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Journal of a Belarussian Boy in Minsk, 1941-1944
This fictional journal of a Belarussian boy living in Minsk during the German occupation seeks to give insight to the demographics and race relations of Minsk during World War II.
December 11, 1940 ~
My parents tell me that Minsk was once a peaceful place, but I have never known it to be that way. I am writing in secrecy as my words could easily get me killed. Recently, Stalin’s laws have made Minsk more strict, and I am afraid of the Red Army. They mistreat us daily, and I wish we would have more freedom. There is rumor that the Germans are coming to fight off the Soviets, but I can only hope that the battle takes place elsewhere. Everyone here seems tense, and I believe the soldiers are preparing for war. I am scared for my family and my city, but a part of me hopes that the Germans come and kick out the Red Army. How bad could the Germans be? Perhaps they want to free us from this Communist plight.
October 2, 1941 ~
The Germans are even worse than the Soviets. Fierce battles were fought in the West, and we could hear the explosions from home. The Germans have even hit Minsk with artillery strikes, and the town is all but destroyed. We are living in ruins. Luckily, my apartment is okay. The Nazis have created what looks to be a small prison by enclosing a small area of the city with a barbed wire fence. All the jews must live there now. Many have denied their Jewish background, but the Germans always seem to find out the truth somehow. I have heard that they are offering people rewards for telling authorities who the jews are. We’ve started calling the barricaded area the Ghetto because its living conditions look so poor. There have even been hangings in the streets recently for any Jews that have stood up to the Germans. They are hanged with signs that read “I shot at the Germans”, but we don’t really believe these people shot at them. It seems like the Germans want us to hate the Jews too. I’m afraid to walk the streets of Minsk myself. When a jew is allowed to leave the Ghetto, they must carry a yellow pin with them, and if they’re caught without, they are killed instantly by the authorities. Recently, the Germans have taken this to an extreme, and even killed one of my friends who is Polish. Apparently the soldiers are instructed to shoot anyone they think might look like a Jew. Thus, my family has been very cautious even when we go out to get bread.
November 7, 1941 ~
Today is November 7th, which marks the founding of the Soviet Union. It is usually a fun day with parades as people cheer in the streets of Minsk and pay homage to Lenin and Stalin. However, this year has been much different. I write with a sad heart after witnessing tragedy. For days, the Nazis have been digging ditches just outside of town, often using dynamite to make it go faster. We did not know what this was for, and we prayed that it was not to be used as a grave. This morning, many Wehrmacht trucks entered the Ghetto and rounded up Jews. They were then taken to the countryside, so I followed to see what would happen next. I watched in shock as thousands of Jews were shot with loud machine guns and dropped into the ditches. Women and children were killed first, then the men were shot and laid on top of all the dead bodies. The Germans then covered the mass graves with a layer of sand and left. The shootings lasted all day until sunset, and I am certain that you could hear the screams of agony and fear even from in town. I am still in shock and cannot believe this tragedy. I believe that some of my former schoolmates and their families must have been among the victims, but I may never know for sure. We are told that 35,000 of them were killed today. I despise these evil Germans, and I cannot wait for the Red Army to come save us all.
October 21, 1943 ~
I have finally had enough of these unspeakable crimes that the Germans are committing in my town. I left Minsk last week to join a partisan group in the forest. At first, they were reluctant to let me join because they thought I was Jewish since most the Russians had already left Minsk. I had a weapon though, which they consider to be one’s only requirement to join. We have to be careful navigating the forest because we often see Nazis from afar, guarding the bridges on roads which lead into town. Right now we don’t have enough men to defeat even a small Wehrmacht troop, so instead we have been searching for a group of men from the Red Army. If all goes as planned, we will team up with them and fight to take back Minsk.
July 4, 1944 ~
Victory at last! After joining the Red Army, we created a plan to take back Minsk. For the past five days, we have fought valiantly. The 4th Axis Army had a stronghold in the city of 100,000 men, but we encircled the city with our tanks. Minsk will need to be almost totally rebuilt. The once beautiful stone buildings lay toppled in the streets as the dust and rubble from the battle settles. We killed roughly 40,000 Germans and took the rest as captive. The few remaining jews in Minsk who were made into slaves have now been freed, and they thank us endlessly for our courage in battle.
"Virtual Jewish World: Minsk, Belarus." Minsk, Belarus Virtual Jewish History Tour. Accessed March 03, 2018. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/minsk-belarus-virtual-jewish-history-tour.
Epstein, Barbara Leslie. The Minsk Ghetto, 1941/1943 : Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008.