Following the First World War the western portion of present-day Belarus was annexed to Poland, while its eastern part became a Soviet republic. For centuries, Jews had made their homes in countless villages, or shtetls, in the region, as well as in major cities, like Minsk. On the eve of the war more than a million Jews lived in this territory. Overrun first by the Red Army, then by the Germans, more than 800,000 Jews were killed here, most at the hands of the members of Einsatzgruppe B in local actions, or at the major killing center on the outskirts of Minsk, Maly Trostenets. Partisan activity was particularly prevalent in Belarus. The most successful of the Jewish resistance fighters, brothers Tuvia and Asael Bielski, established a forest camp near Novogrudek, where 1200 Jews survived the war.
The most public and striking Holocaust monument in Belarus is the haunting Yama (“Pit”) in Minsk, where 5000 Jews were murdered on March 2, 1942. Most Holocaust memorials in Belarus were erected by local communities near killing sites that are often located in remote forested areas.