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Belorussia (Belarus)

Martin Holler

Because Belarus was divided into two parts before World War II, it is not possible to give exact information about the size of its Romani population. According to the Soviet census of 1939, 3,362 Roma lived in the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), but the real number may have been higher, since some Roma were registered as Belorussians or Russians. At that time, the western parts of Belarus belonged to Poland, where Roma were not a census category. Little is known about the fate of Roma living in the western parts of Belarus under Soviet rule between September 1939 and June 1941.

Occupation and First Shootings

In the course of the German occupation in summer 1941, Belarus was once again divided into two parts: The western part, which included Minsk, became the General District Belorussia (Generalbezirk Weißruthenien) under the Nazi civil occupation administration known as the Reichskommissariat Ostland (RKO). The eastern part remained under the military administration of the Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte). Here the Germans took radical measures against Roma. On 10 October 1941, the Wehrmacht commander in Belarus, General Gustav von Bechtolsheim, ordered all Roma to be executed ‘on the spot’. According to von Bechtolsheim, ‘the Jews must disappear from the countryside and the Gypsies have to be annihilated as well’. The Wehrmacht also recommended that arrested ‘Gypsies’ should be handed over to the Security Police. However, there is no evidence that these harsh measures were implemented in all parts of Belarus in 1941. ‘Task Force B’ (Einsatzgruppe B) of the Security Police and the Security Service (SD), whose mobile units ‘cleansed’ the rear areas in occupied Belarus by killing ‘undesirable elements’ like communists, Jews and ‘Gypsies’, murdered almost 300 Roma in late autumn 1941, but the systematic extermination did not start until 1942. From then on, the Security Police murdered Roma indiscriminately.

Systematic Murder

Systematic killings of Roma, mainly by the Security Police, also began in the General District Belorussia in 1942. In several cases, the local authorities issued the execution orders and usually the gendarmerie and local auxiliary police carried them out. In Vileika, Kletsk and Gorodishche, Roma and Jews were executed simultaneously, while in Snov the Roma were executed first, followed by the Jews and buried in mass graves.

The General District Belorussia had the highest death toll in the RKO. This was probably no coincidence, since Belarus as a whole became a centre of partisan activity and thus a special ‘security concern’. On the orders of Higher SS and Police Commander Central Russia and Belorussia Curt von Gottberg, SS and military units killed Roma and Jews en masse during major anti-partisan operations that took place in all parts of occupied Belarus.

Christian Gerlach estimates that the Germans murdered no fewer than 3,000 Roma in occupied Belarus. It is possible, however, that the actual number of victims was even higher.

Few Monuments

The Extraordinary State Commission investigated several cases of Nazi atrocities against Roma, but these played only a minor role in Soviet post-war trials. The same applies to official memorials, although in today’s Belarus there are three monuments dedicated to Romani victims.