Great Patriotic War Museum, Minsk
A large and significant museum about WWII
. Now housed in a new, ultra-modern building north of the centre and containing a state-of-the-art expanded exhibition with plenty of interesting exhibits and displays.
More background info:
“Great Patriotic War” is the common term throughout the former Soviet Union for that part of WWII
in the East that began with the invasion of the USSR
by the Third Reich
in June 1941 and ended in Germany
's defeat in May 1945.
The current museum in Minsk
is the third incarnation of this institution. It is also the oldest such institution in the world. Its collection was started as early as 1942 when nobody could foresee for how long the war would drag on. Initially exhibits, material evidence of the horrors of the war and the occupation, were sent to Moscow
through a gap in the front line and put on display there while the war was raging on. After Minsk had been liberated from Nazi
German occupation it was decided to move the exhibition here. And so it opened in October 1944 – over half a year before the end of the war.
In 1966 the museum moved into a purpose-built edifice on what is now October Square in the centre of Minsk. The building was not big enough to house the largest exhibits such as tanks and planes, though, so these were put on open-air display outside the museum.
Then as independent Belarus
moved into the 21st century, plans were drawn up to give the museum a state-of-the-art makeover at new and even bigger premises – namely right next to the main memorial monument to the “Hero City Minsk” at Park Pobedy north of the city centre.
This new contemporary museum, housed in an ultra-modern architectural design, finally opened to the public in July 2014, the year of the 70th anniversary of the victory against Nazi Germany
Part of the makeover was not only the inclusion of contemporary display technology but the informational texts and labels in the museum were also made trilingual: Belarusian, Russian and, finally, English. The English translations are not always particularly good, but at least international visitors can now go through the museum independently and still get most of the story and background info. So that's a massive improvement.
NOTE that quite a few resources, including the online In Your Pocket guide, still (as of summer 2017) list the museum under its previous address.
What there is to see:
Before entering the museum it's worth taking a good look at it from the outside – and in particular at the monument it is adjacent to. The nearly 150 feet (45 m) tall needle piercing the sky next to the museum is actually the oldest part here. This “Minsk Hero City” monument
was built in 1985 for the 40th anniversary of the victory in WWII
Arranged in a semicircle around the base of this needle are shiny silver and gold metal panels with some very socialist-realist
bas-reliefs set into them depicting soldiers, partisans and peasants. In front of the needle is a statue of a woman in victorious pose, while at the bottom of the stairs to the museum entrance is a sculpture of a couple in a less cheerful pose: the scene of a soldier parting from his woman, presumably to head off to war.
The museum building is crowned by a glass dome, which is allegedly supposed to resemble that of the Reichstag
, though I can't really see much of a resemblance, with a flagpole on top. When I visited, there was a Soviet
flag flying – not the Belarusian flag!
Inside, the museum's exhibition
first looks at the inter-war years
and the run-up to WWII
, especially the rise of fascism in Germany
. Plenty of Nazi
symbols are on display here, as well as period propaganda posters, photos and documents.
Next comes the Third Reich
's invasion of Poland
in September 1939
, illustrated with artefacts such as rifles, cartridges and a rusty Polish army helmet – and also on display is a map showing the “Reunion of Belarus
” and the “Entry” of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union. People in Poland, Lithuania
would probably use different words to describe this territorial outcome of the Hitler
Pact (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
), but this is Belarus
and here there appears to be no need to change the Soviet
narrative (given that the country still has the same borders).
Then comes the museum's main section about the Great Patriotic War in the narrower sense, i.e. from the German invasion in Operation Barbarossa
in 1941 until the victory over Germany
in 1945. Here you get to see the really big exhibits
, such as various Soviet and German tanks
as well as fighter planes
suspended on wires from the ceiling. Some of the displays are arranged as life-size dioramas
populated by dummies in uniforms, plus a screen onto which footage of battles is projected.
Lots of smaller items are on display too, including, again rifles, helmets, uniforms and such like, but also a few more unusual rarities. One of the most remarkable such items is a soldier's mangled water flask into which a piece of a human bone is embedded. This was found in 1992 in an archaeological dig site at a 1941 mass grave in southern Belarus
The museum also employs interactive screens
where you can go deeper into the details, as well as more video projections
to liven things up a bit. Of a much more traditional design, in contrast, is a “panorama
” installation in that typical Eastern bloc
fashion, i.e. life-sized objects in the foreground, with a circular painting as the background – all illustrating the action and horrors of war.
