ONLINE NEWSLETTER (No. 2/2004 - January 2004)
Editor: Fran Bock
This article is another in the series of reviews by Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky of works dealing with the history of Jews in Belarus published abroad. It was originally published in the journal Jews in Eastern Europe, No 2 (42), 2000, pp. 106-110.
The Belarus SIG is grateful for the permission granted by The Center for Research and Documentation of East European Jewry, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, to republish Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky's article in the Belarus SIG Online Newsletter.
We also thank Dr. Smilovitsky for his continuing contributions to our knowledge about the Jews in Belarus and for his permission to republish the article here.
© This article is copyrighted by Jews in Eastern Europe, its publishers and Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky.
Reprinting or copying of this article is not allowed without prior permission from the copyrightholders.
Borisov: A Mirror of the Holocaust in Belorussia
(A Review of: Alexander Rosenbloom, Pamiat' na krovi: Evrei v istorii Borisova (Memory in Blood: Jews in the History of Borisov), Petakh Tykva, Israel, 1998, 211 pp.)
by Leonid Smilovitsky, Ph.D.,
Diaspora Research Center, Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of the Humanities, Tel Aviv University
For many years Alexander Rosenbloom has been collecting information about the Jews of Borisov in Belorussia. In the year this book was compiled, they numbered fewer than 1500 (or less than 1% of the total 150,000 population) in comparison to 15,063 or 51% of Borisov's population in 1897.
The author made use of many public archives (1). In addition, a significant place in the book is played by materials from the author's own archives (containing correspondence, documents, testimonies, memoirs, etc.) that he has collected over the past five decades.
It should be noted that this volume could not have been produced in Belarus today since the period of relative liberalization in historiography (1989-1995, when researchers had access to archives with information about the Holocaust) is over. In the wake of a directive of July 1996, materials that had been available became off-limits and historians were no longer given access to information about the behavior of the local population under occupation toward the Jews or about local bodies such as the police.
Since it lacks an academic apparatus, the work can not be considered scientific. It is rather, as the author describes it, a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust and an expression of gratitude to those gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews.
The introduction by Eliyahu Valk (who served as Israel's first ambassador to the Belarus Republic from 1993 to 1996) compares Rosenbloom's achievements to those of whole groups in Israel. However, the author does acknowledge the aid he received, including for his previous publications Um ershchvlennye genotsidom (Destroyed by Genocide, 1994) and Sledy v trave zabveniia: Evrei v istoni Bonsova (Traces in the Grass of Oblivion: Jews in the History of Borisov; the Svet menory Jewish Culture Association, 1996). In 1996 Rosenbloom emigrated to Israel and established contacts with natives of Borisov scattered around the world, who helped provide him with materials, including their reminiscences, for the present work.
The book consists of ten brief chapters that present the tragedy of the Jewish population in the city and region of Borisov chronologically. The first chapter provides a historical survey of Borisov in general and of its Jews in particular. Following chapters deal with the liquidation of Jewish religious life, the period of the Great Terror, local collaboration with the Nazis, and important Jewish figures in Borisov.
Of particular value are the various lists of Borisov Jews that comprise a major part of the book. One lists 32 victims of Stalin's purges, with the person's post or job, his sentence, and - if he survived - his subsequent fate. Another lists 404 Jews who did not return from the front. This includes those who served in the Red Army, with the partisans, or in the underground resistance. From this list one can see that sometimes several members of one family perished. The years of birth and death yield an idea of the age range of the fighters and the losses by year. The longest list is that of 2,035 Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis in the Borisov Ghetto and in the surrounding region. Listed separately are the prisoners of the Zembin Ghetto, who were murdered on August 18, 1941.
There is also a list of those officers and rank-and-file soldiers or militiamen who took part in the mass murder of Jews in Belorussia between August and November 1941. Five of these murderers were executed and sixteen imprisoned : Rosenbloom was not able to determine the fate of 74 of them. Some of them fled West with the Germans, others changed their names and remained in Belorussia under false documents; still others took advantage of an amnesty to join the partisans and then the Red Army after the liberation of Belorussia in the summer of 1944. Recently, some of these perpetrators were found out. One, Alexander Mironchikov (Mironchik), lived out the rest of his life with the reputation of a much-decorated underground fighter. In fact, archival documents proved that he had taken part in killing Jews as head of a police unit in Novo-Borisov (2). Mironchik's fate contrasts with those of two former policemen, who even though they returned with Soviet medals from the front, were soon found out and executed. Head of the Borisov police department David Egof, one of the main organizers of the murder of the Jews in the city, escaped being shot only because capital punishment was not carried out in the Soviet Union between May 26,1947 and January 12,1950. Two others (Petr Logvin and Konstantin Pipin) were imprisoned for killing Jews and then returned home after serving their sentences. Former assistant police chief in Borisov, Fedor Petrovskii, was not punished due to his age.
