by David Ashkenazi
The days of the Hebrew month of Elul were here. It was foggy and dark and so were our hearts. These were the days of the signing of the pact between Russia and Germany. Rumor had it that the German Army was training its units near the western Polish border. The Russian Army was situated at the border as well.
In the month of August there was training done by the Polish Air Force and darkness was spread during the night in our city. We were supposed to abide by the rules of the training. One had a feeling that the war was imminent. How? Why? We were still recuperating from the previous war.
In the month of September we first heard some horrendous noises in the morning and then we knew that the airplanes had bombed our town. Moshe Lifshitz's house was destroyed and he was killed. Thirty minutes later we gathered around the market place and the head of the town told us that this had been a mistake, that we had been hit by our own planes by mistake.
At eight that morning it was announced on the radio that Germany had declared war on Poland and most of the towns on the western border had been hit. We were sad and overwhelmed and wondered what we should do now.
At noon we saw pamphlets posted around town asking men to enlist in the army.
At night everything was quiet and dark. It was Shabbat and no one slept at
night. Men were mobilized and went to Camp Lipiosy. Everyone listened to the
radio at home. The announcer announced that Poland had been attacked but that
the Polish Army had pushed the Germans back. Yes, we will win this
war, the announcer on the radio boasted. On the morning of Shabbat, we
suddenly observed groups from the west passing through our town, some running
away from the Germans from as far as Warsaw. Among them were Jews, Gentiles
and high ranking civil servants escaping Warsaw. Their stories were very descriptive
and they claimed that many had been killed on the road by bombs from the air.
People in town started putting food aside for worse days to come. 19th of September, 1939 The Russians were nearing Kobrin.
20th of September, in the morning a Russian tank entered Kobrin from the direction of Bernavitz. The tank was followed by more tanks and soldiers. People were ecstatic. The fascistic Polish kingdom has crumbled. We sat at night and read the pamphlets the Russians passed around. We were full of hope for a better future. The war had lasted two weeks. Now that the Russians were here we were worried about our future.
Fear erupted among us because of our Zionist activities. Books and Zionist
brochures were hidden. Our dream to go to Israel had ended because of the
Russian occupation. All was destroyed now, the books and mainly the wonderful
youth were gone.
It was difficult to get used to our new life under the Russian occupation. Everything changed. Our town became Russian and people wore Russian clothes.
The youth adapted to this new way of life. In the spring of 1940, many tried to cross the boarder to Vilna. Rumor had it that from Vilna you could travel to foreign countries, mainly Shanghai, if you succeeded. But most of them were caught by the N.K.V.D., the secret police, and were sent to Siberia. Some of those were lucky because they remained alive, unlike those who remained in Poland and were killed by the German animals in 1941.
Life moved at a slow pace. The look of the city changed. Most of the stores and
the markets were transformed into military facilities. The radios were
confiscated. They placed loudspeakers in the midst of town and played only
Russian songs and propaganda. Our material life was not so bad. We also did not
worry about our lives anymore. But we were very upset about our future. We were
becoming typical Russian Jews, not free and able to contact other Jews in the
world and not able to fulfill our dream of emigrating to Israel.
by Chinka Goldfarb
I would like to tell how Kobrin was destroyed. Some things I have forgotten since many years have passed.
As I'm thinking and writing all this I feel the tragedy as if it happened yesterday. It's my duty to history to write what happened. The catastrophe and the killing came swiftly. It happened on a quiet night, the night of the 21st and 22nd of June, 1941. We heard noises and it turned out to be the Germans occupying the city. We heard Goebbels on the radios proclaim, on the 22nd of June, 1941, a war against Russia. On the 23rd of June, Kobrin was in the hands of the Nazis. Many Jews tried to run out of Kobrin. The synagogue was burned. The fire spread to other houses. They forced the Jews to rescue their goods from the fire and to put them in the center of town to be confiscated by the Germans. The Polish peasants and the Germans beat up the Jews. This was day number one of the German occupation.
Many were arrested a few days later and many were shot on Pinsker Street. The commandant asked the rabbis to meet with him, but they felt they were not qualified so they sent stronger men. The head of the delegation was a gentleman by the name of Fuchs. Coming back from a meeting with the Germans, he told us that the Germans ordered that every Jew, women and men, should go to work. For the first six weeks everyone was taken to do hard labor. Many were tortured and shot and the Jews were in constant fear.
Once one hundred and seventy Jews were caught and had to stand silently. Some were sent to get shovels and forced to dig their graves; then the Jews were shot and pushed into their graves. Some tried to escape but were caught and torn apart by the German dogs. My little sister told me that the Christians stood on the sides and laughed.
Later on two very well known sadist SS men from Berlin came to the town. One was Pancher the Commissar and his assistant's name was Margaret Tarkov. They met with the Jewish representatives and threatened that if the Jewish people didn't obey orders immediately they would die. In this first meeting they outlined the destruction of the Jewish community in Kobrin. They also ordered the Jews to put yellow stars on their arms and on the left side of their chests.
The Jews were ordered to pay kilos of gold and to surrender their jewelry, possessions and other goods. Men and women were told to cut their hair off completely. They were forbidden to walk on the sidewalk. A Christian was not allowed to salute a Jew. If he did he was condemned to death. The Poles and Ukrainians supervised and severely beat the Jews.
