Because of the city's being cut off from the outside world, economic activity came almost totally to a halt. The Germans commandeered most of the stocks of food, and also most of the agricultural produce. A black market for food developed, which soon depleted the residents' savings. Many were reduced to relying on the meager rations distributed by ration cards. Each person received 100 grams of bread, a bit of potato and a few other things. Already in the first winter many could not withstand the hunger, and the death rate from starvation and disease grew considerably. In the months of February through May 1916 the Germans transferred about 9000 Jews to inner Poland, and only approximately 9000 remained in Pinsk. The following year the Germans allowed those wishing to do so to leave the city for the small towns and villages, where living conditions were more bearable. In order to supply their army with wood and food, the Germans employed forced labor, and every man and woman from age seventeen to forty-three was forced to work. In exchange for their work, they received some payment. The Germans set up a Residents' Committee, whose task it was to organize food allocation, to supply workers for the forced labor, and to organize removal of people from the city. A civil militia was formed, which was in charge of fulfilling the orders of the occupying authorities. The Residents' Committee was funded by direct taxes it was allowed to collect from the residents. Each month the committee collected 30,000 Deutsche Marks. Half of this sum the committee spent for support of educational institutions, hospitals, an old-age home, soup kitchens, and for needy individuals.
In the autumn of 1917, in the days of the Kranski government in Russia, the German army advanced toward Kiev. The conditions of the residents of Pinsk were eased somewhat, although the forced labor did not end. Then the trains resumed running, enabling commercial activity with Ukraine.
The revolutions of February and November 1917 planted hope and enthusiasm among the members of the Bund and youth with socialist leanings outside the Bund. The Balfour Declaration planted hope and enthusiasm among the Zionists and Zionist youth, and political activity in the city grew. The food supply improved, as the city was no longer cut off as before. In 1918 thousands of residents who had been exiled to Poland began returning to Pinsk by order of the Germans. The returnees arrived penniless, and the suffering and food shortages grew again.
That same day a new, heavy blow hit the Pinsk Jewish community, from the Polish Army, who executed thirty-five of the most promising men of the younger generation of Pinsk. The Poles told the story that the Jews had opened fire on them during a secret communist meeting whose purpose was to oppose the Polish Army and to bring about its expulsion from the city. Soldiers had surrounded the building where the meeting was held, and killed one of the participants there, and led the others to the Polish City Commander. En route they beat the men mercilessly. On the spot the Polish Commander Luczinski set a death sentence by firing squad. The soldiers brought the Jews to the market, stood thirty-four of them up at the wall, and shot them to death. The rest, twenty-six in number, women, children and old people, they imprisoned in the school, beating them cruelly. They had planned to shoot them also the following day, but at the last minute the Poles relented and they were saved. The murder of the thirty-five innocent men shocked the Jews of the city.
News of the murder in Pinsk quickly spread in Poland and outside it and provoked a tremendous public uproar. A committee of the Sejm [the Polish parliament] (whose membership included six Christians and two Jews), was sent to investigate the event. Public opinion in the USA and in England and the leadership of the International Socialist denounced the massacre with strong words, and demanded that the new Polish nation, which had just received its independence, stop persecuting the Jews. An American committee headed by Henry Morgenthau, a British committee headed by Stewart Samuel, and another committee from the Socialist International, were all sent to investigate the event. Under diplomatic pressure from the western countries, upon whose political and economic support the young country of Poland relied, the Polish authorities changed their policy by the end of the summer of 1919 to a pacifying policy towards the Jewish population. In Pinsk the order was given to choose the City Council in Democratic elections. The Jews won a majority on the city council and two positions in the city management.
With the front's move away from Pinsk, following the Polish Army's attack on the Ukrainian Army, the situation was eased somewhat. The Joint resumed aid to the Jews of Pinsk, many of whom were starving. Also aid from Pinskers in America to their relatives began to arrive, and the local economy began to improve.
However at the end of July 1920 the recovery again came to a halt, with the recapture of the city by the Bolsheviks. Many leftist young people joined the revolutionary camp. Ordinary Jews were absorbed into the militia and into the local bureaucracy. The Bolshevik authorities in the city ran a rabid campaign against the bourgeoisie, the religion and Zionism, and treated the Bund with distrust. In commercial life there was total chaos, with frequent requisition of products and nationalization of businesses, and with the introduction of the new ruble.
On September 26, 1920 the soldiers of General Balachovich who had fought on the side of the Polish Army came into Pinsk, and during three days of rampage wrought terror upon its residents. In three days, eleven Jews were murdered, women were raped, and Jewish property was stolen. A similar fate was met by the Jewish residents of the towns and villages of the region. In Pinsk and the vicinity approximately 1000 Jews died, and many women were raped by the Balachovches.
