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The Minsk Ghetto was created soon after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. It was one of the largest in Eastern Europe, and the largest in the German-occupied territory of the Soviet Union. It housed close to 100,000 Jews, most of whom perished in The Holocaust.
The ghetto was created soon after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and capture of the city of Minsk, capital of the Belorussian SSR, on 28 June 1941. On the fifth day after the occupation, 2,000 Jewish intelligentsia were massacred by the Germans; from then on, murders of Jews became a common occurrence. About 20,000 Jews were murdered within the first few months of the German occupation, mostly by the Einsatsgruppen squads.
On 17 July 1941 the German occupational authority, the Reichskommissariat Ostland, was created. On the 20th, the Minsk Ghetto was established. A Jewish Council (Judenrat) was established as well. The total population of the ghetto was about 80,000 (over 100,000 according to some sources), of which about 50,000 were pre-war inhabitants, the remainder (30,000 or more), refugees and Jews were forcibly resettled by the Germans from nearby settlements.Jews in the Minsk Ghetto, 1941
In November 1941 a second ghetto was established in Minsk for Jews deported from the West. They were mostly from Germany and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia; at its height it had about 35,000 inhabitants. Little contact was permitted between the inhabitants of the two ghettos.
As in many other ghettos, Jews were forced to work in factories or other German-run operations. Ghetto inhabitants lived in extremely poor conditions, with insufficient stocks of food and medical supplies.
In March 1942 approximately 5,000 Jews were killed nearby where "The Pit" memorial to the Minsk ghetto now stands. By August less than 9,000 Jews were left in the ghetto according to German official documents. The ghetto was liquidated on 21 October 1943, with many Minsk Jews perishing in the Sobibor extermination camp. Several thousands were massacred at Maly Trostenets extermination camp (before the war, Maly Trostenets was a village a few miles to the east of Minsk). By the time the Red Army retook the city on 3 July 1944, there were only a few Jewish survivors.Resistance Mikhail Gebelev, Head of Resistance
The Minsk Ghetto is notable for its large scale resistance organization, which cooperated closely with Soviet partisans. About 10,000 Jews were able to escape the ghetto and join partisan groups in the nearby forests. Barbara Epstein estimates that perhaps a half of them survived, and notes that all together, perhaps as many as 30,000 people tried to escape the Minsk Ghetto to join the partisans (but 20,000 of them could have died along the way).
The Minsk Ghetto
Minsk, capital of the Belorussian SSR, in 1926 the Jewish population of Minsk was 53,686, by June 1941 the number had grown to 80,000, constituting one- third of the city’s population.
Only a small fraction of the Jews managed to escape from the city in the six days between the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the conquest of Minsk on 28 June 1941.
German parachutists who had been dropped east of the city intercepted thousands of Jews who were trying to flee and forced them to return. When the civil administration was set up Minsk became the headquarters of the Generalkommissar for Belorussian Wilhelm Kube.
Kube was murdered on 22 September 1943 was killed by a bomb planted under his bed, by his maid, a Soviet partisan.
On 8 July 1941, the Germans killed 100 Jews and thereafter the murder of Jews by the Germans singly or in groups, became a daily event. On 20 July 1941, an order was issued on the establishment of the ghetto.
Its area comprised thirty-four streets and alleys, as well as the Jewish cemetery, some of the streets included:
Some of the lanes included:
The ghetto was surrounded by thick rows of barbed wire, watchtowers were erected and round the clock surveillance was established. A living space of 1.5 square meters was allotted for each person, with no space allotted for children. Thousands of the ghetto inhabitants lived among the ruins of destroyed or gutted houses without floors or windows. A curfew was in force from 2200 to 0500 hours.
Jews from Slutsk, Dzerzhinsk, Cherven, Uzda and other nearby places were brought into the ghetto. Married couples with one non-Jewish partner were also put into the ghetto as were their children. Altogether, 100,000 persons were rounded up and put behind the ghetto walls.
In August 1941 5,000 Jews were seized and murdered, the surviving Jews were forced to pay a ransom, to report every Sunday for roll call, and to wear a yellow badge on their back and chest, as well as white patch on their chest with their house number.
News of the killings in Minsk and other places in the East was sent to the chief of the Gestapo in Berlin, Heinrich Muller, who asked Adolf Eichmann to see him, Eichmann being the SS officer in charge of the department IV-D-4, responsible for deportations and emigrations.
Twenty years later, in a court in Jerusalem, on trial for his life, Eichmann recalled that Muller had said to him; “In Minsk they’re shooting Jews. I want you to report how it’s going.”
Eichmann left at once, first to Bialystok and then to Minsk. At his trial he recalled how, reaching the execution site in Minsk he found that:
“There were the piles of dead people. They were shooting into the pit – it was a rather large one, so I was told, perhaps four to five times the size of this room, perhaps even six or seven times. I didn’t think much about it because I could hardly express any thoughts about it – I only saw it and that was quite enough – they were shooting into the pit and I saw a woman, her arms seemed to be at the back, and then my knees went weak and I went away.”
In July 1941 a Jewish Council (Judenrat) was established with Eliyahu Myshkin. He was the former vice-director of the Ministry of Commercial Trade. The Judenrat had seven departments:
The first duty of the Minsk Judenrat was to register the entire Jewish population – this was completed by 15 July 1941. All the men in the ghetto were registered for labour duties and a labour camp was established on Shirokaya Street, where Soviet Prisoners of War accused of offences as well as Jews were sent.
This camp also came to be used as a transit camp for those destined for liquidation. Amongst a number of outrages on 21 July a group of 45 Jews were roped together and ordered to be buried alive by 30 Russian prisoners. The Russians refused to carry out this work and all 75 captives were shot.
On 15 August 1941 Heinrich Himmler visited Minsk and witnessed the shooting of 100 Jews by Artur Nebe’s Einsatzkommando, and this experience caused Himmler to change the methods of mass extermination of the Jewish race in Europe.
