The Judenrat of the Baranovichi Ghetto
Dr. Shlomo Kless, Kibbutz Nir David
The town of Baranovichi [in Polish: Baranowicze], in the Novogrudok district of
Byelorussia (now Belarus), was founded in 1883. As a relatively new town,
Baranovichi was built according to modern planning, with wide streets crossing
at right angles. The town developed rapidly, with a population of 30,000 at the
outbreak of the Second World War.
Situated at the hub of railroad lines the north-south from Vilna to
Lvov, and west-east from Warsaw to Moscow Baranovichi held considerable
strategic importance. Thus it was a site of wide-ranging economic activity and
a center of commerce and light industry. The abundance of surrounding forests
contributed to the development of various branches of the lumber industry
(sawmills, etc.). The presence of Polish Army bases along the Russian border
stimulated commercial opportunities in supplying goods and services for the
army. The Poles were a minority among the local population of Russians and
Byelorussians, a large percentage of the population being Jews. Although the
town's mayor was a Pole, the vice-mayor was Jewish.
From an economic standpoint the Jews were relatively prosperous, with an array
of institutions typical of an established Jewish community. There were
synagogues, yeshivot, charity and welfare funds, an orphanage, homes for the
elderly, hostels and soup kitchens for the needy, and more.
Baranovichi was the seat of learning and culture for the inhabitants of the
surrounding shtetls. In the commercial realm, it offered such modern
institutions as cooperatives, mutual aid funds, craftsmen's and tradesmen's
organizations, and banks.
In the political-public sphere, there were political parties and youth
movements as in many Jewish communities throughout Poland, an independent
system of education encompassing heders and yeshivot as well as a
Hebrew-language gymnasia [high school] of the Tarbut organization.
In all, the town offered a wealth of cultural, public and political activities
across a wide spectrum, as evidenced by the six Yiddish-language weekly
newspapers published there.
In the period between the two World Wars (1920 1939), Baranovichi was
under Polish rule. In September 1939, the Red Army invaded the territory,
commencing the Soviet occupation. With the German attack on the Soviet Union on
June 22, 1941 (Operation Barbarossa), the German army poured into
the area. Within five days, Baranovichi was conquered. At the start of the
city's occupation by the Germans there were some 12,000 Jews living there, of
whom about three thousand were refugees from Western Poland.
The Period of the First Judenrat:
The Open Ghetto
Immediately upon the Germans' entry into Baranovichi, German soldiers
together with local Poles and Byelorussians began breaking into Jews'
homes, intent on robbery, looting, and abusing their occupants.
The next day, the hunt for alleged Jewish communists commenced.
These Jews' alleged connection to Communism was merely a pretext. Most of them
had no such connection but nevertheless were caught and executed. At the same
time, other Jews were seized for various kinds of forced labor, and their
families knew nothing of their whereabouts, whether they had been taken for
work or perhaps even murdered. There was no lack of informers among their
Polish and Byelorussian neighbors, looking to settle scores with economic
competitors or simply with an eye for Jewish property. Merchandise and
furnishings were stolen. Many Jews were forced to leave their homes immediately.
The Jewish Committee
This situation of insecurity regarding their lives and property compelled some
of the Jewish community's leading figures to consult with each other. The
initiative for the first meeting, held in the synagogue on Wilenska Street,
came from Reb Mendel Goldberg. Those invited included former public figures
from all sectors of Baranovichi's Jewish life: representatives of the
municipality, community leaders, office-holders from industry and cultural
institutions, and political party delegates. This renewal of civic activity
among the activists fell naturally along the lines of their affiliations within
the previous structure. During the 21-month Soviet regime, there had been no
sign of any Jewish community activity, and now all of a sudden it came
back to life.…
The group suggested setting up a committee and appointing a chairman who would
attempt to establish contact with the German occupation authorities in order to
address problems of security, provisions of food and work, and to avoid
abductions for forced labor. Jehoshua (Owsiej) Izykson was unanimously chosen
to be the committee's chairman, with an office for the committee set up in a
Izykson immediately began initiating meetings with his acquaintances among the
Byelorussians, hoping through them to gain access to the German occupation
authorities. Meanwhile, the Jews continued to live in their own homes. This
situation was called the open ghetto. The more luxurious apartments
in the town's center were expropriated from their Jewish owners, who were
evicted with only a few hours' notice. All their property was stolen. There
were other Jews, those who quickly appraised the situation, who of their own
free will abandoned their homes and moved to the southwestern sector of the
town where Baranovichi's poorer Jews resided.