On September 29, 1920 the Polish Army returned to Pinsk, ended the rampage and gradually brought order. At that time some 2000 refugees arrived in the city, of the survivors of the Balachovches' pogrom in the vicinity of Pinsk, and it was imperative to help them. Also many Pinsker families were in need of help. For those who were orphaned by the pogrom, two orphanages were founded. The Joint extended help to the survivors of the pogroms. Thanks to this assistance the refugees were soon able to return to their homes. An emissary from the Pinskers in the United States brought with him a large sum of money ($150,000) for relatives of the Pinskers, and an additional $12,000 for public causes. In July 1921 the Joint reduced its aid and continued to support only the orphanages and public health. ORT and IKA organizations took upon themselves maintenance of two technical schools, one for boys and the other for girls. In all the other fields the leadership of the community were forced to provide by their own means. The assistance received by the Jews of Pinsk up to that time and the aid to the above institutions, totaling $750,000, enabled them to manage their public life and to cope with problems successfully.
In comparison to the period before World War I, there was demographic and economic decline of the Jews. The principal reason for the decline, aside from the events of war, was the policy of the Polish government, of attempting to increase the Polish population. Another factor is the immigration of many Jews to America and to Eretz-Israel.
With the stabilization of the Polish government, the political status of the Jews of Pinsk also improved. According to law and the international commitments of Poland, the Jews had, as individuals and as a group, equal rights to the rest of the population. But in fact, they were discriminated against in many areas. Even though Jews constituted more than half of the population of Pinsk, the mayor was a Pole; only with difficulty did a Jew (Dr. Elazar Bregman) succeed in being elected as vice-mayor.
Among the members of the city council which were appointed by the government, (until 1927), there were only two Jews. Even though in the city council they were a clear majority, the Polish authorities forced them out, and allowed only five Jewish members out of twenty-five.
The economic conditions of Pinsk at the beginning of the 1920s were difficult. The new border between Poland the USSR cut off the Pinsk region from other areas, and ended the trade by water with Ukraine. Trade in lumber was greatly reduced. Many factories closed. Only the match factory and the lumber factory continued to operate, and actually an additional lumber factory was opened. The number of Jewish employed, workers and clerks in the factories, declined by one half and totaled only 1000 people.
On the other hand, the number of Jews employed as skilled labors declined only slightly. At the end of the 1930s there were 854 workshops of skilled workers employing 883 hired workers and apprentices. In 1937 there were 676 shops owned by Jews, most of them small grocery shops. The skilled laborers and the shopkeepers were hurt: by the years of the financial crisis; and in the period of Ministry of the Treasury Gravski, who increased the tax burden; and by the years of the worldwide Great Depression of 1930-35. Many families' economic situation deteriorated to that of poverty, but in Pinsk they did not starve to death. Mutual aid societies were established; Pinskers in America helped their relatives. In 1922, with the help of the Joint, a loans bank was established, which provided loans to the shopkeepers and skilled workers. In the crisis years of 1924-6, businessmen established a Trade and Industry Bank with outside help. In addition, an old charity fund (gamah) which was revived, and a new one, both provided interest-free loans.
Also in this period the activity of the Linat Tzedek Society [Roof for the Homeless] was renewed. A branch of the TAZ Society was founded, to take care of the health of poor children, and to provide many of them with a nourishing meal. In Pinsk there was also a mother and baby clinic and an orphanage which were assisted by money from abroad. Technical schools for boys and for girls, helped by ORT and IKA, continued to operate, and two hospitals reopened. These two institutions merged in 1928 as one large hospital. There were also two old-age homes in Pinsk.
In the 1930s, with the growth of anti-Semitism, and the process of repression of Jewish commerce in Poland, Polish shops were opened, and at the same time, there was propaganda against Jewish businesses, but the new Polish businesses did not succeed in competition with the Jewish businesses. There were also attempts by Polish thugs to attack Jews, but young Jews responded, and these attacks ceased.
In this period there were still traditional haderim of the old kind and also two talmudei torah in Pinsk and Karlin. There were also haderim metukanim. Although the studies took place in dispersed locations, at the homes of the teachers, their name was changed to Yavneh School. Religious schools were opened: Horev, founded by Agudat Israel; and Tushia, which was a mixed boys and girls school.