Once we heard a commotion and saw a group of Jews walking. They were from
Bialystok, Bialovosh, Minovka, which were villages in the area. They had been
rounded up and taken to Kobrin to be put in a ghetto. On the way they were
beaten, shot, tortured.
Those that fell and were still alive were purposely run over by horses and buggies. The Germans used cruel tactics, like asking who was tired. When somebody spoke out and said I'm tired they were told to lie down and then they were shot or run over.
That day they expelled all the Jews from the villages, even those that had converted to Christianity. An order was given to the Jewish committee by Margaret Tarkov to round up 200 Jews to be shot. The committee had to do the selection. Many tried to run away, but they did not succeed. They were stripped naked and were shot and fell to graves. This is how the summer of 1941 passed.
A decision was made by the Germans to create a ghetto. The Jews were given two days to create two ghettos. One was Ghetto A and the second one was Ghetto B. Ghetto A was for professionals.
Shabbat evening was the first night of the ghetto. There was no drinking water in the ghetto. There were no wells and they had to take a chance of death to smuggle themselves out to get water. The ghetto was overcrowded and the Germans ordered that no women could get pregnant and those that were already pregnant, no matter what month, should get abortions.
Each Jew was allowed three kilos of food per day. The Poles and the Germans came and stole from the Jews and after stealing they beat them up and shot them.
Besides stealing and killing, the Germans committed cruel acts such as requiring the Jews to round up and deliver three hundred crazy people to be killed. Another example for instance, they put boiling water in the middle of the ghetto and threw babies and little children into the boiling water while music played in the background to cover up their screaming.
The youth started thinking and preparing to run away to the forest, the Jewish Committee found out and convinced them to stay and learn a trade that would give them a profession. The sadism continued.
The Germans took everything away from the Jews. The Jewish Committee, the leaders appointed by the Germans, still thought that if the Germans would be satisfied with the material goods they extorted from them, things would become better.
With the defeat in Stalingrad in February 4, 1943, the Germans retreated and
they took it out on the Jews with torture and more killings.
The big tragedy and killings started three days after the ninth of the Hebrew month Av in 1942. The Germans gathered everybody to be killed. Only a few of us were able to hide. From my hiding place I could see and hear the atrocities. All I could hear was crying, screaming, and the reciting of the Shma. When it was over, one could hear the talk and laughter of the Poles and the Ukrainians. I lost consciousness repeatedly. And then I woke up again. The killing and the digging of the graves to bury the dead continued for hours. At one point while the Jews were assembled at the area where they were to be killed, Alkon the teacher from Kobrin asked to say something to the Jews. When the Germans gave him their permission, he instead turned to the Germans and told them that if they turned on the Jews it meant that they had lost the war. He was immediately shot. The killing went on and on. When I became a little stronger I left my hiding place and, with my mother joined the Partisans.
The Polish peasants who were witness to the atrocities told me how my mother, who was caught by the Germans, and the other Jews were buried in the ground while some of them were still alive.
During the spring of 1944 the Germans buried all the bodies in the cemetery and
posted a sign in the middle of Kobrin that Kobrin was now cleared and cleaned
completely of Jews.
by I. Beil
Although it's very sad for me to describe and reminisce about the horrible things that happened in Kobrin, I see it as my duty to tell what happened. The only hope and solace that our people had while being tortured and killed was the hope to see to it that those who somehow were able to survive would tell the whole world about the horrendous tragedy. The enemy did not just torture the Jews physically, but mentally as well. They degraded them and tried to turn them against each other, but in that at least they were not successful.
My dear friends, I would like to divide the ghetto life into a few stages. It's
impossible to describe what really happened there, but I will try. Stage One is
the entrance of the Germans on June 24, 1941. On the 22nd of June there were
bombs and the Germans took over the train station. That day Kobrin had its
first casualties. Many thought the Russians would come back, but they had left
for good and the Germans entered the city. The day the Russians left, the
people, Jews and non-Jews, burst open all the Russian warehouses and took all
the goods and the food from there while the Germans watched. The next day the
Germans set on fire the Congregation Chaye Adam. The houses located nearby were
burned as well. They did not allow anybody to put the fire out.
Later the Germans used to transfer the Russian prisoners to Germany for slave labor. The Jews were soon taken for slave labor, beaten and shot. A Jewish Committee was created, a liaison between the Jews and the Germans. The committee was made up of 24 men who wore white strings on their arms. On those strings was written Judenrat.
No one could imagine what was going to happen next.
In September a new German regime came to town. People hoped that things would get better, but to no avail. The governing body in Kobrin was in the hands of the criminals, Pancher, his associate, Kobalnik, and the expert on Jews, Hoffman. One morning they kidnapped one hundred and fifty to one hundred and eighty Jews. Many people hid in the forest and every one of us had a family member who was kidnapped and killed by the Germans. Among them was my uncle, Yomtov Beil. That Nazi regime also ordered the Jews from age of 10 and up to wear the yellow star. Eight thousand Jews who lived in Kobrin wore the yellow star. Two weeks after that the ghetto was erected.
The ratio was five to six people per room in the ghetto. The primary source of income was selling your personal belongings. It was forbidden to do business with the Gentiles. The punishment was death and the Ukrainian police enforced that law. Also they confiscated all of your goods.