Myshkin cooperated with the underground, and in February 1942 he was arrested and hanged. His successor Moshe Yaffe, kept up the Judenrat’s cooperation with the underground, but two Jewish collaborators Epstein and Rosenblatt, managed to infiltrate the Judenrat and to work for the German’s within it.
On 7 November 1941, the Germans conducted an Aktion in several of the ghetto’s streets, rounding up twelve thousand Jews and murdering them in nearby Tuchinka. The houses that the murdered Jews had lived in were now filled with Jews from Germany (called the Hamburg Jews, because that was where the first group came from), who were brought to Minsk in the wake of the 7 November Aktion.
The heads of several of the Jewish Council departments in Minsk – Rudicer of the economic section, Dulski of the housing section, Goldin of the workshop section, and Serebianski, the police commander – had all cooperated with resistance groups, providing clothing, shoes, hiding places and false documents. Serebianski went so far as to hire members of the resistance into the ghetto police.
Also active in helping the resistance in Minsk were two of the secretaries in the labour department, Mira Strogin and Sara Levin. The massacre at Minsk on 7 November was followed within three days by the arrival in the city of the first German Jews, one thousand who had been deported from Hamburg.
“They felt themselves as pioneers who were brought to settle the East,” one eye-witness later recalled.
The deportees from Hamburg were followed within days by more than six thousand deportees from Frankfurt, Bremen, and the Rhineland. On 18 November a train arrived from Berlin. The twenty-two year old Haim Berendt was among the deportees from Berlin.
On reaching Minsk, he later recalled: “the carriages were opened and they started beating us up, driving us out of the carriages in a hurry and, within a moment, there were complete chaos. He who succeeded in getting out of the door was beaten up, women children and men.”
The Berlin deportees were taken beyond the Jewish ghetto of Minsk to a special ghetto for the Jews of Germany known as “Ghetto Hamburg.” There, they became a part of the Jewish labour force in Minsk.
A second Aktion took place on 20 November in which the Germans murdered another seven thousand Jews also in Tuchinka. After the two Aktionen the ghetto underground intensified its activities making preparations for escapes to the forests and widening its network of hiding places in the city.
On the night of 21 December 1941 the bodies of several thousand Soviet prisoners of war were laid out by the Germans along a six kilometre stretch of road in Minsk. On the previous day most of the Russians had been deliberately frozen to death in a march across open fields. Some had been shot when in desperation they had sought some shelter from the fierce wind.
At the beginning of 1942, Karl Gebl and Erich Gnewuch delivered two gas vans to Minsk. Eventually there were to be four such vehicles operating in the Minsk area. Murder of the Jews in the gas vans commenced.
Dr August Becker who was a T4 gassing expert working for the RSHA described a trip to the Eastern Territories in connection with the use of gas –vans to exterminate the Jews;
“In Riga I learned from Standartenfuhrer Potzelt, Deputy Commander of the Security Police and SD in Riga, that the Einsatzkommando operating in Minsk needed some additional gas-vans as it could not manage with the three existing vans it had.
At the same time I also learned from Potzelt that there was a Jewish extermination camp in Minsk. I flew to Minsk by helicopter, correction, in a Fiesler Storch belonging to the Einsatzgruppe.
Travelling with me was Hauptsturmfuhrer Ruhl, the head of the extermination camp at Minsk, with whom I had discussed business in Riga . During the journey Ruhl proposed to me that I provide additional vans since they could not keep up with the exterminations. As I was not responsible for the ordering of gas-vans, I suggested Ruhl approach Rauf’s office.
When I saw what was going on in Minsk – that people of both sexes were being exterminated in their masses, that was it – I could not take any more and three days later, it must have been September 1942, I travelled back by lorry via Warsaw to Berlin.”
On the eve of Purim 1942, the German’s ordered the Jewish Council to hand over five thousand Jews for deportation “to the west.” The Council did not know what to do. Some members suggested that small children, and the elderly, might be sent away.
But some Jews who wanted no collaboration, whatsoever with the Germans, in these demands insisted on “no trading in Jewish souls.” Hiding places had already been prepared in cellars and ruined buildings – those who felt they were in danger hid.
On the morning of 2 March the Jewish labour battalions were sent out of the ghetto as usual. Then the Gestapo approached the Jewish Council for the five thousand, urging haste, “because the trains were ready and waiting.”
The Jewish Council refused, in retaliation the Gestapo sent German and White Russian policemen to search the ghetto. Reaching a children’s nursery, they ordered the woman in charge, Dr Chernis, and the supervisor, Fleysher, to take their children to the Jewish Council building.
The order was a trap. On reaching a specially dug pit on Ratomskaya Street, the children were seized by Germans and Ukrainians and thrown alive into the deep sand. At that moment, several SS officers, among them Wilhelm Kube, arrived, whereupon Kube, immaculate in his uniform, threw handfuls of sweets to the shrieking children. All the children perished in the sand.
When the Germans asked for the leader of the underground, Hersh Smolar to be surrendered to them, the Judenrat chairman produced Smolar’s bloodstained identity card as proof that he was dead. That night, when the Jewish forced labourers returned to Minsk from their forced labours outside the ghetto, they were ordered to lie down in the snow outside the ghetto gates. Any who tried to get up and run into the ghetto were shot.
Others were taken to the pit in Ratomskaya Street and killed. Some were marched away from the city, to the Kodianovo forest and murdered there. At least five thousand Jews were killed in Minsk during that Purim day.
The Germans also institued Aktionen at nights resorting to them with increasing frequency, in the spring of 1942, in one such night Aktion on 2 April, about five hundred persons were murdered.
On 7-8 May 1942 the Germans opened a camp at Maly Trostinec, east of Minsk, three miles from the village of Maly Trostinec in the Blagovshchina forest, solely for the purpose of extermination.
On 2 June 1942 there was a deportation of Jews from Vienna. They were taken by train to Minsk and there, in the Minsk ghetto, shared the fate of tens of thousands of deportees to Minsk : starvation, sadistic cruelties, and mass executions.
