.gov.by/catalogue/).
C.II. In other countries
Outside of Belarus, EHRI has identified and partially described archival institutions and/or collections that may prove relevant to Holocaust research on Belarus, for instance in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. In Israel, Yad Vashem holds a significant documentation from archives in Belarus from 1930 to 1960, containing over 4,000 files. Furthermore, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum stores selected records from the Belarus Central State Archives and from the Gomel, Grodno and Mogilev regional archives.