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PART I

 

The Holocaust


Chapter 1

 

The First Month of the Nazi Occupation



The Germans are Coming
On Friday, the 4th of July, 1941, 13 days after the German army had begun its attack on the USSR, the Germans arrived at the gates of Pinsk, which then numbered, according to German sources, 80,000 inhabitants, 35-40,000 of whom were
Jews. [7]

At eleven o'clock in the morning the first German airplanes appeared in the sky. The people outside ran in panic to their homes. The peasants who had come to town for market day hurriedly returned to their villages.

The Russian N.K.V.D. (The Commissariat of the Interior), who were the last of the former authorities to remain, hastily packed their belongings and sped in their cars in the direction of the bridge over the Pina River.

Suddenly there was the sound of a huge explosion: the retreating Russians blew up the bridge. Several buildings on the edge of the town went up in flames, set on fire by the Russians. Then all became quiet, the silence being shattered from time to time by bursts of cannonfire. Shells flew over the town in the direction of the Russians, who were retreating across the river. [8]

“It was raining slightly. The first Germans entered the town on bicycles, and behind them came cars draped in flags.” [9]

The Christian inhabitants welcomed the Germans with bread, salt and flowers, while the Jews watched in fear behind their closed shutters. [10]


The First Victims
The battalions passing through Listovsky Street, inhabited entirely by Jews, took sixteen young men out of a few houses, among them the brothers Avraham and Zeev Neidich (both of whom had visited Palestine and returned), claiming they were taking them away to work. Afterwards they added: “Germans were shot at in this street.” [11]

We found evidence of this in the following statement: “On this street Jews had run after two paratroopers, but had not succeeded in catching them. This was part of a hunt for paratroopers who had dispersed around the town and its vicinity and were preparing the arrival of the Germans into the area. They were disguised in police uniforms, army uniforms or in civilian clothes, and had questioned the inhabitants on matters that seemed of importance to them. The two paratroopers in question led the Nazi bloodhounds to this street.” [12] The sixteen Jews were taken to the building of the District Court in Karlin, the seat of the German army headquarters. The next day, when the sixteen had not returned from their “work”, it was learned that from the headquarters they had been taken to the nearby Lishche Woods where they were shot and buried. Only one of them, his hand wounded, had managed to hide under the pile of the dead bodies and escape. [13]

The parents of the victims searched for their sons for several days until they discovered their fate. They applied to the Germans for permission to give their sons a Jewish burial. The Nazis asked them to sign a document stating that the retreating Russians had shot the young men, and the parents signed. The Germans photographed the parents standing besides the dead bodies of the victims and used these pictures for propaganda against the USSR. [14]

A second version states: “when the Nazis refused to permit the removal of the bodies to the Jewish cemetery, the parents of the murdered young men took advantage of the replacement of the battalion that had taken the town and applied once more to the new commander. Like his predecessor, he too asked them to sign a document. After they had bribed him with some clothing, they were granted permission for the burial. When the dead bodies were put on this simple cart it appeared that the victims had been tortured and their bodies mutilated after death. The burial of the first victims of the Nazis in the town was a terrible and tragic sight.” [15]


Decrees
The anti-Semitic decrees were introduced beginning with the very first days of the occupation. The day after the occupation of the town by the Germans, a decree was promulgated requiring the bakeries to supply bread for the German army, and every piece of bread missing from the allocated quota would result in the execution of ten Jews. [16] Jews were not allowed to leave town, to be on the streets after six p.m., nor to shop in the marketplace. All the Jews, from small children to old men, had to wear a white ribbon with a yellow Star of David on the left arm; those who did not obey this order were to be shot on the spot. [17]

The Jews were ordered to hand in their radios. Any Jew found in possession of a radio after a given date would be executed. The place of collection was the Polski Bank on Oginska Street. An order was issued to supply a certain amount of soap, and then there were additional orders to supply boots, clothing and fabric. [18]

Ever-increasing numbers of people were abducted as laborers. They were kicked and beaten. Any man who happened to be on the street might be taken away. In the beginning, the men who had been abducted into the labor force would sometimes come home in the evenings, beaten and wounded. Men avoided appearing on the streets. The long queues at the bakery consisted mainly of women and children, waiting patiently for a piece of bread. The Germans, passing through the street, would take a few out of the line, beat them mercilessly, and mock them for their own pleasure and to the joy of the Polish and Russian bystanders, who had been watching and enjoying the shameful scene. [19]

From the first day of the occupation of the town German soldiers would enter homes, looting and taking with them anything that appealed to them. After a short while the Gestapo took over this task, and started a methodical search of the Jewish homes in order to loot them. A mark was made on each house where they had completed their “job”. The most sought-after objects were furs, cloth, and jewelry. They confiscated all metal goods, such as kettles, hatchets, hammers, nails, copper pans, candlesticks, iron beds, tin and silver, kitchenware etc.


