Unique museum in Minsk explores truth of WWII, using research by Belarusian historians
The 65th anniversary of Victory over fascist Germany is being celebrated by Belarus in its own way, since the country suffered especially from Hitler’s tyranny. The first stone has been laid in the foundations of the new building of the Museum of Great Patriotic War History, 1941-1945. A time capsule for our descendants has been also laid into foundation and, by spring 2013, the building is to open. It will meet the latest requirements and boast over 15,000sq.m of floor space (almost equal in size to Minsk’s largest Palace of the Republic). Architects have endeavoured to make the five-storey, multi-level building fit its purpose, with each of its four sections symbolising a year of the war. The Victory Hall is situated under a dome with a 22m diameter.
The decision to set up a museum dedicated to the fight against Nazi fascism was adopted by the Belarusian leadership in 1942. It opened its doors in Minsk in July 1944, on the third day after the capital had been liberated. Millions of people have since visited and, with the passing years, the need for a new, more spacious and well-equipped building has become apparent. The current museum possesses 140,000 exhibits, many of which are unique, yet lacks enough room to display them. Moreover, the traditional exhibition describing the military years has been constantly expanding, with a vital section on the pre-war years recently appearing. Each year, over 150,000 people visit the museum on average, including Belarusian veterans and schoolchildren, students and military men, as well as guests from over 50 countries worldwide, including heads of governments. Of course, they hope to find objective information and leave with a lasting impression. Of late, youngsters have noticed the lack of contemporary technology at the museum, such as interactive facilities.
The new museum is due to open in the spring of 2013, fulfilling the goal of creating a 21st century venue. It will be located near the centre of the Belarusian capital, on a hill near the Minsk — Hero-City Memorial and Pobedy Park. Solemn parades and people’s marches usually take place here, at the intersection of the most important avenues. Alongside demonstrational halls, spacious exhibition halls are planned, in addition to cinema and lecture halls and a press centre. Nearby, military equipment from WWII is to go on show on a special ground. A cafй and a refreshment room will also be available. Meanwhile, Internet connections will link guests to similar museums all over the globe. Souvenir shops, a hotel and car and coach parking are also being provided.
Historical and artistic exhibitions depicting the most important war years are to be revamped, covering the defensive stage, years of occupation, partisan and underground movement and Operation Bagration. The pre-war and post-war revival periods are to be widely reflected and exhibitions will also be dedicated to local conflicts involving Belarusian citizens. Thousands of exhibits are to be placed on show, including a life-sized model of a partisan camp, with a dugout and a printing house (where leaflets were published), a hospital and an armoury.
“It will primarily reflect the heroic deeds of the Belarusian people and the decisive role of the Red Army in defeating Nazi fascism,” explains Vyacheslav Kazachenok, the Deputy Director of the Museum of Great Patriotic War History. “However, technical innovations, such as dynamically lit, electronic maps, electronic catalogues, interactive stereograms and dioramas, will enable visitors to receive brighter impressions. The museum will feature recreational facilities, as is common around the world.”
The state budget is allocating a great deal of funds for the construction of this unique complex, which speaks for itself. Although German fascism was destroyed 65 years ago, the theme of WWII still stirs our researchers, writers and millions of ordinary people, each trying to find the most complete version of events for this colossal part of history. Previously unknown facts are still being revealed, leading to the re-thinking of judgments and conclusions. Belarus and Russia are at the centre of these processes for quite obvious reasons.
Scientists from the National Academy of Sciences’ History Institute and the Russian History Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences have joined forces as part of a project begun in 2007, entitled 1941: a Country on Fire: Russia and Belarus During the Initial Period of the Great Patriotic War. We are preparing a joint interpretation of the past which should result in the publishing of a two-volume edition. The first will contain an analytical essay on the most dramatic period of the struggle between the two European superpowers. The second will contain the most vital documents from that time, including those as yet unknown to a wide public. The edition will be launched in 2011, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Germany attacking the USSR (June 22nd, 1941).
“We’ve tried to explore events which are relatively unresearched,” explains Alexander Kovalenya, an Academician-Secretary at the Department for Humanitarian Sciences and Arts of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. “For example, we’ve looked at the activity of party and state bodies, including telephone messages sent before leaving areas of the country to the enemy. The situation on the eve of the war is also described: where regional leadership was residing and how citizens behaved under occupation. We’ve tried to analyse the tragedy of the first war period from a critical, yet objective, point of view. Our Ukrainian colleagues have also joined us in this work. We plan to release a multi-authored book with their participation, describing the early war years in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.”
This is only one fragment of joint work between Belarusian researchers and those from other countries who fought in WWII: Germany, Poland, the UK and the USA. We’ve begun to view the past in a broader way, rethinking the inter-war period — the ‘threshold’ of WWII. Belarusian historians have already prepared fundamental scientific works dedicated to the participation of their countrymen in the civil war in Spain and in the Soviet-Finnish military conflict. The new multi-authored book on Belarus’ struggle against German fascism will contain thematic articles by three dozen authors.
We cannot alter the fact that fewer witnesses of those dramatic military battles survive today, dwindling in number each year, but we can preserve the past for new generations. Recently, Minsk hosted an international summer school for young historians, dedicated to the 65th anniversary of Victory over Nazi fascism. Acknowledged scientific figures reported on their view of historical events. Even the youngest schoolchildren were fascinated to learn how their grandfathers and great grandfathers took part in the war.
Most schools in Belarus have a small museum of military glory, set up by enthusiasts. Professional historians have done much to develop this patriotic movement, preparing dozens of educational textbooks for pupils and teachers, helping to explain the events of 1941-1945 to students of secondary and higher educational establishments in Belarus. Collections of vital documents from the war years have been collated into editions, making source material available as never before, including documents borrowed from Germany. Other countries have praised Belarus’ mission to enlighten the younger generation. Symbolically, the theme of war against Nazi fascism, developed by historians of the older and middle gene-rations, is now being continued by young Belarusian researchers.
Why does interest in these distant events never wane? Evidently, much depends on the civil position of scientists. “We’ve grown past the period of idealisation and now aim to give unbiased analysis of our past,” believes Mr. Kovalenya. “The territory of contemporary Belarus has hosted over 200 wars in past centuries. We’ve tried to reflect the inner essence of our nation, which has risen from the ashes on so many occasions, showing heroism and patriotism. From 1941-1945, we fought against Europe’s strongest army. Belarus paid a high price for its victory — 9,200 towns and villages were burnt and there were millions of victims. This can never be forgotten.”
By Vladimir Bibikov
[b]Unique museum in Minsk explores truth of WWII, using research by Belarusian historians[/b]The 65th anniversary of Victory over fascist Germany is being celebrated by Belarus in its own way, since the country suffered especially from Hitler’s tyranny. The first stone has been laid in the foundations of the new building of the Museum of Great Patriotic War History, 1941-1945. A time capsule for our descendants has been also laid into foundation and, by spring 2013, the building is to open. It will meet the latest requirements and boast over 15,000sq.m of floor space (almost equal in size to Minsk’s largest Palace of the Republic). Architects have endeavoured to make the five-storey, multi-level building fit its purpose, with each of its four sections symbolising a year of the war. The Victory Hall is situated under a dome with a 22m diameter.