During the summer we used to get together in the evenings and still had conversations such as comparing the German occupation of 1915 to the current occupation. Now during the winter we stayed inside. It was cold. There was no source of heat. Once in the evening we saw Jews walking in the middle of the street. We learned they were refugees who had been expelled from their towns. They had been brought to Proshana, which was defined by the Germans as the state of the Jewish people. We took them in as much as we could. One day a new order was given by the Germans, to gather all the old and handicapped people. Two hundred of them were taken to Proshana. A few days later we learned that they had all been shot next to the village of Cemanir. This was the second massacre of Kobrin.
In one case twenty to thirty people volunteered to drive cattle to Kovel. Weeks
passed and we hadn't heard from the people. In the meantime we heard of great
massacres in Kovel and Slonim. In those days there was a plan to establish an
independent Ukrainian state under the German auspices. You could see everywhere
on the streets signs stating to kill the Jews because the Jews were communists
and they were to be blamed for everything, and they were the troublemakers of
An order was given forbidding people to leave the ghetto. The winter that followed was unusually cold, which added to our suffering. People had to get up at five o'clock in the morning and walk fifteen kilometers while it was cold and dark outside to reach the forced labor location were they dug trenches. Many froze on the way and when they reached their destination some died immediately. Once in a while we heard news from the Eastern Front and a ray of hope shined in our minds that maybe there was going to be an end to the occupation.
A word or two about the life outside the Kobrin ghetto. Gone were the days of the Russian occupation and the Government cooperatives. There were now stores owned by Christians. Merchandise was smuggled from Poland but it did not last long. In the beginning of the year the Germans ordered all the stores shut. The Jews maintained active business relations with their Christian acquaintances. Besides that, the Christians did not help the Jews at all, with very few exceptions.
New changes came about in the new year. More restrictions were imposed on us. An Artel was created, a big Artel where Jews could work under the supervision of Christians. All the skilled workers among the Jews worked in the Artel since the ghetto was divided into A and B, skilled workers and unskilled workers. Everyone opted to belong to the ghetto area of the skilled workers. Every Jew was anxious to get a skilled worker's certificate. All the Jews talked about how to get the certificate. An interesting thing happened. If you had money you could get a certificate, so it turned out that some people with no skills were able to get a skilled worker's certificate.
Five hundred Jews worked in the big Artel, but still the majority of the Jews worked outside of the ghetto. The places that they worked were Platzvoka. Thirty to forty Jews worked in each one. The Jews were forbidden to leave the ghetto by themselves. A Christian had to lead them. Sometimes a ten year old was appointed'for that. They used to walk in four or six rows, a boy leading them at the head. By eight o'clock all the men were gone; only women and children remained in the ghetto.
One of the most important persons in the ghetto was Yosef Yadvov, the miller.
Together with his Christian supervisor, he used to smuggle in from outside of
the ghetto flour, and sell it to the ghetto people. The Jewish Committee loved
him very much. Both Christians and Jews had ration cards. The Jews used to get
seventy grams of bread per day. All the flour came from the mill of Yosef
Yadvov. There was no inspection of the amount of flour that went into the
ghetto. The main thing was to have the permit. The Germans trusted the
Christian supervisor and he smuggled in ten wagons of flour instead of the
allowed one wagon. We used to go to the Yadvov mill store for the distribution
of the flour.
There were fifty Platzvokas scattered outside of the ghetto. A dozen of them were known to be the worst ones. They were under the direct supervision of the murderous Germans. I worked in a military facility and there was a famous large supervisor who was also a sadist. In his daily routine he had to beat up a Jew and break his head. Once my young friend and I were summoned into his office. He warned us that if we tried to escape or scream he would kill us. He even started to smash our heads together until he saw blood. This satisfied his sadistic needs and he let us go. We considered ourselves to be very fortunate since most of his victims did not survive the beatings.
This is the way the winter went by with its short days and long cold dark nights. Although we were very tired we could not sleep at night from pain, hunger and all the torture. We did a lot of thinking during those hours lying there. Were we living a nightmare? Reality showed it differently, that this was life. We thought about the future and about our own relatives in Israel, America, Argentina. Were they aware of what was happening to us? How were they reacting? We missed and cried for the dead and then we would hear the shooting that continued all through the night.
One could go on and on about those horrible nights. Nothing joyful was happening in the ghetto, no weddings or births. No ray of light shown ever, but still compared to what was about to happen it was tolerable.
New troubles were brought on us. Our children were taken from us. Those
beautiful daughters and decent sons were interned and tortured to death and all
the women were taken to forced labor in the heat. Soon we were facing
restrictive new laws. The next thing they did was to divide the youth outside
of the ghetto and put them in special barbed wire camps. The idea was to
prevent any thoughts of rebellion in their minds. Soon there was a new order to
transport those children out of town to a slave labor camp for ages twelve and
up. The parents were in a devastating situation. Running away was impossible.
The day of the departure from their families was one of the most tragic events
I have witnessed. There were rumors that they were taken outside of town to a
forest and shot.
In the meantime spring had arrived. Days were warmer and the Germans intensified their diabolical scheme. The first stage of the scheme was to divide the Jews in order to succeed in fulfilling their final solution, killing all the Jews. There was friction between the Jews over who would get into Ghetto A, the skilled worker's ghetto, and who would not because you knew that there was a better chance of survival if you were in the skilled ghetto section. The County Governor in charge of the Jews moved his living quarters into the ghetto. The order came out immediately that around his home a Jew was not supposed to be seen. Furthermore, a Jew was not allowed to be seen on any street when he walked or they would be killed. The Jewish militia was punished as well if the Governor saw any Jews around him.