Among those deported on 2 June was a milliner, Elsa Speigel. It was three weeks before her thirty-third birthday. She was never heard of again. But in Vienna she left her tiny son, Jona Jakob Speigel, a baby of of five and a half months. Elsa Speigel’s decision to leave her baby in Vienna saved his life. He was deported from Vienna to Theresienstadt, but by a miracle he was still alive when the Soviets liberated the transit camp.
Between 28 and 31 July 1942 the Germans killed some thirty thousand Jews, among them the German Jews who were in a separate ghetto in Minsk. The Germans forced Jaffe to speak to the Jews in terms designed to allay their fears, but when trucks with gas engines burst upon the square where they had assembled, Yaffe cried out, “Jews the bloody murderers have deceived you – flee for your lives!”
Yaffe and the ghetto police chief were among the victims of that Aktion, following which only nine thousand Jews were left in Minsk. The collaborators took the place of the Judenrat which ceased to exist.
On the 4 August 1942 a train with a thousand Jews left Theresienstadt, six days later it reached Maly Trostinec, where it stopped in open country. Forty “experts” had already been taken off the train at Minsk. The remaining 960 deportees were ordered out of the carriages and into vans for the next stage of their journey, and driven off towards the forest.
The vans were gas vans, once they reached the forest the doors were unlocked and bodies of the gassed Jews were thrown into open graves. Of a thousand Jews sent from Theresienstadt to Maly Trostinec in a further deportation on 25 August, only twenty-two of the younger men were taken to work at an SS farm. The rest were ordered into the gas vans and killed.
Of the twenty-two men sent to the SS farm, two survived the hard labour and sadism of their overseers, and escaped in May 1943 to join the partisans. One was killed in action, the other survived the war. By the 1 August 1942 there were officially 8794 people still alive in the ghetto. The SS, Police and Gestapo officials who were responsible for numerous atrocities, were Richter, Hettenbach, Fichtel, Menschel, Wentske and others.
Early in February 1943, two previously unknown Germans appeared in the ghetto, Adolf Ruebe and his assistant Michelson. Over the ensuring months Rube and Michelson, the new Police Chief Bunge and his deputy Scherner, terrorised the ghetto. Shootings became so commonplace that people were afraid to venture onto the streets. Orphaned children, the elderly and the disabled were systematically exterminated.
In May 1943 with most of the Jewish doctors murdered, patients were shot in their hospital beds. A well known local doctor Niuta Jurezkaya, had escaped from the ghetto to the forest. But she was caught brought back to Minsk and tortured. “Who was with you?” she was asked.
“All of my people were with me,” she replied, and was then shot,
Between four days from the18 to 22 September 1943 transports of Minsk Jews left for the Sobibor death camp and also in the same month on the 10th two thousand Jews were sent to the Budzyn Labour Camp near Lublin.
On October 21 a week after the Sobibor death camp revolt masterminded by Jewish soldiers deported from Minsk, all two thousand Jews in Maly Trostinec, the last survivors from the Minsk ghetto were rounded up and killed in pits outside the city.
On the day of this massacre, twenty-six Jews Jews hid in an underground bunker which had been built by two Jewish stonemasons. In the first month three died, the survivors buried them in the ground on which they themselves lay.
Two girls left the hide-out in search of food, they were captured and killed. After eight months, only thirteen of the twenty-six remained alive. There was no more food –the children were in a coma and the adults were weak from hunger
It was then that a girl called Musya left the hide-out in search of food, she did not look like a Jewess, but she took the risk, nevertheless, of running into someone she knew, and might denounce her to the Germans.
During her search for help, Musya met Anna Dvac, a White Russian woman with whom she had worked in the same factory before the German invasion. Her friend took her home, gave her food and shelter, and then sent her back with food for the other Jews in hiding.
From that day until the arrival of the Red Army six months later, Anna Dvach ensured the survival of the thirteen Jews. When Minsk was liberated on 3 July 1944, only a few Jews of those who had gone into hiding during the final Aktion remained alive.
Barbed-Wire Fence Surrounding the Minsk Ghetto
Affixed to the barbed-wire fence surrounding the Minsk ghetto is a sign stating, “Warning. Anyone climbing the fence will be shot!”
1924 - 26 October 1941
Masha Bruskina, a Jewish Soviet partisan hanged with two other partisans,
Krill Trus and Volodya Sherbateyvich. The sign reads: “We are partisans who shot at German soldiers.”
Masha Bruskina (1924 - 26 October 1941 Minsk)
Was a 17-year-old Soviet Jewish partisan who was a volunteer nurse. She was arrested on October 14, 1941, by members of the Wehrmacht's 707 Infantry Division and the 2nd Schutzmannschaft Battalion; Lithuanian auxiliary troops under the command of Major Antanas Impulyavichus. Along with two other members of the resistance, 16 year-old Volodia Shcherbatsevich and World War I veteran Kiril Trus, she was betrayed as being partisans in Minsk, Byelorussian SSR, in October 1941.
After being arrested, Bruskina, wrote a letter to her mother on October 20, 1941:
After being arrested, Bruskina, wrote a letter to her mother on October 20, 1941:
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. If you can, please send me my dress, my green blouse, and white socks. I want to be dressed decently when I leave here.
Before being hanged, she was paraded through the streets with a plaque around her neck which read, in both German and Russian: "We are partisans and have shot at German troops". Members of the resistance were made to wear similar signs whether or not they had actually shot at German troops.
She and her two comrades were hanged in public on Sunday, October 26, 1941, in front of "Minsk Kristall" a yeast brewery and distillery plant on Nizhne-Lyahovskaya Street (15 Oktyabrskaya Street today). The Germans let the bodies hang for three full days before allowing them to be cut down.
Pyotr Pavlovich Borisenko witnessed the execution;
When they put her on the stool, the girl turned her face toward the fence. The executioners wanted her to stand with her face to the crowd, but she turned away and that was that. No matter how much they pushed her and tried to turn her, she remained standing with her back to the crowd. Only then did they kick away the stool from under her.
