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Introduction

The Jewish Ghetto in Bia?ystok was a World War II ghetto set up by Nazi Germany between July 26 and early August of 1941 in the new capital of Bezirk Bialystok district of German-occupied Poland.

About 50,000 Jews from the vicinity of Bia?ystok and the surrounding region were herded into a small area of the city. The ghetto was split in two by the Biala River running through it (see map). Most inmates were put to work in the forced-labor enterprises, primarily in large textile factories established within its boundaries. The ghetto was liquidated in November 1943 as soon as the courageous Bia?ystok Ghetto Uprising was extinguished. All its inhabitants were either killed locally or transported in cattle trucks to the Majdanek and Treblinka extermination camp

Ghetto history

The city of Bia?ystok was overrun by the Wehrmacht on September 15, 1939, and a week later ceded to the invading Red Army in accordance with Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. On September 27, 1939, it was annexed by the Soviet Union following mock elections.

According to the terms of the German-Soviet Pact signed earlier in Moscow, Bia?ystok remained in Soviet hands until June 1941, assigned to the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. Thousands of Jews flocked to the city from German-occupied Poland. Mass deportations to Siberia by the NKVD followed.

The German army entered the Soviet occupation zone on June 22, 1941 under the codenameOperation Barbarossa and took over the city within days. On June 28 the Great Synagogue was burned down with 800 to 1,000 Jews locked in it.

The "Red Friday" took the lives of up to 5,000 Jewish victims – a harbinger of things to come. Himmler visited Bia?ystok on June 30, 1941 during the formation of the new Bezirk district and pronounced that there is a high risk of Soviet guerrilla activity in the area, with Jews being of course immediately suspected of helping them out.

The mission to destroy the alleged NKVD collaborators was assigned to Einsatzgruppe B under the command of SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe aided by Kommando SS Zichenau-Schroettersburg under Hermann Schaper and Kommando Bialystok led by Birkner summoned from the General Government on orders from the Reich Main Security Office.

In the early days of the German occupation, these mobile killing units rounded up and killed thousands of Jews in and around Bia?ystok, before and after the creation of the actual Ghetto with up to 60,000 Jewish prisoners in it. Textile and armament factories were established with the help of Judenrat, along with soup kitchen, first aid site and other amenities. Food rations were strictly enforced.

On February 5–12, 1943, the first group of approximately 10,000 Bia?ystok Jews were sent to their deaths in cattle trucks at the Treblinka extermination camp. Up to 2,000 victims were shot on the spot for insubordination among those too weak or sick to run for the wagons. 

Approximately 7,600 inmates were put in a new central transit camp within the city for their further selection. Those fit to work were sent to the Majdanek camp. In Majdanek, after another screening for ability to work, they were transported to the Poniatowa, Blizyn, and Auschwitz labor camps. Those deemed too weak to work were murdered at Majdanek.

More than 1,000 Jewish children were sent first to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Bohemia, and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were killed. Only a few months later, as part of Aktion Reinhard, on August 16, 1943 the ghetto was raided by regiments of the German SS with Ukrainian, Byelorussian and Latvian auxiliaries aiming at the ghetto's final destruction.

Faced with the final deportations, when all hope for survival was abandoned, the ghetto underground staged an uprising against the Germans. In the night of August 16, 1943, several hundred Polish Jews began an armed insurrection against the troops carrying out the liquidation of the Ghetto

"The blockade of the ghetto lasted one full month and on the 15th of September 1943, after the last of the flames of resistance had been extinguished, the SS units retreated," and the final stage of mass deportations commenced, wrote Szymon Datner, a Holocaust survivor. Only about one hundred Jews managed to escape and join various partisan groups in the Bia?ystok area including Soviet. The Red Army liberated Bia?ystok in August 1944.

Ghettos in occupied Poland (marked with red-gold stars

 

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Bia?ystok Ghetto Uprising

 

Bia?ystok Ghetto Uprising

Was an insurrection in Poland's Bia?ystok Ghetto, launched on the night of August 16, 1943 against the Nazi German occupation authorities during World War II.

It was organized and led by Antyfaszystowska Organizacja Bojowa 

(Polish for Anti-Fascist Combat Organisation),

a part of the Anti-Fascist Block. The Bia?ystok Ghetto Uprising was the second largest ghetto uprising in Nazi occupied Poland, after the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of January 1943.

Yitzhak Fleischer, commander of Betar fighters in the Bialystok ghetto uprising.