The Gentile Population Collaborated with the Nazis
The Gentile population of the town collaborated with the occupation forces. Immediately they observed the altered status of their Jewish neighbors, whose lives and possessions became common property and they, too, did their share of the looting. The German reaction to this was to forbid all contact between Jews and non-Jews. They strictly forbade the Jews to sell, exchange or lend their property to their Gentile neighbors.

The Polish police, who were trained by the occupation forces during the first days of the occupation, enthusiastically assisted the Germans in their plundering, humiliation and denunciation of Jews. The appointed Police Commissioner was Sologub, a former clerk of the Court, and his deputy was the son of the lawyer Shmigelsky. On the order of the army commander and under his supervision, the Polish police officers started to arrest people who had held posts under the Russian regime. Among those arrested was a teacher from the Tarbuth High School, Mr Balaban, who was shot on the other side of the river. Some of those arrested managed to escape by paying a huge ransom. [20] Old accounts between local Jews and various Gentiles were now settled.

“I knew a woman called Bashke,” reports one of the witnesses: “the mother of four children. At the beginning of the war the woman hid in an orchard for protection from the air attacks. A Russian mounted soldier passing by was shot at by two young Poles, but he escaped unhurt. He dismounted from his horse to find out who had fired the shots. The woman pointed to the two young men, and they were arrested. When the Germans came, they found the woman and with the help of the Polish police handed her over to the Gestapo, who tortured her to death.

“And another case: a young Jew, who under the Russian authorities had been a foreman in a plywood factory, had caught a Gentile woman stealing some plywood boards, and she was condemned to three months in prison. Now the young man was arrested. At the police station he was stabbed with knives, and dying, was dragged to the outskirts of town, where he was shot. Another young Jew was denounced by his boss under the Russians, because he had been a member of the Komsomol. At the police station he was beaten until he fainted, his skin was slashed and salt spread on his wounds. The boy had been healthy and strong, and he was tortured for a long time, until he found release in death”. [21]

The streets were empty, all the shops and offices were closed. Those who had worked in free professions remained without work. The schools were closed. The Tarbuth High School now housed a German staff. The Jews were afraid to go to the synagogue. Only workers in factories and a few workshops received special permits and continued their work.


The Structure of the Judenrat and its Institutions
During the second half of July the commander of the town issued an order to establish a Judenrat, which would act as a link between the commander and the Jewish population, and would see to it that his orders were carried out. [22] David Alper, the principal of the Tarbuth High School, was chosen as the first chairman of the Judenrat, and the following were chosen as members: Hamerman, Semizhovsky, Munvez, Kopl Busel, Lerman, Meshel, Shkolnik, Shvartsblat, Bergman, Pruchansky, and others. Two days after he was appointed Chairman, David Alper resigned. He was, of course, aware of the fact that his resignation might endanger his life, but he soon realized that the purpose of this office was not so much to negotiate with the Germans, as to carry out their orders.

And as a matter of fact, after the first massacre (from now on we shall call it the first action) took place about ten days after his resignation. Alper was taken from his home and was executed, together with twenty other members of the Judenrat, among the first victims of Pinsk. [23] Seven to eight members of the Judenrat remained, and they carried on until the end.

As the members of the Judenrat had taken an active part in rounding up the thousands who were murdered during the first action, and as among them were some whose sons somehow remained alive, they found themselves surrounded by hostility. This hostility was expressed by the saying, popular at the time, among the thousands of widows and orphans: “You and your own children did not appear at the concentration square but you sent our husbands and fathers to their death.” The Judenrat carried out its task in this atmosphere during the entire period of its existence.

The tasks of the members of the Judenrat were divided in the following manner:
  1. Benjamin Bokshtansky: Chairman, responsible for economic affairs.
  2. Motl Minsky: Vice-Chairman, contact with the Germans.
  3. Feinbron: Finance.
  4. Goldman: Notary, legal affairs.
  5. Cooper: Labor Department.
  6. M. Eizenberg: supply.
  7. Zilverblat: supply.
  8. Meir Greenstein: supply.
Bokshtansky was the chairman in name, but the actual chairman was Motl Minsky who, as a former inhabitant of Danzig, spoke German very well. His main task was maintaining daily contact with the District Commissioner (Gebietskommissar). Almost every day towards evening a meeting of the Judenrat took place, at which Minsky would present a report. Apparently no minutes were taken and every meeting was a consultation on how to meet the endless demands of the Germans. In the beginning the Judenrat tried to soften the German orders as much as possible, but the members were nonetheless forced to assist the Germans in carrying out the decrees.

