Home Commentaries & Articles Belarus in the Great Patriotic War

Belarus in the Great Patriotic War

Минск, 1945 год. Встреча советских воинов-победителей. Фото В.Лупейко, БелТА.

-By Embassy of Republic of  Belarus in the Republic of India

On May 9, 2020, the Republic of Belarus along with the Russian Federation and other CIS countries will celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Victory Day. On that day in 1945, the European continent was liberated from fascism by the Soviet Army in collaboration with the allied troops of Great Britain and the USA. 

The Great Patriotic War (GPW) of the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany lasted nearly four years (June 1941 – May 1945) and became a major battlefield of World War II (WW II). This day became the most revered National Holiday in Belarus, associated with the courageous and heroic struggle of the Belarusian people during the GPW. Victory over the enemy was achieved at the cost of great sacrifice and a huge loss of human lives. According to many historians and scholars, Belarus suffered losses incomparable with any other European country in WWII.

There is hardly any family in Belarus that did not lose someone of their kin during the GPW. Belarus lost every third its citizens – close to 3 million people – in that War reaching the pre war level of the population only in the ’70s of the past century, i.e. only a generation after WWII was over. No less was the material loss that amounted to 35% Belarus’ national annual budgets of 1940. One-third of the national economy was devastated. In terms of industrial power, the country’s national economy was thrown back to the level of 1913.

The Nazi invaders left behind them bloody trails of murder, looting, unprecedented destruction, pain and suffering. They planned to annihilate the Belarusian nation, plunder its national wealth and dismantle the political system of the country. 

A policy of genocide was perpetrated against the Belarusian nation by fascist hordes. According to the “Ost” (East) Plan, the Nazis intended to exterminate or evict up to the 75% of Belarusian citizens and enslave the remaining population. The invaders wanted to turn Belarus into an agrarian appendage, a source of raw materials for Germany, to split the country into several “reichscommissariats” and attach them to Ukraine, or Eastern Prussia or Lithuania with the ultimate objective to set up a so-called “new order”. 

It is necessary to mention that WWII was the most devastating, deadliest and widespread war in the history of mankind. The global conflict split the majority of the world’s nations into opposing military alliances, entailing mobilization of over 100 million people, erasing the distinction between civil and military resources. Over 70 million people, predominantly civilians, perished in WWII. 

Unleashed by fascist Germany on June 22, 1941, without declaring war, the invasion proved a severe trial for all the 15 Republics of the former Soviet Union – the Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian nations, in particular. Due to its geographical position and strategic location as the major shortcut to the heart of Russia Moscow, Belarus, massively attacked on the ground and from the air, was the first Soviet Republic to confront the enemy. 

Occupied by the foreign troops, the Belarusian people displayed unprecedented valour, staunchness and self-sacrifice in the defence of their Motherland. Mass fortitude and bravery were displayed both by the military and the civilians from the very outset of the War. In an “up-to-last-ditch-and-last-soldier” defence, a small military garrison of 7 – 8 thousand soldiers at the westernmost gate of the former USSR – Brest Fortress, surrounded by the German troops, for instance, fought over two months against a 10-times stronger enemy, while the front advanced hundreds of kilometres eastwards. The resistance of another Belarusian city Mogilev lasted 23 days, longer than some of the European states, conquered by Nazi Germany by that time.

On the first day of the GPW alone, more than one hundred German warplanes were shot down over the territory of Belarus. The rebuff the Hitlerites encountered at the very outset of the GPW, frustrated the “Blitzkrieg” plan of seizing Moscow at a lightning speed and breaking-up and annihilating the entire former Soviet Union. By end-July 1941, the fascists were forced to suspend their attacks to strengthen the flanks of their “Centre” Army Group embattled at the Eastern front in the USSR. In August 1941, the Third Reich command admitted the failure of the “Blitzkrieg”.