Work by order of the military government, published in the first days of the
occupation, the entire population was to continue in its regular work. All
those employed in essential enterprises, as defined by the Germans (e.g.
hospitals, flour mills, pharmacies, etc.) received work permits. These provided
an authorization for their holders, preventing abduction for forced labor.
Already in the first week of the occupation, notices signed by the military
government were published ordering the wearing of a yellow Star of David badge.
Jews were forbidden to walk on sidewalks, obliged to walk down the middle of
the street. Jewish men were to doff their hats when encountering a German
Securities and loan certificates, whether Polish or Soviet, were to be handed
over to the German authorities.
A curfew was imposed between seven o'clock in the evening until six o'clock the
next morning. Infringement carried a death penalty.
The Civil Committee (an institution parallel to the municipality,
appointed by the Germans and composed exclusively of Byelorussians), would
transfer all the Germans' economic demands to the Jewish Committee.
The Jewish Committee was organized according to the model of the
prior community framework. The committee's structure and composition, with
certain modifications, remained in place until the first
di shkhiteh, the slaughter a raid and roundup for extermination], on
March 4, 1942 the Jewish holiday of Shushan Purim. It soon became a
representative body, both for the town's Jews and for the German and
Byelorussian authorities as well. (The committee remained in this form for
three months, until September 1941, when it was authorized by the Germans and
its name changed to
[German: Jews' Council].)
In September 1941, some two and a half months into the German occupation, SS
men appeared in Baranovichi, headed by Obersturmfuehrer [Lieutenant] Adolf
Lerner, the area's
[commissioner]. A young lawyer named Krampe, an ardent Nazi, was put in charge
of the Department of Jewish Affairs. From Kovno (now Kaunas) came Gestapo
representatives headed by the Nazi Amelung and his young Lithuanian assistant,
Josef Gurnievich, known as the cruel Lithuanian. That same month, a
contingent of German field gendarmes [police] arrived, and a Byelorussian
police force was set up to work beside them, including an investigative branch
headed by one Dushenko.
Establishing the Judenrat and the Entry into the Ghetto:
In September 1941, as stated above, the Jewish Committee officially became
known as the Judenrat and at the same time, reliable information
indicated that the Germans intended to set up a ghetto in Baranovichi. The
chairman of the committee, Izykson, made strenuous efforts to obtain an
increase in the size of the proposed ghetto area. By means of extensive bribery
and with the aid of Krampe, these efforts succeeded. The ghetto was designated
in the southwestern part of the town, a crowded area to begin with.
A barbed wire fence 2.5 meters high was erected around the ghetto. The
allocated area had only 60 buildings to house some 12,000 people. The crowding
was terrible, and the buildings became known as
[Russian: communal living]. A 4 x 4-meter room was meant to house 20 to
25 people. Wooden bunk beds were built with three tiers.
The ghetto was located within the town and had two gates: the main gate on
Wilenska Street, and another at the cemetery.
The Judenrat and the ghetto police had their headquarters at the main gate,
across the street from the Gestapo building.
Guard towers equipped with machine guns maintained strict surveillance of the
ghetto's fenced perimeter. During the transition period of moving into the
ghetto, the Judenrat found itself occupied with calming the Jewish populace
while assigning living space to families. On December 12, 1941, the Germans
sealed the ghetto.
The Structure of the Judenrat:
The Chairman Jehoshua Izykson was an activist in the town's civic life and a member
of the Town Council. He sat on the directorate of the Merchants' Bank, with
contacts among Baranovichi's Polish and Byelorussian leadership. Izykson
commanded a handsome appearance and persuasive communication skills. He held
the confidence of the Jewish community's entire spectrum, without exception.
Izykson believed that he would succeed in saving the lives of Baranovichi's
Jews by means of his connections, intercession and bribery. He personally
conducted negotiations with the Germans.
On December 17, 1941, seventy-two Jews were arrested. The Germans hinted to the
Jewish Council that the detainees would be spared in exchange for a payment.
This was the first contribution of this sort in Baranovichi, and
amounted to twenty kilograms of gold, silver and jewelry, plus an additional
one million rubles. The matter was widely publicized and to everyone's
surprise, the sum was quickly amassed. It was accomplished without setting any
quotas; the Jews contributed their valuables voluntarily. The payment was
handed over to the Germans, although no mention was made of the arrested Jews
all of whom had been shot the same day they were apprehended. Of the
money collected from the community, a considerable sum remained in the hands of
the Judenrat, who used it for operating expenses.
In another instance, the Byelorussian Civil Council charged the Judenrat with
the task of supplying sixty young Jewish women to brothels for German soldiers.