In some towns part of the Jewish militia behaved as traitors for the price of survival of their families and themselves. They turned against their fellow Jews. One has to emphasize that none of the Kobrin militia members behaved like this. There were fifty young members in the militia. They acted as liaisons between the Germans and the Jews of the ghetto. They enforced the orders that the Germans gave. They were hated by the Jews, in particular two of them who took their jobs very seriously. One was Shepsel Golden and the other one was Yankel Hakorech (the bookbinder) and there were some other ones. The militia members were also obviously registered as Jews and they lived in Ghetto A.
We were lucky that in Kobrin, at that time, the Jewish militia was in charge of the entrance and exit from the ghetto to the outside, because if somebody smuggled in some food the Jewish militia did not report it. Unlike in other towns, nobody died from hunger in Kobrin yet. There was a great shortage of food, but still just about every family had some potatoes or a little bread. During Pesach, the baker was given permission to bake matzot. That Pesach was the gloomiest Pesach since Kobrin became a Jewish community.
At that time they started erecting the wall around Ghetto B to close us in. There was no light anymore in the ghetto and people were very pessimistic. I used to go to work in Ghetto B and felt tortured thinking that those of us in the Ghetto A would survive by working while those in Ghetto B would be killed.
Spring came with its bright colors and wonderful smells, but for the Jews it was a time of mourning due to the killings and torturing that continued to increase.
One morning in June a great fear came over the ghetto. A special delegation
whose purpose was to fight partisans came to the ghetto. People started
escaping to the military facility. The commotion grew bigger and bigger with
the constant questioning what was going to happen? That is the way it was until
Shabbat, June 2, 1942, when the Kobrin Holocaust happened.
It was a very hot day. There was a stir and we were told Ghetto B was surrounded on all sides. At 6:00 p.m. Ghetto A was also surrounded. The Jewish militia ordered Ghetto A people to gather on Ratner Street and Ghetto B people to gather on Ulina and Ratner Streets. From both ghettos, many hid. Part of my family and I went into hiding and then we heard the Germans yelling loudly for every Jew that was hiding to get out, which we did.
Families with small children were moved to Ghetto B. My grandmother was taken from us. This continued the whole night while the Germans killed anybody and his family who showed resistance to being moved. While we were spread and lying on the street my thoughts wandered and again I thought about countries nearby and wondered if they knew what was happening here. I saw a cat freely roaming about. It was not a Jew. At the end they departed with Group B. In the midst of the marchers was the chief rabbi with his hands outstretched in prayer to God. The next day the Germans and Ukrainians cleaned up the place of the people who were hiding. They were all shot, including the sick who could not move and the sick in the Jewish hospital. After the night and half day, at 2:00 p.m. they ordered us to disperse. Many of the young Germans were rewarded with two weeks vacation in Berlin for shooting their victims.
The blockade of Ghetto A was lifted the next day. Ghetto B was blockaded for two more weeks. We in Ghetto A were tortured, humiliated, weak and in much agony. In Ghetto A and B hundreds of people were shot. Kobrin suffered a 50% loss of the Jews in that day, not to mention that the Poles, Ukrainians and Germans stole the Jewish property and their possessions.
In the surrounding camps near Kobrin, the Jews were spared. After the massacre, a day care was established for the orphan children. The next day we were taken again to hard labor work as if nothing had happened. Young children from Ghetto B were mobilized to work to gather and sort the possessions of those who had been murdered.
In some of the pockets of the murdered victims we found notes and descriptions of events up until they were killed. These descriptions had details of the horrible events of being taken to the forest and shot.
Nobody ever thought or visualized this kind of end for the Jews of Kobrin,
death by torture, suffocation from being buried alive and this only because
they were Jews. The sky froze and no miracle happened. Let them be lamented
with the Kaddish forever and ever.
Forever and ever we are going to wish to avenge the torture and spilt blood of our loved ones.
In Brunagora Forest was a Kobriner youth camp for a hundred young men. They gathered weaponry that was left by the Soviets. After the massacre they were ordered to bury their relatives, their mothers, fathers, sisters, and when they finished they were also shot to death.
Two weeks after the massacre, those who survived were registered again and fingerprinted. We were again marched to do slave labor, 20 to 30 kilometers barefoot in the scorching heat, to work gathering stones in the road. They used to beat us to make us walk faster.
Life in the ghetto was back to its miserable pace. After the first massacre the youth in the ghetto thought of going to the partisans. Gershon Tennenbaum was very capable at coordinating with the partisans. He knew all the ways to the forest. He also knew how to travel to Brisk, make connections and get weapons. The Jewish militia with its leader Schatz was very active in the underground but no serious partisan movement could develop in the ghetto since there were no weapons. The partisans got their weapons by attacking the Germans. There weren't enough weapons in the first place to attack and get more weapons. Next to the Bolota Forest there was another partisan group that started, but again not everyone had weapons and military discipline was limited. In addition to suffering, the pains of hunger and the danger, they worried about those who remained behind in the ghetto. All this weakened the partisan movement. A more serious reorganization of the partisan movement began in the beginning of 1943 when the Soviets dropped parachutes with weapons to connect with the partisans. Due to that, our partisans survived, but by that time there were very few, only twenty percent of the original number who went to the forest.