Until February 1943 there were approximately 15,000 people still living in the Bia?ystok Ghetto. In February, the first wave of mass deportations to Treblinka extermination camp took place, organized with the aim of liquidating the Ghetto during country-wide Aktion Reinhard.

In spite of the outbreak of armed resistance among the local inhabitants, the deportations to concentrationand extermination camps went ahead as planned. The final liquidation of the Ghetto was attempted on August 16, 1943 by regiments of the German SS reinforced by Ukrainian, Byelorussian and Latvian auxiliaries. During the night of August 16, 1943, several hundred Polish Jews started an armed uprising against the troops carrying out liquidation of the Ghetto.

The guerillas led by Mordechaj Tenenbaum and Daniel Moszkowicz were armed with only one machine gun, several dozen pistols, Molotov cocktails and bottles filled with acid. As with the earlier Warsaw Ghetto Uprising extinguished in May 1943, the Bia?ystok uprising had no chances for military success. However, it was seen as a way to die in combat rather than in German camps. A Betar commander wasYitzhak Fkeischer.

The fights in isolated pockets of resistance lasted for several days, but the defence was broken almost instantly. The commanders of the struggle committed suicide after their bunkers ran out of ammunition. Most of the Jews from the Ghetto were then sent to camps in TreblinkaMajdanek and Auschwitz. Approximately 1,200 children were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp and later to Auschwitz.

Several dozen guerillas managed to break through to the forests surrounding Bia?ystok where they joined the partisan units of Armia Krajowaand other organisations and survived the war. It is estimated that out of almost 60,000 Jews who lived in Bia?ystok before the war only several hundred survived the Holocaust.

below: Deportation from the Bialystok Ghetto

 

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Document

A document given to Bronka Winicka - Klibanski, a member of the underground in the Bialystok ghetto, a liaison - courier and partisan in Belorussia.

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Tema Schneiderman from Bialystok

A forged Aryan work document for the courier Tema Schneiderman from Bialystok.

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Notice

A handwritten notice of the Jewish National Committee regarding the defense of the Bialystok ghetto.

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Photo

A section of the fence surrounding the Bialystok ghetto

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Street Sign

A street sign beside the ruins at the corner of Czestochowska Street in the Bialystok ghetto.

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Alley in the Jewish Quarter of Bialystok

 

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Certificate of $Residence from the Bialystok Ghetto

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Mordechai Tenenbaum - Tamaroff

Mordechai Tenenbaum - Tamaroff, member of the Dror youth movement and the Jewish Fighting Organization in Warsaw and Bialystok.

A member of the Dror youth movement and the Jewish Fighting Organization was asked to organize the underground in the Bialystok ghetto. He also was active in organizing the Warsaw ghetto uprising and served as a contact with Anton Schmid, the Austrian soldier who helped Jews. Tenenbaum probably committed suicide after the failed uprising.

Anton Schmid as described by the leaders of Jewish resistance In a letter to his friends in Palestine, written in April 1943, Mordechai Tenenbaum describes Anton Schmid

“We should remember Anton Schmied, a German Feldwebel [corporal], from Vienna, who risked his life to save hundreds of Jews from the Vilna ghetto and became a loyal ally of our movement and a friend of the author of this letter. He was killed by the gendarmes because of his ties to us.”

Yitzhak Zuckerman, a member of the Zionist movement in an essay about Tenenbaum: “He [Tenenbaum] once told us how he saved our comrades in Vilna, how he moved the group to Bialystock with the help of the Austrian Feldwebel, Anton Schmid. He described every detail about this man: who he was, where he had come from, what he looked like and how he, Mordechai, had met him. We listened to this extraordinary tale with open mouths. A German soldier – a saint. He saved Jews; his heart was into Jewish matters; his life was invested in these matters and he was killed because of them. From that time Schmid became one of us, a family member.”

From: Mordehai Tenenbaum-Tamaroff from: Pages from Fire (Hebrew),

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Fighters of Bialystok (February 27, 1943)

Mordecai [Tenenbaum-Tamaroff]: It’s a good thing that at least the mood is good. Unfortunately, the meeting won’t be very cheerful. This meeting may be historic, if you like, tragic if you like, but certainly sad. That you people sitting here are the last halutzim in Poland; around us are the dead.