Izykson succeeded in neutralizing this demand with the aid of a Byelorussian
friend. A contingent from Vilna brought sixty non-Jewish professional
ladies to Baranovichi, enabling the Judenrat to fulfill its obligation.
Izykson declared, kosher daughters of Israel, I will not give.
Only a few of Izykson's deeds, and those of the Judenrat during his term of
office, are mentioned here. He always maintained, Silver and gold I will
give, but not a human life. This was known throughout Baranovichi, among
the Byelorussians and the Germans as well.
Izykson would hold meetings of the Judenrat on a regular basis, consulting with
its members as well as inviting influential, established members of the Jewish
community to attend the meetings.
The Secretary was Mrs. Yevgenia (Genia) Mann. Upon the establishment of the Judenrat, she
was invited to work as secretary to Izykson, the chairman. Her unlimited
devotion to her work gained her the immediate appreciation of the Judenrat
workers and ghetto Jewry alike. Her skills as an interior decorator led her to
become a sought-after consultant for the homes of the German officer-elite, and
her wide-ranging connections were influential in getting some decrees canceled
and others postponed. The personal warmth she radiated was a source of comfort
and faith to the ghetto's Jews in their distressed circumstances. She became
known as the mother of the ghetto.
Mrs. Mann, when decorating the apartment of a German Air Force general, was
offered refuge in the home of his parents in Germany. She rejected his offer,
replying that she would be sharing the fate of her people. As noted below, her
words were prophetic.
The Vice-Chairman of the Judenrat was Shmuel (Mulia) Jankielewicz. He agreed to serve on the
Judenrat, and as he was known to be an upright man, was readily accepted.
Serving as vice-chairman, his areas of activity were not specified.
Liaison between the Judenrat and the Gestapo, and with the Byelorussian police's
investigative branch, was carried out by Shmuel (Mulik) Izrael. This young man,
a fluent German-speaker, established connections among those around him as well
as with the representatives of the German regime.
The Main Offices of the Judenrat were composed of several branches:
The Secretariat: Josef Kuryniec, previously the editor of a Baranovichi weekly magazine,
served as general secretary. He was a law student with a good command of
German, a popular lecturer, serious and dedicated. He was not a member of the
Judenrat, but attended its meetings. His principle role was to handle the
paperwork in dealing with the German and Byelorussian authorities.
The Treasury: This department was managed by Mordechai Schiff, previously the treasurer of
Baranovichi's Jewish community. His was one of the most important and sensitive
domains of the ghetto, and it operated with the complete confidence of all
concerned. Schiff himself, a man of integrity with pleasant manners, succeeded
in functioning industriously under the difficult circumstances he faced. Schiff
was not a Judenrat member, but rather, a senior clerk who participated in the
Bookkeeping services were supervised by Baruch Galay, formerly a civic
activist, who was known as an honest and dependable man.
Labor: Heading the Department of Labor was Josef Leiman, a religiously-observant
Jew, well-known and accepted in the community at large. His wisdom guided his
work and he commanded the respect of all. His assistant and right-hand man was
Yitzhak Fidler, a student, the son of a prominent Baranovichi physician and
possessed of considerable organizational talent and skills. The Department
immediately set up a file listing the town's entire Jewish population. When
rumors began to circulate that a ghetto would be established, this department
began allocating buildings and apartments, and this greatly eased the
transition from the open ghetto to the closed one.
As mentioned above, those ghetto residents employed in work deemed essential
were provided with
[German/Yiddish: transit passes]. All those who had no permanent jobs
were ordered by the Judenrat to assemble at a designated time next to the
Judenrat building. This was an independent initiative to organize the
population in order to provide able-bodied workers in case of need.
Organized groups of laborers would depart the Judenrat building grounds en
masse each morning, for temporary work ordered by the Germans. During the
period of the open ghetto each group was headed by a Jew appointed
to the task. Once the ghetto was closed, these groups were headed by a German
or a Byelorussian.
Paying the Jews for their work was strictly forbidden. Anyone employing Jews
was to pay the wages to the Department of Labor that was located beside the
office of the German
An incident occurred in which a Jew working as a tailor for a local resident
requested payment for his work. The Gestapo was informed of the matter, and
that evening, all the ghetto's Jews were assembled and the tailor was hanged in
public for his crime.
The most desirable jobs were those providing services to German homes. Most of
these positions were located throughout the town. The Jews were usually treated
reasonably. The main benefit was being able to eat one's fill and perhaps even
to obtain some additional food to take back into the ghetto.
