The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943 by Barbara Epstein

Subtitled “Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism”, Epstein’s book is one of the first I’ve come across that addresses the Holocaust in territories formerly occupied by the Soviet Union. In particular, this book looks at the efforts of the Jewish underground in Minsk, a city located in present-day Belarus (a territory known as Byelorussian in the 1940s).

The story of the Minsk Ghetto was previously unpublished due to the Soviets’ constructed ideal of what happened during World War II. The Soviet myth of war stated the communists — not Jews, Catholics, Belorussians, or any other religious/national group — worked to overthrow the Nazis.

Unlike better known resistance movements in Warsaw, Vilna, and Kovno, Jews living in the Minsk Ghetto were often times able to rely on collaboration with those outside the ghetto walls. The years of Soviet occupation before the war, according Epstein, created an environment were ethnic divisions did not exist. Therefore, thousands of Jews living in the ghetto were able to flee to the surrounding forests and join partisan units (such as the Bieleski brothers) fighting the Germans.

I liked this book particularly because I know so little about the Holocaust in the Soviet Union. There were a a couple of moments where Epstein rehashed what she already said. For example, within the span of five pages, Epstein explained what Purim is in similar terms. This was not at all necessary.

But Epstein also clearly articulated how unlike the rest of Eastern Europe, the general population of Belarus was sympathetic to and helpful towards the Jews. It’s certainly worth a read for this information alone.

Book Mentioned:

  • Epstein, Barbara. The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943: Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism. Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 2008. Print. 352 pgs. ISBN: 9780520242425. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © University of California Press. Retrieved: March 20, 2011.

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