History of Mogilev – From Early Russian Domination to Operation Barbarossa, and Beyond

Operation Barbarossa

Mogilev is a city in Belarus eastern region, on the Dnieper River, about (47 miles (76 kilometers) from the border with Russia’s Smolensk Oblast and 65 miles (105 km) from the border with Russia’s Bryansk Oblast.

History – Mogilev

The town was first discussed in historical records in 1267 CE. From the 14th century CE, it was a member of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Since the Union of Lublin (1569 CE), part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth became known as Mohylew. In the 16th-17th centuries CE, the town flourished as one of the central nodes of the north–south and east–west trading routes.

In 1577 CE, Polish King Stefan Batory gave it city rights under Magdeburg law. In 1654 CE, the townsmen arranged a treaty of surrender to the Russians harmoniously if the Jews were to be dismissed and their property split up among Mogilev’s inhabitants. Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovitch accepted. However, instead of displacing the Jews, the Russian troops annihilated them after they had led them to the city’s outskirts. The town was set aflame by Charles XII’s forces in 1708 CE, during the Great Northern War. After the infamous First Partition of Poland in 1772 CE, Mogilev became part of the Russian Empire and became the center of the Mogilev Governorate.

In the years 1915 CE–1917 CE, during World War I, the Stavka, the base of the Russian Imperial Army, was located in the town, and the Tsar, Nicholas II, spent long stretches there as Commander-in-Chief.

Following the eventual Russian Revolution in 1918 CE, Germany briefly held the town and placed it under their short-lived Belarusian People’s Republic. In 1919 CE, Mogilev was occupied by the forces of Soviet Russia and consolidated into the Byelorussian SSR. Up to the Holocaust and World War II, like many other towns in Europe, Mogilev had a vital Jewish population. According to the Russian census of 1897, out of the total of 41,100 people, 21,500 were Jews (over 50 percent).

During Operation Barbarossa, the town was conquered by Wehrmacht forces on 26 July 1941 CE and remained under German occupation until 28 June 1944 CE. Mogilev became the formal home of High SS and police leader (HSSPF) Erich von dem Bach. During that period, the Jews of Mogilev were systematically murdered and ghettoized by SS personnel and Ordnungspolizei. Heinrich Himmler personally saw the executions of 279 Jews on 23 October 1941 CE. Later that month, several mentally disabled patients were poisoned with car exhaust flames as an experiment; the method of killing was, after that, applied in various Nazi extermination camps. Original plans for building a death camp in Mogilev were dropped in favor of Maly Trostenets.

In 1944 CE, the completely devastated town was finally liberated by the Red Army and returned to Soviet authority. Mogilev then was the location of a labor camp for German POW soldiers.

Since Belarus attained its freedom in 1991 CE, Mogilev has remained one of its major cities.

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