There were several workplaces where hundreds of workers were concentrated. The
Air Force base was one of these, with 350 workers. Another 250 worked at the
Depot, the railway workshops.
Each day, over 5,000 Jews went to work outside the ghetto. Every one of them,
young and old, did so willingly as a means of staying alive. The Department of
Labor came into existence immediately at the start of the German occupation and
continued to function during the entire period of the ghetto's existence.
Workshops, or the Good Ghetto: Located throughout the ghetto were several specially fenced-off buildings
where workshops were set up. This was initiated by the Judenrat, with German
approval. Some 60 or 70 master craftsmen worked there on private jobs ordered
by the Germans. These workshops included tailoring, furniture carpentry and
upholstering, glassworks and so on; also electrical and watch repairs were done
there. The organization was truly marvelous. Most of the raw materials were
brought there by the Germans, and the labor was provided free of charge. This
was considered a particularly secure workplace, and many Jews pressured the
Judenrat to arrange for them to work there. Indeed, in the first
Aktion, not a single Jew from the workshops was executed.
Economics: This department was headed by Fishel Sawczycki, formerly a factory owner. His
wife was active in an armed resistance group of the underground, but this did
not change his pessimistic outlook regarding the ghetto's future.
Housing: Idelczyk, an energetic young man, was in charge of housing in the ghetto. In
fact, as previously noted, the major preparations for distribution of housing
was done by Leiman of the Department of Labor even before the Jews entered the
ghetto. This was one of the most problematic branches of administration,
burdened by unceasing demands on the part of ghetto residents seeking improved
conditions or wishing to move.
Supplies and Provisioning: The central problem for the Jews incarcerated in the ghetto was food
provisions. The Germans provided no food whatsoever but allowed the Judenrat to
deal with supplying it. All acquisition of large quantities of food was handled
by this department. Purchases were paid for in money and barter. There were
severe obstacles to surmount: initially in buying food and then in transporting
it into the ghetto. Obtaining food and distributing it fairly became an ordeal
for members of the Judenrat. The daily ration of bread per person amounted to
Warehousing: Responsibility for this branch was given to Beloskurnik, a man of initiative
and energy. He had previously specialized in supplying boots to Polish Army
officers and continued to do so for the German occupiers as well. In this way
he came into contact with German officers.
In the Judenrat, he was among those who volunteered to aid the public in times
of need. The food provisioning system required setting up warehouses, not only
for foodstuffs such as flour, groats, potatoes and such, but extended its
activities to include clothing and shoes. The craftsmen working in the
warehouses helped the ghetto residents by repairing shoes, mending clothes, and
Property: Those responsible for this department tried to acquire Jewish property that
remained outside the ghetto boundaries, in order to fund the purchase of food.
They also tried to tap other sources of funds by selling fixed assets. There
were Byelorussians who were tempted and agreed to pay considerable sums so that
the houses, lots or businesses would be legally registered in their names. All
this was handled by Beloskurnik.
Food: The ghetto did have a store which distributed foodstuffs, managed by Moshe
Litwak, a well-respected figure who inspired confidence in his judgment.
Matters concerning food were one of the most sensitive issues of daily life in
Welfare: This department was headed by Chaim Zukerman; his assistant was Abba Zakin.
These men were former civic activists with well-earned reputations for
integrity and caring for the town's poor from back in the days of Polish rule.
Their viewpoint was expressed in the saying, In the Baranovichi ghetto,
no Jew goes hungry for bread. In accordance with this outlook they
accomplished great works, aided by a loyal team of helpers, among them Genia
Mann. During the period of the open ghetto, this department supervised the
activities of pairs of fundraisers who went about the town, collecting funds
from wealthy Jews to be distributed among the needy. Usually they knew who had
resources and how much, or who had succeeded in bringing quantities of food
into the ghetto from outside. Additional department activities were carried out
by similar means. Pairs of volunteers would go out after their work hours: one
collecting foodstuffs, the other making the rounds and distributing them.
There was a feeling in the ghetto that someone was looking after the needs of
the poor, not hesitating to take, even by force, from people of means. And
indeed, by all accounts and testimonies, no one starved in the Baranovichi
Health: The head of the Health Department was Dr. Nachumowski, among the senior
physicians in Baranovichi. He was respected by the town's medical community,
Jewish and non-Jewish alike. The Health Department had three branches:
Medicine, Sanitation, and Pharmacy.
Medicine: Dr. Nachumowski had a staff of ten physicians to assist him, A hospital and
outpatient clinic were set up in the building which had been the town's home
for the elderly. Medical care was provided free of charge. A small building
across the way served as a separate hospital for infectious diseases. The great
fear was that epidemics would break out, especially typhus. This is why the
Sanitation Department was so crucial.
