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Pinsk Jews in the Ghetto: Current state of affairs

by Nachum Boneh, translated into English by Thia Persoff

An article from YALKUT MORESHET, Number 64, November 1997
Mordehai Anilevich Study and Research Center, Israel

Summary

Nachum Boneh, from Kibbutz Sha’ar Hagolan, the chairman of the Association of Jews of Pinsk-Karlin and vicinity in Israel, analyzes the list of the Pinsk Ghetto’s residents, compiled by the Germans in 1942 and discovered in 1994. The liquidation of Pinsk Ghetto began in August 1941, with a murder of 11,000 males. This action was temporarily suspended when the murder-units were moved to another location. 18,000 persons were left in the ghetto, mostly women and children and some men who had managed to escape the first slaughter. The discovered list numbered 17,344 names with their birthdates, ghetto addresses, professions, and work place.

The author found that the lists’ data confirmed most of his own previous writings about Pinsk Ghetto, based on survivors’ testimonies: The composition of the population, the number of working persons, and the members of Yudenrat. The Pinsk Ghetto's final liquidation was in October 1942, after a year of starvation and extreme suffering of the inhabitants.

 

The Pinsk Ghetto List

In the summer of 1994, Mashah Uninn and Bella Kirshner of "Yad Vashem" in Jerusalem, working on file of Brest (Brisk), the district town of Polesia in Belarussia (Belarus), discovered a 544 page list of 17,344 names of the Pinsk Ghetto Jews, made by the Germans in the summer of 1942.

Among the pages, 30 are missing. These missing pages would contain about 940 names or about 5% of the 18,287 names.

The lists are written in German and organized alphabetically according to family name, first name, and year of birth, ghetto address, profession, and workplace. Street names were translated, literally, from the Polish of 1939 example: Zeilona to Greene.

The lists contain children whose birth year is 1942. As an example, some of the surnames with the largest numbers of persons listed, are Feldman-389 names, Globerman-251, Friedman-213, Kolodney-148, Lutzki-147, Goldman 141, Rubakha-138, etc.

The Pinsk Ghetto existed for six months – from May 1, 1942, until its elimination on the 29th-30th of October 1942.

Another "small" ghetto, with 140 professional persons, was eliminated on the 23rd of December 1942.(1)

How and why the existence of the Pinsk Jews was extended

How did it happen that about two thousand Jews survived in Pinsk, Polesia’s capital, while the rest of the district was already emptied of Jews (Yudenrein) in 1941? How is it that the only ghetto in the district was in Pinsk and it lasted six months? (2) This fact was not in accordance to Reichsführer SS Himmler’s order of July 30, 1941, which stated in plain language "All the Jews have to be killed! Jewish women are to be pushed into the swamps!" Pinsk was to be the first among the large cities of the concerned areas to be emptied of Jews, according to Himmler’s order. It was the first large city in which a total murder of all its Jewish citizens was planned – It numbered more than 20,000 Jews.

The Nazi armies conquered Pinsk on July 4, 1941. Beginning July 9, 1941, part of the commando forces of the operation detachment for special projects, was settled in Pinsk and started with decrees and persecutions against the Jews, including individuals’ murder. (3)

Bruno Magil, the commander of the cavalry group of the second cavalry brigade, received an order on 2 August 1941, to the effect that the first and fourth companies under his command, should start murdering all of the Pinsk Jews.

As usual, within the order, it was stated that the killing is to be coordinated with the local security police and the S.D.

Company Commander Charwat received the order from the Brigade Command to start the murders. He went to Pinsk to coordinate the implementation with the local commando’s commander.

On August 4, 1941, Charwat informed the local commander that he had Himmler’s order to murder all of Pinsk’s Jews. And he quoted..."All the Jews are to be killed and the Jewish women are to be pushed in the swamps."

Commander Werthof of the Pinsk Commando expressed his opinion that complying with the order "to push women and children into the swamps" can’t be done.(4)

Werthof’s opinions were based on technical reasons, not on humane principals. In the message that Charwat sent to the Brigade Command, after his meeting with Werthof, he notified them that in order to fulfill Himmler’s order, he would need trucks to ferry the victims and the S. S. Killers to the location planned for the murders. In the meantime, it was decided that on the morning of August 5, 1941, the murders would begin with all the males, age 15-60 according to instructions. Thus, on August 5th, 1941, the S. S. Mounted Company murdered 8,000 Jewish men and boys in Pinsk. On August 7th, the mounted SS with the help of the local militia invaded the homes of the Jews, and sent them to a collecting area. That day the killing continued with the murder of males beginning with age 6.

