Belarusian national movement and the Third Reich (September 1939–June 1941)
The article discusses relations between the Belarusian independence emigration and Nazi administration. With the collapse of the Belarusian People’s Republic in 1919 (proclaimed in 1918) a wave of political exiles appeared in the neighbouring countries of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany, Lithuania and Latvia. This emigration was deeply divided politically. Although most Belarusian politicians harboured critical opinions of Nazism, in 1939, in the face of approaching war, counting on German assistance in reconstructing the Belarusian state, they decided to enter into cooperation. This cooperation was continued after September 1939, despite the fact that regions considered by the émigrés as belonging to the Belarusian state were divided between the USSR and Lithuania. During the springtime of 1940 various émigré milieus united in the Belarusian Committee for Mutual Aid (in Germany and in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia) and in the Belarusian Union for Mutual Aid (since spring 1941 known as the Belarusian Committee – in the General Government). These organizations were active in the fields of material aid, assisting Belarusians in their contacts with the German administration, and in cultural and educational activities, carried out both in Belarusian territories and among the 25.000 prisoners of war, soldiers of the Polish army of Belarusian extraction, who were detained in Germany. At the same time some of the politicians entered into clandestine negotiations with the Polish underground authorities concerning future Polish-Belarusian relationships. In June 1941, in the face of no response from the Germans towards their overtures, Belarusian politicians (contrary to the actions undertaken by the Lithuanians and Ukrainians) abstained from declaring rebirth of their country, but decided to operate within the framework of the German sponsored administration and social organizations.
Belarusian émigré politicians also endeavoured to form the nucleus of a national army. These efforts found sympathetic response only from the Abwehr, which was interested in recruiting saboteurs for actions against Poland and the USSR. Finally, in May 1941 a platoon of Belarusian parachutist-sabotage fighters was created, which numbered up to 54 men and went into action during the first phase of the German-Soviet war. Later on, the platoon was dissolved and the soldiers were transferred to the auxiliary Belarusian police forces formed by the German authorities.
Grzybowski emphasizes that major reasons for the failure of Belarusian independence efforts lay in the weakness of the émigré milieus and in the fundamental differences in German and Belarusian goals; little could be gained in terms of the future Belarusian independence, when the Nazis had no intention of committing themselves politically, and were only interested in economic exploitation of the territories and the population.