The youth in the ghetto fell into a deep depression and despair. They organized trench digging in order to prepare for the next assault on the ghetto. Children were at first given to Christian acquaintances but then taken back. On the 14th of October, 1942, the ghetto was surrounded again, this time to finish Hitler's diabolical program and to annihilate the Jewish people.
The youth in the surrounding concentration camps were also murdered. In the
course of a week, all the Jews of Kobrin were murdered. It was the end of seven
hundred years of Jewish life in Kobrin. The Germans murdered, uprooted life in
The vicious German beast who was thirsty for Jewish blood and took pride in how efficiently he could smash the heads of Jewish children by throwing them on the cobblestone streets wasn't satisfied until Jewish blood was shed in all the streets in all the towns of Brisk, Pinsk, Drohitchin, Antapolia, Baraza, etc.
Hence I would like to share notes that I wrote in Polish about the last Actzia (massacre) before I escaped the ghetto. It was a hot summer evening on the 13th of October, 1942. The people of our Plotzvoka were dragged through Brisker Street. A tall German led the way. As usual I walked in the third row, exhausted. I looked helplessly at the Jewish houses, which were empty and which only a short while before had been full of youthful voices. I had tears in my eyes. I looked at the knapsacks that people were carrying, the source of hope since we used them for smuggling some food to bring to a child, father, mother waiting desperately for it. We entered the ghetto and our loved ones watched for us desperately. Hopefully their loved ones were not missing, in other words murdered, on that day.
I was even more tired than usual, so I went to sleep that night early, but I could not fall asleep. I visualized and saw scenes of the current life in the ghetto. I saw for instance the Germans who came back from killing the partisans and listened to their cruel and sadistic pride in detailing the last killing and torturing of partisans, especially one describing his torture of a young Jewish partisan girl with cruelty in his eyes. He tortured her but she still resisted him. For two days the Jewish community had been very tense. The SS that arrived in our town were demanding more and more property, gold and goods which could not be delivered, and due to that the Jews were being beaten and killed. It's difficult to describe what the Jewish community went through. All this was going through my mind and it was not letting me fall asleep. I fell asleep again for a short time since I was very tired.
When I woke up there was turmoil around me. My sister was crying. My father was
talking to my mother. I learned right away that the ghetto was again
surrounded. The time was three-thirty in the morning. It was very dark outside.
Women and children went first to the bunker. Suddenly the gates of the ghetto
were open. Germans with the skull and crossbones on their hats, with handguns
and revolvers, were seen on the streets of the ghetto. Great God! If we only
had guns to rebel, not to die like this, but to kill some of the enemy as well!
But this did not happen. The Germans started screaming, Get out!
Can a decent human being tell of the atrocities without his blood freezing in his veins? An example: a women is running. Her hair is all messed up. Her blouse is torn and in her arms is her crying baby. The SS is running behind her, pushing and beating her and this is only one case. It seems to me that even the e.arly cannibals in history were more humane and civilized than the German murderers. I had to decide what to do, to hide or go to the bunker where the women were.
What kind of thoughts went through the minds of Kobrin Jews at this time? Did they understand that they were to be slaughtered like cattle in a very short time? One could not think. The pain, the shock, the fear paralyzed us completely. They raised their hands in defeat. It seemed like they were praying with their hands outstretched to heaven.
Suddenly I saw my father and brother. We all went back to the bunker where the women were gathered. We lay there for two days without speaking a word, without knowing whether the Germans had already annihilated all the Jews.
At midnight on Shabbat we crawled out of the bunker. We got some food and water and we closed ourselves in the bunker again. Shabbat morning at nine o'clock we heard them coming again. We all prayed silently. They started yelling for us to get out and threatened that they would throw a grenade and blow the place up. It was incredible to feel that this was the end, but one hopes for miracles always. My thoughts were, Why should I die so young? I haven't lived enough. Why should I see my parents being shot? The assault on the bunker interrupted my thoughts. Since they could not find the entrance they started digging a hole in the ceiling. Every strike on the bunker was like a strike on our hearts. I looked with lots of love on the faces of my loved ones and tried to guess what they were thinking. The Germans succeeded in drilling an entrance and ordered us to get out. We were surrounded by the Germans with heavy ammunition. They ordered us to start marching to Ratner Street. Besides us there were no other people on the streets. All the other Jews in Kobrin had been murdered, only their goods were spread throughout the street. We passed the market and saw nobody. The Jews were gone. Killed. Three days of no food and water made it very hard to walk.
They took us to an apartment where there were many others locked in like us. There was a commotion, screaming and yelling in the room, especially from the children who were tired, hungry and thirsty. I sat next to my mother who was crying. Were we waiting for the Germans to prepare our graves?
Suddenly, a German walked in. He was looking for a man by the name of
Appelbaum, the tailor. He could not find him. My sister and another girl asked
him if they could go work in the Artel. In response the Germans took one of
the girls (not my sister) to the other room and for a long time we were
subjected to her screams and yells while he beat her up.
In the meantime I learned that my sister and a friend had run away. I walked to the other room where another group was being held. We tried to pry open the boards that were sealing the windows. The first girl that went through was caught by the Germans and was beaten to death. Her crying and screaming was so horrible that we all went back to the first room. We took off the board from another window and a few of us got out and ran. We heard shots above us and around us. I was looking for a latrine to jump in and hide. This was the way some people saved themselves during the first massacre, by hiding in that dirt for a few days. My instincts guided me. Without thinking I kept on running. I found a latrine but could not bring myself to jump into it. I arrived at a house and hid there, but after a while, when it became dark, I went out to Brisker Street. I don't know if it was chance or fate that I had a few more years to live. On the street I bumped into a Christian woman by the name of Chokiala who took me in and saved my life.
