Who, and against whom, actually carried out the policy of genocide during the Second World War, and why is it remembered now in Belarus?

We talk about this and other things with the Belarusian-Israeli historian, doctor of historical sciences, head of the project "History of the Jews of Belarus" of the Diaspora Center at Tel Aviv University Leonid Smilavitskyi.

0:00 - against whom and by whom the genocide was carried out during the Second World War

3:42 - how is the Nazi terror against Belarusians different from the genocide against Jews during the war

4:56 — what was actually envisaged by the "Ost" plan

8:03 - why the Germans failed to organize close cooperation with the Belarusians

9:20 - why the Holocaust was not recognized on the territory of the USSR and why the law on genocide was adopted in Belarus only now

17:08 - why was there not a single concentration camp where Jews were exterminated on the territory of Germany itself

20:37 — what is meant by the genocide of the Belarusian people after the war

22:26 — what is the real purpose of adopting the law on the genocide of the Belarusian people

A fragment of Dmitrii Gurnevich's conversation with Leonid Smilavitskyi:

- In Belarus, the law on the genocide of the Belarusian people has been in force for three years.

Please remind our viewers and listeners against whom and by whom the genocide was carried out during the Second World War?

— The policy of Nazi Germany, which was developed even before the beginning of the Soviet-German war in June 1941 and was implemented until the Nazis were expelled from the territory of the Soviet Union in 1944, is well studied, proven and known.

The very term genocide appeared 15 years after the end of the Second World War.

It was proposed in order to most accurately define the tragedy of Eastern European Jewry, which was unprecedented in world history.

It is about the fact that the Third Reich had a state program to exterminate the Jews as a people, starting from infants to adults.

And in this program absolutely no exceptions were made for anyone.

After the genocide, the signs were transferred to other peoples who suffered a similar fate.

These are some peoples of Africa and Asia, not Jews at all, but they were treated like Jews - that is, genocide from beginning to end, against everyone.

Later, already in our time, this term, surprisingly, has become rather cloudy.

It is often used casually, often objectively.

If someone persecutes someone, it is declared genocide.

And even what happened here in Israel on October 7, 2023, and this tragedy is still ongoing, there were also people who called it the genocide of the Jews.

In fact, when hostages are taken, there can be no talk of genocide.

I would like to emphasize that genocide and war crimes are things that are close in appearance, but completely opposite.

Books and articles by Leonid Smilavitskyi.

- The Nazis also killed hundreds of thousands of Belarusians.

From a scientific point of view, how does terror against Belarusians differ from genocide against Jews?

- The most important thing.

Genocide is when no one is left with a chance for survival, when they destroy everyone, guilty and innocent, old, small, women, all to zero.

And war crimes are terror for some actions.

If you resist, then you are punished.

If you help those who resist, you are also punished.

The most important thing we should remember is that Belarusians were never exterminated for being Belarusians.

Jews were exterminated, all to one, totally, absolutely, everywhere.

Where a Jew was caught, he was condemned, no intercession could save him.

This is the main difference.

The Law on the Genocide of the Belarusian People provides for "legal recognition of the genocide of the Belarusian people committed by Nazi criminals and their aides during the Great Patriotic War and the post-war period (until 1951).

By the Belarusian people is meant all Soviet citizens who lived on the territory of the BSSR during the specified period."

Soviet citizens of Jewish origin who lived on the territory of the BSSR can also be counted there.

But the Germans also destroyed many thousands of Jews brought from the countries of Western Europe in Belarus.

It turns out that according to the new law, these victims are not considered victims of genocide?

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— Belarusian historians, who now support the official narrative and the new law on the genocide of the Belarusian people, mention the so-called "Ost" plan.

It is claimed that it provided for the extermination of the Slavic population, its resettlement, and that this is precisely what indicates genocide.

How can you comment on that?

- The Ost plan is the only argument in favor of this pseudo-theory about the genocide of the Belarusian people.

What is the Ost plan?

In 1940, a program was developed to deal with the Slavic population in the occupied territories.

This plan did not envisage the extermination of the captured peoples, but their relocation to Latin America, the North Caucasus, and Siberia.

Some percentages were given there, for example, that 75% should be resettled.

But the term "relocation" in relation to the Jews meant total destruction, but this form of "relocation" did not apply to other peoples.

I want to make the following argument here.

The Nazis had no need to destroy the conquered peoples, even in order to liberate the territories.

They needed obedient peoples, they needed slaves, they needed people who would obey their will and not resist, so as not to create problems in the rear of the German army.

They were interested in everything being quiet, peaceful and functioning, that Nazi laws were followed and the economy worked.

So it was.

There were schools in the occupied territory of Belarus, in which 385,000 students went on October 1, 1941.

The schools worked in the Belarusian language, according to Nazi programs and were opened with the permission of the Nazis.

Teachers' institutes were working, the magazine "Belarusian School" was published in the Belarusian language.

Everything was done to contrast Belarusians with Jews, Russians, Ukrainians and everyone else.

And it is also important to note that this policy involved close cooperation of Belarusians with the Nazis.

And here they failed.

Why is a separate question.

- So why?

- The Nazis were very worried that a partisan war would not break out.

But until June 1942, everything was going according to plan.

However, Stalin's saboteurs, who were abandoned from Moscow, specially ignited a guerrilla war, and the whole of Belarus caught fire.

And then punitive operations began.

Moreover, where the partisans did not operate, there were no punitive operations.

But, for example, in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions there were the most punitive operations, where everything was destroyed and burned, villages with people were burned.

In my opinion, 4,850 settlements were destroyed.

But in Gomel, Brest, and Horaden oblasts, punitive operations were not carried out on such a scale as in Vitebsk and Minsk oblasts.

And there everything survived.

This means that those who did not resist were not destroyed...

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Was there really a genocide of the Belarusian people

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  • Dmitry Gurnevich

    Journalist of Radio Svaboda

    hurnievicd@rferl.org

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