The Head Accountant of the Judenrat was Ephraim Elstein, a former accountant at the plywood factory in Horodiszcze, and he was assisted by Motl Shukman. The treasurer was Itsl Giller. During the first months of its existence, the Judenrat set up a polyclinic in the Levin House next to the Main Synagogue. Here Dr. Elhanan Einbinder (who was a graduate of the Tarbuth School) worked. A Jewish hospital was also set up by the Judenrat , and a burial society which had its hands full. Among the many people who carried out this task of paying last honors to the dead with dedication, special mention is made of the metal merchant Yudl Oksman, and the textile merchant Avraham Leizer Mular. [24]


Division of Labor
Hundreds of Jews worked in the different departments of the Judenrat . The largest number of clerks worked in the Labor Department. Four to five thousand Jewish workers were dispersed in different places of work. This department prepared the list of those who worked in the factories and workshops. Most of the workers had regular employment and the others were placed and exchanged as temporary workers. Every day the Judenrat had to supply a quota of workers to meet the demands of the Germans. Men from sixteen to sixty-five years of age and women from sixteen to fifty-five were obliged to do forced labor three times a week, according to a list that was drawn up in advance. At eight o'clock in the morning the workers had to appear in front of the building of the Judenrat, which in the beginning was housed on Zavalna Street opposite the Municipal Hospital. From here it was later removed to the stone house of Leib Tenenbaum on Albrekhtovska (Kupecheska) Street. There were no regular working hours. The German supervisor kept the workers as he saw fit.

Tired, hungry and very often beaten, these workers returned home towards evening. Jewish work groups organized by the Judenrat were also employed by local Gentile contractors in orchards, for repair work on roads and bridges and other
jobs. [25]


The Activities of the Judenrat
Where did the Judenrat obtain the financial means to carry out its work? The main source of income was a bread tax. Bread was sold officially for coupons, at a price of two rubles a kilo (later this was increased to three rubles), 75 % of which was tax. On the black market the price of a loaf of bread rose to 200 rubles. Part of the money came from the sale of surplus gold of the inhabitants, which had been collected on the orders of the Germans, and which, without the knowledge of the Gestapo, had remained in the hands of the Judenrat.

The money was used for three main purposes:
  1. To comply with the many and capricious demands of the Germans.
  2. To pay the salaries of those who worked for the Judenrat.
  3. For social services.
The former principal of the High School, Mrs. Checkick-Golinker, headed the Social Services Department. Every day hundreds of people knocked on her door to beg for help and support. Each one handed in a written application. She determined the amount of aid to be given according to the financial means at her disposal. These however covered but a small part of the demands. Some people recall that, although she had a difficult and complicated job, she always had a friendly word and good advice for those who came to her, and acted like a mother to them.

The Supply Department was managed by Zilverblat, Eizenberg and Greenstein. Zilverblat knew the Germans who were in charge of supply matters personally, “thanks” to the fact that they had evicted him from his house on Wishniovietska Street and set up their offices there. Apart from bread, the Germans distributed no other items to the Jews. In order to obtain staple products, the Jews had to rely on the peasants of the surrounding area, with whom they exchanged clothing and fabric for food, with the aid of the Jews who worked all over the town. It was strictly forbidden to enter the market, nor were the Jews allowed to go on the Main Street, Kosciusko Street, or to the riverside. Briefly, the Jews enjoyed the privilege of shopping in the marketplace two days a week. Later they were allowed only one day a week, and finally the permit was completely withdrawn. [26]

One of the witnesses tells the following story: “One day I tried my luck and sneaked out to the marketplace between the carts of the peasants. I had taken some soap to exchange for food. Before I could even approach someone to make an offer, I was caught by a Polish policeman. He beat me and cursed me and I went home empty-handed, with strong feelings of hatred and revenge for the insult and humiliation I had suffered.” [27]


Chapter 2

 

Two Days of Mass Murder


The first month of the German occupation of the town came to an end. “This was a month of insults, humiliation and sorrow. The population suffered in silence, facing the future with foreboding. Shut up in their houses, avoiding the streets of the town for fear of meeting the Germans or their collaborators in the Polish police force, the Jews still had some hope that this life of hunger and misery, the life of chained slaves, would come to an end.” [28]


The Arrest of the Hostages
A month after the occupation, what had been feared became a horrible reality. On Monday night, the 4th of August 1941, it began. On this night the Germans, accompanied by the Polish Police, came to Jewish homes in different parts of the town and arrested 300 men, most of them young. Beaten with rifle-butts, they were taken by the Poles under their leader Shmigelsky to the cork factory on Albrekhtovska Street, seat of the gendarmerie. Bleeding from their wounds, they were thrown into the cellar. A few of them managed to escape and alerted the townspeople to what had happened.