On the day of the massacre there were two hundred people in the Artel. When the Artel Jews heard that everybody on the outside was already killed, they decided to start a rebellion. They broke all the equipment and the machinery and destroyed everything. In reaction to this, the Germans killed one hundred fifty of them. They rebelled without weapons. Fifty of them were removed and taken to a jail where they worked for the Germans. Half a year after that, in 1943, when the Germans found out that there was an attempt to escape, all fifty were shot to death.
Let's not forget that in the ghetto itself there were heroic rebellions. For
instance the young partisan Tennenbaum: He happened to be in the ghetto during
the last massacre and he used his last bullet to defend and try to kill the
enemy before he was shot to death. The daughter of Golden threw a few grenades
at the Germans. In revenge the Germans did not shoot her but beat her to death.
The sons of Chanina and the grandsons of Aba, the butcher, fought against the
killers. Dr. Chaim Goldberg shot at the Germans and left one bullet for
himself. Dr. Milner and Dr. Lieberman refused to surrender their families to
the Germans and poisoned themselves instead. That was the way the heroes of
Kobrin fought, most of them without weapons. They fought with anything they had
in their hands until their deaths. Like myself, more than five hundred escaped
to the forest and the fields. Many Christians turned in the escaping Jews to
Throughout the forest and the roads you could see Jews naked and barefoot, hungry and thirsty, trying to escape. But the Ukrainian police were sent to catch those Jews. Young Jewish girls threw themselves into wells instead of falling into their hands. The peasants used to tie the Jews to their wagons and like livestock would herd them into town. There they would turn them over to the Germans. With very few exceptions, all the Christians turned them in to German hands. I myself tried to get help and shelter and information but was chased by the Ukrainians. More than one hundred Kobriners succeeded in reaching the forest. There they met with the previous partisans. There was a lot of weaponry. A few weeks after that the Germans caught them and many were killed.
That is the way the Kobrin Jews were annihilated by the German vandals.
The first group was massacred in the Aktzia of Brungora Forest, next to Barava. They were killed by shots and thrown in the lime pits for burial. Most of the Jews were killed in the massacre of the 14th of October. They were killed fourteen kilometers away from Kobrin on the way to Divan.
Even their corpses did not find rest. In 1944 a group of Hungarian Jews were brought to Kobrin to dig up the corpses and burn them. The burning of the corpses lasted two weeks.
Today there is not even a trace of what happened there, except for some small human bone fragments. The fields are used by peasants for agricultural purposes.
Let the pure memory of the sacred Jews of Kobrin be blessed forever. Yitgadal
ve Yitkadash, their name forever and ever. Let forever and ever the German people
be put to shame. That nation of killers and slaughterers. Germany will be cursed and its
name will be erased from the family of the Nations forever and ever.
by Aharon Herman
My Dear Hometown People,
I'm writing to you on behalf of very few Kobrin Jews who survived by a miracle. You know the facts of the tragedy, but you don't know the details about the members of our families. I will tell you the story and I will base it on the testimony of witnesses who remained alive, so that you will know when to have a Yahrtzeit memorial, and for you to be informed of the whereabouts of the ashes of our loved ones.
There were two ghettos in Kobrin, a big one and a small one. The Germans entered Kobrin during the first days of the war between Germany and Russia. The persecution started immediately with the very well known steps of forced labor camp in the town to which many of the young were sent and in which most of them were killed.
Life passed by routinely with suffering and pain. The Jewish Committee appointed by the Nazis did, according to witnesses, everything to make life easier. Still, while killings were occurring in the surrounding towns we, the Jews of Kobrin, hoped that we would be spared. Many of the neighboring towns' Jews escaped to Kobrin hoping the same.
In the summer of 1942 they started to massacre our people, intending to annihilate all the people of the ghetto. First was the annihilation of the small ghetto. Thousands were killed, but many escaped and hid in the big ghetto. The Jewish Committee of Kobrin did not deliver Jews to the Nazis, contrary to what happened in some cases in other cities. The Nazis themselves chose the victims. They took all those who lived in the small ghetto outside of the town and massacred them there. The mass grave of our loved ones is located on Pinsker Street on the way to Antopol.
The final annihilation of the ghetto happened on October 15, 1942. At that time eighty percent of all the Kobrin Jews (20% were killed before) were killed. The Jews heroically resisted the Nazis. Although they were not organized, people defended themselves. People hid in bunkers and in basements and from there they could shoot the Germans. My brother Abrasha and his wife Hanache (from the family of Barvikonkin) blocked the entrance to his home and never let the Nazis take him or his family away. He took a gun and shot all the Nazis that attempted to get them out of their home. The Nazis threw a grenade into the house and killed them. That house was on Shkolna Street. The daughter of Golden worked in an ammunition factory and she attacked the Germans with grenades. The Nazis took her and cut her to pieces.
Dr. Chaim Mintz survived the last Aktzia of the ghetto and he joined the
partisans. After the war he returned to Kobrin and was killed in an accident.
Ten Jews escaped the ghetto during the Aktzia and joined the partisans. They
were killed by Christian farmers.