You know what happened in Warsaw, not one survived, and it was the same in Bendin and in Czestochowa,* and probably everywhere else. We are the last. It is not a particularly pleasant feeling to be the last: it involves a special responsibility. We must decide today what to do tomorrow. There is no sense in sitting together in a warm atmosphere of memories! Nor in waiting together, collectively, for death. Then what shall we do?

We can do two things: decide that when the first Jew is taken away from Bialystok now, we start our counter-Aktion. That nobody will go to the factories from tomorrow, that none of us is allowed to hide when the Aktion starts.

Everybody will be mobilized for the job. We can see to it that not one German leaves the ghetto, that not one factory remains whole. It is not impossible that after we have completed our task someone may by chance still be alive.

But we will fight to the last, till we fall. We can also decide to get out into the forest. The possibilities must be considered realistically. Two of our people went off today to prepare a place, but in any event military discipline will be in force after the meeting today. We must decide for ourselves now. Our daddies will not take care of us.

This is an orphanage. There is one condition: our approach must be ideological, the ideas of the Movement must be our guide. Anyone who wishes, or believes or hopes that he has a real chance of staying alive and wants to make use of it – well and good. We will help him any way we can. Let everyone decide for himself whether to live or die. But together we must find a collective answer to our common question. As I do not want to impose my views on anybody, I will not come out with my one answer for the time being.

Yitzhak [Engelman]: We are today discussing two ways of dying. To move out into attack means certain death for us. The second way means death two or three days later. We must examine both ways, perhaps there is something that could be done. As the exact details are not known to me, I would like to hear more from better informed comrades. If some comrades believe that they could stay alive, then we should think about it.

Hershl [Rosental]: ...Here in Bialystok we are fated to live out the last act of this blood-stained tragedy. What can we do and what should we do? The way I see it the situation really is that the great majority in the ghetto and of our group are sentenced to die.

Our fate is sealed. We have never looked on the forest as a place in which to hide, we have looked on it as a base for battle and vengeance. But the tens of young people who are going into the forests now do not seek a battlefield there, most of them will lead beggars’ lives there and most likely will find a beggar’s death. In our present situation our fate will be the same, beggars all.

Only one thing remains for us: to organize collective resistance in the ghetto, at any cost, to let the ghetto be our Musa Dagh,** to write a proud chapter on Jewish Bialystok and on our Movement....

Our way is clear: when the first Jew is taken away, the counter-Aktion will begin. If anyone succeeds in taking a rifle from one of the murderers and getting to the forest – fine. A young, armed person can find his place in the forest. If we still have time left to prepare the departure to the forest, then it is a place for battle and revenge.

I have lost everything, all those close to me; and yet, subconsciously, one wants to live. But there is no choice. If I thought that there might be escape, not just for individuals, but for 50 or 60% of the ghetto Jews to survive, I would say that the way of the Movement should be to stay alive at all costs. But we are condemned to death.

Sarah [Kopinski]: Comrades! If it is a question of honor, we have already long since lost it. In most of the Jewish communities theAktionen were carried out smoothly without a counter-Aktion. It is more important to stay alive than to kill five Germans. In a counter-Aktion we will without doubt all be killed. In the forest, on the other hand, perhaps 40 or 50% of our people may be saved. That will be our honor and that will be our history. We are still needed, we will yet be of use. As we no longer have honor in any case, let it be our task to remain alive.

Hanoch [Zelaznogora]: No illusions! We can expect nothing but death down to the last Jew. We have before us two possibilities of death. The forest will not save us, and the counter-Aktion will certainly not save us. The choice that is left us is to die with dignity. The outlook for our resistance is poor. I don’t know whether we have the necessary means for combat. It is the fault of all of us that our means are so small, but that is in the past, we must make do with what we have.

Bialystok will be liquidated completely like all the other Jewish cities. Even if the factories were exempted, their manpower left untouched in the first Aktion, nobody can believe now that they will be spared this time. Obviously the forest offers greater possibilities of revenge, but we must not go there to live on the mercy of the peasants, to buy food – and our lives – for money.

To go to the forest means to become active partisans, and for that one needs the proper weapons. The arms that we have are not suitable for the forest. If there is still time we should try to get arms and go to the forest. If the Aktion starts first, then we must respond when the first Jew is taken.

Chaim [Rudner]: There are no Jews left, only a few remnants have remained. There is no Movement left, only a remnant. There is no sense speaking about honor. Everyone must save himself as best he can. It does not matter how they will judge us. We must hide, go to the forest....