Tuesday, August 5th, 1941, the First Action
Early in the morning, that Tuesday, the parents and wives of the arrested men ran to the Judenrat and begged for help, for the rumor had spread that the Germans were asking for a ransom for the prisoners. Members of the Judenrat consulted Mayor Shlivinsky (the former Principal of the High School). He claimed to be completely ignorant of the matter, not having been informed by the German authorities. Finally he agreed to accompany them to the town's commander. Near noontime the delegation of the Judenrat entered the office of the commander, accompanied by the mayor. He threw the Jews out of his room with the order: “Out! You damned dogs!” He then ordered the mayor, who had remained in the room, to tell the Jews that all men from eighteen to sixty years of age were to report to work at the railway station. If the order were not obeyed, the 300 Jews who had been arrested the night before would be shot. He was using them as hostages.

Immediately the members of the Judenrat and their messengers scattered all over the town crying: “Jews! All males between the ages of sixteen and sixty must report to the railway station for work. Whoever refuses will be killed with his family.” The Polish police too were in the streets, urging the Jews to come out. A rumor spread that they were being sent to Horodiszcze to repair the railway tracks. [29] The members of the Judenrat , who went from house to house urging the Jews to obey the orders, also recommended that they take with them food for three days.

In spite of the panic and growing fear, thousands began to move towards the railway station. 8000 men were lined up in two long columns of five people abreast. An order was given to put all papers, money, watches and other possessions on the ground and to turn pockets inside out. Then 150 bridge workers were taken aside, but before being released and sent home, they had to “clear” the railway square, i.e., to collect all the items that lay scattered on the ground. [30]

“It was a hot and bright summer's day. Clouds of dust were raised by thousands of people who were compelled to march quickly, practically to run, and by the horses and motorcycles that surrounded us closely on all sides. Our closely-packed column, which must have stretched over kilometers, was approaching the village of Posenicz. Within minutes we climbed down into the roadside ditch and stopped marching. Suddenly shots could be heard.

“We saw the open pits and the Germans with their hands on the triggers of their machine guns and we began to run in panic, trying to escape. Most people turned to the right in the direction of Luniniets. Corn and potato fields attracted the fugitives to that side, but those who ran in that direction turned back at once. Before them were fourteen huge pits awaiting their prey. There was no choice but to run in the opposite direction. There the ground was covered only with low-growing weeds, but in the background a little dark wood beckoned. A hail of shots came from all directions. The shrieks of the wounded mingled with the shouts of the murderers, and the whole scene was shrouded in a cloud of dust. Most Jews remained standing near the pits. They were told to kneel and to crawl to the pit's edge.” [31]


Escape from Certain Death

Aryeh Dolinko writes:
“I was half a kilometer from the head of the line and ran off in the direction of Hai. While running I was wounded in the stomach and so I arrived at the forest.

“There I met another three young men, who had succeeded in escaping. They were not wounded. As I had lost a lot of blood en route, I was obliged to seek a way to return to the city, and not wait like them till evening.

“I soiled my blood-stained clothing with mud and, barefoot, set out on my way (my shoes had been lost during my escape). Miraculously I was not stopped by any of the Christians who saw me, and I also managed to avoid the German guards near the railway tracks. I crawled under a freight train which was standing at the station, and made my way to Kolyova Street. Nearby some members of the group of skilled Jewish workers were still standing, I mingled with them and walked along with them. They gazed at me, but did not ask a thing. The walk was difficult for me. A great thirst plagued me. I approached the home of a Jew and asked for some water. From there I crossed some gardens and made my way to the Maccabi sports field, and from there to the home of Dr. Hughes on Traugota Street. I walked with the doctor to the Jewish Hospital, and he warned me not to say a word about where I'd come from. That night I told Drs. Limishuv and Miles all that had happened to me.

“The next day my presence became known to the Judenrat. They visited me in the hospital. I told them what had happened to us.

“On the second night two additional patients reached the hospital: Mordecai Gottlieb and Yaakov Pepish. They disclosed that by nine p.m. the Germans had shot all of their victims. They had each lain wounded in the leg on the pile of bodies, and at night had crawled out of the death pit and escaped.”