At least 3,000 more were killed that day.(5)

Apparently there was a disagreement between the mounted Brigade forces and the Commander of the Commando, when it came to the murder of the Jewish women and children. The message of Charwat to the Commander of the second SS mounted brigade, notifying him that to carrying out the Reichsffirer order of "as is", would take days more than the allotted time. This would disrupt the timetable for continuing the combing of the area.

The reply to this message was emphatically: "Pinsk action has to be implemented even if it will take additional days!"(6) The meaning is clear: continue the killing of all the Jews, including the women and children.

In the evening of August 8th, a message was received from the second SS Mounted Brigade headquarters, instructing all the Brigade units to leave Pinsk the nest day (August 9th) and proceed towards the originally planned destinations. This message was a complete contradiction to the order received that very morning that the murders must continue.

This last message lengthened the lives of remaining Jews in Pinsk, mostly women and children, for at least a year and a few months. (Himmler’s order for the elimination of the Pinsk Ghetto was given on October 27th, 1942, and was announced in my writing in The Pinsk Book, page 350).

During the days that the murders took place in Pinsk (August 5-8, 1941) at least 11,000 Jewish men and children were murdered.

About 20,000 Jews were left in town after the Mounted S. S. left. (7)

Bichler assumes that the extreme change and deviation from Himmler’s direct order, could have derived from a few factors:

  1. Himmler himself changed the order, so as not to be involved in the actions of the operation detachments - Haidrich’s very own "Kingdom" - who enjoyed a "free hand" in ordering their actions.(8)
  2. It is possible that conditions in the terrain influenced them, because "pushing Jewish women into the swamps" was not effective in that time of year, because the "swamps are not deep enough for a person to drown in", as was written in Magil’s final report on the project. (9)

The Composition of the Ghetto’s Population

The population of Pinsk Jewry after the horrors of the 11,000 murders was about 20,000. Only after nine months, on May 1, 1942 were the remaining Jews evicted from Pinsk. The Jews of Pinsk were deported to a new ghetto, erected in the poor section of the city of Linishches. I wrote about the borders and other details in "The Pinsk Book", which was based on written material and testimonies received from survivors.(10) Another source, written here first, was given to me in Pinsk in 1993, by N.M. Polekhovich, a Polish Christian, who resided in the city even during the Nazi domination, and was an eye witness to the crimes. With the help of Rita Margolin, a museum executive in Pinsk, he drew a map of the ghetto, which includes detailed dimensions such as:

1) The barbed wire fence that surrounded the ghetto was 2,345 meters long.

2) The ghetto had 240 houses on 23 streets. These were divided among 17,000-20,000 Jews with 0.6 square meters allotted, per person; each room was occupied by at least ten persons.(11) To alleviate some of the terrible suffering, members of the same family tried to live in the same room. (For example: Sarah Rivka Burstein, listed under "B" lived at the same address as her married daughter Mrs. Shulman, listed under the letter "S")

3) Polekhovich marked on the map 70-75 water supply sources: 12 of them had hand pumps, the rest were just well dug in the ground.(12)

I divided the ghetto population of 17,344 according to the lists that we have into three groups:

  • Men age 15 and up:   2,473 – 14%
  • Women age 15 and up:   8,615 – 50%
  • Children up to age 15:   6,256 – 36%
  • Out of all the listed names:   17,344 = 100%

Thus is revealed a picture of horror. Out of every 100 persons in the ghetto, there were 86 women and children up to the age of 15 and only 15 males, age 15-90. This is a shuddering confirmation to the missing 11,000 men that were murdered on August 5-7 of 1941. According to an added notation of the lists, it seems that a few hundred men that were supposed "go to work" in August of 1941 managed to hide and survive.

"Working Ghetto"

This is how the Germans called the Pinsk Ghetto. Out of 17,344 of the ghetto’s population that are included in the name lists, 11,088 were above the age of 15; 8,615 were woman and 2,473 were men. Out of them we counted 5,112 workers as they are listed in the pages of "workplace" (arbeitsstelle,) and they are 46% of age 15 and up. 5,112 workers were divided thus: 1,944 men (78% of 2,473) are 38% out of the workers. The others 62% were women workers; 3,168, which are 36% out of 8,615 women.

In classifying the lists, we arrived at complete details of all 44 work places where the ghetto residents were employed, according to the number of workers in each of them. Most work places were outside the ghetto.