Olga Shcherbatsevich, the mother of Volodia Shcherbatsevich was hanged the same day as her son with two other members of the resistance in front of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus
The two leading liaisons between the ghetto and city underground organizations were Misha Gebelev, who represented the ghetto on the City Committee, and Chasya Pruslina, who organized an underground group in the city, and who, in the late summer of 1942, was asked by the City Committee to make contact with a base of the Soviet Partisan Movement that, the underground had been told, had recently been established near a village some 65 miles south of Minsk.
Reaching this base involved travelling through an area where battles were taking place between the Germans and partisan units. The odds of surviving such a journey were not high. Pruslina was chosen for this task because of the high regard in which she was held throughout the underground: she was known for her courage, her integrity, her high intelligence, and her good judgement. There were also indications that the Germans were on her trail, and this assignment was a good way to get her out of Minsk.
Pruslina invited her friend, Anna Yezubchik, a Byelorussian woman, to accompany her on this trip. Pruslina and Yezubchik had known each other before the war as fellow university students. During the war, Pruslina recruited Yezubchik into the underground.
The two women walked for several days through territory contested by the Germans and the partisans, entered partisan territory, and, when they were asked for directions to the village to which they had been sent, were arrested as spies by a group of partisans. They would have been executed if it had not been for the intervention of a partisan official, who knew that two women from the Minsk underground were expected, and happened to hear that two women from Minsk had been arrested as spies.
Pruslina and Yezubchik were taken to the base of the Soviet Partisan Movement and were treated with great respect until the leadership of the Partisan Movement, in Moscow, was informed of their arrival, and attitudes toward them on the base in the forest suddenly changed for the worse.
The story of what orders came from Moscow, why, and what impact this had on the Minsk underground as a whole, is told in the book. The point here is that Jewish and Byelorussian Communists, such as Pruslina and Yezubchik, worked together as a matter of course. Ethnic difference in no way impeded comradeship and, in this case, friendship.
After the war many surviving members of the Minsk underground were arrested on spurious charges of collaboration. While Stalin was alive anyone who challenged this would have been killed. After he died, challenging the Soviet leadership was still likely to lead to arrest. But Pruslina organized a committee of former members of the underground, and led a campaign for the rehabilitation of the Minsk underground, which finally succeeded in 1959..
Chasya Pruslina during the war, 41 years old. This photo was taken, illegally, in the ghetto, and was used for her false passport, which she held under her underground pseudonym, Pelageya Petrovna Fedyuk.
Anna Yezubchik shortly after the war.
Another Byelorussian member of the Minsk underground who worked closely with Jewish underground members was Vasili Saychik. He was a member of an underground group in the city that arranged for the printing of Zvezda (The Star), the underground "newspaper" (in fact the size of a pamphlet). In her memoirs, Pruslina recalled that Saychik once asked her to put him in contact with a leader of the ghetto underground. He said, she remembered, "I have to get in contact with that Jew." "Saychik was a dreadful anti-Semite," Pruslina commented, and she was right to criticize such language. But Saychik's behavior was hardly anti-Semitic.
The type for Zvezda was set by a Jewish typesetter named Pupko, with the help of Bronya Goffman, a Jewish woman who worked as a domestic servant for the wife of a German officer who lived in the courtyard where the printing house was located. Both were members of Saychik's underground group. When the Germans came to the printing house looking for them, they fled to Saychik's apartment, as he had urged them to do if they were ever in danger. Pupko was captured, but Bronya hid in Saychik's apartment until the underground moved her elsewhere, for greater safety, and when a liaison from the partisans came to Minsk, Saychik accompanied her to her meeting with him.
Early in the war, Saychik heard that a friend from western Byelorussia, Sarah Levina, was in the Minsk ghetto. Risking his life, he entered the ghetto to visit her and to tell her that an underground organization was being built. "He brought hope to our home," Levina wrote.
Saychik was 56 when the war began, considerably older than most underground members. He was from western Byelorussia,where anti-Semitism was traditionally much more pervasive than in Minsk or elsewhere in eastern Byelorussia. Perhaps Saychik unthinkingly used phrases that he head heard in his youth. The contrast between his language and his behavior suggests the complexity involved in growing up in a culture in which anti-Semitism was taken for granted, and then joining a movement dedicated to opposing it.
Mikhail Ekeltchik, a member of the Minsk ghetto underground.
Matus Gozenpud Birth: 18 July 1925 ~1941
Vigdor Gozenpud, 28 December 1878~ 7 November 1941
Genia Iocheved Krigel
Genia Iocheved Krigel, 31 August 1880 ~July 1941
Faina Gozenpud, 1 May 1907 ~ August 1987
Members of the Minsk Ghetto Resistance
Ysay Pavlovich Kaziniets- a member of the resistance in the Misk ghetto
Shmuel David Grinstein perished in Minsk on October 17th, 1941
Rosa Grinstein perished in the Minsk ghetto in 1942
Minsk, Belarus… June 1942 – Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and occupied Minsk six days later. With the help of local collaborators, the Germans immediately started persecuting the Jewish population.
Within a week, they forced Israel and Fruma Davidson, their three children, Rachel, Mira, and Vova, and the entire Jewish population of Minsk and the surrounding region to relocate to a walled ghetto. Many Jews were murdered in sporadic acts of violence, and the first organized killing took place in August 1941. In this aktion, the Germans rounded up thousands of Jews, transported them to the nearby town of Tuchinka, and killed them. Over the course of the next year, two more mass killings took place.
During each aktion, the Davidsons sought help from Anna Trafimava and her mother, Fatima Kanapatskaya, who were close family friends. Anna and her mother had been smuggling food to Jews in the ghetto and hiding some who had escaped. They felt compelled to help the Davidsons survive. Through contacts outside the ghetto, the Davidsons received advance notice of the Germans’ plans for liquidating the ghetto. When the Germans were about to launch another aktion, the Davidsons snuck out of the ghetto and hid in Anna and Fatima’s house. Unfortunately, the house was too small for the Davidsons to stay there permanently.
When the Germans escalated the violence and began rounding up Jewish males for deportation in June 1942, Fruma asked Anna’s mother to hide her husband, Israel. Although Anna and Fatima understood the added danger they would be putting themselves in, they allowed Israel to dig a deep hole in their barn, and he hid there until June 1943. At that time, the Davidson family, including Israel, went into the woods and joined the partisans, with whom they stayed for the remainder of the war.