Almost 1,5 million Belarusian citizens joined the Red Army to fight the enemy. Over 20 army commanders at the rank of general, 40 chiefs of army headquarters, over 50 senior officers in command of corpses were of the Belarusian origin. 

Large scale partisan movements and underground resistance were organized in the enemy rear throughout the entire occupied territory of Belarus, disrupting the activities and inflicting serious damage to the invaders. Partisan detachments in the occupied territories comprised Red Army commanders and soldiers who had been cut off their regular regiments, members of the ruling Communist Party and the Young Communist League, patriotic citizens of Belarus and special military trained personnel who happened to find themselves in the rear of the Nazi army.

By mid-1941, one and a half months after the war started, there were almost 60 independent partisan detachments and resistance groups operating on the occupied territory of Belarus. During the GPW, the 375 thousand strong partisan movements in Belarus comprising, along with Belarusians, representatives of almost 70 nationalities of the former USSR and many European countries, with hundreds of Poles, Czechs and Slovaks, dozens of the French, Hungarians, Belgians, Austrians, and Dutch among them, represented a formidable force in the Nazi rear. 

Partisan activities transformed sizable parts of the Belarusian territories into partisan-controlled zones and corridors. By the end of 1943, partisans controlled over 108 thousand sq. km in Belarus, which made up 60% of the territory of the Republic. Given the scale and the scope of partisan activities, level of command, the partisan movement in Belarus met the characteristics of a full-fledged regular army. It was tantamount to a large front in the enemy’s rear, exceeding three times the number of military personnel of the allies’ troops, disembarking in Normandy in June 1944. 

Continuous partisan assaults on the Nazi garrisons and lines of communication often well-coordinated with large-scale operations undertaken by the Red Army, made a significant contribution to the national liberation struggle. As a result of partisan activities, 940 enemy garrisons, military strongholds and headquarters were raided and destroyed, 32 water pumping stations blasted, 211 thousand km of railways wracked and damaged. Belarusian partisans destroyed more than half a million enemy soldiers, commissioned officers and collaborators, derailed 11 thousand military and cargo trains, blasted 18,5 thousand vehicles, brought down or blew up almost 300 aircraft. 

Remarkably, the so-called partisan “rail war” converted into an integral part of the famous “Bagration” military operation that resulted in the liberation of Belarus territory in its entirety. 

In close cooperation with partisan detachments and strongly supported by the local civil population the underground resistance movement gained strength in almost all densely populated areas of occupied Belarus. The total number of Belarusians involved in resistance activities during the GPW exceeded 70 thousand.

Along with the underground anti-fascist movement in the capital city of Minsk, particularly strong resistance was also organized by underground cells in Mogilev, Gomel, Osipovichi, Borisov, Bobruisk, Orsha, Zhlobin, Petrikov, Polotsk, Bragin, Dobrush, Kalinkovichi, Mozyr, and other large cities and townships of the country. Over a hundred Belarusian partisans and underground fighters were honoured with the highest title of the Hero of the Soviet Union for their bravery, courage and personal contribution to the victory. 

The German invaders burned down, destroyed and plundered 209 out of 270 regional and district centres and other towns and big settlements, as well as 9,200 villages in Belarus. Most of the cities, including Minsk, Gomel and Vitebsk, were 80% – 90% destroyed. The occupying forces burned down and completely ruined over 100,5 thousand industrial buildings and manufacturing facilities; obliterated or looted around 10,4 thousand industrial enterprises, including 85% of all major power stations; destroyed over 10 thousand collective and state farms; over 300 machine and tractor stations. 

The Nazis deliberately destroyed or barbarically plundered research centres, cultural institutions and educational establishments. During the GPW, 8,8 thousand schools out of the total number of 12,3 thousand were destroyed or burned to ashes. Many Belarusian, Russian and Western European masterpieces belonging to the Belarusian State Arts Gallery, were taken away, including some 1,700 paintings by Aivazovsky, Bryulov, Byalynitsky-Birulya, Vrubel, Levitan, Repin, Surikov, Michelangelo, Rastrelli and others painters, numerous icons, sketches, engravings, precious musical instruments and items of furniture.