Here they are in order of size and number of workers:

  • Yudenrat: all departments–services = 1175 workers.
  • Services to the Germans: army, military, shipyard, dockyards, and Air Force, Headquarters and police = 999 workers.
  • Supplies and services to the city’s residents 1284 workers (364 of which were women that worked in Christian households).
  • Factories and lumber mills = 859 workers.
  • In workshops = 795 workers. (13)

Improving Nutrition in the Ghetto

How were the thousands of workers helped to improve their nutrition? According to testimonies taken from survivors, the condition was "on the brink of starvation". The searches made on the People at the Ghetto’s gate, as they returned from work, and torturing those that were found having food on then, even murdering them sometimes for this "crime".(14)

We have to consider that 784 workers were employed in places that afforded the possibility of smuggling food to their families (420 in agriculture and 364 women in households). Also, 330 persons were employed by the Judenrat in places that were a bit helpful, in that they distributed the allotted foods (bread and vegetables). Also the help services; the Jewish Hospital, the Orphanage, and the kitchen for the poor.

Therefore, the Ghetto in Pinsk was able to exist even under all the horrendous conditions, for about a year and a quarter, as an isolated island of Jewish population that was completely Judenrine (cleaned of Jews).

During August of 1941, almost all of the Jews from the little towns around Pinsk: Yanov [Janów], Motol, Lohishin [Lahishyn], Drohichin [Drahichyn], Luninyatz [Luninyets], Davidgrudak [David-Gorodok], Lakhva, etc. were murdered.(15)

The End to Resistance in the Ghetto

In the Pinsk Book we dedicated a few pages to the experiments of small groups of young people preparing Resistance Cells against the Germans. Secretly, they collected and stored incendiary materials in a few areas of the ghetto at the start of the termination of the ghetto, thus breaking through the blockade and escaping into the forests.(16)

The Yudenrat institutions, aware of what was going on, talked the young people out of conducting their activities by relying on the Germans’ lies saying "Pinsk is a Ghetto working for the war effort and it will continue to exist". The small number of the men in the ghetto and the worry about the thousands of women and children’s fate was an added reason to influence young men not to carry out their plans, realizing that the Germans would have retaliated with vengeance and murder. By the end of October 1942, the Ghetto was eliminated with no resistance.

The Pinsk Ghetto List as an Historic Source

We are sorry that written material about the activities of the Pinsk Yudenrat was not found. There are no protocols, nor correspondence. Here and there were found single pages, Judenrat requests of the German authorities. They are mainly about medical and dental health, sent through the district physician, Dr. Delevsky who was the go-between.

It was important for us to sort out and authenticate the personnel’s composite of the Judenrat’s administration. We found out that the list of the Yudenrat executives and head of departments, listed in my writing, was correct according to the Ghetto lists. In each line where a name of an executive, or department head is written, his role was noted, too. For example: The Executive Chairman’s name, on page 39 has his rank noted as Judenrat Obmann. By the Vice-Chairman’s name, on page 370, is noted his rank as Judenrat, Vice-Obmann.

The members of the executive community Ratmann are listed in pages 109, 112, 232, 509 and 550.

The head of departments:

  • Page 522 - Supply Department; Leiter der Versorgunges Abteilung.
  • Page 102 - Public regulations department; Leiter der Ordenungs Abteilung.
  • Page 248 - Sanitary department: Sanitare Abteilung Beim Judenrat, as its head a Physician. The same with the other departments; a nurse heads the health department, an attorney/notary heads the Judicial; a baker heads the distribution of the bread; a former high school principal is the head of the Welfare, etc.(17)

Conclusion

I am sure one can understand my excitement, when I realized how close to the truth were the details of the different areas of my writings, to those that were found in the actual lists. For example; "More than 20,000 persons were incarcerated within the ghetto grounds"(18) and here in front of us is an authentic official list of 18,287 people in the Ghetto.

In my work, I based my writing on partial material of 42 pages that were found near the end of the war. On them were listed exit permits given to people, to go to the various workplaces, for the month of June 1942, their names and numbers.

To the 3,654 workers I added a note: " The material reflects, in part, what happened in the work area. The number of workers listed here is apparently close to half the total of the workers in the Ghetto.(19) See, we counted according to the pages of lists, 5,112 workers!"

In summing out, we note that the names of all the Shoah survivors of Pinsk that were in the Ghetto in 1942 are included in the lists. Additional survivors were, at that time, already Partisans and underground fighters in other places. To them I dedicate the second part of my writing called "The Revolt".(20) All of the survivors are honored, and I thank them for their written testimonies and for the personal interviews that I received.