There is one section specifically about the Siege of Leningrad
(see under Saint Petersburg
), where one artefact that stood out was a small piece of bread (whether a fossilized original or – more likely – a replica wasn't made clear) that would have been the daily ration for an inhabitant of the surrounded city at that time.
Further subsections include the medical aspects
of war as well as the efforts of the “home front
” producing the supplies necessary in the Soviet success at turning the war around, especially after the battle of Stalingrad
The war crimes of the Nazis
are given a lot of space too, both those committed by the Wehrmacht against Soviet civilians, such as the torching of
(cf. Khatyn memorial
!) as well as the the systematic extermination of Jews in the Holocaust
Artefacts on display that relate to the latter include the usual striped concentration-camp
inmate clothes, yellow stars and a deportation train carriage of the Deutsche Reichsbahn. Items found at digs in the area of the former death camp
of Maly Trostenets
complement this section.
Finally there is an extensive section that celebrates the achievements of the underground resistance by partisans, be it through sabotage or direct combat.
Not part of the main exhibition but also worth seeing is the inside of the glass dome on the top floor of the building. There's plenty of yet more Soviet-like symbolism about, if in a somewhat more modern look (but by no means less over the top). And when I was there, there was a group of uniformed Belarusians apparently practising for a complicated ceremony of some sort.
, despite a few shortcomings or slightly biased representations of aspects of the war, this veritable institution has to rank as the top dark-themed museum in Belarus. An absolute must-see when in Minsk
less than two miles (ca. 2.5 km) north of the centre of Minsk
, at Park Pobedy just west of where the 1st Ring road crosses the Svislach River.
Access and costs: a bit out of the centre, but not hard to get to; not too expensive.
To get to the museum from the centre of Minsk
you can simply walk – it takes only about half an hour and is easy: from Independence Avenue head north on Lenin Street and just keep carrying on straight on until you get to the museum. Several buses also go along this route. But there is no metro station conveniently nearby.
Opening times: Tuesdays and Thursday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday 12 noon to 8 p.m., last admission one hour before closing; closed Mondays and on national holidays.
Admission: 8 BYR (as of March 2017), some concessions apply. With photo permit extra: 9.50 BYR
Audio guide (also available in English, German, Spanish and Chinese): 3.50 BYR (plus a deposit of an ID other than a passport required).
Time required: Two to three hours is the officially recommended time for a visit. I found that a sufficiently accurate estimate.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
See under Minsk
The nearest dark site to the museum (a ca. 10-minute walk) is the Pit Monument that commemorates Nazi massacres of Minsk's Jews. En route back to the centre, the Island of Tears (Afghanistan War memorial) could also be slotted in.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The park right next to the museum is pleasant enough for stroll, and you can also take the scenic route to the centre along the Svislach River.
See also under Minsk
- GPWM 01 - new, ultra-modern museum building
- GPWM 02 - dramatic design
- GPWM 03 - incorporating old Soviet style reliefs
- GPWM 04 - and the Soviet flag is still flying
- GPWM 05 - inside
- GPWM 06 - tank vs tank
- GPWM 07 - guns, photos, documents
- GPWM 08 - Nazi items
- GPWM 09 - projection
- GPWM 10 - old-style panorama
- GPWM 11 - closer up - the horrors of war
- GPWM 12 - special section devoted to women
- GPWM 13 - another tank
- GPWM 14 - field kitchen
- GPWM 15 - bread ration during the siege of Leningrad
- GPWM 16 - the medical side
- GPWM 17 - shrapnel
- GPWM 18 - bone found embedded in a water bottle
- GPWM 19 - burning villages
- GPWM 20 - Holocaust
- GPWM 21 - deportation train
- GPWM 22 - prison cell
- GPWM 23 - inside the cell
- GPWM 24 - partisans celebrated
- GPWM 25 - under the central dome at the top
- GPWM 26 - over the top mural
- GPWM 27 - Victory Park