The disappearance of the Cross of Euphrosinia of Polotsk, a national symbol of unique value, created in 1161, is considered to be the most significant loss for the Belarusian culture. Only a small part of the above cultural heritage has been returned to Belarus. Today, about 1 million volumes of books are still missing. During the occupation, the Nazis carried out over 140 punitive operations partially or destroying thousands of Belarusian villages. The village of Khatyn, with all its 147 residents burned alive, along with 630 other rural settlements that shared a similar fate became a terrifying symbol of the Nazi crimes on the Belarusian soil. In the Vitebsk region alone, 243 villages were burnt to ashes twice, 83 – thrice and 22 – four or more times. Over 1,4 million citizens were annihilated in Belarus at more than 260 places of forced detention or so-called concentration camps. 

206,5 thousand people perished in the concentration camp located in the village of Trostenets – the biggest death camp in Belarus. Unlike Auschwitz, Maidanek and Treblinka, Trostenets held mainly local people as prisoners. 

It is believed that during the occupation, about 380 thousand people (including 24 thousand children) were taken for forced labour to Germany, though according to some researchers, that figure should be almost doubled. According to various estimates 260 thousand Belarusian citizens never returned home.

Jewish ghettos were set up in 186 localities all over Belarus, with 100 thousand people held in the Minsk ghetto alone; only a small number of them managed to survive. The total number of Jews who died in Belarus amounted to 763 thousand. By the time Belarus was liberated, over 3 million Belarusians, one-third of the country’s entire population were left without any shelter.

Over 300 thousand Belarusians were decorated with military orders and medals in recognition of their courage and valour, with 441 of them out of the total number of 11,6 thousand military and civilians awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest title during the GPW. Today, numerous monuments in each city, town and village of Belarus are silent reminders of those terrible times. 

In 1945, in recognition of its significant contribution to the victory over fascism, Belarus, being part of the USSR and not an independent state, became one of the UN founding Member-States. 75 years ago, Belarusian citizens alongside with other peoples and nationalities of the former Soviet Union paid an enormous price for the survival of European civilization. 

Today, citizens of Belarus bow down in silence to pay homage to millions of the compatriots and representatives of other nations who gave their lives for the Great Victory in World War II. Regretfully, numerous attempts are being made recently to rewrite and distort history, to whitewash Nazism and justify its horrendous crimes. 

However, the unquestionable fact is that it was the Soviet Union that changed the course of WWII with the support of the anti-Hitler coalition countries and started a full-scale liberation of European countries from Nazism, paying the ultimate price. Belarus will never forget that the victory in WW II and liberation of European nations from enslavement and annihilation were achieved due to utmost bravery and self-sacrifice of frontline soldiers, partisans, members of anti-Nazi and underground resistance groups and home front workers, as well as to the unity of all peoples of the former Soviet Union. 

The lessons of that tragic period in our civilisation’s history should be evaluated objectively. We need to make every effort to unite the world based on equality, mutual respect and universal democratic values. 


Additional information about the GPW can be found on the following sites:

http://belarusfacts.by/en/belarus/photogallery – Documentary Photos about the Great Patriotic War

https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=jK6tX26JL4t – Virtual Tour at 

the Belarusian State Museum of History of the Great Patriotic War

http://victorychronicle.belta.by/letter – Destinies, Stacked in a Triangle

http://victorychronicle.belta.by – Chronicle of the Victory 

https://letopis.belta.by – Partisan Chronicle. 

You may also enjoy watching the below feature war films shot by Belarusian Film Studio «Belarusfilm»: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFqlEYYo7AM – In August of 1944

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lw3mDJ0qdp0 – The Brest Fortress.