Every ideological movement attempted to maintain an educational institution for elementary schoolchildren, and so there could be found in Pinsk: Tel-Hai founded by Poalei Zion (Young Socialists), with lessons in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish and it promoted aliya to Eretz-Israel and also pioneering; the Bund school named for Moshe Gleiberman, whose language of instruction was Yiddish and was of branch of CISO [pronounced Tzisho - Centrale Yiddish Schule Organizationa chain of Yiddish schools in Poland between the two World Wars]; two Tarbut schoolsone in Pinsk (from 1925) and the other in Karlin (from 1936)and the preparatory classes for the Tarbut Gymnasium [academic high school], which were parallel to the elementary school.
The crown of the educational institutions in Pinsk was the Hebrew Gymnasium Tarbut, founded in 1922 at the initiative of Zionist activists. The school excelled in its high level and in the level of Hebrew of its students, and was considered one of the best of the seven Tarbut gymnasiums in Poland. The language of instruction was primarily Hebrew and only secondarily Polish. Many of its graduates immigrated to Israel.
In addition there was a private Jewish gymnasium in Pinsk whose language of instruction was Polish. This was the Chechik Gymnasium, which began as a gymnasium for girls and in 1928 became coeducational. This school received governmental recognition.
Besides the above institutions, at this time there was a technical school for boys where they learned to become tailors, shoemakers and carpenters (it was founded in 1921 by Tze'irei Tzion [Young Zionists] and Tzionim Claliim [General Zionists]). And there was a technical school for girls (founded in 1919 at the initiative of the Bund). The most important technical school was the technical school founded in 1906, which continued to exist until the end of this period. In Pinsk there was also a Mussar Yeshiva, Beit Yosef, founded by the Novogrudek Yeshiva.
There were also evening schools, where various courses were offered. Sports clubs were established. Clubs and reading rooms were opened with lending libraries. Theater productions drew a large audience. Amateur troupes also presented plays. In 1927 the Yiddish newspaper Yiddishe Shtimme began to appear. Later competing weeklies were published: Pinsker Zeitung [Pinsk Times], Pinsker Wart [Pinsk Word], and Pinsker Leben [Pinsk Life].
The labor unions and political parties enjoyed a large measure of freedom, with the exception of the Communist Party which was illegal. In Pinsk there were almost all of the Jewish parties: General Zionists; Revisionists (after 1929); Tze'irei Zionfollowing the merger of the Rightist Poalei Zion with the old Poalei Zion; leftist Poalei Zion; the Bund; Communists acting in secret. There were the religious parties Mizrahi and Agudat Israel. In Pinsk there were very active youth movements: Hashomer Hatzair (later known as Hanoar Hatzioni) [Zionist Youth]; YISAI (Yiddisher Socialiste Arbeiter Jungt) [Young Jewish Socialist Workers]; Beitar; Hehalutz Haclali [the General Pioneer] (managed by Poalei Tzion); Hehalutz Hamerkazi [The Central Pioneer], following the general Zionist ideology; Hehalutz Hadati [the Religious Pioneer]. For a while there were two hakhshara kibbutzim of Hehalutz. The Bundist youth movement, Dei Tzukunit, and the leftist Poalei Zion movement, Borokhov Yungt, were small and weak. The Zionist youth groups had members who worked their way up to positions in the movement centers in Warsaw and Eretz-Israel, such as Hershl Pinski of Mapai, who died tragically in 1935; Haim Givati, and Moshe Kol [Kolodni], who later became ministers in the Government of Israel; and Yeruham Meshel, who later became General Secretary of the Histadrut of the Workers in Eretz-Israel. Pioneers from Pinsk who immigrated to Israel in 1926 founded Kvutzat [Kibbutz] Gvat in memory of the thirty-five martyrs who were murdered on 5 Nisan 5679 (April 5, 1919).
On October 29, 1939, the Soviet Army transferred the city of Vilna and its vicinity to Lithuania, which was still independent. Members of the Zionist youth groups, who feared the fate awaiting them in the new order, and also the Head of the Beit Yosef Yeshiva and his students, fled to Vilna. But they were a minority. Most of the Jews remained in Pinsk.