In the National Headquarters of the Israel Police Tsila Dolinko testified: “Towards evening I received word that my husband was in the Jewish Hospital. I hurried over there. My husband told me that everyone had been murdered. The following day the Judenrat received the clothes of the victims. A few tens of other escapees made their way back to the ghetto, but they disclosed the fact to only a very few, so that knowledge of the existence of escapees would not reach German ears.” [32]


Tuesday Night
During the night, the Germans, accompanied by the Polish police, again invaded Jewish homes for additional searches. They told the men they found to fetch hoes and to come with them. They also took boys of twelve to thirteen years of age. “We need many hands,” they said. About 300 Jews were taken to the site of the slaughter and there were forced to collect the bodies of those who had been shot while trying to escape and who were now lying scattered over the field. When the job was done, they too were shot, except for two who had to cover the pits. Next day, Wednesday, the streets were full of women and children who were running about expecting their husbands and fathers. In the noise and commotion only few men could be seen, the few remaining members of the Judenrat and the doctors.


Thursday, August 7th: The Second Action
Early that morning searches were carried out by the Nazi squads who went from one house to the next, accompanied by their accomplices, the Polish police. The few remaining men were still in their beds.

This time, children from the age of eight and old people, too, were taken, including those who had escaped only two days earlier. The old and the sick, who were unable to walk, were carried on carts, but some of them were killed in their beds. This time, the troops looked for hideaways and whenever they found a young man they beat him cruelly and shouted at him: “Why didn't you report for work the day before yesterday?” and took him with them. Some mothers offered gold to ransom their children and there were Germans who accepted it, but most took the gold and the child too.

Only very few Germans were moved by the mothers' cries and went away telling the women to hide the children. From many homes parents and children were taken together. In the pouring rain children and adults were led through the streets, hands on head, escorted by Germans in mackintoshes colored with camouflage. Those were Germans specially brought to town for the purpose. [33] 2,500–3,000 men, including old people and children, lost their lives in this second Thursday action. Altogether 11,000 men were murdered during these three days of slaughter in the month of August 1941. They had been the cream of the town's Jewish population, physically as well as spiritually: nearly all the young men given to work or study, principals and teachers of high and elementary schools and, generally, all the educated classes excepting doctors. This terrible bloodletting left the remnant of the Jewish population broken and helpless.


Chapter 3


The Murderers' Testimony on the August Slaughter


Twenty-one years after the above horrors, Dr. Arzt, the First German Prosecutor of the Board of Legal Services (Zentrale der Justizverwaltung) in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart, in his final summation (Abschlußbericht), reviews the investigations and evidence against those murderers of the Jews of Pinsk who have been apprehended. Affirming all the aforementioned accounts, he writes:
“Some 80,000 residents were living in Pinsk at the time of its occupation by the Germans, among them 35,000-40,000 Jews, who resided all over town. At the beginning of August 1941 the first aktions to destroy the Jewish population took place. On August 4th , 1941 the Judenrat published a notice that all Jewish men between the ages sixteen and sixty were to report to the train station on the following day, the fifth of August, by two o'clock in the afternoon. From there they would be sent away to work for three days. They should bring food for these three days. In case of non-appearance, all members of the family were liable to be sentenced to death. In this announcement warning was given that all houses would be searched at this time.”
 
(Among the depositions in our possession there is no confirmation of some of the details mentioned above:
  1. only one among the five witnesses in this matter [Chaya Sherman] recalls the notification of the Judenratof the fourth of August, 1941;
  2. the witnesses who recall the age of those required to go out to work, give the ages eighteen to sixty, and not sixteen to sixty. – N. B.)
At the train station thousands of Jews gathered, who were massacred en masse. The shootings were carried out by the 2nd Mounted Police Battalion of the S. S. Fogelein S. S. Mounted Brigade of Sturmbannführer (Major in the S. S.) Franz Magil, who now resides in Braunschweig, West Germany.

The Headquarters of the Regiment, which camped at the beginning of August at Baranowicz, gave the order to the platoons of the 2nd Battalion to comb the marches and kill any Jews found in the villages of that area. The executions were to be carried out with the cooperation of the S.D. (Security Branch of the Nazi Party). This order was based upon the General Order of Reichsführer A.S. H. Himmler.

At the beginning of August Sturmbannführer Magil presented himself at the S. D. headquarters and Security Police in Pinsk, before the S. S. Obersturmführer (rank of lieutenant in the S. S.) Werthof, and identified himself as Commander of the S. S. Battalion of the Mounted Police. He presented a written command, ordering the death of all the Jewish men in this region and the exile of all the Jewish women and children to the marshes [to die]. In the above order the garrison soldiers were required to assist S. S. Sturmbannführer Magil.

The accused Werthof – writes the First Prosecutor Arzt – told Magil in his testimony, that in his opinion, it would be impossible to carry out the order to exile the women and children. He also demanded the release of Jewish skilled workers, but Magil regarded these objections with great disfavor.

