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{Page XI}

Slutzk: its glory and its destruction

By Nissan Waxman


The city of Slutzk in White Russia was one of the foremost Jewish centers in Eastern Europe. Though not large in size and population, it occupied at many important moments in the history of Russian Jewry a more prominent place, and was better known, than the state capital city of Minsk. The Jews of Slutzk were noted for their excessive pride in their city, for which they were often taunted. Considering, in retrospect the history of the community and its merits, they seem to have had full justification for their attitude, and even a cursory perusal of this volume will engender a similar pride within the hearts of all those whose lives were once touched by Slutzk.

Over four hundred years ago there was already in Slutzk a fully organized Jewish community, distinguished in its conduct and unique in its mores. The echo of her love for scholarship and her pursuance of charity and kindness resounded in distant lands and attracted many outstanding families to come and settle there.

Despite the general poverty that prevailed in White Russia due to its lack of natural resources, and more so in Slutzk because of its distance from a railroad connection (until 1914), the Jewish population was quite well established and contented in Slutzk. For their lack of material riches they were compensated by their spiritual opulence, and they exerted a great influence among their brethren throughout Russia. The Rabbis of Slutzk had also always been renowned for their scholarship and were acclaimed as the spiritual leaders of their generation. Their opinions were highly esteemed in the Torah world and their services were often sought by many large Jewish communities. Throughout the years Slutzk retained an enviable reputation as a center of Torah and true Jewish wisdom unequalled by many larger Jewish communities.

Slutzk Jewry was always in the forefront of Jewish life and action in Russia, and all other communities looked to her for guidance and leadership. Whatever ideologies and movements appeared on the Jewish horizon, their propagators endeavored to obtain a foothold in Slutzk, whence the doctrines would spread far and wide. The Jews of Slutzk, however, steeped in their traditional culture and possessing a natural skepticism, were extremely cautious towards untested ideologies and viewed new movements with grave suspicion. They were highly reluctant to accept them and at times fought vigorously against them.

During the seventeenth century, when the cult of the false messiah, Sabbatai Zevi (1626-1676) was rampant throughout the Jewish world and many great leaders fell prey to it, Slutzk Jewry was not swayed whatsoever, despite the special emissaries that were sent to influence the population there.

In the eighteenth century, when the movement of Hassidism was on the march and its leaders attempted strenuously to make inroads in Slutzk, the people remained steadfast to their tradition and all efforts of persuasion did not produce any recruits for that movement (see Lubavicher Rabbi's Memories, Volume 11, pp. 143-153 and 164-165, New York 1960).

By its strong resistance Slutzk became synonymous with opposition to Hassidism and was so labeled in the Jewish lore. A "cold Mithnagged of Slutzk" is a well-known appellation in the Jewish vernacular. This was later expanded to the wider term of "a cold Litvak", in contrast to "a hot Hassid". In the courtyard of the Slutzk central synagogue there was a gigantic flintstone upon which, according to a legend, Rabbi Israel of Mezbizh, known as the "Besht" (1700-1760) had been put for a spanking when he appeared there to preach his ideas. As a result of this offensive act, Rabbi Israel is said to have uttered in anger that no Hassidic congregation shall ever arise in Slutzk. This imprecation was obviously fulfilled and the Jewish population there was rather amused and proud of it.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century East European Jewry was overwhelmed by the Haskalah, the so-called "enlightenment" movement. For the first time in many generations Slutzk, too, was greatly influenced and affected. The spirit of the new trend shook the very foundation of this ancient citadel and produced there a host of leaders who distinguished themselves in various modern intellectual activities throughout the Jewish world. At the same time, however, it maintained its former tradition as a reservoir of Torah through its great Yeshivah, headed by the renowned Gaon R. Issar Zalman Meltzer, to which students flocked from everywhere. Though the general spirit of the city was by then greatly changed, the Yeshivah preserved somewhat the pristine reputation and fame of the community.

In addition to the city of Slutzk, its Province consisted of about 15 smaller Jewish municipalities. They were: Hlusk, Hresk, Hrozova, Kapulie, Liuban, Pohost, Romanove, Starobin, Timkovitz, Uretche, Verkhutin, Vizne and others. Each one of these was a fully organized community, possessing a wealth of traditional Jewish culture and contributing greatly in its own way to the general spiritual panorama of the vicinity.

All this came to an end with the October Revolution in 1917. The Bolshevik Government suppressed every vestige of religious, national and spiritual life there. The historic and beautiful synagogues of Slutzk were confiscated and, one by one, their leaders were forced to flee the city to avoid deportation to Siberia where they would perish by famine and torture in the labor camps. Rabbi Meltzer attempted to remain in Slutzk with his Yeshivah, enduring great hardship, deprivation and oppression by the local government and party officials. In 1923 he succeeded in escaping and found refuge outside of the Russian borders. The Jewish community of Slutzk thus lingered on in the last two decades of its existence impoverished in spirit and despoiled of its former glory.

