Jews in Minsk were among the first in eastern Europe to organize resistance against Nazi rule. In August 1941, less than two months after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, activists within the newly formed ghetto established an underground group. Its members forged documents, set up a radio receiver, and aided the emerging Soviet resistance in the area.
One ghetto inmate who joined the Soviet partisans was Masha Bruskina, a 17 year-old Jewish woman who had escaped to the “Aryan” side of the city. As a member of a resistance group led by Kirill Trus and Volodya Sherbateyvich, she worked at a hospital, helping wounded Soviet prisoners of war escape to the forests by smuggling in civilian clothing, medicine, and a camera to make false identity papers.
Informed of these activities, German authorities arrested some members of the group in mid-October 1941. Bruskina was brutally beaten and tortured in prison, yet she revealed nothing to her captors. In a note smuggled to her mother, she wrote, “I am tormented by the thought that I have caused you great worry. Don’t worry. Nothing bad has happened to me. I swear to you that you will have no further unpleasantness because of me.”
Despite these assurances, Bruskina was well aware of the fate that German authorities had planned for her. In a note to a friend, she remarked, “In any case, there is no chance I’ll die of starvation.”
On October 26, 1941, the Germans staged a public execution of the captured Minsk partisans. With a placard announcing that “We are partisans and have shot at German soldiers” hanging around her neck, Bruskina, along with Kirill Trus and 16 year-old Volodya Sherbateyvich, was paraded through the city streets and publicly hanged. Their bodies were left on the scaffold for three days as a warning to the populace.
After the war, Soviet and Belorussian authorities officially recognized Bruskina’s two non-Jewish comrades, yet her identity was listed as unknown. To this day, her name and Jewish identity are still denied in her homeland, despite the overwhelming evidence provided by her relatives, friends, and scholars.