According to Werthof's testimony, the Jewish men gathered at the train station, as per Magil's order, and were led by his inferiors to a place six kilometers' distance from the town, where pits had been prepared. There all were put to death by shooting by the 2nd Mounted Battalion of the S. S. No other police battalions were present.

The defendant Magil reported in his testimony that the 4th Mounted Battalion was also placed at his disposal. Likewise, he added, “I was ordered to prepare a landing site west of Pinsk for a Fizeler-Storch plane” (a light reconnaissance plane).

“The following day” – continued Magil in his testimony – “I arrived in Pinsk. The 1st Platoon had already begun the executions, as mentioned in his report to me by the officer of the platoon, whom I met there. I told him that the 'activity' must be completed within two days. I also sought and found the commander of the 4th Platoon amidst the march of the Jewish men from Pinsk out of the city, and made contact with the local S. D. commander, whose name I don't recall. The S. D. officer informed me that the action would be completed the following day. That evening I met with the officers of the 1st and 4th, and gave the order to complete the killings the following day, and together we made the requisite plans.

“The next day I personally reviewed the events at the site. The killings were being carried out by the 4th Platoon, under the command of Platoon Commander Wagner. I was present at the site only as an overseer to make sure that all was carried out quickly and without interruption.”

However, in the opinion of the prosecutor, the extermination of the Jews of Pinsk had nothing to do with the operation against the partisans, which had also been ordered. “The aktions in Pinsk on the 5th and 7th of August 1941 were carried out only in conformance with the goals of National Socialism of the total extermination of the Jews, as interpreted by the veteran
S. S. Officer Magil. Failure to obey these orders would have endangered an officer's rank or even his life.” [34]


Chapter 4

 

The Oppressors in Action



About 20,000 Jewish inhabitants remained in the town, after the terrible days of early August. The majority were women and young children; there were few men. These were men who practiced trades that were permitted by the Germans, or who had succeeded in hiding and surviving.

About a week after the actions, the Military Commander of the town summoned the members of the Judenrat. Very innocently he told them that he was aware of the fact that not all the Jews had gone to work when ordered to, and that many were still hiding in the town and its surroundings. They should not hesitate to return home, for the Germans in charge of recruiting for forced labor had left the town. From now on everything would be quiet and soon even those who had been taken away to work would return. The Judenrat, therefore, was to persuade those in hiding to come out, and he, the Commander, would even be willing to help them carry out the order by putting a few cars with soldiers at their disposal.

The Jews did not trust the German promise and did not come out of their hiding places. They came back to town under cover of darkness, one at a time, and for a long time afterwards they did not appear on the streets.


Operation “Looting”
At the same time the army authorities requisitioned Jewish property, while the Gentile population cooperated faithfully with them in their looting. A special German company arrived in town for this purpose. Accompanied by local Gentile women, the Germans came to Jewish homes, looked through the cupboards, and picked out clothing and anything else they fancied. The Germans loaded furniture and valuables into their cars and the women put the rest of the things into their sacks and baskets. Usually the Jews went into hiding when the looting groups came to their homes. Women, who tried to save their property instead of turning it in to the robbers, were forced to load the property on to the cars with their own hands. This went on for two days.


Documents
After the looting squads had left the town, the German Commander summoned the members of the Judenrat and announced that all the men who had remained in the town would have to obtain documents certifying that they held useful jobs. Any Jew found without such a document would be arrested. Again the Jews were terrified. “Wasn't this a new trick invented by the Nazis, to catch the remaining men in town?” they all asked.

And what were they to do now?

The first who carried out these orders and obtained work permits were the doctors, the members of the Judenrat , and those employed by the Judenrat. From them it was learned that it was not necessary to collect the document personally and that it could be collected by a representative. The Gentiles who worked at the offices of the Army Headquarters took advantage of this situation and did a very profitable business. They received large sums of money, valuables and fabric for the documents they supplied.

Soon everyone was in possession of a document. Nevertheless, the men avoided the streets, fearing for their lives. After a short interval Mayor Shlivinsky issued an order that every inhabitant had to have an identity card, and this time the application had to be presented personally. There was no choice: they overcame the fear in their hearts and went.

A few days passed and the men too came out of their hideouts. Everyday their number increased. Many of them were employed in various jobs by the Germans. Envy spread among the Jews in town, especially among the women, when they saw the men come out of hiding. Extreme anger and hatred were directed primarily against the members of the Judenrat and its clerks, who had urged the men in the days of the August actions to appear and report for “work”, well aware of the threat in the German order of the death penalty for the families who refused. [35]


Establishment of the Civil Authorities
A few weeks after the massacre, the civil authorities arrived, first of all the District Commissioner (Gebietskommissar),
Paul Gerhard Klein [a] and his deputy Alfred Ebner [b]. Immediately after their arrival, the Chairman of the Judenrat and his deputy were called to their office, and were ordered to see to it that all the orders received from the District Commissioner were carried out. New orders were not long in coming.