After Soviet citizenship was bestowed upon the residents of the annexed territories, Zionist activists were arrested and expelled, as were the Bundists and even local Communists. Wealthy people and unproductive elements were forced to leave Pinsk and to move to towns of the vicinity. Owners of small businesses and owners of workshops were required to pay heavy taxes, which quickly brought about their closure. Synagogues and batei-midrash were closed; only in Karlin did one synagogue remain in which prayer was still possible. The city council coerced the Jews to sign a request to close the Great Synagogue, which had been built in the 16th century. According to this so-called request of the Jewish community, the synagogue became a theater, while on the other hand, the authorities did not touch the three churches which then existed in the city.
|Rabbi Elimelech Perlow,
the Admur from Karlin
The Admor [our leader, teacher, and Rabbi] of the Karlin Hassidim, Rabbi Elimelekh Perlow was registered as a guard in the warehouses of the government consumers' union, so that he would not be compelled to leave town as an unproductive element. The last Rabbi and Av Beit-Din of Pinsk, Rabbi Aharon Valkin, replaced his top hat with a proletarian hat and awaited his exile from the city. But in fact he was not harmed. The vigorous anti-religious indoctrination work which was going on in the city and in the schools was directed primarily against the Jewish religion.
A few days before June 22, 1941, the day on which Germany attacked the USSR, the NKVD arrested many people whom the authorities viewed as unreliable, such as former Zionists and former wealthy people. They were put on trains and sent to Siberia. Following the attack of the German Army in Pinsk, there was recruitment to the Red Army, and among those drafted were Jews, who were among those evacuated to inner Russia, together with their Red Army units. As a result, many of them were saved. Ordinary Jews also tried to escape toward inner Russia with the retreating Red Army, but they were not allowed to cross the former border between Poland and Russia, and were obliged to return to the city.
On July 4, 1941 (9 Tammuz 5701), the German Army marched into Pinsk. A few days later the German Army arrested sixteen young Jewish men in the street, and brought them to the Army Headquarters on the pretence that they were needed for work; the following day they were executed in the Lishche forest. The Germans allowed the parents of the sixteen to bring their sons to Jewish burial after they agreed to sign a document stating that their sons had been murdered by the Russians. Photos of the parents standing next to the bodies of their sons later served the horrible propaganda of the Germans against the Russians.
Extreme measures and persecution of the Jews followed one after another. The Jews were forbidden to leave the city, to be outside after six p.m., to own radios, and to be in contact with the Christian population. The Jews were required to wear a white ribbon with a yellow Star of David on their left sleeve. In addition they were required to supply the Germans with soap, boots, fabrics and knits; the cases of kidnapping of men in the streets for work increased. German soldiers would enter Jewish homes and loot as they saw fit. Gestapo men began coming to Jewish homes to confiscate furs, jewelry and other valuables, and later, for kettles, pots and copper utensils, axes and hammers, metal beds and more.
The Christian inhabitants of the city cooperated willingly with the German authorities. Members of the Polish Auxiliary Police established by the Germans after their conquest of the city, assisted the Germans in persecuting the Jews and in stealing their property. With their help, Jews who had fulfilled official roles in the Soviet period were turned over to the Germans and these people were mostly executed, in most cases after being tortured. Jews began avoiding going out into the streets. Stores and workshops were closed. Only the Jews working in the factories received work permits. The synagogues and schools were closed.
In the second half of July 1941 the Commander of Pinsk gave an order forcing the Jews to choose a Judenrat [Jewish Council]. David Alper was chosen as the first Chairman of the Judenrat; he had been the last principal of the Tarbut Gymnasium. Together with him, up to twenty members were chosen. Two days after his election, David Alper resigned, after realizing that his job was limited to completely fulfilling the demands of the Germans. Ten days after his resignation, he and twenty other members of the Judenrat were among the first to be executed in the first aktsia, which was carried out on August 4th and 5th.
In place of the murdered members of the Judenrat, others were elected (or appointed). Benjamin Buksztanski was the Chairman and his deputy was Motl Minski. In the Judenrat there were various departments: Finance, Judiciary, Supply, Labor and Social Services. The largest department was the Labor Department. It was responsible for 4000 to 5000 workers who worked in various places of employment, the largest part of whom had fixed places of work. Each day the Judenrat had to supply workers in accordance with a number demanded by the Germans. Men from ages sixteen to sixty-five and women from sixteen to fifty-five were required to go to work three times per week, according to a list which was prepared in advance.
In the first month of its existence, the Judenrat established a clinic and a hospital. Hundreds of people were in need of the welfare department, which did their best to help. In order to finance its activities and institutions, the Judenrat used funds which it collected. The main source of income was a tax on bread, which was distributed in rations. In the beginning the rationed bread portions were sold at the price of two rubles per kilogram; later the price rose to three rubles per kilogram; seventy-five percent of this price was tax. Later still the Judenrat received income from sales of surplus gold, which had been collected by dictate of the Germans and which had remained with the Judenrat unbeknownst to the Gestapo. With these funds the Judenrat paid the salaries of its staff, relief needs and unexpected demands from the Germans.
