Posted: 19.06.2024 12:23:00

Heroes of Belarus. Mikhail Savitsky. Chronicler of human grief

Mikhail Savitsky — Belarusian artist,
Hero of Belarus

The Minsk Times new project is dedicated to people awarded the highest Hero of Belarus title

June 22nd is the National Remembrance Day of the Victims of the Great Patriotic War and the Genocide of the Belarusian People. On the eve of this mournful date, we remember Mikhail Savitsky — a national artist, the first Hero of Belarus among the figures of national culture, whose name is inextricably linked with the major tragedy of our land. He went through the war, survived Nazi captivity and miraculously stayed alive. After that, Mikhail Savitsky narrated those tragic events in his paintings, which he exhibited in many galleries around the world but never sold abroad. The artist was sure that his works of art should remain in his Homeland.

                                   The President of Belarus, 
                               Aleksandr Lukashenko,

“The artist’s work has become a new word in art and has received worldwide recognition. His works enriched modern culture and forever entered the history of independent Belarus. Having passed through the fire of the Great Patriotic War and the horrors of concentration camps, Mikhail Andreyevich [Savitsky] reflected in his works the terrible truth of that time and left us a mandate to remember the immortal feat of the people and the sacrifices made in the name of a happy future.” 

From the congratulation of the participants
in the celebrations dedicated to the 100th
anniversary of Mikhail Savitsky’s birth, 

on February 18th, 2022

Awards and titles

  • By Decree of the President of Belarus No. 135 dated March 1st, 2006, Mikhail Savitsky was awarded the Hero of Belarus title.
  • He became the first holder of the Order of Francysk Skaryna.
  • People’s Artist of the USSR, People’s Artist of Belarus 
  • Winner of three State Prizes of Belarus, the USSR State Prize
  • Order of Lenin, Order of the Red Banner of Labour
  • Badge of Honour 
  • Order of the Great Patriotic War of 2nd degree 
  • Order of St. Andrew the First-Called
  • Medal For the Victory over Germany, and other medals
  • Honorary citizen of the city of Minsk

By roads of war

“Some argue that fascism is already history, that there is no need to remind people about it. However, the misanthropic ideology exists in different versions today. Like rust, it corrupts thinking, primarily that of young people.”
Mikhail Savitsky (1922-2010) was born in the village of Zvenyachi, Vitebsk Region, in a rural family of workers. He was the youngest of four children. In 1940, he was drafted into the Red Army. Thus, his youth coincided with the years of the Great Patriotic War. Savitsky participated in the heroic defence of Sevastopol, which lasted 250 days. He was wounded, captured, and forcedly sent to Germany. While working at a wagon factory in Düsseldorf, he became a member of a sabotage resistance group. He was captured and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. After Buchenwald, Savitsky was sent to the stone quarries of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. Towards the end of the war, he was transported to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was liberated on April 29th, 1945. After the war, Mikhail Savitsky fulfilled his dream of becoming an artist. He stayed in the capital of Belarus, devoting his whole life to creative work. 

In the name of truth 

“The very atmosphere of our century causes burning anxiety for the fate of the beautiful planet and its main treasure — man. Each of us is responsible for the future. Due to this responsibility, I have no right to remain silent. I had to witness monstrous crimes.”
The Partisan Madonna, 1967 by Mikhail Savitsky
Mikhail Savitsky is a titan of Belarusian painting. The artist impresses with his colossal gift and legacy, as well as the fearless gaze into the darkest depths of the horror experienced by the Motherland and humanity in the 20th century. His paintings are virtually the pages of his hard life, his spiritual autobiography, being at the same time the ‘biography’ of the country and the image of the era.

Canvases related to the theme of the Great Patriotic War became the pinnacle of the master’s creativity. The first military paintings of the artist were dedicated to Byelorussian partisans. The topic of guerrilla warfare was constantly raised in conversations — the wounds were fresh and people kept talking about the painful things, both about heroic feats and troubles. The artist’s heart could not help but respond. Thus, in the 1960s, the paintings The Legend of Batka Minay, Vitebsk Gate, Oath, Execution appeared one by one. Savitsky almost instantly became one of the icons of the ‘harsh style’, and his paintings were revolutionary at that time. The painting Partisans, created in 1963, became a majestic hymn to human courage and nobility.  A special place is occupied by the painting The Partisan Madonna (1967), which is the author’s calling card. 
Vitebsk Gate, 1960 by Mikhail Savitsky
Prisoner 32815 by Mikhail Savitsky
This truly classic work of art, which has become a symbol of partisan Byelorussia and which brilliantly embodies human purity, maternal love and self-sacrifice, is now housed in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. 
Numbers on the Heart is one of the most difficult and famous cycles in the artist’s creative work. It is kept today in the Belarusian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War History in Minsk. Sixteen paintings filled with symbolism and accurate facts depict a story about the monstrous atrocities committed by German fascists in death camps. This series of paintings is one of the most tragic ones in global painting, and embodies a phenomenon that has no analogues in art in terms of complexity and scale of solving artistic tasks. Savitsky created an unparalleled artistic document of the epoch, understandable to everyone, as the ashes of hundreds of thousands of those burnt alive were beating into his heart tormented by grief. His Prisoner 32815 against the background of the Buchenwald gate portraying the emaciated figure of a young man in a concentration camp jacket, with an icon-like face and frightful, implacable eyes, holding his back straight and his chin high is considered by many to be a self-portrait. Yet, this is a collective image, a statement of unity with the entire unconquered Soviet people. The number on the prisoner’s striped uniform differs from the one Savitsky wore by one digit.
Having appointed himself a chronicler of human grief and the horrendous cataclysms of the 20th century, Mikhail Savitsky mourned both the war and the tragedy of Chernobyl. He retained through his life the memory of the famine in extermination camps and the reverent attitude to bread, admiration for rural labour, as well as the view of the wheat field with golden ears as the most beautiful thing on Earth.
Mikhail Savitsky’s creative legacy comprises about 200 works of art. His paintings are kept in the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus, the funds of the Belarusian Union of Artists and Russia’s Ministry of Culture, the exhibition association Central House of Artists, the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. 
Mikhail Savitsky has forever entered the history of Belarus as the greatest master of modern art, a wonderful teacher and public figure, whose creative work marks one of the brightest pages of national culture.


On September 7th, 2012, Mikhail Savitsky Art Gallery was opened in Minsk. 
► In 2012, a memorial plaque was installed on the building on Belomorskaya Street, 17, where the artist lived. 
► A documentary Scorched Memory was shot about Mikhail Savitsky, as well as a documentary by ATN Belteleradiocompany Mikhail Savitsky. Mysteries of Biography.
► In 2013, the presentation of the book Mikhail Savitsky from the series Prominent Artists from Belarus took place.
► In 2020, one of the new streets of the capital city was named in honour of the great artist.
► In 2022, Belarus’ National Bank issued a commemorative coin dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Mikhail Savitsky’s birth.

Based on materials of, and Heroes of Belarus by Nikolai Machekin