After the war, the Davidsons returned to Minsk and reconnected with Anna and Fatima. They stayed in touch until 1957 when the Davidsons immigrated to Poland and then to Israel. When Soviet-Israeli relations became strained, the two families had difficulty staying in contact. After being reunited in 2005, the families have remained in touch.
Anna is in her 80s and continues to live in Minsk.
Lev Fein's Letter
February 22, 1915
Lev Failbovich Fein was born on February 22, 1915 in Minsk, Belarus. Having finished four years at the Polytechnical Institute, he volunteered for the army when war began.
He was sent to combat communications training and, upon completion, participated in battles of the 2nd Baltics Front. Earning one Order of Glory and two Medals of Valour, Fein celebrated Victory Day in Latvia.
Upon returning home, he learned of the brutal murder of his parents, his younger sister, most members of his extended family, and the overwhelming majority of the Jewish population of Minsk. His friend’s wife, one of the few survivors, described the harrowing circumstances under Nazi occupation.
MARCH 16, 1945
It is unclear whether it is fortunate or unfortunate that I stayed alive. I am not in the right state to describe what I overcame in the last three years… The Germans occupied Minsk on the night of the 28th… On 29th of July, they began to inflict unimaginable tortures on us Jews.
They set up the famous “Ghetto” for all of the Jews on the 1st of August … The constant torment and pogroms began as soon as we moved into the ghetto. Father and uncle Fein died on the third day of being in the ghetto, i.e. on the 3rd of August.
Mother, Manya and Bellochka, and aunt Fein and her daughter died on the 20th of November, 1941, at the time of the second mass pogrom. … But by the beginning of 1942, I was the only one left; I lost all of my loved ones. I was all alone, like a bare tree in the forest. … Tanya and the kids were the last of our relatives to die. The kids died in the spring of 1943.
Tanya was at work at the time. She herself died in October 1943. This was the last pogrom. There were no Jews left in Minsk after this… In all honesty, you can’t even imagine what we endured here because of the vile German filth and no matter how much harm you cause them over there on German territory, it cannot be compared to what they’ve done here.
A fatal shot is too simple a death for them. They should be cut up into pieces… Personally, after all I’ve been through, life no longer seems worth living to me. I walk through this damned Minsk as though I am walking along a breathing cemetery…
Himmler in Minsk
15 August 1941
SS – Obergruppenfuhrer Karl Wolff who served as Himmler’s adjutant recalled that during a trip to Minsk on 15 August 1941 recalled that Himmler “asked to see a shooting operation,” and Einsatzgruppe B Commander Nebe arranged such an execution of 100 people, 98 men and 2 women.
Wolff was present at this action and he remembered how Himmler, just before the firing was to begin, walked up to a doomed man and put a few questions to him.
Are you a Jew
Are both your parents Jews?
Do you have any ancestors who were not Jews?
Then I can’t help you.
An open grave had been dug and they had to jump into this and lie face downwards. And sometimes when one or two rows had already been shot, they had to lie on top of the people who had already been shot and then they were shot from the edge of the grave.
And Himmler had never seen dead people before and in his curiosity he stood right up at the edge of this open grave – a sort of triangular hole – and was looking in.
While he was looking in, Himmler had the deserved bad luck that from one or other of the people who had been shot in the head he got a splash of brains on his coat, and I think it also splashed into his face and he went very green and pale – he wasn’t actually sick, but he was heaving and turned round and swayed and then I had to jump forward and hold him steady and then I led him away from the grave.
After the shooting was over, Himmler gathered the shooting squad in a semi-circle around him and, standing up in his car, so that he would be a little higher and be able to see the whole unit, he made a speech.
He had seen for himself how hard the task which they had to fulfil for Germany in the occupied areas was, but however terrible it all might be, even for him as a mere spectator, and how much worse it must be for them, the people who had to carry it out, he could not see any way round it.
They must be hard and stand firm. He could not relieve them of this duty, he could not spare them.
In the interests of the Reich, in this hopefully Thousand Year Reich, in its first decisive great war after the take-over of power, they must do their duty however hard it may seem.
He appealed to their sense of patriotism and their readiness to make sacrifices.
Then he drove off and he left this police unit to sort out the future for themselves, to see if and how far they could come to terms with this – within themselves, because for some it was shock which lasted their whole lives.
Von dem Bach-Zelewski claims to have lectured Himmler after the Minsk executions, telling him that the firing squad were now ruined for life, that they were destined to become either nervous wrecks or ruffians.
After the speech Himmler, Nebe, von dem Bach and Wolff inspected an insane asylum at Novinki. Himmler ordered Nebe to end the suffering of these people as soon as possible
At the same time Himmler asked Nebe “to turn over in his mind” various other killing methods more humane than shooting. Nebe asked permission to try out dynamite on the mentally ill people.
Von dem Bach and Wolff protested that the sick people were not guinea pigs, but Himmler decided in favour of the attempt. Much later Nebe confided to von dem Bach that the dynamite had been tried on the inmates with woeful results.
13 May 1900 – 17 July 1984
Karl Friedrich Otto Wolff
(13 May 1900 – 17 July 1984)
Was a high-ranking member of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS), ultimately holding the rank ofSS-Obergruppenführer and General of the Waffen-SS. He became Chief of Personal Staff to the Reichsführer (Heinrich Himmler) and SS Liaison Officer to Hitler until his replacement in 1943. He ended World War II as the Supreme Commander of all SS forces in Italy.
The 1931 Deutsche Bank economic crisis (brought on by the Great Depression) convinced him that only the more radical parties were capable of resolving the economic and political dilemmas in Germany.
For him the only option was the more extreme Right. Drawn by the ideal of a reborn Germany after this economic crisis, Wolff joined the NSDAP in July 1931. His membership number was 695,131. His SS membership number was 14,235. Wolff still worked in his own public relations firm after training in the Reichsführer-SS school system. He served in a mustering squad in Munich, and later was commissioned as an SS-Sturmführer in February 1932.Karl Wolff (2nd from the right) together with, from left to right: Heinrich Himmler (far l.), Reinhard Heydrich (l.) and an unidentified assistant (far r.) at the Obersalzberg, May 1939.
