The territory of what is present-day Belarus was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1793. In January 1919, the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed. After the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, the western regions of Belarus, including the cities of Brest, Hrodna, Nowogródek (Navahrudak) and Pinsk, were incorporated into Poland, while the east remained part of the Soviet Union. Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov Agreement, the Red 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 administered by the military. The territory under civil administration was divided between the White Ruthenia General District (the main portion 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 Red Army ended the German occupation of Belarus 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 were evacuated when Germany invaded. 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 mass murder widened, the Germans increasingly relied on local collaborators and collaborating organizations. 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, including 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 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.
The most important Belarusian archives for Holocaust research include the National Archives of the Republic of Belarus. Their collections cover German occupation organizations, Communist Party and Partisan organization 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 a more local provenance are contained in the Regional Archives in Viciebsk, Mahilioŭ, Homiel, Hrodna and, most importantly, Brest, where larger collections containing material of Jewish origin also exist. EHRI has identified over 25 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 specialized archives with Holocaust-relevant collections which can be found in 14 urban centers of Belarus, namely in Baranavičy, Babrujsk, Barysaŭ, Brest, Hlybokaje, Homiel, Kobryn, Lida, Mazyr, Orša, Pinsk, Polack, Rečyca and Viciebsk. They are also listed in the EHRI extensive report on Belarus. Based on a published finding aid, EHRI has identified over 230 collections spread over several 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 Homiel, Hrodna and Mahilioŭ 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 has also 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 over 25 archival institutions which hold or may hold Holocaust-relevant material on Belarus. Many of them are concentrated in the country’s capital, Minsk, and environs. Among the numerous provincial centres, the cities of Hrodna and Mahilioŭ each host two Holocaust-relevant archival institutions. Regional, zonal and otherwise specialised archives can be found in all other urban centres of Belarus, i.e. in Baranavičy (Baranovichi), Babrujsk (Bobruisk), Barysaŭ (Borisov), Brest, Dziaržynsk (Dzerzhinsk), Hlybokaje (Glubokoe), Homiel (Gomel), Kobryn (Kobrin), Lida, Mazyr (Mozyr), Orša (Orsha), Pinsk, Polack (Polotsk), Rečyca (Rechitsa) and Viciebsk (Vitebsk).
The abovementioned Belarusian archives hold vast 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), 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 Homiel, Hrodna and Mahilioŭ regional archives.