Hitler's policy of "final solution of the Jewish question" brought fear, pain and death to the Novogrudok land. During the Great Patriotic War in 1941-1943, fascist non-humans and their accomplices destroyed more than six thousand Novogrudok Jews. But in this macabre story, there was a unique case of Jewish resistance and an unprecedented flight about which books have been written and films have been made.
Andrei SKURAT, deputy prosecutor of the Grodno region:
– The new order during the Great Patriotic War was planted on the territory of Belarus through genocide and mass terror. In the occupied territory of the Grodno region, the Nazis created 55 places of forced detention of the civilian population: 40 ghettos, 7 prisons, 7 camps for prisoners of war and the civilian population, and one collection point (during the additional investigation, another 31 such places were found). At least 105 thousand people were killed in captivity and more than 26 thousand were taken to Germany and death camps outside of Belarus. The Nazis and their accomplices committed mass murder of the Jewish population and Jews deported from Western Europe.
The new joint project of the prosecutor's office of the Grodno region and Grodnenskaya Pravda newspaper is about this. About the difficult fate of people who were marked on a national basis, about the extermination of the peaceful Soviet people during the years of war hard times and experienced universal grief, the miracles of survival and the height of the spirit of the survivors. We will talk about the crime scenes of the Nazis: ghettos, camps and other places of detention, in which local residents found themselves only because they had a different hair or eye color, spoke a different language, kept their own language and culture.
The new facts obtained by us in the framework of the criminal case on the genocide of the Belarusian people during the Great Patriotic War in the lands of the Grodno region make us take a fresh look at the events of almost eighty years ago and are horrified. But the legalization of this hard truth is our duty to the innocent fallen, the Almighty and new generations.
Before the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, people of different nationalities peacefully coexisted in Novogrudok. Sixty-three percent of the townspeople were Jews. Together with Belarusians, Poles, Russians and Tatars, they built and developed a unique historical place with a unique aura. They taught, treated, traded, crafted ...
The Germans captured the city on July 4, 1941, and already on July 26 they showed their attitude towards the Jews by arranging a demonstrative execution on the city square: they drove one hundred people out into the street and shot every second without explaining the reason. The dead were buried in the city cemetery. After that, on September 26, an order appeared on the streets of the city to restrict the rights of Jews. A new occupation order was established in Novogrudok - brutal, incomprehensible to civilians.
-A real persecution of the Jews began, their complete isolation, says local historian, head of the department of ideological work of the Novogrudok regional executive committee, Natalia Zhishko. “They were forbidden to travel to other cities, walk on the sidewalks, appear on the streets without special permission, contact other people, and they were ordered to sew yellow marks on their clothes - armor measuring 10x10 centimeters for identification and in case of escape. For the slightest violation - death.
On December 8, 1941, in the building of the Provincial court, the Germans gathered all the Jews - about six thousand people. The unfortunate languished in anticipation, froze in the cold, not knowing what fate would overtake them. Seeing a group of people with shovels, they realized that this was the end. At dawn a German officer appeared. Thus began the first "action" - a senseless and cruel execution.
-Families approached the German officer, the head of the family answered only two questions: about the profession and how many children are in the family, says Tamara Vershitskaya, former director of the Novogrudok Museum of Local Lore, a witness in the criminal case on the genocide of the Belarusian people. - After the answer - eye contact with the German officer, who actually determined the fate. That is, not only the answer to the question was important, but also the impression people made. And then fate was determined with a wave of the hand. Those who were sent down the stairs to the street were waited by trucks, which were taken to the place of execution in Skrydlevo. And those who remained in the building - about one and a half thousand - were transferred three days later to the ghetto on Peresek.
-On the day of the execution, they began to bring people in trucks and drive people on foot, shooting began, my father hid us under the table and forbade us to leave the house. Several corpses lay on the street from among those who disobeyed this order and went out into the street. In the evening of the same day, when everything was quiet, I ran with other children to the place of execution and saw fresh moving earth, a bunch of burning clothes ... ”(from the memoirs of an eyewitness to the distance
The execution was carried out by the Lithuanian police battalion, the city was cordoned off by the 7th company of the 727th infantry regiment, which also guarded the place of execution.
The territory of the ghetto at Peresek was fenced off with a wooden fence and several rows of barbed wire. According to the documentary-historical chronicle “Memory.Novogrudok district”, about eight (according to other sources - five) thousand Jews were kept there, because after the order of the gebitskommissarTraub to clear the territory of Jews, Jews from Ivenets, Lyubcha, Dyatlovo, Korelichi and Nalibok of the Stolbtsy district began to be brought to the Novogrudok ghetto.