The first aktsia of the Germans took place on a Monday evening, the 12th of Av 5701 (August 4th, 1941). Together with the Polish Police, the Germans raided Jewish homes in different parts of the city and captured 300 men. These men were brought to the cellars of the Gendarmerie and held there. Rumors broke out that the Germans were demanding a ransom for their release. Members of the Judenrat requested the help of the Polish Mayor Szlivinski, and he agreed to join the Judenrat delegation which went to the Pinsk Commander. The Commander threw them out and ordered the Mayor to notify the Jews that all men between the ages of eighteen and sixty must report at the train station for work. If they would not show up, the 300 detainees would be put to death. This threat had its effect, and many reported at the station. Still there were more than a few who hid instead. Since the rate of reporting at the station did not satisfy the Germans, they ordered most of the members of the Judenrat to join those who had come to the station. When the number of men reached 8000, the Germans lined them up in two tiers of five abreast, and ordered them to remove their watches and to empty their pockets of money, documents and other items. The Germans removed the workers who had been working on repairing the bridge, 150 in number, and a few hundreds of skilled workers, and in their stead, the 300 were brought from the cellars of the Gendarmerie. Those gathered at the station were ordered to march in the direction of the village of Ivaniki, surrounded by SS men, on foot, on horseback and on motorcycles. En route, the Germans ordered them to undress, and finally they made them run in the direction of pits which had been prepared in advance. Many tried to run in the direction of the fields, but the Germans shot and wounded most of them. By nine p.m. the Germans managed to exterminate them all. Only three succeeded in escaping death and in returning to the city. These survivors recounted what had happened to the thousands of men who'd been taken to work. In addition to these three, another few tens succeeded in escaping.
The following night, August 5th, 1941, the Germans accompanied by Polish Police once again raided Jewish homes and took 300 Jews, among them youngsters. The captives were ordered to bring hoes with them and were brought to the site of the mass murders. There they were ordered to collect the bodies of those who'd been shot attempting to escape and to bring them to the mass graves; then they were shot, except for two who were ordered to cover the pits.
Three days later, early on Thursday morning (August 7th, 1941), squads of German soldiers and Polish Police went from house to house and removed from their beds or from hiding places, men, including teenagers, and old men. They led them through the city streets with their hands on their heads and they were put in the sheep enclosures on Brisker Street, in the direction of the village of Kozliakovich. The Germans refused to honor work permits. In groups of fifty to sixty men, the victims were brought to the death pits which had been prepared in advance adjacent to a woods near Kozliakovich. The victims were ordered to lie down in them and were shot in the head. Only a small few succeeded in hiding. In this second aktsia between 2500 and 3000 men lost their lives, among them children and old people. Most of those killed in the two aktsias were male.
These two aktsias were carried out by SS soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment of the mounted SS brigade. The officer in Command was Sturmbannfuehrer Magill.
After the two aktsias of August 1941, there remained over 10,000 Jews in Pinsk, most of them women and children, with a small number of skilled workers who had been spared by order of the German orders, and others who had succeeded in hiding and staying alive.
A short time after the August massacres, a special German Army company which dealt in looting Jewish property came to Pinsk. With the guidance of Christian women of Pinsk, the members of this platoon entered homes and confiscated clothing and other objects and loaded them onto trucks. The Christian women did not refrain from taking things for themselves.
Upon the Jews remaining in the city various new severe measures were imposed. They were ordered to wear two yellow Jewish stars, one on their backs and one on their chests, instead of the white ribbon with the Star of David on their sleeves as before. They were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks and ordered to walk in the middle of the streets instead (this order was soon repealed). The Germans ordered the Judenrat to collect twenty kilograms of gold within three days and hand them over to them. If they would not fulfill this order, all Jews would be exiled from the city. The act of collection began; the Jews brought to the Judenrat gold jewelry and gold watches. A special committee, headed by Rabbi Moishele from Stolin, received the gold, weighed it, and handed a receipt to the owners. Worthy of mention is a Provoslavian [Orthodox] clergyman, who felt an affinity for the Jews, and donated a golden cross of his own, weighing half a kilogram. After receiving the gold, the Nazis demanded cloth for the preparation of a hundred suits, ready-made suits, leather for shoes, boots, sheets and blankets, horses and cows, and more. Especially severe was the order to hand in all furs or fur-decorated clothing and gloves, as this left the Jews without warm clothing for the winter, which was especially harsh that year. Some Jews caught with furs in their possession were hanged in the market square. Afterwards the Germans demanded golden Russian coins of five and ten rubles, and in order to assure compliance, they took tens of hostages. Apparently this demand was also fulfilled.