Mordecai: If we want it sufficiently, and make it our aim, we could protect the lives of our people to the end, as long as Jews remain in Bialystok. I want to ask a drastic question: do those members who favor going to the "forest" think we should hide and not react during the coming Aktion, so as to escape into the forest later?

(Voices from all sides: No, not that!)

We have heard two opinions, from Sarah and Chaim on the one side, and from Hershl and Hanoch on the other. You decide. One thing is certain, we won’t go off to the factories and pray to God there that they should take away the people in the streets in order that we may be saved. Nor will we watch from the factory windows when our comrades from another factory are taken away.

We can take a vote – Hershl or Chaim....

Shmulik [Zolty]: This is the first time in my life that I have taken part in a meeting on death. We are planning the counter-Aktion not in order to write history but to die an honorable death, as befits a young Jew at this time... Now about the Aktion. All our experience teaches us that we can have no confidence in the Germans despite their promises that the factories would be safe, and that only those who are not working will be taken away, etc. Only with the aid of deception and confusion did they succeed in taking thousands of Jews to slaughter. But despite all that we have a chance of surviving the Aktion alive and safely.

Everybody is playing for time, and we must do the same. In the short time that is left to us we must work to improve our weapons, which are at present poor and small in number.

We must also do what we can as regards the forest, where we can fulfill a double task. I don’t want to be misunderstood and have the fact that we hid during the Aktion judged as cowardice.

No, no, no! Man’s instinct to live is so great that we must consider our self-interest first here. I don’t care if others go in our stead. We have a much better claim to life than others, and by right.

We have an aim in life – tstay alive at all costs. We were brought here from Vilna because there was a threat of total liquidation there and some witnesses must stay alive. For that reason, if there is not to be total liquidation here, we must wait and try to gain time. But if there is to be liquidation let all join in the counter-Aktion, and let me die with the Philistines....

Ethel [Sobol]: Practically speaking, if an Aktion should take place within the next few days then there is only one way left open to us, to start the counter-Aktion. But if we should have more time at our disposition then we should think in the direction of getting away to the forest.

I hope I will be able to carry out the duties that will be imposed on us. Perhaps, in the course of events, I will find myself stronger. I am determined to do everything that needs to be done.

Hershl was right when he said that we are starting out on a desperate move. Whether we want it or not, our fate is already sealed. It only remains for us to decide between one kind of death and another. I am calm and cool.

Mordecai: The opinion of the comrades is clear – we should do everything to get out as many people as possible to join the partisans’ battle in the forest. Every one of us who is in the ghetto when the Aktion begins must move as soon as the first Jew is taken. There can be no bargaining with us over life; one must understand the situation as it is.

The most important thing of all is to maintain until the end the character and pride of the Movement.

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The bodies of Jews who were Murdered in a Pogrom in Bialystok.

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Exhumation of Resistance Fighters Mass Grave

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Haika Grosman

Haika Grosman, one of the organizers of the Bialystok ghetto underground and participant in the Bialystok ghetto revolt. Poland, 1945.

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Bronka Klibanski, Holocaust Survivor, Partisan, Woman of Valor, 1923-2011

On 23 February, Bronka Klibanski (née Winicka) - Holocaust survivor, fighter, researcher and author - passed away, leaving behind a heritage of resistance, courage and admiration from all who knew her. Born in Grodno, Klibanski was a member of the Dror Youth Movement who joined the Bialystok ghetto underground and worked closely with its leader Mordechai Tenenbaum, about whom she recently published a book.

Klibanski became a kasharit (courier) - one of the brave young Jewish women who took on assumed non-Jewish identities and risked their lives on missions of reconnaissance, food and weapons smuggling in and out of the ghetto. These couriers were brazen in their courage as they used their looks, wits, and whatever other method they could to carry messages, smuggle documents and weopons, and provide information to Jews in ghettos around Poland.


After the war, Bronka was dedicated to Holocaust remembrance and research, and she was one of a last of the generation of Holocaust survivors who also worked professionally and objectively to commemorate the Shoah.


Bronka was a noble and brave woman who gave her all to her people during their hour of need and to Yad Vashem and its archives in their memory and their honor. As a member of the Yad Vashem Council, she was active in its work here for the rest of her life. We salute her resilience and courage and will treasure her legacy that continues to inspire us all.

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Dr. Mojzesz Turek

Dr. Mojzesz Turek served as a doctor in the Bialystok Ghetto during World War II.