-The ghetto consisted of about fifty residential buildings, both Jews and residents of other nationalities, where Jews were resettled, says Tatyana Volchek, deputy prosecutor of the Novogrudok district. - It was of an open type, since in March 1942, by order of the Gebietskommissar, Jewish workshops were created in Novogrudok, where prisoners were taken to work under guard. The occupiers used the labor of Jews to clear the city from the rubble formed as a result of bomb attacks. Any violation of the rules of the ghetto was punishable by death. In the summer of 1942, a group of Jews from the ghetto escaped into the forest, but all the fugitives died. The German authorities paid bounties to local residents who turned over runaway Jews. And there were many.
But there were those who saved other people's lives, risking their own. For example, the family of Poles Bobrovsky: husband, wife and their five children. Standing on the outskirts, a kilometer from Novogrudok, the Bobrovskys' house became a saving island for many Jews. The prisoners who escaped from the ghetto hid for several days and even weeks near the Bobrovskys, in order to later join the Jewish partisan detachment of the Belsky brothers, which operated in the forests of NalibokskayaPushcha.
In December 1942, ShifraHarkavi ran there, fleeing the impending execution, with two small children. And following the denunciation with a search, the policemen came. The Jewess, along with her eldest daughter, was shot, the owners were demonstratively dragged tied to horse tails to the prison, where they were also shot. But the youngest Jewish girl remained alive due to the fact that the mistress of the house married her off as her own daughter. Khadashka was assigned to an orphanage in Novogrudok. And she survived under the name of GalinkaBobrovskaya, was adopted, went to Israel and preserved this story of human courage.
Ghetto survivor Idel (Jack) Kagan recalled: “When I fled on December 21, 1942, fourteen people came to the house of the Pole Bobrovsky. When he repeated the escape on September 26, 1943, the Bobrovskys' house had already been burned down, the Bobrovsky family itself, the Jewess ShifraHarkavi and her five-year-old daughter, who were hiding in the basement of the Bobrovskys, died.
The house of the Bobrovskys, who were shot, was burned down for helping the Jews, and the children were sent to a concentration camp. One of the sons died there, the rest survived, but only Maria returned to Novogrudok. Thanks to the testimonies of Idel (Jack) Kagan and the surviving Jewish girl Hadashka (now her name is Galina Steiner), in 1997 Maria, in recognition of the dedication and heroism of her parents, as well as Frantisek and FrantishkaBobrovsky, were posthumously awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations. And there were eleven such families of the Righteous in Novogrudok.
The place where the house of the Bobrovskys stood has been immortalized: there is a monument to the families of the Righteous Among the Nations from Novogrudok in the form of a swan protecting its chicks. On the memorial plaque are the names of the Righteous and the phrase from the Talmud: "He who saves one life saves the whole world."
By August 1942, the Peresek ghetto was overpopulated, and there was not enough food for everyone. This is probably why, at the beginning of August 1942, the German occupiers prepared the second brutal action of extermination of the Jews: on August 7, about four thousand (!) civilians were shot near the village of Litovka. According to the data of the Extraordinary State Commission, which in 1945 conducted an investigation and recorded the crimes committed in the occupied territories, this number reaches 4,500, since another 500 people were shot there on February 4, 1943, during the liquidation of the ghetto. They shot from machine guns and machine guns at huge dug pits, after forcing the victims to undress. Women were screaming, the wounded were moaning, children were crying, and nonhumans were pressing the trigger...
-Four thousand brutally murdered Jews were buried in a common grave,” says local historian Tamara Vershitskaya. – YuliaLipai, who during the war lived in the village of Sunchitsy, saw the execution, because on that day, together with her mother and other women from the village, she harvested rye in the field and then every day she walked to school along the road past this grave. She recalled that "blood was breaking out of the grave, a fountain and a river flowed along the road"...
From the diary of Bini Berkowitz, published in Jack Kagan's The Holocaust and Resistance in the Homeland of Adam Mickiewicz: "The sun shines the same as last year, as if to show that nothing happened to him, as if : "I'm not guilty." The thought troubles my heart Here is what in July 1948 testified about that terrible execution, its participant Rudolf Mäeorg, who committed many atrocities on the territory of Belarus as part of the 36th Estonian police battalion:
“-In August 1942, the entire 36th police battalion in Tartu was loaded onto a train and went to Belarus, where we were unloaded in the city of Novogrudok. Our battalion was in the area of this city for about one month, our main task was to kill the Jews who were in Novogrudok and the surrounding villages. Yes, I took part in the execution of Jews with soldiers and officers of the 36th police battalion. Before the execution began, soldiers of the 36th police battalion, including me, arrested a group of Jews. Some of the arrested Jews were put on cars, some were taken on foot outside the city, where these arrested Jews dug large pits - ditches about 30–60 m long, about 1.5 m deep and about 2.5 m wide. After the ditches were ready, those Jews who dug the ditches were shot. Personally, I myself shot 10 Jews. Then they began to bring the rest of the Jews to these ditches, in groups of 20-30 people at once, among them were women and children ... ".
