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Concentration Camps: Maly Trostenets

The Maly Trostenets, or Maly Trascianiec, concentration camp sits on the outskirts of Minsk, Belarus, originally built by the Nazis in the summer of 1941, on the site of a Soviet kolkhoz (a collective farm). 

The camp initially held Soviet prisoners of war that were captured after the German advance on the Soviet Union, which began on June 22, 1941, known as Operation Barbarossa. But it became a Vernichtungslager, or an extermination camp, on May 10, 1942, when the first transport of Jews arrived there, from Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (present-day Czech Republic). 

Many were even killed before reaching the camp, as they were brought to the nearby Blagovshchina (Благовщина) and Shashkovka (Шашковка) Forests, where they were shot in the back of the neck. Most of the victims were lined up in front of large pits and shot. Tractors then flattened the pits out. The prisoners in the camp were forced to sort through the victims’ possessions and maintain the camp. However, the primary purpose of the extermination camp was the eradication of the Jewish population of Minsk and the surrounding areas, by means of mobile gas chambers.

In 1943, the Germans began mass extermination of the prisoners in the camp, which continued into 1944.  On June 28, 1944, as the Red Army approached the region, the Nazis bombed the camp in an attempt to obliterate evidence of its existence, in coordination with the goals of Aktion 1005. They locked up the remaining prisoners as well, and burned the buildings to the ground.  But the Soviets are said to have discovered 34 grave‑pits, some measuring as much as 50 meters in length and 3 to 4 meters in depth, located in the Blagovshchina Forest some 500 meters from the Minsk–Mogilev highway (according to the special report prepared by the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission in the 1940s).

Although then the Soviets arrived at the camp on July 3, 1944 they had found a few Jewish prisoners who had previously escaped, no survivors of the camp are known to exist.  Original estimates of the number of people killed there ranged from 200,000 to more than half a million. Yad Vashem currently estimates that 65,000 Jews were murdered at the camp, and signage there indicates that the camp claimed 206,000 victims.  The numbers are unclear because the Nazis destroyed every record of the Maly Trostenets camp. 

Currently nothing remains of the camp other than a row of poplars planted by the inmates as part of the border of the camp. A memorial has been built at the site of the camp, and attracts thousands of visitors annually.

The name of the camp has many alternate spellings. In Belarusian the name is Малы Трасьцянец, transliterated as Maly Tras’tsyanyets; in Russian it is Малый Тростенец. Alternative German variants of the name include Maly Trostinets, Maly Trostinez, Maly Trostenez, and Klein Trostenez — literally, ‘Small’ Tras’tsyanyets in contradistinction to the neighboring locality named Вялікі Трасьцянец or ‘Large’ Tras’tsyanyets.

Sources: Yad Vashem – Maly Trostinets; Wikipedia