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THE DEATH OF PEJSACH KAPLAN

POLAND

 

(Editor’s note: In a letter to the Bialystoker Stimme, written by Refoel Rajzner in the May-June 1946 issue, the author offers the following details aboutPejsach Kaplans’s death.)

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 On February 5, 1943, when the Nazis began to liqui­date the Bialystok ghetto, Pejsach Kaplan was in hid­ing, virtually suffocating. At night he risked going outside for some fresh air, but he caught a cold. On the third day of the bloodbath he found it possible to go to the factory in which his eldest daughter Sonja occupied a responsible position. Kaplan, ill with fever, ran from one window to the other, risking a bullet to the head, to see how the empty streets looked and how the Jews sen­tenced to death were being led about.

The scenes were horrifying. Groups of thirty to forty people, sometimes reaching one hundred, most of them women, children and the elderly, were taken to the slaughter. The stronger helped the weaker. Many were already half dead, exhausted by hiding for days. Should one dare to fall down and stop on the way, he was immediately shot on the spot. In this way, the Nazi murderers left approximately one thousand dead bodies littering the streets of Bialystok. Pejsach Kaplan, taking all of this in, found it unbearable.

He warned his friends and acquaintances that he would not survive this experience. “Remember,” he said to them, “when the time comes for taking revenge, pay them back what they have earned.” After the slaughter was over, Kaplan was confined to bed, at first rallying and then relapsing. He died cursing Hitler’s Germany.

The Judenrat arranged a large and dignified funeral for Kaplan, unprecedented in the ghetto. Plans were made to eulogize him, but the SS officers interfered. The many thousands who escorted his body to the cemetery went away brokenhearted that they had lost such a dominant figure in their lives, the man who recorded their daily trials and tribulations. May his memory be a blessing for all of us!

Writer, cultural leader, editor of the Bialystoker newspaper Unzer Leben, author of several important works in Hebrew and Yiddish. Died in the Bialystok ghetto in 1943. His diary of life in the ghetto with important documents were subsequently found and published partly in the Bialytoker Stimme in New York.

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Three Hangings at the End of 1942

Three executions by hanging were carried out in front of the Judenrat building in the Bialystok ghetto on December 31, 1942, New Year’s Eve. Much of the Jew­ish population was summoned to attend these proceed­ings as a “deterrent” to further crimes.

The three condemned Jews, Lipa SzczredrowskiEli Dworski and Jakow Jablonski, who worked in a German cooking-oil factory, were accused of stealing quantities of sunflower seeds. Nazi guards were instructed to be vigilant about smuggling into the ghetto from factories outside.

The Judenrat warned the Jews against this illegal practice. Nevertheless, a short time afterward, ten Jews entering the ghetto were caught with the contraband. The Gestapo commandant ordered Barasz to place these alleged criminals in the ghetto jail.

After a brief trial, three of the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death on the gal­lows. The Judenrat Construction Department was immediately ordered to prepare for the executions. With great difficulty, the scaffold was erected. The three condemned men were placed atop stools, nooses were tightened around their necks, and the stools were kicked out from under them.

One of the condemned asked to speak some final words, which the Nazis permitted. He shouted, “You murderous beasts, you Germans, are a so-called cultured people. You are robbers, animals in human form. You will pay for your crimes. You will lose the war.” Then the man spat in the direction of his Nazi executioners.

The Nazis greeted the New Year according to their custom, by getting drunk and shooting off their pistols and rifles. The Jews, on the other hand, had nothing but gloom in their hearts, suspecting that 1943 would be the last year of their existence.

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Suicides in the Ghetto

Life, in the Jewish tradition, has always been of supreme value. Taking one’s own life was looked upon as an act of murder. The family of a suicide was stig­matized for generations afterward. This attitude also prevailed in Jewish Bialystok.

But the apocalyptic events of the Nazi occupation did bring about a small incidence of suicide. The mass incineration of 2,000 Jews in the Great Synagogue, the “Thursday,” “Saturday,” and “Sunday massacres,” the construction of the ghetto, the yellow badges, the sadis­tic jeering, the poverty, the slave labor, continuous fear and insecurity, thousands of human sacrifices, young children suddenly orphaned — all these phenomena broke down some Jews’ will to live and severely demor­alized the entire community. Some susceptible individu­als turned to suicide. But these desperate acts never took place on a large scale in Bialystok.