In 1933, after the Nazi Party came to power, Wolff became a full-time political party member and was promoted to SS-Captain to serve as SS military liaison officer to the German Army. On 8 March 1933 he became a member of the Reichstag.
In June 1933 with the leap from volunteer to full member of the SS, the associated financial security allowed him to relinquish his previous profession and to sell his company. He was personally recruited by SS Commander Heinrich Himmler to head the office of the Reichsführer's Personal Staff. Wolff became Himmler's adjutant(Chief of Staff) on June 15, 1933. By 1937 he was an SS-Gruppenführer and considered third in command of the entire SS (after Himmler and Heydrich).
It was at this point that his friendship with the head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Main Security Office) Reinhard Heydrich was at its height, with whom he helped certain parties in conflict with Nazi party doctrine, including some Jews, to leave Germany.World War II
As was later revealed in the 1964 trial, during the early part of World War II Wolff was probably "Himmler's eyes and ears" in Hitler's headquarters. Here at the centre of power, he would undoubtedly be aware of all significant events or could easily have access to the relevant information. Apart from the information passing across his desk, Wolff received (as Chief of Personal Staff Reichsführer-SS) copies of all letters from SS officers, and his friends at this point included the organizer of "Operation Reinhard" Odilo Globocnik. His later denial of knowledge of Holocaust activities may be plausible only at the detailed level, but not of the extent of atrocities by the Nazi regime.
In example, as the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto resulted in rail transport bottlenecks, Wolff telephoned deputy Reich Minister of TransportDr. Albert Ganzenmüller. In a later letter dated 13 August 1942, Wolff thanked Ganzenmüller for his assistance:“ I notice with particular pleasure your report that for 14 days a train has been going daily with members of the chosen people to Treblinka...I've made contact with the participating agencies, so that a smooth implementation of the entire action is ensured. ”
After the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Wolff fell out of favor with Himmler. After making Wolff a full SS-Obergruppenführer, Himmler dismissed him in 1942. In 1943, Hitler assigned Wolff an SS adjutant to Benito Mussolini's Italian Government, personally granting him equivalent General's rank in the Waffen-SS.
When Italy surrendered to the Allies, from February to October 1943 Wolff became the Higher SS and Police Leader of Italy, and served as the Military Governor of northern Italy. On 6 March 1943 his divorce from Frieda von Roemheld was finalized. He had gone over Himmler's head and obtained permission from Hitler. Thereafter on 9 March he married Ingeborg Countess Bernsdorff.
As the Nazi Army retreated and Hitler dismissed various commanders, 1943 to 1945, Wolff was the Supreme SS and Police Leader of the 'Italien' area. By 1945 Wolff was acting military commander of Italy.
A modern report in the Italian newspaper Avvenire in 2005 suggested that Hitler ordered Wolff to kidnap Pope Pius XII, but in collaboration with Germany's Vatican diplomat Ernst von Weizsäcker, he refused. Wolff also removed important art treasures from Monte Cassino, and went ill on the day that the Allies entered Rome, leaving German forces immobilised. According to historian Peter Gumpel, Pope Pius XII told senior bishops that should he be arrested by the Nazis, his resignation would become effective immediately, paving the way for a successor, according to documents in the Vatican's Secret Archives.
By now again in agreement with Himmler on the issue of futility of continuing the war, from February 1945 Wolff under Operation Sunrise took over command and management of intermediaries including Swiss-national Max Waibel, in order to make contact in Switzerland with the headquarters of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, under Allen W. Dulles. After initially meeting with Dulles in Lucerne on March 8, 1945, Wolff resultantly negotiated the surrender of all German forces in Italy, ending the war in Italy six days before the war in Germany, on May 2, 1945.
Arrested on 13 May 1945 by U.S. Army troops (on the promise he would be reunited with his family) he was imprisoned in Schöneberg. During the Nuremberg Trials, Wolff was allowed to escape prosecution by providing evidence against his fellow Nazis, and was then transferred in January 1947 to the British Army prison facility in Minden.
Although released in 1947, he had been indicted by the post-war German government as part of the denazification process. Detained under house arrest, after a German trial Wolff was sentenced in November 1948 to five years' imprisonment due to his membership of the SS. Seven months later his sentence was reduced to four years and he was released. Wolff worked after his discharge as a representative for the ad department of a magazine and took his family to his new residence in Starnberg. Until his rearrest in 1962, it is alleged that Wolff worked for the CIA, while continuing to successfully build his reformed public relations firm.
In 1962 during the trial in Israel of Adolf Eichmann, evidence showed that Wolff had organised the deportation of Italian Jews in 1944. Wolff was again tried in West Germany and in 1964 was convicted of deporting 300,000 Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp, the deportation of Italian Jews to Auschwitz, and the massacre of Italian Partisans in Belarus. Sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment in Straubing, Wolff served only part of his sentence and was released in 1969 due to ill health, with his full civil rights restored in 1971.
Wolff has been a controversial figure because many believe he was far more privy to the internal workings of the SS and its extermination activities than he acknowledged. In fact, he claimed to have known nothing about the Nazi extermination camps, even though he was a senior general in the SS.
After his release, Wolff was quiet for a while and retired in Austria. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Wolff returned to public life, frequently lecturing on the internal workings of the SS and his relationship with Himmler. This resulted in him appearing in television documentaries including The World At War, saying that he witnessed an execution of Jewish prisoners in Minsk in 1941 with Himmler, going so far as to describe the splatter of brains on Himmler's coat.
During this period, Wolff also became involved with former Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann and Stuttgart military dealer Konrad Kujau, for whom he in part authenticated the later discredited Hitler Diaries.
Asked to attend the trial of Messrs Heidemann and Kujau, Wolff had declined in health by the time he died in hospital in Rosenheim on 17 July 1984. His death brought his name up again in all major German newspapers, where he was described as "one of the most enigmatic figures of the Nazi regime". He was buried in the cemetery at Prien am Chiemsee on the 21 July 1984.