A description of the physical annihilation of Slutzk Jewry by the Hitler battalions in 1941 is given in the following report of the Nazi district commissioner to his superior in Minsk. This secret document was presented at the Nuremberg Inter- national Military Trial and is included in the United States Government report of those proceedings published under the name of Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Volume 111, page 785 (United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C. 1946). Parts of this document also appear in the book GESTAPO by Edward Crankshaw (Viking Press, 1956 and Pyramid Books, 1959).


DOCUMENT 1104-PS

Copy/T of the copy

The commissioner of the Territory of Slutsk
Slutsk, 30 October 1941
SECRET


To the Commissioner General Minsk

SUBJECT: Action against Jews

Referring to the report made by phone on 27 October 1941 I now beg to inform you in writing of the following

On 27 October in the morning at about 8 o'clock a first lieutenant of the police battalion No. 11 from Kauen (Lithuania) appeared and introduced himself as the adjutant of the battalion commander of the security police. The first lieutenant explained that the police battalion had received the assignment to effect the liquidation of all Jews here in the town of Slutzk, within two days. The battalion commander with his battalion in strength of four companies, two of which were made up of Lithuanian partisans, was on the march here and the action would have to begin instantly. I replied to the first lieutenant that I had to discuss the action in any case first with the commander. About half an hour later the police battalion arrived in Slutzk. Immediately after the arrival the conference with the battalion commander took place according to my request. I first explained to the commander that it would not very well be possible to effect the action without previous preparation, because everybody had been sent to work and that it would lead to terrible confusion. At least it would have been his duty to inform me a day ahead of time. Then I requested him to postpone the action one day. However, he rejected this with the remark that he had to carry out this action everywhere and in all towns and that only two days were allotted for Slutzk. Within these two days, the town of Slutzk had to be cleared of Jews by all means. I immediately protested violently against it, pointing out that a liquidation of Jews must not be allowed to take place in an arbitrary manner. I explained that a large part of the Jews still living in the towns were tradesmen and families of tradesmen respectively. But these Jewish tradesmen were not simply expendable because they were indispensable for maintaining the economic life. Furthermore, I pointed out that White Ruthenian tradesmen are so to say non-existent, that therefore all vital plants had to be shut down all at once, if all Jews would be liquidated. At the end of our conference, I mentioned that all tradesmen and specialists, inasmuch as they were indispensable, had papers of identification and that these should not be pulled out of the factories. Furthermore, it was agreed that all Jews still living in the town should first be brought into the ghetto in order to segregate them, especially with regard to the families of tradesmen which I did not want to have liquidated either. Two of my officials should be assigned to segregate them. The commander did not in any way contradict my idea and I had therefore the firm belief that the action would be carried out accordingly. However, a few hours after the beginning of the action the greatest difficulties already developed. I noticed that the commander had not at all abided by our agreement. All Jews without exception were taken out of the factories and shops and deported in spite of our agreement. It is true that part of the Jews was moved by way of the ghetto where many of them were processed and still segregated by me, but a large part was loaded directly on trucks and liquidated without further delay outside of the town. Shortly after noon complaints came already from all sides that the factories could not function any more because all Jewish tradesmen had been removed. As the commander had proceeded on his way to Baranowitschi I got in touch with the deputy commander, a captain, after searching a long time, and demanded to stop the action immediately because my instructions had been disregarded and the damage done so far with respect to the economic life could not be repaired anymore. The captain was greatly surprised at my idea and stated that he had received orders from the commander to clear the whole town of Jews without exception in the same manner as they had done in other towns. This mopping up had to be executed on political considerations and economic reasons had never played a role anywhere. However, due to my energetic intervention, he finally halted the action toward evening.

For the rest, as regards the execution of the action, I must point out to my deepest regret that the latter bordered already on sadism. The town itself offered a picture of horror during the action. With indescribable brutality on the part of both the German police officers and particularly the Lithuanian partisans, the Jewish people, but also among them White Ruthenians, were taken out of their dwellings and herded together. Everywhere in the town shots were to be heard and in different streets the corpses of shot Jews accumulated. The White Ruthenians were in greatest distress to free themselves from the encirclement. Regardless of the fact that the Jewish people, among whom were also tradesmen, were mistreated in a terribly barbarous way in the face of the White Ruthenian people, the White Ruthenians themselves were also worked over with rubber clubs and rifle butts. There was no question of an action against the Jews any more. It rather looked like a revolution. I myself with all my officials have been in it without interruption all day long in order to save what could yet be saved. In several instances I literally had to expel with drawn pistol the German police officials as well as the Lithuanian partisans from the shops. My own police was employed for the same mission but had often to leave the streets on account of the wild shooting in order to avoid being shot themselves. The whole picture was generally more than ghastly. In the afternoon a great number of abandoned Panje carriages with horses were standing in the streets so that I had to instruct the municipal administration to take care of the vehicles immediately. Afterwards it was ascertained that they were Jewish vehicles ordered by the armed forces to move ammunition. The drivers had simply been taken off the carriages and led away, and nobody had worried in the least about the vehicles.

