5 facts about the German Occupation of Smolensk


Throughout its history, Smolensk was a key city on the way to Moscow. Repeatedly the inhabitants of Smolensk resisted enemies and stopped invaders on the outskirts of the capital. During World War II, known as the Great Patriotic War in the USSR, about 93% of the city was destroyed. Here are five facts about Smolensk and its inhabitants during the German occupation.

German sabotage and air raids

On the eve of the first air raids in Smolensk, several dozen subversive groups arrived. They set fire to apartment houses thereby creating a target for German bombers. On this night the city was in flames, searchlights burned from various directions, and antiaircraft guns were heard. The first air raids on Smolensk began on June 24 or possibly June 26, 1941. After that, they began to occur systematically until they peaked on the night of 28-29 June.

Fw 200 C of FdF Smolensk Spring

About 100 high-explosive bombs and about 2,000 incendiary bombs were dropped onto Smolensk. Because of the air strikes, all the central streets were destroyed, the central part of the city was destroyed, and more than 600 houses were burnt.

German troops in Smolensk, 1941

Curfew and strict orders

The civilian population was allowed to be on the streets in Smolensk from 6:00 AM to 7:30 PM. In addition, the residents of the city were forbidden to leave the city limits without permission. All able-bodied residents aged between 14 and 60 years had to work. Women often cleaned the city, and men worked in factories and businesses.

However, only opponents of the Soviet government were allowed to work at businesses, and corporal punishment was periodically used to punish offenses. For example, in a beer factory, five people were lashed for drinking a glass of beer.

The quantities of Soviet prisoners in a transit camp near Smolensk are unmistakable. Approximately 16,000 prisoners are in this camp and every day there are new arrivals from the big cauldron at Smolensk.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L28726 / Markwardt / CC-BY-SA 3.0

German propaganda

After the capture of Smolensk, the Germans began publishing propaganda to achieve their goals. The newspapers New Way, New Life, Bell and others were used to inspire the residents’ trust in the German occupiers. In addition, a cinema called “Luch” was opened in Smolensk, where propaganda films were shown about a good life in other cities captured by the Nazis.

German propaganda was able to achieve the stratification of society. Part of the population, who were offended by the actions of the Soviet authorities and believed that Nazi Germany would win, decided to move to the German side. After that, a multitude of local policemen appeared in the city, who were engaged in directing “new orders” in the city.

German soldiers on horseback in a burning village near Mogilev at the Dnieper. The Red Army has been driven out by German artillery fire.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-137-1032-14A / Kessler, Rudolf / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Big taxes and prostitution

During the occupation, German authorities introduced a poll tax of 100 rubles a year from every able-bodied citizen. In addition, there were “natural” taxes on meat, potatoes, milk and other items that reduced the food rations of city residents. Also, the population had to give the Germans warm clothes, wool, tools and medicines.

Goulash cannon field kitchen station Smolensk

The resulting difficult financial situation forced many women to sell their bodies to German soldiers and officers. About 50-60% of Smolensk women were forced to engage in prostitution at home, and the building of a hotel for that purpose created a house of tolerance.

“Before the defense of Smolensk.” These fighters will defend Smolensk. Russia, Smolensk region..Photo: RIA Novosti archive, image #2415 P. Bernstein CC-BY-SA 3.0

The price of occupation was half the population

During the period of the German occupation, 151,319 civilians and 23,137 prisoners of war were killed: shot, burned, hanged, buried alive, poisoned, and tortured in camps. In addition, 164,630 people were sent to hard labor in Germany. The population of the Smolensk region and Smolensk itself fell by about half.

Russia, Soldier i Panzer V “Panther”. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-694-0303-20A / Meyer; Wiltberger / CC-BY-SA 3.0


German tanks PzKpfw IV in Vitebsk, 130km from Smolensk.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-351-1427-21A Jakobsen [Jacobsen] CC-BY-SA 3.0
German motorized division during the advance to Smolensk. Note German anti-armour gun PaK 36.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101III-Cantzler-026-11 / Cantzler / CC-BY-SA 3.0


German motorized troops during the advance. 1 June 1941.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101st-136-0883-29A / Cusian, Albert / CC-BY-SA 3.0


Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, commander of the Army Group Centre (left) in conversation with General Hermann Hoth, commander of 3rd Armoured Group and General Wolfram von Richthofen. 8 July 1941.Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101st-265-0048A-03 / Moosdorf [Mossdorf] / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Soviet POWs are transported to Nazi Germany. Most of them did not survive.Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-267-0124-20A/ CC-BY-SA 3.0


Dornier Do 215 B-4 front view Smolensk 1941


Bussing NAG 500 S wehrmacht near Smolensk Russia 1941


IL-2 single seater. Shatalovo air base in Smolensk Oblast, August 1941


German Soldier with Flamethrower Somewhere in Russia 1941


Gulaschkanone wehrmacht field kitchen


Wehrmacht soldier with a machine gun MG34


Wehrmacht soldiers 1941 Kowno Eastern Front


Wehrmacht soldiers in action


wehrmacht soldiers with a machine gun MG 34 and mortar


Wehrmacht soldiers with MG34 Dimitrijewka Eastern Front


Wehrmacht troops MG 34 post with Zieloptik

Read another story from us: Operation Bagration – The Soviet Liberation of Belarus 

German troops in action during street battle in the Eastern Front, 1941
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