Because of the lack of food, the Germans allowed the Judenrat to buy foodstuffs at the market twice a week. Later they were allowed to shop there only once a week, and finally permission was totally denied.
At this time the Judenrat established a Jewish Police force of thirteen members. The Jewish Police were given the task of guarding the market and other places and enforcing the law of no contact between Jews and the peasants of the region, and also of keeping order at the Judenrat offices. It appears that in Pinsk the Jewish policemen did not weigh especially heavily on their fellow Jews.
At Pesach time Jews from some of the towns of the vicinity who had been deported from their homes, bereft of all property, were brought to Pinsk. The Germans gave the order to build a ghetto in Pinsk, similar to the ghettos which had been built in other cities. With the help of bribery the Judenrat succeeded in postponing this severe measure, but only briefly. On April 30, 1942 the order was given to establish the ghetto, and those Jews who lived outside the confines of the planned ghetto were ordered to move there within one day, by May 1st, at 4 p.m.
The Pinsk ghetto had three gates and it was mostly built in the neighborhood of Linishches, a poor neighborhood which had been crowded and inhabited by the lower classes. The area devoted to the ghetto was too small to encompass all of the newcomers. The Jews were allowed to bring only kitchen utensils, bedding and a small amount of clothing, but no furniture. At the gates stood German gendarmes and police who checked the baggage. They confiscated forbidden goods and beat the owners. Yet many Jews succeeded in bringing in more than what was allowed. The homes vacated by the Jews were immediately taken over by Christian residents of Pinsk. In the ghetto the Judenrat allotted 1.20 square meters per person, and apportioned the living quarters for each family. In each room there were three-four families (at least ten persons). One oven served many families, and they took turns cooking. The great crowding and the inhuman living conditions led to endless arguments and feuds between the residents.
There were only two wells in the ghetto, and there were long lines for water. The Jewish Police kept order, and its ranks were increased to fifty. The crowding and lack of hygienic conditions brought about epidemics. In the ghetto symptoms of hunger were common and about thirty to forty people died each day. The Judenrat opened a few stores where the residents of the ghetto could receive their daily bread rations: 150 grams per child, and 300 grams per adult, at two to three rubles per kilogram. The Judenrat bought flour for the baking from the Germans (at an exorbitant price) according to the number of Jews in the ghetto. In order to slightly enlarge the amount of food, the Judenrat employed workers who raised potatoes and other vegetables in the Kaplan gardens beyond the railroad tracks. In order to pay its workers, the Judenrat issued special bills for internal use in the ghetto. At the initiative of the Judenrat, a hospital, pharmacy, orphanage and soup kitchen were established.
In the ghetto was a court of law which dealt with feuds between individuals; also people who refused to fulfill requests of the Judenrat were tried there, especially in matters of money. Those refusing to pay were occasionally sentenced to days in jail.
There were only a few synagogues in the ghetto. Most of the congregants were elderly people. Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Perlow of Karlin tried by all means possible to relieve the suffering of the ghetto residents.
Cultural life did not exist at all. Most of the intelligentsia and public servants had been executed in the aktsias of August 1941 and there was no one to organize studies or cultural activity.
The Pinsk ghetto was considered a working ghetto. Before going out to work, the workers would organize themselves in groups according to their professions or places of work. The leaving for work was always accompanied by a guard of Polish Police auxiliary. In the Judenrat archives some original lists remain of workers and their places of work. The principal places of work were:
|Private work outside the ghetto||733|
|Headquarters, Gendarmerie, Police||107|
|Hospitals (Jewish and Aryan)||134|
|Various other places of work||28|
Those going to work regarded themselves as lucky. The ghetto residents believed that working meant that they would have a good chance of surviving. Most of the workers would eat something outside and even were able to get something for their family members. In the ghetto there were large workshops in which tailors and shoemakers worked. The Germans and Christians needed the services of these skilled workers and paid them with money and food. Women and girls hired themselves out as cleaning help in the homes of the Christians outside the ghetto in exchange for food.
Bringing food into the ghetto was strictly forbidden. At the gates the policemen checked all bags of those returning from work. Foods which were detected were confiscated, and their owners were beaten mercilessly. There were even cases in which people paid for this with their lives. Children too would risk their lives in leaving the ghetto, and more than a few were killed by the shots of the police while trying to sneak out of the ghetto.