Zinaida Zevina, a Jewish widow, lived in Minsk with her two children. In the same office worked Yefim Buldov, also a widower, who had two children of about the same age as her own. They became friends, and soon Yefim proposed to marry Zinaida.
Before they could materialize their plans, the war broke out and tore them apart. Yefim was enlisted in the Red Army in June 1941, and taken prisoner by the Germans. His children, Lilia aged 9 and Gennadij aged 13, were put in an orphanage. Zinaida and her children, Vladimir aged 7 and Nadezhda aged 14, were incarcerated in the Ghetto where they suffered from the inhuman conditions.
By the end of 1942, Yefim managed to escape from the POW camp and returned to Minsk. With enormous difficulties he managed to find his children and was able to take them back. Then he set out to trace Zinaida.
After making contact with her, he began looking for a way to save her from the dying ghetto. Finally, in March 1943 at a prearranged time, Zinaida and her children crawled under the barbed wire and headed for the apartment that Yefim had rented.
It was a communal apartment, shared by several tenants, where he lived with his young daughter. His son had meanwhile been taken to forced labor in Germany. Notwithstanding the danger, Zinaida and her children stayed with Yefim until the end of the war. He had saved them from sharing the fate of the remaining Jews of Minsk who were all killed in fall 1943. Although two of the neighbors found out that Zinaida was Jewish, they did not reveal the secret.
Yefim and Zinaida continued to live together after liberation. The bond between the two families forged during the war years was enhanced when in 1955, Gennadij and Nadeshda got married.
In the year 2000 Yefim Buldov was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, ten-year-old Grigoriy Elper, of Minsk, was at a summer camp near the city. Although his parents managed to get out of the city, the attempt to evacuate the summer camp failed, and Grigoriy was interned in the Minsk ghetto together with his grandparents. In the fall of 1941, Grigoriy met Yevgeniya Yemelyanova, a Belorusian doctor who often furtively entered the ghetto to bring food to her Jewish friend, an acquaintance of Grigoriy’s grandmother.
When Yevgeniya first saw Grigoriy, she noticed that he closely resembled her only son of the same age, who had disappeared in the confusion that marked the first days of the war. The likeness aroused her affection for the child, and she proposed his grandmother to hand Grigoriy over to her.
Shortly after the first Aktion in the ghetto, the boy moved to Yevgeniya’s home. She rescued the child at great risk to her own life, because over a long period, two German officers were billeted in her home. Nonetheless, thanks to the support Yevgeniya received from her parents, she succeeded in overcoming all the difficulties, and cared for Grigoriy with the true devotion of a mother until the end of the occupation.
Even after Minsk was liberated and Grigoriy’s father found his son safe and sound, it was still hard for Yevgeniya to take leave of the child and he continued to live with her for another two months, until her own son was found.
Kmel David Romanovitch,
Kmel David Romanovitch, who was a prisoner in the Minsk ghetto, and a partisan.
During the Holocaust, more than 20 million people were subjected to forced labor - a crime that remained unspoken for many years.
The chemical company IG Farben used prisoners to erect a factory near Auschwitz, where it produced the toxic chemical used in the gas chambers
Jews were among the first victims of the Nazis' system of forced labor, both in Germany and in the occupied regions. They were publically humiliated and denigrated as being unwilling to work. This institutionalized cynicism is embodied in the inscription found above the gates to the Nazis' concentration camps: "Arbeit macht frei," or "Work sets you free."
By 1941, forced labor had become standard practice in nearly all areas of society, explained Volkhard Knigge, director of the Buchenwald concentration camp memorial center - "from private household help, to agriculture, industry and the church."
The exhibition at Berlin's Jewish Museum focuses on "the penetration of National Socialism into German society and the racism that was a core element of forced labor."
Around 1,000 items on display at the museum - photographs, letters and documents - reveal the extent to which the denunciation of Jews, Sinti and Roma became part of everyday life in Nazi Germany.
"Since forced laborers were used in every part of society, every German had to decide how they dealt with them - with humanity, or with the hostile criteria of racist ideology," said Knigge.
Uncovering the fates of survivors
Frenchman Jacques Leperc was in his early 20's when he was forced to work at carmaker BMW, where the conditions were dangerous and unhygienic. His written account of his experiences is part of the Berlin exhibition.
"It was freezing cold in the barracks where I was quartered," wrote Leperc. "I worked 12-hour days, alternating every other week with 12-hour night shifts, which were constantly interrupted by air raids."
Despite falling severely ill, Leperc survived the exploitation. Knigge explained that extensive research was done ahead of the exhibition in order to highlight the fates of survivors like Leperc after the war.
Even after the concentration camps had been liberated by the Allies and the war came to an end, the issue of forced labor was repressed. It took over half a century until the German government - and the industries which profited from forced labor - gave in to international pressure and financially remunerated the victims.
"Humanitarian aid for the surviving forced laborers occurred at a time when 80 percent of them had already died of old age," said Jens-Christian Wagner, curator of the exhibition at the Jewish Museum. "And even today, many of the forced laborers - like the Soviet and Italian prisoners of war - still have not been compensated."
Author: Marcel Fuerstenau (kjb)
Editor: Cyrus Farivar
13 November 1887 - 22 September 1943
(13 November 1887 - 22 September 1943)
Was a German politician and Naziofficial. He was an important figure in the German Christian movement during the early years of Nazi rule. During the war he became a senior official in the occupying government of the Soviet Union, achieving the rank of Generalkommissar for Weissruthenien (Belarus). He was assassinated in Minsk in 1943, triggering brutal reprisals against the citizens of Minsk.
Kube was born in Glogau (today's G?ogów), Prussian Silesia, and studied history, economics and theology. He was active in the Völkisch movement as a student, and was an early member of the Nazi Party. In 1924 he was one of the first group of Nazi members elected to the Weimar Republic Reichstag. In 1928 he was appointed Gauleiter of Brandenburg and speaker of the tiny Nazi party fraction (6 seats) in the Prussian Landtag (Prussian state legislature).Nazification of Christianity
Kube remained an active Christian despite being a zealous Nazi, and in 1932 he organised the list of candidates of the Faith Movement of the German Christians for the ordinary election ofpresbyters and synodals within the Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union on 13 November that year.