The head of this branch was Dr. Sawczyc. While he was very active in the area
under his authority, he was known in the ghetto as one of those who would do
anything not to arouse the ire of the Germans in hopes of avoiding their wrath.
This, however, contributed to the impression of his appeasing them.
There was no solution for the oppressive overcrowding in the ghetto.
Nevertheless, real accomplishments were achieved in matters of hygiene.
Sanitation crews made home visits to instruct the inhabitants, taking a hand in
removing garbage and whitewashing dirty places. Equipment was set up for
delousing clothing, and use of the public bathhouse was made mandatory. The
fear of the outbreak of an epidemic that would claim many victims overshadowed
the Jews in the ghetto. The Germans threatened to execute anyone who contracted
an infectious disease. Due to the activities of the Sanitation Department and
the participation of the population, no epidemic ever broke out. The
Baranovichi ghetto became a model ghetto [in German: muster
Geto] in the eyes of the German occupiers.
Pharmacy: This special department was headed by Michael Mukasiej, a pharmacist and
public figure. The chronic shortage of medications in the ghetto was difficult
to overcome. Nevertheless, thanks to connections with fellow pharmacists on the
Aryan side of Baranovichi, medications were brought in by special
permit. Crates full of medications were also transferred to hiding places in
According to a survey by physicians who survived, it appears that from among
the medical staff of the ghetto (including physicians and pharmacists), 57
perished in the Holocaust. Two died of natural causes. Of the seven who
remained alive, five immigrated to Israel.
Police: This department was organized by Chaim Weltman, who volunteered for the task
and held it until the First Aktion. He was one of the town's most important
civic activists, the head of the tradesmen's union, a member of the community
council and the town council, and was known as the voice of the
Weltman gathered forty young men to serve in the Department, most of them
members of the Maccabi sports organization, which was a sports club
and likewise a center for social activity. These young men took part in
guarding the ghetto gate alongside the Byelorussian police posted there. They
were of great assistance to the Sanitation Department enforcing the hygiene
requirements in and around the kolkhozim. It was said,
Violence is unknown in the Baranovichi ghetto something that
even today is difficult to comprehend.
The ghetto police force had several bicycles on which they freely circulated,
patrolling the town. They would send notices to ghetto residents returning from
work, regarding searches being conducted at the gate or about bringing food
into the ghetto. They warned the ghetto population about unannounced searches
by representatives of the regional commissar, for which the police would
receive a quarter hour's advance notice.
Their humane behavior resulted in no barrier dividing between them and the rest
of the ghetto's residents. True, they were called police, but
according to all reports of their deeds, they provided real assistance and
helped alleviate the suffering of their ghetto brethren. For this, they were
held in esteem.
The police assisted people from outside such as farmers with goods to
barter to enter the ghetto. By all accounts, without exception, their
behavior and their help to the ghetto's inhabitants were well appreciated.
The Invitees: During the course of time, there were some people who had the status of
invited participants at the Judenrat's meetings. These were noted figures among
the town's population, invited for various discussions.
Dr. Ajzik Busel would attend almost every session of the Judenrat without being
a member, and was considered a representative of the town's intelligentsia. He
was known for his firm opposition to any sort of armed resistance. During the
Aktion an SS man approached him and asked his profession. When told that Dr.
Busel was an ophthalmologist, the SS man stabbed him in both eyes and only
afterwards shot him.
The dayan[Hebrew: judge in a religious court] Reb Nishe (Nisan) Scheinberg was popular
with all Baranovichi Jews, the observant and the secular alike. His brother was
the town's young rabbi, who inherited the position from their father. With them
in the 'kolkhozim' lived Berezowski, who served as an arbitrator in the Jews' internal disputes.
The Judenrat's chairman Izykson would come to these men frequently for
consultation. He would confer secretly with Reb Nishe about any difficult
problem before coming to a decision. These consultants would also attend
Culture and Education: This was not a separate department within the Judenrat, but was assigned to
the veteran teacher and educator Misilewski to organize study groups for
children. He would go from one 'kolkhoz'
to the next throughout the day, giving lessons and counseling. Yeshiva
students and senior rabbis of the community, and particularly the
ultra-Orthodox among them, would hold study sessions for Torah and Gemara in
several of the 'kolkhozim'.
From the above brief description of the First Judenrat, its structure,
activities and the people involved, an image forms of an effort to establish a
sound and responsible organization. Two main guidelines are apparent: towards
the outside, the attempt to stem the tide of frequent demands for goods and
money, but without surrendering people. Izykson's slogan became the rule:
Not a human life.