I was not present at the shooting before the town. Therefore I cannot make a statement on its brutality. But it should suffice, if I point out that persons shot have worked themselves out of their graves some time after they had been covered. Regarding the economic damage I want to state that the tanner has been affected worst of all. 26 experts worked there. Of them, fifteen of the best specialists alone have been shot. Four more jumped from the truck during the transport and escaped, while seven others were not apprehended after they fled. The plant barely continues to operate today. Five wheelwrights worked in the wheelwright shop. Four of them have been shot and the shop has to keep going now with one wheelwright. Additional tradesmen such as carpenters, blacksmiths, etc. are still missing. Up till now it was impossible for me to obtain an exact survey. I have mentioned already in the beginning, that the families of tradesmen should be spared too. But now it seems that almost in all families some persons are missing. Reports come in from all over, making it clear that in one family the tradesman himself, in another family the wife and in the next one again the children are missing. In that way, almost all families have been broken up. It seems to be very doubtful whether under these circumstances the remaining tradesmen will show any interest in their work and produce accordingly, particularly as even today they are running around with bloody and bruised faces due to the brutality. The White Ruthenian people who had full confidence in us, are dumbfounded. Though they are intimidated and don't dare to utter their free opinion, one has already heard that they take the viewpoint that this day does not add to the glory of Germany and that it will not be forgotten. I am of the opinion that much has been destroyed through this action which we have achieved during the last months and that it will take a long time until we shall regain the confidence of the population which we have lost.

In conclusion I find myself obliged to point out that the police battalion has looted in an unheard of manner during the action, and that not only in Jewish houses but just the same in those of the White Ruthenians. Anything of use such as boots, leather, cloth, gold and other valuables, has been taken away. On the basis of statements of members of the armed forces, watches were torn off the arms of Jews in public, on the street, and rings were pulled off the fingers in the most brutal manner. A major of the finance department reported that a Jewish girl was asked by the police to obtain immediately 5,000 rubles to have her father released. This girl is said to have actually gone everywhere in order to obtain the money.

Also within the ghetto, the different barracks which had been nailed up by the civil administration and were furnished with Jewish furniture, have been broken open and robbed. Even from the barracks in which the unit was quartered, window frames and doors have been forcibly removed and used for campfires. Although I had a discussion with the adjutant of the commander on Tuesday morning concerning the looting and he promised in the course of the discussion that none of the policemen would enter the town anymore. yet I was forced several hours later to arrest two fully armed Lithuanian partisans because they were apprehended looting. During the night from Tuesday to Wednesday the battalion left the town in the direction of Baranowitschi. Evidently, the people were only too glad when this report circulated in the town.

So far the report. I shall come to Minsk in the immediate future in order to discuss the affair personally once again. At the present time, I am not in a position to continue with the action against the Jews. First, order has to be established again. I hope that I shall be able to restore order as soon as possible and also to revive the economic life despite the difficulties. Only, I beg you to grant me one request: "In the future, keep this police battalion away from me by all means."
signed: Carl


Upon receiving this descriptive report of the truculent and atrocious action committed in Slutzk, the Commissioner General, himself a trained and hardened Nazi, was so moved that he immediately dispatched this report to his superior in occupied Riga, Latvia with his own following comments.

***


Minsk, November 1, 1941
SECRET

To the Reich Commissioner for Eastern territories, Gauleiter Hinrich Lohse, Riga.

Enclosed, I submit a report of the commissioner for the territory of Slutzk, Party member Carl, with the request not to let this matter rest.

For about the last three weeks I have discussed the Slutzk action against the Jews with the responsible SS Brigadier General Zenner, member of the Reichstag. I request to grant my motion to prosecute the entire staff of officers of the police battalion 11.

I am submitting this report in duplicate so that one copy may be submitted to the Reich Minister. Peace and order cannot be maintained in White Ruthenia with methods of that sort. To have buried alive seriously wounded people, who then worked their way out of their graves again, is such extreme beastliness that this incident as such must be reported to the Fuehrer and the Reich Marshal.
Commissioner General for White Ruthenia
signed: Wilhelm Kube



***




The office in Riga followed up the matter and transmitted these reports directly to the Minister in Berlin with the following note:

Riga, November 11, 1941


To the Reich Minister for occupied Eastern Territories, Berlin:

Original with two enclosures with the request for consideration. It is deemed necessary that higher authority take immediate steps.
By order of the Reich Commissioner
for the Eastern Territories
Signed: Wichman




The noted British historian and commentator of the London Observer, Edward Crankshaw, after quoting some excerpts from the above in his book "Gestapo" remarks: "This was the impression made on a German official, who had already in the nature of his job seen many dreadful things, who has prepared to see the Jews of Slutzk completely liquidated provided be had a day's warning to organize the affairs in an orderly manner, but who, nevertheless, was so shocked and affronted by the reality that, after brooding about it for three days, he still could not overcome his indignation and, taking courage in both hands, laid bare his heart to his Fuehrer, via Goering. He was an innocent, of course. The Fuehrer had ordered that these people should be killed, and did not care how."


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