Their information was the source for my writings that were published thirty years ago.

Now, after the discovery of the pages containing the list of Pinsk Ghetto Jews, we see how reliable and close to the truth the information was.

It gets confirmation and strength from this unique and singular document. The 554 pages that were found 52 years after the shattering destruction of the Pinsk Jewish Community, containing 18,287 names of the Jews in the ghetto in 1942 a few months before they were murdered near Dobrovolia Village. The organization of the emigrants and survivors from Pinsk-Karlin areas, in Israel and the rest of the world, have erected a monument on the 50th Yom Ha’shoah (Holocaust Day), in Memory of the people killed there.

 

Footnotes:

  1. See: Nakhum Boneh, "The Holocaust and the Revolt" in the Pinsk Book, Tel Aviv, 1966, pages 323-388. Printed also in "Yalkut Moreshet", Booklet 7 of July, 1967. This composition is translated in the book to English and Yiddish in abbreviated form.
  2. From here on to note #7, it is quoted from Yehoshua Bichler's "the Part of the Vafen-S.S. Brigades in the murder of Jews in the U.S.S.R.", In "Yalkut Moreshet" of June, 1986, Booklet 41, page 54, 55.
  3. See Boneh, page 325.
  4. In this place Bichler writes in note #142 according to Boneh, Magil was the one conducting the conversation with the Commander of the Security Police and CID in the place. Magil was in Pinsk, but Charwat was the one to conduct the interview with Verthoff. For this see: F. Bauer and K.O. Bracher (ed.) "Justiz und N.S. Verbrechen, Book 20. Page 49". I (N. Boneh) relied on the concluding report of the first attorney Dr. Arzt, in the trial of the Nazi criminals in Pinsk-Ludwigsburg, Germany, 1962-Moreshet Archives, Giv'at Khaviva c9.4.
    Also, these sources: Arye Dolinko "The Way Pinsk and Karlin's communities were destroyed", Tel Aviv 1946, published by the Pinsk emigrants association;
    Dr. Elkhanan Ainbinder - a letter sent to his parents from Pinsk 12/10/1942, Moreshet Archives, Giv'at Khaviva c.9.5.
    And also the testimonies of:
    Yehoshua Neydich- Moreshet Archives, Giv'at Khaviva c.9.26.6
    Motel Shukhman- Moreshet Archives, Giv'at Khaviva c.9.28
    Khayah Sherman- Moreshet Archives, Giv'at Khaviva c.9.30
    Manya Sheinberg - Moreshet Archives, Giv'at Khaviva c.9.31.1
    David Glob-Gloybman - Moreshet Archives, Giv'at Khaviva c.9.34
    Shalom and Golda Galetzky - Moreshet Archives, Giv'at Khaviva c.9.35
    Yehoshua Gurevich - Moreshet Archives, Giv'at Khaviva c.9.36
    Tamar Kobrinchuke - Moreshet Archives, Giv'at Khaviva c.9.38
  5. Boneh, page 330, 331 and Justiz page 51-53.
  6. Quoted by Bichler from Justiz, page 54.
  7. Up to here the extractions from Bichler, see note #2 above.
  8. Bichler, Ibid, page 71 note #153 see: Unsere Ehre heisst Treue, Kriegstagebuch des Kommandostabes Reichsführer SS, Wein-Frankfurt/aM-Zürich 1965 p. 226-230.
  9. Bichler, pg. 71 note #133.
  10. See: Boneh, Ibid, page 333-336.
  11. See: note #4 above, Dr. Elkhanan Ainbinder: "The Overcrowding in the Ghetto 1.5 meter per person".
  12. Compare: Boneh, Ibid, page 335. Neyditch, Moreshet Archives, Giv'at Khaviva c 9.226.6: "In the ghetto were only 2 water pumps".
  13. The full details of the number of workers in any of the 44 work places, at N. Boneh.
  14. Boneh, Ibid, page 335.
  15. Bichler, Ibid, page 53.
  16. Boneh, Ibid, page 341-343.
  17. Compare: Boneh, Ibid, page 326 - Membership of the Judenrat's Executives. In the records we have a confirmation to Boneh's lists and notes, except of 2 names (out of 8). Their absence can be explained by the 30 missing pages, containing 940 more missing names.
  18. Boneh, Ibid, page 335.
  19. Ibidm Ibid, page 337-338.
  20. Ibid, Ibid, 361-388.

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