In one of the days of July 1942 Deputy Commissar Ebner showed up at the Judenrat with the district doctor and demanded a list of the mentally ill and people very ill with incurable diseases. The attempts of the Judenrat people to evade preparing this list were of no use. Two days later the Germans took forty sick people, and drove them in the direction of Kozliakovich, where they shot them to death.
Each professional worker in the ghetto was ordered to put on his yellow patches the name of his place of work and his number at his place of work. After receiving the news of the destruction of the Jewish community of Brest and other towns of the region (Sarny, Pogost Zagorodoskiy, Yanov/Ivanava, Drahichin) and about the destruction and revolt of the Jews of Lakhva, the Jews of Pinsk began to believe that their end was near. Many then began to build hiding places in their homes and yards. When members of the Judenrat asked Ebner if these rumors were true, he allayed their fears by saying that the Jews of Pinsk are hard-working and work in professions or industrial plants and skilled labor, and are very useful. But these words of placation did not abate the anxiety and the fears.
There were some who discussed the idea of leaving the ghetto for the forests and joining the partisans. A group of fifty people led by Hershl Lewin organized. They succeeded in purchasing some rifles, some pistols and two hand grenades, which they hid in the Kaplan gardens. However the Judenrat warned members of the group that if their plan were to be carried out, this might bring extermination upon their own families and upon the entire ghetto. This warning had its effect and the plan to leave the ghetto was postponed from day to day and in the end was never carried out.
There was also a secret attempt at organizing to forcibly oppose the Germans and their helpers on the day of the destruction of the ghetto, and to enable the escape of many, as had happened in Lakhva. Two members of the Judenrat and the Chief of the Jewish Police were in on the secret plan. It was decided that the city would be set on fire, and toward this goal, heating oil, rags and matches were distributed to places of work. At each place of work, there was someone responsible for setting the fire, upon receipt of the sign to do so. The intent was to act at the decisive moment before the final aktsia. But here too members of the Judenrat intervened, and warned the members of the conspiracy that they would endanger all of the members of the ghetto.
On October 22, 1942 rumors broke out in the ghetto that Christians were digging deep pits near the village of Dobrovolia. Panic broke out, and in order to calm the public Ebner gave his word to the members of the Judenrat, that these pits were intended for storage of fuel for the airport. The following day news spread that, according to prepared lists, 3000-4000 nonworking people would be taken out of the ghetto; the rest would remain in the ghetto. Most of the members of the secret organization reached the conclusion that they must not endanger the lives of the residents of the ghetto, and they abandoned their plans. This deception on the part of the Germans succeeded and at the time of the extermination they did not meet with any resistance.
|The liquidation of ghetto Pinsk
(Yad Vashem Archives)
On the day before the liquidation workers returning from work to the ghetto related with concern that the Germans had posted a stern warning to the non-Jewish residents of the city not to touch Jewish property, and anyone disobeying this order would be punished by death. Some of the workers who had been scheduled to work on the night shift were sent home. The workers at the lumber factory did begin their night shift, but in the middle of the night they were gathered together and imprisoned in one of the warehouses.
Early in the morning of Thursday, 18 Heshvan 5703 (October 29, 1942), before sunrise, German forces surrounded the ghetto on all sides. Gestapo men took up posts at the ghetto gates and did not let anyone leave the ghetto. Hundreds of young people tried to climb the gates and to break out, but S.S. men shot at them with machine guns which had been hidden by the ghetto walls. There were a few more such attempts to scale the ghetto walls. Most were killed in their attempt. A few people tried to resist: one Jew attacked a soldier on horseback with his bare hands. He succeeded in grabbing the soldier's rifle, but was shot by other soldiers before he could shoot. But there was no active, organized resistance. The report of a police officer and of the Commander of Police battalion 310, Helmut Saur, notes that the actions of combing the ghetto and of gathering the people at the concentration place on the first day proceeded without incident. In this same report it is recorded that on this the first day approximately 1200 people were killed inside the ghetto.
At 6:30 in the morning a company of S.S. men, armed and with dogs, entered the ghetto. The Germans began forcing Jews to run to the gathering place next to the cemetery. Professional people, doctors, engineers, and workers in skilled labor and at factories were separated from the rest, and brought to the empty lot across from the Judenrat. Those workers whose names appeared on the lists supplied by Ebner and who were present, were brought to the hospital, where they remained for three days, and witnessed the progress of the aktsia in which the ghetto was liquidated. Some 200 people without the yellow patch on which it said needed Jew also squeezed into the hospital. Ebner gave the order to execute them all; in this manner about 200 were murdered there.