New Anti-Semitic Laws
The first law introduced the yellow patch. Instead of the white ribbon with the yellow Star of David on the left arm, the Jews now had to wear two round yellow patches on front and back. “We must be able to distinguish the Jewish inhabitants from afar” – the Commissioner explained his order. Then the Jews were ordered to keep to the middle of the road and not to walk on the sidewalk – “anyone caught walking on the sidewalk would be shot – in accordance with the law!” Two months later this law was annulled. [36] One of the witnesses explained the reason for the change: “One day a German general passed through the town. When he saw pedestrians walking in the middle of the road and vehicles traveling on the sidewalk, he ordered the situation to be reversed.” Until the Jews became aware of the new situation, many were beaten by Polish police clubs and by German rifle-butts, for disobeying the order. [37] The Jews were ordered to make way for any Gentile they encountered on the street. All contact between Christians and Jews was strictly forbidden.


The Gold Tax
One day an order was given that within three days twenty kilograms of gold had to be collected and delivered to the Germans. If the order were not carried out, the Jews would be expelled from Pinsk empty-handed, the District Commissioner added. Following deliberations of the Judenrat, some Jews ran into the streets shouting: “Jews, let us save ourselves. Let us give our property for our lives, otherwise we shall be expelled from the town.” The persecuted Jews knew from experience that the German was not joking, and that he would carry out his threat. Therefore they quickly produced the ransom: watches, rings, necklaces, bracelets, broken gold teeth etc. So as to stress the importance of the “undertaking”, the Judenrat set up a special committee to collect the gold; this committee was headed by Rabbi Moshe, the Tsaddik [Righteous] of Stollin. The gold and silver were delivered to the members of the Judenrat, weighed and marked by expert goldsmiths, and proper receipts were issued to its owners. [38] The priest of the Pravoslavic (Russian Orthodox) church in the town, who was well known as a friend to the Jews, donated his gold cross weighing half a kilogram to the gold-tax committee. The order was carried out. To celebrate its successful execution the Judenrat gave a party for the German authorities, with singing, dancing and drinks. The Chairman of the Judenrat was put to shame by the German Commander when he was asked at the end of the party to bring him a Jewish maiden of between eighteen and twenty-four years of age. [39]


Confiscation of Property
After the gold order had been carried out to the satisfaction of the Germans, they relentlessly continued their demands on Jewish property.

These were made not all at once, but in stages: wool of the best quality for a hundred suits, ready-made suits, sheets, blankets, soles and leather for shoes, boots, cows, horses and other animals. All manner of threats accompanied the demands, so that the suppliers would be as docile and meek as possible. Winter was approaching, and with the advance of the German Army into Russia, the soldiers suffered from the lack of warm clothing. There was therefore a very strict order for furs and all fur-lined garments, and even gloves, to be handed in. The Nazis did not mind taking even old and shabby winter clothes. The order for furs, too, was accompanied by the stipulation: “He who disobeys the order will be shot.” And once again the Germans carried out their threat.


Hangings
On information supplied by his Christian neighbor, furs were found in a pit in the yard of Moshe Glotser (one of the sons of Honya the Bath Man). As punishment he and his wife were hanged in the market place. The same fate befell a woman and her two daughters when fur was found in their home. They were forced to put the rope around one another's necks. For three days their dead bodies hung in the central square, the Third of May Square. The workmen were obliged to pass through this square on their way to work, and the spectacle reminded them of their plight. The metal merchant, old Note Melnik, was hanged for exchanging a sickle for flour. The daughter of the baker Lasovsky was hanged for exchanging woolens for food; Ushpiz – for slaughtering a calf. Three women and one man were hanged because they were found to be in possession of gold. There were new victims for the scaffold and gallows in the square every day, women as well as men, found guilty of all sorts of imaginary offenses. The horror was nerve-racking. No one could be sure that his home would not be broken into that night, or that he would not be taken away and hanged without trial. [40] A second gold order was given. This time the demand was for Russian gold coins of five or ten rubles (Imperials).