After November 1942, when it became clear that all Jews in the Bialystok region were destined to be exterminated — the specter of gas chambers pressing on the minds of Jews in the Bialystok ghetto — some peo­ple made their decision: better to die by one’s own hand than in a Nazi death camp. On the eve of the February liquidation campaign in 1943, some poisoned them­selves, while others fashioned gallows.

These included: Kagan, the fruiterer, whose store was on Lipowa Street; Chaim Grynsztejn, bricklayer, who lived on Supraselske Street; Szlojme Jankelew, barber; Dr. Franka Horowicz, instructor at the Hebrew Gymnasium; three orphans killed themselves in a suicide pact at the orphanage on Czestochowski Street. Most of the people I knew, however, albeit shattered and in deep mourn­ing, wanted to continue living.

In August 1943, when the Bialystok ghetto was finally liquidated, more suicides took place, among them Mordechaj Tenenbaum-Tamarof, one of the founders of the secret ghetto archive, and Doniel Moszkowicz, the communist. Only their Jewishness bound these two very different men to the same fate. In the surgical department of the Jewish Hospital on Fabryczna Street, as the patients were led away to be shot, Polja Dlugacz, the good-natured nurse, took her life.

Particularly gruesome was a mass suicide by Bia­lystoker Jewish women, carried out in a railroad car heading for Treblinka after the ghetto was destroyed on August 16, 1943. As the train neared Treblinka, panic engulfed the women. Sobbing, they pleaded with several women doctors in the train to spare them the agonies of the gas chambers by ending their lives in the train. One of the doctors acceded to these desperate requests by slashing someone’s wrist arteries with a razor blade. Other women soon followed this example, slashing their own wrists.

As it turned out, this train never arrived at Treb­linka but instead went to Majdanek, near Lublin. When the car doors were opened in Lublin, a sea of blood gushed forth. Even the Gestapo officers were taken aback. Some of the women were only barely alive. Berta Sokolska, a survivor, recounted this story to Dr. Tuwja Cytron at the Blyzin concentration camp, and he told it to me in April 1946 while he stayed in Bialystok. The Gestapo did not interfere as Jewish slave laborers administered first aid to these unfortunates.

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The Horror of Treblinka

Mordechaj Tenenbaum-Tamarof established close contact with members of the Judenrat, particularly with its Chairman, Efrajim Barasz. At the end of 1942, when the Jews in the provinces were evacuated, Barasz turned over to Tamarof certain photographs and documents, some of which contained horrifying information.

These papers were found in the clothes of provincial Jews sent away. The jackets, after proper disinfection, were returned to Bialystok so the textile factories could recycle them. While sorting these garments, the workers found papers written by their former owners. The name “Treblinka” often appeared. And so the ghastly truth the Nazis had been concealing — what “deportation” really meant — was uncovered.

When Tamarof obtained these materials from Barasz, he was stunned.

The secret finally was revealed that the Jews of the provinces had in fact been evacuated to Treblinka, where they would surely be exterminated in its gas chambers and crematoria. The inmates of the Bialystok ghetto realized their own end could not be far off. Tamarof wrote in his diary about the heroism and cour­age, the stoicism and pride shown by the provincial Jews as they were sent to their deaths. Their bravery will shine in the annals of Jewish history.

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TRAGIC MESSAGES FROM THE LAST JEWS

I returned to Bialystok in the early days of August 1944, after a brief bout with typhus. Soon I became a member of the National Reconstruction Council, which immediately plunged into the herculean task of rebuild­ing the Polish and Jewish communities in Bialystok.

In September or October 1944, it was learned that many messages were carved in the walls of the prison in Bialystok in Polish and Yiddish, apparently by the last remaining Jews in the ghetto. Since these inscriptions might possess historical significance, the reconstruction committee sent a delegation, including me, to inspect these areas.

We found the graffiti quite legible but heartrend­ing. As the only Jew in the group, it was my task to translate the Yiddish words. All the inscriptions men­tioned the names of their authors, the dates on which they met their brutal deaths, and the refrain, “Do not forget us. Avenge our death.”

In death chamber 81, three wall inscriptions were carved in Yiddish. Lea Perlsztejn, the only girl in the cell, wrote her name phonetically three times.

The second message was engraved in Yiddish and Polish: “Jechiel Gurwicz was murdered January 23, 1944, because he was a Jew.” [The date appears to be incorrect.]

The third inscription belonged to a family.

