The Minsk Ghetto was created soon after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. It was one of the largest in Eastern Europe, and the largest in the German-occupied territory of the Soviet Union. It housed close to 100,000 Jews, most of whom perished in The Holocaust.
The ghetto was created soon after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and capture of the city of Minsk, capital of the Belorussian SSR, on 28 June 1941. On the fifth day after the occupation, 2,000 Jewish intelligentsia were massacred by the Germans; from then on, murders of Jews became a common occurrence. About 20,000 Jews were murdered within the first few months of the German occupation, mostly by the Einsatsgruppen squads.
On 17 July 1941 the German occupational authority, the Reichskommissariat Ostland, was created. On the 20th, the Minsk Ghetto was established. A Jewish Council (Judenrat) was established as well. The total population of the ghetto was about 80,000 (over 100,000 according to some sources), of which about 50,000 were pre-war inhabitants, the remainder (30,000 or more), refugees and Jews were forcibly resettled by the Germans from nearby settlements.
In November 1941 a second ghetto was established in Minsk for Jews deported from the West. They were mostly from Germany and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia; at its height it had about 35,000 inhabitants. Little contact was permitted between the inhabitants of the two ghettos.
As in many other ghettos, Jews were forced to work in factories or other German-run operations. Ghetto inhabitants lived in extremely poor conditions, with insufficient stocks of food and medical supplies.
In March 1942 approximately 5,000 Jews were killed nearby where "The Pit" memorial to the Minsk ghetto now stands. By August less than 9,000 Jews were left in the ghetto according to German official documents. The ghetto was liquidated on 21 October 1943, with many Minsk Jews perishing in the Sobibor extermination camp. Several thousands were massacred at Maly Trostenets extermination camp (before the war, Maly Trostenets was a village a few miles to the east of Minsk). By the time the Red Army retook the city on 3 July 1944, there were only a few Jewish survivors.
The Minsk Ghetto is notable for its large scale resistance organization, which cooperated closely with Soviet partisans. About 10,000 Jews were able to escape the ghetto and join partisan groups in the nearby forests. Barbara Epstein estimates that perhaps a half of them survived, and notes that all together, perhaps as many as 30,000 people tried to escape the Minsk Ghetto to join the partisans (but 20,000 of them could have died along the way).