As regards internal relations: maintaining life focused on ensuring basic
existence for all, according to the slogan of Zukerman and Zakin (of the
Welfare Department): Not a single Jew in the ghetto goes hungry.
With the aim to provide the needy with the minimum required for survival, there
was no hesitation in taxing the wealthy. The organizational functions of the
community were carried out in an almost family-style manner.
Judenrat sessions were attended not only by its members, but also by senior
officials and invitees as well.
The First Judenrat in the First Aktion: March 4, 1942
Before the First Aktion, Izykson and his secretary, Mrs. Genia Mann, were invited to the office of the
regional commissar. He demanded they provide him with a list of 3,000 elderly
and sick Jews, the uselessones, with assurances that no harm would
come to the rest of the community. Izykson refused adamantly, saying, You
may demand everything but human lives; that is in the hands of God. With
these words he stated his position and lost his own life. The threats that this
would cost him dearly, were to no avail. The result was that, on the day of the
Aktion, he and Mrs. Mann were taken to the execution site, where they were made to
witness the slaughter of the sick and elderly and then were the last
ones to be shot.
On March 4, 1942 the Jewish holiday of Shushan Purim the
commissar approached Chief of Police Chaim Weltman to send 15 policemen to the
Green Bridge (which was to become the execution site of Baranovichi
Jewry) to keep order. Weltman turned to all the policemen, saying,
Boys, everyone's getting on the truck; we're going
al kiddush Ha-Shem' [Hebrew: to sanctify the Holy Name]. He himself was first to board the
truck. All forty of his men got on after him. When they finished their task of
burial at the site of the mass killings, they themselves were shot in the back,
every last one of them, by the Byelorussians.
The Period of the Second Judenrat
The day after the First Aktion, those remaining alive were obliged to go out to their daily work as usual. By
order of the Gestapo, a population count was conducted, and 7700 Jews were
listed. The ghetto territory was further reduced, with housing calculated
according to 70 square centimeters per person.
Conditions became more severe. The non-Jewish townspeople's attitudes toward
the Jews deteriorated, and working conditions worsened. The illusions regarding
survival evaporated. The inspections at the gate of the ghetto became harder
and more meticulous. Nevertheless, the will to live and survive became
stronger, and the ghetto began to reorganize once again. The Second Judenrat,
however, employed only 10 officials in addition to 25 policemen.
The members of the First Judenrat who had perished in the First
Aktion were: Izykson, Mrs. Mann, Weltman and Zukerman.
Jankielewicz, the assistant to Chairman Izykson, was appointed by the Germans
to succeed him as Judenrat chairman. Taking the place of Welfare Department
head Zukerman was Zakin, with Warszawski as his assistant. All 25 of the
policemen were new appointees. The engineer Goldberg was added to the Judenrat.
The new Judenrat officially numbered eight members. The changes in its
composition were evident, but the really significant change occurred in regard
to its approach to its role, and to its status in the eyes of the community..
The Chief of Police, Rotkiewicz, was involved in the activities of the
underground. His assistant, Warszawski, who served as Acting Chief of Police,
was on the command staff of the fighting organization that had been set up in
the ghetto after the First
Aktion. Seventeen of the twenty-five policemen were in the underground, which greatly
aided in its functioning and in arming the fighting organization. Zakin and
Leiman were aware of the fighting organization's underground activities, but
were themselves not members in it.
In the half-year period between the First
Aktion of March 4, 1942 and the second one on September 22, 1942 the day after
the Jewish High Holy Day of Yom Kippur, there was a striking difference in
ghetto life. This was expressed in several aspects. There was an upsurge in
constructing bunkers, as these were the means by which many ghetto residents
survived the First Aktion. The aftermath of the Aktion
also marked the beginning of the underground armed resistance. It became
extensively active especially among young adults and teenagers. Smuggling of
all sorts of weapons into the ghetto increased. This was carried out with
relative ease because in many workplaces where Jews were employed, there were
stores of huge quantities of weapons left by the Soviets. Relations between
this organization and the Judenrat, and within the Judenrat itself (following
an incident in which a member of the organization was caught smuggling weapons
into the ghetto), became strained. During the second half of 1942, there was
also an increase in the number of those leaving the ghetto for the forests to
join the partisans there. There were rumors of the mass murder of Jews in small
towns in the vicinity. From a few towns came refugees with tales of these
killings added to the unquiet atmosphere. Despite prohibitions, the Judenrat
provided housing and food for these escapees. Young people entered the ghetto
from the forests, urging their friend to join them there. Preparations for an
uprising increased, but the Second Aktion, which came without forewarning,
made it impossible to carry out the plans. For ten days, the ghetto was cut off and
sealed, and during that time the Germans took 6,000 Jews to the killing site near
the village of Grabowiec.