During the last massacre the Germans chose one hundred young men to be taken to a jail. There they taught Christians their skills. As soon as the training was over, they were all killed. That was during the summer of 1943.
From this killing a few were saved. Tennenbaum and his two daughters live now in Lodz. Chinka Goldfarb lives in Kobrin with her daughter. A few ended up in Munich.
This was a testimony about the slaughter. A few others were saved only because
they were taken to Siberia by the Russians during the Russian occupation.
by Akiva Weiner (New York)
When I met him in New York I immediately felt close to him. His name was Baruch Kahn-Tsipor. He was twenty-seven years old. Even if we were not from the same hometown, I would have felt close to him. Here is his story:
When I was with the partisans, our worst time was during the winter. The white snow reflected our movements. The days were our enemy and dark nights were our heaven. We could hide and attack Nazi installations and kill Ukrainian militia who were more dangerous than the Germans sometimes. We had enough food and we almost never went hungry.
I looked at his strong hands and his healthy looking physique and they reminded me of the normal life we once had in Kobrin until 1939. I can still visualize the son of Aharon the butcher, Baruch Kahn-Tsipor, walking quickly to his father's store. But his eyes now are not like they were when he was a young, strong, happy-go-lucky nineteen year old. His eyes now reflect suffering, torture, and they get teary easily.
We were thirty people when we arrived at the forest next to the town of Povit. We warmed up some food and we even had a little wine to celebrate the fact that today we were not yet being attacked. Suddenly we heard shots. We grabbed our guns and we retreated while shooting back at the Germans, but by then two of us were already dead and two wounded.
We carried the wounded but it was to no avail. There was no place to bring them in. Meanwhile one died and the second begged us to shoot him so that he would not suffer any longer. His name was Label. We ignored him, but we ended up having Alexander, the non-Jewish partisan among us, shoot him in order to end his suffering. This was in 1942.
A few days later the farmer told us that six Germans and Ukrainians had been found dead from our exchange of shots in the Povit forest.
Since the day that we chanced to be in Kovel (Volyn) and were caught in the German occupation, we started making plans to escape.
Once, on July 7, 1941, I walked in the street of Kovel. A German stopped me. I had not taken my hat off as I was supposed to do. He saw the yellow star and he hit me with a whip. Blood spurted out. I was angry and depressed and went back home, packed up some food, took off the yellow star and started walking. My aim was Charnian, the region of Brisk. I had a knife to defend myself. I passed a village named Zameshin. I saw an old Christian coming towards me. I asked him where the Jews were and he said there weren't any more Jews. They had all been taken to the Brisk ghetto. When I told him that I was a Jew he told me to run because the Ukrainian militia was going to kill me.
I turned toward Charnian since I knew that there were many forests there where I could hide. At ten o'clock at night I entered the village of Charnian. I entered a Christian home and asked them where the Jews lived around here. They answered with a laugh and said, In the third house across the street. I knocked on that door. I said, Good evening, Jews. They answered, Shana Tova. An old man, his son and his daughter-in-law sat around the table. They drank tea. The old man told me that all the Jews had been killed and the three of them had been spared because he was a blacksmith and the Germans needed his skills. They asked me if I was a Jew since I did not look it and I had removed the yellow star. I noticed that the son quietly sneaked out of the house. A few minutes after that he came back with the Ukranian militia. I was arrested. They slapped me and said, we have a free Jew here. They said they were going to return me to the Kobrin Gestapo the next morning.
When they found the knife they asked if I was a murderer. They put me in a
small cell and said, You have only a few hours left to live until
I lay in the cell and could not fall asleep. I was counting the few hours I had left to live. In the morning they put me on a buggy with a German commandant driver who had a revolver. After seven kilometers he noticed a Christian riding toward us. His buggy was filled with wood. When the Christian could not produce a permit for the wood the German ordered him to follow us with his buggy. We arrived at a small house. The Christian sighed and said Shall we drink? to the German, and the commandant said Lets drink. They drank and drank but the commandant kept looking at me all of the time. Suddenly, he fell to the floor. I went and took the revolver and felt that I was in control now. The peasant who lived in the house did not know who I was.
I confiscated the buggy and went on my way to the forest. In the forest I kept on walking. I was not afraid anymore since I had the commandant's pistol. I arrived in Dacholvar forest where I met two escaping partisans and we remained together. I spoke Russian very well. They did not know that I was a Jew. We decided to attack the two Germans who were guarding a bridge on the Kobrin-Minsk road. We jumped them and slaughtered them like animals. We took their guns and felt very strong. We were all equipped with guns now and felt elated.
Deep in the forest we built our hut in a cave-like hall. We equipped it with as much food as we could for the coming winter. Each day we met Jewish escapees who were looking to join the partisans. They were hungry and naked. They had run away from the ghetto. We accepted them as our family. Gradually, we became a well-equipped fighting unit. We appointed a leader and we assaulted the Germans on the Pinsk-Kobrin road. We did everything. We burned bridges. We attacked the German vehicles. We blew up trains. We destroyed militia offices. Many times we were stuck in mud up to our necks instead of walking through villages so we could not be captured.
This is the way we continued until 1943. We met other groups and we developed brigades and acted in even bigger assaults. We got in touch with Moscow and that helped us a lot. The Russians dropped ammunition and food to us by parachutes. They also sent soldiers to help us with locations and attacks. A hospital was set up in the forest and the heavy casualties were taken to Moscow. Even though life was full of danger we were happy and performed our assaults on the Germans happily.