The present reviewer especially appreciates the short "encyclopedia" of 515 persons, to whom 4-8 lines are devoted. Here one finds information about revolutionaries, provocateurs, production heroes, rabbis, Party and government officials, prisoners of Zion, Jewish "nationalists" who were sent into internal exile, entrepreneurs, and military figures - all of whom had some connection with Borisov.
Another list gives the names of 136 Borisov-linked Jews who were Heroes of the Soviet Union, twelve of whom received the highest Soviet military decoration. Three of these heroes were born in Borisov.
Finally, there is a list of 37 gentiles (Belorussians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, ethnic Germans, and one Austrian [a Wehrmacht officer]) who saved the lives of a total of 52 Jews in Borisov and its environs. Nine of them have been recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem.
The compact chapter devoted to toponymies contains information about 196 streets in Borisov, whose names were changed following the Revolution or other significant events. Jewish names were erased from streets both by the Nazis and then by the Communists.
The appendix includes a list of the 191 most common family names of Jews living in Borisov in 1941. This is particularly useful for people pursuing research about their families that had roots in Borisov.
There is also a list of memorial plaques put up by the Svet menory Jewish Culture Association between 1991 and 1998. Among them was one placed on the site of the Borisov ghetto in 1996. The inscription reads: "Here between August 27 and October 27, 1941 were the gates of the ghetto, where 9,000 martyrs, victims of genocide, lived before they were killed." This item is followed by a short chronology of the Holocaust in the Borisov area.
This work contains several questionable generalizations. Some of these relate to the pre-Soviet period, i.e. that "the state antisemitism of the tsarist period had only a religious basis" (p. 9) (3). Rosenbloom makes no mention of the traditional tolerance of Belorussians towards Jews and other minorities. He fails to note that in the North-West Territory of the Russian Empire, of which the Belorussian provinces were part, there was no group of Jews that stood out as particularly well-off, as there were in Poland and Ukraine. Rosenbloom also neglects to make clear that the lack of rights of Jews under the tsars was similar to that of the local Belorussian population.
This work contains other errors. Izi Kharik (1896-1937) is mentioned first as a pharmacist. It would have been more appropriate to describe Kharik as a founder of Yiddish proletarian poetry in the Soviet Union and the head of the large Yiddish section of the Union of Soviet Writers of the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and to omit any reference to his little practiced profession. Gets Genin was characterized as the community rabbi of Borisov when, in fact, he served as government appointed rabbi, from 1894-1912.
On a more fundamental level, one regrets the absence of a name index and a geographical index. Furthermore, a list of literature consulted is no substitute for an adequate bibliography and notes.
Nevertheless, despite this criticism, given the current state of historical literature dealing with the Jews of Borisov, Pamiat' na krovi marks an advance. If we had similar works for other cities and towns in Belorussia, we would have at least a sense of the Jewish life that had existed in locales where after the Holocaust there were far fewer Jews or none at all.
1. Borisov Military Commissariat, the city's local folklore museum, the Borisov Branch of the State Museum of Minsk Province, the National Archive of the Republic of Belarus, the State Archive of Minsk Province, the State Archive of Phono-, Photo-, and Film Documents of Borisov, the KGB Archive of Belarus, and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
2. Mironchik died in 1986 and was buried in Borisov. Information about his complicity in Nazi crimes came to light after his death.
3. The monograph of E.K. Anishchenko stresses the economic and socio-political aspects of the tsarist anti-Jewish policy in Belorussia. (E.K. Anishchenko, Cherta osedIosti: Belomsskaia sinagoga v tsarstvovanie Ekateriny Vtoroi, [The Pale of Settlement: the Belorussian synagogue during the reign of Catherine II], Minsk, 1998).