A bitter argument arose between the supporters of either an uprising within the
ghetto or going out to fight in the forests and those who were sure this path
would bring disastrous consequences upon the remainder of ghetto inhabitants.
This reached the extent of threats that opponents would be turned over to the
Germans. Anyway, the matter remained within the family as an
internal conflict among the Jews.
The conditions that were created were very severe. All illusions were
shattered. During the second Aktion there were many instances of
desperate resistance by individuals. Jews attacked and even killed the
murderers. After the second Aktion, the survivors numbered only
3,000 of the town's Jews.
The Period of the Third Judenrat
Among the members of the Second Judenrat who survived the Second
Aktion were: Dr. Sawczyc, Sawczycki, Beloskurnik and Goldberg. Meetings in the
Judenrat building also included all those who held key positions in the ghetto
organizational structure. They unanimously appointed the engineer Goldberg to
be chairman. He himself was a refugee from Western Poland, an astute individual
inclined to take initiative. Well-spoken in German, he enjoyed the confidence
of the Jews and even the respect of the Germans.
The choice of a Chief of Police was a far more complicated matter. As before,
none of the ghetto police were left alive after the Aktion. Many had
perished, and others had succeeded in escaping and reaching the
forests. Considerable pressure was applied on a number of candidates to head
the ghetto police force, but all remained firm in their refusal. With the
matter at an impasse, Dr. Lubranycki spoke up, announcing that at this
difficult time, it was unthinkable to leave a ghetto of 3,000 Jews without a
police force, and he volunteered for the task. His move was gladly accepted,
not only as it resolved the difficult situation, but also because of his
personal qualities. He was a refugee from Lodz whose brother had married a
local woman and who meanwhile had already managed to escape to the forest.
The area of the ghetto was substantially reduced again. This time, living space
was calculated to allow a mere 60 sq. cm. per person. The shortage of food
became more severe, because most of the families were broken up, resulting in a
population of widows, orphans, the elderly, and the remaining family members of
those who had escaped to the forests.
Now, ghetto administration was no longer a matter of departments and structure.
A limited number of people did the work, mainly taking care of providing food
for those who were still alive. The new chairman, the engineer Goldberg, urged
the sending of work squads to the nearby Koldychevo labor camp as a possible
means of survival. Likewise, with his encouragement, many people went to join
the partisans. I see and hear nothing everyone who can, should do
everything possible in order to escape. Goldberg also provided direct aid
to the partisans, especially in sending them medicines to the forests. However,
Dr. Sawczyc remained opposed to Goldberg's position and discouraged the escape
from the ghetto to the forests. Especially painful were the cases where
families were broken up, with an able-bodied man leaving behind him a wife and
children or elderly parents.
Baranovichi Jewry continued to struggle for its existence for nearly three
months. Then, on December 17, 1942, hundreds of Gestapo men burst into the
ghetto along with Byelorussian, Ukrainian and Latvian police, and with threats
and savage blows, assembled the Jews on a large, open plot of ground. There
they carried out a Selektion. Some 1400 Jews were chosen and assigned
to workplaces. The rest were loaded onto trucks and taken to the Grabowiec pits,
where they were put to death.
Among the 350 Jews sent to the Koldychevo labor camp were Goldberg, Dr.
Sawczyc, Fidler, Leiman and Beloskurnik. Izrael was taken to the Gestapo yard
where he was tortured, then killed. Dr. Lubranycki was killed likewise. During
a month's time, the ghetto population was exterminated down to the last Jew.
Many hid in bunkers, but the Germans and their minions conducted methodical
sweeps of the area, while likewise intent on finding anticipated booty to
plunder. In the process, an organized group of 200 Jews got out to the forests,
and about another 500 after them. Baranovichi was declared
Judenrein [German: cleansed of Jews].
Of Baranovichi's entire Jewish population, only about 400 people remained alive
at the end of World War Two.
Table of Judenrat positions and officials:
|Position / Department
||IZYKSON Jehoshua “Owsiej”
||MANN Mrs. Yevgenia “Genia”
||JANKIELEWICZ Shmuel Mulia
|| Chaim WELTMAN
||ZUKERMAN (CUKIERMAN) Chaim
|| DR. NACHUMOWSKI
|| Dr. SAWCZYC
|Housing & Storerooms
||RAKOW MUKASIEJ Michael
||RAKOW MUKASIEJ Michael
||IZRAEL Shmuel Mulik
The First Judenrat had eight members, of whom four were murdered in the First Aktion. In addition
to the Judenrat members were ten senior officials with positions of influence
in ghetto life.
