Overview

The 1939 Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic national census registered 375,092 Jewish residents.  After the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939 and the annexation of Polish territory under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Jewish population rose to an estimated one million, including 404,500 in what is now eastern Belarus and more than 600,000 in present day western Belarus.  The Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic government is reported to have evacuated approximately 220,000 Jewish residents, primarily from present day eastern Belarus, to other regions of the USSR in 1941 following the Nazi invasion earlier that year.

An estimated 600,000-800,000 Jews, including those deported from eastern Poland and other European countries, were killed in the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic between July 1941 and October 1943 in more than 500 ghettos, concentration camps, and mass killing sites.  Jews deported to the country from Germany and other European countries were taken mainly to the Minsk ghetto and the Maly Trostinec death camp, where they were killed.  An estimated 15,000 former prisoners of the Nazis still live in Belarus, including war veterans and former ghetto, concentration camp, and death camp prisoners.

Today, an estimated 40,000 Jews live in Belarus, united in 43 registered Jewish secular communities under the Union of Belarusian Jewish Organizations and Communities.  The country’s registered Jewish religious communities include Chabad Lubavitch, Progressive Judaism, and Religious Jewish Congregations.

The government provides no compensation or assistance to Holocaust survivors.  Reflecting improving relations following a decade of reduced U.S. diplomatic presence, the government has conveyed receptiveness to an expanded dialogue on the issue in response to recent U.S. embassy engagement.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

There are no laws providing for restitution or compensation for private property confiscated during the Holocaust, in part because Belarus did not recognize private property rights from the time it became a republic of the Soviet Union in 1922 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  The country also has no legislative regime for the restitution of communal or heirless property.  The General Prosecutor’s Office reported that it had received no claims in the past decade from citizens, state bodies, public formations, or non-governmental organizations to return illegally confiscated property or make compensation payments to Holocaust survivors.  No such investigations were therefore initiated or conducted.

As of 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, approximately 96 nationalized synagogues remained the property of the state.  Other former synagogues lost their cultural monument status and were demolished, despite protests from the Jewish community.  Representatives of the country’s Jewish community estimated that Belarusian authorities had returned at least 10 Jewish religious buildings across the country since 1991.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art, Judaica, and Jewish Cultural Property

Under Belarusian law, cultural items that left the territory of what is now Belarus in violation of legislative acts and international treaties in force in Belarus at the time of their export, or which were temporarily exported from Belarus during armed conflicts or on other grounds and not returned to Belarus, are subject to mandatory return, regardless of time, circumstance, or place of export.

In 2016, the governments of Belarus and the United States signed an agreement on the protection and preservation of certain cultural property.  According to the agreement, each of the parties is to take necessary measures to protect and preserve the cultural heritage of all national, religious, or ethnic groups that live or lived on its territory, including “groups that were victims of the Holocaust during World War II.”  In a September 2019 press statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the revival of the government commission tasked with identifying and returning cultural items removed from Belarus.  The commission stated that one of the priorities would be identifying Nazi-looted art and populating a designated database.  It also committed to pursue closer cooperation with foreign libraries, archives, and museums.

Among the 1,211 objects on the State List of Historical and Cultural Values are the Yama Holocaust memorial on the site of the Minsk ghetto and a monument to Belarusians killed by Nazi invaders during World War II in the former Jewish ghetto of Mazyr in Homel region.  The grounds of the former Maly Trostinec death camp have been accorded the status of historical and cultural value.

Other historical and cultural heritage sites associated with Jewish culture that have been accorded such status include a former ritual immersion bath (mikvah) from the second half of the 19th century in Zembin, Borisov district; a former yeshiva dating from 1803 located in the town of Volozhyn; a former yeshiva dating from 1920 in the town of Kletsk; a synagogue in the city of Mahilyou; a former synagogue from the early 17th century in the Bykhov district; and a former synagogue in the city of Mahilyou.  At the request of the Jewish community, the Mahilyou city administration granted the ancient part of the city’s Jewish cemetery the status of historical memorial burial site.

Soviet Trophy Brigades, tasked with removing valuables from territory occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, took library collections of French Jews to Minsk.  A scholarly symposium concerning the trophy books was held in Minsk in 2016.

A report by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany noted that many of the hundreds of thousands of books seized by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) from France were found by a Red Army trophy brigade in 1945 in warehouses near an abandoned ERR research and library center in Silesia.  That trophy brigade also found many books in the same place that the ERR had seized from the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.  In the fall of 1945, a Soviet convoy of 54 railroad freight cars carried an estimated 1.2 million books directly to Minsk.  The report states that “while perhaps two-thirds of the books were from libraries in Belorussia and the Soviet Baltic republics, a third or more were books from France and other countries of Europe.”  Most of these books, experts agree, are now located in Minsk.

Access to Archival Documents

Belarus’s Department of Archives and Records Management and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum signed an agreement in 2016 on research and use of archival documents relating to the history of the Holocaust.  No similar agreement has yet been concluded with the archives maintained by the national security service.

According to the government of Belarus, the state archives provide full access to archival documents containing information about the Holocaust in the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, but there are few documents on Nazi atrocities because the Nazis destroyed them, including lists of Jews killed or injured during the occupation.  No documents related to the property of Jewish citizens are available in the archives.  Documents from the archives are used for educational purposes, media publications, exhibitions, and in various document collections.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

The government noted that educational institutions ranging from pre-schools to universities teach about the Holocaust and commemorate it.  For example, secondary schools cover the history of the Holocaust and genocide as part of their world history and Belarusian history curricula.

The government recognizes International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 and advises general secondary, vocational, and specialized secondary schools to visit monuments and memorials dedicated to the Holocaust on that day.  Meetings are also held in Zelva, Lida, Slonim, Novogrudok, Ivie, and other districts of the Hrodna region on that day in memory of Holocaust victims.  As part of these events, educational and cultural institutions organize book presentations, movie screenings, and classes about the Holocaust.

Museums and educational institutions around the country regularly organize conferences, events, movie screenings, and exhibitions dedicated to the Holocaust.  For instance, city authorities assist in organizing Hrodna’s annual “March of Memory” each spring, an event dedicated to the prisoners of the Hrodna ghetto, which was liquidated on March 12, 1943.  Local residents, representatives of the Jewish community, activists, and local officials march from the site of the former ghetto to the Chabad synagogue for a memorial prayer.  In May 2019, Belarus partnered with the Department of State in the latter’s annual Days of Remembrance (Yom HaShoah) commemoration in Washington, DC, to screen a film about the Minsk Ghetto.  The country’s deputy foreign minister spoke at the event.

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report: Belarus
Build a Custom Report

01 / Select A Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future