This time – as before – thirty to fifty hostages were taken, and on pain of their execution the order was to be carried out by a given date. The Jews met the demand, saying to themselves: “Spare me my life, and take my property.” [41]


Concern about Food
Hunger forced the Jews not to heed the laws, in spite of the killings and hangings. But even those who had something of value left could not obtain sufficient food, because of the severe ban on dealings between Christians and Jews. However the peasants of the region did their utmost to bypass the ban, and came to the Jewish homes to make a profitable deal. This was dangerous of course. A peasant caught in the house of a Jew by the Polish police would be taken to the security police or was beaten up on the spot. Then the Judenrat asked the Commissioner to allow the Jews to buy food in the market. “How can we work for you without giving food to the workers?” the representatives of the Judenrat asked. This time the District Commissioner granted them their request and the Jews were allowed to shop in the market two days a week. For this “favor” he received a handsome sum. But the favor did not last long. Eventually the permit was again reduced to one day a week, and finally it was cancelled altogether. In spite of the ban and the danger to their lives, there were Jews who went to the market to obtain food. The warnings of the Judenrat were of no avail. The police, time and again, warned the Judenrat that the guilty would be punished and shot.


Jewish Police
It was then that the Judenrat decided to set up a Jewish police force to patrol the market, the riverside and other prohibited areas, and to prevent all contact between the Jews and the peasants of the vicinity. It was also necessary to maintain order at the offices of the Judenrat and the surrounding areas, for every day thousands of people would gather there to arrange their affairs, and the valuables that were collected there before delivery to the Germans had to be guarded at night. The police force consisted of a commander and twelve voluntary policemen, who received a monthly salary from the budget of the Judenrat . The first police commander was Asher Feldlait, a graduate of the Tarbuth School, a very honest man. [42] “To the credit of the Jewish police of Pinsk” – we read in one of the statements – “we must point out that there were no cases of cruelty, beatings or inhuman behavior by the policemen towards the Jewish population, as we have heard and read about in other towns. This is, at least, in accordance with my own experience and with what I have heard from others.” [43] Another witness, however, tells us of how she was confronted by a few Jewish policemen when they saw her skiing down a road, dressed in a ski-suit. They tried to arrest her by force and take away her suit and the skis, which they wanted for themselves. Only her strong resistance prevented this. [44]


The Harsh Winter
The winter of 1941-1942, which was particularly cold and severe, constituted a threat to the Jews of Pinsk. It was extremely difficult to obtain firewood for the stoves. It was then that the trees in the Karlin Cemetery were cut down, although this was done very reluctantly. Every day, hungry, frozen and without any warm clothing, thousands of Jewish workers went to work in the factories and workshops, to carry out all sorts of jobs for the Germans and the Gentile contractors, and in the public services. The forced labor, three times a week for men, women and even older children, continued, arranged in a rotation system by the Judenrat. At the same time, according to Milya Ratnovsky, two great personalities died: Rabbi Valkin and Rabbi Barukh Epstein. Dr. Jacobson had cared for Rabbi Valkin devotedly and arranged for a team of nurses who kept continuous vigil at this bedside, night and day. His illness lasted for about a week, until he died at home in bed. Rabbi Epstein also died at home after two days of illness. This was a great privilege in those days.


Rumors of a Ghetto
When spring approached there were rumors about the establishment of a ghetto in Pinsk too, like the ghettos that had been set up for Jews in other towns. This rumor was confirmed by the District Commissioner at the beginning of April. He summoned Bokshtansky and Minsky, and told them that he had received the order to set up a ghetto in Pinsk. The thousands of Jews were deeply shocked when they learned of the new order. The Judenrat decided to take steps to delay the implementation of this order. In return for a handsome sum of money, the order was deferred for a short while. The Jewish population calmed down somewhat. No one wanted to leave his home, to be cut off from his own little corner and lose his last personal shelter.

Towards Passover the last Jewish refugees from other towns in the area were brought to Pinsk. They arrived destitute, having been cruelly expelled from their homes. When the order was issued to establish a ghetto, the Jews of the town were so weakened and tormented that their resistance was at the breaking point. “Only yesterday”, one of the witnesses tells us, “we saw Jewish workmen erecting pillars and putting up a barbed-wire fence in the vicinity of Zavalna and Listovska Streets, and further on towards Albrekhtovska Street at one end and Luninyetska Street at the other. It was not hard to guess that they were preparing the ghetto area. The truth was that many of us did not care so much about the ghetto. We had become accustomed to the thought that we were doomed anyway. Others saw in the ghetto a glimmer of hope, and explained that after the August massacre the murderers had apparently decided to leave relics of their destruction, and in order to rule the Jewish population more efficiently, it was going to be imprisoned in a ghetto.” [45]

____________

[a] Born in 1906 in Ormburg-Pomeran. He died in 1945. He held the title of High School Teacher (Studienrat). back
[b] Born in 1913. Now he is a commercial salesman in Stuttgart-Birkach. He was Ordens-Junker. back

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