Death cell 80 had five wall carvings, two in Polish:

Szolem ZingerKoczkowski brothers, Z.L.; Awrom Lew and Sokoli; Purim, 1944; Telman, Dowid, Zgierz; Goldfarb, Zalman, Slonim.

Izchok Kulkin perished in the Bialystok prison 15.7.44 for the Jewish people. Avenge his death.

“Born at Bielsk-Podlaski, 1921. I was the last Jew in the prison. Enach Gofman. Go to your death with head held high. Farewell to my friends, the Okun and Pozanski brothers. Avenge my death. They tortured me but I revealed nothing. Avenge me.

“We go to our death calmly; we can fight no longer. Avenge us. Awreml Boczkowski, Bialystok; Kirszenbojm, Kulkin, the Lifces brothers, Meir Prusak, Grodno.

“Their fate should be worse than what they did to us Jews. The last day of our life, 15.7.44.”

These macabre last words were inscribed during the final days of Nazi rule in Bialystok. On July 27, 1944, the first battalions of the Red Army entered Bialystok, together with Partisan forces containing many Jews. The Nazis murdered a few remaining Jews until five minutes before the Russians arrived. The last testaments of their victims, however, remained scribbled on the walls of the prison.

Years afterward, when I opened my notebook where I had written down the words of these martyrs, the cry for retribution still rang in my ears. How is it possible to avenge the more than 100,000 Jews who per­ished in the Bialystok region? Can we ever fulfill their last wish? Perhaps the greatest retaliation is that we, their survivors, are here to tell their story.

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Eliyahu Boraks

Eliyahu Boraks, member of the Jewish underground in the Vilnius (Vilna) and Bialystok ghettos.


Note:

Edek Boraks was born in Kalisz in 1918. He was a member of the Ha - Shomer ha - Tsa'ir youth movement and joined a hachshara (Zionist pioneering training program).

At the outbreak of the war, he was drafted and served in the Polish army. In 1940 he arrived in Vilnius. Boraks was on the main steering committee of Ha - Shomer ha - Tsa'ir from 1941.

In December 1941 he went to Warsaw, then returned to Vilnius and was active in the FPO (Yiddish: United Partisans Organization). From there he went to Bialystok, where he was active in the ZOB (Yiddish: Jewish Fighting Organization). In February 1943 Boraks commanded a combat unit. He was caught by the Germans and deported to Treblinka

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Khaim Arie BARTSHEVSKY

In holy remembrance of

My parents Yoel and Golde BARTSHEVSKY

Also my brothers and sister: Khaym Arie, Avrom, Getsl, Yankev and Libe with their families. 
Special mention of my brother Khaim Arie BARTSHEVSKY, who fell fighting in the Bialystok ghetto revolt.

 

Khave BARTSHEVSKY-BERK

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Testimony about Zisle Mortkowitz

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Wanda Meloch (nee Goldman

Jacek Goldman and his sister Wanda. Krakw, 1924. "Wanda Meloch (nee Goldman) was killed in Bialystok after the Germans invaded in the summer of 1941. Jacek left the Warsaw Ghetto to join the partisans and nobody ever heard from him again.

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Chiah Beczerman nee Rabinovitch

Chiah nee Rabinovitch was born in Bialystok in 1910 to Shlomo and Esther nee Glogofsky. She was a housewife and married to Getzel Beczerman. Prior to WWII she lived in Bialystok, Poland. During the war she was in Bialystok, Poland. Chiah perished in 1943 in the Shoah at the age of 33. 

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Esther Rabinovitch nee Glogofsky

Esther Rabinovitch nee Glogofsky was born in Bialystok in 1874 to Benjamin and Riva. She was a shop owner and married to Yankov. Prior to WWII she lived in Bialystok, Poland. During the war she was in Bialystok, Poland. Esther perished in the Shoah. 

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Chaika Grossman

BIALYSTOK GHETTO UPRISING

Chaika Grossman (center)

During the uprising, Chaika Grossman fought alongside her comrades in fierce battles with German troops. She escaped to the “Aryan” side of the city and continued her underground activities by providing supplies to partisans in nearby forests. She even helped to organize a resistance cell made up of anti-Nazi Germans. In 1948, she settled in Israel and later served in its parliament, the Knesset. She died on May 26, 1996.

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Members of a Kibbutz

Members of a kibbutz (communal group) of the Dror youth movement in Bialystok, standing beside a mass grave they had been seeking.

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Mass Grave

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Event Details

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