The German Christians then gained about a third of all seats in presbyteries and synods. Kube was elected as one of the presbyters of the congregation of Gethsemane Church in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg. The presbyters elected him from their midst as synodal into the competent deanery synod (German: Kreissynode; Berlin then comprised 11 deaneries altogether), and these synodals again elected him a member of deanery synodal board (German: Kreissynodalvorstand).
When in 1933 the Nazis came to power he remained active in the German Christian movement which sought to "Nazify" the 28 Protestant church bodies in Germany. For 23 July 1933 Hitler ordered an unconstitutional, premature re-election of all presbyters and synodals, with the German Christians now gaining 70-80% of the seats, so Kube could then further advance as head of the Berlin synod of the old-Prussian Church. Following the German conquest of Poland in 1939 his Nazi party domain was extended to include Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussiaand Reichsgau Wartheland.Denunciation of Buch
In 1936 it was claimed in an anonymous letter that Party Judge Walter Buch, the father-in-law of Martin Bormann, was married to a half-Jew. In the course of a Gestapo investigation it came to light that the letter had been written by Kube, whom Buch had investigated owing to concerns over his private life and his leadership style in the Gau. Buch saw to it that Kube was removed from all his posts. Only on Hitler's orders was he allowed to remain a Gauleiter, albeit without his own Gau.SS career
Kube joined the SS in 1934 and attained the rank of Rottenführer (Private First Class). In 1940 he served for a period at the concentration camp at Dachau. In July 1941, in the wake of the German occupation of the western parts of the Soviet Union, he was appointed Generalkommissar for Weissruthenien (now known as Belarus), with his headquarters in Minsk.
In this role Kube oversaw the extermination of the large Jewish population of this area. He was nevertheless outraged by the Sluzk Affair in October 1941, when "Einsatzgruppen" (death squads) of the SS massacred Jews without the authorization from the local Nazi civil administration and Security SS authorities. Non-Jewish local Belarusians were also killed, creating great resentment among the population. Kube wrote in protest to his supervisor and Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler:
The town was a picture of horror during the action. With indescribable brutality on the part of both the German police officers and particularly the Lithuanian partisans, the Jewish people, but also among them Belarusians, were taken out of their dwellings and herded together. Everywhere in the town shots were to be heard and in different streets the corpses of shot Jews accumulated. The Belarusians were in greatest distress to free themselves from the encirclement.
The letter concluded:
I am submitting this report in duplicate so that one copy may be forwarded to the Reich Minister. Peace and order cannot be maintained in Belarus with methods of that sort. To bury seriously wounded people alive who worked their way out of their graves again is such a base and filthy act that the incidents as such should be reported to the Fuehrer and Reichsmarshal.
Despite these misgivings, Kube participated in an atrocity on 2 March 1942 in the Minsk ghetto. During a search of the ghetto by German and Belarusian policeman a group of children were seized and thrown into pits of deep sand to die.
"At that moment, several SS officers, among them Wilhelm Kube, arrived, whereupon Kube, immaculate in his uniform, threw handfuls of sweets to the shrieking children. All the children perished in the sand."Assassination
On 22 September 1943 Kube was assassinated in his Minsk apartment. His death was caused by a bomb hidden in a hot water bottle, which was placed in his bed by a maid, Yelena Mazanik. In retaliation, the SS killed more than 1,000 male citizens of Minsk, though SS leader Heinrich Himmler reportedly said the assassination was a "blessing" since Kube did not support some of the harsh measures mandated by the SS. Mazanik escaped the reprisals and joined the partisans. She was later awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.
SURVIVOR KUSHA KRIGER, 86, DIES
TORONTO – Another witness to the most horrific period in Jewish history was lost with the passing of Holocaust survivor Kusha Kriger, 86, on Dec. 20.
While Kriger was enlisted with the Soviet Red Army and was dedicated to fighting for peace, his parents and most of his siblings and other relatives were murdered in the Minsk ghetto in Belarus, explained his granddaughter, freelance writer and editor Shlomit Kriger, a former intern and contributor to the Jewish Tribune.
Shlomit had dedicated a book she compiled and edited – Marking Humanity: Stories, Poems, & Essays by Holocaust Survivors (Soul Inscriptions Press, 2010) – to the memory of her grandfather, “as well as to all those who had been silenced by the great atrocity,” she said. “My grandfather had stood up for peace, and I will continue to do my part in striving to create a better world for all people.
“Although it was difficult for my grandfather to speak about his experiences during the war, and he was only 18 at the time, I recall one story he mentioned,” she told the Tribune. “He had been wandering through a small village and came across the home of a religious man.
“The man invited him into his home and said, ‘I can tell that you are a Jew.’ He then served my grandfather soup and other foods. Before my grandfather left, the man cut off a tzitzit (knotted fringe) from his tallit(prayer shawl) and told him to keep it on him at all times, but to not show it to anyone so as to not endanger his own life. My grandfather, whose parents had a synagogue inside their home, did as he was told.
“As he continued to fight in the war, he came close to getting seriously hurt many times, even once when a bullet passed through his backpack. But he survived. He only discovered that his relatives had been murdered after returning to his home.”
In 1956, Kriger, who at the time was living in Minsk, Belarus, was told that two of his brothers were alive and living in Canada. The older brother, Reuven, had also served in the army, and the younger brother, Zisel, had fled to Poland before moving to Canada. In 1980 he and his wife Basya and one of his three children moved to Canada, and he soon reunited with his brothers.
Kusha Kriger and his granddaughter Shlomit around the time of the publication of Marking Humanity: Stories, Poems, & Essays by Holocaust Survivors, which includes fascinating writings by 46 survivors who now reside in Canada, the US, Australia, England, Germany, and Israel.
Jewish Tribune – Jan. 20, 2011