The Second Judenrat, like the previous one, was composed of eight members: the four who survived
from the original staff joined by another four to replace those who were
murdered. Senior officials, the Chief of Police and his assistant, and indeed
the entire police force, were new to their positions.
Jankielewicz, the new chairman, had been Izykson's deputy and had worked
closely with him. However, as chairman he did not command the authority of his
Underground activity: According to all available accounts from the time, there was no sign of any
underground organization in Baranovichi during the period of the First
Judenrat, despite the reports of mass killings that came in from towns in the
surrounding area. There was a commonly held illusion that the ghetto of such a
large population center would remain untouched.
Between the first Aktion and the second, an underground of armed resistance began to be organized. Matters of smuggling arms into the ghetto, and the options of an uprising
versus leaving to join the partisans in the forests, were the subjects of
arguments and discussions in the Judenrat and among ghetto residents.
Differences of opinion divided families; clashing positions arose in public
institutions and in the Judenrat itself. The fact that the Assistant Chief of
Police and 17 of the 25 policemen belonged to the armed resistance, attests to
the scope of the organization and also indicates how established
this underground was.
Thus the entire period of the Second Judenrat was marked by widespread internal
conflict regarding the ways and means of resistance: the underground within the
ghetto and the partisans in the forest outside it.
The Second Aktion gave the impetus for hundreds of Jews to escape the ghetto for the forest. Not only young unmarried individuals, but also some dozens of heads of households
made the painful decision and went without their families.
The Third Judenrat encouraged and even assisted those who wanted to get out to the forests. In
the words of the chairman, Goldberg: Whoever can be saved, should do that
The history of the Baranovichi ghetto has yet to be sufficiently researched. In
it are all the elements characteristic of the large ghettos in Poland: an open
and closed ghetto, a Judenrat over three distinct periods with their
similarities and differences, the assistance of a few non-Jews amid the cruelty
of the majority of them.
The local population; Jews from Czechoslovakia, Germany and the Netherlands who
were brought to the Baranovichi area to be killed there; a
ghetto-within-the-ghetto of Miedzyrzecz (Mezrich) Jewry transported from
Poland; the organization of armed resistance and an uprising that never took
place; escape to the forests for partisan combat. The majority of Baranovichi
survivors express a great and unified support for a ghetto unique among its
kind: We had people in the ghetto, all of them holy and pure…such is
their memory in our hearts for all eternity.
Bibliography for suggested reading:
Baranowicze: Sefer Zikaron
[Baranowicze: Memorial Book]. Tel Aviv: Irgun Yotsei Baranovits be'Yisrael
[Association of Former Residents of Baranowicze in Israel], 1953. (in Hebrew and
Lidowski, Avraham Ba-Ye'arot: Reshimot shel Partisan Yehudi
[In the Forests: Impressions of a Jewish Partisan] /. Tel Aviv. HaKibbutz
Hameuchad, 1946. (in Hebrew)
Der Yidisher ontayl in der partizaner-bavagung fun Sovyet-Rusland
[The Participation of Jews in the Partisan Movement of Soviet Russia]. / .
Rome: Central Historical Commission at the Pachach Union of
Partisans in Italy, 1948. (in Yiddish)
Ha-Ma'avak le'Chayim shel Yehudei Baranowicze: Kovets Zichronot al ha'Sho'ah
shel Nitzolei Ghetto Baranowicze ve-Lokhamav
[The Struggle for Life of the Jews of Baranowicze: Collection of Memoirs on
the Holocaust by survivors and fighters of the Baranowicze Ghetto] / Nehama Zukerman, ed. Tel Aviv: Arieli Press. Nehama Zukerman, 1992. (in Hebrew).
Meri ve'Lokhamah Partisanit: Yehudei Belorusia ba'Milchemet ha'Olam ha'Shniya [Resistance and Partisan Struggle: The Jews of of Belorussia in World War II]. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2001. (in Hebrew)
Mul ha'Oyev ha'Nazi: Lochamim Mesaprim 1939-1945
[Against the Nazi Foe: Fighters Recount 1939-1945]. Gershon Rivlin, ed. Tel
Aviv: Irgun Nechei ha'Milchama ba'Nazim [Association of War Invalids who
fought against Nazis].1961. (in Hebrew)
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