A day without dead Germans ruined our happiness. We had an outstanding group of twelve Jews who fought as good as and even better and more bravely and enthusiastically than the Christian partisans. We, the Jews, had lost everything, therefore ours was more of a personal and determined and daring war against the Germans. There were among us Jews who excelled, like Baruch Kahn-Tsipor from Kobrin, Barele Yafantshik and yours truly, Shmuel Pravda.
born in Ostrow-Mas.
(from the Yiddish From the Last Destruction Munich 1946-1948).
(from my visit to Kobrin on May 20, 1946)
by B. Kupitzky
On our way from Baronovitch to the border a train passed through the Tivoli station which was fifteen kilometers from Kobrin. From the Russian train supervisors, I learned that before we could cross the border we would be delayed for five days in Brisk. I decided to take this opportunity to visit my home town, Kobrin.
It was not an easy decision. All my acquaintances tried to persuade me from going there since those that visited Kobrin could not get rid of the shocking impressions of their visit.
I did not understand them. I wanted to visit for the last time my hometown where I grew up. I was determined to do so, so I bid them goodbye and left.
I am on the way now, heading from Tivoli to Kobrin. I am walking by foot. It's a beautiful spring day. Around me everything is green and tranquil. No sign of what occurred here during the war. Memories of the long ago and peaceful past come over me, when we were still safe and happy, everyone with his family. For a minute I delude myself and actually see the wonderful Jewish youth celebrating Lag B'Omer in the grove and I hear their singing. Soon I see Kobrin across the road. It seems that I see the old Kobrin, the congregation on Pinsker Street and the children playing in the yard. I feel like old times, how my family used to wait for me when I came home from a trip, but alas this time no one is waiting for me.
I am deeply absorbed in my thoughts. My heart is beating stronger and stronger.
I approach the town and recognize the streets and see the Mochevitz River. But
all the buildings, congregations, everything is burnt to the ground like it
never existed. I feel an incredible pain. The streets are deserted. The few
surviving houses are windowless and have no doors. The farmers helped
themselves to the doors and windows. I arrive at the market. The stores are
shut. My feet take me to Ratner Street. Here is where the Nazi.beasts went
berserk with massacres. From far away I see the two Shtibelach which
belong to the Kobriner rabbi. Next to it a few Russian soldiers are sitting and
smoking. I moved to Pinsker Street. What is left of it seemed lonely and gloomy.
The old cemetery on Pinsker Street is now a new market.
I'm engulfed in my thoughts. I walked to our community offices where our partisans are sitting and waiting to cross the border. They tell me of their days of suffering throughout their escape from the ghetto to the forest and how the Christian farmers used to hunt the Jews, tie them to their buggies and turn them in to the Gestapo for a few kilos of salt or two bottles of wine. They told me about the Ukrainian gentlemen who caught thirty young Jewish girls who were hiding in the ghetto after the massacre and how they dragged them out in a most cruel way and shot them to death. They tell me about the young children tortured and screaming and killed in the end. They also tell me about the bravery of the Barvekonki family, about Dr. Chaim Goldberg fighting the Germans, Dr. Lieberman who fought with his family and killed himself in the end. My feet take me to the house where my relatives used to live. The doors are ajar and the inside has been converted by the Russians to an army facility. The Russian guard looks at me suspiciously. I try to explain to him that I have just came back to my town and that I would like very much to go up to the attic where I might find some picture of my relatives. He agrees and he also mentions that he thought that he saw some pictures scattered on the floor somewhere there in that house. I went there but I did not find anything. My heart was broken.
I left and decided to visit another relative. She was a shop keeper. I remember her sitting by the entrance and reading letters from her relatives in America. As I neared the shop a Russian old lady was sitting at the entrance instead. Two young kids were playing and speaking Ukrainian. I felt as if something was choking me at my throat. I started leaving faster and faster. Where to? I did not know myself. I leaned on a wall and at that moment I understood why my acquaintances tried to dissuade me from visiting Kobrin. I looked around at those houses. Once all of them housed Jewish families and now there is no trace of Jewish life. Even a memory did not remain for future generations.
Jewish Kobrin, how I missed you far away in Siberia, and how disappointed I am now that I see you again in this shape.
Where is the wonderful youth? Where are the children, our dear parents, brothers and sisters? Everybody is gone from this world. Their memory is uprooted. Is this a nightmare?
Evening sets. The darkness represents how I feel. I'm in the midst of a dead
city. I'm tired and exhausted. I'm standing at the intersection of Brisk and
Voldova Streets, waiting for a car to Brisk that might pass.
No, I do not have anything to do here. Cursed be the land that soaked the blood of our loved ones. I will go on to where life is. I will join the remains of Israel. Among them I will find consolation for my soul.
|Excerpt from the book by Moshe Kaganovitch, the publisher of the historical committee annexed to the partisans in Italy, Rome 1944.|
In Kobrin a group of partisans organized, about eighty people, in the winter of 1942 - 1943. Their number decreased when the farmers reported them to the Germans.
Later on more joined the Voroshilov partisans, also the Soverov.
August 1, 1942: Kavan, the Kobriner Jew, volunteered to go to the Kobrin region to
organize the local partisans, also to save his family. Almost all the Kavan
group was assaulted near Slonim on January, 1943 by the German police and
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