After separating the skilled workers from the rest, S.S. men began to gather the Jews in groups of 200-300, and to lead them to the pits at Dobrovolia to be executed. A few tens of Jews tried to escape through the gate, but the Germans opened fire and killed them. One Jew succeeded in hiding in a lumber warehouse, and in telling others what his eyes had seen at the gathering place near the cemetery. S.S. men tortured the Jews, beat them and killed some of them on the spot. They pulled small children from their parents' arms, held them upside down and shot them. The members of the Judenrat were also brought to the gathering place. Some were set aside together with the skilled workers, others were shot to death there, and still others committed suicide by swallowing poison.
Those who were led to the pits at Dobrovolia, were ordered to undress quickly, and to sort their clothing into piles according to type. After they had undressed, the Germans pushed them into the pits, ordered them to lie down on top of the dead and wounded and to lower their heads; then they were shot in the back of their heads. In the military report of Hauptman Helmut Saur, Company Commander of Ghetto Police battalion 610 [sic], who took part in the destruction of the ghetto and its inhabitants, it is written that approximately 10,000 Jews were killed. This report also states that about 150 Jews escaped from the pits, and ran to the fields, but that all of them were shot to death by the mounted men who chased them.
On the second and third days of the aktsia, which is to say Friday and Saturday, the 19th and 20th of Heshvan, (October 30-31), S.S. men combed the ghetto with dogs, looking for Jews in hiding, Those who were found were collected in groups of 200-300 and brought to the death pits at Dobrovolia, where they were murdered. Approximately twenty young people and a few hundred other Jews joined the skilled workers at the hospital, in the hope of surviving in this manner. All of the people at the hospital stayed in conditions of extreme crowding and almost without food.
On Sunday, November 1, 1942, Ebner went to the hospital and took out 134 peopledoctors, shoemakers, tailors and print workers. The remainder were murdered on the spot.
For those still alive, the Germans built the small ghetto at Karlin, in the former yeshiva building, and buildings nearby, altogether eleven buildings. The small ghetto was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, and was guarded by Polish police day and night. Jews in hiding who tried to join those in the small ghetto, were for the most part caught in the frequent checks, gathered in groups, and taken to Dobrovolia to be executed.
Not long afterward, the members of the small ghetto began to realize that their days were numbered. A few of them prepared a small amount of supplies in a house outside the ghetto, in the event they would escape, and a few groups did indeed escape in an attempt to reach the forests and join the partisans, but only a few individuals succeeded in this.
On Wednesday, 15 Tevet 5703 (December 23, 1942) the Germans surrounded the ghetto, and the few remaining Jews were taken to the Karlin cemetery, where they were shot to death. A few others among the ghetto residents managed to escape during the aktsia and to hide.
When Pinsk was liberated on July 14, 1944 by the Red Army, only seventeen Jews who had been hidden by Christian families came out of hiding. The names are known of twenty others who had escaped to the forests and joined the partisans.
Yad Vashem Archives, M-1/E 1790; 03/3009; 03/3305; 03/3931; 03/2909; 03/857; TR-10/516.
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(Hebrew and Yiddish, mimeograph)
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Feinstein, A.A., Megilat Puranyot [Scroll of Infamy], Tel Aviv, 1929.
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Vol. A1, Nadav, M., Toldot Kehillat Pinsk-Karlin, 1506-1880, Tel Aviv, 1973.
Vol. A2, Rabinowitsch, W. (editor), Toldot Kehillat Pinsk-Karlin, 1881-1941. Tel Aviv, 1977.
Vol. B, Tamir, N. (editor), Tel Aviv, 1966.
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Weizmann-Lichtenstein, H., B'tzel Koratanu [Finding Shelter Under Our Roof], Tel Aviv, 1948.
Kol, M., Morim V'Haverim [Teachers and Friends], Jerusalem-Tel Aviv, 1968.
Kol, M., Netivot: Prakim Autobiographiim [Netivot: Autobiographical Chapters], Tel Aviv, 1981.
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Rabinowitsch, S.M., Al Pinsk Karlin V'yoshveihen [Of Pinsk, Karlin and their Residents], Talpiot, Berdichev, 1895, pp. 8-17.
Akty Vilenskoy Archeograficheskoy Kommissii, Vol. 28-29; material on Pinsk also in volumes 1-3, 8, 13, 17, 18, 34.
Bershadskii, S.A., Russko-evreiski archiv, Vol. 1-2, Peterburg, 1882.
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Lists of periodicals and newspapers: see Pinsk Memorial Book, vol. A1 & A2, the list of monographs by M. Nadav and A. Shochat about the community of Pinsk.
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