Before the monstrous “action”, a selection was carried out: the best specialists in the profession were selected, to whom Daniel Ostashinsky, a member of the Judenrat, who was responsible for forming groups for work in the city, distributed cards. Prisoners who knew Ostashinsky agreed with him to issue such cards, realizing that those who did not get them would be shot. They chose 500-600 Jewish specialists, they were transferred to a "labor camp" - a ghetto on Korelichskaya Street on the territory of the former district voivodship court.
“The territory of the ghetto on Korelichskaya Street (now Minskaya Street) was surrounded by two rows of fences: the barrack itself, where the Jews huddled, and the entire territory, including workshops, was surrounded by barbed wire and a three-meter wooden fence,” says Tamara Vershitskaya. - Towers and a searchlight on the courthouse were installed along the perimeter for control at night. This ghetto, unlike the ghetto on Peresek Street, was of a closed type, because the Jews were here permanently and had no right to leave it.
On the territory of the ghetto there are two barracks, workshops, a smithy and a hairdresser. Here, two carpentry, shoemaking, sewing and locksmith workshops worked for the Wehrmacht and the local German administration. The building of the voivodeship court was initially used as a warehouse (furniture from the houses of Jews was brought here, which was then used to equip the housing of the families of the German administration), later - as workshops.
-Conditions in the ghetto were terrible, says Natalia Zhishko. - According to the recollections of the surviving prisoners, the Jews had to build bunk beds for sleeping on their own: in three tiers and 65 centimeters per person. They slept on bare boards, and then used things left after the execution of the prisoners of the ghetto in Peresek as bedding. There was no heating, only a stove-potbelly stove standing in the middle of the barracks kept warm. The barracks were dirty, lousy, and miserable. There was little water in the well on the territory of the ghetto, so it was not possible to wash or change clothes. Jewish doctors, who were kept here, helped the sick. It was forbidden to leave the barracks after sunset. The daily norm of bread per person was 125 grams. For offenses - the most severe punishments in the form of blows with sticks, suspension by the hands wound behind the back. For example, for two potatoes found in a pocket of clothes... As the Jewish boy Idel, who escaped from there, later became the British millionaire Jack Kagan, said, “there was not a single cat, not a single dog, not a single bird in the ghetto. Because if they appeared, naturally, the prisoners would eat them.”
The commandant of both ghettos was Wilhelm Reuter, Deputy Gebitskommissar, who supervised the execution of Jews in Dyatlovo on August 6, 1942. In addition to him, the ghetto administration included the heads of the workshops, who were hired workers from among the Poles and Belarusians, and the ghetto guards - local residents who voluntarily went to serve in the police or were mobilized for service. All employees received money. From the testimony of Tamara Vershitskaya, she twice came across information in archival documents that in July-August 1943, Belarusians were also brought to the ghetto for a short period, before being sent to forced labor in Germany.
On May 7, 1943, the third mass “action” was held in the ghetto on Korelichskaya to exterminate the prisoners, but according to a new scenario: on the day of the execution, the best specialists were locked up in the courthouse, and the rest - about 250 people - were taken to a distance of 300-400 meters from the ghetto to the pit, ordered to undress and shot. They shot in groups of ten people, regardless of age and gender. By order of the killers, people lay down in a pit on the corpses of the dead and ... were martyred. After the execution, the number of Jews in the ghetto was halved.
From the testimony of policeman S.N. Kololo, which he gave in 1944 (an archival criminal case): “I personally shot 30 Soviet citizens of Jewish nationality, it was on May 7, 1943, during a Jewish pogrom. On the morning of May 7, 1943, when we came to work, the chief of the camp, Wingard, gathered us all, who announced that today there would be an execution of Jews, after which a German doctor came and gave all the participants in the execution an injection in the left hand. There were about a hundred of us in all, after which they put us on a truck and drove us outside the city of Novogrudok, where a hole was dug 20 meters long, 7 meters deep and three meters wide. After we were brought in, they began to lead the prisoners in groups of 30-40 people, and we immediately began to shoot them. Before the execution, all those arrested were undressed and they remained in their underwear ... ".
The same policeman testified in October 1944: “On May 7, 1943, 500 people of Jewish nationality were shot, who were unfit for work for the Germans, i.e. women, children, disabled people who don't provide enough produce, and old people were shot; the families of specialists who remained in the ghetto were shot. The execution was carried out from 5 o'clock in the morning and ended at about 10 o'clock in the afternoon. The ghetto was located in the former buildings of the Polish court.”
According to the National Archives of the Republic of Belarus (materials of the Extraodionary State Commission), 250 people were shot that day, and according to the German archives - 375, mostly women and children.